Skip to comments.Biblical Authority and the Preacher
Posted on 04/10/2008 6:43:00 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
The inaugural issue of Christianity Today, dated October 15, 1956, featured an article by Billy Graham entitled, "Biblical Authority in Evangelism." The thrust of the article was clear without an unhesitant "thus saith the Lord" authority in preaching and evangelism, the message lacks all authority. The only authority that matters, Dr. Graham insisted, was the authority of the Bible as the Word of God.
Indeed, this confidence in biblical authority was, at least in part, the reason for the establishment of Christianity Today as the flagship journal of American evangelicalism under the editorship of Carl. F. H. Henry.
Now, over a half-century after the publication of that article, Angie Ward of Leadership magazine began with Dr. Graham's article and then asked five preachers What, if anything, has changed?
I was pleased to answer her questions and to participate in the project. She also interviewed David Anderson, pastor of Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland; John M. Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago and editor and publisher of The Christian Century; Tullian Tchividjian is a grandson of Billy Graham and the senior pastor at New City Church in Margate, Florida; and Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
Her article, "Biblical Authority & Today's Preacher," is based on those interviews. The preachers interviewed represent something of a cross-section of American Protestantism, with John Buchanan representing liberal Protestantism and its most historic publication, The Christian Century (the very magazine to which Christianity Today was established to serve as an alternative)..
Suggesting the Old Testament prophets as models for preaching, Dr. Graham had referred to preachers as "mouthpieces for God." The magazine then asked if we should consider today's preacher to be a mouthpiece for God.
I am certainly supposed to be a mouthpiece for Scripture, a human instrument through which the Scripture is heard and received by God's people. But the human preacher's authority only reaches the human ear. It is only God himself who can take his word from the human ear to the human heart.
I stand by this answer, and by the large comments I made in the interview about the fact that the preacher is actually a mouthpiece for God only when the Word of God is rightly preached. As the Reformers made clear, preaching is the means by which God speaks to His people as a gathered community. Through the preached Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God actually speaks to His people.
Dr. John Buchanan answered:
We need to be very careful about that. So many people have abused this, preachers need to be very careful before claiming they are God's mouthpiece. I think the preacher needs to be suggestive and not declarative. There are times in history when people (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) were called with some authority to say, "This is wrong." But we need to be cautious. One of our central doctrines is that we all fall
The key issue here is his proposal that preaching should be "suggestive and not declarative." While the preacher must be modest concerning himself, his own abilities, and his inherent inadequacies, the preacher must not be merely suggestive in the pulpit. The "suggestive and not declarative" approach well defines most liberal Protestant preaching, but I think it also explains the decline of those churches and denominations. The earlier loss of confidence in the authority of the Bible inevitably leads to a declining authority of the pulpit.
As Martin Luther remarked, "Yes, I hear the sermon; but who is speaking? The minister? No indeed! You do not hear the minister. True, the voice is his; but my God is speaking the Word which he preaches or speaks. Therefore I should honor the Word of God that I may become a good pupil of the Word."
Adapted from R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s weblog at www.albertmohler.com.
Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
This is regarded as a very thorough statement of what leading inerrantists mean by “inerrancy”, in a format of “WE AFFIRM
; WE DENY
;”, clearly setting out the details. For example, inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts, not to copies or translations:
WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
WE DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
Further, inerrancy does not mean blind literalism, but allows for figurative, poetic and phenomenological language, as long as it is accurate:
WE AFFIRM the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
WE DENY that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says that the autographs of the Bible, that is, the actual parchment or papyrus on which the Biblical authors wrote, accurately reflects the authors intent. This allows the possibility of errors in the surviving manuscripts and translations. But even if the autographs are lost, surviving manuscripts are found in such large numbers that the autographs may be reconstructed with more than 99 percent accuracy.
Note that word, “copies”. When discussing Biblical inerrancy, it is important to remember that ONLY the original texts of the Bible are claimed to have been inerrant.
