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The New Testament

A Translation with a truckload of controversial conclusions!

David Bentley Hart has “a perverse aversion to common phrases” and comes wearing the cloak of Eastern Orthodoxy, so his translation is not at all like any other I’ve ever read. His footnotes explaining his translation choices are fiery, bulldoggish, and controversial. Is he a heretic? Is he a theological liberal? Is he just a blowhard with a few axes to grind? Is he right? One thing is sure, Hart is a provocateur of deeper thought for all who engage in his writings.

Most English Translations Lousy: Hart believes that all standard English translations of the Bible make essential concepts of the New Testament largely “impenetrable.” The truth that the original authors intended becomes “hidden” and “perilously hazy.” The reason he gives is that the work is done by committee. Collaboration according to Hart is a terrible idea for translation work because it becomes “ineluctably mired in the anodyne blandness and imprecision of ‘diplomatic’ accord.” Hart believes a straight shooter is needed who don’t give a damn about great traditions and what others might think, but who will only deliver the goods on what the New Testament actually says, evidently Hart is that man. So with that rather humble start off we go.

Hart smells of Universalism: Romans 5:18 is the clincher for him. He says in his comments on the verse “Christ’s act of righteousness brings righteousness and life to absolutely everyone. Whether intentional or not, the plain meaning of the verse is that of universal condemnations annulled by universal salvation.”

Let the fire burn out: Hart argues “There are only three verses that seem to threaten eternal punishment for the wicked (though, in fact, none of them actually does)” And then he attacks the veracity of what he refers to as “the God of love’s perpetual torture chamber” with astonishing ferocity. Clearly, he doesn’t want eternal hell to be true, and he has prepared an entire armoury of reasons to support its rejection. The Greek word for age, from which spin off all the English translations for eternal and everlasting is genuinely ambiguous. In fact, Hart claims that the word “never clearly means eternal or everlasting in any incontrovertible sense.” Also “Gehenna” never meant hell as it has come to be known in English. First century Judaism in spite of its various differences were unanimous that any concept of hell was for ultimate purification. Metaphor was the idiom of the day, squeezing any literal interpretations from the dramatic language surrounding the dark side of the afterlife is to Hart the longest of reaches. Hart piles into his arguments church father after church father, 20 in all I believe, who rejected the idea that hell was a “literal kingdom of ingenious eternal tortures ruled by Satan” Paul doesn’t talk about it, nor do any early confessional texts, nor does the 4th gospel, or the pastoral epistles. Once Hart has dumped his historical truckload of evidence upon us he lets us know that “the very concept of eternal hell is nearly as historically suspect as it is morally unintelligible.” If we missed the boat so badly on this where did we go wrong? The culprit is “Latin-speaking” Augustine he tells us. Hart is Eastern Orthodox so it’s fitting that he would blame the Western church. But is he right? I hope so, who wouldn’t wish it?

Hart is no fan of complementarianism: He mentions that “Junia” the apostle referred to in Romans 16 is most certainly a woman. No one in the patristic period denied this and “there is no instance anywhere in the vast literary remains of antiquity in either Latin or Greek where the name is masculine. John Chrysostom, for instance, opined that she must have been a woman of superlative wisdom since Paul accords her the title Apostle.” It wasn’t until 1243 that Giles of Rome (who probably knew no Greek) began to argue that Junia must be a man. Then Hart looks to take a swipe at complementarianism by his following statement “the argument remains popular to this day among those eager to make the church safe for misogyny, however it can safely be dismissed as nonsense.”

Dodging the obvious: In 1 Cor 6:9 he is super careful not to use the word, homosexual. Even though the literal meaning of the terms are “effeminate male partner” and “men who bed men.” Instead, he opts for the term “feckless sensualists” and “men who couple with catamites.” He refuses the word homosexual because in that day there would have been no concept of homoerotic sexual identity like there is today. Hart is confident that the specific sin Paul had in mind was a masters exploitation of young male slaves and so he leaves it at that. Any modern day application should not in his estimation be included in the translation. He draws the same conclusions in 1 Timothy 1:10. Fair enough, although, one wonders if Harts careful tip-toeing is a result of modern cultural pressure as much as it is cautious exegesis.

Don’t Worship the Bible! Evangelical and Fundamentalist efforts to shore up confidence in a reliable Bible by making strong statements to its inerrancy don’t impress Hart at all.

