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By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2016
Defending Biblical Inerrancy
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
Copyright © 2016 by author
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Chapter One: Objections from the Contents of Scripture
I. The Existence of Alleged Contradictions
II. The New Testament’s Method of Quoting and Using the Old Testament
III. New Testament Texts that Allegedly Repudiate Inspiration
IV. “Needless,” “Trivial,” and “Emotional” Comments
V. Differences in Style, Native Ability, and Eloquence
VI. Use of Pre-Existing Sources
VII. The New Testament Writers Did Not Consider Their Writings as Scripture
Chapter Two: Objections from the Preservation of Scripture
I. The Existence of Textual Variants
II. The Lack of the Original Autographs
III. “Missing” Epistles and Books
Chapter Three: Can We Know the True Canon?
I. Old Testament Canon
A. The Age Equals Canonicity Theory
B. The Hebrew Language Equals Canonicity Theory
C. The Jamnia Council Theory
D. The Ezra/Nehemiah “Canonization” of the Mosaical Law?
E. The “Three Step” Theory
F. Inspiration: The Essential Pre-Requisite for True Canonicity
G. The Testimony of Jesus as the Criterion of Canonicity
II. New Testament Canon
A. To Be Canonical, a New Testament Book Must Have Survived
B. The Book Must Be of First Century Origin
C. The Writer Either Claimed Inspiration, Inspiration Was Claimed for
Him, or He Was in a Position to Secure Inspired Information
D. The Internal Contents Must be Consistent with the Doctrinal Stance
of Those Who Unquestionably Had Credentials of Inspiration
E. Lacking Other Evidence—or as Confirmatory Evidence to Reinforce
Other Indications—There is the Testimony of Post-Biblical Writers
F. For Thought: A Minimalized, “Worst Case” Scenario for a Shorter
Addendum: Did Paul Create, In Effect, the First New Testament Canon?
Chapter Four: Are Jesus’ “Verifications” of Old Testament Inspiration, Authorship, and Events Absolutely Reliable?
I. Kenosis Theory
II. Accommodation Theory
III. Infallible Only on Spiritual Matters?
Chapter Five: The Practice and Ethics of Pseudonymous Literature
I. The First Century Situation
II. The “Acts of Paul and Thecla”
III. The “Gospel of Peter”
IV. Anonymous Literature that Became Pseudonymous?
Chapter Six: Verbal Arguments and the Ability of Language to Communicate
I. The Shotgun of Loaded Terminology
B. “Paper Pope”
II. Verbal Distinctions
A. Christ is the Word of God, not the Bible
B. The Scriptures are the “Record” of Revelation Rather than
the Revelation Itself
C. The Scriptures “Become” the Word of God through Our
“Encounter” with It
D. If All “Verbally Inspired,” All of Equal Value?
III. The “Inability” of Language of Fully Communicate Truth
Unbelievers and semibelievers—those who claim a “Christian” religious orientation while essentially denying the Bible as supernatural revelation from God—challenge the Old Testament narrative on a number of grounds. The three that are of importance in this study are these:
(1) They deny the inspiration of the Old Testament. The term may be used but only in the limited sense of “inspiring” (to the reader) or the author’s tapping of alleged inner depths of spirituality. “Inspiration” as an external act by God with the human recipient as the beneficiary is typically denied or “tap danced” around.
If conceding its presence at all, the critic carefully denies that that “revelation” has been conveyed in a manner that assures the human author’s preferences and desires have not altered the precise contents that were originally given. One might rightly say that whatever Divine element was placed in the recipient’s mind struggled to reach the surface and what we have are Divine fragments encased within the limitations and prejudices of the writer’s intellect and attitudes.
An analogy with mining would be useful: yes there is uranium inside that ton of ore, but it typically runs way under 1% of the total weight! Similarly the element of genuine objective Divine revelation would be viewed as modest though certainly far higher than the particular example we gave--but we still have to laboriously “dig” through it in order to find that genuine Divine element. In short, the minimalist approach has us mere mortals attempting to discover the precious Divine fragments that are buried within the “mountain” of Scripture.
(2) They deny the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. The rejection ranges from the “moderates” who accept parts as historically accurate—in broad outline, if not in detail—to the “annihilationists” who accept only the barest scraps as reflecting the actual events. The basic operative rule seems to be: unless you can prove an assertion by some external additional source it is open to question or outright repudiation. From the Bible being the standard to judge the reliability of other sources, we are now at the point where without those other sources, the Bible itself must be dealt with extremely tentatively.
(3) They deny that the writers whose names are attached to the Old Testament books actually wrote all of them or insist that later unknown and unidentified authors added their own material and passed all of it on as the work of the original author. Isaiah becomes the work of at least two individuals, possibly three—or, possibly, an unidentifiable large number as a variety of fragments were pieced together by compilers, and done so yet again in the future as more was added. And, of course, all passed off as by Isaiah!
The Pentateuch, going on two centuries ago, was dismissed as the sole work of Moses but presented as the work of at least four different sources (J, E, D, and P) and multiple authors involved in all of those four sources. Somewhere in that pile of fragments their might well be some Mosaical elements, if one is of a generous turn of mind.
In my Concise Handbook on Biblical Inspiration: Almost 800 Internal Claims of Accuracy and Revelation, we documented at length that such approaches are anathema to the Bible itself—totally inconsistent with its repeated claims of inspiration, authority, and endorsement even by Jesus Himself. In short, the Modernist and Secularist scenarios attempt to drive a stake into the heart of the Bible, reducing it to a piece of antique history, full of ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry.
And I say “the Bible” because the New Testament does not fare well in this approach either. Indeed, it was after establishing the precedent of the propriety of the destructive approach to the Old Testament, that it became fashionable to take the same approach to the New.
Here, too, inspiration is reduced to an essentially irrelevant matter. Historicity is often questionable. And the authorships of various books must, of course, often have been by somebody else—anybody else—than those they are traditionally attributed to. We exaggerate. Mildly.
In the current volume our intent is to survey the assumptions make by skeptical analysts of the Bible and point out some of their weak points. Thousands of pages could be—and have been—written concerning what we will be covering. So in one sense our treatment will be “superficial.” But we simultaneously aim to provide a conceptual summary of a significant cross-section of commonly encountered arguments used against the Biblical text so the reader can consider them and how to counter them.
We will be dealing with what have become the “established truths” in certain theological centers. Let it be noted, however, that in no way does this author attack the scholarly credentials or intelligence of the semibelieving scholars whose conclusions we reject. The author does, however, challenge the validity of their conclusions and the process of reasoning—often based on anti-miraculous assumptions—that produced their conclusions.
Throughout this volume, the author embraces “verbal” or “word” inspiration, though I would be the first to concede that neither probably does full justice to the subtle interweaving of the Divine with the human in the canon of sacred literature. The terminology I’ve suggested is open to misunderstanding and misrepresentation, yet these remain the plainest and simplest terms for the average person to understand.
They place front and center in our minds that the kind of inspiration being defended rises far above the mere thought being inspired, but that it so penetrated the minds of the Biblical writers so deeply that even the words they ultimately chose were those the Holy Spirit concurred was best for them to use to convey the Divine message.
Of the several outstanding modern translations widely available, the author has used the New King James Version (1982) in this draft though I had utilized the New American Standard Version in the original.
Note: This book was originally composed in the 1980s, mid-80s I believe. Selected new resources were added in 2012 and the original discussion expanded where elaboration seemed appropriate—from originally about 22,000 words to three times that length. And far, far more could be added, but I wished to contain this down to a size less likely to be passed over due to its length. Here in 2016 I have simply reviewed and “polished” the previous work to be sure it was ready to be “passed on” to the reader.
Most of my work from the 1990s to 2012 was scholarly in nature and in format, but in this volume I’m going to retain the more casual language and presentation found in the original. I feel like a relatively concise treatment would be most appropriate for most readers—at least as an introduction to the subject, which this is aimed to be--while my normal approach would have required a more formal and restrained presentation. And about two million footnotes. All appropriate in their place, of course, but not here.
Picture yourself sitting at my kitchen table with the two of us having a good chat over the matter. I’m not going to do much “playing scholarly,” mainly the back and forth language associates or friends would use in arguing the case for what they believe to be the truth. So if I think an argument is rather outlandish, I’m probably going to say it. If I think an argument is worth thinking about, but still falls short, I’m likely to say that as well.
I have no objection with “playing scholar”—it is an honorable and desirable role. But sometimes calling a spade a spade and silliness silliness is worth the time as well. This is simply the everyday talk of individuals chatting over contested matters and bluntly describing it—mocking it even, as is deemed appropriate in honest human conversation.
Be a grownup. Be a man. Be a woman. There is countless bilge being poured out about the impropriety of hurting someone’s “feelings.” But there is a profound difference between gutting like a fish bad arguments and gutting an individual’s self-respect. The simple fact is that in this harsh and cruel world where dissenters can be stomped into the ground by powerful self-interest groups and government repression, you had better learn the arguments.