NOTE: There are hot links embedded in the _excerpted_ commentary below. To access them click the link:
Inerrancy and Human Ignorance
Religious and Philosophical Reasons Why We Dont Have Inerrant Copies
This is the granddaddy of the issues in answering this argument. The first aspect of it is one that Skeptics themselves should easily see.
Hardened skeptics often call Christians “bibliolaters” - thus implying that the Bible is some sort of “leather-covered security blanket” that Christians worship and would be frantic without. This charge is unfortunately sometimes true, although I could say the same of some skeptics and their copies of Origin of the Species, or of certain adherents of certain Skeptics in regards to their own fearless leaders. At any rate, we can see easily why, first, this dichotomy is wrong, in terms of a blanket assessment; and second, how this leads us to the biggest reason why we do not have inerrant copies of Scripture today.
First, it is plain that neither the Bible nor a belief in inerrancy is required to be a Christian. If this were so, then skeptics like Frank Morison or C. S. Lewis, who believed in the historicity of the Resurrection but not in the inerrancy of the Gospel reports of it, would never become Christians. People behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains would never have become Christians in times when the Bible was forbidden in those countries and they often had no more of the Bible than a few pitiable verses handwritten on a paper towel. Finally, in this day beyond when most people cannot even remember what their name is without consulting their drivers’ license, literacy would be a prerequisite for belief, which would be absurd being that the Bible was written in a time when up to 95% of the given population was illiterate. So the charge of “bibliolatry,” while unfortunately sometimes true or appearing to be so, is nevertheless not a true representation of Christian belief. Moreover, given the circumstances, it is clear that “the Word of God” for most people was not what was written on paper, but was the original idea (what I have called the “home office” copy) recorded on paper. Few could have appreciated the significance of a written, inerrant original document.
Second, it should by now be obvious, in light of this, why we do not have inerrant copies of the Bible today - if we did, then you might well see genuine, widespread bibliolatry. Look back on the checkered history of mankind in general and the church in particular. Every Skeptic worth his salt can recite the litany of sins associated with, for example, the sale of relics in the early church. These “relics” were alleged to be pieces of Christian history that the common believer could buy, and in exchange not only have it for what it allegedly was, but also perhaps thereby purchase some time for themselves or deceased relatives out of purgatory, among other things! The relics themselves are well-known - most of us have heard the famous statement about there being enough wood from the “True Cross” to build a seaworthy ship. Other relics have ranged from the indelicate (vials of Mary’s breast milk) to the mundane (toenail clippings of the Apostles) to the frankly disgusting (a whole TOE of an Apostle).
Now if this is how allegedly authentic pieces of Christian history were regarded, how would inerrant copies of Scripture have been received? True, there are a few of us (including myself, and a friendly Skeptic who had been writing to me) who would not submit to such temptations; but by far the majority of the population in history has not been of the sort who could resist according some special worship to supposedly holy items. But for comparison we might consider Muslim treatment of copies of the Quran. While it does not seem that Muslims hold to quite the view that every copy is inspired, consider some standard treatment of the text even in its current state (thanks to “Wildcat” for this info):
It has to be wrapped in a nice cloth. It has to be put on this thing that looks like a stand so you don’t put it on your lap. It has to be duly kissed on front, back and top before you open it and most of all you believe it is all the truth and NEVER EVER DARE question it’s integrity and when you read it you have to recite it in a prose, you don’t read it like a book and some people move back and forth, i.e sway slightly when they recite it.
Christians are already called bibliolaters now; what if they went this far? How far would any “people of the book” go if they believed every copy was divinely inspired?
Furthermore, consider that the laity in many parts of the early church were forbidden to have their own copies of Scripture; how if those copies had each been inscribed with God’s seal? The Scripture copies themselves would become the most expensive sort of relic, put distantly out of reach of the common people. Some would have taken to mind to destroy as many copies as they could, and prevent the production of later copies, to increase the value of their own copies. Scribes would be hired to produce (or NOT produce) more copies for their wealthy patrons. This would be the problems of relics a thousandfold.