All Christians believe that the New Testament is divinely inspired; but any coherent account of what this means must involve an acknowledgement that God speaks through human beings, in all their historical cultural and personal contingency. For those, however, who not only believe that scripture is inspired, but who are also deeply committed to “literalist, “inerrantist” or “dictational” understandings of inspiration, all the words of the Bible must be understood as direct locutions of God, passing through their human authors like sunlight through the clearest glass, and the canon of the New Testament — even though it took a few centuries to concreace into its present form, and has never really existed as anything but a shimmering cloud of countless variants — must be understood as a flawlessly immediate communication, in its every historical and lexical detail, of the teaching of the Holy Spirit and of the faith of the apostolic church. That has never been the only or even the dominant, Christian understanding of Scriptural inspiration. Many modern Christians, in fact, might be quite surprised at the speculative boldness and critical diffidence with which some of the greatest exegetes of Christian late antiquity and the Middle ages approached the Bible. Hart concludes his thoughts on inspiration lamenting the fact that “with the rise of the fundamentalist movement of the twentieth century (in-errantist views) have spread far and wide especially in their acute and virulent forms.

The Bible has issues: He has no care or fear in talking about textual variants, what belongs, what doesn’t belong, what’s a mistake, what isn’t a mistake. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to address some elephants that have long been standing quietly in the room, on the other hand, it’s a bit unnerving for one who grew up in a tradition of boot stepping allegiance to the Bibles inherency. After reading Hart, if he is to be believed, a strict “inerrantist” position is no longer possible.

Let the women be silent verse doesn’t even belong. This passage according to Hart doesn’t belong at all. It’s a late dated interpolation. Internally it breaks the flow of the text and contradicts chapter 11 in which women clearly are encouraged not to be silent in the church. It also contradicts Paul’s radically egalitarian point of view in places like Galatians 3:28. Externally a good number of ancient texts have the paragraph in different spots, one even footnotes it at the bottom of a page. Most scholars have now concluded the passage to be spurious. — It would have been nice to get that one right. This little paragraph screwed up church history big time!

Faithfulness is better than faith: In many places he changes the term often translated “faith” to “faithfulness” Hart is no fan of the protestant Reformation. He refers to the reformers and their offspring as “demonstrably wrong” in their understanding of Paul’s views on salvation. Paul taught that we are not justified by the works of the law (circumcision, kosher laws etc.), but we are justified only by “a faithfulness that necessarily entails works of love — good deeds— in respect of which one will be judged and either rewarded or purged.” The notion that justification is merely a formal or forensic imputation of righteousness rather than a real corrective transformation is a meaning that simply doesn’t exist in the history of the word. Salvation is a process far more than it is a declaration.

Jewish/Greek/Roman Mythology — Hart enlightens us on how the New Testament interacts with the mythologies of the day. One example is the Jewish tradition which held that God deputized angels to give out the law to the Jewish people, the only problem with this plan is that the Angels didn’t always deliver God’s instructions correctly! Therefore any law spoken through the angels is not equal to or as final as the word spoken directly by the Lord. You can imagine the debates already in ancient Judaism as to the source of some particular laws over others.

The belief that we are guilty by birth is a mistake. Romans 5:10 is “one of the most consequential mistranslations in Christian History” — What happened? The two little greek words ἐφ’ ᾧ in the Western tradition were translated into Latin to mean that death comes to us “because” we are sinners. Creating the Western theological position of original guilt. The idea that in some sense all human beings had sinned in Adam, and that therefore everyone is born already damnably guilty in the eyes of God. The Eastern tradition which had a better understanding of Greek drew no such conclusions. Humanity has not inherited a condition of criminal culpability at birth, rather, humanity has been exposed to the contagion of sin and the disease of death. The point of Romans is that Jesus reverses the disease of death by introducing eternal life in him. Death doesn’t come because we are sinners, death and sin have infected our planet, and we are caught up in the mess is the idea.

Don’t take the Bible so literally, the apostle Paul didn’t! — His translation and comments on I Cor 10:11 — Now these things happened to them figuratively, and were written for the purpose of our admonition… As should be obvious, Paul frequently allegorizes Hebrew scripture; the “spiritual reading” of scripture typical of the Church Fathers of the early centuries was not their invention, nor just something borrowed from pagan culture, but was already a widely accepted hermeneutical practice among Jewish scholars. So it is not anachronistic to read Paul here as saying that the stories he is repeating are not accurate historical accounts of actual events, but allegorical tales composed for the edification of readers. Hart is angling for a less historically rigid Bible.

Revelation is history. The beast of Revelation is almost certainly Nero Hart says. Evidently, Nero had become a legend in the 1st century, and many had thought that his apparent suicide in 68 a.d. was a fake and that he would return. So much of Revelation according to Hart was more about current events than future events.

Penal substitutionary atonement is not a Biblical idea. As Christianity spread out through other cultures and languages words like ransom and redemption began to broaden in meaning:

Some Christians came to imagine that the word referred to a ransom paid to God the Father by the Son, to appease God’s righteous wrath, or to repair his injured dignity, or to yield tribute to the awful majesty of his sovereignty. That idea is entirely alien to the way the word is used in the New Testament; there is no suggestion there that, in Christ God pays God off, or God rescues us from God; instead the work of salvation is depicted as a single, unified act of rescue, whereby God the Father, through the Son, redeems his children from the slavery into which they have been sold.