Or learn how to keep your mouth firmly shut except when chanting the latest government and media approved anti-religious, anti-Christian distortion of the month. For don’t forget: the heroes today are those who scorn Bible faith and Bible morality; the moral giants are those who quietly but firmly insist as Martin Luther did, if I remember his words correctly, “Here I stand. I can do nothing else.”
This nation was once one that took pride in its Christianity.
It can be so again.
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
Objections from the Contents of Scripture
I. The Existence of Alleged Contradictions
The idea that genuine
contradiction and genuine inspiration are incompatible concepts is no new
doctrine. In the first century, the
Jewish historian Josephus wrote in his Against Apion (1.37-38),
“. . . Through the inspiration which
they owed to God, and committing to writing a clear account of the events of
their own time just as they occurred—it follows, I say that we do not possess
myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other.” (As quoted by
On this, Josephus’ reasoning cannot be faulted.
If a book was written contemporary with the events—as he asserts those of the Jewish canon were—then they represent a bundle of source documents from their respective eras. The concept, for example, that the Pentateuch was “really” written hundreds of years later—indeed written, sometimes in fragments, pieced together and then merged with later document streams similarly pieced together—would have been utterly abhorrent to his doctrine of scripture. To insist that J, E, D, and P were all written with a pious imagination hundreds or more years later and compiled in such a manner as we have described (and which is the dominant scholarly hypothesis among semibelieving scholars) would have been rejected as a hideous insult on the integrity of the writers of the text, inspired or not.
Granting they were contemporary (or, at worst, some one of the next generation compiling the original author’s material together for circulation), then one could still argue a “biased viewpoint” of the author. Of course, one would not, for example, normally expect a priest to write in the same style or with the same central themes as a member of the royal court. However due to them “having been there,” inherently, the odds were extremely high that they would get their facts right, however unique the individual’s writer’s style and social position might have been. In other words, reliability even if not inspiration.
One result of the semibelieving stance in favor of later authorships is that they get around their real objection to the miraculous element that is recorded. This way they don’t even have to talk about it, except perhaps in the vaguest terms, because the long time between event and recording “obviously” makes the text subject to miraculous acts being added by pious souls convinced that this is what “could” or “should” have happened. Hence, they “must” have regarded it as fair and reasonable to record these pious fictions as if real world events.
In short if one
believes the miraculous both could and did happen, then one’s natural
“prejudice”—or presumption--is in favor of a close correspondence between event
and recording unless the text itself makes clear a distinction. If one is convinced it is all “legendary” and
“pious fiction” the prejudice is against the two being in the same time
Josephus argues not only that the events and their composition were contemporaneous, but that they were also inspired by God. He doesn’t provide some theological definition; he’s content with the result: “we do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other.”
His reasoning cannot be faulted if one accepts his premise. A book that is conjured up from the depth of one’s own religious consciousness or which is deliberately written in spite of near total ignorance of long past events—that kind of work might easily contradict that written by someone else with a dramatically different background and environment . . . whether the second is trying to literally tell the truth or similarly spinning out his own well-intentioned tall tale of religious fantasy. However, if both were recording only what God wanted them to write, one would expect them to be factually and doctrinally consistent, however differing in style and emphasis they might be.
On the other hand we would still expect there to be some things that look like contradictions. This could be caused by such things as:
Superficial reading on our part, lack of thought and careful analysis of the differing texts, the inability to distinguish between paradox and contradiction, and even some limited textual corruption (especially when numerals are written as letters, as in the Hebrew language)—all of these we would expect to produce pseudo-contradictions. Which is exactly what happens in regard to the Bible.
We should also recognize that just because we can not reconcile the two texts does not rule out the possibility/probability that someone else can. No two individuals come to contested passages with the same identical background in depth of knowledge or of how parallel situations have been successfully dealt with. This is nothing to be ashamed of since no one can know everything. But we can seek those who know more or have a different background in Biblical subjects they have studied and tap their resources as well. Not to mention the various fine analyses that are in print or available nowadays on line that can tap the wisdom of a vastly larger body of individuals.
We should also remember that the Bible has many dedicated enemies, a goodly number of whom are not about “straining at a gnat” to manufacture a contradiction or embarrassment where there is none. The very day I was typing the original draft of these words some 40 years ago, I happened to be reading a volume that “proved” anti-Semitism in a certain Biblical text. Not because of what it said, oh nothing so simple. It was because of its “subconscious” and verbally unstated intent! One who feels free to act that contemptuously of the actual text is obviously unlimited in the “errors” that will be detected, never recognizing that they are far more likely the result of his or her own twisted vision than the passage itself.
Even those who avoid such self-disgracing rhetoric are often so convinced that the Bible “can’t” be right that the simplest difference in emphasis is rapidly ballooned into a major contradiction. So be forewarned: Working against such individuals, you are never going to convince them. Don’t feel too bad about it. Those who accuse you of narrow-mindedness and prejudice are often the last who want to base a decision on the actual evidence rather than a predetermined outcome.
Remember that the vast bulk of the “contradictions” that will be hurled at you today, were hurled at your grandfather, and his grandfather and even his grandfather as well. With modest exceptions, the contradictions are the same retinue paraded forth in 1950, 1900, and 1850. And typically the justified explanations remain the same as well.
All of this would—and should—remove any temptation to panic when faced with apparently discordant teachings. It’s a time for reflection and study instead. Never be too proud to say, “I’ll have to think about that for a while.” And if the annoyer should be persistent, it never hurts to make the challenge, “Have you ever taken time to read a book that takes the opposite approach—that the Bible is fully consistent? You know, these things should be a two way street, that we both pay attention to the evidence.”
Bible contradictions are invented by unbelievers and semibelievers—those who may actually go to church regularly but don’t regard the Bible as authority over their lives and convictions. It provides the later with the aura of “Christian spirituality” without the Biblical commitment that used to be irrevocably tied to it. They walk hand-in-hand with outright unbelievers . . . typically using the same arguments and premises, but they have not had the forthrightness to leave Faith fully behind as more consistent critics have done.
The cynic in me can not avoid adding that it also permits them to remain on seminary payrolls and collect a decent pay while (mis)educating a new generation of ministers to follow in their steps. If they sincerely believe their propaganda—and the vast bulk genuinely do—one would think that consistency would require them to leave behind anything smacking of such pretense.
Perhaps the strongest incentive not to, lies in their ability to substitute “social justice”—in whatever its latest ideological formulation may be—and hitch it to broad Biblical principles while ignoring any and all texts that repudiate the details of what they use the slogan to justify. That way they use and bend their religion into the human form they prefer just as the Biblical writers supposedly did. They call it piety while the rest of us view it with horror.
But, as they say, that is life. We can’t control it but we would be extremely unwise not to recognize its reality.
These folk manufacture Bible contradictions in many ways. Limitations of space require us to only consider three of them as representative of the entire super-critical mindframe.
1. Some “contradictions” occur because the passage of time is overlooked or ignored. At the time of creation God was extremely satisfied with everything that He had made, including man: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis ).
Yet a mere five chapters later we read the exact opposite being claimed: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6). Hence the vow of God to destroy all mankind by flood (verse 7).
Otherwise perceptive individuals will sometimes overlook two key differences. First, that sin had not yet entered the world in chapter one. That doesn’t come until chapter three and with it the potential to morally devastate the creation.
Think of a typical French hamlet in c. 1300 A.D.: self-sufficient, reasonably prosperous, and life going on routinely. Then think of the Black Death (burbonic plague) sweeping through c. 1350 and the description of that same community would be horrendously different. Sin was the spiritual burbonic plague that destroyed mankind’s relationship with God, turning it from peace to alienation with God. Hence God would inevitably view the human species considerably differently!
Second, we should not overlook the fact that a vast amount of time passed between Genesis 1 and Genesis 6. Read through chapter 5 and the various lifespans listed. Are we not looking at 1,600-plus years between the two events? Would it be unexpected if God’s evaluation of mankind’s core character shifted over such a long period of time, as mankind slid from utopia into barbarity?
Does not our own legitimate evaluation of people and events shift even in a matter of short years? To those to whom Richard Nixon was a hero in 1968 (and liberalism notwithstanding, quite a few did), their opinion was slowly gutted under the scars of Watergate and less than eight years later his reputation lay in shreds.
In 1942 the
Or perhaps one example with a lengthier time frame: in 1814 the British torched the District of Columbia and the White House and American resentment went deep; less than 130 years later they were the valiant heroes whose Spitfires were providing the narrow margin that kept western Europe from completely being crushed by the Nazi onslaught.
Of course our illustrations could go on and on, but these few will surely suffice to prove the point that the passage of over a millennium and a half means that the evaluation of mankind’s moral status could easily change for the worse. Indeed, the amazing thing might be that it had not happened even sooner.
2. Some “contradictions” occur because we reason in terms of exclusion (either/or) rather than in terms of inclusion (this/plus that). Sometimes “difference” is equated with “contradiction” rather than looking for how both statements may simultaneously be true by representing different “angles” or “aspects” to the same subject. The various texts, in other words, may supplement each other and provide a fuller and more developed picture than any of them by themselves. Ignoring this original intent is a guaranteed method of producing “Bible contradictions.”