About 15 years ago, I went to see a traveling exhibit featuring the original Declaration of Independence. Visitors were carefully searched before they entered; a maze of pathways led you to center stage; and there, at the very heart of the exhibit, one could be permitted to gaze upon that fragile, revered document - inside a glass-topped case that emerged from a secure area below the observation level. If this is the type of concern we show for our Declaration of Independence, what would we do with inerrant copies of the Bible? Would we approve of our government, or a church, or some conglomerate, hoarding the inerrant copies and guarding them jealously? The Word of God should be accessible to everyone; and if every translation and copy came out inerrant, there would undoubtedly be political, economic or ecclesiastical powers who would take steps to take advantage of the situation, and declare something to the effect that “the common people” had no right or need to have their own copies, just as did indeed happen at certain points in Middle Age and pre-Middle Age history. To the Skeptic who protests, as many have, that God could or should have taken steps to ensure that every copy and translation was inerrant, I say that if that had been done, the results would have been tragic - far worse than what actually has happened in our history.
Bottom line: God wants us to worship HIM, not scraps of paper. Our very nature to worship that which we can see and touch and consider holy proves that we would not be able to handle the responsibility of inerrant copies. Indeed, it may be said that the while the creation of inerrant originals was highly important, their loss and destruction was equally so.
There are some less important philosophical reasons why we do not have inerrant copies and translations. Let’s discuss each of these briefly.
Not having inerrant copies encourages freely-made decisions and independent thinking.
One of the most amazing arguments I have seen from Skeptics is that Christians like to impose their will upon others. This, too, is unfortunately too-often true in some ways; but by the same token, how can such skeptics then complain about a lack of inerrant copies and translations of Scripture? God would not force a decision for His Son upon anyone; it is a choice that must be freely made. The presence of inerrant copies would implicitly coerce people into conversion. Skeptics, if you think that making your own decision and thinking for yourself is right and proper, you should welcome the fact that God did not give us inerrant copies of Scripture. But it seems that such complainers only want a God who imposes at their own convenience.
Inerrant translations would be logistically impossible for mankind to handle.
No one person has the same exact understanding. No language, no culture, has exactly the same structure and outlook. That being the case, how would it be logistically possible - and again, not coercive - to provide inerrant copies and translations for every person on earth?
An amusing cartoon in a Christian magazine depicted a group of people, each carrying their own personal translation of the Bible. The titles reflected that the Bibles were indeed their “own” translation: “Good News for Bob,” “The Living Word for Joe,” etc. Now God could indeed by His power have given each of us a special book; but if they were attuned to each of us, what is likely the first thing that will happen? Skeptics delight in pointing out how much difference their is between believers when it comes to translating and interpreting particular parts of the Bible; imagine how bad that controversy would be if we each had our own copy with different contents attuned to ourselves. Again, man’s nature, and the coercive nature of such an action, would make this impossible; and this would be so even if every copy was exactly the same — people would still let their own ideas rule the roost. And related to that idea is this one:
God’s message in the Bible may be summed up in just a few exemplary verses, upon which the rest are built; and these few verses are the height of simplicity.
Do human laws seem complicated to you? As those involved directly in governmental work are aware, laws come in many layers. Statutes form the initial basis for action; then agencies create codes whereby they plan to adhere to those laws. Departments within agencies create procedural rules whereby they follow those codes. It is a complicated mess that has been the subject of many a complaint of bureaucracy.
In contrast, the Bible’s messages are mostly straightforward and simple. The Bible has two primary components, OT and NT, that may be summarized easily in a few words. Jesus and the Jews of His time and before summarized the OT with the two commands to love God with all that was in you, and love your neighbor as yourself. The NT, too, may be summarized with just a few words - notably those of John 3:16, although certainly there are other good candidates.
