Presentation on theme: "What Does the Bible Say about Itself? Strictly speaking, nothing. The Bible we now have contains no statements about the Bible. When the texts we now have."— Presentation transcript:
What Does the Bible Say about Itself? Strictly speaking, nothing. The Bible we now have contains no statements about the Bible. When the texts we now have were written, the contents of the Bible (the “canon”) were still debated by both Jews and Christians. The word “Bible” had not even been coined.
The Bible we now have does contain statements about certain sacred writings (i.e. “scriptures”), Torah, and the Prophets. In other words parts of the Bible do say something about other parts of the Bible. But no part of the Bible says anything about the Bible in its entirety.
Many writers in the Bible, especially the prophets, claim to be speaking God’s very words. Phrases like “Thus says YHWH” occur over 400 times in the Tanak (Jewish Bible, Christian Old Testament). But claims like these are not direct claims about any collection of writings (except, presumably, the specific writing in which they appear). Is prophetic inspiration always a guarantee of truth?
What do we make of a prophet saying that sometimes prophets are directly inspired to tell falsehoods? Is there a difference, ethically, between God lying and God delegating a “lying spirit” to tell lies through certain prophets? In general, do Jews or Christians believe that God would ever lie or cause a prophet to lie in God’s name? Why is this passage usually ignored in discussions of divine inspiration? Here are some other passages where one part of the Bible makes claims about another part (this is meant to be an instructive selection, not an exhaustive one): 1 Kings 22:19-23: Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘How?’ the Lord asked him. He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’ So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has decreed disaster for you.”
This is one of the most frequently quoted passages among conservative Christians. What counts as “scripture” is not spelled out, because Christians & Jews are still making up their minds about that. This letter does not include itself among the "sacred writings." Those writings already existed in Timothy's childhood. Theopneustos means "God-breathed" or "God-spirited." That's a suggestive image, not a precise doctrinal statement. In Genesis Adam was God-breathed yet exceedingly fallible. 1 Kings 22:19-23 (previous slide) seems to be another example of theopneustos that does not mean "error-free." "Useful" does not mean "error-free." 2 Timothy 3:15-16: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All scripture is inspired by God [theopneustos: “God-breathed” or “God-spirited”] and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Read Psalm 82 (next slide); what do you think of Jesus’ interpretation? In Psalm 82 are “those to whom the word of God came” are actually other gods! But they seem to be lesser gods than "the Most High." They're mortal. The writer of this psalm was not a monotheist. God is not the only god, just the highest one. Jesus doesn't seem to notice this. What does Jesus mean by “the scripture cannot be broken"? You can literally break a scroll by tearing it in half, so he must be speaking figuratively. And the scripture he quotes has in fact been "annulled" by later Jews and Christians who embraced monotheism. John 10:34-36: Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [Psalm 82] If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ —and the scripture cannot be annulled [lit.: “broken”]— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
Psalm 82 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
Does this declaration in Mark “fulfill” the Torah’s teaching about clean and unclean animals (see Leviticus 11:1-47; Deuteronomy 14:3-21a)? Or does it “annul” a major portion of the Law? Does it matter that Jesus’ assurances about fulfilling the Law occur in Matthew, and not in Mark? Could teachings or practices like this be the reason that Jesus, or his followers, had been accused of abolishing the Law? Mark 7:18-19: He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
Read Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (next slide). According to Jesus in Matthew and Mark, who wrote this law, God or Moses? For Jesus, as portrayed here, is there any difference between the law of YHWH “in itself” and Moses as its “medium”? How is this law “fulfilled”? Or is it annulled? Matthew 19:8: “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you do divorce your wives.” Mark 10:5: “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you.”
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.
“People moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”: Does this apply to prophecy only, or any other kind of scripture? What about 1 Kings 22:19-23? Does this passage say anything against interpreting scripture privately? 2 Peter is not included in any surviving list of New Testament writings until the mid-4 th century (300s). One list calls it “disputed”; the other simply lists it. Does that make any difference? Why or why not? 2 Peter 1:20-21: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but people moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
his passage does seem to equate Paul’s letters with scripture. This passage does seem to equate Paul’s letters with scripture. [Again:] 2 Peter is not included in any surviving list of New Testament writings until the mid-4 th century (300s). One list calls it “disputed”; the other simply lists it. Does that make any difference? Why or why not? 2 Peter 3:16: “Our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”
Does Paul think he is writing sacred scripture here? Is God speaking directly through Paul to say that God is not speaking directly through Paul? What does he mean by “command of the Lord”? What does he mean by “my opinion”? 1 Corinthians 7:12 & 25: “To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.” “Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”
Some Tentative Conclusions The writers of the Bible seem to agree that there is a group of writings that are positively alive with God’s Spirit. They seem to agree that God was intimately involved in the production of these writings. They seem agree that these writings are useful and even authoritative. They do not spell out precisely how God’s involvement and the writers’ involvement intersect. On some occasions, they seem to refuse to equate what they say with what God says. On some occasions, they seem to admit that human hard-heartedness got in the way of God’s Spirit, even though God remained intimately involved. On some occasions, they seem to admit that God might ensure that certain falsehoods are said under divine inspiration. Should we be surprised, then, if people of faith wind up describing the Bible differently? Can there be only one “biblical” view of the Bible? Is it “unbiblical,” in light of these passages, to raise and pursue questions about historical or scientific accuracy, authorship, etc.?