Bombshell! Will this document save my orthodox Christian faith?

I was sent the following document by email last evening from a very concerned, very kind LCMS pastor.  He is worried (like many of you) about the shaky state of my faith. My belief in an inerrant Bible has been destroyed.  My faith in the reliability of the any story or fact in the Scriptures has been severely shaken.  How did this happen to me?  Answer:  I wandered onto the website of an ex-fundamentalist Christian pastor, turned atheist, who convinced me to read Bart Ehrman, who so severely rattled my belief system, that I began to engage some very well-studied, very persuasive, ex-Christian atheists in attempt to prove them (and Ehrman) wrong for abandoning Christianity.

The document below is written by an LCMS Lutheran pastor.  I will not be posting his name. Nor will I be posting the name of the LCMS pastor who emailed me this document. 

Why? 

This document is considered “verboten” by many in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  It is considered “verboten” because it is a direct assault on the fundamentalist view that the Bible is inerrant. 

The fundamentalist fringe in the LCMS, though a minority, is a very vocal minority, who howls “liberal heretic” when any LCMS Lutheran dares to question Biblical inerrancy.  It is my firm belief that if the LCMS continues to cowtow to this vocal minority, and continues to profess the fundamentalist position in its public documents and statements, not only me, but many other orthodox Lutherans who happen to stumble into a conversation with a Bart Ehrman or other well-studied ex-Christian atheist, will end up headed out the door, of not just the Lutheran Church, but of the Christian Church altogether!

In the age of the internet, it is no longer possible to preach that the Bible is inerrant.  My last post showed you why.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so after reading this post.

Lastly, I have a feeling that out of fear for unrest in the LCMS someone is going to ask me to take this document down.  I will not.  I believe that the facts stated in this article may be the only thing that saves my faith, and possibly, the only thing that will save the faith of many other orthodox and conservative Christians who see for the first time the many, many unresolvable discrepancies in our Bibles.

Here are a couple of bombshell excerpts from this document:

“I want to make clear from the beginning that the confession of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God given by the Spirit through the prophets and apostles and the only source and norm for faith and life is not in question, is not what I am challenging in this essay. What I am challenging is the manner in which we account for the inspiration and authority of Scripture. We have an accounting that is neither specifically Christian, nor rooted in either Christ or His Holy Spirit; neither is our account plausible or persuasive in our present context, and we have left our hearers, our congregations, the people of God vulnerable to antiChristian apologetics and argumentation. That is to say, by insisting on a certain way of talking about the Scriptures, we have not described them as they are nor in a way that points to the solus Christus.”



“The problem of the text and canon of the Scriptures. My thesis is this: The way we have argued for, and taught our congregations about, authority, is no longer tenable given what we know about the formation of the canon and the manuscripts of the New Testament.

 
Allow me to start with Sasse:
 
In the conflicts between Fundamentalism and Modernism our sympathy belongs with those who fight for the truths of the ancient Christian faith, and if we had to choose between the two, we have no doubt as to where our sympathy would lie. But this sympathy with the Fundamentalists dare not hinder us from recognizing that Modernism is the natural, legitimate child of Fundamentalism, even as nothing seems to  happen  more  swiftly  than  the  conversion  of  a  Fundamentalist  to  extreme Modernism, at least among our young people3
 
Sasse wrote this in 1951, and some 44 years later Bart Ehrman describes his conversion, as a young man, from Fundamentalism to Modernism:
 
Ehrman: If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? . . . this became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them. . . The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words. . . Before this—starting with my bornagain experience in high school, through my fundamentalist days at Moody, and on through my evangelical days at Wheatonmy faith had been based completely on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of God. Now I no longer viewed the Bible that way. The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. (Ehrman, 11).”

Why is Ehrman so successful? Why does having a complete mess of the text and canon of the Scriptures cause us no end of consternations, and even provoke outrage? I would submit that it is because our tradition does not have an adequate accounting for the authority of Scripture.”

 

 

 
 
“The Verboten Document”
 
 

Let metell you up front where I’m going today.
 
I will make four main arguments
 
1) Scriptureis authoritative
 
2) In avoiding one error in talkingabout Scripture, the error of ignoring of the divine Word and its authority, we have fallen into another error ignoring the Scripture as Gods Word in human words.
 
3) The way we have argued for, and taught our congregations about that authority is nolonger tenable given what we know about the formation of the canon and the manuscripts of the New Testament.
 
4) An accounting for the authority of the Scripture must be grounded in nothing other than the work of Jesus Christ, focused in his death and resurrection.
 
I’m becoming more and more convinced that all theology is biography.  That is, theologians write about what they do using the arguments that they do becauseof their circumstances, contexts, opponents, and probably a host of other random occurrences. Reading Luther, for example, tells us a lot about theology, of course. But Luther wrote about what he did, using themethods and resources that he did, because of when he lived, what his background was, and who hisopponents were. He spent a lot of time on the monks and monasteries for obvious, even personal reasons.But monks and monasteries have not been the topic of any CTCR documents, nor I suspect, do they play a prominent role in the footnotes of the new CPH study Bible (nor the ESV study Bible, nor the Fortress one either).
 
So, I’m here to talk about the authority of Scripture. I will talk about in a certain way because of my context and situation. In fact, even my talking about it is the result of my own background. While an undergraduate at Concordia, Ann Arbor I took a class onNew Testament Textual Criticism, taught by Jakob Heckert. As a class we took a field trip to the Harlan Hatcher  graduate library at nearby University of Michigan, where we were shownthe earliest extant manuscript of Paul’s letters, Papyrus 46, dated to around the year 200. Something of the romantic stirred in me. How cool, old stuff. Only 150 years after Paul wrote. Wouldn’t it be great to work with that kind of stuff.That field trip would be the first of many visits to the rare book room of that library, where I became known by face to the head librarian. And, some twenty years later, that same manuscript became a major focus in my dissertation on the text of 1 Corinthians.
 
A second defining event that has affected how I think about this topic is atask I was assigned as a reference desk worker in the Concordia Seminary library during my STM year. A set of unpublished translations of writings of Hermann Sasse were in the libraries holdings. But these translations were on yellowed, brittle paper in fading, purplemimeograph ink. So, a secretary in the library wasgiven the task of typing up the essays on a computer, and I was assigned to proofread them. Now, I had read a good deal of Sasse in my systematics classes, but on topics like the sacraments, the church,  ecumenical  issues.  But  I  had  not  been  assigned  anything  by  Sasse  on Scripture. Yet here was a box full of essays by Sasse on Scripture, which apparently Concordia Publishing House did not want to touch. A scandal. A hidden archive. Ooohhh (I’m trying to make this sound like the Davinci Code, in case youre wondering).  These  were  published,  along  with  an  essay  that  I  wrote  for  an independent study class for Dr. Feuerhahn, by the Seminary Press in 1995. I mention this because there are a billion of these left over, and were selling them during the symposium at a discount. Go buy one. Or three.
 
Where these two seemingly random events come together is in the doctrine of Scripture. Or rather, more specifically, how we talk about and defend the authority of Scripture. I was puzzled even as a student by the way the Pieper’s dogmatics approached the topic. CTCR documents,which as we learned yesterday are useless, did not help much, and if anything else failed to take into accountissues of text and canon that had arisen since the early 20th  century (let alone the 16th). The answer to the problem of Scripture’s authority, it seemed tome, was expressed rather straightforwardly: The Bible says it is theopneustos. Therefore it is perfect, infallible, inerrant. Its authority is derived solely from its divine source. Some human role might be acknowledged in the process of writing, but this is very quickly minimized so that the human authors are merely pens” or strings on a lyre” completely passive, adding (and taking away) nothing from the divine word. So all you are left with is divine, perfect, inerrant, infallible, Word of God.
 
