Monday, June 9, 2008

If not the Bible, then what?

I've been teaching an introduction to the Bible for our congregation.

During the Q & A time, a parishioner shared that one of her friends hit her with the objection, "The Bible was edited by a bunch of people over many years. We can't possibly believe it."

Here are a few responses for believers to consider:
  • The Bible's own writers tell us that they used multiple sources and editing to express God's truth. Luke 1:1-3 is a revelation to many people who've learned to dismiss the Bible without having read it. There's no big Da Vinci Code "Aha! Gottcha!" once you know that God's inspiration included interviews and research. And then there's John, who claims eyewitness status. Even he admits that he "edited" in the sense of leaving out lots of good stuff that wasn't essential to the Good News revealed in Christ (21:24-25).
  • Of course the Bible critic will respond, "Well, I didn't mean the people who wrote it at first - I mean that a bunch of monks changed it in the Middle Ages." Ask for the specifics of this - you'll probably get a response like, "Well, I heard that scholars say that." What you need to share is that the transmission of Scripture has been a reverent enterprise with high standards. Mention that the Torah Scroll in the local Synagogue is written by hand, and that a scroll is destroyed and the work started over when an error is detected. Mention that ancient scribes and monks were rewarded for faithful transmission, not creativity. Mention that the translation of the Jewish Scriptures from Hebrew to Greek (called the Septuagent) was done by teams of respected Jewish leaders. The King James Bible was rendered by the combined work of the best scholars of its time. Finally, have a look at the credits in your own handy Bible. You will see scholars of many disciplines and distinguished academic institutions who did the work of translation.
  • A question you might ask the critic is, "OK, if we ignore the Bible, then what is our source of teaching about God?" If the person is an atheist, then he/she can at least give an honest reply like, "Who cares?" If the person believes in some other religion, he/she can assert the teachings of that tradition. But if the person claims to be a Christian, the answer will be "The church tells us about God" or "Our experiences tell us about God." In which case, you can simply lay out all the ways in which churches and individuals have changed their beliefs and behaviors over time - they can't possibly be reliable based on the critic's own standard. If we can't trust human transmission of the Bible, why should we trust human transmission of anything religious?

For they so ordred the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest parte thereof) should be read over once in the yeare, intendyng thereby, that the Cleargie, and specially suche as were Ministers of the congregacion, should (by often readyng and meditacion of Gods worde) be stirred up to godlines themselfes, and be more able also to exhorte other by wholsome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the trueth. And further, that the people (by daily hearyng of holy scripture read in the Churche) should continuallye profite more and more in the knowledge of God, and bee the more inflamed with the love of his true religion. But these many yeares passed this Godly and decent ordre of the auncient fathers, hath bee so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertein stories... (From the Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer)

Which is to say, Anglicanism from its very foundation gives highest authority to the Bible, and places "all the whole Bible...God's worde...holy scripture" in a position of authority over the church, not the other way around.

That's the problem with this statement from an Episcopal Church leader to a group of graduating seminary students...

"We believe that God speaks uniquely through laity, bishops, priests and deacons. This participatory structure in our church allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment" (from here) ...

This position is not Christian, let alone Anglican. If we were true to our Prayer Books, Ordination Vows and other words and practices of the church, we would affirm the authority of Holy Scripture over clergy, church structures and human opinions.

If someone can convince you that the Bible is just a human invention, then expect that "someone" will step in where the Bible used to be and start directing what you must believe, what you should do, and who you should be.


Alice C. Linsley said...

People attempt to discredit the Bible because that gives them an excuse not to investigate it for themselves. They are really afraid of an encounter with the Living God. Usually these are the same people who have never read the Bible from cover to cover.

The deeper one goes into the study of the Bible, the more assured one becomes that these pages breathe Truth and Life. The consistency of themes over centuriens can't be explained by a editorial process.

Anonymous said...

The New Testament is the best attested set of documents from antiquity. The documents themselves are really not open to much question. We have a very good idea of what they likely looked like in the first century. If you doubt their transmission over time, you must also doubt every other document from antiquity. the oldest manuscript of Caesar's _
Galllic Wars_, for instance, is about a millennium old - copied a thousand years _after_ Caesar wrote the original. There are three such copies, all about the same age. This makes the _
Gallic Wars_ pretty reliable. Now consider this: in the case of the New Testament, we have something like 3000 manuscripts and fragments from the first seven centuries. In other words, the manuscript evidence for the NT is an embarrassment of riches, more reliable than Caesar's work by several orders of magnitude in terms of manuscript evidence, and closer to the original by centuries.

Of course, people do doubt the things recorded _in_ the NT, like, oh, for instance, Jesus' resurrection. But in no case can we justify such doubt on the specious basis of a claim that the NT's transmission has been corrupt.


cp said...

I recommend the recent works of Bart Ehrmann is you desire an understanding of Scripture. You can Google him.