Archive | Bibliology

Did the Early Church Fathers Believe in Sola Scriptura?


Definition of Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura: the reformed Protestant belief that the Scriptures alone are the final and only infallible authority for the Christian. This does not mean that Scriptures are the only authority (nuda or solo Scriptura), as Protestants believe in the authority of tradition, reason, experience, and emotions to varying degrees (after all, “sola scriptura” itself is an authoritative tradition in Protestantism). It does mean that Scripture trumps all other authorities (it is the norma normans sed non normata Lat. “norm that norms which is not normed”).

Controversy of Sola Scriptura

Sometimes people get the idea that sola Scriptura was a 16th-century invention. While it was definitely articulated a great deal through the controversies during the Reformation, its basic principles can be found deep in church history. Take a look at some of these early church fathers who seemed to believe in the primacy of Scripture:

Related Resource: Six Myths About Sola Scriptura by C. Michael Patton Continue Reading →

Six Factors that Do Not Affect Inerrancy

1. Use of Hyperbole and Exaggeration

Just because one believes in inerrancy does not mean that he or she believe in a “technically precise” view of truth. The Bible can and does contain exaggerations and hyperbole while not effecting inerrancy. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Did Jesus really tell her everything she has ever done? That would take quite a bit of time! As well, Paul says of false teachers that they “understand nothing” (1 Tim. 6:4). Do these false teachers really understand nothing? Nothing at all? Or is Paul speaking hyperbolically concerning their ignorance of truth? The latter is most definitely the case.

2. Speaking According to Cultural Convenience

Sometimes the Bible speaks in accordance with cultural understanding without any attempt to correct that understanding. For example, in Mark 4:31, Christ claims that the mustard seed is the smallest seed in all the earth. This does not necessarily mean that if agricultural science ever found a seed that was smaller (and they have), Christ was wrong. Christ could have just been making a statement that was in concert with the cultural understanding of the day without making a objective universal claim about this seed. The mustard seed was the smallest seed that these Palestinian farmers knew of.

While I don’t have any strong convictions about the age of the earth or how literal we should take the early chapters of Genesis, it is quite possible that much of what is being said is one of cultural convenience. This does not affect inerrancy, but is a matter of one’s hermeneutics (rules of interpretation). Continue Reading →

Why I Believe the Canon is Theoretically Open (and Am Fine With It)

The term “canon” refers to the accepted books of the Bible. The Protestant canon contains 66 books; other Christian traditions vary, adding a few books often referred to as the Deuterocanonical books (“second canon”) or the “Apocrypha.” A commonly accepted understanding among most Christians of all traditions is that the books that belong in the Bible cannot be added to. In other words, the canon is “closed.”

While in one sense I believe the canon is closed, in some ways I do not believe that to be necessarily true. Let me explain.

In order to maintain that the canon is closed, most Christians would refer the the first few centuries of the church. In particular, councils such as Rome, Hippo, and Carthage, as well as Athanasius’ Easter Letter, are pointed to as evidence that the canon of the New Testament had closed by the time they took place. The Old Testament, according to most, was already established and closed by the time of Christ. For this, reference could be made to the New Testament itself, the testimonies of Josephus and Philo, and some of the intertestamental works.

My contention with this assumption is that saying that the canon is “closed” needs to be understood more in an observational way rather than as an authoritative pronouncement. “Closed” might not be the best word, since it implies a necessary finality concerning the contents of Scripture.  I don’t believe we can say this (in the way we usually mean it) for two primary reasons:

1. Scripture itself does not limit the canon to 66 books. No matter how hard you look, you would be hard pressed to find a place that definitely “closes” the canon. Revelation 22:18-19 is often referred to as evidence:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

The problem with using this passage is that it is specific to the book of Revelation. Just because the book of Revelation occurs last in our canon does not mean this warning applies to the entire Bible. It is meant to communicate a general statement about those who would be tempted to add to or take away from God’s word in general, and to the book of Revelation specifically. Yet the same warning is given in the books of Deuteronomy and Proverbs: Continue Reading →

