July 18, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible

Here, finally, is part 3 of my series on divine revelation. The story so far: part 2 argued that the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth constitute a self-revelation of God to mankind, and that the New Testament documents, and especially the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), constitute generally reliably historical sources as to the content of that revelation. These points will be assumed to have been established (but feel free to comment on the previous post if you want to contest them), and I will now argue that the entirety of the Hebrew Bible is included by reference in this revelation. I will also briefly touch on the question of the basis for belief in the Hebrew Bible before the time of Christ. Further, I will argue that the Bible in question is in fact the Hebrew canon in use by the Pharisees in the first century (i.e., the Bible still in use by Jews today, which contains the same content as the protocanonical Old Testament of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches, but divides up the books differently and puts them in a different order). The claims of the Septuagint in Eastern Orthodoxy do not stem from the witness of Christ, but from Tradition, and will therefore be dealt with in part three, on the witness of the Church. I'm not clear on the place of the Vulgate in Catholicism, but will probably also look into that for part three. And now: Jesus' witness to the Hebrew Bible.

First, some statistics to show just how central this issue is to the synoptic gospels' presentation of Jesus:

  • The word graphe, "writing" or "Scripture," occurs in the synoptic gospels 11 times. All 11 refer to the Hebrew Bible, and 8 are in direct quotations of Jesus.

  • The word nomos, "Law," occurs 17 times. Every one of these is in reference to either the Torah or the Hebrew Bible as a whole. 12 occurences are in direct quotations from Jesus.

  • The word prophetes, "prophet," occurs a whopping 72 times! That's too many for me to compile the rest of those statistics on, but I'm relatively certain that at least half of these are references to the Hebrew Bible in words of Jesus.

That's a lot of data to sift through! The most obvious passages to begin our search with are the six times Jesus uses the term ai graphai, "the Scriptures," which, in a Jewish context in the first century, refers to the entirety of the Hebrew Bible. Here are the relevant passages from the HCSB:

  • Matthew 21:42-43 Have you never read the scriptures:
    The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
    This came from the Lord
    and is wonderful to our eyes?

    Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producting its fruit.

  • Matthew 22:29-32 Jesus answered them, "You are deceived because you don't know the Scriptures or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. Now concerning the resurrrection of the dead, haven't you read what was spoken to you by God: 'I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?' He is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

  • Matthew 26:52-56 Then Jesus told him, "Put your sword back in place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?"

    At that time Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture Me? Every day I used to sit, teaching in the temple complex, and you didn't arrest Me. But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptures would be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted Him and ran away.


  • Mark 12:24-27 reports the same conversation from Matthew 22:29-32, above.

  • Mark 14:48-50 reports the same conversation from Matthew 26:52-56, above

Also of interest are the three occurences in Luke 24, all of which have Jesus interpreting or explaining the Scriptures.

What 'Scriptures' are we talking about?

Jesus is speaking primarily to Pharisees and Jews of the Pharisaic tradition. (He was barely on speaking terms with the Sadducees, but in Matthew 23 he recognizes the legitimacy of the Pharisees as "sitting in the seat of Moses," i.e. having authority to interpret the Law. In general, his criticism of the Pharisees seems to be not that what they are doing is wrong, but that they have missed the point. See Matt. 23:23-24.) One could take this as sufficient to prove that when Jesus speaks of "the Scriptures," or "the Law" without specifying he is referring to the same Scriptures accepted by the Pharisees: i.e. the 24 books of the modern Jewish Tanakh, which have the same content as the 39 books of the protocanonical Christian Old Testament. However, we needn't be satisfied with this, as there is a wealth of additional information.

First, Jesus quotes from the following books in the synoptic Gospels (using the Jewish order and book divisions): Genesis (Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-8), Exodus (Matthew 5:27, 5:38, 15:4, 22:32, Mark 7:10, Luke 20:37), Leviticus (Matthew 5:33, 5:38, 5:43, 15:4, 22:39, Mark 7:10, 12:31), Numbers (Matthew 5:33, 5:38), Deuteronomy (Matthew 4:4, 4:7, 4:10, 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 15:4, 18:16, 22:37, Mark 7:10, 12:29-30, Luke 4:4, 4:8, 4:12), Joshua (Mark 12:29-30), Isaiah (Mathew 13:14-15, 15:8-9, 21:13, Mark 4:12, 7:6-7, 9:44-48, 11:17, Luke 4:18-19, 8:10, 19:46, 22:37), Jeremiah (Matthew 21:13, Mark 8:18, 11:17, Luke 19:46), Ezekiel (Mark 8:18), Minor Prophets (Matthew 9:13, 10:35-36, 11:10, 26:31, Mark 14:27, Luke 7:27, 12:53, 23:30), Psalms (Matthew 7:23, 21:16, 21:42, 22:44, 23:39, 26:64, 27:46, Mark 12:36, 14:62, 15:34, Luke 20:17, 20:42-43), Daniel (Matthew 23:39, 26:64, Mark 13:14, 14:62).