Sasse did not talk about inspiration and inerrancy in this way. He certainly struggled with the topic, changed  his mind, regretted things he had  written, even publicly withdrew one essay. And, troublingly to a young seminarian, he criticized pretty much everything the Missouri Synod ever wrote on the topic, from Pieper to the Brief Statement to Engelder to Scharlemann to various official study documents produced in the 60s. No wonder CPH never published his material on Scripture. But I found Sasse  to  be  helpful,  scriptural,  confessional.  And  I  was  surprised  to  hear  my professors, back in the day, say many of the same kinds of things that Sasse was saying about scripture. But, at the advice of wise Dr. Feuerhahn, I confined my work on Sasse while a student time to a historical survey of his writings on the topic; I did not evaluate his theology. And then, I was called by a congregation, then the seminary where I took up again studying manuscripts of the New Testament, and left the doctrine of Scripture to the Systematicians. But, of course, systematicians don’t have allthe answers, and the problem of biblical authority in the light of the uncertainty of the canon and text has received even more attention in recent years, with Davinci Code, the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, Bart Ehrmans Misquoting Jesus, and so on. The way that we reacted to these, it seemed to me, was not always very helpful, or scriptural, or Lutheran.
 
So Sasse on Scripture has never been far from my thinking, nor indeed, I must admit, from the way that I talk about scriptural authority in the classroom. I’ve found useful a parallel that Sasse often used when discussing Scripture:


And likewise it has been recognized that, corresponding tothe doctrine of Christ’s person, both the true divinity and the true humanityof the one Holy Scripturemust be asserted . . .  everything is divine and everything is human. Just as Christology since the Council of Chalcedon has to steer a course between the Scylla of Nestorianism and  the Charybdis  of  Monophysitism,  even  so  the doctrine  concerning the  Holy Scripturemust be careful not to suffer shipwreck on the cliffs of a rationalistic, historyofreligion’s understanding of the Scripture and a supernaturalistic, docetic understanding  of  the  Scripture.  The  Holy  Scripture  is  Gods  Word.  The  Holy Scripture is mans word. But the Word of God and the word of man are not two Holy Scriptures perhaps, someone might say, the kernel in the Bible which might be designated Gods Word but one Holy Scripture. This selfsame one Holy Scripture is complete, unabridged Word of God, and complete, unabridged word of man, not a mixture of the two, not a synthesis which a person can again separate.1
 
In other words, the Scriptures, their authority and their use, must be understood to
entail both the divine and the human, Gods Word in Human words.
 
Now, before I proceed further I want to repeat the first of my arguments, actually, it is merely an assertion: The Scriptures are authoritative. I know that as I move along through this paper it will sound to some of you like I am denying their authority; that is not the case. What I am attempting to do is to lay an accounting for the authority of the Scriptures that recognizes both their divine source and purpose andtheir human nature.
 
So, in The Rite of ordination, candidates are askedI was asked: Do you believe the canonical books of the Oldand New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
 
To this I did, and still do answer, yes.
 
Now this question asks a great deal of the candidate. It is not only a doctrinal” question, but asks the candidate if his teaching, preaching, and life will be guided solely and unquestionably by these writings (and no other). Will you conduct your service as slave of Christ and servant of this congregation based on this book?
 
I would note only in passing at this point that the books are not listed. It only asks about the canonical books.”  The list of books that are canonical and infallible would be different for Martin Chemnitz than the list that we would produce today, for example.2  And while this question asks a great deal of the candidate, it does not go intoa great deal of detail about exactly why or how to use this inspired Word of God. There are a lot of blanks to be filled in, and we fill them in many different ways. But, I want to make clear from the beginning that the confession of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God given by the Spirit through the prophets and apostles and the only source and norm for faith and life is not in question, is not what I am challenging in this essay. What I am challenging is the manner in which we account for the inspiration and authority of Scripture. We have an accounting that is neither specifically Christian, nor rooted in either Christ or His Holy Spirit; neither is our account plausible or persuasive in our present context, and we have left our hearers, our congregations, the people of God vulnerable to antiChristian apologetics and argumentation. That is to say, by insisting on a certain way of talking about the Scriptures, we have not described them as they are nor in a way that points to the
solus Christus.

Now, my second point: In avoiding one error in talking about Scripture, the error of ignoring of the divine Word and its authority, we have fallen into another error – ignoring the Scripture as Gods Word in human words.

 
Having the pure, prefect Word of God sure is convenient. Because then it becomes quite easy to ignore all the messy context and setting andassume that God is speaking directly to me. On a lark, I googled the phrase, Inspirational Bible verses. The first link was to a page called, appropriately enough, Inspirational Bible verses: Real. Powerful. Timeless.” You can guess where this is going to go. What aresome of these verses? Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.Joshua 1:9 Awesome. What a promise. Now I can go ahead and do that presentation at my job tomorrow, and God will give me power, and go with me all the way to my new promotion. Forget Joshua, leading thechosen people into the promised land. This passage is for me. If you don’t like thatone, you can clink on some of the links on the side of the page: Comfort Bible verses; Confidence Bible verses; Blessings Bible verses; and verses for all occasions: Bible verses for graduation; Babies Bible verses; Bible verses for birthdays; and if you cant get a date, Dance Bible verses. If you have a big football game you click on sports verses: For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!” Amen. Forget  that  God  is  speaking  to   Israel  upon  entering  the  promised  land  in Deuteronomy, and that the enemies are worshippers of false gods who would corrupt Israel and cause them to be unfaithful to the covenant. And that victory is not putting more points on theboard, but putting people to death.
 
The only way to have Real. Powerful. Timeless. Verses is if they are perfectly divine. And if they are perfectly divine, that is, Gods pure Word and truth, then it does not matter if they were spoken to Joshua, or Israel, or that they didn’t have birthday parties or graduations or baby showers in Corinth. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. And Iget to pick what things I want to do.
 
I’m assuming this web site was not developed by an LCMS Lutheran (though I can’t guarantee that, and unfortunately it would not surprise me if that were the case. But we areguilty of it, too. Some examples: Bring in the full tithe” . . . test me in this, says the Lord, and see if I do not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing.” Ever used that for a stewardship sermon? I have to preach on this text in chapel here on campus in a few weeks to seminarians. Get out your pencils, figure out your 10%. Test him in this. Then he will open the heavens and pay off your student loans. When you preached on this text, did you point out that the you is Israel, not an individual or a giving unit? Did you point out that the house where the tithes are brought in is the Temple, not your budget? Did you point out that one of the blessings promised, as the next verse in Malachi 10 says, is that the locusts will stop devouring your plants?


Now, some of this, to be sure, is laziness, sloppy exegesis, etc. But these are bornout of, made possible, by a view of Scripture that assumes that these are Gods pure, perfect, powerful words.

