Whose Illusions? (Part 2)


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When we say it’s infallible, what we mean is that the Bible has no error in what it teaches. When we say that it’s inerrant, what we mean is that it has no error in what it contains. 

For me, we cannot believe in its infallibility if we cannot believe in its inerrancy. We cannot say that the Bible has no error in what it teaches and, at the same time, say that it has errors in what it contains.


"[T]he Bible always tells the truth and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about." Wayne Grudem. Image credit

Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem put it this way in his “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true. (Italics his)
Skeptics have questioned the truthfulness of the Bible. For example, in his “Illusions of biblical inerrancy” posted on his “Freethinking Me” column, Andy Uyboco questioned the inerrancy of the Bible.
The verse often quoted to support inerrancy is 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But this was written before everything had been compiled into what we now call the New Testament. What “scripture” then, did Paul have in mind when he wrote those words?  
I began to look at how the Biblical canon (the official list of inspired and authoritative books) was developed. When I asked about it, pastors told me that early church fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit to decide which book made the cut and which book didn’t, and for a time, I accepted that.  
However, as I read more and more about church history, I realized that the canon was not decided in a moment of revelation, nor was it declared by a voice in the heavens. There was much discussion, debates, arguments, bullying, politics, and in the end it all came down to a matter of votes. (Emphasis mine)
Uyboco merely echoed what Bible critics taught that Paul was only referring to the Old Testament in that verse and that the apostle had no idea that his letters (along with other writings of his contemporaries) would eventually become part of the Bible.


"The church did not establish the Canon but recognized it and submitted to its rule." R.C. Sproul. Image credit

He also claimed that church councils actually voted “which book made the cut and which book didn’t” after “much discussion, debates, arguments, bullying, politics,” and not really through the guidance of the Spirit.

To be fair, Paul was referring to the Old Testament in 2 Timothy 3:16 in its immediate context. But that doesn’t mean that he limited divine inspiration only to the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Paul wrote about how to reward faithful church leaders. 
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (ESV. Emphasis mine.)
(Let me clarify that I quote that passage here not as a proof-text for inerrancy. But I quote it to prove that there was a canon or a list of inspired books even before the church councils were convened centuries later. It is to disprove Uyboco’s claim that those councils decided the canon.) 


"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" 1 Timothy 5:17-18, ESV. Image credit

Note that Paul supported his argument with what “the Scripture says”. According to Grudem, “[T]he word Scripture was a technical term for the New Testament authors, and it was used only of those writings that were thought to be God’s words and therefore part of the canon of Scripture.” (Italics his) Then the apostle quoted two passages from “the Scripture.” The first one was from Deuteronomy 25:4. But the second one was from the Gospel written by Luke, Paul’s traveling companion. 
“The laborer deserves his wages,” is found nowhere in the Old Testament. It does occur, however, in Luke 10:7 (with exactly the same words in the Greek text). So here we have Paul apparently quoting a portion of Luke’s gospel and calling it “Scripture,” that is, something that is to be considered part of the canon. (Grudem. Emphasis mine.) 
So, though Paul was talking about the Old Testament in the context of 2 Timothy 3:16, that doesn’t mean that he did not regard the New Testament as Scriptures, too. (Also, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, we see that the apostle Peter placed the writings of Paul at par with the Old Testament.)

To summarize, Paul called the Gospel of Luke as “Scripture” even centuries before the church councils regarding the canon of the Bible were convened. Remember that the term “was used only of those writings that were thought to be God’s words and therefore part of the canon of Scripture.”


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Therefore, Uyboco’s claims about the history of the canon of the Bible were wrong. Church councils did not decide on the canon. They merely determined which book already belonged to the canon and which did not. They did not really ratify but only recognized the canon. 


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In his “The Establishment of the Scripture,” Reformed theologian R. C. Sproul wrote
Though its is clear that the church went though a selection or sorting process in establishing a formal list of the Canonical books this does not mean that there was no Canon or rule prior to the decisions of church councils. … The church did not create a new tradition by the establishing of the Canon. Indeed it is not really proper to speak of the establishing of the Canon by the church. It is not the church that established the Canon; it is the Canon that established the church. The church did not establish the Canon but recognized it and submitted to its rule. (From “Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible.” Emphasis mine.)
Thus, the Canon was not “a matter of votes.” It was decided by revelation even before the church councils. It was declared by the voice of God through His apostles way ahead of the early church fathers. 

Biblical inerrancy was not an illusion. So, who’s really imagining things?

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