Archive for May, 2008

The Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture

 

 

Divine revelation has many aspects, and doesn’t only consist in the Bible. It consists of actions of G’d in the history of mankind, in the calling of the Patriarchs, in the constitution of the nation of Israel, in all the institutions and laws of the Torah, including the very important institution of the Sanctuary and everything belonging to it. Finally and ultimately this revelation centers in the person of Messiah, the perfect Man and the complete embodiment of the Torah and the prophets, the one and only Mediator with G’d. All this belongs to the divine revelation. This revelation thus includes much more than only Scripture.

 

Why then is Scripture so important that many of us would adhere to the formula of the Reformation: Scriptura sola? It may be asked: Is it really of fundamental importance if there are so many ways G’d by which has revealed himself to mankind?

 

I think Scripture is of fundamental importance, and that is necessary for us even to confess its full inspiration, and — as a consequence — to affirm its inerrancy. I think it also possible to understand and affirm the rallying cry of the Reformation “Scriptura sola ” in a way that is relevant and applicable to our situation today as Messianics. 

 

The necessity to confess the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture stems from the fact that it is only by Scripture that the other means of divine revelation just mentioned were guarded and kept secure and intact in the course of salvation history. All these relevatory facts, instructions, institutions and doctrines are known to us nowadays by no other means than Scripture. Scripture alone is the safe ark that leads us through the storms of time to the coast-land of eternity. Now, it has been asked why I so strongly insist on this being so for us, if it be admitted that this was not so for believers of all times.

 

Let me begin to say that from the time on that the divine revelation became written, this written word was regarded as an expression of G’d himself and thus as inspired, even if this was not expressed in a theoretical doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. We know in what words the tables of the covenant were described, as written by the hand of G’d. In the times of Moses and the first phase of Israel’s history however there was something that can be called “divine government”. The priesthood was in possession of divine assistance in the Urim and Tummim, there was the Real Indwelling in the Tabernacle and the Temple (the Shechinah). The people of G’d was governed and guided by HaShem in a very direct way, as is known from many stories in the first books of the Bible. There were many means whereby G’d revealed himself in the national institutions of Israel and whereby the faithful could know the will of G’d. Beside that, there was at times the warning voice of the prophets when the nation corrupted itself and went astray.

 

After the installation of human kings, and so much the more after the Babylonian captivity a number of these things ceased. In the second Temple there was no longer a Shechinah, and the Urim and Tummim were lost. Direct divine guidance already ceased before the captivity. After some time even the prophetic voice ceased. Maleachi was the last prophet. Only Scripture and a number of oral traditions — including traditions about Scripture interpretation — remained. Thus we see that the content of revelation was more and more concentrated in Scripture.

 

Then came the important events of the movement of John the Baptist, the earthly ministry of Messiah Yeshua, the great outpouring of the Ruach HaShem and the subsequent events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. During this time revelation again occurred by a living voice and visible divine guidance. The ministries of Messiah and his Apostles were accompanied by signs and marks of authority such as miracles. It was the time of the Kingdom offer to the nation of Israel. This period lasted until about 40 years after the crucifixion. When the great refusal of the nation became fixed (cf. Acts. 28) gradually all that remained of the ancient institutions came to an end in the terrible events that followed: the first Jewish war, the destruction of the Temple, the second Jewish war, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Roman exile. Everything was destroyed, except Israels bare existence and its Scriptures.

 

At the council of Yavne, where the survivors of the first Roman war fled after the first war with Rome, a lot of decisions were taken. All references to a suffering Messiah were stricken from the Jewish liturgy, the birkat haminim was instituted, the Septuagint was condemned, and the canon of Scripture was formalized. This formalization was not a big issue. There were nearly no debates, except for the inclusion of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. Practically, in the life of the nation, the canon was already fixed generations before.

 

We see that at this council a lot of wrong and anti-Messianic decisions were taken together with the decision about the canon of Scripture. In the Christian councils between the third and fifth centuries we see a parallel development. Here were also a host of wrong decisions and doctrines dogmatized. At the same time however the question of the canon of the Apostolic Writings was settled — after very little debate compared with the other doctrinal matters — at the African Synods of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 & 419). In the same manner as in the Judaism of Yavne, the formalization of the Christian canon was not a big issue, and in the life of the Church the matter was already practically settled generations before. The Christian Church did however not accept the decision of the council of Yavne. It considered instead the Septuagint to be the true canon of the “Old Testament”. This was not corrected before the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church thereupon fixed her Septuagint-based canon at the council of Trent.

 

What should we conclude from this? Should we regard the traditional Christian canon as simply the product of Roman Catholicism?

 

My answer would be that the canonization history — of which I have given only a very elementary and incomplete sketch — shows that the canons of traditional Judaism and of traditional Christianity were not decreed or imposed by councils and synods. They existed long before, and were merely formalized by these colleges. The canons of both communities already were practically fixed, and were accepted without much quarrels and disputes, because of the strength of the respective traditions. Tradition was the main argument here. And I think we should view this process of tradition as the means whereby the Ruach of G-d preserved the content of G-d’s revelation to the succeding generations.

 

Why should we view this tradition of the canon as lead by the Ruach haKodesh, as “sacred” in a sense, if we reject so much other Christian traditions? Should we not question the whole thing again, and re-open the canon question?

 

I think this is neither needed nor wanted, for several reasons. After the rejection of Messiah and his Kingdom offer, and after the subsequent catastrophes the Jewish nation — and not to forget the Jewish Messianic Community — went through, there was left no other trustworthy source of revelation left in Judaism then the documents of Scripture and some orally transmitted traditions. Likewise in the Messianic Community at that time there existed no longer a living voice of the Apostles or of elders and overseers appointed by them. Only Scripture, and perhaps some oral traditons.

