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DOGMA: The Authority of the Bible

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Front Page My Beliefs

At Lafayette Community Church, I have just begun a teaching series called DOGMA to discuss the core beliefs of our church and why we should be dogmatic about them.

Even though our world is filled with arguments about tolerance, the Bible is completely intolerant about a few key doctrines. We would say the Bible is dogmatic about them, and though we never berate or belittle those who disagree with us, we can certainly hold that over certain issues, there are clearly defined lines between right and wrong.

This series is all about exploring those lines.

If you want to know more about my personal beliefs on these matters, you might want to check out the Tough Questions section of my blog or My Beliefs.

Throughout this series, I will be using my personal blog to post the gist of my Sunday messages and to also address the questions that were raised on Sunday that I didn’t have time to answer.

To view all the posts in this category including sermon summaries and the questions, click the DOGMA tag here or at the top of this post.

Introduction

When I was younger, my friends and I got interested in the study of apologetics specifically as it relates to defending the Christian faith from the claims of competing religious systems. In particular, we were fascinated by the study of Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I remember learning rather early that Mormon belief systems contained this aphorism:

“As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.” — Lorenzo Snow

(For some recent research on Mormon beliefs regarding this couplet, read this article.)

The gist of the Mormon claim is that the God who created the earth and claims authority over all humanity was once a man himself on a far distant planet and that if earthbound humans are pious enough they may likewise attain Godhood just as He did.

Having been raised in a Baptist home, my initial shock at that statement was soon quelled by the realization that not all Mormons actually believed it. In fact, I regularly met Mormons who disagreed at least in part with that claim. My initial shock at the apparent heresy was supplanted by the new shock that “average” Mormons didn’t know this was a central belief of their own faith.

I was young then, but eventually, I grew up, matured, and realized that the Mormons are not unique in what can be called “practical ignorance.” As a matter of fact, I have met Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others who don’t actually know the core teachings of their faith.

I regularly ask people what Jesus said the Greatest Commandment was, and I regularly get blank stares until the other person eventually says, “Love other people?” (That’s almost right, but not quite.) I regularly meet Christians who see the Bible as a good guidebook for life but don’t really believe everything in it.

The bottom line is that Christians who don’t know core Christian doctrine are just as foolish as Mormons who don’t know Lorenzo Snow’s couplet or Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t know about the many, many failed prophecies of their leaders.

As I said in church on Sunday:

You can’t call yourself a Christian unless you are committed to at least learning the core doctrines of Christianity.

So where do we start? Well, since Christian doctrine comes ultimately from church tradition or biblical teaching, let’s pick the Bible and start with that.

The Bible

LCC’s Statement of Faith reads:

The Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. (Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:19-21).

Getting in the Pool

Now, for the logically astute among you, you might recognize that this statement is a logically circular claim. Our church believes that the Bible is the Word of God, and we are basing that claim on the teaching of the Bible. Why do we believe the Bible is the Word of God? Because the Bible tells us so. Why do we trust what it tells us? Because it’s the Word of God! It’s like a swimming pool where some kids have walked in circles long enough to create a whirlpool-like current. The longer you walk in the circle, the stronger the current becomes.

I admit, believing in the authority of the Bible is based largely on a circular argument, and I don’t expect anyone to believe in the Bible because of what the Bible says for itself. However, there are some very good reasons for “getting into the pool” of this circular argument. Here are a few reasons from outside the Bible to believe the Bible:

  1. The text of the Bible has been reliably transmitted through the ages. Unlike a game of telephone played by Junior highers whispering obscure phrases to each other, the parts of the Bible that were transmitted orally were done in the context of a community of people all hearing the same things over and over again, believing those things were important enough to get perfectly right. Then, whenever the written text was copied, those same people who held the same values came up with creative ways to determine the complete accuracy of the copies. Finally, modern archaeology has consistently revealed that there is no ancient document whose textual history is as consistent as that of the Old and New Testaments. Simply put, the text of the Bible is today nearly identical to what it was when it was originally put to paper, papyrus, or parchment.

  2. The teaching of the Bible has been consistently verified. To date, there has not been one testable claim in the Bible that has been verified to be historically false while many historical claims in the Bible have been verified by modern archaeology. What’s amazing about this is that some of the historical claims were actually written down before the events they described actually happened. In other words, the Bible makes historically verifiable prophetic claims that ended up happening just as they had been prophesied. Finally, one more thing on this point, Jesus and his Apostles taught and confirmed that they believed the entire Bible, including what they taught and what they wrote to be a unified whole. In other words, if we can trust the Bible on its testable claims, we should find it at least practically reliable regarding its untestable claims.

