Friday, July 31, 2009

2 Timothy 3:16-17 -- Even Further Thoughts

OK, so we've established that I was wrong in placing 2 Tim. 3:14-17 in a single sentence. But no translation I have EVER read portrays verses 16 and 17 as anything other than a single sentence, and this is important. Let's look:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Hmmm... notice anything? What's Scripture given FOR? It's not for "right belief." It's not "that you may believe God created the world in six days." It's not "that you may have the correct doctrine of the Atonement." It's not even "that you may have the correct view of the Trinity."


Funny thing about the's way less confusing when you're looking for stuff to obey, than when you're looking for theories, systems, and beliefs. Wonder if it's because that was its purpose???

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Important article on Biblical Inspiration

I just came across an amazing article on Biblical inspiration that goes into much greater detail, and with much more scholarly foundation, than my series has so far. I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, but I will. I'll probably highlight bits of it in future posts.

The article is "Inerrancy, Inspiration, and Dictation" by Joel Stephen Williams, and it was published in the Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 37/No. 3 (1995). I had never heard of Williams before, but it appears he's an author and professor at Amridge (formerly Southern Christian) University.

Two quick quotes:

We must realize that the doctrine of inspiration is not the capstone of Christian theology. A fundamentalist view of inspiration does not insure orthodoxy. Many who hold to a fundamentalist view of inspiration are in extreme error on more significant truths such as the deity of Christ. Furthermore, many people come to faith in Christ and salvation without knowing even the rudimentary elements of a doctrine of inspiration.


Positive statements about the usefulness of the Scriptures in instructing mankind for salvation affirm more about the Bible than a negative statement that it is without error. The Bible is not the ultimate end. Instead, it is a witness to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As John the Baptist pointed toward Christ, the Bible is a witness pointing toward God.

This comes very close to my own perspective, as I expressed it in an email to my Mom last week. Here, then, is my "doctrine of the Bible," if you will:

I prefer to say that the biblical (particularly N.T. and prophets) authors are faithful witnesses to what they saw/heard, and their writings are to be trusted as the testimony of a faithful witness. . .without blurring the distinction between the witnesses and the truth to which they are testifying.

2 Tim. 3:16 -- Redux, Correction, and Further Thoughts

Those who have read my series on Biblical inspiration know that I took issue with the use of 2 Tim. 3:16 as a prooftext for the inerrancy of the entire Biblical canon. I stand by my objection, but I have to do a correction nonetheless.

One of my suggestions in my prior post, was that perhaps 1 Tim 3:14-17 should be read as a single sentence, with verses 16 and 17 as a dependent clause on 14 and 15--that is, that the "all scripture" Paul is describing in verse 16 is merely an elaboration on "the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" in verse 15.

Well, I put that very question to the translators at the NET Bible, as I have read from several sources that they are scrupulously careful with the grammar and the text, even if the result is an unfamiliar reading. Here is their response, authored by someone named "mburer" (I'd give fuller credit if I could, but I don't know least you can follow the link):

It is almost impossible for v. 16 to be a dependent clause. (1) Verse 16 is marked by asyndeton, and this is most normal for independent clauses. (2) Verse 16 has no marks of normal dependent clauses; there is no participle, infinitive, or subordinating conjunction to indicate dependency. (3) If it were dependent and meant to modify τὰ ἱερὰ γράμματα in some fashion, πᾶσα γραφὴ would need to be accusative case as the original phrase is, but it is nominative. (4) The fact that the copulative verb is missing from v. 16 does not argue for v. 16 being dependent. When a verb is lacking in Greek, usually the indicative is implied, which would in fact make this independent. To make v. 16 a dependent clause the participle would need to be implied, and likely Paul would have written that in ful to make the sense clear if that were the case.

Now, I freely admit that the grammatical technicalities they gave here are way over my head. I have submitted this to one other Greek scholar I know who has told me that it's correct, however, so I must accept that my limited knowledge of Greek led me to an incorrect conclusion regarding the division of the sentence. I was wrong to suggest that 14-17 is a single sentence.

