How should faith and reason work together?
What are the key questions to ask about the Bible?
I will start with a single, simple statement: The Bible is God’s Word to us.
You either believe this, or you really believe this. If you really believe this then you consider the Bible so precious that every time someone prods it with a stick, it hurts ... it really hurts, just as it must hurt God Himself.
And when I say ‘prod it with a stick’, it’s the proverbial stick I am talking about. It goes by the name of textual criticism and really got going in Europe in the 16th Century, when the “rational” mind had taken over from the heart of faith, in matters of religion. It caused us to start to ask questions like:
- Who wrote the Bible, human beings or God?
- Is there any error in the Bible and, if so, is it important?
- How do we trace the manuscript evidence for the Bible?
- Who decided what material to include in the Bible?
It may seem to be a worthy exercise, getting to grips with the authorship, veracity and timeline of the Bible, but it can also seem like doing an autopsy on a living body!
That’s the point, really. The Bible is no dead tome, it is vibrantly alive, as is its Author. It is like no other book, it is God’s Word to us, so we must treat it as a treasured, precious gem.
I’m not purposely being anti-intellectual, irrational and naive, but the process of textual criticism intends to increase our knowledge of a piece of literature, with the understanding that it’s a continual process, feeding from archaeological finds and new research and therefore needing constant analysis and re-analysis.
But this is God’s Word that’s the issue here. I reject textual criticism as the primary tool for an understanding of the Bible because I have perfect 100% faith that God just wants us to believe that it is what He tells us it is. The Bible defines itself here in broad terms:
“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.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
What this says to me is that God breathed His words to us in some way and our job is to figure out what those words were. We need to do so because otherwise we’re not equipped for the work He has for us. So we need those words, from God’s heart to our own. No easy task, made harder by the realities of entropy and the fiasco at Babel. What a strange sentence!
“Entropy” is the scientific observation that all things decay, including scrolls and parchments of God’s words, and the Babel thing (see Genesis 11) gave us the confusion of languages, necessitating translations of God’s words. Working together, this means that we no longer have access to those first words in a language we can understand. Short of entering a time capsule and whisking ourselves off to the days of Moses, how do we know that God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever? Are we reading Scripture as originally intended?
It is the purpose of this set of articles to get as close as we can to those God-breathed words.
As I have said umpteen times in my recent books, when it comes to looking at the ways of man, there are only two mindsets to consider, the Greek one and the Hebraic one. Now textual criticism is very much a result of Greek thinking. This is not to reject it entirely, but to put it in its rightful place, as a tool to show us how God did it, rather than to ask whether God did it, adding doubt and confusion.
Greek thinking analyses the various components of the Hebrew Scriptures, declaring them as a product of human effort at a point in time, to be analysed and compared to other documents produced in other places and at other times. It creates analytical tools and techniques to aid this process such as eclecticism, stemmatics and cladistics, whatever they are! It also gives rise to other methodologies, such as source criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism, whatever they are! (For an introduction to the Greek mindset I refer you to my earlier book, How the Church Lost the Truth.)
They are all tools to prod away, whether as a chisel or as a sledgehammer, but often with the end product of chipping away at the very foundations of our faith, the Word of God. Rather than being sucked into such distractions we would be better employed actually reading the Word of God, believing it and doing what it says!
By contrast, Hebraic thinking looks at the Author Himself and decides that the best way to get to know Him is to read what He has to say. It’s as simple as that and if you’re intrigued enough to want to know more about the Hebraic mindset, then do have a look at my book, To Life!
As we move forwards in our journey, we will continue in the Hebraic mindset that the Bible is God’s Word to us and allow the Holy Spirit and the Book itself to guide us. But before we do so, we go backwards, to a time long, long ago ...
… next week.
To find out what is my favourite book of the Bible, click here.
For the next article in this series, click here.
You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.