The Father, Son, and the Holy Bible

The problem with many Evangelicals is that we can come dangerously close to worshiping the Bible. As Evangelical theologian James Sawyer once said in jest, we worship the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

Now, by this I do not mean we actually set the Bible up in a shrine in our house, throw it away if it ever touches the floor, or put our hand on it when swearing an oath. Of course we are above that, right? What I think people like James Sawyer are talking about is that we put our Bibliology (study of the Bible) ahead of Christology (study of Christ), Pneumentology (study of the Holy Spirit), and Paterology (study of the Father). We hold the Bible in such high esteem that firm adherence to an Evangelical Bibliology (verbal plenary inspiration, inerrancy, and authorial intent hermeneutics) becomes the unashamed anchor to the Gospel. But, eventually, it can (and often does) become the Gospel itself. One may be perfectly orthodox in every area about which the Bible speaks (deeply believing in the deity and Lordship of Christ, the sinfulness of man, and Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection), but if they are not perfectly orthodox about the Bible, to many of us evangelicals, they are not orthodox at all.

Now, let me cease with the self-deprecation for a moment. When straw men are not being built against us (and when we are acting our age!), a high view of Scripture is easy to justify. For example, for many years the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) had only one point in their doctrinal statement that members had to sign every year—inerrancy. And, in my estimation, this was not a bad thing. After all, where do we get our high Christology? The Bible. Where do we get our high view of God? The Bible. Where do we get the Gospel? The Bible. So, in our best moments, we will condemn anything that smells of idolatry concerning the Scriptures. We know that the Bible is not the fourth member of the Trinity. The Bible is not actually alive, but it does accurately reflect the movements of a living God.

How does this translate into our witness? When we are sharing Christ with someone, I have never heard anyone require that they invite the Bible into their heart (although, to be fair, asking Jesus into their heart might cause some problems too!). At baptismal confessions in the early church, there was a renouncing of Satan, but no renouncing of those who deny inerrancy. There was a confession of Christ as Lord, but no confession of Paul as the author of the Pastorals. There was a symbolic burial of our old life but no burial of old books you used to read besides the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the early church had a low view of Scripture. Far from it. I even believe that they held to a seed form of inerrancy. What I am saying is that one’s bibliology was not an essential component of the Gospel. Continue Reading →

Fifteen More Myths about Bible Translation

1. Perhaps the number one myth about Bible translation is that a word-for-word translation is the best kind. Anyone who is conversant in more than one language recognizes that a word-for-word translation is simply not possible if one is going to communicate in an understandable way in the receptor language. Yet, ironically, even some biblical scholars who should know better continue to tout word-for-word translations as though they were the best. Perhaps the most word-for-word translation of the Bible in English is Wycliffe’s, done in the 1380s. Although translated from the Latin Vulgate, it was a slavishly literal translation to that text. And precisely because of this, it was hardly English.

2. Similar to the first point is that a literal translation is the best version. In fact, this is sometimes just a spin on the first notion. For example, the Greek New Testament has about 138,000–140,000 words, depending on which edition one is using. But no English translation has this few. Here are some examples:

RSV           173,293

NIV           175,037

ESV           175,599

NIV 2011   176,122

TNIV        176,267

NRSV       176,417

REB          176,705

NKJV      177,980

NET         178,929

RV           179,873

ASV        180,056

KJV        180,565

NASB 95   182,446

NASB      184,062

NLT, 2nd ed  186,596

TEV         192,784

It’s no surprise that the TEV and NLT have the most words, since these are both paraphrases. But the translations perceived to be more literal are often near the bottom of this list (that is, farther away from the Greek NT word-count). These include the KJV (#12), ASV (#11), NASB (#14), NASB 95 (#13), and RV (#10). Indeed, when the RV came out (1881), one of its stated goals was to be quite literal and the translators were consciously trying to be much more literal than the KJV.

