Recently, I published an article titled The Bible Clearly Says’ is Always a Seriously Misguided Statement in which I contended that the Bible does not speak in one voice (the voice of God) but in the many voices of the various authors. From that post came a very useful, respectful, and enjoyable discussion with Paul who challenged what I wrote. I think others might find it of interest as well.
Here it is in its entirety.
Paul: Tim, if God doesn’t speak through the Bible then how does God speak? How do you communicate with God and God with you?
Tim: Paul, I think God speaks to us through Jesus’ teachings and example in the gospels.
Paul: Tim, how do you see that response as different from saying: “God speaks through the Bible?” Are you only taking certain passages and how would you define how God speaks?
Tim: Paul, the gospels are a record of Jesus’ interactions that were written from the memories of his earliest followers. And they were written by individual people–not God. When people say that God speaks through the Bible, the implication usually is that the entire Bible is God’s voice. Instead, I believe the Bible contains many voices.
Paul: Tim, are you saying that God speaks as you discern his voice amongst many biblical voices? If I am not reading too much into your view would that principle not apply beyond the gospels? And how do you discern God’s voice from the rest?
Tim: Paul, I think the writers of the books of the Bible felt a connection with God but wrote from the limitations of their own eras, their own cultures, and their limited grasp of God’s character. Also, we need to understand that each writer had a specific audience and occasion for their writing–and it was not us. I think much of what they wrote is of great value to us, but I don’t think it is the voice of God.
Paul: Tim, so in fact then your view is we cannot know God’s voice. There is no vehicle for God to communicate to us. We can only search amongst the voices to find something that could be God revealing something. Is that too strong a summary of your view?
Tim: Paul, all I know for sure about God is what Jesus has told us; but I find that more than sufficient. I also benefit greatly from those who had great insight, such as Paul, but that does not mean that they got everything right.
I am influenced by the later OT prophets who emphasized justice for the marginalized in society rather than rituals and sacrifices. I am inspired by insights of wisdom compiled in the book of Proverbs. I respond to some of the poetry in Psalms…and so forth. But the benefit I receive is not dependent on their being ‘the voice of God.’ In fact, I think I relate to them because they were written from the hearts of people–people like me with whom I can identify.
On the other hand, I recoil at the thought that God essentially wiped out humanity in a flood. Or that God sanctioned a violent conquest of Canaan or ordered the genocide of people groups including women, children, and infants. I am glad these were the ideas of mere humans and not of God.
You conclude that my position is, “There is no vehicle for God to communicate to us. We can only search amongst the voices to find something that could be God revealing something.”
I say that when we search amongst the voices we find great treasures–treasures that change my life. In addition, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to guide us. Now I don’t know what that means but I think it means something significant. But what I do know is that Jesus never said, ‘When I am gone, you will have the Bible to guide you–it is the very voice of God.’
Paul: Tim, I was trying to understand your view. I now try to make a determined effort to understand before discussing different perspectives. In effect you speak of certain passages within the books that you can relate to and be inspired by. These passages have no authority apart from what you personally give them as against other texts that you reject. They are meaningful and helpful and that is why you respond to them. My question though is if you give them no higher authority how can you trust in them for accuracy…..and even salvation. You quote Jesus’ words from men of their time…with their understanding…etc. What if this same author talks about God’s righteous justice? I understand your view but I cannot see any consistency to it. Not saying I am right mind just stating a different opinion.
Tim: Paul, I appreciate your approach. I agree about both of us that we are only stating our opinions and perhaps neither of us is right. But I think it unwise, and even harmful, to invest total authority, and our absolute trust, into anything written by a human–and that is all we have.
When I say I am influenced by certain writers or passages, I am not vesting them with authority–I am simply responding to what they say just as I do in any other book I might read. So I am not ‘giving’ them any ‘authority’ at all.
You ask, “if you give them no higher authority how can you trust in them for accuracy…..and even salvation.” In the four gospels, I see a quite consistent portrait of who Jesus is, what he taught, and what he did–from the memories of his earliest followers who knew him. Jesus was very compelling to his followers and I find him compelling as well.
Another example to your question is Paul. As I have said, I find Paul quite insightful and impressive regarding the role of love, the abandonment of legalism, and the inclusion of Gentiles. But I do not regard him as inerrant. As a flawed human, he is likely mistaken about some things–just as we are. I don’t think God gave him ‘inerrancy protection’ as he was writing his letters to churches.
Here is the consistency. I don’t think the biblical writers are authoritative but they wrote a lot of good stuff anyway. Isn’t that the way it is for any book. If I can’t ‘trust’ everything a modern author writes must I dismiss everything they say? Can I not learn or be inspired by only SOME things they write?
Paul: Tim, I think from my perspective your inconsistency is in determining what is acceptable or not by the same author in the same era and with the same knowledge. How can the author be right one sentence and wrong the next? Infallibility but that applies across the board. You cannot pick and choose when to apply it.
The Bible is not the same as any other book and the facts show this. Also it claims to be unlike any other book. Whether these prove it is the word of God is another matter but in some incredible ways it is unique.
Tim: Paul: “How can the author be right one sentence and wrong the next? Infallibility but that applies across the board. You cannot pick and choose when to apply it.”
Paul, authors are right at some points and wrong on others all the time. But let me just mention, since you bring up infallibility, that appeals to infallibility are ineffective with those who do not embrace infallibility. But I see what you mean, my view would be inconsistent with the idea of infallibility; but I do not assume infallibility.
- Be sure to follow this blog in the right-hand column of this page.
- Like Jesus without Baggage Page on Facebook.
- Follow @JesusWOB on Twitter