This leaves the following books of the Tanakh unquoted: Judges, Samuel, Kings, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Jesus does not quote as Scripture any book outside the Jewish canon.

Of course, every book quoted is uncontested, and also included in the Septuagint, and the Gospel writers (who are writing in Greek, whereas Jesus was almost certainly speaking Aramaic, and therefore probably quoting the Bible in Hebrew) sometimes quote from the Septuagint. However, there is another indication, and this I owe to the John Piper teachings available for download here: in Matthew 23:35, Jesus refers to "all the righteous blood shed on teh earth ... from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah." However, Zecheriah was not chronologically the last prophet to be martyred: he was last in the canonical order of the Hebrew Tanakh. In the Septuagint, Jeremiah is last. So for these three reasons (he was speaking to Palestinian Jews and didn't correct them on what constituted 'Scripture,' he never quotes as Scripture a book outside the Hebrew canon, and he relies on the canonical Hebrew book order), we can conclude that the Scripture Jesus bore witness to was the Hebrew Tanakh.

What does Jesus have to say about them?

Jesus clearly sees himself as the fulfillment of the writings of the Hebrew prophets (see, e.g., Luke 4:18-21), and even of the Law (Matthew 5:17). In John's gospel, Jesus even tells the Pharisees "you pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me" (5:39). In short, Jesus sees himself as the subject of the Hebrew Scriptures.

But where do these Scriptures come from, and what is the source of their authority? John Piper gives a very useful observation on this as well. Matthew 19:4-5 reads,"'Haven't you read," [Jesus] replied, 'that He who created them in the beginning "made them male and female," and He also said: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh?"'" This is a quotation of Genesis 2:24. However, if you look back at Genesis, you will notice that this is not marked as a quotation of God by the author of Genesis. Thus it would seem that Jesus thinks it is correct to say "God said" and cite the Torah, even if it is not marked in the original text as a quotation of God.

Does this apply to the whole Tanakh, or only the Torah proper? I understand (and I am explaining this from memory of a class I took a few years ago, and couldn't find a web reference for it, so feel free to correct me) that in traditional/Orthodox Judaism the Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) are considered to be on three different levels of inspiration: in the case of the Torah, even the decorations on the page and ornaments of the letters are considered to be inspired and significant (Jesus seems to hold this view of the Law as well; see Matthew 5:18). In the Nevi'im, the idea is that when it says "thus says the Lord," it is really reporting what God really said to the prophet. In the case of the Ketuvim, at the lowest level of inspiration, God has insured that these are generally accurate records of what he really did with his people.

It has been my experience that Protestants, especially the truly Reformed (as opposed to the simply not-Catholic variety), tend to be very troubled by the possibility of multiple 'levels' of inspiration. This, I take it, is one reason Protestants are so hostile to the idea of the existence of a deuterocanon, even though the Orthodox (I don't know about Catholics) do not place it on the same level as the protocanonical books. The idea of multiple levels of inspiration within Scripture properly so-called would be even more troubling. It needn't, however, be taken to indicate that some books of the Bible are imperfect: it need only be indicative of a slightly different relationship between the divine and the human in different parts of the Scripture. There are, in principle, infinitely many ways that the divine and the human might be related. Many Christian theologians, such as Donald Bloesch, want to say that just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so the Bible is completely the word of man and completely the Word of God. Even if this is true of the entire Bible, it doesn't necessarily preclude the possibility of different levels, or at least different modes, of inspiration from one part of the Bible to the next.

So does Jesus believe in the traditional Jewish account of multiple levels of inspiration? As a Protestant (though perhaps not one of "the truly Reformed"), I would be much more comfortable categorically denying that this is the case. However, there is significant reason to believe that it is.

