Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Word of God

So, most of us can agree that the Bible is the word of God. But what does that mean?

  • Some say that it's word for word the dictation of God. Even the translations are infallable.
  • Others say the the original writings are infallable, but there is a degree of fallability in the translations.
  • Still other say that it is God's heart expressed through humans' response back to God. So it's the word of God, but maybe not word for word?
  • And others think it's a collection of stories to help us live good lives.

What are your thoughts?


John Lynch said...

Oooh, great discussion, brother! Don't have time to dialog on it now but I'm eager to jump in! I hope a lot of folks dip into this one! Peace in Christ.

Lijing said...

I would vote for the third if no other choice...

David said...

Create a choice! :-)

John Lynch said...

I hope people see this question as more than a mere academic puzzler. It's SUCH a relevant and important question to the postmodern life and mission of the Christ-follower! How do we approach the Word? How do we receive the Word? How do we use the Word for ministry? Huge, huge stuff!

2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is "God-breathed" (from the actual Greek, Theo-pneustos ... Theos meaning God as in "theology" and pnestos meaning breathed as in "pneumatic" or "pneumonia").

So a question that helps us out here is, "What does it mean to be 'God-breathed'?" I'll pass the ball on there.

David said...

Aaah yes, great question that I think is worth re-examining.
Now I believe that ALL scripture is God-breathed (whatever that means) but when Paul wrote this, he was only referring to the Old Testament, since there was not a New Testament compiled yet.
Again, I think all scripture should be approached the same way - we can't the OT is God's word and the NT isn't, but that does make me pause and think....

2e said...

I think validating the Bible as the word of God is more complex than most Christians suppose. 2 Timothy 3:16 is true, but what was Paul speaking of? The Hebrew Scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament. That verse must accurately be limited to what Paul meant, not use it as blanket authority for the word. This sort of honesty gives Christians credibility. And so, we must turn to other passages to validate the NT. 1 Timothy 5:18 shows that Paul considered his friend Luke's Gospel account to be on par with the OT. A big statement coming from the same guy who later called Scripture "God-breathed." But Peter vouches for Paul's "wisdom God gave him" in 2 Peter 3:15-16, which is a big statement from a friend of Jesus.

David said...

Great insight. It lends creedance that all scripture is God-Breathed.
But does that mean God dictated?
I asked a friend of mine about this, who is an expert in Greek. This is his picture, although it still doesn't give a clear meaning...

"It means that all thoughts recorded in Holy Scripture emanates from the nostrils of God and thus directly relates back to Him. Think of breathing on a cold window. What you see on the window is what you breathed. It is a little more complicated than that, because human writers are involved."

John Lynch said...

What does it mean that God "breathed" Scripture? Even before we discuss what might and might not be "inspired", it seems important to answer this question first.

"Breath of God" and "God breathed" and even "breath of man" are not uncommon terms or ideas in Old or New Testament Scripture. Except for the poetic books, "breath" mostly refers to the life or spirit (or living spirit) of a thing... (check it out with a word search for "breath" at

So for something to be "God breathed" means God put His spirit of life into it. This helps make a lot of sense with passages that talk about the word as "living and active". In a very real sense, the message given is a living message. It holds, at its core, the living spirit of God... just like all living things do.

Something else the "breath" of God frequently does in Scripture... judgment. (Refer back to the word search.) This makes a lot of sense with verses that talk about "Scripture" as that which is profitable for correction... a judging activity.

So inspiration, "God-breathed", means that the message of Scripture has the living, judging spirit of God in it.

I think it's clear from Paul's contemporary references to ongoing special revelation and the way he handled his own texts that he knew he was writing "inspired Scripture". Understanding "inspiration" as the state of housing the living, judging spirit of God makes sense of his liberty in offering "inspired" opinions on matters like married sexual practice or the benefits of singlehood (1 Corinthians 7). They were Paul's opinions, but opinions that carried the divine preference in them... opinions that housed the spirit of God and so were "divinely inspired good advice" for most, but not all, people.

So as the inspired "word of God", the Bible is a collection of messages that are filled with the living, judging Spirit of God.

Where do we go from there? What other questions does this raise? How about prophecy? How about the possibility of ongoing special revelation? I hope folks keep this going!!!

Cinthia said...

The reason why people tend to use inspiration rather than dictation is probably the large variety in style showed by books in Bible. God's mercy and celebration in individuality was presented in the personality of bible writers.

David said...

I agree. It's God's breathe on the window, with our fingerprints on it.

I guess that's why there's so much diversity in beliefs within the body. We all read it through our own lenses (out fingerprints I guess) and we all take our own cultural context into consideration. Which is why some churches have women wear head coverings, and others have women pastors.
For the record, I'm all for women pastors!

So, should there be one answer to every situation and question scripture poses and we're all missing it, except maybe the one whose right..whoever they are. Or is there a variety of answers that should all point us to the one person...Jesus?

If it's the former, how can we ever know it? History has shown us we can't.
If it's the latter, why do we keep fighting about everything, rather than just agreeing to disagree?


Makeesha said...