 
Allow me to give a theological example, and this relates more directly to our topic. All Scriptureis GodBreathed.” It’s been running across the screen in Werner Auditorium for the last couple of days. This is the decisive proof for the divine nature of Scripture, the a priori, ultimate and unquestionable statement that everything inthis book is from God. Okay, but only if this is a completely divine, and not human passage. For if God said it, then the Scriptures are inspired, all of it.  God said it through the Apostle Paul to Timothy, who from infancy has know the sacred writings. But, when Timothy was an infant there were no letters of Paul written, let alone considered authoritative. There were no gospels. All Scripture in 1 Tim 3 refers only to what we now call the Old Testament, whatever the exact limits and contours of that was in the early 60s AD. In fact, every passage we use to prove the divine source and authority of the Scriptures refers to and only to the Old Testament. John 10:35 The Scriptures cannot be broken. 2 Peter 1:21 No prophecy of Scripture comes from the will of man. Unless these passages dropped out of the sky likethe book of Mormon, or came like water through a pipe like the Koran, then they say nothing about the source and authority of the New Testament.
 
Some years ago, I was asked tospeak at the district theological conferences that took place in the wake of the Yankee Stadium” event, this one in the FloridaGeorgia District.  After  the  presentations,  participants  were invited  to  submit  questions  anonymously, that we presenters were asked to answer. The only question I remember is this: Well, it is actually an admonishment. The slip of paper said: You keep saying,  incorrectly,  Paul  wrote.”  This  destroys  the  authority  of  Scripture.  You should say, God said.” Keep in mind, the text I was asked to cover was eating in temple dining rooms, buying food at markets, going to idol temples,and eating in unbelievers homes in 1 Corinthians 810.  And I was attempting, I hopesuccessfully, to  sort  through  how  the  resolution  to  these  problems, that  we  have  very  little experience with, will give us shape us to live out our life together in ways that are guided and directed by these texts. That, apparently was not good enough. In order for the Scriptures to be authoritative, I could not talk about Paul, nor his rhetoric, or flow of argument, or personal example in the entirety of 1 Corinthians 9. Frankly, it borders on the absurd  Does God say, do we not have the right to take along a wife? Doesn’t Paul saythat? And yet it is still the Word of God?
 
On the other side is a denial of the divine. This, I think, we have less problem with. We have been trained in the LCMS to sniff out any hint of a playing down of the divine source and authority of Scripture.
 
The consequences of accepting only a human side of scripture is evidentin the way that the ELCA has dealt with matters such as homosexuality andclergy. The most recent document, Human Sexuality: Gift and  Trust,” adopted by the Aug, 2009 Church wide Assembly, ignores the two clear NT references in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, as well as any reference to the behavior in the Old Testament. They apparently have nothing to say to the topic. Why not? Go back to the Background Essays on Biblical Texts” from a 2003 Task Force of the ELCA. I quote:


the remaining passages speak clearly of samegender sexual relationships as inherently prohibited. .  .  .  The relationships  are themselves  against  nature and contrary to the will of God expressed in creation from the beginning. Other interpreters—on reading the texts with care alsoconclude, however, that the same passages pose challenges. Those inLeviticus seem to be the clearest at the purely descriptive level, but as the discussion above has shown, some interpreters question their relevance beyond their time and place.”
 
Notice the two moves: One, all biblical interpretation is contingent on human readers, andtherefore we cannot derive any authoritative meaning from texts; Two, they have no relevance beyond their time and place”. There is nothing divine,” the texts are entirely humanly contingent, therefore they have no authority and no role in this churchs discussion of the homosexuality issue.
 
So how do we avoid PurposeDriven Life Style exegesis, but at the same time avoid  passing off  everything in  the Scriptures  as  unclear, opaque,  unusable, and irrelevant.

Sounds like a seminary professor.
 
Before I propose an answer, on to my third point, which must also be incorporated into our accounting for the authority of Scripture: The problem of the text and canon ofthe Scriptures. My thesis is this: The way we have argued for, and taught our congregations about, that authority is no longer tenable given what we know about the formation of the canon and the manuscripts of the New Testament.
 
Allow me to start with Sasse:
 
In the conflicts between Fundamentalism and Modernism our sympathy belongs with those who fight for the truths of the ancient Christian faith, and if we had to choose between the two, we have no doubt as to where our sympathy wouldlie. But this sympathy with the Fundamentalists dare not hinder us from recognizing that Modernism is the natural, legitimate child of Fundamentalism, even as nothing seems to  happen  more  swiftly  than  the  conversion  of  a  Fundamentalist  to  extreme Modernism, at least among our young people3
 
Sasse wrote this in 1951, and some 44 years later Bart Ehrman describes his conversion, as a young man, from Fundamentalism to Modernism:
 
Ehrman: If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what wouldbe the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? . . . this became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them.. . The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform thatmiracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words. . . Before this—starting with my bornagain experience in high school, through my fundamentalist days at Moody, and on through my evangelical days at Wheatonmy faith had been based completely on a certain view of the Bible as the fully inspired, inerrant word of God. Now I no longer viewed the Bible that way. The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. (Ehrman, 11).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This book by Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, caused a rather large stir in evangelical circles, and among some in the LCMS as well. It was a bighit. NY Times bestseller in religion, Ehrman made appearances on both Colbert and John Stewart. Just two weeks ago I saw another book blurb of someone writing yet another response to Ehrmans Misquoting Jesus. I readthe description. I wont be followingthat guy’s line of argumentation.
 
Why is Ehrman so successful?Why does having a complete mess of the text and canon of the Scriptures cause us no end of consternations, and even provoke outrage? I would submit that it is because our tradition does not have an adequate accounting for the authority of Scripture.
 
We have answered the question as dogmaticians. Scripture is inspired” (usually with reference to 1 Tim 3:16). And so we already know that it has a divine origin and authority. Quenstedt,for example, in the 17th  century, argued: Although inspiration anddivine authority inhered originally in the autographa, these attributes belong to the apographa [copies] by virtue of their derivation,since they were faithfully transcribed from them so that not only the sense but also the words were precisely the same.” That is to say, the inspiration of the Spirit guaranteed the authority of the original, and the copies are very, very close to the original. Problem is, Quenstedt was writing at a time when scarcely anyone looked at copies.There were no Greek New
Testaments with critical apparatuses. There were no competing editions, all Greek NewTestaments were essentially reprints of the Textus Receptus.Quenstedt could assume that, if there was a problem with the copies, then those problems were not significant  enough  to  cause  any  trouble.  Interestingly,  still  today  I  see  people defending the authority of Scripture by claiming that the copies are not a problem. But Robert  Preus  notes  that  Quenstedts  statement  is  rather  uninformed.  There  is certainly reason to doubt that he, like Hollaz, was aware of the of the fact of variant readings among the manuscripts. . . The dogmaticians of the seventeenth century were scarcely  informed  and  were  not  especially  interested  in  the  subject  of  textual criticism.”   4  If  we  pretend  it  is  not  a  problem,  then  we  can  stick  to  our  tight formulations: We have a perfect text, and therefore we have a perfect Word of God.
 
