Monday, August 25, 2014

The Scripture Forum 1: Its Dependability

Today we had a lively and engaging forum on Scripture's infallibility and trustworthiness. It reflects our church's values of learning together as a community, being open to hard questions and faith seeking understanding.   

Lots of interesting questions were raised. Understandably it is impossible to do justice to all of them in less than 15-20 minutes. Feel free to approach any of the leaders if you like to continue these conversations. 

Here are some blog posts that I have dug up from the Agora blog which may hopefully help us step back and get some background into the discussions:

1) We talk about an infallible, inerrant original manuscript which is no longer with us. So how do we know what was in that original manuscript (autograph) written by the biblical authors? And what about various translations of the Bible? (KJV, NIV, ESV etc) 

Check out this article published in Kairos magazine: (also available on the book table)

With that background, we can appreciate why some ancient texts/manuscripts i.e. Alexandrian, Byzantine, are considered technically more reliable or not. 

2) Belief that “the Bible contains no error” (inerrant) is not an inductive conclusion arrived at after examining all the passages of the bible or years of studying textual criticism. It springs deductively (top-down reasoning) from the “first principle” that Scripture has been inspired by God who does not make mistakes. 

And that theological belief needs to be informed by what we actually read and find in Scripture itself. And that’s where questions arise where Christians continually try to match this top down conviction with their discoveries from an inductive, bottoms-up close reading of the Bible itself. 

Without that top-down conviction, we may fall into the trap of not seeing the Bible as a coherent, trustworthy whole with a single purpose of revealing Christ. Without a bottoms-up approach, we may fall into the trap of ignoring evidences of how God chooses to actually inspire very human authors with very human languages to deliver that message. 

We need both systematic theology AND biblical theology. Not either-or. 

3) Here is a great question from Alvin: How do you even define 'error'? What about ‘discrepancies’ we find in the Bible?

Being clear on what “inerrancy” means and does not mean would help. Here is a definition (italics mine):
“The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time of writing, in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”

For example, if the Bible never affirms that the “Good Samaritan” is historical, then it is not a problem if we realize that it is a not a historical story. A story does not have to be historical to give us a true, radically life-changing message. Or if the Bible never affirms that Moses wrote every single word in the Torah, why should we be troubled if we found out that scribes in later generations faithfully updated these books?
When approaching ‘discrepancies’ ask these questions: What is the intention of the author? As Phil pointed out, we need to interpret the text not with our own standards of scientific accuracy but with the purpose of the author. 

Is the list of numbers of chariots and horsemen supposed to have exact, scientific precision? 83,712 horses?

Or did the author mean to give us an idea of how big is the army i.e. in approximations? 80,000 horses?
Giving approximations is a common practice even in our own culture. If I earn $2712.33 a month (after deducting tax), it would be correct to round it up to $2700 if my purpose is just to give someone an idea of how much it is. 

But if the purpose is to report it Jabatan Hasil Dalam Negeri, I'd have to be more exact!

Another question to consider: Is this to be interpreted metaphorically or literally?
Some numbers are symbolic like the number 14 in Matthew's genealogy. 

Sometimes we speak of things as we see it. Like the sun will rise at 8 am. Now we know that actually the earth moves. But even scientists talk about sunrise regularly, they do not take it literally but as how they see it. It is not a scientific “error”.
These references are phenomenal, as they appear to human eye, approximations yet they are correct. 
Lastly, sometimes, the bible reports statements made by ungodly persons. For example, the fool who says there is no God. It doesn’t mean these statements are true, inerrancy only guarantees that they are correctly reported.
4) I also made a similar observation as that of Suren’s question on Messianic prophecy here (Isaiah’s prophecy on the cross/resurrection) and here (other OT prophecies). But often times, biblical prophecies that are ‘fulfilled’ in the Gospels are not always predictive in nature.

For example, Matthew records that Jesus escaped from Herod and sojourned in Egypt before He returned to Israel. That is in fulfillment of prophet Hosea said: “Out of Egypt I call my son”. When you flip back to Hosea, the ‘son’ was the nation Israel delivered out of Egypt rather than a Messianic prediction. Matthew sees a pattern: God brings Israel out of Egypt is a type of Him bringing His Son (Christ) out of Egypt. The new exodus has begun.

That means when the biblical authors use the word ‘fulfillment’, it is much broader than what we normally associate as future predictions. They operate an understanding that God works in history (i.e. raise up a king, deliver his people in Exodus, return from exile, setup a priesthood), and that historical person/institution/event serves as a pattern or typology for how He works in the future. When that pattern gets repeated in future events/persons, it is considered as ‘fulfilled’.

Some plausible treatment of Judas Iscariot’s death and its’ fulfillment here:

Please note that we have two more Q&A sessions 
- 21 Sept (The Canon of Scripture)
- 28 Sept (Jesus in the Bible and Koran) 

Bring your friends (skeptics, seekers, curious) and your questions! 

1 comment:

Ron Choong said...

Good job David