The authority of the inspired scriptures resides, not in an intrusive control of the writing process, nor in an error-free presentation, but in a reliable expression of the faith in the unique period of its earliest gestation. (James Tunstead Burtchaell CSC, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden, A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, from William Sykes, The Eternal Vision)
Iâ€™m sure this was written by someone who does not believe that the Scriptures are â€œerror-freeâ€ in the traditional sense. The person who gave the above quote probably knows that there are number differences between Chronicles and Kings (e.g., 1 Kings 4:26 & 2 Chr. 9:25) and between Ezra and Nehemiah (e.g., Ez. 2:29 & Neh. 7:33). He probably knows that one Gospel says that Jesus encountered blind Bartimaeus on the way into Jericho, and another says he encountered him on the way out (Mk. 10:46-52 & Luk. 18:35-43). He probably knows that itâ€™s foolish to quote the Bible as scientifically accurate because it says the world hangs on nothing (Job 26:7) without also mentioning that it also says the earth sits on pillars (1 Sam. 2:8) and has a sky as hard as metal (Job 37:18).
James Tunstead Burtchaellâ€™s answer to these errors, whether they are real or imagined, is to argue that the Scriptures are â€œa reliable expression of the faith.â€ Personally, I donâ€™t believe thatâ€™s enough. I believe thatâ€™s â€œcaving in.â€
I want to give a different answer in two parts. One, the inspiration and usefulness of the Scriptures has nothing to do with whether there are errors in the Bible. Two, I want to explain what inspiration is and what we miss today because we donâ€™t understand inspiration.
Watchman Nee believe that all such errors were only apparent. They could be explained by the careful Bible student so that they could be shown not to be errors. However, he didnâ€™t think explaining the errors was a solution to the problem. Instead, he wrote:
There was once a brother, who, not long after he had believed in the Lord, was confronted by another person who told him that there were errors in the Bible. He was so exasperated that he nearly cried. … He laid this matter before an elderly sister, for he reckoned that since this sister loved the Lord and loved the Bible so much she certainly would be agitated if she realized there were these errors in the Bible. The strange thing was, however, that after this sister heard him out, she was calm as could be. Her reply to his presentation was: This is no problem. … All she said was, that knowing God did not depend on the solving of these questions! (The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, pp. 7-8)
Nee adds, â€œThis brother spent an entire year searching the Scriptures with regard to these questions. Upon finding out the evidence that the Bible passages in question were correct and not in error, the heavy burden upon his heart dropped awayâ€ (ibid., p. 8). Nee does not agree there are errors in the Bible, but he also does not agree that it matters. What does matter, he explains right afterward:
People may attempt to prove this or that thing, but we Christians can prove one very important thingâ€”that God is indeed God and that we know Him who is so real. And by knowing Him, all problems are solved. Such knowledge does not rely on how logical are the reasons or how clear the doctrines; it relies only on revelation. (ibid., pp. 8-9)
Recently I gave a teaching on the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. I had noticed how the prayers of the apostle Paul focused on knowing God through revelation. For example, the first prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesians was â€œthat the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give to you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of himâ€ (Eph. 1:17). When he prayed for the Colossians, whom he had never met, his prayer was similar. â€œSince the day we heard, we do not stop praying for you and to desire that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understandingâ€ (Col. 1:9).
Paulâ€™s major concern for churches, whether ones he formed like the Ephesians or ones heâ€™d never met like the Colossians, was that they would have a spiritual wisdom and understanding.
We need the same thing. Today anyone with an internet connection can find a list of all the contradictions in the Bible and hear all the arguments against the historicity and scientific accuracy of the Bible. I have talked to many whose faith has been shaken or completely lost once they heard those arguments. Statistics indicate that up to 80% of college students lose their faith during their years in college. Itâ€™s likely that the teachings they hear in history and science classes are as much to blame as the temptations of the world.
The answer is not to know all the arguments for the scientific accuracy of the Bible. The answer is to know God. A rich and real experience with God and with the Scriptures would remove all doubt! Wouldnâ€™t you love to be able to answer, â€œWell, if the Scriptures are so full of error, then why have they repeatedly provided timely answers to the issues of my life? If God is not real, then why are my prayers answered and why has the direction God has given me proven useful and accurate again and again and again? You can show me all the contradictions in the Bible that you want, but it is simply impossible for me not to believe in it because it has been so powerfully effective in my life. Truly, God has proven his Word, both the Word in my heart and the Word on the pages of the Bible, to be alive and powerful. I cannot disbelieve. I can only believe; experience demands it.â€
We do not need more intellectual arguments. We need more spiritual experience. Personally, I believe that most of the people I have met who have lost their faith lost it not because of the arguments they heard but because their spiritual experience agreed with the arguments against their Christian faith. They didnâ€™t have their prayers answered. They didnâ€™t have a close walk with God. The Bible was already cold and dead to them. Thus the intellectual arguments that there are errors in the Bible simply reinforced what they were already experiencingâ€”that there is no power and life in the Scriptures or in walking with God.
Nothing will shake the faith of the man or woman who knows God. Such a man or woman will either say â€œI donâ€™t care what you think about errors in the Bible; I know the Bible is powerful and from God,â€ or they will answer with arguments of their own. Either way, their faith will stand, because it is based on a knowledge that God is real, alive, and powerful, and that the Scriptures are true and effective. I promised a second part to this blog, explaining what inspiration is and what weâ€™re missing out on by not understanding it. However, this post is long enough. I will save section two for tomorrow or the day after (or maybe the day after that; Iâ€™ll try to get to it quickly!).