For example, there are many Bible texts that speak of salvation by faith. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Thus teaches John and varied other passages can be introduced teaching the same thing. This has often been called the core of Paul’s gospel.
On the other side is James’ teaching of salvation by works,
2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does
not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and
destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace,
be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are
needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself,
if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But
someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I
will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God.
You do well. Even the demons believe --
and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O
foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
“Contradiction” hoarsely cry the critics.
But is it contradiction or supplementation? Does not even the fervent advocate of salvation by faith repeatedly warn that faith is not enough if you do not carry out God’s moral standards as well? Reread 1 Corinthians if you have not thought of it from that standpoint. They had faith—Paul never denies it—but they lacked the Christian lifestyle that is supposed to go with it.
The same failure James is attacking. He could prove the reality of his faith by how he acted—by his “works” ()—but could they prove they had faith without them is his great challenge. The obviously intended answer is an emphatic “no!” In light of Paul’s strict teachings on behavior in 1 Corinthians, does anyone really believe he would have disagreed?
Furthermore, both “faith” and “works” need to be defined in light of their Biblical usage and not in light of their theological misuse today. The “works” praised by James are those authorized and demanded by God rather than any ecclesiastical organization. But the Medieval and later usage of the term “works” as synonymous with actions demanded by a religious body, has twisted the usage of the term to the point where many have to make a conscious effort to set the language back into its Biblical setting. In that setting faith and works are two sides of the same coin—embracing God and the gospel as manifested both intellectually and in behavior.
The rigid either/or scenario has also produced many complaints about the compatibility of the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. One version will mention only one individual as participating in a dialogue or healing. When a second account reveals that there were additional individuals present as well, the skeptic protests, “Contradiction!”
What is actually happening is one account is being supplemented by another source. It is not a matter (say) of Matthew or Luke being right, but of combining the facts of both in order to secure a fuller and more complete picture.
We can find this illustrated in the White House news room where correspondents from various television networks and print media gather to question the White House spokesman. If there is a major issue or major event, you may well have questions from three or four or more correspondents. On NBC you’ll likely hear their interviewer asking a question. On Fox you’ll hear a different correspondent pursuing the same matter. And on CBS, you’ll have their rep doing the same.
They will often omit anything said by the others, making it their questioning that is front and center to the viewer or to the one who reads their report in print form. By the critics’ standard of omission (which equates to denial that anyone / anything else was involved), these folks are engaging in a massive misrepresentation. They only mention their questioner and no one else. Hence the others weren’t there, right?
Now on television you can see at least some of those other reporters—though you still can’t tell who (if anyone) asked questions on the same subject. And in a text form of their report which you find online you have even less hint of the presence of anyone else. By the criteria of the critics, those reporters are guilty of (flagrant?) misrepresentation by omitting the presence and contribution of the others.
Yet none of us would be so silly as to make that charge. We know it doesn’t have to carry that conclusion. Why then do we think we can justly make it against the Bible?
“contradictions” occur because people overlook how words are used in real life. The classic example is found in the
conversion of Paul on the road to
This may, indeed, constitute a “verbal” contradiction but it certainly does not constitute a real one.
Is there any adult among us who has not hollered for our children in the adjoining room to do such-and-such (take the trash out, clean up some mess—you fill in the blank) only to have the child insist they “didn’t hear” us? Sometimes they mean this literally; in most cases, however, we find that what they claim to mean is, “I heard someone speaking but I did not understand the words. I had no idea of what was being said.” (To avoid understanding the almost certainly unwanted intervention, they decline to ask about it of course!)
They may or may not be telling us the truth but all of us has eventually experienced, for real, that embarrassing situation of “hearing” but “not hearing”—not understanding. Or even hearing it “wrong,” i.e., thinking they said one thing when they really meant something else.
Yet this is the double usage we routinely give the word “hear” in everyday conversation: (1) to recognize that something has been said and (2) to recognize clearly and with comprehension what has been said. Why deny this privilege to the Bible writer?
In light of this dual usage, the New American Standard was quite justified, though slightly editorializing, in rendering Acts 22:9 as, “did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.” The International Standard Version renders it slightly more idiomatically, “but didn't understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.”
Such are representative of the faults in critical attacks on the consistency of the Biblical records. If God be unalloyed truth, we expect Him to reveal nothing out of character with that nature. We expect Him to teach with one voice, with consistency. Hence we would naturally expect to find in the record of that revelation no untruth, no contradiction for truth is—by its very nature and essence—self-consistent.
However we hasten to add that the complete lack of contradiction is the final step in our reasoning. It logically comes after the credibility of the Biblical narratives is accepted and after an acceptance of the reliability of the Biblical claims about the nature of its revelation.
In dealing with unbelievers, semibelievers, and the spiritually immature this is the only way to proceed. Only when the individual is convinced of the basic reliability of the Scriptures is he or she going to be willing to consider their total reliability. Then as the individual’s faith matures and he comes to see the Bible proved right on particular after particular, then and only then is he likely to feel comfortable with firmly embracing the inerrant nature of the Biblical revelation as it came from its original authors.
So long as the individual can be convinced of the usual and normal accuracy of the Scriptures, we have plenty to work with in leading that person to Christ.
In our judgement common sense requires this approach: Did we come to the spiritual knowledge at the beginning of our discipleship that we (hopefully) gained by twenty years later? Give folk growing room. Build on their faith like you build a building. The growth is inevitable if they are convinced the foundation is sound. They begin with basic reliability and end with complete acceptance. Give them time to grow.
Furthermore prudence requires it as well. There are a multitude of things that can be made to look like contradictions. If we hinge our entire case on the total lack of contradiction in the Bible, all he or she needs to discover is one of these. Then he can use it to reject the redemptive message of the Savior or to bog us down in an endless discussion of questions that are not really central to the life and death situation he himself faces: his relationship to the Lord.
We must be careful not to let skilled opponents paint us into a corner on this point: It is easy for them to accuse us of teaching that if the Bible is wrong in one point it must be wrong in everything it says. They are guilty of oversimplification, to put it mildly. As Edward J. Young has written:
The Bible believer does not maintain that if there is one error in Scripture, then all of Scripture must be erroneous. What he maintains is that if there is one error in Scripture, he cannot be sure that there are not more. If the Bible has once proved itself to be false, is there any guarantee that it will not err more than once? (2-104f)
On the other hand, if the Bible establishes a track record of being right time and again, then the inherent odds are that on other contested issues, it is at least just as likely to be right as in the other cases. Having failed in past cases to establish “error,” there is no particular reason to anticipate it in the next passage to gain their attention.
The Bible critic desperately needs a situation in which the Bible can be proved wrong time and again. Then and only then can he proceed on the reasonable assumption that any contested text must be in error as well. But he still must deal with each questioned passage on its own merits, just as we must. We can neither manufacture consistency—or inconsistency—out of nothing. The actual evidence must remain supreme.
And if there isn’t enough evidence to make a definitive judgment of condemnation? Well, in the American judicial system, the judgment—wisely established for centuries—must be “not guilty.”
II. The New Testament’s Method
of Quoting and Using the Old Testament
A. Paul’s use of the Septuagint (LXX) shows he regarded it as inspired, which it obviously was not?
Certain Jewish legends attributed the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament to Divine revelation. In one form of the story, the translators worked separately and when they compared their work they discovered that each of them had produced exactly the same renderings. That all seventy concurred in the accuracy of the work of the other translators on their own sections seems a far more likely situation to have occurred than that they all translated the entire text identically. One can easily see how puffery of a far later generation transformed this concurrence in the reliability of what they had produced into a claim for its inspiration—something far more extensive and different.
This pious myth, however, is hung around the neck of the apostle by asserting that his use of the LXX shows that he considered it miraculously inspired. And since the story is obviously mythical, Paul can’t be taken seriously as to any inspiration claims of his own that he might make.
As one studies the quotations one encounters, renderings that appear clearly taken from the Septuagint unquestionably occur. One also finds translations that appear to have been made directly from the Hebrew, either by the apostle Paul or someone else. The LXX was the overwhelmingly dominant translation of the day, but, historically, not the only one only one available, and in some cases it is suspected that he utilized such an alternative source in whole or in part in some renderings. In other words there is a distinct lack of the uniform pattern that this argument requires.
There is an old adage that battle plans never survive first contact with the enemy. In this case, a traditional unbeliever old argument can’t survive first contact with the barest outline of reality.
One could reword their approach and argue that Paul’s use of the Septuagint was his dominant one and that reflects a “high view” of its inspiration—though that is “walking back” the initial argument quite a ways! However is it a “high view” of the translation’s reliability or of its inspiration?
For one thing, Paul’s normal use of the LXX no more proves that he (erroneously) believed it inspired than did the popular use of the King James Version in the 1950s prove that they regarded it as miraculously inspired. Yes, there were some who came perilously close to the belief. Just as when the Constitution is discussed there are some whose belief in “Divine guidance” of its authors perilously skirt the same thin age.
