This has been a topic of interest to me for the past few months. It’s something that seems to always be brought up in pastor interviews and also in the discussion of what exactly Christians are to believe. My thoughts on this topic are a bit scattered. Thus, I will not write all my thoughts in one post, but rather in a series of posts. Let me start out with a question: Can one believe that the authoritative nature of the Bible without believing it is absolute truth?
My answer to this question is yes. I had a friend tell me the other day that she can never quite tell where I stand on an issue. Most of the time, that’s true. In this case, I will argue a viewpoint that might be a bit outside of the normal views of the authority of Scripture. When one begins to look at what is meant by the authority of Scripture or if the Bible is absolute truth, without a doubt, 2 Timothy 3:16 comes up in the discussion, usually in the first 2-3 lines of dialogue.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Paul is writing to Timothy and says Scripture is God-breathed. What does that mean? Sadly, many have interpreted it as saying the bible is truth because God is truth. But God is also love. Does that mean the Bible is love? And Jesus is the way. Does that mean the Bible is the way? God is also judgmental. Does that automatically make the Bible judgmental? The term God-breathed seems to have taken on so many different meanings, each with one’s own perspective affecting his/her beliefs. But let’s think about it for a minute. When you hear the term God-breathed, what comes to mind? For me, it takes me back to the garden, when God breathed life into Adam. This is a literal interpretation of the 2 Timothy passage, yes, but I think it sheds much light on what Paul was getting at. God breathed life into Scripture and continues to breathe life into it. That doesn’t make it necessarily truth or infallible or inerrant but rather life giving.
Most people when they read the Bible automatically assume that when the term “Scripture” is used, it is referring to the Bible we use today. And that is far from true. When Jesus and Paul talked about Scripture, they were referring only to the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. They had no concept of the Bible of today. Thus, is it possible, that when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, he was instructing him to use the Old Testament to teach, rebuke, correct, and train? No where was he trying to prove the validity of the Bible. I mean, Paul uses the term ‘useful’. He does not even say that it is a necessity. The word ‘useful’, to me, also brings to mind the word ‘helpful’, implying that one could get by without using it. This makes it quite interesting because this verse is always used to defend the infallible state of the Bible. But as I read the NT, the writers are primarily concerned in teaching and instructing, encouraging a life reflecting Christ, pointing people back to Calvary, not trying to convince people that this way is right and that Scriptures are true.
As I said before, the Bible is life-giving. It does not receive authority because it is infallible or inerrant or absolute truth, but because of the fact that it is life-giving, that God does breathe life into it for us. This is why I still take the Bible very seriously, but not to the point that I would kill others for the sake of the Bible or even, (in a more moderate example) split a church over what we believe the correct interpretation to be.
I think it was the Lord Jesus Christ who said this to the Pharisees:
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Right away, if you are on the side of the infallible, inerrant side of this debate, you are going to argue that Jesus is simply referring to the Hebrew Bible as I argued before. Even if we do choose to use the Bible’s usage of ‘Scripture’ interchangably with the Bible we currently use, Jesus does not seem to keen on it. We have reached the place in churches today where splits occur because of the Bible. What about Jesus’ prayer to God near the end of John concerning the unity of his followers? Are we simply neglecting Jesus’ vision for the sake of our view of the interpretation of Scripture?
Life is not in the Scriptures; Scripture is a testimony to Christ. God breathes life into Scripture to point us back to Christ.