Posts tagged ‘What Does This Mean?’

ABC Extra – The Perfect Book

This past weekend, we kicked off a two part mini message series titled “INSPIRE!” where we are looking at how the Scriptures are both inspired by God – that is, they are His very words, authored and spoken by Him – and inspiring to us – that is, they give us guidance for our everyday lives and hope for tomorrow.  Yesterday, we talked about the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  From these verses, we draw the doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture.  The word “verbal” means that God not only inspired the general thoughts of the biblical authors, but their very words.  The words of the Bible are truly “God-breathed.”  The word “plenary” comes from the Latin word plenarius, meaning, “entire,” or “complete.”  Thus, the doctrine of plenary inspiration states that all, not just some of the Bible is inspired by God.  From Genesis to Revelation, God is speaking.

Because the Bible is verbally and completely inspired by God, it follows that the Bible is also inerrant.  Because God is finally the author of the Scriptures and God is perfect, the Scriptures themselves can be nothing less than perfect, even as the Psalmist says, “The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7 NLT).  Robert Preus puts the connection between the doctrine of inspiration and the doctrine of inerrancy well when he says, “Inerrancy is an inextricable concomitant of inspiration” (“Notes on the Inerrancy of Scripture”).  One cannot have a vigorous and meaningful doctrine of divine inspiration without an honest position of inerrancy.

But what do we mean when we say the Bible is “inerrant”?  Because there has been much misunderstanding as to precisely what inerrancy entails, I offer the below list of what inerrancy does and does not mean as outlined by James Voelz in his hermeneutics volume, What Does This Mean? Voelz outlines three things that inerrancy does not entail:

  • Inerrancy does not entail exactness of quotations.  This is illustrated especially when New Testament authors quote Old Testament prophetic texts.  For example, at the Council of Jerusalem, when church leaders are trying to decide whether or not they should require Gentiles to become circumcised according to Jewish custom before becoming Christian, James quotes Amos 9:11-12 and says, “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages” (Acts 15:16-18).  James concludes that because the Gentiles also seek and bear the name of the Lord, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19) and thus counsels against requiring circumcision for Gentile converts.  Notably, the Hebrew text of Amos 9:11-12 is different from the Greek text that James quotes.  It reads, “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name.”  In the Hebrew text, rather than a general remnant of men seeking the Lord, Israel possesses the remnant of Edom. The difference in these two texts is not an affront to the inerrancy of the Old Testament; rather, James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is using an Old Testament prophecy for the express purpose of highlighting how many Gentiles are coming to faith in Christ.
  • Inerrancy does not constitute exactness in the order of events recorded.  A famous example of this principle is found in the temptation of Jesus’ in the desert.  In the account in Matthew 4, the devil begins by tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread, moves on to tempting Him to throw Himself down from the temple, and then finally demands that He fall down and worship the devil.  In Luke 4, however, the order of the temptations is shuffled.  First, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread.  Next, he tempts Him to worship him.  And finally, the devil tempts Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple.  What accounts for this difference?  More than likely, the different evangelists wish to emphasize different things.  Matthew highlights the “descending Christology” of Satan’s temptations, ending with a demand so brash and low as asking Jesus to worship him.  That is, Satan wants Jesus to be “under” him by worshipping him.  Luke, however, saves the temple temptation for the final one, more than likely because it is the temptation in which Satan quotes Scripture.  Satan says, “It is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Luke 4:10-11).  Before this temptation, Jesus has cited Scripture to refute Satan’s temptations.  But now, Satan is using Scripture against Jesus.  Luke seems to highlight Satan’s most sinister type of temptation – the twisting of God’s Word – by saving it for last.  The change in order in no way negates the historical veracity of these temptations, however.  The different evangelists simply wish to highlight different things in Jesus’ wilderness experience.
  • Inerrancy does not constitute the avoidance of figures of speech. Hopefully, this aspect of inerrancy is fairly self-evident.  For even today, figures of speech are commonplace.  Thus, when the Psalmist sings of God’s creation, “God set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” (Psalm 104:5), he is not saying that the earth is somehow cosmologically static.  Indeed, we know it’s not.  Scientific observation has taught us that the earth revolves around the sun.  The earth does indeed move.  The Psalmist, however, is not speaking with cosmological concerns in mind.  He is simply stating that, at least from our human perspective, the earth seems very solid and unmovable thanks to the high handiwork of our God.

In light of all this, what then can we say about inerrancy?  Voelz explains inerrancy from a positive standpoint well:  “To say that the sacred Scriptures are inerrant is to say that their authors are absolutely truthful according to their intended purposes” (What Does This Mean? 239).  Thus, the biblical writers do not lie in any of what they write.  They do, however, write using normal and expected grammatical and rhetorical tropes.  Armed with an understanding of these tropes, we can trust the Scriptural writings as God’s inerrant Word.  And because God’s Word is inerrant, it will never lead us astray.  Praise be to God for His perfect book!

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February 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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