After church on Sunday, someone asked me what I thought of the “Bible Secrets Revealed” series currently airing on the History Channel.
I hadn’t seen the production, so later that day I watched episode one – sickening! I don’t object to an honest enquiry into the difficulties some people have with the content and composition of the scriptures, but I have little tolerance for biased and selective propaganda, and that is what this is, blatant anti-evangelical propaganda. If you are interested in a review of this series, you will find it HERE
There is nothing new about this sort of attack on the veracity of the scriptures. The Bible is the sacred text of Christianity and so for hundreds of years detractors and adversaries have been trying to discredit its trustworthiness.
Unfortunately, it’s not only atheists, secular agnostics and so on who denigrate the Bible, it’s also several well-meaning ‘Christians’.
Years ago, Bishop Spong attempted to strip the miraculous and mysterious from the scriptures because, he said, he wanted to protect the Bible from scientific scorn. More recently, Brian McLaren tried his best to present the Bible as a sort of cultural library more than a repository of truth or divine revelation. Just this month Andy Stanley stated that it was time for Christians to unhitch themselves from the Old Testament. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last.
However, there is a much more subtle threat that presents as an attempt to guard the integrity of the Bible. Two words flag this friendly-fire – ‘literal’ and ‘inerrant’. Before any conservative evangelical reader suffers an apoplectic fit, let me explain what I mean.
Most Bible-honouring Christians, myself included, believe that the Bible should be understood literally. By this, I mean that we should understand any biblical text within its biblical, literary, historical, and cultural context. To understand something literally, in this sense, includes the possibility of figurative language, parable, type, and allegory. A useful starting question is, ‘what did the original readers understand by this?’
However, many dispensationalists and others contend that we are to understand every text only in its plain superficial sense (their understanding of literal interpretation). For instance, Revelation 20:1-6 describes some form of Millennium, and so according to literalistic interpreters, there must be a coming 1,000-year physical reign of Christ on earth because that is the ‘plain’ meaning of the text. But, the book of Revelation is written in an apocalyptic style and structure intended to present truths through powerful symbols and word-pictures. To understand it ‘literally’ does not mean ‘ignore its literary context’! Later in this article, I will get to why I see this interpretation issue as a threat to the integrity of the Bible.
This is another word that means different things to different folk. I do not believe that the Bible is free of elements that are inconsistent, historically ambiguous, or scientifically untenable, but this does not mean that I hold parts of the Bible to be uninspired or untrustworthy.
However, many reformed and fundamentalist scholars conflate their understanding of inerrancy with their idea of ‘literal interpretation’ and by so doing strip it of its human influence and reduce biblical inspiration to a form of divine dictation.
Now let me state why I believe the literalist-inerrancy approach to the Bible, as I have described it, is a threat to its acceptance as the inspired and trustworthy written Word of God.
Firstly, it puts bible-believers on the defensive in having to attempt to explain away the obvious anomalies within the Bible. Secondly, it is like a Sword of Damocles in that failure to explain away any and every problem in the sacred text leads inevitably to a rejection of the inspired nature of the Bible. Thirdly, and more subtly, it detracts from the intended purpose of the Bible.
This last point needs explanation: The Bible is not a theological dictionary, nor is it an exhaustive description of reality in its totality. It is neither a magic sourcebook nor a coded prediction of the future. It is, rather, the inspired record of God’s dealing with humanity and a reliable and sometimes painfully honest record of the human response. Most of all, it is the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the background to His life on earth, and the record of His works and words. We encounter Jesus in and through the Bible, through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. We find there the way of relating to Him and the path of life as His disciples. However,
Jesus and not the Bible is the source of truth.
When we view the Bible as anything less than what it is intended to be then we set it up for attack and dismantling rather than acceptance and embrace. And I use the words ‘less than’ intentionally because I contend that attempts to defend literalistic inerrancy reduce the veracity of the Bible and that although of noble intent they constitute a subtle attack on what they profess to defend.