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The B-I-B-L-E #2

2006 March 8
by Mike

Another shocking discovery of my early life was this: people wrote the Bible.

Real, live people. People who did not have perfect lives or perfect insight into the mind of God. People who wrote in their language, using their own vocabulary and style. Luke’s writing is polished; John’s is more like someone who was trying to connect with the middle schoolers (simpler syntax and vocab).

Now, again, doesn’t this fall into the category of no-brainer? In one sense, yes.

But somehow I’d always thought (based on a misinterpretation of a couple passages and perhaps also on my wild imagination) that the Bible was dropped from heaven. Maybe delivered by the Holy Spirit dressed like a dove.

Several OT writers quoted bits of information they had looked up. Luke said he did his homework before sitting down at the computer. And, almost certainly, Matthew and Luke peeked at Mark’s gospel while writing their own. Jude peeked at 2 Peter. Or vice versa. Or maybe they shared a common source.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had baptized only Crispus and Gaius. Then he remembered that he’d also baptized the household of Stephanas, so he added that as kind of a footnote. He also told them that on one matter he had no instruction from the Lord, but he gave his own judgment (7:25).

Frankly, not everything in the Bible is quite as smooth as I used to imagine. There are jars and clashes. Was Jesus’ Nazareth sermon early in his ministry (Luke) or much later (Matthew, Mark)? Was Jairus’s daughter dead (Matthew) or nearly dead (Mark — maybe this falls into the Princess Bride’s category of “mostly dead”) when Jairus found Jesus? Did the cursing of the fig tree happen before (Mark) or after (Matthew) Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? Was it one demon-possessed man (Mark, Luke) or two (Matthew)? And was it at Gerasenes, Gergesenes, or Gadarenes — or are those the same place? For a while I tried forcing explanations so that there were no problems, but I eventually had to admit (with some encouragement from my professors) that this was disingenuous.

And this is just the beginning. Clashes and jars. When we labor under our Western assumptions of HOW THE BIBLE OUGHT TO BE, that’s extremely problematic.

But what if scripture isn’t bound by our assumptions of what it ought to be?

So, were the writers of the Bible guided by God? That’s what I believe by faith. Instructed in some sense by the Holy Spirit? That’s my conviction. Producing authoritative documents that are able to guide the church in teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)? Yup.

Do I still have confidence in scripture? I’ll let my years of preaching, teaching, and writing stand as an answer to that question. I have more appreciation for scripture than I used to. More desire to live under its guidance rather than to attempt to conquer it with perfect comprehension. More eagerness to catch what it intends to do: point us to Jesus.

The ultimate goal isn’t to defend the Bible, memorize the Bible, or understand the Bible. The goal is to let scripture point us to Jesus, committing ourselves to him and jumping into the journey of discipleship.

49 Responses leave one →
  1. March 8, 2006

    Mike:
    All I can say is WOW. What a great way of expressing what Scripture is. I have held similar views for years but felt alone in our fellowship. Thanks for sharing.

  2. March 8, 2006

    My personal favorite is still Peter saying, “those things that Paul write are hard to understand!” Well, what does that say for us?

  3. March 8, 2006

    Scot McKnight, on his blog jesuscreed.org, has a good post today that relates to your post, Mike. It is called “Ehrman and Misquoting Jesus.” McKnight links to an article and mentions a question: Why did God permit so many variations (variants) to the original Gospels and letters of Paul and the other books in the NT?

  4. March 8, 2006

    I really like this Mike. Thanks for pointing me to jesus one more time.

  5. March 8, 2006

    This post has been removed by the author.

  6. March 8, 2006

    Paul – Thanks for that link. I have found McKnight to be such a helpful scholar — along with N. T. Wright, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Richard Hays (just to name a few — along with B.U. NT prof, James Walters!). I would like to see McKnight’s full response.

    What these writers have done is insist that we receive scripture as a true word from God–a guiding word that shapes the church in its attempt to follow Jesus–even while refusing to let modern Western categories that grew out of liberal/fundamentalist debates define how scripture must look.

  7. March 8, 2006

    I too await McKnight’s extended response. When I read the article about Ehrman’s struggle with Christianity due to his view of the Bible, I couldn’t help but wonder if we CoC’ers might have some repentance to do because of the way we’ve tended to promote the Bible to our converts. I know that is a broad-brush caricature. I know I’ve had to do a lot of repenting in the last few years and more repenting is probably still to come.

  8. March 8, 2006

    Thanks, Mike. Once again you seem to make things simple that are so difficult.
    “More desire to live under its guidance rather than to attempt to conquer it with perfect comprehension. More eagerness to catch what it intends to do: point us to Jesus.”
    I love that. I hope to keep reaching toward that goal.

