Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Literal Word of God?

According to the polls I mentioned earlier many Americans believe that the Bible is the "literal word of God." As I pointed out, we are, apparently, according to Stephen Prothero, a nation of biblical illiterates. So when we hear that people affirm this, what do they mean?
Do they mean?
  • God dictated the very words of the Bible -- if so, in which language did this happen?
  • God superintended the transmission of the words of the Bible.
  • God opened the hearts and minds of the writers so they understood these words to be a revelation of God.

I would assume that if this was the literal word of God then God must have dictated them, but even very few conservatives believe that. And as for language the Christian Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was written in Hebrew (though parts may have been originally penned in other languages such as Aramaic; the New Testament was written in Greek and when it quotes the OT it generally references the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew and adds some books not found in the Hebrew manuscripts -- so what does that do to our theory?

To assume that it is accurate in everything it says, are we using modern definitions or ancient definitions? My sense is that most people when they say yes to that question -- is the Bible the literal word of God -- they're just assuming it speaks for God. Questions of interpretation and such probably don't factor into their thinking -- "It says what it means and it means what it says!" Except life isn't always that easy!!!

I quote here a statement from the Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, (1996) under "word" (p. 1221).

The Bible itself is not infrequently referred to as the Word of God by Christians. It is important to note, however, that the expression "word of God" in Scripture does not usually refer to the written word at all, but rather to God's or his emissaries speaking and inspiration.

2 comments:

mrieder said...

Quick question:

Where do you go once the Bible is no longer infallible?

God Bless you,

Matt

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Without being flip -- to God. It isn't the witness that's infallible it is the God who speaks to us through the Spirit through the pages of Scripture. Consider that when the Word of God is mentioned in Scripture it never refers to a book. It refers to the one who reveals God to us -- the incarnate one -- or it speaks of the gospel -- the message.

Indeed this is less certain, but we are called to trust God and walk with God -- not in certainty -- but in faith.