Yet most recognized then as well as today, that “inspiration” terminology is used in such places in far looser fashion than one uses it in regard to the original Biblical text.
Furthermore, there is a world of difference between being so widely used—and for such a long time—and so basically reliable as to be the preferred text of the age for quoting and evidence--and the very distinct belief that God worked concept and word shaping power on the written formulations that are being used.
Quotation proves inspiration attributed to the original document, but only reliability as to its translation. If Paul considers the author a prophet or uses terminology like “God said” one would be well justified in making the inspiration conclusion of the original text. Even the broad expression “scripture says” makes that a responsible deduction since scripture writers are repeatedly quoted as presenting that which “God” said or as producing authoritative teaching. But as to the translation he invokes, that argues the lesser (but not insignificant fact) that he regarded it as reliable.
But by mere quotation alone, as definitive proof of inspiration of the translation? Not at all. Paul himself once wrote, "For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ ” (Acts 17:29). Did he regard those poets as inspired? (Note that he says “poets” not “prophets.”) No, but he does embrace their accuracy on this point.
So because Paul quotes something favorably
does not automatically prove its inspiration.
It does, however, establish that he counted it as reliable. Hence when that involves embracing the events
surrounding the crossing of the Exodus, for example (1 Corinthians 10), he
endorses the history as valid, credible, and accurate. Not as strong an attestation as directly
citing it as inspired, but it should be sufficient to any one to make them
hesitant to dismiss that history as mere mythology.
Paul saw the substance of real history—real tragedy as well as triumph, truth be told. Shouldn’t we be willing to do the same? But sadly those who reject these Old Testament events as genuine history, usually reject Paul as reliable as well. In their theology precious little of anything is reliable except whatever provides an excuse for disbelief.
Sad folk, aren’t they? Where nothing can establish as “truth” what they have “scholarly” or prejudicially determined can’t be.
B. The New Testament writers could not have considered the Old Testament verbally inspired since they felt at liberty to quote it in a very “free” and inexact sense?
I believe the Bible to be verbally inspired—substitute some conceptual equivalent if you wish, we are talking about the underlying concept not mere semantics—but when I stood in the pulpit over several decades before my heart condition took center stage, I would quote some verses, paraphrase others, and (occasionally) even alter the tenses so that the quotation would match the rest of my sentence. Such techniques arise quite naturally from using a pre-existing text that the audience is acquainted with in order to convey the desired message.
It in no way reflects upon one’s conviction as to the true nature of Biblical inspiration or compromise the speaker’s convictions on the matter. It is produced, virtually inevitably as a matter of course, through the use of the Biblical text as our sermonic tool.
The same situation existed in both the apostolic and Christ’s personal use of the Old Testament: they were using the Scriptures to get the truth across in the most effective way possible. Making the desired point was far more important than verbal precision in the quote. Just as we advocate a strong definition of Biblical inspiration yet feel no need to avoid using the scriptures in this “free” fashion, the apostles did the same thing while upholding a stringent doctrine of inspiration:
1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Yet the same man who wrote these words is a prime “culprit” in quoting texts less than precisely. If he saw no inconsistency between his belief and his practice, why should we?
Oh, yes he was--some band of theologians have objected. Perhaps they are wiser and more spiritually insightful than the apostle Paul? The way they repudiate his reasoning and reject his doctrines it would seem that, in a very real way, they do so regard themselves, though (I suspect) would be hesitant to confess such arrogance publicly. But if you judge by their works and words—well, we see what happens!
Oh, and notice why Paul says that this written revelation can’t be understood properly: “they are spiritually discerned” (verse 15). A popular expression a few decades ago is surely appropriate here: “they are on a different wavelength.” The critics are simply not thinking with the same presuppositions and assumptions that Paul did—indeed are fundamentally hostile to them even when transferred into a more modern idiom--and therefore can have little sympathy with the conclusions he arrives at. They come from a different world not only chronologically but also spiritually.
But we have drifted a little. Let’s see, we were considering “proper” quotation. The rules of “correction” quotation that we utilize today did not exist in the first century. This doesn’t make us better than them or them better than us: It does make them different. And since the principles of quotation they went by permitted free adaptation, where appropriate to the subject, their going by their own standards does nothing to undermine the reality of the Divine superintendence of the contents of scripture. (Or are we to arrogantly contend that God had to have done it by our standards?)
As to their more generous criteria of usage, some have preferred the term “citation” to the more explicit word “quotation” in describing Paul’s use of the Torah and prophets:
Quotation immediately gives one the picture of our present linguistic conventions of quotation marks, ellipses, brackets, and footnotes. None of this was a part of the Hebrew and Greek of Biblical times. When we quote, we quote with verbal exactness, or we note that we have deviated from this through one of the aforementioned conventions. (3-10.29)
Hence the New Testament may well “cite” an Old Testament in substance without any intention of being a verbal quotation, as we today would understand the term. But it was a quotation within their intellectual framework. And we, typically, recognize its original source easily enough.
C. The New Testament writers misuse Old Testament quotations to prove their point, thereby showing they could not have been supernaturally guided in their interpretation?
It is highly tempting to indignantly reply that at least these “erroneous” users of the Old Testament could heal leprosy, make the blind see, and raise the dead while their modern day critics can (far too often) only be barely understood by a non-theologian! I remember a religious liberal almost growlingly sharing with his class in the history of theology—it was supposed to be a class on modern theology, but that explanation would take us too far afield—and how he was annoyed at theologians who write books that just can’t be understood. “I finally figured out,” he shared with us, “that if I’ve read a book three times and it still doesn’t make sense, it’s the author’s fault and not mine!” Too many theologians, alas, are written for the intellectual “elite” and no one else.
Hence their obscurity is often an indication of their own sense of having no obligation to write with comprehensibility—even for the well-educated. Our problem with Paul is typically the opposite: We understand too well what he says, but we don’t like what he says! But those miracles he and others worked give him an inherent credibility that semibelieving scholars can never have.
But, of course, to these contemporaries of ours, the miracles are fables, myths, exaggerations, misunderstandings, duplications of Old Testament ones—which, of course, didn’t really happen at all either. Or so they tell us.
But, if they did occur as narrated (or anything close to it), what right do we have to challenge their interpretation of scripture as inappropriate, improper, or out of place? Different from how they—or even many conservative writers—might interpret them today, but quite proper none the less. They had raw power to back up their interpretation; we have mere speculation. Which should win in such a contest?
So we see why they have to deny the miracles, too. Leave anything substantial intact and the credibility of their semibelieving theology collapses into ruins.
But let us lay all those legitimate concerns aside. For there are passages where few if any of us would think to use them in the same way unless modern miracles were still being worked to give us accuracy in approach and usage. Yet the New Testament writers did so. (Though with miracle working capacity to back up their credibility, as already noted.)
However a difference in exegetical approach neither indicts their theology nor proves them wrong in how they conducted exegesis. Different than us—quite often that may well be true. But wrong? That’s a totally different matter entirely.
Furthermore the assumption of extreme semibelieving theology is typically that genuine advance prediction of events is inherently impossible in the first place. The apostles believed it was. Is it any surprise that semibelieving scholars find it impossible to find credible use of the Old Testament as prophecy when they inherently reject the impossibility of its presence in the first place? And they have the audacity to contend that it is they who are being scholarly while it was the apostles who were carried forth by their ignorant conviction that the Torah and prophets were intended as forming precedents for New Testament age events!
In short, there is just as much “bias” in much of modern interpretation as well. Both find what they expect is there—precedent (either a verbal match or directly predictive) in the apostles or idle text abusing.
The New Testament writers misattribute Old Testament prophecies?
At last we have something more substantial and more relevant. The most appealed to proof of misattribution is found in Matthew 27:5-10:
5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood." 7 And they consulted together and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, 10 and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."
It is rightly asked: Isn’t this quotation really from Zechariah rather than Jeremiah? Indeed, in Zechariah 11 we do read something very like this:
Then I said to them, "If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not,
refrain." So they weighed out for
my wages thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the Lord said to me, "Throw
it to the potter"--that princely price they set on me. So I took the
thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter.
14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the
The problem with saying that Zechariah is being quoted is that the purported source (though close) doesn’t match on a key point what is found in Matthew 27: Zechariah records the throwing of 30 skekels of silver, but makes no mention of it being used for any purpose in particular, much less the purchase of a piece of property . . . nor that it was done at the Lord’s direction. Ironically, Jeremiah does record the purchase of a piece of property at the Lord’s direction, both the land purchase and the Lord’s direction being major points in similarity with Matthew 27.
Although long for here it is worth quoting Jeremiah’s words in more detail, due to its parallels with the Matthew citation:
Jeremiah 32:6 And Jeremiah said, "The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 7 'Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you, saying, "Buy my field which is in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is yours to buy it." ' 8 Then Hanamel my uncle's son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the Lord, and said to me, 'Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption yours; buy it for yourself.' Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
9 "So I bought the field from Hanamel, the son of my uncle who was in Anathoth, and weighed out to him the money--seventeen shekels of silver. 10 And I signed the deed and sealed it, took witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales. 11"So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open; 12 and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle's [son,] and in the presence of the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison. 13 Then I charged Baruch before them, saying, 14 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: "Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days."