    When I was a child, because of what I was taught I pictured the writers of the Word sitting at a desk with a quill pen and bottle of ink, and a shadowy figure standing behind, with a hand on the writer’s hand, guiding every jot and tittle. I am sure there was a picture like that somewhere in a Sunday school lesson. Maybe on a flannel board…

  9. March 8, 2006

    Thanks again, Mike.
    When I was young I questioned (Only to myself, mind you) how God could allow the “errors” to creep in to scripture. The ones you talk about and even things like King James transliterating (?) immersion into baptism. Does the fact that it stuck mean something? Was God really trying to say that we could pick what we wanted? I have finally settled on an assumption: God wants our belief without proof, without flawless integrity in the text, without actually seeing for ourselves that Lazarus was raised, the lame and blind were healed, the mouths of the lions were shut. Blessed indeed are those who do not see, and still believe. The writings, imperfect (in minor aspects) though they may be, are personal accounts of those who DID see, and hear. They bring us to faith, and inform us about some really important issues. Then, we have some “working out” to do.

  10. March 8, 2006

    Simply the best post I’ve read on this blog. Thanks, I needed that.

  11. March 8, 2006

    Once again, thanks Mike, for these thoughts. Life is recorded by stories. The stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and others, point us to that teacher who said He was from God. I choose to believe those stories and follow Him. C. S. Lewis said that this, the story of the Christ, was the myth that came true, true I might add in the central element of the story – the death, burial and ressurrection. We CHOOSE to believe that story.

  12. March 8, 2006

    Mike,

    Thanks. This one is a keeper.
    The “mostly dead” reference is marvelous.

  13. March 8, 2006

    Mike,
    Again, God has blessed you with a smooth and clear delivery of your understanding of the function of His Word in this world. I think you’re right, this book points us to Jesus. Even stories about someone else, or something unrelated, point us back to Christ. It’s funny how that works. I’m sure I’ve still got many years of formation and transformation ahead of me. Thanks for your insights.

  14. March 8, 2006

    does Diane ever win an argument?

  15. March 8, 2006

    Amen! Excellent post both yesterday and today.

  16. March 8, 2006

    You didn’t happen to be influenced by Jim Woodroof, did you? 🙂

    Great post, brother!

    DU

  17. March 8, 2006

    Well put! Loved the princes bride reference.

  18. March 8, 2006

    Mike, Great post! To understand that “real” people, not “Biblical characters” wrote Scripture. Thank you.

  19. March 8, 2006

    Random thots triggered by posts of yesterday/today…I wish my first attempt to understand “inspiration” had included Luke 1:1-4 instead of 2 Timothy 3:16. God forgive me for searching scriptures thinking they would bring eternal life. Unoriginal thot–Bible is not a kaleidoscope with a lot of interesting images but a telescope focused on Jesus. Glad that Jesus exegeted God for us!

  20. March 8, 2006

    As an MDiv student in the middle of grappling with these subjects, thanks for your response. It is helpful to see that preachers who have been at it a while value Scripture and its faithfulness to its purpose more through their ministry.

  21. March 8, 2006

    Mike,

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how our hermeneutic has framed our view of scripture. Growing up I hear scant little about the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact I was told that the HS spoke exclusively through the Bible. It seems that in the COC we have taken the HS out of th Trinity and replaced him with the Bible. Any thoughts?

  22. March 8, 2006

    My husband, the journalist, became a christian when he was 28 years old. He said that one of the most convincing aspects of christianity was the Bible. He said if someone would have set out to write a book of myths they certainly would not have written about the failings of such men of God like David and his own disciples like Judas and Peter.

  23. March 8, 2006

    Mike, I have been on pretty much a parallel path to what you are describing so well.

    The important part is (as you say) that I appreciate Scripture much MORE now than I used to. Because I appreciate the Savior that Scripture points to more than ever before.

    Michael T.

  24. March 8, 2006

    It has helped me to ask “What is the Scriptural approach to Scripture?” And going to Jesus himself in John 5:39-40 sure does clear it up. Even at least one Jew understood that the prophets, and even the Law of Moses, was mearly pointing to Jesus (John 1:45). I have been unpacking this with our little band of Christian’s in Amarillo, Mike, and it has been liberating and spiritually eye-opening.

    The Bible is not the point, it is the pointer. It’s not meant merely to be read, but to be realized. We don’t “follow” the Bible, but “fulfill” it. (Can you tell I’ve been preaching about this?)

