Prevalent evangelical views regarding the Bible notwithstanding, I have for some time been developing a nuanced and granular view of our scriptures. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed this journey, exactly; some scruples and opinions do not make existing alongside other believers very easy! Yet I cannot deny the views or their implications as I continue on this pathway.
In no way do I disrespect the scriptures; quite the contrary. Although I confess a decreased activity with them in recent months, that is a function of life circumstances, not a reflection of intent or the value I inwardly place on scripture study. I continue to believe that it is an inestimably good use of time to study scriptures responsibly, paying close attention to them. I suppose I’ve spent more focused study time than 90% of the Christian believers I’ve ever come in contact with, but my total time has still been a pittance, compared to the time and effort the scriptures deserve. Our Bibles contain the clearest, best indications of the ongoing conversations between God and humans throughout our existence, so they deserve persistent, devoted attention.
Of course there is a divine element in biblical documents; few if any readers here would deny that. Coming from another angle, though, I want to spotlight briefly the human aspect of Christian¹ scriptures. I think human choices were involved. I reject the idea that specific words were required by God, but I still think delving into the words of the original language is tremendously helpful and illuminating. I don’t suppose I hold to any particular theory of the mechanics of inspiration, but I find it particularly untenable to believe that God somehow dictated exact words or physically moved the biblical authors’ hands as they wrote. It’s not the words themselves that are best said to have been “inspired.” Instead, inspired authors wrote, and there have been rich, ongoing dialogues around those writings throughout the centuries and millennia that have followed. Humans—God’s special, fallible creations!—have played an integral, even crucial role. We might note well some aspects of human roles in scripture production, as articulated by Bernard Ramm:
Ramm gives four defenses for an understanding of Scripture as fallible (or at the very least in need of a new definition, as well as reconsidering the word inerrancy as it lacks historical theology authenticity). These four defenses are as follows:
* the canon was decided upon by human beings
* the autographs that are currently unavailable are considered and created on purely human terms and critiques of extant copies and manuscripts
* the human decision of how much of the Old Testament is still applicable to the church today;
* and finally the endless human decisions on the part of the interpreter as they exegete a text.Ramm, After Fundamentalism, 106. Quoted in Tavis Bohlinger, “Assessing Barth’s Evangelical Interlocutors,” Logos Academic Blog, accessed 11/12/20. (Format altered here. -bc)
While I don’t find equal significance among the four items, each is a human element that deserves attention.
I suppose I’d rather not emphasize the term “fallible,” but when terms such as “infallibility” and inerrancy have developed lives of their own in most evangelical circles, it might just be necessary to speak of the fallible aspect—in order to “speak truth to the power” of the institutional church momentum. In other words, when the authority figures’ assumptions stand in the way of more adequate understandings, it might be appropriate to counter the assumptions with charged descriptions of scripture, e.g., “fallible.” And, after all, all humans are fallible. That is part of our nature.
As a new phase of study life² is set to begin for me, I wanted to remind myself of something of the nature of scripture. Perhaps you’ve gained something by reading, too.
¹ The notion of Christian scripture, for me, is not limited to the so-called New Testament.
² https://www.biblicalconversation.com/ Through the Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation (which is not by any means a group that sits around gabbing about stuff without direction or bona fide, responsible methods), I’ll be studying and pondering the nature and role of apocalyptic literature. Although the time to register for the live, weekly study is expiring today, it will still be possible to register to watch recorded videos of this course.