 

The formation of Catholic Church in the following centuries changed the whole basic structure of the divine religion by the putting aside of the Torah and by the speculative innovations in christology. Yet the Catholic Church maintained throughout the ages the “New Testament” as the core revelational content of her own whole superstructure. And when the NT was rediscovered, and a first attempt was made to consider it on its own merits, by faithful Christians at the times of the Protestant Reformation, it appeared to be a deadly weapon against Catholicism. In the later stages of Reformation history the same NT was used by some XVIIth and XIXth century divines to teach from it the future restoration of Israel, against the mainstream of Protestantism. And in our days it is used by our own movement to teach Christians to return to Torah observance as the real fulness of the messianic lifestyle.

 

All this shows abundantly, as an illustrated history, that the Apostolic Writings cannot be considered to be a product of Catholicism. When the tradition- and interpretation layers of Catholicism and Protestantism are gradually removed from the human mind, these Writings appears to be in harmony with the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach. I think a better conclusion of this whole complicated history is that the NT documents of revelation were kept intact by divine protection, and needed only the serious attention they deserved from their adherents to regain full actual significance. And that should be a first reason not to attack or criticize the Apostolic Writings.

 

A second reason why we shouldn’t attempt to criticize these Writings or to reconsider the canon question is simply that we are wholly unable to do so. We have at present no other source of divine revelation that can be used and critically compared with the Apostolic Writings, except of course the Tanach. But it is not at all sure whether there exists any real tension between the Tanach and the AW. This may well be only a matter of interpretation. And we should deserve to be called ungrateful fools if we dared to throw away parts of the very texts by which we rediscovered the life and work of the Jewish Messiah and the relevancy of Torah.

 

This second reason gives ground for introducing the axiom that the AW be not in conflict with or contradictory to the Tanach. This axiom of course cannot be proved — which is according to the nature of axioms — and thus shouldn’t be considered as something to be proved at all. It should instead be considered as a necessary religious presupposition of our faith and theology, and as a basic principle of interpretation. Why should this axiom be accepted? If we interpret the AW under the presumption of this axiom, it is assured beforehand that the AW can never be explained in a way that conflicts with the Torah, without having to take recourse to such drastic and irreversible operations as revising the text.

 

If under the guidance of this axiom there should appear difficulties that cannot be solved at all, we should follow the ancient Jewish rule for unsolvable problems and say that we wait for the return of Eliyahu the prophet to solve the difficulty in the future. In other words, we should live within the constraints of the historically accepted decisions concerning the canon of Scripture and not revise them, but wait until a new clearly divinely legitimated leadership will reappear in Israel and new light will be thrown on our difficulties.

 

A third reason why we shouldn’t attempt to revise the Apostolic Writings is that we cannot build in this question on the results of modern critical historic research. We can never be sure enough of these results to allow them to interfere in such weighty matters as revising a sacred text, other than by means of textual criticism, which is a harmless manuscript discipline. However, to allow redaction criticism and other congenial disciplines to determine earlier “sources” or to detect “redactional falsifications” of later generations is useless in this question. It is not at all sure that these earlier and hypothetical sources indeed exist, and still less sure whether these sources are divinely inspired. There is nothing against inspired texts having sources and antecedents that were not inspired at all.

 

This third reason may be given a more fundamental and philosophic turn.

I think it a basic biblical thought that divine revelation not only occurred to make known to us the way of salvation, to lead us from this word to that which is to come. Revelation also occurred to give us a fundamental new orientation in this world affected by sin and its corruptions, an orientation that was gradually lost by mankind after the fall. That means that divine revelation is important for all domains of our life. If we have begun to return to the Torah we may already feel the force of this principle. By implication divine revelation is also relevant for the life of the sciences and for scholarship in all its domains. The Bible affords us basic orientations not only in matters of theology, but also in physics and geology, (natural) history, economics, and so on. A proper domain of scholarship can only to its own harm consider itself as “autonomous”, as independent from the divine revelation contained in Scripture.

 

It is easy to see from this that if we allow a special science or domain of scholarship to criticize Scripture, we inadvertently elevate that domain of learning to a position of indepence from Scripture. And above that, we give this special science a religious status, because we elevate it above the central documents of our religion. That means that in reality by so doing we don’t criticize religion or Scripture by science or scholarship at all.  No, we criticize religion by means of another religious instance, a domain of learning that is was elevated by ourselves to a pseudo-religious status — and in this manner was turned into a pseudo-science as for instance the evolution theory. Such an elevation of “science” above Scripture is essentially nothing else but apostasy  and idolatry.

 

From the foregoing we may detect why the slogan of the Reformation: Scriptura sola — properly understood — is still important for us. The Reformers didn’t say by this slogan that religion had to entirely free from tradition and human authority. They knew quite well that this wasn’t possible. By their “sola Scriptura” they wanted to free Scripture from a specific train of tradition: Roman church tradition. They didn’t knew that they had to interpret Scripture in the light of Jewish tradition. They had just the intuition that the Roman tradition was wrong, and that is was to be removed. They wanted Scripture to speak for itself. That was their point. I think that this message of the Reformers is still relevant for us and for keeping our religious freedom. We have to avoid two forms of religious absolutism: the absolutism of Papal and Church authority on the one hand, and the absolutism of Orthodox Rabbinic authority on the other. Both are incompatible with a truly messianic lifestyle. The one forces us to give up the Torah, and the other forces us to renounce Yeshua and the Apostolic Writings. We cannot subject to either tradition. This of itself implies that our only sure refuge to escape these absolutisms is the Written word. It is all we have in our hands and our only safeguard against all attacks of the enemy. It can be a great comfort for us to know that it was also the only safeguard of our Lord and Saviour in his temptation by the evil one (cf. Mt. 4:1-11).

Advertisements