Some    250    years    later,    however,    we    find    the    same    argumentation    in Piepers Dogmatics. He starts with the assertion that the integrity of the biblical text is assured both a priori (that, is on the basis of passages such as John 8:3132 and 17:20, where Jesus urges his disciples to remain in my word), and a posteriori, that no doctrine, and I emphasize that he states that no doctrine,rather than the meaning of any individual passage, has been affected by the variant readings. In the end, the autographs are inspired and authoritative and the copies, with their variants, are not. This assertion is made to preserve inspiration, but are the autographs available to us? Pieper does not wish to answer this question; instead he falls back on the argument that we have a reliable text, or in otherwords (was dasselbeist), the authentic doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets” (p. 239). Suddenly, text morphs into doctrine. This is backed up with the statement, common among conservative theologians, that nodoctrine is affected by the variants in the manuscripts. Again, quoting Pieper: Compare the newer critical editions . . . with the textus receptus . . . and you will be completely cured of the fear that the collection of many thousands of variant readings which modern textual criticism has recorded demand a change in a single Christian doctrine. (p.  239)  As  true  as  some  may think  that  statement  to  be  (and  I will demonstrate shortly that it is not) all we are left with is a text that gets us close enough for doctrine, but we do not have a text which we can consider inspired because only the autographs are inspired. But then, is the text open on my desk still inspired? And if not, how can it be authoritative? Havent we in fact lost our inspired text? And what if we find more copies, with more variants, and pretty soon all of our sedes doctrinae for a given locus  are called  into  question?  This  slipperiness  of moving between doctrine and text, autograph and copy, depending on the argument, leads both to confusion and, more importantly, an uncertainty as to whether or not the text in front of me is authoritative.
 
 
 
 
This was not only Pieper. In 1944 Theodore Engelder, another dogmatics professor at Concordia Seminary, wrote Scripture Cannot be Broken: Six Objections to Verbal Inspiration Examined in the Light of Scripture. Thirteen pages of this book are spent on what he labels, The variant reading sophistry. That is, Because we have no reliable Bible text . . . consequently, verbal inspiration must go by the board.” (p.181). Like Pieper, he concludes, The fact that our copies offer a multitude of variant readings has no bearing on the thesis that everything written by the holy writers was verbally inspired and remains verbally inspired. We insist that these two matters be kept separate.” (p. 182). Now, this presents an obvious problem.We have no original manuscript.  Engelder  acknowledges  this,  though  he  dismisses  the  problem  by analogy: The laws of the land are effective and in force, even though very few have actually read the original laws as passed by the legislature. So, he says, “The Bible did notlose its force, its authority, the divine power of its words, through its transmission to us by way of written or printed copies.” (p. 192).
 
 
 
 
It is Quenstedt, and Pieper, andEngelder  or rather people who view Scriptural authority in the way that they do – who Ehrman was addressing in his book. And it is thosesame people, the people in our pews, who have been taught by us, whose faith has been rocked to the core by Ehrman and his manuscripts, and Elaine Pagels and her gnostic gospels, and by thegospel of Judas, and by the Davinci Code. To use Sasses metaphor, we have avoided shipwreck  on  the cliffs  of a rationalistic,  historyof– religion’s understanding of the Scripture only to crash into the rocks of a super– naturalistic, docetic understanding of the Scripture.
 
So what we know about the formation of the canon and the manuscripts of the New Testament? And can we fit this into our accounting for the authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God?
 
Fasten your seatbelts, because I suspect that this will not make you happy.


Quenstedt,Pieper, Engelder all worked with the assumption that there never was really  any  question  about  the  extent  of  the  canon,  that  the  original  text  of  the Scriptures is inspired, and that the copies were not a problem. And we, you and I, work with the assumption, or maybe the untested hope, that what we have in our BHS and our NestleText is pretty darn close to the original text. At least close enough that we don’t have to worry about it. That the 66 books we always find in our Bibles, always in the same order, were always there. That is to say and forgive me if I’m exaggerating, but I don’t think it is by much Paulwrote a letter to, say, Rome. The Spirit guided him in thisprocess, and when Rome got this letter it was evident immediately that what they had in their hands was, indeed, not merely the words of Paul, but the Word of God. They took this letter and preserved it, and in their contacts with other churches discovered that they, too, had received wonderful, powerful, indeed inspired letters from Paul. They put their best people to work copying these priceless documents,and soon not only the letters but also four gospels were received and put together into what we now call the Bible.
 
Some of that actually happened, except everything after Rome got this letter.” Let me  start  with  the  issue  of  the  original  text” and  Inspiration.” We  conceive  of inspiration as a single act whereby the Spirit causes a human author to write down the Word of God,so that what leaves the pen of, say, Luke, is inspired and therefore perfect. We do this because we live in a print culture where authors write a draft, send it tothe publisher, and then it is published. This might take some time, of course, but you have the writing, and then you have the, single final draft that get duplicated by the printing press. This is how you make books, the biblical authorsare making books add the Holy Spirit to the mix and now you have a way to make the autographs inspired and authoritative.
 
But is this how writing a book took place in the ancient world? One act of writing, one draft, and then a copied edition. We now know that this is not the case for writing books in the ancient world; in fact, even recent texts do not have a perfect original.
 
Gettysburg Address: Washington Monument edition:
that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that thisnation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
 
There are two drafts in Lincoln’s hand, given to secretaries before and the day of the speech at Gettysburg. In both,instead of that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom” reads, that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom” no under God. The three versions that were written for various publishers, however, all read under God.” One was sent by Lincoln to an editor for publication shortly thereafter, one was   sent  to  a friend, which  is  the only copy actually signed  by Lincoln.So what is the original Gettysburg Address.” We have five autographs. And what did Lincolnactually say that day in Gettysburg? And is it what he said that is authoritative? Or what he wrote? And if so, which one?


Now,  lest  we  think  that  this  has  nothing  to  do  with  the  Scriptures,  it  is  worth rehearsing what the act of publishing”  wouldhave been in the GrecoRoman world. First, there is no book trade, there are no publishers no bookstores, no editors, no Amazon.com. Second, while we might conceive of the act of writing as a single action: Me, sitting down with my laptop, tappingaway, saving, printing, revising, and then submitting to a prof, a publisher, an editor. I get the proofs back from the publisher, reread them carefully, send them off. And then,poof, a book. A first edition,” an original text.
 
Not so in the ancient world. First, compositions were not written to be sold, to be published, to be read by a wide audience. Books were written for friends, benefactors, patrons – not for a general public. And and this will be completely foreign to us – the printed form is not the intended version. For books were not read, they were performed. Take a look at Luke, for example. He “compiles a narrative he doesn’t write an essay for Theophilus. In this age where TV, radio, DVD, and internet do not consume our eyeballs, entertainment consistedin hearing. And books were written to be performed. Some, perhaps in one sitting; some in several sittings.  After the first performance was over several copieswould be made for the patron,for close friends. And that’s it. Once the performance occurred and copies were made the text wascompletely out of the hands of the author.His friend or patron could choose to have additional copies made and passed around. Or they may choosenot to. Now, keep in mind in all this if the author has a performance copy of his text, then the actual  performance,  and  finally  the  postperformance,  perhaps  cleaned-up  copy, which  one  is  the  original?  To  use  our  theological  terminology,  which  one  is inspired?  The  draft?  The  performed  version?  The  revised  version?  And  if  we choose  the  revised  version,  which  of  the  three  or  four  copies   all  of  which, inevitably, will be different from one another words will be added or omitted, phrasing will be different. Which of the three or four handmade artifacts is the one that is inspired.?
 
