Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Bible: Is it trustworthy? Is it the Inspired Word of God?

Notice: This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, affiliates, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

Doctrine one of the Salvation Army states, “We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013). The meaning of this doctrine is fundamentally three-fold: The 66 books of the Old and New Testament are given by an all-powerful God through the inspiration of human authors, infallible in regard to their depiction of all of reality, and are the only primary authority of all activities and faith practices of Christians.

The first doctrine of the Salvation Army is a beginning point which establishes the Bible as the inspired authority and guide for Christian practice (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 1). According to The Handbook of Doctrine, “It carries God’s authority, is the revealer of truth, and the guide for Christian living” (p. 1). God chose to reveal himself through scriptures which he inspired through the writings of human authors (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 1). God made himself known through the Old and New testaments which make up the canon of the Holy scriptures (p. 2-3). God worked throughout history to communicate, through mere humans, his plan of salvation to the world (p. 10). So what does it mean that God communicated his words through human authors? To say that the scriptures are given by inspiration of God, means that the scriptures are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There are three primary views when considering the inspiration of scripture: the mechanical view, intuition view, and dynamic view (Garrett, 1990, p. 133). The mechanical view is that God was dictating to the human author, meaning the human author was little more than a secretary recording God’s words exactly. The intuitive view is a low, liberal view of the scriptures as little more than the deep thoughts of man (Garrett, 1990, p. 133). And the dynamic view is the idea that God spoke through flawed human authors, so the various books of the Bible are the truth given by God, with human participation in the process. In essence, the dynamic view is that flawed humans translated to the best of their ability, the truth of God given to them by God. I believe the dynamic view is the most accurate given that by nature God prefers to work through flawed people. He worked through Moses, Elijah, Jacob, Joshua, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul and many other flawed humans, but inspired by God to do great things. The scriptures are given by inspiration of God, recorded through the personal experiences, historical framework, and cultural contexts of various authors over thousands of years. The mechanical view is a safe view in my thought, in that it preserves a high view of the scriptures, while the intuitive view is a heretical viewpoint. Anything that diminishes the scriptures so significantly is a threat to evangelical Christianity, and the hope of the gospel.

Next we consider the concepts of infallibility and inerrancy. What does it mean to say that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are truthful? There are two primary views within evangelical Christianity, infallibility and inerrancy. The view called inerrancy is held to by many modern Calvinists and evangelicals. It is the teaching that the scriptures are absolutely perfect and without any errors (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 17). Though the term “inerrancy” was not used until recent time, the concept of the scriptures being “without error” is as old as the scriptures themselves. The idea that the scriptures have errors didn’t come about until the 17th century (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 17). Inerrancy is a difficult view to prove, given that we don’t actually have access to the original copies of the manuscripts. Inerrancy as a position doesn’t apply to manuscript copies, according to the view, because errors arose from the copies that were made over time (Boy & Eddy, 2009, p. 18). But inerrancy is a faithful view in that it reflects a very high view of the scriptures as given by God and without errors of any kind. This makes it a safe view in our times, times of moral relativism, post-modernism, and truth set on the chopping block. Next we consider the view of infallibility. This view indicates that the scriptures of the Old and New testament are absolutely trustworthy in regard to their teachings on Christian faith and practice (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 24). Infallibility is the view of John Wesley and the most common view within the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. This view acknowledges that the scriptures do contain some minor copying errors, and minor glitches that don’t in any way affect the truth of the scriptures. In essence, the foundational truths of scripture are preserved perfectly. The infallibility view upholds a high view of scripture in seeing the scriptures as God-given truth, accurate, and useful in regard to Christian faith and practice. My concern is that the Bible is useful for much more than Christian faith and practice. It’s useful as a guide for wisdom, as a guide for history, useful for discerning scientific truths, and as a guide for understanding the world as it truly is. The infallible view would argue that the Bible is inaccurate in regard to science and history (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 26). This is not an accurate view of the scriptures, in my view. According to Dr. Andrew A. Snelling (2011) “The Bible never claims to be a science textbook. Nevertheless, the Bible claims to be “true from the beginning” (Psalm 119:160, KJV), so every specific reference about science must be accurate.” Additionally, the Bible has been used to unearth countless archeological treasures, supporting the historical efficacy of the Bible (Williams, 2017). However, the infallible view acknowledges the fact of minor contradictions in the gospel accounts, which there are such examples, and this is an important fact to acknowledge if we are to be truly honest about the scriptures (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 27). In conclusion, I would indicate that the Salvation Army would lean more toward the infallible view, but I personally would lean more toward the inerrant view.

Finally, we address the topic of authority. What is the authority over humanity? What is the authority over the Salvation Army? What contemporary issues does the church face in regard to scriptural authority? According to the Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, “The inspiration of scripture requires that it’s authority supersedes all other sources of revelation as the primary source of Christian revelation” (p. 11). The Bible is the word of God, and it doesn’t change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). In contemporary society there is a danger of looking to change meanings and issues in the Bible, such as marriage between man and woman, and other contemporary issues to attempt to remain “relevant” to the culture. But the word of God is timeless, and although contemporary issues change, God’s teachings regarding such issues do not change (Numbers 23:19). Scripture is clear on so many issues, and it speaks truth to power in times like these. In the cultural climate as it is today, most claims to scriptural authority will be challenged and resisted (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 23). The Handbook indicates that obedience to the word of God is first obedience to Jesus Christ (p. 21). This is certainly true, and it goes on to say that certain absolutes exist within the scriptures. This is also true. Therefore we should be very wary of voices calling on us to change the scriptures to suit our cultural desires. Continuing forward, there are many authorities that affect Christian life. Items like historic creeds of church tradition are considered useful by the Salvation Army, but are not considered authoritative in the supreme way in which scripture is. There are other authorities that the Salvation Army recognizes, like church tradition, Wesleyan-Holiness teachings, the doctrines, the leading of the Holy Spirit, personal revelation, and so on, but the primary authority over all Christian faith and practice in the Salvation Army is the Bible (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013).

In conclusion, the meaning of the first doctrine of the Salvation Army is quite clear. The teachings of the Bible in regard to faith and Christian practice are absolutely infallible, timeless, truthful, inspired of God, through mere human authors, and stand authoritatively over all concerns and practices of the Salvation Army. The sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testament were delivered to humanity by God, are reliable, authoritative over each believer, and useful for life, salvation, holiness, and all Christian practices.

Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Garrett, J. L. (1990). Systematic theology: biblical, historical, and evangelical (4th ed., Vol. 1st). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Snelling, A. A. (2011, April 01). Scientific Accuracy. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://answersingenesis.org/is-the-bible-true/5-scientific-accuracy/
The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2nd ed.). (2013). London: Salvation Books.