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5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy

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Has God spoken? Have those words been written down and preserved for us in the Bible? Are those words perfectly good and true? Is the Bible absolutely trustworthy, mostly trustworthy, somewhat trustworthy? Right on some things but wrong on others?  All of these questions coalesce into a debate among conservative Christians . “Inerrancy”  is the term that capsulizes this conversation. This book pits 5 Christian men with varying views on inerrancy against each other. Each gets a shot at explaining how they understand inerrancy and each has to look at three passages of Scripture which seemingly purport a mistake and offer their two cents on how that Bible might still be true or not in light of these alleged  errors.

This was both fascinating and spicy! Clearly, this is not a topic of casual debate. For the Christian understanding the Bible is a big big deal.

1 ) Al Mohler — The Bible must be factually accurate in every detail otherwise it cannot be trusted. In short Mohler believes that “When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks” The Bible alone and the Bible in it’s entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.

The church must have a total commitment to the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Bible, or else the church is left without a defining authority.  Inerrancy is an all or nothing kind of thing. Scripture is the support beam on which Christianity is built. Christians need a trustworthy guide. If the Bible is not completely true and trustworthy then the support beam for our faith, is destroyed, and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

Mohler rejects attempts to say that Biblical authority does not require inerrancy. In no meaningful way can the Bible be authoritative in a persons life while at the same time have some errors in it. “Biblical authority is inescapably impaired if total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded.”

With an alarmist tone Mohler laments that if the Bible is not fully authoritative, fully trustworthy, then we don’t even know what Christianity is.

Mohler reasons that he is on solid ground with his position because

  • The Bible teaches total inerrancy
  • The tradition of the church teaches it
  • The function or purpose of the Bible demands it.

But ultimately Mohler appeals to his pre-supposition first of all

“I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and proclaims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully compatible with the claim that every word of scripture is fully inspired and thus fully true and trustworthy” 

Bottom line, since God is true his word must be true. Certainly translations can go off the rails but that’s a different matter. Given this disclosure, we already know Mohler will not struggle to much with the alleged discrepancies.

  • Did the walls fall? (Joshua 6) — archeology says there was no walls in Jericho at the time Israels alleged invasion, therefore Joshua 6 is not true in a factual sense. Mohler simply throws shade on the archeological “evidence”, and finds an archaeologist who agrees with what the text says.
  • Did Paul’s companions see or hear? (Acts 9:7) — The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (Acts 22:9)  — Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. So did the men hear but not see, or did the see but not hear? Can’t be both so the argument goes. Mohler see’s no conflict, his presupposition won’t allow him to, but there is also a convenient explanation, in both cases, the men heard something and they also saw something, but there were unable to grasp what they were hearing and seeing.
  • Is God inconsistent with himself? Duet 20:16 — Kill your enemies Matt 5:43-48 —  Love your enemies — the Bible is contradictory. Mohler says it’s impossible to understand why it had to be this way, but to get to the cross the Bible has us going through Cannan. It’s all one grand, mysterious, and wonderful story. Judgment in Canaan and also in eternity is part of that story.

Criticisms of Mohler

  • There is certainly criticism of Mohlers a-priori convictions. You can’t even have a discussion about errors in the Bible, because going into the conversation Mohler has already decided there aren’t any. You could slap him in the face with an error and he won’t accept it.
  • Mohler’s approach is not helpful because “It is reductionistic and adversarial. It produces not a faith seeking understanding but a rational seeking certainty.”
  • He is too much against extra Biblical lines of evidence. It’s ok for someone to modify their interpretations of Biblical texts and make better sense out of them based on facts that come in. Interpretations change and the text can still be trustworthy.
  • There is criticism of Mohler’s appeal to the church fathers, yes, they made great claims to the inerrancy of Scripture but that was because of their commitment to spiritual and allegorical interpretation. The Bible was declared true because the hermeneutics were so flexible in their day. Augustine wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian until he discovered allegorical interpretation!  The concern is that Mohler is forcing a more modernistic fact based interpretation into inerrancy. Literary devices such as myth and saga need to be considered — they were part of the landscape of the ancient world

Peter Enns

Like it or not, the Bible is empirically false at times, and must not be regarded as inerrant. The Bible tells of God’s acts but also reports some events that either may not have happened or have been significantly reshaped and transformed by centuries of tradition. Inerrancy as it has been accepted by many evangelicals like Mohler actually proves to be unhelpful because it puts expectations on the Bible that it was not meant to bear. The Bible was never meant to be read with our modern interest in accuracy and scientific precision. Strict pre-suppositional convictions on inerrancy short circuit helpful criticism, inquiry, and healthy intellectual pursuit. It’s all about the manner in which God speaks truth, namely, through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general world views of the ancient authors. — some of which we now know are not technically true in a strictly modern sense. Inerrancy is an intellectual disaster for evangelicalism, and it’s gotta go!