  3. The third reason to “enter the pool” is really an entire argument.

    • The Bible is a historically reliable account of the life and teaching of Jesus.
    • Jesus rose from the dead, validating his teaching (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
    • Jesus taught that the Old Testament was God’s flawless, eternal Word (Matthew 5:18).
    • Jesus authorized his Apostles to teach in his name (Matthew 28:18-20).
    • The New Testament authors claim Apostolic authority (2 Peter 3:15-16).

    Basically, Jesus believed the Old Testament was God’s Word. The New Testament is written with the authority of Jesus, and Jesus rose from the dead.

I believe these three reasons, though somewhat circumstantial, are enough to enter the pool and start to walk around the circle.

Explaining the Doctrine

The Bible is the Word of God

This phrase teaches that the words on the page are actually God’s voice speaking to us. It is just as if your loved one wrote you a letter or sent you an email. The words on your screen are actually the voice of your loved one. The words of this post are actually my voice to you. The words in your Bible are actually God’s voice to you. The key truth here is expressed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The point is that Scripture is the breath of God. If you want to hear God speak, put your eyes to the words.

… fully inspired … of the Holy Spirit

The statement mentions inspiration twice. Specifically, it’s important to know that when we talk about inspiration, we are not speaking of the kind of inspiration an artist feels when seeing a sunset or a tree or a bowl of fruit. We are talking about the root meaning of the word: To breathe into. Inspiration means that God through his Spirit, breathed the very words into the mind of the author so that what came through the pen is exactly what God wanted.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. — 2 Peter 1:20-21

… without error in the original manuscripts

There are really two issues here. One is the issue of inerrancy and the second is the issue of what limits should be placed on the doctrine of inerrancy. Simply put, if God is all-knowing, good, and faultless like the Bible claims, then He can’t lie, make a mistake or deceive. Therefore, if the words of the Bible are the words of God, they must be without error.

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless… — 2 Samuel 22:31a

However, since human language is flawed, there’s no way to fully express some of the realities of the spiritual world. For example, the Bible frequently uses idioms and metaphors and anthropomorphic terms to describe spiritual realities:

[God said to Moses,] “…Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen….” — Exodus 33:23

Moses quoted God as saying “my hand… my back… my face” even though the Bible regularly affirms that God is a Spirit with no body. This would seem to be an error unless we remember that Moses met God in a burning bush and never would have thought that God had a real physical body. Therefore, when Moses wrote “my hand” he didn’t really intend to communicate that God has hands. What’s important is to know the original intent of the original author in the original manuscripts, and so we put limitations on the doctrine of inerrancy.

The Bible is without error even though a modern English translation might have some textual errors, spelling errors, grammar errors, or something else because the claim for the Bible’s inerrancy extends only to what the original author intended to say when the original author originally wrote it down.

… supreme authority

This is the last piece I will discuss here, and it is the most controversial. Going back to the passage in 2 Timothy, we really should have quoted from v. 15 also. Here is the passage with v. 15:

… from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Paul tells Timothy two things: (1) Scripture is the source of salvation wisdom and (2) Scripture is the source of everything necessary to equip someone for good works. In other words, whether its about salvation or about daily living, the Bible is all that anyone needs.

Not every tradition accepts this, however. The Catholics believe that the Bible is simply one of two sources of God’s revelation to humanity. For them, the tradition of the church, including the ex cathedra declarations of the Pope are also God’s Word and are therefore to be treated with the same measure of authority. Mormons believe there are extra documents that must be also added to the Bible to give people what they really need for salvation and for having a right relationship with God. Some conservative Protestant groups will say that behavioral traditions are just as important as the Bible (what songs are allowed, what foods can be eaten, etc), while some liberal Protestant groups will say that the Bible is merely a portal to the Word of God which must be subjectively experienced by individuals in their unique cultural context.

In none of those traditions is the Bible considered to have supreme authority as it stands. It must either be augmented (by other documents, church tradition) or re-interpreted in order to have that authority.

Nevertheless, the Bible claims for itself total sufficiency, plus, there’s one last thing to consider.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. — Hebrews 1:1-3

The claim of this verse is that Jesus is God’s final revelation to humanity. Therefore, since the OT points toward him, we keep it. Additionally, since the NT is written by those who carried his direct authority, we keep it. However, when the last Apostle died (by most accounts, John), the book was closed.

Therefore, we must recognize that the Bible is fully sufficient to communicate to humanity everything he wants to communicate, and it was completed when the last Apostle wrote his last word. As the Word of God, the Bible, and only the Bible, above every other document, above every other authority, has supreme authority over our lives and we will be held accountable to its teaching.

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