Monday, February 15, 2010

Scared Scripture

Each night, I have to read for 10 minutes with my son. As a joke, I said to him you could read my university textbook. It was a joke. Honestly. I’m not that mean. But he thought it was a brilliant idea, which is how my son came to be reading my textbook out loud.

My son tends not to look at the words too carefully. So he’ll say what he thinks the word says or should say, rather than what it actually says. So when he came to the words ‘sacred scripture’ he said ‘scared scripture’ instead.

It was cute and it was funny. But it also made me think. In what way could scripture be scared?

Now obviously scripture cannot be scared at all, either as simply a book or as the Word of God.

But people can – and have been – scared that the authority of scripture is under threat.

I don’t have the time to go into everything with too much detail here. But as I have been thinking about the authority of scripture, I would like to briefly look at some of the possible reasons why people may believe that the bible is no longer authoritative.

The first and most obvious one is that some people do not believe that God is real or that Jesus was God’s son. For those that do not have faith in God or Jesus Christ, then it’s hard to find any reason why they should consider it authoritative.

However, another statement that comes up sometime is that no-one should consider it authoritative because some people do not believe it is the word of God. So for instance, say someone asks another person why they believe a certain thing is wrong. The person answers because the bible says this. The first person says well that’s not a good reason because I don’t believe in the bible.

But many people do base their beliefs on what is right and wrong on the bible. And if they are asked why they have certain beliefs, the answer is the bible – whether other people believe in it or not. This could almost be a post in itself. But I better leave it or I will run out of room.

Another threat to biblical authority is that people believe it doesn’t match up with scientific fact. Whether this be the creation story or Jesus’ resurrection or miracles or the flood. And some people think they can no longer believe any of it because they see certain parts of it as unscientific.

The first point to make here is just because something seems to go against our idea of science doesn’t mean it did not happen. If God is intervening, one would expect that the natural laws of science would be suspended. That’s what makes Jesus’ resurrection a miracle. If people rose from the dead all the time (under properly conducted experiments in science laboratories) then it wouldn’t be that much of a big deal. In fact, then you’d probably get people saying well I don’t believe Jesus was the Son of God because he never did anything that special.

The second point is that the bible is not a science book. And if someone were to ask me whether the bible was an authoritative text for learning about science, I would have to say no. But then if someone were to ask me whether a science text book was an authoritative text for learning theology, I would also say no. And yet many people do reject the bible because it fails to match what the scientists say.

I would also say that the knowledge of science is limited. Science tells us about what we can see and can know. But it can’t tell us of Heaven or God or spiritual intervention in our lives. And considering that science is limited to what is here on earth, it seems foolish to use it to reject a book that is not limited to what is here on earth. The bible is more concerned with heavenly matters. Science is only concerned with earthly ones – and can only examine earthly ones.

Another threat to biblical authority that is related to this is that the bible seems to contain errors or that certain passages in the bible do not line up with other passages. So for example, the Gospel of John sometimes seems to contradict Matthew, Mark and Luke. The idea is that, if the bible really were the Word of God, then it would not contain any errors or contradictions.

Again, I go back to the fact that the bible speaks of theological truths. I believe it was divinely inspired. And that God ensured that there were no errors in theological matters. However, it was written by humans, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And humans have limited understanding. It is possible that God allowed them to make errors (due to their limited understanding), providing that they did not make errors that were of importance to any matters related to faith.

Here’s an example. One problem for the church is times gone past was the idea that the earth revolved around the sun. Because in Joshua, it says that the sun stood still. So that’s one error that people might point to and say that the bible is not divinely inspired, because if it did, it would not contain that type of error. However, we need to consider people’s limited understanding of astronomy at the time. If God was to ensure that this error was not in the bible, he would have had to sit the writers down and given them an astronomy lesson that they would not even have understood.

And if we go back to the Gospel of John. What was important for John was that he conveyed spiritual truths in an accurate way. Some of the contradictions may not really be contradictions at all. It is also possible that some of his gospel may not contain the type of strict, factual reporting that you may find in a court transcript, for example. And yet it may be truer because of that. A transcript may be accurate, but it does not always reflect the truth. The comparison has been made between a photograph and a portrait. The Gospel of John perhaps seeks to present a spiritual portrait of Jesus that may be a truer representation than a photograph would be.

The last threat I would like to discuss is one that often comes from Christians. And that is the belief that we don’t like what the bible says anymore, so we’ll change it to something we do like. In other words, they believe the bible is an authority, so long as it fits with their beliefs. But if it doesn’t fit with what they like, then it is no longer considered authoritative. And often this means changing the spiritual truths discussed in the bible to be more acceptable to today’s world.

It’s probably the scariest threat to scripture there is. This idea that the bible no longer fits with what we believe to be true. Therefore, it must be wrong. However, it might just be the case that what we believe not longer fits with the truth.

Anyway, I could probably go on for a few more pages at least, but this post is long enough.

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