As noted earlier, neither the Bible nor belief in its inerrancy is required to become a Christian. All that is needed is acceptance of these few words and what they represent; the rest is equivalent, spiritually speaking, of enforcement codes - how to live the life that God has called you to. Thus there is no need for inerrant copies when the basic message, all that is essentially needed, is so crystal-clear.
Issues of Translation Are Our Languages Perfect Enough?
The words of Jim Merritt above are good for a decent belly laugh. Following his (apparent) logic means that if someone wants to translate Meritt’s phrase, “I’m not disagreeing with events, I’m disagreeing with what is WRITTEN” into German, and it comes out reading, “I like sticking weinerschnitzel in my ear and I like riding goats bareback,” then it is Meritt’s fault, not the translator’s fault, and it would merely be an “amusing misdirection” on Meritt’s part to say that his words were translated improperly.
But there is always an initial question that is quite legitimate: Why do we have translation problems with the Bible? The answer is that there are ALWAYS translation problems with ANY document and translations between ANY two languages. There are a variety of reasons for this; let’s look at some specifically relevant to the Bible.
Textual criticism has indicated that we have received the text of our Bible quite well - we are able to achieve 95% accuracy for the OT, 99% accuracy in the NT. That means only 50 pages of your OT and 3 of your NT (in a Bible without commentary) are questionable - and that is a transcription rate that historians would be delighted to have for any ancient document. Indeed, it is amazing to observe some of the measures taken, especially by the Masoretic scribes, to ensure accurate transcription. But the scribes, concerned with copying “word for word,” were not attempting to accommodate later humans who might not understand the terms, figures of speech, etc. of their day. The reverence associated - even necessitated - with transcribing God’s Word certainly would be impressed upon Biblical scribes, and would reinforce the idea that the exact words were important. However, words are meaningless without understanding, and that is why it is unfortunate that context was not always preserved with the exact words.
Have you ever noticed that when a new “version” of the Bible is issued, that even when it is doctrinally satisfactory with the most stringent fundamentalists, there is always a hue and cry? Take the “street lingo” version of the Bible - it reads “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain” as “Don’t diss the name of the Almighty, because payback is a monster,” as an example. You can just see the little old ladies in church fainting at the idea. Blasphemy!, they’d say. But it isn’t necessarily! It’s an attempt to keep the Bible in context with a specific culture, which CAN be done without sacrificing doctrine. And that is what God would want us to do: Tell the truth, but make sure others understand it without compromising it. The words of the Apostle Paul are quite appropriate here:
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
(1 Cor 9:19-23)
This is not to say that context should be emphasized to the point of radically altering the text. Eternal truths or the basic facts do not require much tailoring, but “trivia” areas probably require, if nothing else, an explanatory footnote. For example, there are places where Abraham and his contemporaries put their hands under each other’s “thighs” (a euphemism for the genitals) to make a pledge. People who are squeamish and uninformed (as well as looking for an excuse to stop reading) will slap the Bible shut on verses like that and squeal, “Oooo, what a FILTHY-MINDED book!” Not so in terms of the society in which this was written; that’s our own post-Victorian squeamishness at work! Or another example, from the skeptic Steve Allen - whose two books on the Bible are full of silly misunderstandings like this one.
So what should have been done for our translations of the Bible? The best thing perhaps would have been - and barring a wealth of new archaeological finds, it is too late now to take it up - for scribes to maintain the exact, word-for-word translation along with regularly-updated (but also physically separate) commentaries explaining various customs, figures of speech, and events in their context. As time passed, later generations would still have the exact verbiage - but also a series of commentaries that would allow them to “stay in touch” with the full meaning of what had originally been written. We, too, should study the culture and history surrounding the Bible, so that we may more clearly understand what is being said; or at the very least, so that we do not make write books full of embarrassing assertions like Steve Allen.