We have already seen that Jesus seems, based on Matthew 5:18 and 19:4-5 to hold the Jewish view of the Torah discussed above. I am unaware of anywhere else where he quotes a book outside the Torah and says "God says" in a place that is not marked as a direct quotation of God in the original. He certainly doesn't make statements about "one jot or tittle" with regard to the whole Tanakh, but only with regard to the Torah, which is a very traditionally Jewish perspective. The closest he comes, as far as I know (and this is due to John Piper as well), is at Matthew 22:43 where he says that David composed Psalm 110 "in the Spirit" which is again very consistent with the Jewish view (Psalms belonging to the Ketuvim).

Nevertheless, Jesus clearly treats the entire Tanakh as inspired and authoritative. In fact, the reason he points out that the Psalm in question was inspired is in order to use it as an authoritative source as to the identity of the Messiah.

The evidence for Jesus' exact view of inspiration is very sparse and it will be noted that all the verses cited are from Matthew (of course, this is because Jesus relationship to traditional Judaism is a particular interest of Matthew, whereas Luke, for instance, is concerned simply with setting out the historical events accurately and in order - see Luke 1:3). As such, although there is some reason to suppose that Jesus took this traditional Jewish view, we must at this point remain agnostice on the question of an exact theory of inspiration and say simply that Jesus testified to the following claims about the Hebrew Bible:

  1. It came from God

  2. It is an authoritative source of knowledge about God

  3. Jesus is its subject

If, as was argued in part 2, Jesus' life and teachings constitute God's self-revelation to mankind, then the entirety of the Hebrew Bible is included by reference in that revelation because Jesus taught these things. The question of the authority of the New Testament books and the specific nature of the inspiration of Scripture are subjects I hope to deal with in part 4, on the witness of the Church.

Appendix: why did people belive in the Hebrew Bible before Jesus?

I have argued, following Richard Swinburne, that, for those of us alive today and investigating this issue, the best reason to believe in the Hebrew Bible is on the basis of the testimony of the New Testament, and especially of Jesus himself. If this is so, why did people already believe in it when Jesus came? Wouldn't God have provided a rational foundation for their belief as well?

Recall from part 2 that Jesus' resurrection is God's 'signature' on the revelation that is the life and teachings of Jesus. Compare this with the circumstances surrounding the books of the Hebrew Bible. Throughout the Torah we are continually reminded of one thing as evidence of God's involvement in the production of this book: "the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders" (Deuteronomy 26:8). This is the reason we are to believe Moses. However, these "signs and wonders" have fallen into the mists of time in our own day. We are not in a position to effectively investigate the question of whether the Red Sea actually parted, and so forth. Thus the prophets came, generation by generation, and each of them was validated by divine miracles, and each of them testified to the authenticity of the Torah, and thus those who witnessed their miracles, or at least were able to examine the evidence and be convinced that God had really validated this prophet, had reason to believe in both the prophet and the Torah. We, however, are unable to investigate these signs, and are therefore reliant on the one sign that is historically well-documented: the resurrection of Christ. On this basis we accept his testimony to the Hebrew Bible, and it is on account of this that we believe.

Posted by Kenny at July 18, 2006 11:36 AM
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Comments

About multiple levels of inspiration-
Whether or not the decorations are "inspired" is kind of a moot point, since our Bibles don't have them. The important point is whether all of the Old Testament is the literal word of God, or only the "general idea" or something like that.

Jesus' own view seems ambiguous from the immediate sources. However, John 10:34-35 is very interesting.
John 33-36-
"The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"'? If He called them gods, to hom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father scanctified and sent in to the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?"

The "I said, "You are gods" is quoting Psalm 82:6. Now it's not certain that the 'He' in vs. 35 must be God- someone could argue that Jesus just means the author (Asaph)- but he does include the Psalms as part of the law, and he also does seem to imply that the word of God and Scripture are synonymous terms, although it isn't a conclusive argument.

Another point that I've seen made is that when Jesus quotes Psalm 110, he makes a big point about the word that David uses to describe the Messiah- that the Messiah is his better, and not just a great guy, which does seem to imply that Jesus thought the Holy Spirit had some sort of say over the wording, at least there.

Anyway, since the sources aren't quite conclusive, this is a good time to look at what His followers believed, especially his followers that were accepted by His other followers as being Jesus' followers- because they are likely to have views in line with His. Clearly the authors of the rest of the New Testament fall into the camp, even though you have not established the inerrancy/infallibility of the canon of the New Testament yet.

We see that immediately after Jesus' ascension, some of His apostles, included Peter and John, recognized God speaking through the mouth of David in the Psalms. Acts 4:25-26:
"So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and His Christ."
The passage they are quoting is Psalm 2:1-2, but the important point here is that grammatically God is acknowledged as the one speaking.