However, I still suspect it's a single thought, for the simple reason that the "pasa graphe" that Paul is referring to in verse 16 cannot truly mean "all writing." While it is true that "graphe" as a noun occurs in the New Testament as referring only to sacred writings, the fact remains that the word itself just means "something written down." In fact, according to lexicographers Liddell and Scott, no lesser sources than Herodotus and Plato use the same word to refer to drawing and painting, not to mention plenty of non-sacred written words including catalogues, archives, medical prescriptions, and legal writs. So Paul was using a generic word "writing" not a holy word "Scripture" in verse 16. He cannot have meant that "all writings" are inspired by God, so it remains likely that he's referring to the very writings he just mentioned in verse 14, simply because of context. As I have said before, to apply the statement in verse 16 to the entire canon of our modern, Protestant (or Catholic) Bible is only possible if you start with the presupposition that Paul was foreshadowing a canon he did not yet know about, when he wrote those words. In other words, it proves nothing you have not predisposed it to prove.

However, that's only the phrase "pasa graphe." We have not touched "theopneustos," the word translated "inspired of God" in the KJV, "breathed out by God" in ESV, "God-breathed" in NIV, and "God's breath" in the Pioneers' New Testament. It's a word that didn't get much play at all in Greek literature prior to Paul (if you have the energy for a long and convoluted analysis of the word, have a look at B.B. Warfield's article here). It's broken down, of course into the constituent words "theos" or god (not necessarily always God the Father of Jesus), and "pneustos" which comes from "pneuma" and/or "pnoe," two alternate forms of a word that can mean "spirit," "breath," and "wind" (I hope it's not too insulting, but according to Liddell-Scott, "pneuma"--the same word used of the Holy Spirit, has also been used in Greek literature to refer to flatulence!).

It's certainly appropriate, based on the wide variety of usages of the pneuma/pnoe pair, to understand "theopneustos" as "God's breath." But we have to remember, when we do, that there is an element of "spirit" in the word as well. As such, Paul may be saying as much about the influence of the Holy Spirit in tandem with the content of the written word, as he's saying about the text itself.

The bottom line, however, is that grammar or no, to use 2 Tim 3:16, standing on its own, as proof that the Biblical canon is inerrant, is to lift a sentence out of context, impose rigid meanings on words with much broader history, and basically create a circular proof-loop where the evidence depends upon the conclusion that in turn is being supported by the evidence. That makes no sense.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The miracle of the vine . . . and the Lord's Supper

C.S. Lewis is a favorite author of mine, both for his fiction and his serious writing. Among my favorite of his works, and one that doesn't get a lot of play, is "God in the Dock," a collection of essays that in many cases summarize in a few pages each, thoughts that elsewhere he spends a whole book on (available at Amazon, also on Google Books).

This is an excerpt from his essay entitled "Miracles" and has meant a lot to me since I first read it. Here Lewis is explaining and riffing off a teaching he found in Athenasius:

"There is an activity of God displayed throughout creation, a wholesale activity let us say which men refuse to recognize. The miracles done by God incarnate, living as a man in Palestine, perform the very same things as this wholesale activity, but at a different speed and on a smaller scale. One of their chief purposes is that men, having seen a thing done by personal power on the small scale, may recognize, when they see the same thing done on the large scale, that the power behind it is also personal - is indeed the very same person who lived among us two thousand years ago. The miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. Of that larger script part is already visible, part is still unsolved. In other words, some of the miracles do locally what God has already done universally: others do locally what He has not yet done, but will do. In that sense, and from our human point of view, some are reminders and others prophecies.

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah's time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana."

Now partly I appreciate this quote because I genuinely love a good glass of wine, particularly a good Shiraz, Zinfandel, or Cabernet. I confess I have yet to fully discipline my mind to remember Jesus as Lewis admonishes in the last sentence, though I do think of it more frequently than I might otherwise. But this passage resonated anew with me one day when I read Matthew's account of the Last Supper:

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” (Matt. 26:26-29, ESV)

What struck me about this was Jesus saying this was the last glass of wine he would enjoy until the "wedding feast of the Lamb" (boy, talk about a dry spell!). He is not only (or at all?) instigating a sacrament here...he's telling his friends to remember him--and to look forward to his return--when they lift a glass. Sounds rather like a wake in some ways, to me.

So one thing I have done, ever since I discovered this connection, is that I have approached the celebration of communion differently. When I take the cup, I raise it, and either silently or in a whisper, offer the toast "Till He comes" before I drink. Some day, I'm going to encourage a group to do the same.