I think the question David posed is a good one - - is there ONE intended interpretation/meaning for every single thing in the Bible? and along with that, if there is, is any of us capable of discerning/learning it?

John Lynch said...

One of the results of our postmodern upbringing is a penetrating self-doubt on issues of absolute truth. We're left hoping whatever decisions we make are good ones... but never really knowing for sure. But is that the life God intends for us? What kind of God writes truth and then doesn't give people the ability to understand it? Sounds cruel.

Some say we can't know but God's loving provision of grace makes that okay. But John 1 says Christ's glory is both "grace and truth". Our self-depracating doubt on the ability to discern absolute truth with confidence appears contrary to the teachings and life of Christ. In fact, it actually appears more parallel to the Godless Greek culture of Mars Hill... so unsure of their truth-knowing ability that they had built an altar to the "Unknown God" (...just in case, you know).

Jesus says that God seeks people who worship in "spirit and truth" (John 4:23). He promises those who continue in His Word that they would "know the truth" (John 8:32). He rebukes the Pharisees for "not understanding the Scriptures" (Matthew 22:29). He promises the Holy Spirit will lead us "into all truth" (John 16:13). And in Luke 24:25, He "opens their minds to understand the Scriptures." The Apostle John uses the phrases "we know" and "you know" some 30 times. And look at how many times God acts so "they will know" in the book of Ezekiel. On and on the biblical examples go.

It seems pretty clear that God believes we can and should know truth... especially the truth He provides in Scripture.

So, if God does give us the ability to understand that truth, how does that change things for us? I mean, that's quite a message of hope - that God's truth really can be known! How does that affect our approach to growth with God? How does it affect our approach to Scripture? How does it affect our approach to those who don't know Jesus?

David said...

And I agree with you John. Jesus is the Truth. The Bible points us to that, and we can take comfort in that.

So in general terms we as Jesus followers can know who Jesus is, and that the Bible points us to him.

But more specifically, what does that look like? Pre-trib, post-trib, or preterist? Calvinism, or Armenianism? Immersion or sprinkle? Gifts of the Spirit or not? Women in leadership or not? Spanking or not?

I have definite beliefs about most of the questions above and can, in my humble opinion, defend most of them quite well scripturally. But the 'other-sides' can say the same thing can't they?
Is one of us deceived? Or does God allow grace in the non-salvific issues of faith?

Makeesha said...

I don't have a problem believing or having confidence in absolute truth but I actually don't find "hope" in that.

John Lynch said...

But Mak, if you know with confidence, because of what the Word says, that heaven is in your destiny... if you know, because of the Word, that God's love will never fail for you... if you know, because of the Word, that you are truly acceptable, significant, and capably because God created you to be so... doesn't all that give you hope? And is there any other way of being sure of those things without your confident "knowledge" of the Word?

David said...

Well I can answer that partly in the fact that the Holy Spirit is in me as a deposit of what is to Paul states. It's an inner witness.

I do agree however that even I and 'my inner witness' aren't really connecting (my fault for sure) and the Bible does give the hope - regardless of how I feel.

And if I take it another step further, I read about the inner witness in the word!

So I agree with you John. That still doesn't address the other questions I have regarding the other issues of faith particulars I asked above...

We can all agree on the majors, but why are there so many minors? And is that okay?

Makeesha said...

John - sure, but I don't PUT MY HOPE IN my knowledge of the bible or what it says.

and like David said, this still doesn't address the question of "what about when people KNOW different things to be true about the same issue in scripture?" When 2 people KNOW that their idea about women in ministry is true based on the Bible then what does that say about the Bible? or even better, what does that say about our limitations to KNOW TRUTH

I can KNOW something absolutely but also KNOW absolutely that I ultimately can know nothing absolutely

Makeesha said...

ultimately, I put my hope in the triune God and the ancient and Spirit breathed witness of who God is what he has done for me. That's where my HOPE lies. That doesn't mean I don't know things to be true or believe strongly about things. But it means that I recognize that my intellect has been effected by the fall. I cannot ever fully know everything about all things...esp. not God.

My understanding of truth is MY understanding of truth. that doesn't change the TRUTH but truth does not exist in a vacuum.

John Lynch said...

Those are awesome points! I especially love your allusion to the integration of Spirit and Word. After all, if the "word of God" truly is "God breathed" than it's a living thing, only perceivable with a spiritual perspective. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2, the natural can't understand the spiritual; but the spiritual understands all things.

And therein lies the key to confident knowledge (and humble approach) in relation to Scripture. Disagreements exist outside of the unity of the Spirit. As people of two natures (perfect in Spirit and fallen in sin) we often have aspects of our lives that are in both realms. This is the nature of growth... moving evermore into the spiritual realm in which our identity, and the kingdom, dwell and function. That's the realm of agreement in regard to the Word.

(David, I know I still haven't responded fully to some of your specific questions. I'd like to get there, but after some others sound off on this; so I'll leave it there with the promise to come back to it soon. P.S. You and Mak rock!)

David said...

Hey John,
Great discussion, I love your input.

You're probably getting to this, so I don't want to jump the gun, but after coming from a "word of faith" church, some of which I agreed with and some of it I didn't, I want to re-examine for myself, what this really is. I'm not questioning my faith by any means. Nor am I questioning the Bible as being inspired by God, but I am questioning how we approach scripture.