  • What about Jericho? — Didn’t happen like Joshua 6 says it does. The archaeologists are correct. This then must be an example of “Mythologized History” There is a kernel of true history to the story, but it has been retold and expanded for reasons we don’t fully know or appreciate. According to Enns the entire Exodus narrative is a myth. A small band of Jewish slaves escaped Egypt, snuck out through a dried lake bed, and created an insignificant colony in Canaan.
  • What about Pauls friends — It doesn’t matter whether one account said they saw something and the other account said the heard something. We need to embrace the creative nature of ancient portrayals of the past. We cannot force the text into being burdened by modern precisionist notions of truth.
  • What about the extermination of Canaanites? — That didn’t really happen either at least not to the same extent the narratives seem to indicate. These narratives were not reported events, they were tribal rhetoric. When you discard the violent narrative’s as tribal trash talk, it’s not so bad. But that’s not the main point. The point is what Jesus says and what the O.T. says cannot be neatly lined up together. Jesus is reversing the O.T. way. We don’t vainly try to justify or explain away the genocide like inerrantists are forced to do. Stuff happened in the O.T. that was tribal and brutal. It is what it is, God’s name got thrown around, now because of Jesus all that is different.

Criticism of Peter Enns

  • If inerrancy falls so falls evangelicalism. It’s difficult to see the difference between Peter Enns and a liberal protestant. It’s what he sounds like. Liberal protestantism is in ruins because they emasculated the authority of Scripture. It hard not to imagine that the same problems will occur if one follows Enns.
  • If one can effortlessly turn most of the O.T. into a myth, what would hinder one from doing the same to the N.T.?  The answer is nothing.
  • Enn’s appears to be a Marcionite — The God of the O.T. is an inferior war like tribal God that has been replaced with the loving God of the N.T. — That heresy was expunged from the church millennia ago. It’s really hard not to draw this conclusion given what he said.
  • He caricature’s inerrancy as some sort of brain dead position, and then attacks it viscously. Critical inerrancy looks very seriously at literary form, grammar, and cultural context , but he seems to think it doesn’t.
  • His “mic drop” ending. See it’s all a mess, quite trying to cover up the errors!  What then is God’s Word? What Qualities must it have? Can the Bible be authoritative? To these questions he gives no answers.

Michael F. Bird

He doesn’t feel comfortable with the standard comment “the Bible is inerrant in it’s original autographs.” What does original autographs even mean? Several portions of both the New and Old testament had later add ons, the original Jeremiah was destroyed and then re-written. The N.T. authors were clearly more interested in the meanings of the O.T. and not it’s actual wording, because they regularly take great liberties when quoting the O.T. certainly they weren’t concerned about “the originals”. This feels to Bird like a convenient way to explain away lots of the potential problems with the Bible. “Well yes, there is that problem, but we believe it wasn’t in the originals, so we are ok”

For Bird Inspiration is a better term. Inspiration extends “to the human literary processes which preserved the meaning and power of God’s Word to achieve the ends for which it was given.”  

Bird see’s inerrancy debate as a largely American phenomenon which is used primarily as a weapon for religious politics. So what does Bird believe about the Bible?

Bible is an authentic and authoritative account of God’s actions in creation, redemption, and consumption…God does not feed us nuts of truth inside of shells of falsehood…There are bits of Scripture, inconsequential for the most part, that do not agree (with the truth) in their precise details.”

These minor inconsistencies, do not derail Birds confidence in Scripture. Nor does he feel that we should always try to defend and explain these bits of Scripture. “We should not anchor the truth of Scripture in our apologetic capabilities to beat the skeptics at their own game; I think there are better ways.” 

Bird things the Bible speaks authoritatively for salvation, but not necessarily on matter of history and science. The Bible should be the ultimate standard for faith and practice, but it should stop there.

He lands his plane by rejecting inerrancy and embracing infallibility as the better term. Infallibility to Bird is the confidence that “The Bible does not fail to achieve the purpose for which God has given it, whether that purpose is asserting, promising, commanding, exhorting, praising etc.”

Jericho? — Main point of story is God fulfilling his promise to bring his people into the promised land, that happened. He is not nearly as confident as Enns in the “clear evidence” of archaeology. But he is ok if the narrative doesn’t correspond exactly to reality in certain mostly minor points.

Pauls Buddies — Ancient historians were story tellers not modern journalists. Lukes narration can be flexible on the details because that is what the genre in which he was writing allowed.

Genocide — God’s a pragmatist, it wasn’t ideal but the Canaanites had to go, and the children of God were the people for the job. This is the unfortunate but necessary provisional step on the road to Shalom in God’s master plan. You can be committed to the Bible with out having to reconcile this O.T. instance of  killing your neighbours and Jesus’ admonition to love them but in order to do that you have to recognize “the contingency of divine command in less-than-ideal situations, and an acknowledgement that some commands are more indicative of God’s original and eschatological intentions than others…We don’t fully understand but we trust.” 

