To consider these arguments in
more detail see Inerrancy, Confessions,
Anyone who reads the Bible can see that it is the creative
work of human authors, and history reveals it is the witness of the church
to God in Christ. The Christian Bible has no
authority apart from Christians who have faith in its testimony.
Go to Explaining
Our Christian Faith to learn why the Bible shows:
- We are not depraved sinners.
- We are not saved by the blood sacrifice
- No one will be left behind at the end
For a New Testament Bible Study with questions and answers, click
word of God
The belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God does
not require believing that the Bible is the literal, infallible, or inerrant word
of God. We should be clear, however, about what we mean by
"inspiration." In the New Testament the second letter of Paul to
Timothy asserts: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."
(2 Tim. 3:16) This letter was written in the first century before the New Testament
was created over the next three centuries. Paul and other Greek-speaking
apostles were reading the Hebrew Bible in its Greek version known as
the Septuagint. Their scripture was the Septuagint, not the Hebrew texts that
later the Protestant Reformers would decide were properly the "scripture" of the
Old Testament (rather than the Septuagint). Paul and other apostles may have felt that
their writings were
inspired, but the gospels and letters in the New Testament never are identified
Therefore, the passage from 2 Timothy cannot be used to
prove the Christian Bible is inspired. Its reference to "scripture" is
to the Septuagint, not to
the Old and New Testaments that make up the Christian Bible. For Paul and the
other apostles, the Jewish scriptures ─ the Torah,
the Prophets, and the Writings ─ were thought to be inspired by God.
What might "inspired" mean? It might mean
that God has dictated scripture to scribes, who simply wrote what they were told
and thus that every word in scripture is from God. Or, it might mean that the
authors of scripture understood, in the light of past revelation, their
experience and the history of their people as God's will. It might also mean
that in communicating this inspiration, in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, they
created the narratives, images and arguments that later their descendants judged
to have been inspired by God.
Reading the New Testament will quickly dispel the first
notion that Christian scripture is nothing but the words of God. Parables and
teachings in the New Testament may strike us as inspiring, but we will also find
interpretations and inconsistencies that are best attributed to biblical writers
or scribes rather than to God. Those who wrote and edited the New Testament may have been inspired,
but they were also human.
Because the New Testament was first written in Greek,
knowledge of the Greek spoken at the time of its writing is obviously useful in
studying Christian scripture. But most Christians throughout the history of the
church have heard and read the Christian Bible in translations. For centuries
the Latin Bible was used by priests in the Catholic Church, and after the
Protestant Reformation in the 16th century the Christian Bible was quickly
translated into all the languages of northern Europe.
Protestant churches have made preaching from the Bible,
rather than the celebration of the sacrament of Communion, the touchstone of
their faith. The invention of the printing press made copies of the Bible
affordable, and Christian families began to have Bibles in their homes.
Protestant preachers encouraged Bible study, and Christians without much formal
education were among those inspired by what they read in scripture. In the 19th
and 20th centuries the Christian Bible was translated into every known language
and carried by missionaries to every country.
Today, the Bible is not only the most widely published and
circulated book in the history of human civilization, it is also for about a
fourth of the world's peoples a primary source for understanding God's will.
Reading the Bible has inspired millions, and there is little evidence this will
soon cease. The church teaches that its scripture reveals the will of God and
asserts, therefore, that scripture is not only inspiring but also inspired by
God. This claim, however, is a matter of faith, which can be verified only
within the life of the church. But the inspiring power of scripture is a fact of
history that is confirmed by the continuing witness of Christians in the world.
Reading Christian Scripture
Anyone who writes about the Christian Bible ought to
clarify how he or she reads it. Of course, there are not simply two or three
alternatives, but many more subtle choices to be made. I believe it is not
necessary to read scholarly books about the Bible to understand its meaning.
With the church I affirm that the Bible reveals the word of God to those with
"ears to hear and eyes to see." (Mt. 11:15, Mk. 4:9, Lk. 8:8)
In addition, I ground my understanding of the Bible in the
Confessions of the Reformed tradition.