15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of
Note that the action of buying the land was a symbolic prophecy—a prediction of the future embodied in one’s conduct. The very act of buying land in a nation destined to be conquered is a prediction that one day it will be freed and yours again.
So we have in Jeremiah (1) the purchase of land by (2) a Divine commission in (3) an act intended at the time as prophetic. All this argues that Matthew had this passage in mind.
On the other hand, this passage from Jeremiah is not fully adequate to explain the Matthew attribution because the wording is so different and because only seventeen shekels of silver were involved (Jeremiah 32:9) and not the thirty referred to by Zechariah. The potter element is also lacking.
The fact that it is (1) thirty shekels that are mentioned in Zechariah and (2) a potter and—and those elements are clearly cited by Matthew—not to mention (3) that the language itself sounds far more like a quote from Zechariah, strongly argues that Zechariah must be under consideration. But Zechariah lacks the elements Matthew includes that are found in Jeremiah!
In short, neither passage by itself is fully adequate to explain Matthew’s reference. On the other hand, the two together are more than adequate. The Biblical writer, for reasons of his own, has combined the two passages into one single reference.
Since Jeremiah was by far the more prominent of the two prophets, if only one was cited wouldn’t we expect it to be him? Hence the misattribution accusation seems profoundly overstated and functioning in a context not respectful of how the authors themselves reasoned.
Would we do the same? Extremely unlikely. But to be valid citation or quotation does it have to match our methodology of doing such things? Aren’t we supposed to judge documents and cultures within their own context and be extremely cautious of arrogantly assuming they can’t be right because we’ve chosen to do things differently? Oddly, those who are normally the loudest in affirming such things today, rarely seem to grasp that it undermines their ruling out of hand the Biblical methodology!
We might still come to the conclusion they were inadequate or even outright wrong. But just because it was dramatically different means the critic must first present a compelling case why the ancient approach should be ruled out of order. If you feel justified in falling back upon “modern research proves” (as if research motivated by the same anti-reliability assumptions of yours must be right and that of those who are far more conservative than you can safely be ruled out of court because of their assumptions) then you haven’t advanced your case one iota.
Aside on the nature of prophecy: Note that “prophecy” is used of a past, accomplished historical event. Indeed, it is the “good guy” Zechariah that does the casting in that passage (and Jeremiah in his) and not the “bad guy”--in the New Testament of course it being Judas. Hence we find here that prophecy had been used of a prefiguring of or a paralleling with what later occurred—something in which there is an obvious major similarity between what had happened and what is happening in the New Testament.
There is no way the original readers did not know this—it lies right on the surface of the texts. Hence we have here a useful insight when studying other usages of Old Testament prophecy. They may be directly prophetic of events not already occurring, but (depending upon context) they may also be on this kind of nature where the imagery and language is so perfect that it “fits” well with the more recent event. Their unstated argument seems to be that the original prophet used the language both so it would fit the immediate occasion but also because God also wished the language to fit something far in the future though not involved in the immediate discussion.
III. New Testament Texts that
Allegedly Repudiate Inspiration
A. Paul’s contrast of the letter and the spirit
Paul’s use of this distinction has been cited as proof that he did not believe in inspiration that assured the words utilized were fully compatible with what God wanted spoken. The language, we are assured, shows that Paul adhered to a much vaguer and more ambiguous concept of the “thought” being revealed by the Spirit but not the substance.
Is this because God is incapable of doing better? (In that case, the old book title “Your God Is Too Small” would seem to fit the doctrine.) But if He is capable of doing more, why not do so? If he doesn’t, isn’t that showing a bizarre unconcern that His creation should be shown clear cut distinctions between right and wrong rather than left in a fuzzy cloud of vagueness caused by the nature of the way He has chosen to communicate?
Laying aside such obvious obstacles, let us examine 2 Corinthians 3:6, which is one of the texts that uses the expression, “Who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
What does this have to do with inspiration or the nature of inspiration? Paul tells us that he is talking about the “new covenant” and how being a servant of it produces life while yielding to the “letter” of the Law given at Sinai (verse 7) produces death. The point is not inspiration but the superiority of the new religious system (“new covenant”) to that which was given at Sinai and during the Exodus.
Romans 2:29 also makes the same contrast, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Again the contrast is not between two methods of revelation but of two religious systems.
The “circumcision” found under the New Law
is one “of the heart” while the circumcision that all males had to undergo
under the Mosaical system was simply of the
flesh. If they had that, they were part
In making the “letter versus spirit” contrast the opponent of “verbal” inspiration is using a Biblical phrase in a most unbiblical manner and in blatant contradiction to its contextual meaning.
B. Paul’s “forgetfulness”
1 Corinthians is appealed to as implicit proof that the Bible writers did not embrace a doctrine of inspiration as comprehensive as the one we are claiming, “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.” Yes, “do not know” is equivalent to “don’t remember” or “can’t recall.” (And other translations quite legitimately sometimes adopt such readings.)
The Bible, however, claims to be a complete revelation in a specified area: “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). It does not claim to be a complete revelation of history. It does not claim to be a complete revelation of science. It does not claim to be a complete revelation of everything that happened to all preachers of the gospel—not even of all that happened to any individual minister, such as the apostle Paul.
If the Bible had made such a commitment to full recall of such events, then Paul’s lack of memory might well be a valid concern.
and infallibility involve only what is stated or represented as fact; it does
not envolve that about which no positive claim is
made by the given writer. For Paul to
have erroneously claimed a given figure as the number of his converts would
constitute an effective criticism. But
for him to simply say that he did not remember—on a subject that has no direct
bearing on “life and godliness”—that in no way affects the doctrine. Total recall and inerrancy are not synonymous
C. Treasure in “earthen vessels”
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, the apostle refers to the fact that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” This is used to prove that the human element is so pronounced in revelation that there is no reasonable way that we can consider the gospel to have had its very words shaped and approved by God before they were spoken. To make a reverse analogy: Just as passing through a filter purifies water, passing through the human speaker introduces an “impure” element.
If this line of reasoning is correct, how can any of us know how great was the damage inflicted upon the revelation? We could deny not only “verbal” inspiration but even insist that the “humanizing” element was so great that even the “thought” itself had been twisted beyond recognition. If God has so much difficulty breaching the human-Divine gap with words, why would we expect much greater success with mere thoughts, which, by their nature, are typically disorganized, rambling, and often do not make a coherent—or even consistent—unity? At heart, isn’t this really an argument about the inherent inability of communication between the Divine and the human?
Another objection comes from a consideration of the vastness of God’s power: If God could create humankind, wasn’t He wise and capable enough to neutralize any weakening of His message as it passed through the minds of His apostles and prophets? If God is powerful enough to create intelligent life from inanimate earth, is He not able to pass along a coherent and understandable message as well? Is He not powerful enough to pass His revelation in such a way that it reflects both the peculiar human characteristics of the specific individual and the exact message as well? The question is not whether mortals are limited, but whether God is as well.
The God we worship
isn’t crippled in communication ability.
If the God you worship is so incapable of adequate communication,
perhaps you should revisit the God of
It should also be noted that the use of this passage is “proof texting” of the most abhorrent kind: presenting as “proof” a passage that does not even discuss the doctrine under consideration! Yes, religious liberals are just as capable of it as the fundamentalist. Yet we’ve seen this already, so perhaps we should not be all that surprised. Annoyed, yes; surprised, no.
The irrelevancy of this passage to the current controversy can clearly be seen by examining its context in 2 Corinthians 4:
5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
Inspiration is not the subject here; it is not introduced at all. Rather the thrust of the passage concerns God using such weak creatures as we are to proclaim His redemptive message to mankind. By using such “weak,” “earthly” vessels, God’s power in the gospel was that much more abundantly vindicated—for by human strength alone the gospel could neither have been composed, popularized, nor triumphed over its multitude of powerful enemies.
D. The ability of the apostles to err
Some have confidently considered the ability of the apostles to err as clear-cut evidence that they could have erred in their teaching canonized in the Bible. The success of this line of reasoning hinges upon keeping the rhetoric vague: For what do we mean by saying that the apostles could “err”? Err--in what way?
The only example we
have of an apostle in clear-cut error after the ascension of Christ can be
found in an incident from the apostle Peter’s
life. Under pressure from what we might
justly call the most “traditionally Jewish” elements in the church—and, yes,
the church had pressure groups and factions even then—he hypocritically reversed
his past conduct in
There is nothing in the record, however, to indicate that Peter erred in what he taught as truth; his error was one of example, of hypocritical inconsistency.
An error in conduct shows his humanity; it in no way proves that he got his doctrine wrong or even, when under the inspiration given by the Spirit, could err in his teaching.
There are two things concerning the incident that deserve special comment:
Galatians 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”
First note that when an apostle was in the wrong and contradicting his own past behavior, he was fair game to be publicly rebuked. (Though, yes, few would have had the guts to do it as openly or as bluntly as the apostle Paul. Would you?) But his behavior did not become precedent for altering his doctrine; the doctrine remained authoritative and not the actions inconsistent with it.
