Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Overhearing the Word of Life

The Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Most every objection to the inspiration of Scripture comes from disregarding this simple fact.

The Bible was written between about two-thousand and thirty-five hundred years ago. The books are undated. Some books contain datable events, but the reader must supply the dates. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Like all history, Bible history is severely selective. But when a historian has a contemporaneous audience in mind, he can afford to let his audience fill in the gaps. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

We have thirteen letters by Paul. Occasional pieces. Of the two surviving letters to the church of Corinth, we can infer that he wrote at least four letters to the Corinthians. And we only have his side of the correspondence. We must reconstruct the rest. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Books of the Bible rarely say where they were composed, or to whom. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Background information outside of Scripture is sparse and partisan. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

When, therefore, I come to Scripture, I expect to find many obscurities and loose ends. I don’t expect it to be transparent to the eye. The wonder of it all is that Scripture is still intelligible so much of the time. That’s because, although it wasn’t written to us, it was written for us.

There’s a sense in which you and I don’t even belong here. I’m an outsider. An interloper. A trespasser.

We are the wild vine. We were graciously grafted onto the native foliage.

Like having a friend at the door of the club, we were let it without a ticket or a formal invitation. We were escorted to the nosebleed seats in the uppermost balcony.

We have been permitted and privileged to overhear this ancient conversation which God had with his people so very long ago. He has allowed us to hear the echo of that life-giving conversation he had so very long ago.

But some spectators high up in the balcony jeer and heckle. Instead of removing their shoes before they entered, to reverently listen and learn, they wave signs and shout the speaker down because the Bible isn’t utterly transparent to their understanding. They demand answers. Instant answers. They act as though the Bible was written to them rather than for them.

They deny the inspiration of Scripture. And yet, if Scripture were inspired, it would confront us with many obscurities and loose ends—since it was written for us rather than to us.

We ought to be thankful even to be here. So many perished outside the auditorium without ever hearing the word of life. Less attitude, and more gratitude, is what is called for. Yes, unspeakable gratitude.


  1. Also, and you and others have made this point, obvious point, but it's worth mentioning because it's foundational: if the Bible were written the way these types of critics demand it to have been written they would just have a whole new set of 'proofs' that it is not inspired and inerrant.

    Alot of it is lack of experience with literature in general too. I think C. S. Lewis wrote a good essay on this point.

    "The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century. I want to explain what it is that makes me skeptical about this authority. Ignorantly skeptical, as you will all too easily see. But the scepticism is the father of the ignorance. It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers.

    First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical
    critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me
    to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about
    the very quality of the texts they are reading. It
    sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books all their lives. But that might be just the trouble. A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people's studies of them, whose literary experience of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious thing about them. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel."

    From here:

  2. Excellent. Thank you.

  3. Add my voice and my clapping and my footstomping to the wild applause for this outstanding post!

    Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy 1979!

  4. Dear CT,

    Thank you so kindly for the link to C.S. Lewis's essay. I printed it out and had an absolutely wonderful time reading it and enjoying it.

    I have been in dialogue/discussion/debate with an Anglican priest (undergrad Wheaton, Yale M.Div, Th.D at Richmond) who despises inerrancy and loves modern biblical scholarshiip. He also supports Women's Ordination and believes strongly in trajectory hermeneutics.

    I disagree firmly with him on both counts, but he is entrenched. Although he realizes that The Episcopal Cult is committing ecclesiastical and theological suicide, he refuses to abandon the theological liberalism that contributed to its demise.

    Anyways, I digress. Lewis's Fernseed and Elephants essay was, and remains, superb.

  5. Anyways, since C.S. Lewis wrote this essay so long ago, have the liberal modern biblical scholars mounted an adequate defense to his criticism of their historical-criticism approach?

  6. Thank you, truth unites...and divides. I'm not aware of anything written by New Testament scholars (of the liberal sort) to answer that essay, or the subject it brings up, by Lewis. I think though it's the type of blunt, obvious criticism that is like the emperor's new clothes story that is just not supposed to be brought up. It also takes a rare fellow like Lewis to be able to do it, or even want to do it, I suppose, so it's not criticism the N.T. scholars (of a liberal sort) really have to deal with too often, so they can kind of just not recognize it... I'm speculating here, though, because frankly I am not deeply read in N.T. criticism myself, conservative or liberal. Systematic Theology, yes, biblical theology yes, but I don't get into those tomes of N.T. criticism that the writers of this blog know about.

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  8. I could have straitened C. S. Lewis out on #2 in two seconds. He, afterall, was an Anglican for a reason.

    But, yes, Lewis is not a source one wants to die on any hill for; yet he is known for making pointed and foundational observations that need to be stated, and he did it well.

    Don't take his essay quoted above personally in any negative way, but learn from it. If it stings, it stings for a reason.

  9. Robert Price refuted Lewis on that in one of his Bible Geek podcasts.

  10. Thnuhthnuh, do you have a link? I should like to know whether it's a good refutation or not. To be honest, I doubt that it's a good refutation, but I'll give it a listen.