At the end of Acts (28:26) Paul quotes Isaiah as the word of the Holy Spirit, which he also does less clearly in chapter 13. He does this again in Ephesiants 4:7-8 with Psalm 68:18. That's all the ones in the episles that are pretty much uncontested that I can think of. The Psalms and 2 Samuel are quoted this way in the anonymous Hebrews ch 1 (and in fact this happens the whole way through the book).

These are all the ones I found in my not-so-quick search. You can have fun seeing if they use "word" as logos or whatever the other term is.

Anyway, to me it seems that shortly after Jesus left, His apostles had the view that all of the Tanakh is the literal word of God, which I think is sufficient to convince me that this must have been Jesus' view, even if you haven't established the rest of Scripture as inerrant yet. Once you do then we're forced to accept it.

Posted by: Lauren at July 18, 2006 6:06 PM

(1) Jesus apparently interprets the 'I' in Psalm 82 as being God. This wouldn't be uncommon given that we are dealing with poetry and there may be changes of speaker from on stanza to the next. I don't know if there is ancient Jewish commentary to this effect. It would be something to look into. At any rate, that doesn't necessarily translate into letter- (or rather jot- and tittle-)perfect divine inspiration of the Ketuvim in the same way this is claimed for the Torah. By the way, the decorations are preserved in the Hebrew manuscripts and to this day the Kabbalists are discussing what they might mean. If they are indeed inspired, then we ought to pay attention to them (though the Kabbalists are probably still wrong).

(2) I already said that Jesus believes that the OT is from God and an authoritative source of knowledge about him. Perhaps I could have made it more clear that Jesus does indeed see every word as significant, even in the Ketuvim (which, as you point out, his use of Psalm 110 proves). However, that doesn't necessarily imply that the relationship between the human and the divine is precisely identical in every book.

(3) Thanks for the Acts reference. I hadn't noticed that before. Peter and John are clearly part of the Church (more clearly than anyone else, in fact), so that passage will likely form an important part of the argument in part four. It doesn't seem to me (not knowing anything about Hebrew poetry) that this one can be intended by the Psalmist as a direct quote of God, so the fact that Peter and John read it that way is almost certainly significant.

Posted by: Kenny at July 18, 2006 6:24 PM

Could you explain, or clarify, how the relationship between the human and divine can vary from book to book under this way of thinking? If every book is authoritative and every word is significant, in what ways are the interaction between the human and divine different and how/why is that significant? I guess the only differentiating issue I see then are the decorations, but that only applies to the Torah.

I took "God has insured that these are generally accurate records of what he really did with his people" to mean they weren't the actual literal words of God- they sort of expressed the point God was getting at or something.

Posted by: Lauren at July 18, 2006 9:34 PM

Yes, I understand (rightly or wrongly) that the traditional Jewish position denies the 'verbal inspiration' of the Ketuvim, while leaving room for a lesser degree of inspiration, so that it still counts as authoritative. Of course, this is clearly not the overall NT understanding.

Supposing we assume a very strong view (which I in fact hold) that says that every book of the Bible is entirely the Word of God, and it is correct to say "God said" and cite any portion of the Bible, this still doesn't preclude the possibility of different degrees of human involvement. For instance, my current belief with regard to the Scripture as a whole is that God shaped the lives and wills of the human authors such that what those authors wanted to say would align perfectly with what he wanted to say. Suppose that this is the case with the Psalms. We could then give a different account with regard to the Torah and say (for instance) that God literally dictated the Torah word for word, letter for letter, jot and tittle for jot and tittle, and all Moses did was hold the pen (or stylus, as the case may be). Another similar example is that there is some reason to believe (see 1 Samuel 19:19-24) that OT prophets sometimes had some sort of trance, like an epileptic seizure, when they prophesied, and may not even have been aware of what they were saying. Other prophets seem to have been completely in their right minds and seen visions. In this way, there can be myriad different modes of inspiration while all are still the inerrant Word of God.