I suppose one could argue that our text doesn’t explicitly say he had been teaching that social equality with Gentile believers was acceptable. But if he wasn’t, why was he practicing it in the first place? And how could Paul have hoped to make a successful hypocrisy accusation in its lack? Sorry, it just doesn’t work.
Second, note that Peter nowhere suggests—nor Paul—that there was the slightest idea that Peter considered himself as being guided by the Holy Spirit in his inconsistency. Peter had not been told by the Spirit to act the hypocrite. He had no grounds to even pretend it. (If he had then he would have had to answer the impossible question: “how then do we know which of these contradictory teachings really came from the Spirit?”)
If we may be permitted to offer a text that strongly argues that such a scenario would have been impossible for him to embrace: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Do you really believe Peter could have denied the principle or been so malicious egotistical and self-centered to deny its validity to protect himself?
So, yes, Peter and the other apostles could “err” but let’s not import that into their teaching without directly relevant evidence to try to prove it. The fact they could “err” is simply too broad to make the desired point.
(In all fairness to the unbeliever position: And how did Peter react if challenged by the locals as to whether these individuals should be shunned . . . what teaching did he give . . . which could have been taken implicitly as inspired? First, we don’t know that he was challenged. Secondly, precedent in Jewish society made his action the logical de fault position and unlikely to be challenged in the first place . . . any inconsistency in his behavior being dismissed as a temporary and perhaps needed aberration from the proper norm.
(And if some local had done so, unless we are going to assume that he did not remember the lesson about lying that he had learned when denying the Lord . . . then you probably had him shift the topic to “this is what Jews have always done traditionally” or engage in some other discrete “tap dancing” around his inconsistency. Openly repudiate his own words is utterly improbable.)
E. First Corinthians, Chapter Seven
At last we get to some
texts that have a real relevance. At
least they sound right—like they might or could have a
relevance. No disrespect intended
(honestly) but these are like the “Fool’s Gold” that deceived so many in the
(1) First Corinthians 7:6
Older writers sometimes quote the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 7:6: “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” Hence the argument: Paul was given a commandment what to say here. It can’t come from God. He was by his own admission speaking without revelation and the guidance of the Spirit. Or so it was said, in substance.
Even granting this was true, then it is concrete proof that when Paul was speaking without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he was honest and candid enough to point it out directly to the reader! Would not the flip side of this have to be: when he did not make such cautions he intended to be taken as speaking with the overseeing guidance of the Divine Spirit? I mean, you can’t have it both ways in a genuine dispute. If the initial assumption was right, then both of these statements are true.
And since those texts are so limited in number in which there is even speculative evidence for his denying the guidance of God, then one is forced march backwards to the admission that the vast bulk of his teaching was intended to be read as originating with God’s approval, endorsement, and authority.
Arguments that hurt one’s position far more than help, really aren’t so good are they?
But let’s return to our text for we have been exceedingly generous. (If a man wants more rope to hang himself should we be so cruel as not to give it to him?) Our KJV text reads, “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.”
Now the critic has an even greater problem. “I speak this by permission.” Although he hadn’t been given a “commandment” whereby he had to say it, he had been given “permission,” approval, endorsement to say it. Perhaps the Spirit was yielding to Paul’s desire to say it specifically at this particular hour rather than wait until a different occasion. Whatever the case may be, he still had Divine endorsement in saying it!
Those utilizing newer translations will note that this whole particular sub-controversy never actually had a root in the text in the first place. The New American Standard Bible renders it, “But this I say by way of concession, not of command.” This plainly shows that Paul’s real subject matter is the permissive nature of his teaching in verses 1-5: He was allowing rather than demanding. God demands a specific action in some cases; in cases like this, both approaches were inherently moral and acceptable. No one had the obligation to bind either.
The question of whether God told him to speak these words is not even under consideration—just whether one had to go by it. We have here an important point for Biblical interpretation, however: God demands what He regards as essential but he gives us liberty of choice in everything else. When God specifies we yield; when God says, in effect, it doesn’t matter what you do on this particular matter, we have the full right to act within the boundaries of human preference and desire.
I’ve only encountered one translation that indirectly repudiates inspiration by altering the thought from concession / permission versus direct instruction to something else entirely. Hence the Contemporary English Version unwisely renders, “In my opinion that is what should be done, though I don’t know of anything the Lord said about this matter.” When does a “concession” or “permission” becomes a mere “my opinion,” as if God had nothing at all to do with what is being instructed and as if Paul would have felt confident even giving a mere opinion if there were the least grounds to suspect it could be in defiance of the Divine preference!
The lack of a direct instruction becomes an avowal of ignorance, “I don’t know of anything the Lord said about this matter”—vastly altering the thrust of the verse from “I’m not giving an order or the Lord isn’t giving an order.” A profound difference between there being a lack of command and Paul being ignorant on the subject! Put this in your notebook under the heading “even well meaning translators make mistakes.”
(2) First Corinthians 7:25
Verse 25 is another verse in this chapter that Modernists, unbelievers, and semibelievers have found quite attractive. And here, at least initially, they seem to have a tad more to work from than in the earlier cases. Certainly, from our standpoint, it at least gives us something to think about whether it rises to the level of being quite what they need could well prove to be a different matter--as in earlier cases.
Paul notes in this verse, “Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.” “Judgment” is commonly replaced in contemporary translations with “opinion,” though “judgment” does often carry with it the overtone of well thought out, carefully considered “opinion.” Certainly Paul was not likely flipping something off the top of his head on such a matter without thinking about it!
But does he intend it to be taken as “non-inspired (= guesswork?)” as versus inspired? Perhaps.
On the other hand,
first consider that he regards this “opinion” as “trustworthy.” In other words it’s not just an “opinion”
it’s an opinion one could put full confidence in. “Trustworthy” is a common rendering but
alternatives reinforce the point: Consider the “worthy of trust” of the Today’s
English Version and the “deserving of your confidence” of
Isn’t this about as close to claiming inspiration as he could get without explicitly saying so? Indeed, wouldn’t his readers have taken it as assurance that his words could not lead them astray, i.e., had Divine approval behind them?
Next consider his comment in , “But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God.” As we scan through other translations we will find “opinion” a common preference for translation through “judgment” is retained” more often than in the case of .
We saw in 7:6, how the Contemporary English Version seemed to prefer a blunt undermining of Pauline inspiration. Intriguingly, here they make it far more clear-cut by translating, “However, I think I am obeying God’s Spirit when I say she would be happier to stay single.” Although I happen to believe that Paul did regard himself as directly inspired when writing 7:40, that is really exegesis (interpreting the text) rather than translating it.
And if he was really even this modestly “unsure” that he had the seal of the Spirit’s revelation, doesn’t that require that in other cases where no such “limitations” are made, that he was fully convinced that he had the Spirit’s whole hearted endorsement? Does one really want to prove “err-ability” on a narrow single topic, while establishing infallibility on everything else? “If he even speculated that there could be a problem, he candidly revealed it!”
Furthermore, should “I think I also have the Spirit of God” be taken as a denial or should it be taken as cautious restraint in claiming authority in this very personal area of marriage and remarriage and where it would be very easy to impose a “one size fits all” on everyone when it was really a “one size fits most” matter? People react differently to different things; a policy that fit most most of the time would not necessarily fit all all of the time. Paul’s language easily accepts that reality.
What would anyone who had read -13 of this epistle have thought—or, at the very least, highly suspected? Consider the passage yourself:
11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Although this is a major pointer to an implicit claim of inspiration lying behind Paul’s “opinion” in 7:25, I would suggest that a major—the overwhelmingly dominant?—reason for his verbal restraint lies in the fact that what he is about to teach about is similar in nature to that of verses 1-5: It is permissive (perhaps even desirable, cf. verse 7), but it is not obligatory.
As he makes plain in the verses after 25, though there is a course that Paul prefers there is (to use the language of verse 25) “no command of the Lord” binding it. What better way to show that though it is the best course, that it is not a sin to do otherwise than to label it as a “judgment” or “opinion”?
(3) First Corinthians 7:10-16—The Discussion of Divorce
The third text that is appealed to in chapter seven is the section that deals with divorce in believer marriages as contrasted with those in mixed believer-unbeliever marriages. Does Paul repudiate the guidance of the Holy Spirit in what he has to say about those with unbelievers?
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
The initial part of this section is a blanket prohibition of divorce (verses 10-11). This represents the course of conduct Jesus desired and taught during His earthly ministry. Mark -12 and Luke present it this way, without any hedging of any type.
But was this an
absolute or were there any, at least limited, exceptions? In the Old (as contrasted with the New)
Testament, Malachi also speaks
in absolute terms, “For the Lord God of
Does that mean a prohibition or “merely” anger that humans are such that it takes place? Yet even there we find specific divorce conditions specified, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, sends her out of his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1) . . . and then she remarries (verse 2) and is divorced yet again (verse 3) . . . “then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled” (verse 4).
