Thursday, September 28, 2006

inspired and inerrant

I love the way that the ESV translates II Timothy 3:16,17:
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
The phrase "breathed out by God" is often translated "inspired by God."

I recently came across some literature that offered four different ways to believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God.

1) God chose and inspired the very WORDS found in the Scriptures. This means the words found in Scripture are exactly the ones that are supposed to be in there. There are no words that snuck in that God would have preferred be left out.

2) God chose and inspired the WRITERS of the Scriptures. This means that God's Spirit moved the writer to write the Scriptures but that he didn't micromanage. So in this view the words themselves are the words chosen by writers, not the words chosen by God.

3) God inspired the IDEAS expressed in the Scriptures.

4) God guided and inspired the COMMUNITY that pieced together/produced the Scriptures.

When I saw these different explanations it seemed like all of these might be reasonable ways of understanding how the Scriptures are inspired by God. Then I realized that all but the first one reject the authority of the words themselves. If we can say that God motivated or inspired the writers, ideas, or community, then we can reject certain words that Paul or Peter wrote as not being inspired by God.

More than that, these last three views allow us to say that Paul or Peter didn't even write books that claim to be authored by them, but that God just inspired a "Petrine community" to produce material that sounded Peterish and to put his name on it.

The first view is known as the verbal inspiration of Scripture. When we say that the Bible is the "inspired and inerrant word of God," we're saying that he inspired the words themselves. This is what I believe.


Miles Price said...

1) God chose and inspired the very WORDS found in the Scriptures. This means the words found in Scripture are exactly the ones that are supposed to be in there. There are no words that snuck in that God would have preferred be left out.

In this belief, would you include translations also? or are we talking the Hebrew and Greek only?

Joel Thomas said...

I would classify the Bible as spiritually inerrant, but it is clearly not scientifically, geographically, historically, or timeline inerrant. Some of the discrepancies in the Bible can probably be traced to errors by Scribes. Others simply have no explanation.

Some of the discrepancies, such as whether Joseph was the son of Jacob or of Heli may have logical explanations; others don't seem to.

I think Paul certainly didn't expect that Christ would not have returned within 2,000 years after his death.

Even the most conservative of Christians that I know of do not discourage people from marrying, as Paul did. Now some commentators say he was simply asking the widowed not to remarry, but I think that is a far stretch.

Holy Pirate said...

The NIV and TNIV use "All Scripture is God-breathed," while the NIrV says "God has breathed life into all of Scripture."

When I read these words, I think of Genesis 2, in which God breathed into Adam the breath of life. Without the breath of life, the form was present but there was no "Adam." Only when God breathed life into him did Adam become what he was created to be.

What does this mean to me re: scripture? First, to the extent scripture has the ability to bring life to the reader, it is only due to God having breathed that life into it. Second, it means that there is nothing in scripture that is contrary to life, i.e., following the scripture will always lead to life and away from death.

As for whether the Bible is word-for-word the verbiage placed into human minds via divine dictaphone... I am open to it, but I tend to suspect there may be some translation errors and scribal insertion of commentary. I trust that God has not allowed anything untrue to have been inserted, though.

But what do I know? I'm only a first-semester seminarian who understands about 1/2 of what Ben Witherington writes at this point and prefers NT Wright's "For Everyone" series over the weightier stuff....

Jason Woolever said...

Hey Miles. I would say: Some English translations are better than others. But the English Bible is the word of God, though not inerrant in words the same way that the Greek and Hebrew are.

I'm still working through this, but what makes the letters on the page the word of God is the Holy Spirit speaking through them to the reader and listener.

Great to hear from you by the way.

Jason Woolever said...

I think (I'm still in the refining process) that I believe the Bible's inerrant in that it says exactly what God intended for it to say. In other words, there are no scientific or geographic typos on God's part.

Jason Woolever said...

hey pie rat!
You said:
"As for whether the Bible is word-for-word the verbiage placed into human minds via divine dictaphone... I am open to it, but I tend to suspect there may be some translation errors and scribal insertion of commentary. I trust that God has not allowed anything untrue to have been inserted, though."

Yes I would agree that there may be insertions, as some suggest that John 8:1-11 is. However, I would not say that these aren't the inspired inerrant word of God.

I prefer to not take the watchmaker deist approach in understanding Bible translation. In other words, I don't believe that God inspired the guy who initially wrote the words on the page and then sat back to watch and see what would happen. I believe that God inspired the first writer and then supervised the translation committees etc.

I think God is more involved than we think in the translation process rather than less involved.

This is where I don't by into the complete usefulness of the study of textual criticism. There is a place for it. But in the end its the text who gets to criticize us and not vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Some resources on inerrancy,

Views on Biblical Authority

Matt 5:18 "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled."

International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. The Chicago Statement

How the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy Began

The Houston Declaration, Good News, United Methodist Church

I tend to follow the principles found in the Chicago Statement. I acknowledge the body of theology from the King James version of the Bible. I can understand reluctance
to depart from their doctrinal stance.

Isaiah 7:14 is a good example of problems with translation methods.
Here is one view of why "virgin" should be in place instead of "young woman".

As a moderate fundamentalist, with limited knowledge of Hebrew, I accept the logic of how the word "almah" is used in context with the entire Bible.
Whatever Bible translation we use, we need to pray to God for His Holy Spirit to interpret God's Word for us as we read the text.

This is a humourous look at the NRSV translation process.