If we take a weaker assumption - only that there is some role for divine inspiration in every portion of Scripture - there can, in principle, be different levels or degrees of inspiration while affirming that all are inerrant. Suppose, for instance, that someone wanted to say that in the Torah God inspired even the specific handwriting and all the ornamentation and the shapes of the different letters and so forth, in the Nevi'im God inspired the specific words, and in the Ketuvim the inspiration process was such that God simply endorses the content as entirely true. In this case, all three are inerrant (i.e. everything they say is true), but it makes sense to say that there are different levels of inspiration in the document. This is the sort of view that I'm suggesting the specific words of Jesus might lead us to, because it is similar to (identical with?) the traditional Jewish view as I understand it, and it accounts for the difference in language ("God said" with regard to the Torah, "David spoke in the Spirit" with regard to the Ketuvim). On this view we might say that all Scripture is a divinely inspired expression of the logos of God, but the Ketuvim were not in fact the rema of God properly so-called. However, this argument (1) is indecisive, (2) may read too much into a small difference of phrasing, and (3) will probably be contradicted by part 3 of the argument. I just wanted to bring it up because I think it is interesting and because at this stage in the argument it is a legitimate question to ask.

Posted by: Kenny at July 18, 2006 10:10 PM

Jeremiah was not martyred, that is not central to your thesis but it definitely needs to be corrected. God very definitely promises safety for Jeremiah and his family, at Jeremiah's request, if he goes into captivity with Judah.

Jeremiah's tomb is traditionally located in Ireland, and with all those "Jeremy"s running around, it makes sense. Look at some of the Ulster Unionist flags and you can see that they strongly believe in their Jewish heritage.

Anyway, I don't know who the last prophet to be martyred was, but it definitely wasn't Jeremiah.

I've read dozens of "scriptural inerrancy" web pages (including yours) which claim that Jesus NEVER quoted anything but the current version of the Old Testament. Yet I've seen lists of dozens of places in the Synoptic gospels where Jesus quotes books like Barach. Certainly the book of Enoch was tremendously popular in Jesus' time, and it's quoted by Jude. In general, I think the idea that Jesus only quoted the current Tanakh is probably one of those "urban legends" which sounds good when preaching to the choir, and quickly gets spread around.

The idea of "scriptural inerrancy" is really hopeless because any legitimate scholar will tell you that we have about a 5% variation in different versions of both the Tanakh and the New Testmament texts. Things like spelling differences, added letters, etc. These differences *in no way* imply that the texts are unreliable - it's a remarkable accuracy rate. But it's not 100% and that means it's not "inerrant" - like our moral lives, a miss is as good as a mile.

Take the texts for what they are - very accurate records of both history and God's supernatural relationship with the Hebrew people. Certainly when Jeremiah writes "The word of the Lord came to me ..." he is not talking about getting a Protestant bible in via UPS. "The word of Lord" meant just want it sounds like - God's speech, a direct message. It didn't mean a written message unless you count the "writing on the wall" which Daniel interpreted.

God did communicate directly with nearly all the writers of both the Tanakh and the New Testament. But human beings wrote down what He told them, unless you count the tablets with the ten commandents.

Notice they put those tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, because they were *literally* written by God. They didn't put all those other scrolls in the Ark, so they clearly recognized them as something less than the directly written words of God.

For the New Testament, Paul writes in his letters just as anyone writes in their letters, "I have this from the Lord" when it's a divine message, and "I do this" when it's just Paul saying what he thinks. Paul is not God. There would be no distinction between those two kinds of messages if every word Paul wrote was actually written by God. And imagine the Creator making the effort to inspire Paul to describe his own personal beliefs, but not give Himself credit for the authorship - "You take the heat for this Paul, I AM is not going to get blamed for that!" You can see how quickly this philosophy leads to blasphemy.

It really comes down to whether you worship a man-made collection of texts, or if you worship YVWH. I would say the vast majority of USA Christians worship the book above YVWH, which puts them right in the camp of the Pharisees. Notice they're never called the HOLY scriptures anywhere inside the book itself, but it's printed on the cover of the book.

The three wise men who found Jesus through astrology would have been thrown out of most churches today as devil-worshipping astrologers of Babylon (which is half-true). Yet how many of those Tanakh-worshipping Pharisees recognized Jesus for who He was? And don't even get me started on the Great Pyramid...

The point is that the biblical texts *are* a gift from God, but so is my health, and it's not perfect either. I don't refer to it as my HOLY health.

I've heard long sermons preached about why one gospel account has two angels at Jesus' tomb, and another has only one. Incredible abuses or logic and reason, all to explain that those authors (neither Mark nor Luke were there) got two different versions of the story. Does that change the meaning or the power of the story? Absolutely not. It just means that we can't be sure if there were one or two angels at the tomb. That's hardly an attack on my faith. It's just two honest reporters, telling the story as they knew it. One of them is obviously and overtly "errant".