Criticism 

  • Bird assumes that to hold to inherency means you accept strictly literalist interpretations. Which is not true.
  • I don’t know how helpful it is to just walk off from the genocide passage by saying it’s imponderable but I trust God. — Maybe that’s all that can be done?

Kevin Vanhoozer 

Vanhoozer defines inerrancy in the following way: “to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm when they make affirmations, and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly when right readers read rightly.”

Two things stand out about his definition.

  1. Vanhoozer is quit willing to give the biblical authors the benefit of the doubt. He embraces the Augustinian idea of “Faith seeking understanding.” and thus is confident that the authors words will eventually be proven true.
  2. The second part of his definition “when right readers read rightly” is meant to draw attention for the need to understand how truth is revealed in many ways through cultural context, genre, and authorial intent. Truth is about reality, but there is more than one way to render reality in language. Like the difference between maps, one highlight’s roads, another topography, another buried treasure, they need not contradict each other they have different purposes. a poem harbours truth in a different way than does a physics manual right readers reading rightly will know this. for example was Jesus affirming botanic truth when he called the mustard seed the smallest of all the seeds or was he drawing an analogy that his hearers would have understood in order to communicate a non botanical truth? For Vanhoozer this is not difficult, the reader was never intended to look for technical botanical accuracy.

Vanhoozer believes the Bible has difficulties but stops short of referring to them as errors. He also recognizes the pastoral importance for Christians to have an authority that is ultimately united and coherent.

The walls of Jericho — Archaeological evidence is inconclusive, however in many cases, narrative is “true history artfully presented.” Ancient narratives do not give us a completed and unbiased account of events. It’s an angle on truth. But that doesn’t mean its in error.

Damascus Road — Don’t ask what words Luke used, ask what he is doing with those words. This is a progressive reduction of the role of his companions. Paul alone is a witness to Christ’s visit upon him. Literary repetition with a difference is Lukes way of showing that Paul’s commissioning by Jesus was intended for Paul alone. That’s the point.

Racial violence vs. Radical Love — Jesus understood the O.T. as a grand story with an overarching plot — Salvation history. “At points along the story we have holy love meeting with unholy rejection. we have the Creator redeemer engaging with the forces of Chaos. Jesus could say “love your enemies” without condemning the O.T. because the conquest of Canaan was a unique and limited event — a single scene, now past — in the drama of redemption.”  This event was never intended to be a model for how all future generations were to behave towards their contemporary enemies. This event has to be interpreted in the shadow of the cross.

Criticism 

  • It’s not fair play to simply say this difficultly is not an error because it has some greater theological purpose.
  • This is the standard “be patient” and “it’s not impossible” apologetics which Enns has no interest in.
  • Vanhoozer tries to systematize all of the difficulties away.

John Franke

“While the diverse parts of the biblical canon do not contradict or negate each other, neither do they cohere. — When we attempt to ease the difficulties of the multiple perspectives in Scripture to make matters more compact, clear, and manageable, we suffer the loss of plurality and diversity that is woven into the very fabric of Scripture and by extension, the divine design of God” 

John is all about plurality when it comes to truth. He wants us to see the Scriptures as the Word of God in human words, and that as such its stories and teachings taken as a whole, are true and not a lie. However, he strongly rejects inerrancy. For him the principle of divine accommodation is really important. Human language is incapable of providing descriptions of God that are fully faithful to the reality of God as God. What that means is Scripture is not so much the actual words of God as it is a map that effectively guides our journey into the mission of God. The Bible points us in the right direction without the necessity of being photographically precise or drawn exactly to scale.

Another way he explains it, is as follows: Capital T truth is how God sees things, small t truth is how we see it. Witnesses to Capital T truth are contained in the human speech-acts of Scripture but these witnesses are situated and fragmentary and are therefore small t truth.

He is against the idea of forcing Scripture into conformity with others Scripture for the sake of systematic unity. Scripture doesn’t have to agree with itself, there is a plurality of truth found in the Bible is his big idea.

Instead of viewing Scripture as a true foundation it should be a web of interconnected beliefs that are a witness to capital T truth. With the web model, new evidence, fresh interpretation, and alternative viewpoints are continually assessed and incorporated as needed into the existing network of beliefs. All beliefs are subject to critical scrutiny and reconstructed, replaced, or relinquished if necessary.

Truth is not relative Franke says, but it’s a whole lot more flexible than inerrantists think.

Jericho — Doesn’t’ matter because the purpose of the text is to form a covenantal community. It’s not about details at all.

Road to Damascus —  Precisionist approach is terrible. perhaps Sauls companions did not hear with comprehension in the one case. The second telling is from Paul perspective the first from Luke’s. Perhaps Paul’s companions had a different experience. There is no need to harmonize these accounts in anyway.

