In the beleaguered debates concerning the inerrancy and authority of Scripture in the Christian world, one can sense how tiring this debate has become. Personally, I find debates over the so-called orthodoxy of another Christian to be as helpful as a light beer: empty calories and little if any nutritional value. I came into Fuller Theological Seminary as a Masters student with a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the doctrine of inerrancy, mostly due to my disillusionment with much of the evangelical world. This was when members of the SBC were trashing Michael Licona over a page in his wonderful work on the resurrection.
In watching some scholars attempt to destroy Dr. Licona's work and career because of his interpretation of (an interpretation I agree with) certain events in Matthew's Gospel, I became immediately dissatisfied with this debate and was content to sling arrows from a distance.
Now, as someone whose Masters program is winding down and now has (a little!) time to reflect upon his own thinking regarding this doctrine, I feel like now is as good a time as any to, well, reflect upon my views of Scripture.
For me, studying the New Testament is about studying history; events that shaped our world, and an event that was shaped by thousands of years of history. I was never particularly troubled by discrepancies or textual variants in the Bible because I made a promise with God on my first day in seminary before I sat in Dr. Oliver Crisp's class on Christology and Soteriology. I said, "God, I don't want to believe in anything that is not true. I will do my best to believe whatever you reveal in Scripture." Looking back, that was a bit hasty, as I haven't changed my mind on any specific point of theology, at least in a major way as far as I can tell. But, the point remains that changing my mind did not bother me, but I was hopeful that I would at least be willing to change my mind.
Rom 8:9: ἡ γὰρ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται ("For the expectation of creation is awaiting the revelation of the Son of God").
In reflecting back, I've begun to consider the nature of the New Testament's use of "revelation" (Grk: ἀποκάλυψις). Often this ἀποκάλυψις is in reference to Christ or the mystery of Christ (c.f. Luke 2:32; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Cor 12:1; Gal 1:12; 2 Thess 1:7) sort of 'breaking into' the world. There is, of course, a large debate among Pauline scholars about the 'apocalyptic' (or Barthian) nature of this 'revelation,' but I'm not entirely persuaded by this notion so I only mention it here for the sake of…revelation.
Revelation is about history and how God acted in history. We now live in the 'revelation' of Jesus Christ, the one revealed to us by his life, death, and resurrection. The writers of Scripture—Matthew, Mark, Isaiah—inspired by this revelation, wrote these Epistles and Gospels and Prophetic works for us, for those who would believe and need to believe.
The chief architect is Paul who talks all about this 'apocalypse.' For Paul, the resurrected Messiah revealed this 'apocalypse' to him and hence, he wrote epistles to churches, and went into the Gentile world to tell people about this 'Gospel' about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. That is the guiding impetus for writing the New Testament: the resurrection is the fountainhead of how we conceive and talk about Scripture and history.
Christ who is the Revelation of God points us back to a time when humanity was forsaken and broken. Most doctrinal statements that I have seen begin with assertions about Scripture (as in the Old and New Testaments), and not about the nature of history and revelation. Scripture was written so that the people of Israel would remember the past, that they would remember how God acted for them.
Scripture, then, is for our remembrance of how God has acted for us and our expectation (ἀπεκδέχομαι; Rom 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7) is the reconciliation of creation. Referring to Scripture as a 'narrative' or as a 'story,' while helpful does not demand enough imagination. Scripture should be seen as an inspired collection of writings that truthfully attest to the phenomena of history, and the chief event is the resurrection of Jesus, Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man. If Jesus is not raised, then I am writing about the wrong book.
For those wondering, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I believe the initial text of Scripture, for example, as dictated by Paul to Tertius, is the inspired and authoritative word of God. And because of the vindication of Christ at his resurrection, I am now to live my life in accordance with the record of his life and the reception of his life (especially in the Pauline literature). History and Revelation are inextricably linked together, and thus form a central network for understanding and respecting the text. But debating issues of 'error' seems to miss the point and gets one lost in the 'weeds,' so to speak. I am also not entirely confident with how we've defined 'error,' a point Michael Bird made in his contribution to Five Views on Inerrancy.
In any sense, I prefer the term 'fully authoritative in my life," as it explains the orthopraxicality of how I actually read the Bible. I can claim Scripture is inerrant and not obey it in any meaningful way. To claim Scripture lays authority on my life through its attestation of history (specifically one event in history above others) is to say that history matters, has a deep impact on my life, and calls me to worship the Triune God witnessed in the revelation of Christ in our world.
Part of this post is brought on by a guy who tried to 'deconvert' me at Starbucks. I was minding my own business reading a commentary on Philippians (as you would), and a guy handed me a business card and asked for three minutes of my time. I paused, but said 'sure' and he tried to deconvert me for three minutes by talking about various contradictions in the Bible. I listened, nodding, and at the end, he asked if I was not longer a Christian. I said "No," and he went on his way. I looked at his card after a moment and he listed a dozen 'contradictions' in the Bible (most of which I had learned about at Biola in undergrad), and to paraphrase it concluded with: "this is a book of lies." I cannot word-for-word recount it here as I lost the card.
So, what of this? Is this a challenge for me?
Aspectivally, the issue of 'differences' in the Synoptic Gospel (leaving John aside for a while) has never bothered me. When you have three different people telling one story, they find certain elements to be more important or necessary to convey the point. So the issue of "Gospel Contradictions" does not bother me because of aspect. The issue of the so-called Deutero-Pauline corpus does not bother me because I believe Paul wrote everything that has his name attached to it, though I happily confess my mild doubts with the Pastoral Epistles (but not enough to say they are not Pauline). The issue of textual variants does not bother me, as I affirm the authority of the original text and not later interpolations such as John 7:52/53-8:11, Mark 16:8-20 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 among others. Personally, I'd at least put them in brackets at the very least.
So that is how I view Scripture, at least in a very streamlined and terse way. I am committed to the authority of Scripture because of how God is revealed in history, and in one major instance, changed everything I know about history – for the better indeed. Most contradictions I've seen are not particularly compelling if accounts for genre and authorial aspect. Just like if three people were to recount my life and each would emphasize certain events, I would not say they were each wrong (assuming I was alive in the intermediate state, which is unlikely).
The revelation of Christ gives flesh to the bones of history and renders my life in submission to the one who became flesh and tabernacle among us (John 1:1-18). Authority in a practical and pastoral sense means being committed to history because God is committed to history.
Mind you, this is the first time I've actually sat down and tried to really formulate my thoughts on the doctrine of Scripture. I'm not much for Systematics (mostly because I've had my face in the Greek New Testament for too long, I suspect).
Just some thoughts. More could be said, but I'm content with this for now.