    I know it is very hard for many people to swallow, but my conviction is that the Bible, even in the interpreted form we have it, is inerrant is every way that matters…And that is in it’s capacity to get me to Christ.

  25. March 8, 2006

    Thank you Mike for such an excellent series of postings on the Bible.

    I took several Precept classes several years back. One thing that stood out for me is the Bible is a Golden Thread and Jesus is the Golden Bow. The Old Testament points toward Christ, the New points back, and the pivotal part is the cross.

  26. March 8, 2006

    Outstanding post Mike!

    The Gospel writers were not concerned with relating events in the order they happened (with the exception of Luke). Each had a goal in writing and used events to serve that goal. So, for example, the “when” of the fit tree event is immaterial–it is the point being made by it that they were occupied with under the guidance of God’s Spirit.

  27. March 8, 2006

    Really just excellent stuff. I was all excited about using this explanation in my class on Sunday and then I realized how much more I was going to be able to use it in my STUDY and in my LIFE.

    Thanks, Mike. (Is it baseball season yet? Does the D.R. team look any good? Sheesh.)

  28. March 8, 2006

    Good stuff!

    Scripture was written by men. It’s inspiration by God comes in the fact that it points to Him and that it has been set alongside of history.

    The book “God’s Holy Fire” talks a lot about scripture’s purpose and use.

  29. March 8, 2006

    My belief that the Bible isn’t perfect makes it that much more reliable to me – when I worked at a bank, we used to do mock hold-ups & then asked for eyewitness testimonies from the tellers. Guess what? No one saw exactly the same thing. The Bible has an earthy, human quality that is NOT supposed to be perfect, so that it may point us upward to that which IS perfect, our Lord & King (IMHO!)

  30. March 8, 2006

    Many are making the comments like the Bible “is the pointer”, with many implying that it is pointing to Jesus. But doesn’t it (the Bible) and Jesus both point to something much bigger–God? Constantly in Matt., Mk., and Lk., Jesus points to God (why do you call Jesus good, “Only God is good”, he says). It seems like we have taken his pointing finger (pointing to the place he [and scripture] have wanted us to go, and we worship the finger rather than what it points to. Something many have done with the Bible.

  31. March 8, 2006

    Mike –

    I’ve really gotten a lot from your last two posts, as well. But I still have a lot of accompanying questions left from yesterday evening’s comments that I’d love to hear some posts on sometime if and when you have the time. Or from someone.

    I know they are complicated questions about complicated subjects, but I keep coming back to them because in my experience in the last 35 to 40 years, now, in talking with most people and in trying to reach these people with a better, “more perfect” way, I’ve experienced much difficulty because of what I find to be the pervasive view in this society we live in that there IS, indeed, a “new morality” and that each one is free to be “spiritual” in their own way without “organized religion” or a (the) “church” or accountability to any “group” or any attempt at being part of a, what you termed yesterday, “communal” group of any sort.

    Most people I know do not believe in what I called yesterday “absolute truth”, but that everything is subjective and relative. Thus, there is no basis for common communication between us in trying to sort out and discern what God would have us do in any meaningful sense.

    What is just as troubling to me is that many among us – way too many, in my opinion, which I hope you would share – spend their entire time, sometimes their entire lives, nitpicking with each other over the meaning of certain words, such as what “is” means, as in Clinton’s infamous “it depends on what your definition of is, is”, or in, as you so brilliantly put it the other day, setting up committees to rearrange the seats on the Titanic as it is going down killing most of its passengers along with it.

    As for the Bible as we have it. I agree with your analysis and conclusions. Very much so. I, too, long thought it most likely came down “On the Wings of A Snow White Dove” (anyone but me know that old Dolly Parton song, I think it is, and she wrote it, I believe).

    But since then, I’ve approached the Bible, as I’ve tried to approach a lot of other things, from a very basic, practical basis in that IF we believe in God (which I always have, without any doubts at all whatsoever, which may just be a special gift of faith He has blessed me with, I don’t know) and we believe He wants fellowship, a relationship with us humans, as His children, as His creation, then we MUST believe that He will make His will known to us in a very concrete way (or ways) we can all, to some extent or another, understand.

    (Taking into consideration those incapable of intelligent enough thought processes, such as babies, young children and mentally challenged individuals, who I would submit fall in a different class.)

    In other words – and I suppose this must sound a lot like your “He said it. We believed it. That settles it.” comment yesterday – but He’ll make sure we “get it” through whatever means, and I agree there are a lot more means there than just the written “words” we have in the Bible.

    Does that make sense? It just seems pretty essential to me that God made us, wants us as His, so He will make sure we get the message if we are really truly looking for it. He said it. I believe it. That settles it.!! Indeed!

