In what way is Scripture the "Word of God"?

Most Christians agree that the Bible is inspired by God and therefore is the Word of God. However, there is disagreement as to whether or not viewing the Bible as inspired necessitates viewing it as inerrant (without error of any kind). This is a huge topic with many twists and turns. For a helpful analysis, see a post on Roger Olson's blog titled How Do I Know the Bible is God's Word?

Olson prefers to refer to the Bible as being infallible rather than inerrant. In explaining, he offers Emil Brunner's illustration of the old RCA logo, which featured a dog listening intently to a Victrola record player. The caption reads, "His master’s voice.” In like manner, Olson views the Bible as infallibly conveying "our Master's true voice" on matters concerning faith and life (the issues which, for Olson, are the focus of Scripture). In GCI, we take a similar viewpoint in our statement of beliefs concerning Scripture.

In thinking through these issues, I find very helpful the perspective on Scripture articulated by T.F. Torrance in Reality and Evangelical Theology. T.F takes to task the idea of an inerrant Bible - an idea he says is flawed because it flows from...
"...An epistemological dualism...[that] cuts off the revelation of God in the Bible from God himself and his continuous self-giving through Christ and in the Spirit, so that the Bible is treated as a self-contained corpus of divine truths in propositional form...[a] rigid framework of belief within which fundamentalism barricades itself" (p. 17; 1982 edition throughout, emphasis added).
T.F. is not objecting to holding a high view of Scripture - he did so throughout his career. However, he does object to ascribing to Scripture, "primacy over God's self-revelation, which is mediated to us through the Bible."  To T.F., we err when we revere Scripture in such a way that it begins to stand above (or even substitute for) God's self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. To insist that the Bible is inerrant tends in this unfortunate direction.

That being said, it is right that we ascribe to the Bible a place of great prominence as God's inspired gift, through which he reveals to us the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is uniquely and fully God's Living Word. According to Torrance...
"This means that our interpretation and understanding of the Bible cannot be established or defended simply by appealing to biblical texts or passages or even biblical concepts, but only through listening to the truths they signify or attest and allowing our minds to be objectively determined by them. That is to say, biblical statements are to be treated, not as containing or embodying the Truth of God in themselves, but as pointing, under the leading of the Spirit of Truth, to Jesus Christ himself who is the Truth" (p. 119)... Biblical statements...point above and beyond themselves to the inexhaustible Truth of God. A faithful interpretation of biblical statements, therefore, will not cut short their transcendent reference but will seek to allow their implications to disclose themselves in the light of that reference" (p144). 
We thus read Scripture in the light of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, the inerrant One. When we do, we receive through the Spirit of God a faithful, inspired witness to the one who is for us and with us the Truth, the Way and the Life.

Comments

  1. Hi there!

    "Infallible" and "inerrant" are two intriguing words. The "infallible" word seems to quite nicely describe God and allows us to notice Jesus. However, the "inerrant" word seems to come with a lock on it. This lock usually locks in law and locks out Christ.

    Also, I really like this part of the quote from Torrance that says:

    "A faithful interpretation of biblical statements, therefore, will not cut short their transcendent reference but will seek to allow their implications to disclose themselves in the light of that reference."

    Good stuff!

    All the best!

    J. Richard Parker

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  2. Ted:

    I wonder what you'd make of N. T. Wright's take on the related subject of the nature of biblical authority:

    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm

    How does this correspond with Torrance's treatment of the subject?

    Matt

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  3. Hi there,

    Curiously, I had N. T. Wright in mind when I wrote my response to this particular post about "infallible" and "inerrant." My own opinion is that Wright is pointing in the right direction. For instance, in his excellent book, "The Challenge of Jesus, Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is", InterVarsity Press, 1999, he writes:

    "We are so used to reading (for instance) the parables or the Sermon on the Mount as addressed basically to us, to our churches, to Christians in general, and as inculcating a particular spirituality, teaching great timeless truths or pointing toward particular ethical norms, that we are frightened of allowing the basic meaning of the text to be something quite different, namely, Jesus’ unique challenge to his contemporaries, leading to his unique death on the cross." (Wright pp. 174-175)

    This is quite a challenge, and one we must not be afraid to note by hiding behind "inerrant" notions about the Bible.

    All the best!

    J. Richard Parker

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  4. Thanks Ted, Richard and Matt. Also helpful is N.T. Wright’s short book (160 pages) about the authority of scripture – “The Last Word: Beyond the Bible wars to a new understanding of the authority of scripture,” HarperCollins, 2005.

    It covers a lot of ground, including Wright’s argument for thinking of the biblical story as a five-act play -- 1) creation, 2) “fall,” 3) Israel, 4) Jesus, and 5) the church -- with us presently living in the fifth act of the drama, which began with Easter and Pentecost and with the apostolic period as the opening scenes of this fifth act. (Wright also proposed this five-act play model in chapter 5 of his 535 page “The New Testament and People of God,” Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1992.)

    Wright reminds us to act appropriately for our moment within the overall story, and that we aren’t free to jump around suddenly to other parts of the narrative of God’s drama as if those parts were always speaking directly to us. For example, we aren’t in the climactic fourth act in which Jesus had a public career, but are rather in the fifth act as “direct successors of the churches of Corinth, Ephesus and the rest, and we need to pay attention to what was said to them as though it was said to us” (p 125).

    Wright discusses continuity and discontinuity and admits we have an ambiguous relationship with the previous four previous acts, “not because they are being disloyal to them but precisely because they are being loyal to them as part of the story,” and that as new creation and a scripture-reading community, we are called upon to “discover through the Holy Spirit and prayer, the appropriate ways of improvising the script between the foundation events and charter, on the one hand, the complete coming of the Kingdom on the other.” Yet such “improvising” (as musicians know) is not a free-for-all, but involves playing within particular parameters, carefully listening to all voices, and eventually finding resolution.

    Thanks again.

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  5. Likewise, over the years, there have been arguments and proves that the bible is not really perfect but no body has been able to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. Until they can, we just have to accept it the way it is.

    ReplyDelete
  6. For helpful comments about how the written word of God (Holy Scripture) is given to reveal the Living Word (Jesus Christ), see the GCI Weekly Update letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach at http://update.gci.org/2012/03/the-written-word-reveals-the-living-word/

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