Posted by: Neal at August 15, 2006 8:19 AM

Neal,

Thank you for your thoughts. However, I think that some of your criticism is misplaced. First, I have not yet argued for inerrancy, so this is not an 'inerrancy page,' nor is my argument for inerrancy (which hasn't yet been posted) available for you to criticize. Second, I never said that God literally wrote the whole Scripture in the way that he wrote the ten commandments - I simply observed that it is correct to attribute them to him (that is, we can say, as Jesus does, "God says" when quoting at least any part of the Torah, if not any part of the Tanakh). Third, I did not say that Jesus never quotes any book outside the canon (though I have never seen an example where he does - I am familiar with the Jude example, but that is not Jesus speaking). Rather, I said that "Jesus does not quote as Scripture any book outside the Jewish canon" (emphasis added). That is, Jesus does not cite any book outside the canon as having all three of the characteristics I listed. If you have a counter-example, I would be very interested to hear it. Finally, the phrase "Holy Scriptures" (Gr. Agia Graphe) DOES occur at least twice in the New Testament, the references are Romans 1:2 and 2 Timothy 3:15.

Posted by: Kenny at August 15, 2006 8:47 AM

Working backwards -

The Romans reference is only to the books of the prophets. That makes sense because they *actually were* the literal "words of God". God gave a message (vision, dream, spoken message) and the prophets wrote it down.

The 2 Timothy reference is more difficult because it says "God-breathed" in my translation. It obviously refers to none of the New Testament texts, since Paul was writing long before the New Testament was assembled. I'd be happy to go with the Septuigant, which was the "Jewish Bible" in use in Jesus' day.

Now, do you include the apochryphal books? Because they are part of the Septuigant. They were also part of the original King James. They've only been discarded by Protestants in the last 200 years or so. Inerrant and discarded, or an errant, 1900-year-long mistake? Two bad choices.

I didn't realize your definition of "quoted" was so specific. I don't have the right version of the bible handy, but I do have access to a version which has footnotes (like a reference bible) for all kinds of apochryphal texts and I'll try to find some choice gems from Jesus and post them here.

As for Jesus using the phrase "God says", you're narrowing your standards for "quoting" to a point where your own essay doesn't meet them. You mention Jesus speaking of "the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of righteous Zacariah...". Half of that obviously comes from the Torah, but Jesus doesn't start with "God says". Jesus clearly affirms the Torah account of Abel without attributing it to God.

Either that speech by Jesus doesn't support your claim, or it does support your claim and violates your own standards of proof.

And finally, your unpublished belief in inerrancy. Your position is obvious, everything you write is pointing toward inerrancy. I just hope you'll consider my points.

I see no mention of the problem with Jeremiah, or a few of my other points. What about the problem of the number of angels at the tomb? What about spelling differences, how do you know which spelling of a word is the inspired one? Will you address these issues when you formally claim inerrancy?

Posted by: neal at August 15, 2006 9:52 AM

1) Obviously there is no reference in the Bible that refers to the entire canon as currently constituted, because it hadn't been canonized yet. The fact that the Bible therefore doesn't make this kind of claim directly isn't a problem for inerrancy; it is a problem with certain extremely radical formulations of the doctrine of sola scriptura which I do not believe have ever actually been embraced by any important theologian (e.g. a formulation that says "only Scripture is a legitimate means of seeking theological truth"). Since I'm not making a claim like that, it is not a problem for me.

2) As you would know if you had actually read my argument in sufficient depth to respond to it, the LXX was NOT the standard "Jewish Bible" of Jesus' day. It was only the standard for the Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora. Jesus was an Aramaic-speaking Jew from Judea/Galilee. He would have used the Hebrew canon of the Pharisees which is still in use by Jews today and is identical in substance with the Protestant Old Testament. As far as the alleged 1900 years of error, historically Christianity has not generally claimed that the Apocrypha had the same status as the proto-canon, and this is something I also discussed briefly above.

3) I don't mean to claim that only the passages where Jesus says "God says" count. As far as I know, there is only one of these, and the other which says "David spoke by the Holy Spirit." I do mean to say that it doesn't necessarily matter if Jesus quotes non-canonical books. The fact that I quote George Berkeley with some frequency does not mean that I think the Treatise on the Principles of Human Knolwedge belongs in the canon. It is only relevant if Jesus quotes it in such a way as to imply that it is an authoritative revelation of God. He consistently quotes canonical books in this way (though he doesn't hit every book). I don't actually personally know of any place where he quotes a non-canonical book at all, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did. I would be surprised if he quoted one in such a way as to make it appear authoritative on the subject of the divine revelation.