Or consider Paul’s letters. Take the letter to the Romans. Paul wrote this to a church that he did not begin. He had never been to Rome. He writes a letter hoping to establish connections and forge a partnership for his continued mission work in the west, so he lays out his theology for the church in Rome. Will you support me when I go and preach this good news of God saving his people, Jew and Gentile, and giving us  new  life  in  the  Spirit.  He  dictates  – to  Tertius  – the  letter.  What  the  precise relationship between Paul the author and Tertius the scribe is must remain unclear. Did Tertius take shorthand, then write it out in longhand, cleaning up a few things along the way, then give the proofs to Paul for a final check before making several clean copies? One of these copies would go to Rome, one would be kept in Paul’s files. Perhaps one or two would go to others who were interested in the work. Which ofthose three or four are inspired? And the letter was not received in Rome by Fedex  and  then  printed  in  the  church  newsletter.  It  was  read,  out  loud,  in  the assembly, by Paul’s delegate, the person sent to carry anddeliver the letter. Furthermore, Romanspresents a rather difficult problem, for there are in fact two forms of Romans one ends at chapter 14; lacking is the discussion of Paul’s plans to visit Rome and his request for funds, and chapter 16, which are the endless personal greetings  that  Paul  extends  to  people in  the church  in  Rome whom  he has  met elsewhere. It makes sense that Paul would not bother sending thosetwo chapters to other churches or individuals.So which version is inspired? The one he sent to Rome? Or the one who wanted read by other people which is therefore functioning more like a normative Scripture? And were there other changes in the text of the first 14 chapters? The manuscripts we have today suggest that there were. So which was inspired?
 
My point in all this to speak of a single act of inspiration which produces a single normative text, and that this single, inspired text is clearly distinguishable from the   “copies,    is   entirely   unhistorical.   Our   dogmaticians   are   basing   their argumentation on a reconstruction that is not historically defensible. I am not trying to impute false motive to the dogmaticians; so far as I can tell they never considered what the act of writing a letter, or gospel narrative, let alone Psalter or Book of the 12 would have looked like.
 
This is not some bizarre, out there kind of thinking about texts in the ancient world, however. Your Greek New Testament for all its careful gathering and sifting of data from thousands of manuscripts and early translations and citations in the writings of the  church  fathers  does  not  claim  to  represent  the  original  text”  of  the  New Testament.
 
The preface to the 26th edition of the NestleAland (1979) textproclaimed that it was, in that printing, the original text of the New Testament. Quite a claim, even for a German. Even if many New Testament scholars were relieved that they didnt need to worry about textual criticism any longer. No longer are editors proposing to produce the original text” ofthe New Testament. Rather, the editorial goal now is to produce what   is   labeled   the   Ausgangstext,   or  in   English,   the   Initial   Text.”  This reconstructed text is not what left the pen of the author” (even if that is actually what took place in the first century). Rather, the editors are reconstructing thetext from which all existing copies derive. This is a significant change. No longer are the editors proposing to have reconstructed, say, the letter Paul sent to Rome. Rather, they are reconstructing the form of Romans that became part of the Corpus Paulinesometime by the end of the first century, and from which all extant manuscripts derive. In the case of the gospels this becomes even more problematic, for if the goal of this edition is to reproduce the text of, say Mark, they will be reconstructing the text of Mark as it was transmitted in the four gospel codex, from which virtually allof our gospel manuscripts derive. Not being reconstructed is the text of Mark as it existed in the first century, let along as it left the pen of the author.” This has a profound impact on how we view the text that is sitting in front of us as we teach and preach. Is it the Word of God? Or is it the form of the New Testament that existed in the second century, or even later?
 
So if we want to claim that this is the original text, we are making a claim that the people that produced the text do not make about it. We can comfort ourselves with our dogmatic formulations based on a, single, original text, and repeat those formulations to our hearers, but soon enough there willbe another Bart Ehrman or Gospel of Judas or History Channel show that will destroy the basis for our argument. And their faith, based as it is at least partly on Scripture perhaps in place of Christ – is shaken. Certainty is lost, because we have instructed them to place their faith in our hypothetical reconstruction, which is not based in history nor, ultimately, in the one who works in history.


So to my final point: 4) An accounting for the authority of the Scripture must be grounded in nothing other than the work of Jesus Christ, focused in his death and resurrection.
 
To this point we have not talked about Jesus. So try this one on:
1.)  Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
2.)  All Scripture is theopneustos
 
What is the relationship between the two? Is there any?
 
What Bart Ehrman is knocking down is the second statement: All Scripture is theopneustos,  but  his  argument  is  successful  only  if  you  do  not  have  the  first statement. Let me explain.
 
The second statement is able to be knocked down without the first because, change a word and you have the same thing that the Koran says about itself, or the Book of Mormon says about itself. We claim that the Bible is the Word of God,Islam claims that the Koran is the Word of Allah. We claim that the Bible is inspired, the Muslim claims that the Words of God came to Mohammed like water goes through a pipe. We can exegete passages to prove thatthe Bible does not err, the Muslim can exegete passages of the Koran to prove that it does not err. Heck, you don’t even need the exegetical gymnastics that we sometimesneed to get this out of the Koran, It (the Koran) is an invincible book. Falsehood does not invade itneither from before it nor from behind it, a revelation from Allah Almighty, He be praised. (Koran 41:4142).
 
So if many religions make truth claims about their holy book,and can cite passages from Divine Books that claim Divine origin and authority, how do you decide which one is right? It is not the “claims”no matter how often we repeat or how fervently we believe them that make them true, or persuasive. How are our claims persuasive in a pluralistic culture, persuasive to our people?
 
Again to Sasse: The Word of God, which is entrustedto the church, does not exist in a void, but is proclaimed in the concrete world of humansand people. . . However, this is a world full of genuine or alleged revelations, a world full of a thousand holy scriptures, which are regarded by their respective adherents as true revelationsbut dismissed by their opponents as demonic fraud and soul destroying error. One cannot urge theology, true theology withoutappropriating knowledge of this world and its history  – the  complete  history  of  that  which  has  taken  place  between  God  and humanity. . .  As the eternal Son of God was a true historical man without ceasing to be God, so it belongs to the essence of the divine word of revelationthat it was spoken by humansin time, proclaimed by human mouths, written by human hands, and  is  truly  human  words,  without  ceasing  to  be  Gods  eternal,  infallible  and
imperishable Word.5
 
What kind of God do you end up with, if you have a God who will not involve himself on history, time, humanity? He stands above and distant from the imperfection of this world? You end up with Allah– Allah does not become flesh. He does not enter into this world. He does not sacrifice himself for his people. He is perfect, and he demands perfection.  You do not ask for his love, you simply give him  your obedience, because he isperfect, and we are not.Or, you end up with a gnostic worldview, where the only thing that really matters is the spiritual”, and the physical of this world is either avoided or, in an American context, indulged, because it doesn’t really matter what we do with our bodies, the only thing that will determine my future is my spirituality.” Since anything of this world  any text in this world is merely human, all religions lead to the same place, to the same nonworldly, spiritual place.
 
I hesitate to put it this way, but since this is a safe place for theological discussion, I see very little difference between what the Lutheran dogmatic tradition focuses on in itsview of Scriptureassumes the finitum non capax infinitum of the Reformed tradition, present obviously in Warfield but ultimately expressed, ironically, in Barth and  Bultmann  as  well  as  underlying  Islam  and  gnosticism.  What  is  genuinely Lutheran – creedal, Scriptural, in our way of talking about the authority of Scripture?
 
A line from Luthers Bondage of the Will that Sasse turned to again and again helps focus this: Tolle Christum e scripturis, quid amplius in illis invenies” – Take Christ out of the Scriptures, what more will you find in them?6 Jesus is that around which theScriptures  cohere.  Pull  the Jesus  brick out  of the building,  and  the building crumbles.It has no meaning.
 
And where Christ is, there is the Holy Spirit. And where the Holy spirit is, there is Christ. (That’s Luther again, BTW). How do I know” that it is inspired? I can offer several claims. But thedecisive
 
This is why the Koran is not Word of God. Because Allah has not acted in history, except to speak. All you have is Mohammed, and his word. Call it inspired call it perfect. It is not Word of God. It is why the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas is not Word of God. Because all of them take you out of history, to gods who have no power to change history. But God, the father who raised him our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead has acted in history. Decisively.
 