A line in the Scots Confession of 1560
states clearly my approach to reading scripture: "We
dare not receive or admit any interpretation which is contrary to any principal
point of our faith, or to any other plain text of Scripture, or to the rule of
love." We begin with the plain text of scripture, then
interpret a text within the context of the whole Bible and the teachings of the
church, and finally test our understanding by the great commandment to love God and
of 1967 of the Presbyterian Church asserts that: "The
one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to
whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy
Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written." This Confession does not assert that the Bible is infallible or inerrant but
holds: "The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness
without parallel." The Confession identifies the scriptures are the "unique and
authoritative witness" of faith: "The church has received the books of
the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it
hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and
The Confession of 1967 also teaches: "The
Bible is to be interpreted in light of its witness to God's work of
reconciliation in Christ." But the Confession explicitly recognizes that
the Bible is a human composition: "The Scriptures, given under the guidance
of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the
language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which
they were written. They reflect views of life, history and the cosmos
which were then current." Given this fact, interpretation is unavoidable.
"The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the scriptures with
literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken in
diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that God will continue to
speak through scripture in a changing world and in every form of human
I read the Bible within this tradition of study
and preaching. Therefore, I suggest that all those who read Christian
scripture keep in mind the following rules as
guidelines. Visitors are invited to click on each rule for a
more detailed explanation.
Rules for Reading the Bible
1. The New
Testament continues the biblical story of God.
The New Testament
continues the story of God known to the Jews
through their scriptures. The Christian Bible is an interpretation of the Greek
version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint), and "God in Christ" is a new
understanding of the God of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.
Paul's Letters are the earliest writings of the church in the New Testament.
Paul's letters were
written before the New Testament gospels and resist efforts by the
Jerusalem church to require observance of Jewish law in the church. Paul
proclaims salvation through faith in Christ crucified, says little about the
teaching and ministry of Jesus, and claims authority for his gospel from the
The gospel of Mark is the first New Testament gospel.
attributed to Mark (all the New Testament gospels are anonymous) is the earliest
New Testament gospel and supports Paul's view that faith, not Jewish law, is
saving. The gospel presents Jesus Christ as the Son of God, tells the story of
his itinerant ministry in Galilee, is critical of his disciples, and the
earliest version of this gospel ends
without a resurrection appearance.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke are edited versions of the gospel of Mark.
attributed to Matthew and Luke edit the gospel of Mark, adding a
"common sayings tradition" and other materials. The gospel of Matthew
addresses a mostly Jewish Christian audience. The gospel of Luke and Acts
of the Apostles by the same author speak to a largely Gentile Christian
The gospel of John is an even freer version of the gospel story.
attributed to John was written for a Greek-speaking Jewish community of faith that understood
Jesus as the Word of God made flesh and as the Passover "Lamb of God"
sent by the Father but rejected by "the Jews." The author freely
revises the gospel narrative in order to defend the worship of his church.
The letters of Peter and James reveal their declining authority in the church.
attributed to Peter and to James reveal the declining authority of these two
first generation apostles after 70 CE. All four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles
verify Peter's leading role, and Galatians and Acts
confirm that James, the brother of Jesus, became the head of the church in
The letters and Revelation of John warn of false teaching and pagan persecution.
The letters and
Revelation attributed to John concern the threats of false teaching in the
churches and pagan persecution in the Roman Empire. The letters are anonymous
but share in the teaching tradition of the gospel of John. Revelation includes
letters warning churches in Asia and an extraordinary vision of Christ's victory
The Christian Bible is a tapestry of meanings.
The New Testament
weaves together varied testimonies of faith that shaped the witness of the
church at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century. The result is a tapestry of meanings that
includes and requires interpretation.
The New Testament is an interpretation of the Old Testament.
The authors and
editors of the
letters and gospels of the New Testament drew on the scriptures of the Greek
version of the Hebrew Bible to construct and interpret the story of Jesus and
the church's witness to life in the kingdom of God through faith in Christ.
The God of the Bible calls us to resist idolatry and oppression with love.
assumptions about history and biography make it hard to see that the New
Testament revises the Old Testament revelation of God's justice and mercy as a
way of resisting imperial idolatry and oppression. The gospel proclaimsw
that the God, who defeated
Pharaoh for Israel, chooses death under Roman rule as a way of calling all humanity
to a life of justice and love.
These conclusions can be verified by anyone who
reads the New Testament and may help us discern the word of God to which the
church bears witness through its scriptures.