“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
– Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV – Read the chapter)
In the first part of this reflection I asked the important question: Why be good? After thinking about it for a bit, I landed on the idea that we need a better foundation for our efforts to be and do good toward the people around us than most of the ones we encounter in our culture. As Christians we have one, but we sometimes forget it and trade it out for one that’s better than average, but still not the best there is. Namely, we often rely on the Bible to serve as our justification for being good. Jesus is better. Let’s talk about why.
Now, no Christian is going to argue against Jesus being the ultimate foundation for, really, everything we do. He’s the ultimate foundation for our drive to be good. He’s the explanation for why we do what we do…or at least why we try with sometimes only middling success to do it. But, in practice, we often forget that and cite only the Bible as an explanation for everything.
Why should we do this or that? Because the Bible tells us so. The Bible says and that settles it. The B.I.B.L.E., yes that’s the book for me; I stand ALONE on the Word of God, the B.I.B.L.E.
Now, none of that is necessarily wrong, but let’s think about it. If you were to ask someone like, say, the apostle John about the nature of the word of God, what do you think he’d say? Would he tell you it is a book that gives justification for our efforts to be good like God is? Would he tell you it is the reason we are to do what we strive to do as followers of Jesus? Would he even say something about it being the justification for believing in Jesus? No way. He’d tell you the word of God IS Jesus.
As good and righteous as it sounds to say that as Christians we stand alone on the Bible and that the Bible is the foundation for our lives, taking up that position actually sets us on shaky ground for a couple of reasons.
First, if the Bible is our foundation, then if there are any errors or contradictions in it, the whole thing becomes suspect. Now, I am thoroughly convinced the Scriptures are totally inerrant, that they are right and true in everything they affirm. I don’t think there are any contradictions in the whole thing. There may be some passages that are harder to understand than others (we’ve talked about several in the last year and a half), but it’s all true.
That being said, I’ll bet there are some apparent contradictions you can’t defend. I remember in high school a skeptical friend citing an apparent math error in the sizing of some lake as a potential error in the Bible. I don’t remember the passage, but it was somewhere in the Old Testament as it seems all the apparent contradictions are. Not knowing how to respond to this, I said something like, “Well, a math error like that in one place doesn’t undermine the rest of it.” He quickly—but without any hostility—fired back, “Oh yes it does. If there’s an error in one spot, the whole thing becomes suspect.” Listen: if we stand ALONE on the word of God; if the Bible is our faith foundation, then he was right and I was wrong.
Now, some folks have taken this and simply resigned themselves to the position that, yes, the Bible has errors in it, and moved forward. They’ve often given this ground from this position and subsequently given more and more ground on traditionally orthodox positions until their theology has become much more heterodox than orthodox. In realizing and simply embracing the difficulty of defending the inerrancy of the whole Bible, they’ve allowed themselves to embrace some positions that are downright contradictory with some of the things it says, even in the New Testament. They have sometimes even rejected it as being very meaningful in their faith journeys at all. I don’t think that’s the way to go.
Here’s the second reason making the Bible the foundation of our faith puts us on shaky ground: Paul didn’t think like this. John didn’t either. Neither did James. Or Peter. None of them did. Now of course, they couldn’t in the way we do today because they didn’t have the Bible—they were still writing it! But, while they cited the Hebrew Scriptures (what, for them, were simply “the Scriptures” or “the Law and the Prophets”) to help prove to Jews and even occasionally Gentiles that Jesus was the Messiah, they didn’t ever claim or believe their faith rested on them either.
Furthermore, no Christian in the first three or four centuries of the church would have thought the way we do today about the Bible because they didn’t have it to think about that way. They didn’t have the Bible, they had the Jewish Scriptures and Luke’s theological history of Jesus and the rise of the church and John Mark’s newspaper-like version of Peter’s testimony and a bunch of letters from Peter and Paul and James and John and so on and so forth. They had all the elements of the Bible we do today—or at least they had bits and pieces of it since very few churches likely had complete sets—but they didn’t have “the Bible” the way we do. That collected document of documents didn’t exist.
So then, here’s the thing for us to consider: If Paul and James and Peter and John and no other Christian in the first three or four centuries of the church thought of the Bible as the foundation of their faith and practice, why do we? Did the foundation change around the fourth or fifth century? Nope, we just changed our thinking. And this really was a problem because we had and have a better foundation than that. We’ll talk about why next time.