Saturday, February 25, 2006
Can the Bible Be Trusted?
This question was asked on CARM tonight. My answer: for what? For building air craft carriers? No not at all. The reason I answered this was because the question, when fleshed by the questioner, involved scientific information and literal historical information. This is an issue that come sup on these forums all that time: If there is a mistake in the Bible (i.e., any kind of inaccuracy = "Mistake") then the whole Bile is wrong and can't be trusted. Anther version of this that I find atheists and other skeptics using quite a bit is the historical inaccuracy or the cultural anachronism. There's a better version with failed prophesy. That's a bit understandable because one would expect a spiritual book to get the spiritual stuff right. In all of these the pay off is, if there is any "mistake" (discrepancy, inaccuracy) then the whole thing is no good. The corollary is we can't trust the Bible if there are any mistakes because the only alternative is to pick and Cohoes heat we like. Unfortunately the Christian apologists have bought into this too, fueled by their commitment to inherency. The Christian apologists believe the only alternative to total inherency of the text is "picking and choosing what you like."
On the face of it this seems like a reasonable question, can I trust the Bible? But the problem is it is too simplistic. For what are we trusting it? The permitters of trust in all three cases are empirical accuracy of a factual nature, science, history, and fulfillment of predictions. Why should we trust the Bible for those things? It's not a science text book, it's not a history text book, and prophesy is much more subtle and complex than some fortune teller's prediction game. We need to understand what it is we should trust the Bible to do, then we can answer the question. According to the Pastoral epistles Paul told Timothy all scripture is fit for reproach and correction. So Scripture is a corrective upon one's moral life, and one's spiritual life. Why would accuracy in science matter for that? The Bible was written over a long period by many different people. It's a collection of writings, and they are all made for different reasons. We can't just assume that the whole has only one purpose. The major purpose to which it is supposed to be put, however, as a canon of scripture, is doctrinal soundless and the bestowing of Grace upon the reader. Here I urge the reader to get hold of a copy of William "Billy" Abraham's ground breaking book Canon and Criterion. He develops this theme of Scripture as the bestowing of grace at length and allayers the tendency to turn Scepter into a form epistemology.
The tendency to turn the Bible into an epistemological system is understood by Abraham as one of the major hang ups of the faith since the Reformation. But skeptics and atheists have taken their que form the church which has taught this for centuries. The upshot has been to see the Bile as a proof text vouchsafed by its empirical accuracy, and that's the Christian's angle. The atheist angle is to compare that to scientific understanding in the modern age, show that the bible is lacking and dismiss it out of hand. The tendency toward a theory of inherency is the upshot of this epistemic kind of Bible. Warfidld and Draby, retreating form modernity, angry at Darwin, trying preserve what they saw as the truth of Scripture, understood the truth of Scripture in a literalistic fashion. Thus, Scripture must dements it's veracity by being right about everything and it must be right about things demonstrable. Of course I am lax not to discuss the contribution of Robert Boyle the latitudinarians before this, but that would be dissertation topic and I'm quite sick of that.
With this dichotomy between the epistemic Bible and the grace filled Bible we have issue of proof. I urge apologists not to torot out a bunch of poufs to show ha that edible is inspired. We are under no obligation to prove this. The Bible is the Scripture of a specialized community, those outside the community have no real right OT criticize it. Only if we are trying to prove it OT them that this matters. WE can prove it, but it works better rhetorically to let them come on our turf and argue the failures of the bible so we can defend. Much easier to defend against assertions of Biblical falsare than to prove inspirited status. Especially so when the rug will never accept one's notion of the thing inspiring it.
The answer is the Bible can be trusted to do the things its' supposed to do:
(1) Vouch safe the deposit of truth Jesus taught the Apostles and that was left to the church.
(2) Bestow grace upon the reader.
We test the veracity of the Bible by What it does for us in our lives. We test the veracity of the Bible by its ability to bring Jesus into our lives. This is what it means to bestow Grace upon the reader. We are not picking and choosing what we like, if we shed the verbal plenary concept. We use the historical critical method as a means of determining the base line so we always have a standard to work from. Christians have a bad habit of acting like there is a verse somewhere that says "this is the Bible, it is inherent, inspired, mistake proof a filled with hidden scientific facts that ancient people could not have known. Believe it all and have a nice life." There is no such verse. I say this from any persecutive. I could be a conservative Evangelical and make this argument: we do not have to prove the Bible by any sort of empirical test of veracity we need to be aware of the true purposes of Scripture and stop confusing our apologetical aims with the purposes of the Holy Spirit. We need to be aware of the true purses of Scripture and we need to understand historical critical methods so we can know the original intent of the authors.