Hence even though God “hates divorce”—even in this circumstance—there was still a limited divorce right and remarriage right in the case of “uncleanness.” Whether that is moral uncleanness or something else we leave to other folk and other occasions; our purpose is to show that it was far from unprecedented to lay down a generalization—no divorce—but to permit a specified exception. (Note that the exception was specified and not merely taken for granted.)
So it comes as no great surprise that even though Jesus could speak in absolute terms in regard to the same subject, He would also make an exception: “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 9:32). He makes the same exception later in Matthew 19:9.
In both Deuteronomy and the Matthew/Luke New Testament passages, Christ was addressing those who were Jews. He did not address the question of divorce among Gentile nonbelievers because His mission was not to them. Does He not Himself tell us of this limitation and how it was binding, at the time, on both Himself and His apostles?
answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house
twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: "Do not go into the way
of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 "But go rather to
the lost sheep of the house of
Hence when Paul faced the question of divorce envolving unbelievers, he had no legislation of Christ to guide him. It is for this reason that he says in verse 12, “but to the rest I, not the Lord, say”—because the Lord had never spoken on the subject about unbeliever divorces during His earthly ministry.
Truth be told, most of His listeners would have been horrified at the very idea of such marriages to outsiders. Hence if Jesus had brought up the subject, how could this possibly have avoided a self-created (by Jesus) stumblingblock in their minds: “Why in the world is He even bringing up this subject? It’s hideous. Can He really be the Messiah or the great prophet we sought?” Jesus had no reservations about conflict when it was essential to conveying His truth, but there was no reason for Him to stir up unwanted and needless questions by raising matters that His audience couldn’t imagine in the first place!
To return to our core point, “but to the rest I not the Lord say,” is not given as a denial of inspiration. It could just as easily mean—and far more likely does mean, for the reasons examined—to the time of revelation, that it was coming through Paul rather than from Jesus during His earthly ministry.
Furthermore, if there was any degree of significant Divine guidance in what Paul wrote, would we not expect Paul to have been conveyed the message, “You going wrong here, boy. That’s not what you are supposed to say.” Hence the very fact that he said it without any indication of hesitancy or guilt surely carries with it the implicit assurance that God approved of this teaching whether he specifically instructed Paul to write it or not. Or are we now to downgrade the very concept of “inspiration” to the level that a direct contradiction of the Divine will was inadequate for God to intervene against?
You see, here we get to the actual nitty-gritty. It is not really whether the Bible was “verbally” inspired. It is whether God was so minimally involved that we can’t be sure that any of it truly reflects His will.
IV. “Needless,” “Trivial,” and
In one sense many
Biblical remarks are indeed “needless” and “trivia”—if what you want as revelation
is a law book that reads like the State Code of
Or, if you will, consider some particular piece of legislation. Say the 2,000-plus page “Obamacare” medical legislation in 2010—did even the most passionate supporters want to even take the time to read it? Because of its great length, a few even openly laughed at the very concept. First of all a “law” is typically written in alleged English—the words are English—but good luck figuring out what they mean. Being a lawyer helps and having plenty of time to hash out the real meaning over time. Would this kind of boring, tedious, specialized work have made sense as Divine revelation? Of course not! Who would want to even take time to read it?
Furthermore, those dismissed “needless,” “trial,” and “emotional” comments play an important role in “humanizing” the Bible. As such they serve a useful and valuable function. They remind us that we are dealing with real people, not paper-mache myths.
Men and women with hopes and dreams, with hurts and pains. People who went through the whole gauntlet of human emotion, just like you and me.
On the emotional and psychological level, their accomplishments and heartaches touch something with us. They become real people to us, not mere cardboard figures out of history. We learn that if they made it through their adversities, then we can too even when we become just as discouraged and abused as they were.
These criticized comments also remind us that there is far more to life than “religion” in its narrower and more limited sense. Friendship, the physical condition of one’s compatriots and kin, one’s own physical well being. All of these are legitimate and honorable concerns in and of themselves—and the Bible treats them that way.
A misplaced religiosity may lead us to question or demean them. The “trivial,” passing problems of life that they document warn us against taking such a narrow approach to our religious faith.
So we hold this entire approach to be in fundamental error. Having pointed out a key root problem of the critics, let us examine some particular texts that are introduced as inadequate or inappropriate for a book that was truly Divinely inspired.
A. Paul’s concern for his “cloak” and “books”
In 2 Timothy the apostle says, “Bring the cloak that I
left with Carpus at
Doesn’t the reference to the “cloak” seem strange or needless in a book intended to be scripture? On the other hand doesn’t it actually give us a further insight into Paul’s temporal situation and priorities? Does it seem to hint either at Paul’s relative poverty (else he could easily have purchased a new one) or at his generosity (at leaving it behind for someone else to use)? Or even that he suffered the same limitations as everyone else in long distance travel--it had been physically impossible to bring everything he desired and had to make some hard choices?
It might even hint at Pauline forgetfulness (as the cause for his leaving certain things behind in the rush of leaving): Remember that inspiration only guaranteed that the doctrine he taught was totally accurate, not that his memory of earthly possessions was.
Perhaps we even have here a suggestion of a deteriorating physical condition in that he needed the cloak.
Hence in this one verse we have the outline of what could become a real fine sermon for those who are undergoing their own modern parallel experiences. It makes unavoidable the recognition that Paul was not a mere ideologue—he was a genuine human being who had the hurts, anguishes, and difficulties that you and I have. And often worse. That is without spiritual value for the ordinary Christian?
Essential, no. Necessary, no. But useful, unquestionably!
What then on the
reference to the “books” and “parchments”?
To mock a man for not wanting to be separated from his books is a
strange thing to come from scholars.
What Bible critic would want to be permanently separated from his or her
personal library? Because of financial
limitations I had to leave 90% of my library behind when I returned to
I can feel a bit of what the apostle did. Anyone who cherishes their books can sympathize with him. So are the words really that useless and redundant? Get real.
If one wishes a directly “religious” lesson out of this in the narrower sense of the word, then one would obviously be that inspiration was never a replacement for study. Why then would Paul need the books? Surely to meditate upon, learn from, and use as the basis for his own consideration of the matters discussed in them.
Which brings us right to a message directly affecting inspiration. Even the inspired needed to study!
2 Peter 1:10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things which angels desire to look into.
They did not have a full understanding; they worked hard to understand, but even then they fell short of plummeting it all. In short, inspiration only gave man what study never could—a completely reliable source document. Looking at it from the reverse angle, inspiration was never intended as a lazy man’s crutch to replace the discipline of study and analysis. Once again: How can such an important fact be dismissed as useless irrelevancy?
B. Paul’s “dietary” advice to Timothy
1 Timothy has the admonition, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.”
The text teaches us, by example, of the honorability of Christian love toward fellow workers in God’s vineyard: Paul was concerned with Timothy and wanted him to stay as well as he could.
It also shows us that being a Christian—yea, even being a preacher and close friend of an apostle—did not guarantee good health: Note those “frequent infirmities,” the wording being so broad as to reasonably suggest that the stomach wasn’t the only one of them. (Note how other translations render this part of the verse.)
Those of us who suffer repeated bouts with a multitude of petty but annoying ailments can well empathize with that first century and gain profound assurance from his steadfastness in spite of them.
These can happen at any age, but they are inevitable as you grow into your last few decades. In my case, these words are revised as I’m about to have my 69th birthday (2012): I carry with me a quadruple bypass, a double bypass . . . a modest one and a half blood vessels (the latter grafted into the other) which is all that keeps me alive.
Some seriously weird physical sensations occur and periodically yet new ones throw themselves at me with all too much enthusiasm! Those I speak to recognize that kind of thing all too easily. Yet even for us facing those few final decades, it’s encouraging to know that the plague of health does not have to hold the battlefield uncontested.
Looking at Timothy’s case we can also deduce that even in the days of miracles, it was not God’s will that every sick person be miraculously cured of their illness. Nor did He ever intend that they live a life perpetually free of sickness. In a world where we are genetically programmed (so to speak) to ultimately die, how could it have been otherwise? We still reap the grim fruit of Adam’s folly.
Need we go on? This text is of “no value” only to those who do not pay close attention to what Paul actually says and implies.
C. The fact that inspiration is not required to express despair, joy, anger, friendship, etc.
This objection can well be illustrated by the example of King David. In the Psalms he repeatedly pours out his heart in desperation, happiness, and anger. Intense, even fiery words.
At the other extreme, so to speak, is Romans 16 where Paul repeatedly expresses his friendship toward a number of citizens of Rome: “I commend to you” (16:1), “greet” (16:3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16), with a few words typically distinguishing one person or pair from another.
Such examples could be multiplied many times over from both testaments. The objector contends that inspiration was surely not needed for these feeling to exist and that inspiration was hardly needed to make Paul express these emotions.
True—to a point.
However we need to remember a fact about emotional outbursts, especially of those of a passionate extreme like David’s: Such an intense fit of emotion can so overcome our self-control that we say things that we do not mean to say. Almost anything can come out of a person’s mouth in such a situation.