4) Yes, I do believe in inerrancy, I just haven't written an argument in favor of that belief yet, so you can't come in here complaining that my argument for inerrancy is flawed. You haven't seen it yet. And, for the record, the argument I intend to present in the next post (if I ever get to it) is a work in progress that still needs a few holes filled in, and may not be sufficient to support absolute inerrancy. All I've argued so far is that the life and teachings of Jesus constitute a self-revelation of God to mankind and that the canonical Hebrew Bible is included by reference in that revelation. I intend to go on to argue that through the witness of the Church we know (or at least may rationally believe) that the canonical New Testament books are an accurate (perfectly accurate?) record of the revelation. I do have some considerations in favor of inerrancy, but I can hardly claim to have a knock-down argument.

5) You are probably right about Jeremiah. I must confess, I took Piper at his word and didn't look into this in depth myself.

6) The spelling issue is truly absurd. Inerrancy doesn't mean absolute certainty. There is an abstract claim here: "the autographs were inerrant." The autographs no longer exist. However, that doesn't make the claim of their inerrancy irrelevant, because through the practice of textual criticism, scholarship, archaeology, etc., we can determine with a fair degree of certainty (or at least form justified beliefs about) what the autographs said. There is better evidence for the original text of the New Testament than any other ancient writing. 5% is nothing - especially when the vast majority of those discrepancies don't even come out in translation. If there is a 5% margin of error in truth we find through study of Scripture, that will STILL make it the most reliable source we have. In fact, because of interpretive difficulties, our certainty is less than that, though serious study of Scripture remains a reliable method of pursuing truth - more reliable, I think, than perhaps any other. The spelling differences are among the discrepancies that don't come out in translation, so, again, they simply don't matter. The fact that they exist is not an argument against inerrancy, unless someone wanted to (stupidly) claim that EVERY manuscript was inerrant. THAT claim would obviously be false. The angels at the tomb is at least a real problem, but not, I think, an insoluble one, provided there is good enough reason to believe in inerrancy in the first place.

Posted by: Kenny at August 15, 2006 10:48 PM

ISola scriptura was embraced by Martin Luther, an important theologian.

Your backpedalling is really taking the fun out of this discussion. In two different ways, you seem to be saying that "inerrancy" is not even an important question. First you say that there are other ways to gain God's forgiveness, then you continue by claiming that because we don't have the original texts, we can't expect to find any inerrant copies.

Between these two viewpoints, I'm surprised you even care about the issue. What's the point of arguing for inerrancy? It appears to be a totally pedantic exercise.

I do understand your views on the use of the LXX in Jesus' time, but they are "questionable" at best. Your contention that the Hebrews of Palestine were still reading Hebrew in the Temple during the time Christ is unsupported by the majority of archeologic and textual evidence. Imagine the good fortune of Christ to quote the Tanakh in a way that mirrors the LXX, despite the fact that He was teaching from the Hebrew in the Temple.

There are only a couple of possiblities for that. One is that the Gospel writers used the LXX to translate the words of Christ into Greek (meaning that they were using their mortal, errant skills and resources in the lost, original texts). The other possiblity is that Christ was actually speaking in Greek because Greek was the language of the entire Levant in His time, and because it is the most precise language of all of history - His arrival "in the fullness of time" meant that He could use this uberlanguage in His speeches and that the Tanakh was already available in this uberlanguage.

Neither possibility supports your claim that the LXX was not the dominant canon and language version in Judea and Samaria in the time of Christ. A scholarly inquiry cannot support your view.

The proof of salvation is a resurrected Christ - an historic proposition which can be tested. Paul understood this plainly when he wrote that "If Christ has not risen, our faith is in vain". The proof of God is the fulfillment of His prophecies. Between those two, we have enough factual, testable information to gain the truth. Once we gain the truth, we can gain the grace of God by *acting on it*, which is the real meaning of "faith" - doing something which demonstrates trust in the One we do it for.

None of that requires biblical inerrancy.

My point about spelling is not that ALL textual inconsistencies are spelling issues. My point is a practical one - that arguing for inerrancy of the *original texts* is a purely academic exercise when you truthfully acknowledge that we have no way to decide the minor disputes between existing texts. "Inerrant" means "perfect", so one minor dispute between two copies of a text is *de facto* evicdence that we have no access to inerrant texts.

If you're not going to challenge that point, it's a purely academic exercise to write an argument for inerrancy. That version of inerrancy has no possible effect on anything we know, or do today, or tomorrow.