At any rate, any new version or translation of the Bible should be taken up with excessive care. Ideally, the work should be done by people who have a thorough knowledge of both the original languages and the receiving language; but this is not always practicable, and in the meantime, there are souls that are literally starving for the Good News. So don’t waste time complaining. If you’re a complainer, do your homework!
Have you ever read Chaucer or Shakespeare in the original? Most of you would look at that Olde English and understand a few words of it, but unless you were a scholar of that time period, or had Cliff’s Notes, you would miss most or all of the puns, political references, etc. peculiar to that time. Now if we have such trouble with 400 year-old English, imagine what trouble the Septuagint translators had with even older Hebrew! They read it - but you can bet they didn’t always UNDERSTAND it!
Modern investigative techniques have helped us clear up many of these kinds of problems in the Bible, but not all of them - and because many of our translators seem to revere the text nearly to the point of worship, many of these discoveries have not surfaced in our modern Bible translations. For example, in the list of unclean “birds” in Leviticus, the final entry is “bat”. Skeptics (Jim Merritt and C. Dennis McKinsey, for example) point this out as an error: Bats are not birds. However, the Hebrew word in Leviticus that we translate “birds” is better rendered “flying things” - it was a generic term for any animal that flew; more literally, “the owner of a wing.” (See here for more.) This applies obviously to birds, but also to bats, and certain insects. Unfortunately, even our newest Bibles use the word “birds,” which only provides more grist for the skeptical mill. Our translators should be careful of this kind of thing. But it seems they revere the exact wording in some cases more than they revere exact understanding. At the very least, our Bibles should have footnotes explaining passages like the one in Leviticus. You usually have to get a commentary to get a proper explanation.
What are some of the difficulties encountered in any translation? Let’s start with something related to Hebrew specifically: The old form of the language didn’t use vowels. (Why that is so is beyond our scope here. Perhaps they couldn’t afford the $250 to buy each one, or else their vowels were stolen and later purchased by the Hawaiians at a Phonetic Garage Sale.) To illustrate the problem, try reading this:
gt n bd
Does this say “get in bed?” Got no bid? Got on bad? An ancient Hebrew could figure it out, but not us so easily. Context helps, of course, but remember that context is not always helpful, and where there was a place where either of two or three words MIGHT make sense, the scribes who added vowel points much later on were undoubtedly working with their own preconceived notions. To make the problem worse, suppose an earlier scribe had slipped and added an extra consonant:
gt n brd
That extra “r” could lead to translating the phrase “get on board.” From there, things could get worse. Maybe the scribe skipped his coffee break and did this:
grt n bld
Now we have a phrase that’s totally off. A later scribe could get very confused and just change the consonants altogether, just to make sense of the phrase.
These are problems in Hebrew only; there are greater problems for all languages across the board. In Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, Maurice Casey, in examining the process of Mark’s use of Aramaic sources in composing his Greek Gospel, offers these inevitable complications of translation and bilingualism, and actual examples in practice:
How a bilingual learns a language — and how they keep up with it — inevitably affects their translation ability. There is a vast difference between a person who grows up with both languages (and may therefore be less proficient in both of them) and a person who learned a second language, and did not use their first language for many years.
As Casey puts it, though, “All bilinguals suffer from interference,” and translators more so  A couple of examples:
Bilinguals “often use a linguistic item more frequently because it has a close parallel in their other language. “ Thus: “...Danish students are reported using the English definite article more often than monoglot speakers of English. This reflects ‘the fact that Danish and English seem to have slightly different conceptions of what constitutes generic as opposed to specific reference.’ “ Or: “...there is a tendency for English loanwords among speakers of Australian German to be feminine — die Road, die Yard, etc. — and this is probably due to the similarity in sound between the German die and the accented form of English ‘the’, whereas the German masculine der and neuter das sound different.” 
