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December 24, 2008

Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

   I'll start with a warning that this is a very long post.  Please take the time to read it thoroughly and evaluate the sides before coming to any conclusions.  Many people find fault with even asking questions like this, but I truly believe it is through the questioning that we find deeper levels of faith.  I hope you enjoy it.

   Many of my friends have been questioning, studying and praying over issues arising to the inspiration and authority of scripture in these past few weeks.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  Of course, any discussion around something people hold so dear is bound to evoke many strong emotions.  I want to set those aside my emotions and my upbringing, and look at two of the major views people have on the authority of scripture.   


   All this stemmed from reading through the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, which have small differences that exist, regardless if they have any real impact on the message of Jesus.  It made me wonder how people process through the idea of inerrancy in scripture.  When this verse states it is God-breathed, is that a literal word-for-word God-spoken document, or is it that the ideas are God-breathed and humans who are fallible will communicate those ideas.  I hope I can explain what I’m going through in this thought process.


   If one chooses to believe in the Bible at all, there are two main thoughts on how most Protestant denominations, is the assertion of Biblical Inerrancy.  This idea is very well explained on the Southern Baptist Convention Website in their Faith and Message.  “It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.  Obviously, this is a strict word for word message from God and not simply a message or thoughts from man.  It is considered free from error and is the same for all people, regardless of position, view or idea.  This is the view most Christians I know were raised with, and probably still subscribe to. 

   The only issue with this view is how you handle the minor differences found in some of the stories in scripture.  Here’s a couple of examples that I’ve found.  


Matthew 28:1 1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, *Mary Magdalene and the other Mary* went to look at the tomb.

Mark 16:1 1When the Sabbath was over, *Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome* bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

Luke 24:1 1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, *the women* took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.

John 20:1 1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, *Mary Magdalene* went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.



   So here you see, it was either 1) Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, 2)Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, 3)the women, or 4)Mary Magdalene.  Another example is that only the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 28 verse 2 states that there was an earthquake when the stone was rolled away from the tomb of Jesus, while the other three simply leave it out.  In both cases, you have two options for interpretation.  In the case of the women, either some of the writers felt it was unimportant to include the entire list of people, or they were incorrect about who went.  For the earthquake, either the other three writers didn’t feel it was worth including, or Matthew was wrong.


   There are also two statements from Paul that do not completely align with that view either.  Paul is the writer of the verse in 2 Timothy that I quoted in the opening paragraph.  Then in 1 Corinthians 7:12 he states, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.”  Also in 1 Corinthians 7:25-26 he writes, “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are.  So Paul who is the one who states all scripture is God-breathed is writing something within what we consider scripture that states specifically that it is his opinion, and not God’s command. 


   I live in a town that is filled with college students and professors, all of whom have a very liberal viewpoint.  Many of these same people are actively opposed to Christianity.  In many conversations, it is these types of differences that they use to validate their view that Christianity as a whole is a lie…even if those differences do not even make a difference in relation to who Jesus is, or that He died and rose from the dead!


   How do I continue to hold a view that this is God’s word-for-word scripture when I find things that aren’t similar?  I am willing to have faith sustain me through those types of differences, but how do I help someone who has the view I just mentioned overcome this obstacle?  Surprisingly, what I think is the answer was found in a Catholic Church document from the Second Vatican Council called Dei Verbum.  It states in section 11:


Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text)


     In essence, this is stating that scripture is inerrant as far as it relates to God plans for salvation, and shouldn’t be taken as a work of political history, documentary, or personal biography; at least not in the sense that modern books provide those types of information.  Scripture is infallible as it relates to the absolute correctness of the Bible in matters of doctrine…in areas where it relates to His plan for salvation.  


   Obviously, with this view of scripture, whether there was an earthquake or not simply does not matter.  Really, does it make a difference whether it was Mary Magdalene or an entire hoard of junior high students who traveled back in time visiting the empty tomb?  I think the bigger picture here is that Jesus was not in the tomb.  It really rectifies the authority of scripture as being God-breathed with those potential issues people might find. 


   In closing, I’m still going to spend more time in research, discussion and prayer over this, but the more I research, the more I think that the latter view is not inconsistent with the Christian faith.  It is simply taking a different look at it than what might be the popular or prevalent view.  As I continue this pursuit, I pray it will increase my faith and help me better understand the heart of God, and will help me be a better example of Jesus to those within my missional influence.