The problem of the angels at the tomb is just one of many similar examples amongst the four gospel accounts. Obviously, Mark and Luke were not there. Did they write, as Ezekiel did, that they had visions of the entire life of Christ? Did they write, as Paul did, that they were taken up to third level of Heaven and shown these mysteries? No. They were obviously working from either oral or written source material. This is not to dispute their gospels, it's just a simple, honest recognition that THEY don't claim to have benefited from supernatural information, and they clearly had no first-hand information.

So if you must write about the "secret angel" or the "angel that didn't matter" or the "quiet angel", then you will be treading down the time-worn path which makes fools of Christians by smashing Occam's Razor with the bludgeon of Catholic tradition.

This is how the golden calf was made - first they took all their jewelry, which they didn't worship. Then they melted it down with their own hands and formed it into a statue, which they did worship.

This is how the new testament was made - first they collected all the letters of Paul and Peter and John and Jude, etc. and the accounts of Christ, which accounts and letters they did not worship. Then they put them all into a book, with their own hands, and stamped "Holy" on the cover.

The golden jewelry was a gift from God. So were the accounts of Christ and the letters of the disciples and apostles. Neither were called "inerrant" until men assembled them and stamped it on the conglomeration.

Posted by: neal at August 16, 2006 4:11 AM

1) OF COURSE Sola Scriptura was embraced by Martin Luther (and all the other reformers) and OF COURSE they are all important theologians. Once again, you haven't actually read what I wrote. I said "it is a problem with certain extremely radical formulations of the doctrine of sola scriptura which I do not believe have ever actually been embraced by any important theologian." That is, no important theologian has, to my knowledge, embraced a formulation of sola scriptura radical enough to run into trouble here, because the problem is obvious: if you embrace a doctrine that says that the only legitimate source of theological truth is the Bible, then that doctrine, since it is theological in nature, will have either circular justification or no justification, and can be, at best, an "irrational root of rationality" - i.e. an unjustified and unjustifiable axiom to build a system upon. This isn't a very attractive idea as this is far too complicated an idea to make a good axiom, and the whole idea of believing something that is unjustified and unjustifiable is not so great to begin with. The doctrine of sola scriptura that was actually embraced by these theologians is more about the Bible being the only 'infallible' source of theology, and thus trumping all others. The real point, historically, is of course that the Pope is not the Bible, and can't just make stuff up, especially if said stuff contradicts the plain sense of Scripture.

2) I'm not backpedalling, I'm saying the same thing I've said all along. You are arguing against strawmen. The only point on which I have backed down thus far is Jeremiah, and you yourself said that that is not central to my argument. I intend to write a post later tonight about why inerrancy still matters, because it does. Certainty is not to be had in this world, but the fact that there is uncertainty doesn't undermine inerrancy or make it less important.

3) Yes, Greek is a great language, and was clearly the language of commerce, etc. throughout the eastern Roman Empire in the first century. It was also the language used by some Jewish writers, even in Palestine (e.g. Josephus). Furthermore, I'm completely on board with the idea that the Greek language was part of the reason God chose to reveal himself when and where he did. However, we know that the Pharisees wrote in Aramaic and quoted Scripture in Hebrew when putting together the Talmud, and they were the dominant religious party among the lower- and middle-class (to the degree that there was a middle-class in antiquity) Jews in the region. This favors the theory that Christ would have also spoken Aramaic and quoted in Hebrew, since this was probably the mode of religious education the Jews around him were familiar with. There are places where NT authors quote the LXX and use its disagreement with the Hebrew to further their arguments, but I am aware of no place where this occurs in the words of Christ. (Of course, even so, this is a problem for those who want to affirm the inerrancy of the NT and the Hebrew Bible while denying the inerrancy of the LXX, but this is not a problem with inerrancy in general, nor is it an insoluble problem.) But supposing Jesus did speak Greek and quote the LXX. What does that have to do with inerrancy? Finally, you keep asserting these claims about the language spoken by Jesus and your claims are very bold. You say for instance that "a scholarly inquiry cannot support your view." However, as I understand it, the majority of NT scholars DO believe that Jesus taught in Aramaic. Reiterating your claim is not going to make it true. You must present some actual evidence.

3) I absolutely agree (and have even written this) with what you are saying about the proof being in Christ's resurrection and this not requiring inerrancy. I fail to see how this is relevant to your argument.

4) The establishment of the NT canon and the reason for regarding the whole thing as divine revelation will be the subject of the next post in this series, which will probably be written within the next two weeks.

Posted by: Kenny at August 16, 2006 6:48 PM

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