When a source text is culture-specific, there is great need for changes to make the text intelligible. The French cartoon Asterix the Gaul, with its many exotic character names, has “given rise to different decisions by translators into several different languages.”  The name of a village chieftain is Abraracoucix in French, and remains so in Italian and Dutch, but was rendered Majestix in German, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, and became Vitalstatistix in English. Then there is an example of how two German editions of Alice and Wonderland translated a particular passage differently:
‘Perhaps it doesn’t understand English,’ thought Alice, ‘I dare say it’s a French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror.’
One edition substituted “English” so that the translation simply said that the mouse did not understand much, and to make the reference to William the Conqueror intelligible, added a phrase about William coming from England. A different translation though made the language not understood by the mouse into German, and changed William the Conqueror into Napoleon.  There were thus two different methods used to make the text intelligible to native readers.
A German person on a bus asks a person next to an empty seat, “Ist dieser Platz frei?” It is literally in English, “Is this place free?” But an English person would say, “Is this seat taken?” Or, a polite request in Polish to a distinguished guest to take a seat is literally, in English, “Mrs Vanessa! Please! Sit! Sit!” The “short imperative” to “Sit!” sounds “like a command rather than a polite request” made to someone unruly rather than to a distinguished guest. (For a great example of this sort of misunderstanding by critics in the Bible, see here.) 
Translating Dickens into German, there is a phrase in The Olde Curiosity Shop where a character speaks of it being “a fine week for ducks.” English speakers naturally know this to mean it was a rainy week. A German translator however concluded that for us, “a fine week for ducks” meant it was a fine week to go hunting for them! 
Such then are typical problems of translating from one language to another. The sort of exhaustive knowledge required to perform an exact translation is simply beyond the understanding of most people, and presents a practical impossibility.
When discussing Biblical inerrancy, it is important to remember that ONLY the original texts of the Bible are claimed to have been inerrant. Furthermore, one might suggest that the “original” text was in something of a different format. How? Take the book of Ezekiel as an example. Zeke certainly didn’t bang out all 48 chapters of his book in one sitting; his oracles were composed over his lifetime, and were collected together at a later date (by him, or by one of his students; it makes no difference), when - presumably - they were put together into the unified whole like that we now have. But did the collector of this material leave everything “as it was”? In all likelihood, yes, given the reverence held for the work of a prophet; but this would not necessarily prevent the addition of transitional phrases needed to make the oracles into a sensible whole. Skeptics will throw up their hands at this and ask how we can therefore believe accept our present text, since any number of errors could have crept in. At this we should reply with:
The percentages given earlier: The OT is 95% accurately transcribed; the NT, 99%. That means (in a Bible without any commentary) 50 pages of your OT and 3 pages of your NT may have been fumbled by later writers. Since most of the “errors” critics harp on turn upon no more than one or two letters or words, those 53 pages give us plenty of room to accept intellectually the idea that the original texts were inerrant! (By the way, if the Skeptic wants to lower those percentages, he just adds more room for the possibility of transcription errors. It kind of leaves them stuck, logically speaking.)
The reverence accorded to prophetic material. This would not allow for wholesale change, but only for, at most, the tailoring necessary for creating a unified whole.
Bottom line: It is a matter of ideological orientation in both directions. Christians have a predisposition to say that the original text, whatever its form, was inerrant, and that we have a shadow of it in our modern Bible; Skeptics have a disposition to say that it was not, and the worst of them will posit all manner of textual conspiracies otherwise unevidenced in the text. I affirm this in light of several years now of dealing with such persons who clearly seldom or never make their arguments having done adequate homework.
