When thinking about the Inspiration of the Scriptures, we were allowed to ask:
- Who wrote this book or letter,
- To whom was it written,
- In what era of time was it written,
- What were the customs of the day?
- How much has the text been altered over the years when we compare different copies of the text? What is the probable original text?
- What was the goal of the writer? Of what concepts was he/she trying to convince his/her audience?
Questions we were not allowed to ask:
- How much does the author disagree with his contemporary Scripture authors? Does Paul disagree with James or with Jesus? Do any of the laws in the Law of Moses contradict each other? Is there a change in the status of women from the Old Testament to the New Testament?
- Did Jesus break or contradict the Law of Moses, or the books of wisdom?
- Did the prophets of the OT contradict each other? Did the concept of resurrection of the dead gradually develop over time (as N.T. Wright believes) from no resurrection to a definite resurrection?“It is all the more surprising, then, to discover that, within the Bible itself, the hope of resurrection makes rare appearances, so rare that some have considered them marginal. Though later exegesis, both Jewish and Christian, became skilled at discovering covert allusions which earlier readers had not seen – a skill shared, according to the gospels, by Jesus himself – there is general agreement that for much of the Old Testament the idea of resurrection is, to put it at its strongest, deeply asleep, only to be woken by echoes from later times and texts.” N.T. Wright
- Was the author correctly reporting from the Spirit of God?
- Do I agree with the author?
- Can I find wisdom to lead my life in other literature outside the Bible?
Most fundamentalists say things like: “The Bible says…” And some of the biblical writers use similar phrases: “The law and prophets…” “What do the Scriptures say?” However, when one starts to say: “Paul says” or “Isaiah says” then we begin the long walk out of fundamentalism.
As fundamentalists and evangelicals, we were not allowed to question the inspiration of any part of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church never had that perspective. They always viewed different parts of Scripture as having varying levels of inspiration. (Evangelicals do the same, by quoting their favorite scriptures and ignoring their not-so-favorites.) The liturgical churches usually ask the congregation to stand during the reading of the stories of Jesus, and sit during the reading of other parts of Scripture. Martin Luther, a Catholic priest who demanded that the Roman church repent and reform in the 15th century, was not shy in examining which books he thought had more inspiration than others in the Bible.
How does viewing the Bible as less than perfect impact a person’s faith? If one is in James Fowler’s Stage 3 Faith, then questioning how deep a particular passage is inspired, may cause someone to lose their faith entirely. But if you are in Stage 5 it is refreshing and deepens your faith to examine how close to God’s Spirit you perceive the writer of a book in the Bible has come. We examine secular writers this way, why not then the writers of the Bible?
When the apostle Paul wrote his letters, he started with his credentials: “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Then he worked on persuading his readers, pleading with them. He didn’t expect them to just accept everything he said as 100% inspired. He expected his readers to be convinced by his arguments. So are you convinced by all of Paul’s arguments? He was writing to churches 2,000 years ago. We are not the ones he was writing to, so the answer is probably no, we are not convinced by every single argument Paul makes. Some of his arguments sound odd and strange to us, not being familiar with the customs and beliefs of his day.
When the apostle Paul told Timothy that the OT Scriptures he had learned as a child were filled with the breath of God, and were profitable for teaching and would equip the man of God, he was talking about the Law of Moses, the books of wisdom and the prophets. The same books Paul said were “a mere shadow of the things to come,” (Col. 2:16-17) and the writer of Hebrews said were weak, fulfilled and fading away. (8:13)
No, we cannot say that Paul’s statement that the Scriptures were God-breathed means we can never disagree with the Scriptures. Paul freely showed how brighter revelations made much of the OT obsolete (and the religious leaders of his day hated him for it, accusing him of not believing that God had inspired Moses). As evangelicals we are taught that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and did away with it by bringing a better sacrifice and a better worship.
If we don’t have a fully inspired Bible, then there is a slippery slope to “anything goes.”
In fundamentalist churches we can find people who have justified anything and everything from adultery, multiple wives, child wives, wife-swapping, and even murder. Holding to the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures does not guarantee we will stay in the safe zone.
The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful passage, one of my favorites, to the Jews in Rome:
For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? (Romans 2:13-15, 26)
Paul reasons that our consciences should be attuned to God and keeping His will, and that it is not our circumcision (or even our baptism) that makes us Jews (or even Christians), but the way we act in daily life. Paul says that non-Jews, who had never had access to the 10 Commandments, could follow their consciences and end up keeping the 10 Commandments, and be counted as righteous before God.
Using that same logic, couldn’t people who don’t accept the full inspiration of every book of the Bible, still follow the principles of love and grace taught by Jesus? And wouldn’t God accept them as righteous?
It is not the inspiration of Scripture, or even theology that ultimate demonstrates the grace of God in our hearts, but what shines forth from our actions.
Albert Schweitzer was a liberal in his theology, but he raised money and opened a hospital in western Africa because he saw a need, and was motivated by Jesus’ teachings to minister to those in need.
So if you were to ask yourself, how much of the NT writers do you agree with, what would be your answer? And would it shake or strengthen your faith?