Genocide vs Love — Both legit perspectives — Franke believes in just war theory for example, and yet still believes in the love of Jesus. Two truths in play. The Bible is a web of varied truths.

Criticism 

  • He shrugs off difficulties in the Bible by saying that there is a plurality of truth, and that’s it. Difficulties aren’t difficult anymore. He is careful to say he is not a relativist. However I’m not sure how he is anything but that.
  • He doesn’t really say what he believes in other than it all fits together, and errors, or conflicting truths don’t really matter because the Bible is a web that we can sort of pick and choose out of.
  • God’s truth as he knows it and God’s truth as he reveals it are two different things, I’m not sure that’s a great idea. Certainly not if we want to have any confidence that we can know what God has spoken to us.
  • There is no real application to his approach.

I’m sympathetic to Mohler because those are my roots. As a Christian who doesn’t want a Bible that is completely free of errors and 100% accurate on everything it talks about. However his unyielding faith in the inherency presupposition made me a bit uneasy. It was kind of like “Don’t confuse me with any facts my minds made up”.

I’m not so much persuaded by Enns. He feels more like a wrecking ball to me. That and a heretic. I’m sure he’s not, right? It just felt to me like he was a Marcianite. Plus his explanations don’t actually help explain the challenging passages in the long run.

Bird is shooting for the term “infallible”. The Bible will not fail to achieve it’s purposes, it is fully reliable for matters of faith and practice, and if it’s a little off here or there on minor points, no big deal. It’s not intended to be a science book, or a technically precise modern history book.

Vanhoozer acknowledges his presupposition that the Bible is true, but it doesn’t feel the same as Mohler’s alarmists cries. I liked his persistent reminders for us to understand how important it is to read Scripture rightly. In many way’s I felt like he was a more scholarly version of Bird.

Franke lost me in a postmodern cloud. I get the part about the plurality of truth, I think. But what is he saying then? Is the Bible really a loosely-connected web of incoherent truths that are all true in their own special way? Truth ever shifting ever changing? Truth with a capital T only known by God, and small t truth for the rest of us —  I’m a bit confused.

I like Bird and Vanhoozer the most. No one had a good explanation for the genocide passages. I’m not sure there is one.

A Little Less Literal with that Please

For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. 

Psalm 91:11-12


This is a classic example of how the Devil twists Scripture. Sadly, many of us humans follow Satans footsteps in this.

In poetic fashion the Psalmist describes how those who trust God will be safe. God is the protector & helper, the giver of salvation and eternal life. This is an encouraging hope filled passage that found its way into the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. Hundreds of years later Satan refashions this verse, and throws it in Jesus’s face. The devil attempts to force Jesus to take this passage literally as a means to control God.

 This chapter was never intended to be taken literally. It’s poetry intended to encourage and build future hope, it’s not to be understood as a modernistic ironclad insurance policy that guarantee’s against cancer, calamity, and all manner of distress.

It’s the same kind of poetry you would hear from a modern NBA star “I’m unstoppable, I can fly, nobody can touch me”. These comments are not literally true, everybody understands this. It’s just this players way of saying that he thinks he’s very very good. In the same way David in this passage is saying that God is very very good.

David’s life was full of trouble and calamity but his faith in Gods ultimate goodness allowed him to rise above the struggle and write psalms of inspiration and praise like this one.

Scripture and the Authority of God

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N.T. Wright is trying to answer three questions, let’s see how he does.

  1. In what sense is the Bible Authoritative?
  2. How does one understand and interpret the Bible?
  3. Assuming accurate interpretation is possible, how does one manage to bring the authority of Scripture to bear upon the church let alone the world?

In what sense is the Bible authoritative? 

It means God’s the boss. Biblical Authority is shorthand for the God’s authority somehow exercised through Scripture.  Wright does not want us to think that God’s word is a synonym for the written Scriptures (27) It’s not, It’s much bigger than that. The written word is the expression and embodying of the living word. John didn’t proclaim that the word was written down, he proclaimed the the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us.  When the Apostles refused to wait on tables because they wanted to give themselves to the Word of God and prayer, its wasn’t extra time in the Torah scrolls that they were angling for. It was the story of Jesus, particularly his death and resurrection, as the climax of God’s grand story that they needed to focus in on and preach about. Jesus as the fulfillment of all that had gone before could now be teased out of the Torah scrolls with greater clarity if they had opportunity to read them, but make no mistake the Word they were after was the knowledge of Jesus wrapped up in God’s grand story. Wright uses the word “story” 83 times to help us understand that the authority for the Christian is God’s grand story, climaxing in Jesus — this story is the “word of God” which by divine providence came to be expressed in written form through the work of the early writers and compilers.  The Bible is the charter which forms the basis for the fulfilled telling of the story of God at work among his people.

How does one understand and interpret the Bible?

Totally contextual, multilayered, critical realist approach. Everyone got that? We good to move on? I suppose an explanation is in order. First however, Wright takes us on a world wind tour of the history of Biblical interpretation. It’s always good to know where one is coming from!

