The Bible Tells Me So
July 12, 2017 — Hebrews 4:8–13
For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Scripture and I have a weird relationship.
I’ve been in this place of increasingly frustrating doubt and weak faith about what we can know about God ever since I got through the first few classes at my Bible college. When I first left the Philippines, I thought that I was going to be going to a place of higher education that was going to be able to answer some of the lingering questions that had started to sprout in my mind in high school. It had always seemed to me that the Christian teachers in my life weren’t certain about the answers to many of my questions.
For example, I wondered why there were so many differences in details about what would seem like pretty easy to measure stuff. Did Jesus throw over temple tables on His first trip to Jerusalem, or His last one? Why are we comfortable aligning ourselves with certain church traditions like trinitarian theology, but not, say, papal infallibility? What do we do when Scripture isn’t as clear as we would hope it would be?
These questions were never shunned by any means. I am thankful that growing up I was encouraged to question, and doubts were never something that was counter to having faith. However, I also found that the answers that I often got were some form or another of “those things that you think are errors in the Bible definitely aren’t actually errors because the Bible is inerrant”
And there’s that word, inerrancy.
When I graduated from my Bible college, one of the areas of doctrine that I had to affirm was the doctrine of inerrancy. For the uninitiated, the definition of inerrancy basically says that the Bible is without error or fault in all that it teaches, or in other words, the Bible doesn’t say anything that isn’t true.
This way of reading the Bible is exceptionally foundational to many of the doctrines of evangelicalism today, including, but not limited to: literal miracles, a literal 6-day creation, a literal physical rapture, and a 7-year tribulation followed by a literal thousand year reign of Jesus on earth.
You may have noticed a key word in that list. Throughout most of my experience, believing in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy goes hand in hand with Biblical literalism. Forgive me if this is getting overly bogged down with theological terms and conditions, but stick with me. Basically, teachers of the Bible say that if the Bible doesn’t say anything that is untruthful, then it must mean that we should read it at face value. If the Bible says that Elijah went up to heaven in a fiery chariot, then if you took a camera back to that spot in the ancient near east at the time, you would have been able to take pictures of the blazing horses in all their glory.
Generally, when anyone critiques this view they are met with a counter argument that essentially says, “if you can’t trust the Bible to be true in what it says about Elijah going up to heaven, then how can you trust the Bible to be true about what it says about Jesus?”
Which, when you look at things a little closer is a somewhat humorous question. Biblical inerrancy only became a “thing” forty years ago at the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Compared to the over 2000 years of Christian tradition, as well as 4000 years of Jewish traditions before that, this statement might as well have come out yesterday. Yet many American Christians who are my age probably grew up with this being the law of the land when it comes to reading the Bible. This is where my dysfunctional relationship with Scripture comes from.
Because while I do not have any problems with affirming that the Bible is true in all that it affirms to be true, I have a problem with propping up one way of reading the Bible that is heavily affected by western, post-enlightenment objectivity, a way of thinking that simply didn’t exist in the ancient near-east.
When we approach the Bible, we often say that the Bible was written to a specific group of people, and for all people. However, this allows weak and wimpy literary criticism of a beautiful ancient text that has been preserved and handed down to us from generation to generation. The fact is, the Bible is a collection of books, and letters, and poems that were written at a specific time by people who were completely human and completely a product of the time and the place they were in.
I used to think that people who thought this way had a “low” view of the Bible. Since I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired Scriptures that were breathed to life by the Holy Spirit, I thought that a perfect God would never let any sort of imperfection or mistake into His handbook for humanity to know Him. Yet as I have continued to read and study God’s word in Bible college, and my own personal study, I have discovered the richness and the consistency of a God who uses flawed vessels to show us Himself.
For isn’t it this God who took on broken and failing human flesh to incarnate himself with us? Wasn’t it this God who literally died in order that we might have life? Isn’t it this God who throughout history used sinful people who did everything from murder to adultery to preserve His nation and build His church? The wild and unpredictable God of the Scriptures is one who does not hand down golden plates from heaven, but who enters into the muck and the mire of our created existence.
So when I come to the Bible right now, I am not looking for the Platonic ideal of “truth” that was handed down to me through western civilization. Rather, I look for the person who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” When we realize that the truthfulness of Scripture is not facts being held up to an objective “form” of truth, but the person of truth in Christ, we are freed to see the beautiful reality of the culturally based documents we have been given to know Him.