Till He comes. . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lessons in the gospel from Nairobi

I just came across two articles today that anyone who really cares about poverty, justice, and the gospel must read:

I love Nairobi. I used to go there a lot when I worked in Tanzania in the mid-80s. It seemed a somewhat safer place then, though even back then I suspected it was a bit of an illusion--there was such a disparity between wealth and privilege on one hand, and poverty and despair on the other, and they were side by side all the time. I last saw Nairobi in 2002 when I went for a conference, and I was struck by how much a lot of the city had decayed, but yet how incredibly built-up certain wealthy areas had become (the Sarit Centre in Westlands in particular). I still dream of taking my family there some day, but unless I land a job in international health I fear it may remain a dream.

But anyhow, I want you to read Frank's posts, in particular how his experience in the Kibera slum expanded his understanding of the gospel. One brief quote:

On Sunday I came face to face with the ravages of sin and it messed with my sense of humanity. Driving through Kibera on Monday I was made intensely aware of how humanity was being ravaged and the need for redemption. It was all around – I believe God’s anger burns white hot at the depravity of his people that would result in such chaos and destruction of the pinnacle of his creative expression.

In the dirt with those children I found the redemption of the cross – the act that wipes the slate clean, I sensed the victory of the resurrection pointing to a renewed world, I felt the assurance of the ascension, I reveled in the hope of God’s future time of complete restoration where his justice shall be displayed in full and I relished the visible transforming power of that story on display before me in the very lives of those children. Right there, in the middle of human depravity was a small point where the very transforming power of the gospel could be seen. Right in the middle of the darkness there was a light shining very brightly.

I must act, not just out of gratitude for the substitution Christ gave on the cross – no, the story and message of good news (the Gospel) doesn’t end there. Because the Kingdom has come near, it is active. Christ’s work has given me citizenship and I work to transform this world in anticipation and with the hope of God’s complete justice in view. As those children transformed my life, it’s that Gospel that overwhelmed me and I will permit no scholar to demand that I settle for less, no matter how popular their name.

Now go read the whole thing!

Walking on water - Can't Jesus have a little fun?

I've heard about Jesus walking on water twice in the past two weeks. Our pastor preached a sermon on how the disciples were underestimating Jesus, and a buddy of mine just shared with us the idea that the seas represent chaos in first-century mythology/cosmology, so that Jesus walking on water was symbolic of his trampling chaos/Satan underfoot. Both may be right, and I have no real reason to think they're wrong, but as I read the story (Matt 14:23-33, Mark 6:47-52, John 6:17-21) I keep getting this distinct impression that Jesus was having a little fun with his disciples.

Jesus could have used several means of natural or supernatural transport to catch up with the guys--heck, he could have just zapped himself across the lake and beat them there (and according to John 6:21, once he got in the boat he DID motor all of them across). But instead he takes a little stroll--actually a fairly good stroll as the Galilee at Capernaum is five-plus miles to any "across" shore, not to mention the waves. And then according to Mark, he was actually going to pass them by. I can't substantiate this, but it seems to me like Jesus decided he was going to mess with the boys a little. . .

Then of course Peter gets the bright idea that he ought to come out there. I think he must've thought "hey, that's cool, wonder if he'll let me do that?" I envision Jesus flashing Peter a grin and saying "sure man, come on!" Peter, of course, gets out there and looks around and says "hey, wait a minute, I can't do this!" and promptly he can't. But here again we give the poor guy too much grief I think. The biblical text says "you of little faith, why did you doubt?" But I imagine Jesus saying that not so much as a scolding for Peter's "lack of faith," (we scold each other too much about that sometimes), but rather a friendly and sympathetic "Dude! You almost made it!"

I'm hanging no dogma whatever on this meditation. Maybe I'm as all wet as Peter was by the time they got back to the boat. But really, we have to loosen up our perspective on Jesus. The guy knew (knows) how to have a good time. Some of his zingers against Herod and the Pharisees and such must've had the crowds rolling. The stiff-upper-lip types got their knickers in a twist because Jesus was hanging out with a bad crowd (Mark 9:10), and I have a hunch they weren't all sitting around with long faces hearing a Sunday School lesson. Sometimes, if we let our imaginations run to Jesus as a friend and a fun guy to travel with, I think we might, just maybe, get a little closer to the truth.