Marcion made the Scripture into two totally different stories with two altogether different God’s, he tried to “de-jew” the Christian story, and debunk the Jewish one. Allegorical interpretation was a dramatic counterbalance to Marcion’s throw out the bad stuff mentality.  Basically everything in Scripture became a mystical representation of Jesus with absolutely no care for the context. This was a wayward albeit sincere attempt to stick with Scripture, even when Scripture was problematic. (particularly O.T. Scripture) because of it’s lack of control. Once you can make scripture stand on its hind legs and dance a jig, it becomes a tame pet rather than a roaring lion. (51)

The reformers, bucked against the nauseating allegorical interpretations of their predecessors, but their emphasis on grace over law inadvertently set the story improperly against itself at times. The following generations of reformers played around with various interpretive strategies in which they would make distinctions to help with interpretation, for example, Jewish moral law was seen as distinct from Jewish ceremonial law, making the moral applicable and the ceremonial not applicable. Wright gives this the thumbs down, citing that ancient Jews would have made no such distinction. He dismisses dispensationalism as a fanciful notion, and leaves it at that.

Totally contextual means that the cultural context of a Scripture must be considered at all times. Multilayered means that Scripture is like a five act play with each act stacked up on top of the other, with the whole communicating one grand story. The implication is that some Scriptures will mean something in there original context but will also mean something more in the broader context of the story as a whole. It also means that some portions of Scripture will be less important. To quote Wright:

The key point of the whole model, which forms the heart of the multi-layered view of how ‘the authority of scripture’ actually works, runs as follows. Those who live in this fifth act have an ambiguous relationship with the four previous acts, not because they are being disloyal to them but precisely because they are being loyal to them as part of the story. (89)

He fails to define critical realist, even though he twice calls himself one. He uses the term in reaction to postmodern thought which says one persons interpretation is as good as another’s. The term, I think, means that there is an actual true meaning in the text that can be determined with careful study. One interpretation is not as good as another.

As mentioned earlier Wright acknowledges that some parts of the Scriptures are no longer relevant for the ongoing life of the church —not, because those parts are bad, or not God-given, or less inspired, but because they belong with earlier parts of the story which have reached there climax. (39) He captures the idea well with the following illustration:

When travellers sail across a vast ocean and finally arrive on the distant shore, they leave the ship behind and continue over land, not because the ship was no good, or because their voyage had been misguided, but precisely because both ship and voyage had accomplished their purpose. During the new, dry-land stage of their journey, the travellers remain—and in this illustration must never forget that they remain—the people who made that voyage in that ship. (41)

Assuming accurate interpretation is possible, how does one manage to bring the authority of Scripture to bear upon the church let alone the world?

Read the Bible out loud together. To quote him directly:

“The whole of my argument so far leads to the following major conclusion: that the shorthand phrase ‘the authority of scripture’, when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” (83)

It feels perhaps a bit simple, but if we want to bring the authority of Scripture to bear on the church and the world we must read it together out loud. Wright laments how churches have cut out Scripture reading in worship gatherings in order to speed things up, or make things more palatable for seekers. Wright will have none of that. Read, read read he says. Read it in the liturgy, read it in large chunks together, have good preachers preach it regularly. He doesn’t dismiss the notion of personal private study, but that is not what he is driving at, for Wright the proclamation of the word is the heart of Church life and the only way it will ever be brought to bear upon the church and the world.

On the need for ongoing interpretive work

To affirm ‘the authority of scripture’ is precisely not to say, ‘We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise any more questions.’ It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions. (67)

On the relationship between Scripture, reason and tradition:

Scripture is the shelf full of books; tradition is the memory of what people in the house have read and understood (or perhaps misunderstood) from that shelf; reason is the set of spectacles that people wear in order to make sense of what they read—though, worryingly, the spectacles have varied over time, and there are signs that some readers, using the ‘reason’ available to them, have severely distorted the texts they were reading. (74)

“Big Time” 

Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ (Luke 7:22-23)

 It is not the glamorous & popular things that you do in the name of Jesus that impress God. Miracles? Demon hunts? Prophecy? God yawns. There are plenty of religious showmen in this world, God is impressed with none of them. God, on the other hand, sits up and takes notice when he sees a person on the long, slow, faithful walk of obedience in the every day. There is talk in heaven when you quietly put others in front of yourself, and serve in the shadows. God is standing now, applauding wildly. “Yes!” says God as he high fives the other members of the Trinity. The roar of the angel crowd in heaven can be heard when you are in a quiet corner praying fervently for others and resisting temptation during rigors of daily life on planet earth. Can you hear them cheering? Despite doubts, you’ve continued to love and worship the unseen God. That’s what they call “Big time” in heaven.  

Religion is good, provided it doesn’t actually say anything 

They tell the prophets,

“Don’t tell us what is right.