I write this revision during election season of 2012. Keep up with the video clips that regularly pop up of one politician or another coming off sounding really stupid, irrational, or absurd? I admit I have the sound turned off on my computer, so I have to read the text summaries that go with them, but those who don’t treat your computer in that manner have surely groaned—quite possibly aloud—“how could he or she (and women have been coming out with some zounders haven’t they?) have possibly said that?”
Without the restraining hand of inspiration, it could easily have happened to David also. You insist that David’s words sometimes still become too vigorous, too outraged, too vehement? I’m tempted to say that it’s easy for us to say it, who haven’t gone through the pain and suffering and humiliation he did. And that would be a reasonable answer!
Don’t criticize someone else for words when your own unedited prose might be ten times worse. Note some of those “reader comments” on news articles? Make David look like a virtual angel don’t they? But David had His supernatural “editor” looking over his shoulder to rein him—if He hadn’t been there, wouldn’t David have sounded several times worse than what you are protesting?
Even in regard to more “temperate” remarks like Paul’s expressions of friendship, inspiration serves a useful purpose: First of all, when dealing with so many people, to get his facts right! Secondly, to protect him from expressing himself in such a way that misunderstanding was certain to occur.
Inspiration might not be required to say many things, but inspiration was always useful to guard the apostle against excess praise or condemnation that could embarrass those he wrote about. Hence the presence of inspiration still performed a useful and important service even in such cases as these!
V. Differences in Style, Native Ability,
God had two basic choices: He could either use or replace the minds and hearts of the apostles (to give a New Testament illustration). If He had so overturned their intellectual and emotional abilities so as to entirely strip them of every characteristic that made them a distinctive and unique individual, they would have been turned into the functional equivalent of zombies—a live body but with all the rest of their being, especially the intellect, quite inactive and quite dead.
Since successfully guidance of them into full accuracy did not require the setting aside or destruction of their varying levels of ability, there was no real reason for God to do so and no good reason for us to object that He did not do so
Furthermore, let us assume that God had indeed acted in just such a manner and created mere intellectual robots (or would the right term be living beings with no functional, independent brains?). Then the Bible would be written in one style. One level of eloquence. In no way at any time deviating from it. Certainly within the New Testament and presumably in both.
And, of course, skeptics would be beating their chests and insisting that this was proof positive of collusion and that the Bible could not possibly be inspired of God. It was all one, gigantic conspiracy for no group of humans could conceivably produce such a flawlessly consistent style, mode of speech, and method of presentation. Someone must have imposed on it that very consistency and since God, a priori, is ruled out since inspiration simply doesn’t happen, period, then a gigantic conspiracy is the only alternative. Perhaps one person having been appointed to rewrite it all in his/her particular rhetorical fashion? (Subject to the veto of the other conspiratorialists, one would think.)
In short, no matter which course God took, grounds would inevitably have been found to criticize the written result. In one case because there are stylistic and related differences; in the other case because they are missing. Working from the implicit (rarely explicit) premise that fully and totally accurate Divinely controlled revelation can’t occur, do they have any choice?
VI. Use of Pre-Existing Sources
The fact that parts of the Bible either utilize or could easily have used such sources is no secret to even the casual reader of the scriptures—their existence is clearly referred to. I hedge between “utilize or could easily have” because the texts themselves do not seem to be any more specific.
For example, Luke begins with a reference to how “many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us” (1:1). Having gained “perfect understanding” of the chain of events of Jesus’ life himself, he proceeded to write his gospel narrative (1:3). If he hadn’t consulted some/many of these, it would be odd indeed for him to have made mention of them. Even so his point in verse 3 is neither an embracing of those accounts nor a rejection—simply an affirmation that he would write only what he had verified as unquestionably true (cf. verse 4).
In regard to the Old
Testament, First Kings provides a fine example.
We have no less than three sources mentioned: The "Acts of Solomon" (1 Kings ); (2) the "Chronicles of the Kings of
Finally, there is Genesis. Upon the Mosaical authorship of the Torah scenario, either Moses was given information on this earlier period or he had pre-existing sources that he utilized in his writing, being protected from error by the Spirit’s oversight. Either way, the writing either incorporates or utilizes earlier materials.
The Bible can be attacked from more than one direction for such usage. For example, it is argued that there was no need for the use of such sources if the man were truly inspired. This objection certainly contains an element of truth: God being all knowledgeable could have provided the writers were everything they needed so they did not have to utilize anything at all.
But there is more to truth than just being right; there is also the need to reassure oneself. Would the ability to utilize earlier resources and to have God’s Spirit confirm or tell you in some manner “that is right,” not reassure even the most steadfast prophet? For even the most self-assured (if he had sense) would have wanted to be confident that the “voice” he heard—or whatever other form it took—was indeed guiding him right.
It is not so much a want of faith as the usefulness for absolute assurance among those who might well be risking their lives by what they said. There is a difference between saying: I know. And saying I know absolutely beyond any shadow of doubt!!!
Furthermore even if you have absolutely assurance the facts are right, you also want to make sure those facts get accepted. Speaking on your own is fine and, many times the only way they could handle it. But if they could, in effect say, “I’m not the only one who has spoken on this; see for yourself”—well that added even more credibility to their message to those who wanted an excuse to ignore it.
A Bible that never alluded to sources or relevant other works would be open to the challenge that it was all cut out of whole cloth, all a pure invention. On the other hand, a Bible that never dared say anything without citing a previous source would, by its blatant lack of self-confidence, indict itself as uncertain and surely not inspired. The approach the Bible takes is to allow a person to verify some while accepting the rest strictly on the basis of faith. It allows room to verify enough that it becomes a rational act to accept the rest on faith.
Our skeptics, however, are even more determined than the ancient foes of the prophets to ignore anything that might compel a reconsideration of their irreligion and rejection of God. If a Bible writer utilizes prior sources that’s proof he wasn’t inspired. If he doesn’t, then there’s the inevitable “you have absolutely no evidence outside the Bible backing that up!”
You see, the Bible has to lose.
Otherwise their own unbelief would be lost.
The existence of likely prior sources being utilized in places is also used to prove that if the sources were wrong, then we would expect the Bible to be wrong where it repeated those sources. In other words, if the cited sources had errors even in the parts not cited, then the Bible could well be wrong on the parts it does utilize. Or does that really follow?
To digress briefly on
a road that will return us to that question . . . Josephus’ writings are
extremely useful in regard to the Great Jewish War that was crushed at
Yet he is the most extensive source on the war; he is regarded as useful and essentially reliable. It is on those assumptions that the histories of that war are written.
Grant us even that much--“useful and essentially reliable”—and the case against Christianity collapses. It would be grand if you accepted fully scriptural inspiration and authority, but you’ll be driven to faith by even that lower standard of evidence if you treat it fairly and with justice.
But, taking it from a
full credibility approach, your conclusion would be even broader and more
emphatic: we would argue that if God
protected the scriptural authors from error in the sections they wrote without
utilizing earlier records, why would it be removed on those occasions when they
had read or examined such materials?
In other words, there is no good
reason to suppose inspiration ceased to be an operative factor when prior data
entered the picture. It would simply
assure that the author utilized them rightly and properly.
VII. The New Testament Writers Did Not
Consider Their Writings as Scripture
One author I was reading shortly before I wrote the 1980s draft of this material made her sentiments quite plain: If the apostle Paul came back today he would find it highly amusing that his epistles had been elevated to the rank of scripture. In certain powerful circles this is accepted as a virtual truism. The New Testament epistles were written only as “occasional letters” to deal with immediate problems and questions and never were intended to be authoritative beyond this narrow and limited usage. Unfortunately (?) it can only be sustained by ruling out of order all Biblical data that points in the opposite direction--that God and Christ intended the apostolic and inspired writings to be permanently authoritative.
For example, the apostles considered themselves as inspired by Christ through the Spirit both as to the accurate recall of His earthly life and teaching and in regard to the receiving of all spiritual truth:
John 14:26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
John 16:13 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
Hand-in-hand with this went the right to authoritatively bind and loose, a power that would have surely been insane to grant to individuals acting independently of close Divine oversight!
Matthew 16:19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 18:18 "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
With such concepts planted deep in their minds, how could the apostles have avoided thinking they were writing authoritative revelation?
That what they wrote
was supernaturally backed in authority can be seen in John’s warning of Divine
wrath on anyone who dared tamper with the text of his letter to the seven
Revelation 22:18 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
He would understandably be annoyed if someone redid even an uninspired letter . . . but could anyone short of the deluded imagine this kind of Divine wrath unless the writing truly represented in authoritative and reliable form what God wished to be said?
Indeed the term “scripture” is directly applied to books of the New Testament by at least two different New Testament writers. Peter puts the writings of Paul on that level and Paul considered the gospel of Luke scripture as well for he so labels a quotation from that work (Luke 10:7) while writing to Timothy:
2 Peter 3:15 And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation -- as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
1 Timothy For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
In light of this evidence, the apostles clearly knew that their compositions were more than just “occasional” writings, intended to be of interest only to their contemporaries. They knew that their writings rose far above this, to a level of religious authoritativeness where even the term “scripture” justly applied.