Some translations of the New Testament into other languages:

Modern Hebrew NT             111,154

Vulgate                                    125,720

Italian La Sacra Bibbia      163,870

Luther                                     169,536

French Novelle Version2   184,449

La Sainte Bible (Geneve)    185,859

3. The King James Version is a literal translation. The preface to the KJV actually claims otherwise. For example, they explicitly said that they did not translate the same word in the original the same way in the English but did attempt to capture the sense of the original each time: “An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men some where, have beene as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not varie from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there bee some wordes that bee not of the same sense every where) we were especially carefull, and made a conscience, according to our duetie.” Continue Reading →

Best Selling Bibles of 2012

Dollar Sales

1. New International Version

2. King James Version

3. New Living Translation

4. New King James Version

5. English Standard Version

6. Holman Christian Standard Bible

7. New American Standard Bible

8. Common English Bible

9. Reina Valera 1960

10. The Message

Unit Sales

1. New Living Translation

2. New International Version

3. King James Version

4. New King James Version

5. English Standard Version

6. Common English Bible

7. Holman Christian Standard Bible

8. New American Standard Bible

9. Reina Valera 1960

10. New International Readers Version

Source: Christian Booksellers Association


Surprised by the Deficiency of the Spirit

(Lisa Robinson)

In my first semester of seminary, I had to read Surprised by the Voice of God  by Jack Deere to complete a theological method paper for my Intro to Theology class.  I’ve been re-reading it in preparation to grade the same assignment. If you are not familiar with the book, Deere writes about the need to hear the voice of God beyond the Bible, namely through dreams, visions and prophetic utterances. He is a former DTS professor turned Charismatic and encourages a vibrant relationship with the Lord through the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t intend to do a review of the book here. I can only recommend that you read it for yourself to make up your own mind about his proposals. But there’s a few things that bother me that I have issues with, especially as it relates to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Bible and our Christian walk.

Deere proposes that in order to have a vibrant walk with the Lord, we need to model the way in which God spoke to the people in the Bible, namely the prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself.  He uses a plethora of examples, including his own, that portrays a staid and rather lifeless Christian existence by relying on the Bible alone and the inability to really hear from God. This is contrasted with an energized Christian walk that relies on the ability to hear God speak beyond the Bible. The thrust of his proposal is that if you want to really experience the Holy Spirit then the Bible is not enough.

Now I’m not going to quibble about the continuation of gifts vs cessationism. Michael and Sam Storms have a pretty extensive exchange on the that subject. But Deere’s proposal exposes a festering concern that I’ve had and that I hear frequently from many believers. To varying degrees, it is the idea that the Holy Spirit is only partially present in Bible and that if we really want to experience the Holy Spirit it requires going beyond the bible to “hear the voice of God”. Continue Reading →

Is Inerrancy the Linchpin of Evangelicalism?

I believe in inerrancy. This means I believe that there are no errors in the Bible. Of course, this comes with the usual disclaimers which say that we must be talking about the original manuscripts and we must be assuming that the Bible is being interpreted correctly. In other words, none of our Bible translations are inerrant and we are not inerrant in our understanding of the text. To solve the translation problem, you could become a KJV Only advocate and believe that the King James is inerrant (but there is no warrant at all to make such a move). To solve the problem of interpretation, you could head to Rome and believe that the Pope is the infallible interpreter (but, again, no warrant – besides that, who would interpret the Pope?!). Therefore, I am left with the type of inerrancy I have. I am good with it.

However, while I believe that the Bible is inerrant, I do not believe this is the linchpin of Evangelicalism, much less Christianity. While I agree with most of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, I think I disagree with it when it says that one cannot deny inerrancy without incurring “grave consequences” on his or herself (XIX). “Grave” is a very strong word. Too strong, in my opinion. Nevertheless, inerrancy is important because it speaks to the nature of Scripture being in harmony with the nature of God. I have looked enough into this issue to believe that I probably won’t ever change my stance here. It is one of those issues that is pretty well settled in my theology.

However, if I were to find something that I believed was a legitimate error in the Scripture, I don’t think my faith would be affected too much. Why? Because the central truths of the Christian faith are not affected by inerrancy. I come across so many people who think that if they expose one error in the Bible, the entire Christian worldview will fall apart like the proverbial house of cards. This is simply not true.