Tell us nice things.

Tell us lies.

Isaiah 30:10

2700 years ago the people wanted religion, but they wanted it to suit them, to make them happy and comfortable. This is exactly the kind of religion many in our world desire today. Religion that doesn’t actually make any claims, religion that doesn’t actually give directives for life, religion that doesn’t take a moral stance on anything. We want a religion that isn’t hard and doesn’t require sacrifice. Much to be preferred is a religion that just makes you feel good about yourself. Meditate, stretch, breathe, feel good, repeat. The principle deity of “tell us nice things religion” is self. In the end, self is a poor choice for a deity.

Is God anti-gay? (Book Review) Sam Allberry

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Sam Alberry is a Christian with a unique perspective. He admits that he is same sex attracted, but yet he stands resolutely opposed to fulfilling those attractions. He answers the question of his book title with a negative. Sam is certain that God is not anti-anyone, but if so, then why must he deny himself?

Gay is not who I am — He believes It is unhealthy for sexual preference to be the fundamental identifier of a human. This is why Sam prefers the term “same sex attracted” over the term gay. Just like it would be off to lock someone into the identity of carnivore simply because they like to eat a steak on occasion so to would it be inappropriate to lock someone into a sexual identity. A human is far more than what his natural appetites might be. To build an identity off of this one part of humanity is unfair to the human.

Sex outside of marriage is a bad idea — He believes that sex was intended to be so much more than casual. In a way, sex is like a post-it note. The first time you use it, it sticks well, but when it is reapplied too many times, it loses its capacity to stick to anything. We are simply not designed for multiple sexual relationships. Sex becomes less relational, more functional and less satisfying as a result. Sex is designed to irreversibly knit two people together. When it’s used for anything other than this, despite what the sitcoms preach, there is emptiness, brokenness and devastation.

Marriage needs both genders — He is also convinced that marriage is rooted in gender. It’s the great reunion. God made Eve from Adam, and then in a brilliant stroke, He puts them back together permanently through the sexual union that comes with marriage. Marriage according to God, says Sam, can only be the reunion of these two genders.

Let’s just be friends — According to Sam, a common problem among SSA people, including himself, is what he calls “friendship heroin.” Sam’s tendency, is to develop an unhealthy emotional dependancy on another person. If he is not careful he can get “high” on the affirmation of this friend which can easily result in intense but unhealthy longings. According to Sam, simply knowing this and being able to work through the dangers of “friendship heroin” together, and not “freaking out” is very helpful for people with SSA that really just want regular friendships, not the unhealthy addictive versions.

The Bible is clear — Sam has been told innumerable times that the Old Testament has lots of rules that the modern Christian doesn’t adhere to, so why can’t homosexuality just be one of those now irrelevant rules? Sam’s answer: Jewish civic law and Jewish temple law have been fulfilled in Christ. Those rules don’t apply anymore. However, moral law finds itself restated in the New Testament — specifically covering this particular area. If one wishes to give in to SSA and live in a lifestyle that allows for the fulfillment of those longings, he will have to do it, in opposition to what the Scripture says, something Sam is not willing to do. To quote him directly: “Life is far, far better when Jesus is at the centre, and far, far worse when anyone or anything else is.”  because of this belief he is willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. Which is actually the calling of all Christians.

I applaud Sam’s tremendous courage to speak out. I am certain that homophobes on one side of him will criticize him unmercifully for his admission to SSA, surely he can’t be a Christian, without denying his same sex attraction they will say. On the other side, the gay activists will take equally unmerciful shots at him, incredulous as to how he could possibly deny his own sexual appetites for the sake of what they are certain is out dated and inaccurate dogma.

Click below to watch a short video of Sam explaining his unique position.

Sam from Living Out on Vimeo.

Why a Christian believes it’s good to receive correction

In Psalm 141:3-4 we learn that the natural tendency for all humans is to “drift towards evil” like a log drifting towards Niagara Falls. The writer of the Psalm tells us that as humans we find ourselves prefering the “delicacies of sin”. We devour the chocolate cake before us, refusing to consider that it is laced with poison. This is why David says in verse 5
Let the godly strike me!
It will be a kindness!
If they correct me, it is soothing medicine.
Don’t let me refuse it
The writer of the psalm is saying When people have the courage to smack him in the mouth and say “don’t eat that cake!” It’s actually a good thing! Christianity was never meant to be private or solitary. Christians believe they are a community of faith. Instead of being filled with resentment when concerned family members within the community call us to repentance we should celebrate. It is only Pride that keeps anyone from listening to the worthy corrections of another and that’s the worst poison of all! Of course if One has a worldview that shrouds the concepts of good in evil in a dark cloud of unknowable mystery, then I could see how that person could be easily offended when corrected by another — but such is not the case with Christianity.

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Jesus & the Apostles Christianity’s Early Rise (National Geographic)

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