Skeptical obfuscation in this area, however, abounds: One 19th-century Skeptic said that there were “150,000 blunders in the Hebrew and 7,000 in the Greek.” That sounds bad until you remember that these “blunders” consist for the largest part of JUST ONE LETTER OR NUMERAL spread across multiple copies! Thus, if a letter is put 26 different ways in 26 different manuscripts, that counts as 26 “errors”. Let’s keep things on perspective, here! It should be obvious that since many of the “errors” in our Bibles turn on single letters, numbers or words, no doctrine of Christian belief is the least bit altered by any questionable reading in Scripture. Nor does salvation require a functional belief in inerrancy; indeed, if it did, those who were illiterate or did not have a Bible in their own language could never be saved. The number of horses in Solomon’s army, the name of Saul’s daughter who had no children - these things should be recognized and corrections noted, but they should be no cause for shipwreck of anyone’s faith or an excuse for disbelief in the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. For certain Skeptics, however, the miscues are gold; but they are fools’ gold: They conceal the true reason for their disbelief, whether that be a dislike of Christians, the inability to come to terms with God, or the desire to live a sinful lifestyle, or any number of reasons not listed here.
No convinced skeptic will turn to Christ simply because we explain why Chronicles says Ahab’s bathtub held 75 gallons while Kings says 85. Their reasons for disbelief are beyond that. But for those who watch and observe our debates, and are considering not only our answers, but the WAY in which we answer, the apologetic for inerrancy is important. We should be aware of the basic issues surrounding translation and transcription. A few further considerations in this regard:
Who is it who “killed” the languages in question? As I reminded a certain well-known skeptic recently, it was men who did it. (Although remember, Hebrew and Greek are still alive today.) And in any event, the language of the NT - Koine Greek, a sort of common man’s Greek of the time - was in NT times the established lingua franca of the Roman Empire. It was the language used and/or usable by the most people alive in the Roman Empire at that time. Thus did God ensure the rapid spread of His message of salvation.
Moreover, we have also lost touch with various social and literary constraints that governed the composition of the Bible. My favorite example of late has involved passages composed with Greco-Roman rhetorical technique in mind. Thus, for example, as I have noted in our reply to Jim Merritt, the alleged contradictions between the accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts can be understood in a way that sees them as quite intentional. Likewise, understanding ancient proverbial literature in its context eliminates a great many perceived difficulties, in particular regarding the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
This may not apply to either Meritt or Barker, or to any skeptic in particular, but if there are so many of us willing to learn a foreign language for travel, business, or just for the heck of it, why should we complain about learning Biblical Hebrew or Greek? Again, this is not necessary to grasp the most important truths of the Bible, but there is also no excuse for not taking the time to study - especially if we are going to be like skeptics and pick at things of which we have no knowledge, like Barker, Merritt, and of course Steve Allen.
So How Would God Have Kept The Copies Inerrant??
Finally, with all of the questions and complaints they make, skeptics fail to inform us of what practical measures they would have had God take to ensure inerrant copies and translations. The pat answer might be, “The same way God supposedly inspired the originals!” But this, again, would constitute an act of coercion upon those who do not believe; and so would any other suggested method. Would Skeptics have God manipulate the hands of every scribe? Would a scribe’s hands “freeze up” or stop functioning when he or she was about to write an incorrect translation? Would the paper the error was written on suddenly burst into flames? Would God assume control of our printing presses? What if a Skeptic wanted to write a commentary, and interposed an “incorrect” idea? Would all form critics disappear in a puff of smoke? If we accept this logic, why not complain that God did not have each of us born with the Gospel tattooed inside our eyelids? Indeed, why not go all the way back and ask why God didn’t just send the elephant to trod on the serpent? Any method of preserving inerrancy would undoubtedly involve a great deal of coercion on God’s part, which would be a violation of our free will. Skeptics, however, are welcome to send suggestions on how such a process would be accomplished. So far only one of you (my “friendly Skeptic”) has done so. He suggested that the inerrant original should have been preserved in stone. Perhaps a good idea — although it still does not avoid the problems we have delineated above; it merely puts a different spin on them. I can see, for example, those corrupt monks of the Middle Ages putting armed guards around Original Bible Monument and keeping the peasantry away from it...and the Romans, who regularly smashed the religious artifacts of defeated enemies, doing that to the originals...and so on.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.