"It is unfortunate that the NRSV has gone to such lengths to maintain a gender-inclusive rendering. However, it could have gone much, much further. When the NRSV was getting under way, one of the translators on the committee suggested that God be treated as a woman. If this suggestion had been approved, the Lord’s Prayer would have begun, “Our Mother who is in heaven”! The Great Commission would be: “Baptize them in the name of the Mother, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”!

Dr. Bruce Metzger, who was the chairman of the committee, dealt with this issue swiftly and decisively. Now, Dr. Metzger is a conservative Christian, and a diplomatic genius. He could sell ice cubes to eskimos; he could tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip!

So he responded to this woman translator: “Yes, I believe we should call God a ‘she.’ … And we should call the devil a she, too!” That was the end of the discussion."

John Flores
Frisco, Texas

JD said...


I hope you read my posting about the second spiritual discipline (when I get it up.) I use that exact scripture to define one of the main reasons to read the bible daily. I agree with you. These words may not make sense to science or philosphy, but that is what faith is all about. Getting outside of things that can be proven and seen, and believing in that which is unseen.


PS: John, that was a funny story.

Joel Thomas said...

Metzger is fairly conservative and may be placed toward the side of innerancy, but he seems to believe the Bible is about 99% inerrant. For that reason, some conservatives (fundmentalists?) have classified him as a liberal!

Joel Thomas said...

Also, I don't see how someone who claims the Bible is absolutely inerrant can support women as pastors or believe that Blacks were correct to resist slavery. I don't see how anyone who claims the Bible is inerrant can believe anything other than that the universe is about 6,000 years old. To believe otherwise on these matters requires contextualization and/or the making of suppositions. With regard to slavery it requires supposing that Paul was speaking to a certain circumstance -- that 1) Christ was coming soon and that in the current climate it was futile to resist the master. But Paul doesn't say or imply any of those things. He simply says if you are a slave you must obey. With female clergy it takes a supposition that Paul was speaking in a certain context and for a certain time. But Paul doesn't say he is. He simply says that women should keep silent in church. For creation, it requires the assumption that a day in the early Bible doesn't equal a day now. But the Bible doesn't say that.

Contextualization and connecting Scripture passages to time and place are simply not consistent with saying the Bible is innerant. It is consistent with saying the Bible is God's word and that the Bible is authoritative.

Jason Woolever said...

Hey guys,
For the sake of the conversation,
I would say,
1) It seems clear from the Scripture that Paul did speak against women speaking in church, but that he also acknowledged without disclaimer the leadership of certain women in Acts.
2) I seems clear that Paul does not speak against the institution of slavery. In our own history as Methodists, before the Civil War the Northern Methodists were split from the Southern Methodists in their views on abolition. However, it wasn't because Soutern Methodists were pro-slavery. It was because they knew that they couldn't move freely among the slaves and share with them the message of spiritual liberation through Christ if they were publically speaking against the slave owners. They chose to focus on offering them Christ. This seems to be me to be what Paul is doing as well. It doesn't mean that he was pro-slavery. Paul was a man with one soap box, which was Christ and him crucified.
3) I have no problem with young earth creationism. Scientific dating systems are subject to revision, but God's word never changes.

Thanks for bringing this stuff up.

Jason Woolever said...

About Metzger, judging from the notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, I wouldn't have guessed him to be conservative.

JD said...

This got interesting. I personally believe that you cannot have religion without reason, but I also take the Bible for what it is, inspired word of God that is both a historical and spiritual document. My 2 cents on the last few topics Joel and Jason discussed:

1) Paul was speaking to a certain group of women in Corinth that were causing problems. This can apply today for everyone that is causing problems in the church, whether man or woman. There are too many instances of women being involved in the great things that God has planned for us to say they cannot preach, etc.

2) Paul also said, as well as other writers of the New Testament, that all individuals can come to know God, but God calls us to respect the law of man if they do not conflict with the law of God, i.e., abortion. I like Jason’s comments about the history of the Methodist Church and what they did for the slaves. Sometimes there is a lesser of the 2 evils. Too many people today are unwilling to take a stand on things, so this sort of thing is not as prevelant.

3) The Bible also does NOT say that the day could have been millions of years. Understanding that the historical record of what happened in the beginning is described across cultures around the world, we (Christians) just try to date the earth because of some ages described in Genesis. I still hold that the ages described are representative of the closeness of individuals to the fall and the more corrupt and further man fell, the less time they lived. Originally, Eden was as it will be in the end, body and soul united in perfection without sin. The only thing was that they did not actually get to see God in His glory. That changed with the fall and the only place it will ever be again is in Heaven after the final judgment. I also see Jason's point regarding scientific dating.

My wife and I have discussed this and I still think that there is no missing link because there is not link. God created man as man, all before man was soulless and not in the likeness of God.

Again, my 2 cents.


Jason Woolever said...

"I still hold that the ages described are representative of the closeness of individuals to the fall and the more corrupt and further man fell, the less time they lived."

JD. I've never heard this theory before. Interesting

Joel Thomas said...


Without meaning to disparage you, you are so far to the right that I could see how you might not see Metzger as conservative by your understanding.

However, he is very orthodox on the matter of creeds, miracles, the Virgin Birth, the physical resurrection, salvation, etc. He is a strong opponent of abortion and homosexual relations.

Jason Woolever said...

Joel, not disparaged at all. that's interesting about Metzger. I didn't know that about him.

Thanks for taking the time to make thoughtful and helpful comments on my blog even though I'm further to the right than you. It stimulates consideration on my part.