This  is  precisely  where  the  New  Testament  locates  his  authority  – not  on  its perfection, not on its origins, but on an event:
 
The good news that I announced to you, which you also received,in which you also stand, through which also you are saved by this word that we announced to you, if you hold fast unless part from this you believed uselessly. For I passed on to you as of first importance, which you also received: that Christ Jesus died for oursins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he rose from the dead on the third days in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, the twelve, more than 500, James, the apostles,last of all to Paul. . . And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ.”
 
On what do we stand? What was passed down, and received? A message, good news, about what Jesus did. He died for our sins, he was put into a tomb, and he came out alive again three days later, and he appeared again, and again, and again. Most of this, you notice, sounds like the Creed, a summary of Gods Trinitarian work.


Jesus did something. He died androse from the dead. This is what you stand on. The announcement ofthis event is the word that saves you.
 
But there is death and resurrection in 1 Corinthians explicitly. There is death and resurrection in Mark explicitly. There is death and resurrection even in the Old Testament   implicitly.  Notice  that  phrase  Christ  Jesus  died  for  our  sins  in accordance with the Scriptures.” Nowhere in the Old Testament the Scriptures, for Paul – does the meshiak die for anyone’s sins. Nowhere in the Old Testament does the meshiak rise from the dead on the third day. There are no words of God in the Old Testament that say that, yet Paul is able to claim that this historical event, which people saw with their own eyes, is foreseen in the words” perhaps meaning”? of the Old Testament. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days this is the sign” of Jonah, which points to the resurrection of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus did not happen because the Scriptures had predicted that they would,the Scriptures find their meaning their authority in the death and resurrection of Jesus. IfJesus had not risen, not only would your faith be in vain, but you would not be reading the Old Testament. Even more, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, your New Testament would be useless. Paul would have nothing to preach. He would have no basis for a proclamation of new life in Christ. There would be no 1 Corinthians. There would be no Luke. There would be no New Testament. There wouldbe no announcement of Good News. There would beno Bible.
 
The resurrection is not just a logically necessarily prior event to the Scriptures If Jesus had not risen, there would have been no reason to announce the good news, and to  write  it  out.  There  would  be  no  Paul,  and  no  letters  of  Paul,  without  the resurrection, ofcourse.
 
But the resurrection is also a theologically necessary event to the Scriptures – if Jesus had not risen, these words, no matter their source, could not give life. Without the resurrection of Jesus, even the Bible itself would be nothing other than the Koran, or the book of Mormon. A book, with claims of a divine source, which you simply have to accept because of the claims it makes about itself about its divine, outside of this world source, and because it does not participate in the imperfections of this world.
 
But Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, the first fruits – the down payment. He rises with a body – aswma that can be recognized by friends; that can start a fire on the beach; that can eat a piece of broiled fish, crunching oily fish bones between his resurrected teeth and presumably digesting, with his resurrected intestines, this slimy piece of the old creation; he has hands and feet that still have holes that can be seen and touched, if necessary. Oh yes, perfected. Returning to the father, appearing suddenly from nowhere, passing through walls, but still, inevitably and necessarily, human, physical, a swma.
 
What  does  this  say  about  bodies?  About  things  that  are  human?  Both  in  the incarnation, and more importantly in the resurrection, the finite is capable of the infinite. God is not lowered by becoming human. He is not diminished by coming into the world. He is not corrupted by participating in the human realm. But he restores it, to his purposes.


This was not obvious to everyone. Some people saw Jesus, heard his preaching, and walked away. Some thought he was possessed by demons, some thought he was nuts. Some   people   heard   Paul’s   preaching,   and   mocked   this   thing   he   called resurrection.” Yet, in the weakness of what is preached is revealed the power of God. God in Christ, and God speaking, is not obvious. He looks like any other guy; he sounds like any other speaker. And this is not a bad thing. We have a God who comes to us, not as we would have a God to be mighty, in power, awing thenations before him.But as he is, humbling himself, participating in our space and our time and our flesh.
 
And so it is with his Word. It comes to us not as we want it to be, but participating in ourtime, and in our world. What of the Bible? What of all those manuscripts? What of the original text”? If you want to take Mark 16:920 away from me, I can livewith that. If you want to take the Woman caught in adultery away from me, I can live with that. If you want to tell me that Elizabeth sang the Magnificat, not Mary, I can life withthat. If you want to argue that Jesus was “angry and not “compassionate” in Mark 1:41, I can live with that. If you want to rip Romans 15 and 16 out of my Bible, I can live with that. If you want Hebrews, James, Revelation torn out too, I canlive with that. If you force me to look only at p46 or the bizarre majuscule manuscript W or one of thousands of Byzantine minuscules and use them as my NewTestamentI can live with that. Give me only Codex Boernarianus, one of the most poorly copied, misspelled, error filled copies of Paul’s letters, and I can live with that. I could live with or without any of those, because even these poorly copied, corrupted by people, edited, to use Luther’s words, preach Christ. And if they preach Christ, they areof the Spirit, for preaching Christ is the Spirit’s work. And of they preach Christ, they are apostolic, for the apostle can speak nothing other than what he has been sent to speak. So apostles, no matter who they are, even one who has been aborted yet lived like Paul, who once persecuted the church, preach the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can live withouta perfect Bible. I cannot live without God raising Jesus from the dead.
 
On the other hand, force me read only the Gospel of Thomas, I cannot live with that. Or  the  Koran,  or  the  Book  of  Mormon.  Not  because  the  are  not  inerrant”  or perfect,” or even human,” butbecause there is no Gospel: There is no new life in Christ.
 
So we do not flee from history. Because God acted in history. We do not fear thetaint of the human which would corrupt the divine, because God chooses reveal himself in the messiness of humanity. How didwe end up with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? We actually have no idea. This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit dropped them out of the sky,” but in space and time writings were produced by those who saw and heard, and were used by those who saw and heard. And copies were made by those who  saw  and  heard  those  before  them.  Sometimes  good  copies,  sometimes  bad copies. But even the bad ones still testified to what those people, that church new to have happened. And in hearing those scriptures, generation after generation, in Greek andLatin and Syriac and Coptic and Slavonic and German and English and Spanish and into thousands of languages sometimespoorly translated, sometimes translated well; some translations based on poor copies, some translations based on good ones. And in every generation that word announced again what God had done in history and willdo in history and was now doing in them: Burying people into his death through Baptism in order that they rise to now life. Hearing again and again this word and called by that Word to live as his people, awaiting his restoration on the final day of history.

 

From  Sasses last published article on the topic:

 

it is only by receiving the Bible from Gods hand as his Word, as it is, and not by trying to make it what our reason expects of a divine book that we will be in a position to believe and understand it as the book of eternal truth.7

 

That is not resignation. To receive the Bible from Gods hand as his Word, as it is, withall the messiness of its writing and gathering intocanon and copying is not capitulation to the skeptics. It is a statement of confidence. That here God does his work, here, in my space and my time, by this his Word even this word which makes me his.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Preus, Canon ofScripture in the Lutheran Dogmaticians.

 

3 Sasse, Additional Notes, S & C 164.

 

4 Preus, Inspiration of Scripture, 4849:

 

5 Sasse, Studien 1589.

 

6 Scripture and the Church, 96,

 

7  Zur Irrtumslosigkeit, Kirchenblatt 116.10 (Oct. 1966): 206; Lutherische Blätter

19.89 (Dec 1966): 11112; Scripture and the Church, 408.