Consider this illustration that Mike Licona gives: There were 712 survivors when the Titanic sank. These survivors were divided as to how the ship went down. Some said it broke in half, then went down. Others said it went down intact. There is a contradiction in testimony, right? So what do we do with this contradiction? Of all the options, there is no sane person out there who would say, “Well, since we don’t have consistent testimony as to what condition the Titanic was in when it sank, we have to give up our belief that it sunk altogether.” Yet that is exactly what some skeptics propose we do with the story of Christ and his resurrection. Every testimony that we have in the Gospels says that Christ died on a cross and rose from the grave. Just because we may have some conflicting accounts as to the details does not mean we abandon the consistent testimony about the main event.

Now, I believe that what most people see as conflicting accounts in the Gospels only strengthen their testimony, since the accounts show that they are looking at the same event, from different perspectives, without collaboration among the authors. However, even if they do conflict here and there, there is no rational reason to deny the resurrection of Christ any more than we would deny the sinking of the Titanic due to conflicting accounts.

I think this is a fundamental principle that inerrantists such as myself need to be more vocal in conceding in today’s world. I find many people who wear inerrancy on their sleeve just as prominently as historicity. This can get us into trouble as we tie inerrancy too closely with the Gospel. Historicity is the issue. Did the central events actually occur? If they did, Christianity is true, no matter how many angels John says were at the tomb, not matter whether Abiathar was high priest at the time of David, no matter what Pilate wrote on the sign above the cross, and no matter how Judas died. I believe in inerrancy because I believe in the historicity of the central Gospel message. I don’t believe in historicity because I believe in inerrancy. Christianity is true if Christ historically rose from the dead, period. It is false if he historically did not rise from the dead, period.

Think about this for a moment. I have argued that the central truths of Christianity are not dependent on inerrancy. But I would also say Christianity is not dependent on the inspiration of the Bible either. In other words, the Bible does not even have to be inspired for Christianity to be true. We could just think of the eyewitness accounts in what we call the New Testament as twenty-seven ancient historical documents. Being such, we could simply evaluate their truthfulness like we would any other historical document. If the document passes the tests of history, then that which it records (the resurrection of Jesus) is true. Hence, Christianity is true. No inspiration needed.

In fact (to take this one step further), we don’t even necessarily need the Scripture at all for Christianity to be true. Think about it. What if God had not given us the twenty-seven New Testament books? Would that mean that historically, Christ did not rise from the dead? Of course not. Why? Because Christ’s advent and resurrection did not happen because the Bible says they did, the Bible says they did because historically, they happened. But what if we did not have the New Testament? Well, we would be in good company, as there have been innumerable Christians throughout the history of the church who did not have access to the New Testament. How did the earliest church receive the Gospel? Through preaching, unwritten tradition, and generally reliable hearsay. God could have used any number of means to communicate the advent, death, and resurrection of his Son other than pen and paper. Direct prophecy, dreams, angelic encounters, or even the mouths of donkeys are all possible means by which the central truths of the Christian faith could have been preserved. The point is that Christianity is not dependent upon an inerrant text.

Again, having said all of this, I do believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I love the Scripture because I love God. But I worship Christ, not the Bible. I thank God that he gave us an inerrant Bible. I believe that having an inerrant text can make us more confident in not only the central truths, but also the details of God’s will. I do believe that inerrancy is important and that we should continue to argue with some energy that the text is true in everything it teaches. However, this energy needs to be residual energy. Our primary energy needs to focus on the primary issue: did Jesus rise from the dead historically. All dominoes fall from there.

Inerrancy is important, but not cardinal. And while it may be a defining characteristic of Evangelicalism, it is not the defining characteristic of Evangelicalism.

(However, I must admit something: I probably would never hire someone to be a fellow at Credo House who did not believe that the Bible was true in everything it teaches. Maybe this is an inconsistency. I don’t know.)