  32. March 8, 2006

    What a great post. Your right, Jesus along with discipleship should be our main focus, everything else should just be details.

  33. March 8, 2006

    I know exactly how you felt, thats one thing that I really didnt think about until last semester in “Life and Teachings.” Its hard to remember that they could have made mistakes, or somewhere possibly lost part of their gospels(ex. John ch 8). As long as we get a good picture of how Christ lived then thats all that matters. Because afterall that is what we are called to do. Act like Jesus. However crazy that might be.

  34. March 8, 2006

    Knowing you’ve been to Africa, then I know you can relate to the millions around the world who don’t have or can’t read a Bible written in their language. That certainly clears the air about heaven dropping the Bible dressed like a dove!! (oops, God, you missed most of rural Africa!) And then when I read my Bible and try to translate (very roughly) a passage into their local language, I realize the very humanness of the original writers and all the translators. But by God’s perfect grace, and inspite of translation missteps, I do believe the people hear God’s Perfect Word when the truth is spoken because it resonates deeply into the place called “eternity” nestled in the heart of every man (Eccl 11). At that point, even those in rural Africa (and other parts of the world, too) who have no access to a written form of God’s Holy Word, they, too, can be pointed to JESUS when we speak and live out His Message. Thanks for the thoughts!
    -RV

  35. March 8, 2006

    Ehrman’s struggle is my struggle. I can see me walking away from organized religion but I cannot see me walking away from Jesus or true community.

    I honestly do not believe in the deity of Jesus but I desperately want to be like in him in his life and death. I think that is God’s plan for humanity.

    I do not care what you call your self, if your goal is to emulate Jesus then I consider you my neighbor and brother.

    I am thankful for the part of Bible which lets me have a glimpse of this man.

  36. March 8, 2006

    Very stimulating post, bringing up some things I have also struggled with. Is the Bible true because it is inspired, or is it inspired because it is true? Ultimately,if it is true, would it really matter if it was inspired?

  37. March 8, 2006

    “He said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

    I Timothy 2:8 – “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing”.

    Well, hmmm, Paul meant that figuratively, not literally…and, that scripture is much more complex than that anyway…and, besides, I’m not even sure that verse is in my Bible. 🙂

  38. March 8, 2006

    Mike,
    No comments on the election? As you may know, Rob Beckham didn’t even make it out of the primary as you said he would. I would suggest staying out of politics on the blog, I think it actually helped Kevin Christian win!! If you mention anything else, it might help whoever you didn’t want to help!!

    Until next time …
    CollegeGuy (your student)

  39. March 8, 2006

    Actually, He said it, THAT settles it.

    It doesn’t matter if you believe it. He still said it.

  40. March 8, 2006

    College Guy –

    Thanks so much for your experienced, mature insights on what I should or shouldn’t do on this blog.

    I didn’t really have a dog in that hunt. As I said several times, I liked all four of the candidates in the Republican primary. Did you have some reason to believe I didn’t like Kevin Christian? The only reason I got into that was that I had to correct a false impression that had been left (unintentionally, I’m sure) from envelopes that sounded to some like our church had endorsed a candidate. I have absolutely nothing against Kevin Christian or Susan King. I’d be happy with either of them as an opponent to my long-time friend, Mel.

    This is now the second time you’ve posted things that have nothing to do with the blog or the comments.

  41. March 8, 2006

    And by the way — how hilarious to think that my blog helped Kevin Christian win. He had 38%–9% ahead of the next candidate. I’m assuming he won based on very hard work. He’s been going door-to-door meeting people. Plus, I’m guessing lots of people thought his time in Austin with Bob Hunter helped. Plus, even though I don’t really know him, I hear that he’s an impressive young man. I wouldn’t reduce his win to anything on this blog.

  42. March 8, 2006

    Mike, Saul had David to play for him. You have ipod.

  43. March 9, 2006

    Mike –

    Here it is very early Thursday morning and I shouldn’t still be up – as they say “like, big time” – but am and have to say this. I just read your last two comments and I think – I KNOW – that even though I’ve never met you – you are a great guy and I (when I do get to meet you in person one of these days) will like you immensely.

    You have a wonderful sense of humor among your other many gifts and talents and you make us (me) laugh. Your last two comments are (as the commercials say) “priceless.”

    I enjoy your blog so much. Thanks. For all of it. Thanks.

    Grace & Peace,
    Dee

  44. March 17, 2006

    KANSAS!
    Duke
    UConn
    Villanova

  45. September 15, 2006

    Array

  46. March 29, 2014

    Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog
    loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a
    problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any suggestions
    would be greatly appreciated.

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