34 thoughts on “Bombshell! Will this document save my orthodox Christian faith?

  1. Lots of words that come back to a circular argument:—-Don't worry about errors in the text and a lack of inspiration because we know Jesus was raised–which we know from these error-prone, uninspired texts–which tell us that Jesus was raised—so, erm…uh….that's all that matters…..or something.

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  2. I agree with your assessment, except for the fact that these “uninspired” texts are not all we have upon which to base our belief in the Resurrection.

    Whether it was weeks later, months later, a few years later, or 40 years later, the Resurrection story convinced a significant number of Jews, who would never have dreamed of a dead-then-resurrected messiah, to believe in him, and by believing, suffer severe discrimination and persecution from both the Jews and the Romans. Until the 1990's we have no record of Jews believing in such a concept.

    And, is forty years enough time for a legend to develop? Wouldn't there still have been people alive in Palestine who could shoot down this tall tale?

    So is this evidence? I guess that depends on your definition of evidence. It is enough for me to hold onto my faith in the Resurrection.

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  3. Dear Bro. Gary: I see two major issues in the article: First, if all that matters is event of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as being the basis of faith – then how can we even be certain of those truths if we conclude the Bible to be full of errors? If the Bible is either inspired in spots or authoritative in spots, who is truly capable of determining which spots are without spot?

    Our own SBC denomination went through this very battle over the Bible in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. Many tried to say that “The Jesus Ethic” or “Jesus Life” constituted final authority, and that the Bible was not the inerrant Word of God, but was only a witness. Sadly such a viewpoint does nothing for churches and can never preach. Thankfully our seminaries and denomination, by God's Providence, got back in the right direction, with our denomination by and large upholding the historic Christian position of inerrancy.

    Partial inerrancy or complete abandonment of inerrancy results eventually in abandonment of the Gospel. Its a slippery slope. Inerrancy is rooted in the Perfect character of God. The versions of inerrancy of old fundamentalism and the type Ehrman adhered to were more scientific versions and were not rooted in the perfection of God or Jesus Christ.

    Inerrancy is a necessary corollary that results from believing that the Perfect God and Perfect Christ revealed a perfect message to the Biblical authors to be written down. After all, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and Jesus Christ is the fullness of grace and truth.

    The second issue with the article is that it does not address the phenomena that makes the Bible unique from all other religious books – prophecy. To me, Bible prophecy is the chief mark of the Bible's Divine inspiration. Again, inerrancy is a necessary inference arising from the nature of prophecy. Why? Because since God knows the future infallibly, then it only follows that the writings ascribed to Him through the Biblical authors would also be infallible.

    Daniel for instance in Daniel 9 found his hope in the fact that Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29 had predicted that the Babylonian captivity would last for 70 years. Daniel staked his hope in the copy of Jeremiah he had in Babylon. Jesus taught his disciples that all of the O.T scriptures pointed to and spoke of Him. (Luke 24:44). Those statements Paul makes of Jesus having died, been buried and raised according to the scriptures takes seriously the perfection of Biblical prophecy.

    I really think dear brother if you are going to make the case for abandoning Biblical inerrancy, you will have to demonstrate that it was not the position of the prophets, Jesus nor the apostles. Does not holding to inerrancy mean you're not a Christian? No. But what it does do is severely constrict your ability to grow consistently as a Christian.

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  4. Jesus refers to the Old Testament as the Holy Scriptures. At the time of Paul's writings (ie. I Timothy) when he refers to Holy Scripture, he too was referring to the OT as there was yet no “New Testament”—the Gospels hadn't been written, nor any of the non-Pauline epistles.

    So how do we know that the “canon” of the New Testament is inspired and inerrant when no one in either the Old or New Testament declares these writings as inspired and inerrant??

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  5. So?? People believed Joseph Smith's bs about golden plates and all that.

    It shouldn't have to be this hard!

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  6. Dear Bro. Gary: Two verses. First, Paul in 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 as “scripture” and includes the statement “thew laborer is worthy of his hire” from Luke 10:7. 1 Timothy is dated at 62 A.D. Luke's Gospel, 59-60 A.D. So we see how from a very early date, Luke was already considered inspired and authoritative scripture.

    Secondly, 2 Peter 3:15-16 makes this statement: “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

    There we see reference to Paul's Epistles as being classed in with “the rest of the scriptures”. 2 Peter is dated 66 A.D. Paul's last letter of 2 Timothy is dated 64 A.D. Again we see very early evidence of recognition of the Pauline corpus.

    The early church by the end of the first century recognized or immediately received nearly all of the N.T books as inspired texts. By the first half of the second century, major quarters of the early church accepted whatever other books were in dispute. As early as 170 A.D we the Muritorian Canon listing what appears to be our 27 N.T books, thus for the first time a recognized canon list.

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  7. You are making two very big assumptions Pastor: That Paul was the author of I Timothy and Peter the Galilean fisherman wrote II Peter. Copied from the internet:

    For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

    //Compare the above verse, in which the author of Timothy seems to be referring to the Gospel of Luke and calling it scripture, to its apparent source:

    And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. –Luke

    If it’s true that 1 Timothy is quoting Luke, then we can draw one of two conclusions:

    1. If you’re a conservative Christian, believing that Paul wrote the book of 1 Timothy, then it provides great evidence that the Gospel of Luke was written quite early. Paul died in the mid-60′s.

    2. If you’re a more skeptical Bible scholar, believing that stories of Jerusalem’s downfall in Luke require it to have been written after the war of 70 AD, then it appears that Paul didn’t write the book of 1 Timothy.

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  8. Letters attributed to St. Paul:

    Of the thirteen NT letters attributed to Paul, most scholars today distinguish between two groups: those written by Paul himself vs. those written by his followers. However, since not all scholars are in agreement regarding the authorship of certain letters, rather than calling the two groups the “true” letters vs. the “false” ones, it is better to distinguish between the “undisputed” letters vs. the “disputed” ones.
    •The seven “Undisputed Letters” (a.k.a. the “Authentic Pauline Letters”).
    ◦These can be put into three subgroups chronologically:
    ◾The Earliest Letter (ca. 50-51 AD): 1 Thessalonians
    ◾The Middle Letters (mid 50's): 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians
    ◾The Latest Letter (ca. 57-58 AD): Romans
    ◦About 95-99% of scholars today agree that all of these letters were actually written by Paul himself.

    •The six “Disputed Letters” (a.k.a. the “Deutero-Pauline Epistles”).
    ◦For two of these, the scholarly divide is about 50/50 (that is, about 50% of scholars think they were written by Paul himself, while the other 50% think they are “pseudepigraphic” or written later by a follower of Paul):
    ◾If 2 Thessalonians is authentic, Paul probably wrote it soon after 1 Thess (in order to correct some misunderstandings caused by 1 Thess itself), since it is so similar in form and content to 1 Thess.
    ◾If Colossians is authentic, Paul probably wrote it near the end of his life (after spending several years in prison), since the theology expressed in it is rather different from Paul's earlier letters.
    ◾If either or both of these letters are pseudepigraphic, then they were probably written in the last few decades of the first Christian century.
    ◦For the other four letters, about 80% of scholars think they were not written by Paul himself, but by one of his followers after his death:
    ◾Ephesians is almost definitely a later expansion of Colossians, since they are so similar in structure and theology, but quite different from Paul's earlier letters; Ephesians was probably written to serve as a “cover letter” for an early collection of Pauline letters.
    ◾The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) were most likely written late in the first century by some member(s) of the “Pauline School” who wanted to adapt his teachings to changing circumstances.
    ◦Note: Judging a particular letter to be pseudepigraphic does not mean that it is any less valuable than the other letters, but only that it was written later by someone other than Paul. ◾All thirteen of the letters attributed to Paul are still considered “canonical”; all of them are still part of the Holy Bible and foundational for the Christian Church.
    ◾Distinguishing the letters based on actual authorship, however, allows scholars to see more clearly the development of early Christian theology and practice.

