Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday Morning Theology-Scripture and Inspiration 1

Tuesday Morning Theology:

Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever . What does this mean? (Not the official answer) That mankind is created by God to bring glory to Himself, and that we need not fear this process. That God is righteous and holy, merciful and gracious, allows that man who serves Him may enjoy, from a spiritually discerned viewpoint, the process. It is no guarantee that life will be easy or enjoyable from a human perspective. The point being that we are here for God. This stands as a counterpoint to the common statement that “God is always here for you,” which, while true, is only half the story.

BF&M 2000: Article 1: The Scriptures. Interestingly, Southern Baptists do not define what constitutes the Bible. While other groups define the Bible to include, or not include, the traditional 66 books, the Apocrypha, or other works, we simply state that the Holy Bible was written by divinely inspired men. However, understand that we believe that the classic canon of 66 books is the appropriate definition of the Holy Bible.

Why is it important to have an understanding of the source of Scripture? We as Baptists claim to hold to the Reformation doctrine called sola scriptura , meaning “Scripture alone.” It's intended as a counterpoint to the Roman Catholic Church of the time elevating both church traditions and the decrees of the Pope to equality with the Bible. The difficulty came as there were some traditions and decrees accumulating that either seemed to contradict the Bible or flatly did contradict the Bible. So, the Reformers declared that “Scripture alone” held authority in the church. But what did that mean? Why these 66 books and no others? Why Paul's words and not Clement's? Why the Acts of the Apostles, but not the Acts of the Church over the previous 1000 years? It was necessary then to hold to the idea that there is something special about those 66 books.

We as Baptists hold that what is special about those 66 is this: when the human being that wrote the words wrote the words, the Spirit of God prevented that person from making any mistakes. Now, throughout church history, there have been multiple views about how this works. There are two basic groups: low-view and high-view.

Low view understanding places the most emphasis on man's involvement. A book of history, such as Acts, is held to be the result of research and effort, guided by a person that has personal motives for doing so. Some low-view proponents would hold that parts of the Bible are written by men with bad motives or deception intended. Others that they held great motives. All would allow that the writers could have made mistakes in their process. Moreover, there would be an acceptance that later writers or editors made changes to the works that may or may not have been accurate. Low-view proponents would hold that God may have inspired them to write, but not what to write. This view would summarize well as “The Bible says what God has allowed it to say.”

High-view understanding places the most emphasis on God's work. A book of history, such as Acts, may be the result of research and effort, but more than that, it is guided by the hand of God. This guidance prevented any error. Such a viewpoint holds that, for example, that Luke, while writing Acts, may have been told that it was Polysemus that fell to his death in Acts 20:9, but the Holy Spirit would have corrected him to know it was Eutychus. There are different interpretations within high-view as well. There is a concept of dynamic inspiration and of verbal/plenary inspiration. Dynamic inspiration would hold, basically, that God knew what words Paul would use to explain grace, and so chose Paul to write those words. If Paul started to deviate, God would have caused him to feel/know that he should choose something else. Verbal/plenary holds that God instructed exactly which words to use. Differing opinions within this allow for the personality/education of the writer to come through or that God is just using different tactics. This view would summarize well as “The Bible says exactly what God intends for it say.”

Most Southern Baptists are high-view people.

Now, the issue with both of these views is that apply only to what are called the “autographs” or original manuscripts. In other words, Paul wrote Romans or Luke wrote Acts under God's inspiration. But we don't have Paul's proof copy. So, there are issues of textual transmission and translation. Some hold that God provided the world with perfectly preserved copies of the Bible at various points in history and in various languages. Usually this is held by proponents of a King James Version only viewpoint, that the KJV is the only right and acceptable translation, that it is the properly preserved Word of God, and all others can be wrong.

We as Southern Baptists don't hold that across our denomination, although we can accept people that do. In fact, there are Southern Baptist Churches that are KJV-only. We also, though, accept other translations and do not entirely denounce the process of textual criticism to establish the proper text. We do expect it be done from a point of respect, that we are going to be able to determine what God intended. Also that, apart from overwhelming indications to the contrary, the traditional text should be preserved, at least in the original languages. Modernized translation shouldn't present a problem, as the semantic range of words changes over time.

The other side of the Holy Spirit's work with Scripture is called illumination . While inspiration is the work of writing the text, illumination is the work of helping the reader to understand the text. This comes alongside doing disciplined study and reading of the Word, but also bears with it the idea that we don't get the meaning without God's help. We Baptists generally see the Holy Spirit illuminating the text to believers, while using all Scripture to point non-believers to Christ and salvation.

There's some quick and highly simplified theology of Scripture for you. As for me, I'm a high-view of Scripture person. I think the autographs are perfectly correct, and that it is possible through diligent, respectful study to determine a usable text to translate. Any issues developed in that are correctable by God through the process of illuminating Scripture to the reader, but given that, even with the abundance of manuscripts and texts, there is somewhere between 95 and 98% agreement, there's not many issues there. The autographs are correct, and our best efforts should be made to translate God's word from the original to all languages so that all may hear. We ought not expect anyone to speak 17 th Century English just to learn about the Lord Jesus Christ, but native English speakers can grasp the KJV adequately, just as they can the NASB or ESV. As far as where I stand within the high-view, I'm more of a verbal than dynamic person, but I believe that allows for God to have used the personality of the writer. I would not go so far as to say that the writers of Scripture were “human typewriters” or to eliminate the possibility of scribal writings or group editing. In fact, the belief that God is in control of the process allows more for those actions than the idea man is in control.

With all that, this is certainly not divinely inspired. It's not even footnoted.


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