Do you believe, that the Bible, as it stands alone, is not open to interpretation of the reader and therefore holds ONE ultimate truth in all particulars of faith, with all the answers, and it is simply our fallen nature that prevents us from truly finding it? Thus the disagreements on some of the minor issues of faith?

Or, does the Bible point us to ONE truth in who God is, revealed by Jesus and through the Holy Spirit to point us to him for eternal life, in this life and the life to come, but that in the minor issues of faith, that truth is relative and God meant it that way?

It's late, so I hope that made some kind of sense. :-)

In a way my recent journey has opened a new world for me to explore and I'm seeing the Bible with fresh eyes.

Just so you know a little bit about why I'm asking. :-)

BCM said...

Sorry to post this as a comment late in the discussion, but here's how I've grown to see the issues discussed.
I believe inspiration comes out of God using the authors as His tools, allowing their personalities and quirks to give life to the words ("fingerprints" as I believe it was stated). That's how we can get the writers to "sound" different stylistically and still have the Word be inspired.
Second, I don't want to use the terms infallible or inerrant, because everybody seems to define them differently. But I believe scripture is "in...(insert term of your choice) in all that it intends to teach. I see scripture as a theology book with history in it, not visa versa. Hence how I don't get up in a tither about people's contradiction claims within the OT.
I'll start with those two... :)

John Lynch said...

Awesome discussion, David and Makeesha! Thanks for leading!

David, you ask, "Should there be one answer to every situation and question Scripture poses ... or are there a variety of answers that should all point us to the one person, Jesus? If it's the former, how can we ever know it? History has shown us we can't."

And also, "Do you believe, that the Bible, as it stands alone, is not open to interpretation of the reader and therefore holds ONE ultimate truth in all particulars of faith, with all the answers, and it is simply our fallen nature that prevents us from truly finding it? ... Or does the Bible point us to ONE truth in who God is, revealed by Jesus and through the Holy Spirit to point us to Him for eternal life, in this life and the life to come, but that in the minor issues of faith, that truth is relative and God meant it that way?"

Makeesha, you added, "I think the question David posed is a good one - is there ONE intended interpretation/meaning for every single thing in the Bible?"

What I hear you asking is, ”Where is the stopping point in the degree of absolute / narrow truth in the Bible?” and ”Where is our stopping point in being able to definitively understand every aspect of biblical truth?” Am I in the ballpark?

Awesome stuff I think we all ask. Here’s my understanding:

1) All truth is absolute and unchanging in that it is defined by our absolute God who “cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). There are lots of modernity arguments for this, but I stand on a more relational reason - the immutable character of God.

Having said that,

2) The inspired (which I understand as “spiritually alive”) word of God is entirely true and not subjective to any reality (including interpretative difference) other than the faithful character of our eternal God. Thus, “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).

But more practically,

3) Our understanding of inspired truth is dependent on God’s indwelling Spirit, present only in those who have surrendered to Christ, and is a progressive understanding that requires our continually-increasing participation in the kingdom (“the kingdom grows like a mustard seed”).


4) As we continue to mature (a reality dependent on mutually abiding in the word of God - John 15:7; 1 Peter 2:2), we can expect to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture in increasingly definitive ways. I.e. “The more you grow, the more you know.” Our understanding of Scripture, like our life in Christ, is a dynamic reality - not static. So today’s “stopping point” will be different than tomorrow’s (hopefully).

We are not unlike children, learning the truths of life in this world. When we’re young, the creak in the floorboards might just as easily be a voracious, child-eating monster as that lame explanation our parents gave us of “the house is just settling”. As we grow, however, we replace our fears with a greater understanding of truth.

Better stop there before my wife stops reading my laboriously long comment. (She tries to keep my short... not easy!) Waddayathink?

John Lynch said...

Another aspect of this discussion that would be helpful for me is the influence of the personality, contextual knowledge, and grammatical habits of the inspired writers. Anyone wanna take a stab at that?

David said...

Thanks John,
I heard once that we are all on a journey toward the Truth, found in the person of Jesus.
The Bible is our guide toward that.

So I pretty much agree with you. As the Bible is "God-breathed" it points us ultimately to the person of Jesus.

And I do agree that the Bible is alive and it speaks to me (as Martin Luther said) and is my aid in my Halakah (Walk with God).

I don't think everyone will 'get it' on this earth...
We all see through a mirror dimly and know in part. Which is why community is so important because as a body of believers we can get a clearer picture of God and what scripture is saying to us. As it says in Acts, "It seems right to us and the Holy Spirit."

So knowing that we grow in knowledge, but also know that we'll never get it completely (and with scant observation we can see that those who have walked with God a long time still disagree on many things with each other), I think we need to - as a friend of mine says - hold the minor issues of faith with a humble apologetic. As we do this, we can all learn and grow together with the hopes that as we do, we all come to a better understanding of Jesus the ultimate truth.

May the God-breathed Bible, breathe on me.

John Lynch said...

Check out the related discussion
taking place over at "Atheist Nation!"