    •The so-called Epistle to the Hebrews is definitely not written by Paul, and is not even explicitly attributed to him. ◦For centuries, many Christians counted it as the fourteenth work in the Pauline corpus, mainly because the epistolary ending mentions Timothy, Paul's closest associate (see Heb 13:23).
    ◦However, contrary to all other letters and epistles, the opening of Hebrews does not name its author at all.
    ◦In literary genre, therefore, Hebrews is not really a “letter”; rather, it is a “homily” (a scripture-based sermon).

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  9. From a Christian internet source:

    The history of the acceptance of 2 Peter into the New Testament canon has all the grace of a college hazing event. This epistle was examined, prayed over, considered, and debated more than any other New Testament book—including Revelation:

    2 Peter was recognized as canonical by the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the fourth century, and this is the more significant because these Councils rejected the Epistle of Barnabas and 1 Clement, because they were not of apostolic origin. . . . At the Reformation it was regarded as second-class Scripture by Luther, rejected by Erasmus, and regarded with hesitancy by Calvin.5

    Bauckham speculates that the reason for the hesitancy of 2 Peter’s acceptance is that:

    Quite probably the churches which originally received it, knowing it not to be Peter’s own work, would not have granted it the same status in their own use as they did, e.g., to the Pauline letters. . . . Whatever the reasons for its lack of wide use in the second century, this seems to have contributed to its very slow progress toward general acceptance into the canon.”6

    The early church hesitated to accept 2 Peter possibly because Peter’s name was used in many Gnostic writings, and both Peter and Jude allude to Enoch, an apocryphal book.7

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  10. It is shocking to me that a denomination (Baptists/evangelicals) who believe the true Church went underground in the first or maybe second centuries embraces II Peter as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, when the Church Catholic barely approved it into the canon in the fourth century, and it still wasn't wholly accepted even by the Reformers.

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  11. I believe that this whole conversation lays bare a blind spot in the manner in which we (conservative) Christians examine our Faith. We base our beliefs on many, many assumptions:

    Who really wrote the books of the New Testament? Is it ok to question the authorship of a certain NT book without being branded a heretic? And on what basis do we accept the canon of the New Testament when there were so many disputes on which books to include? Many Christians seem to assume that once a book that is now in our New Testament was written, the entire Church immediately recognized it as the Word of God and included it in our Bibles. That concept is completely false.

    I think that we Christians need to wipe away our preconceived assumptions and start from scratch:

    1. Did Jesus of Nazareth exist? Yes. There is overwhelming evidence for it.
    2. Was he crucified by the Romans? Yes, again, overwhelming evidence.
    3. Did he rise from the dead? There is no evidence other than the changed lives of many hundreds if not many thousands of Jews who accepted the never heard of concept of a dead-then-resurrected messiah. Other Jewish messiah pretenders had many more “Jewish” qualifications for being the messiah, but as soon as they died, there movement also died. Jesus, the most unlikely (to the Jews) of messiahs, was able inspire an enduring movement that no other could?? Possible? Yes. Probable? Absolutely not.
    4. Is everything in our Bibles the very Word of God. No! The overwhelming evidence shows that the Bible is a human book and human books have errors. We can believe that God's Word is IN the Bible, but any thinking, educated person, after looking at the mountains evidence, CANNOT believe the fundamentalist belief of Biblical Inerrancy.
    5. So if the Bible is NOT inerrant, what parts of it should we believe? I haven't figured that out yet. But that doesn't mean that I should run back to “Inerrancy” for comfort and security. It is a FALSE security! For the time being I'm going to follow the teachings of Jesus: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

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  12. Dear Bro. Gary: Certainly follow the Great commandment. The question is: if you persist in maintaining ongoing suspision over the trsutworthiness of the Bible – then why should you follow the Great Commandment or trust the essential information of Jesus' life, burial and resurrection? There is a reason why radical liberal theology has never proven useful in the pulpit, the pew and everyday Christian life. Its hermeneutic of suspision makes Christian growth, discipleship and meaningful growth in the Christian community impossible.

    Radical critical scholars use speculation and assumption in their methodology. Do conservative, orthodox evangelicals uses assumptions, of course. So what is the difference between the two?

    Consistently in my reading of radicals like Ehrman, Crossan, James Barr, Rudolf Bultmann and others, their worldview includes: denial of the possibility of revelation and ignoring the first seven centuries of church history. That engine is what drives their methodology, which causes them to land in harsh judgment of the Biblical text.

    Whenever your methodology urges you to look for mistakes rather than finding the truth, and makes the goal of textual criticism as no longer being about restoring the original text, no wonder they come to the conclusions they do. Its a glass-is-half-empty approach.

    Whenever you read the church fathers and the testimony of the early church, we have documents, minutes, councils and letters that enable us to trace how the New Testament was regarded and accepted. If anything, the majority report of ancient Christianity and every major movement of Christianity that has endured has done so with a high view of scripture.

    Again, dear brother, you're insistence on not just merely denying inerrancy, but casting suspicion on the entirety of the N.T text and our having the words of God will make regarding even the Great Commandment hard to apply. Everything we know of Jesus, His death, burial, resurrection, is from the New Testament and prophecies of the O.T.

    If we did not have Bibles, we would not know anything about Jesus that could bring about salvation. The limited inerrancy position or even the no inerrancy position is self-defeating. Again I ask you: who then judges these words to be authoritative?
    I'm fearful if we leave it up to the so-called experts, then we are no better off than the church of Rome in the middle ages.

    As a student of the languages, I can tell you that the Bible we have are reliable. I've read both sides of the isle and I'm telling you, what Ehrman and those people are saying are just rehashings of eigtheenth and nineteenth century German higher-critical theory wedded to the latest discoveries in manuscript evidence.

    I think if you want to get a balanced perspective, read books besides Ehrman. A whole slate of books have come out in the past ten years, written by top notch scholars like Darrel Bock, Daniel Wallace and Ben Witherington who have credentials and expertise just like Ehrman. They of course affirm inerrancy but also do so with an open eye to scholarship.

    Dear friend, all I can say is that in as much as you say it is unnessary to retreat back to inerrancy, I'm saying its unnecessary to abandon it. Consider all the evidence dear brother. The Lutheran Pastors you have cited in past posts have demonstrated, in far better ways than I ever could, the reliability of the text.
    Their resources I think answer in so many ways many of the issues your are struggling with. Blessings.

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  13. “I cannot imagine a martyr awaiting the lions and rehearsing the intricacies of 101 rational reasons why Christ probably rose from the tomb and thinking “Yeah I guess it's a good bet.” This brand of apologetics basically implies that the faith of Christians in the eighteen centuries or so before modernist rationalism and evidentialist apologetics was naïve and foolish. Even now the faith of my grandmother and millions of Christians never trained in such apologetics is supposedly invalid. Those who faced the lions did so because their hearts burned within them as they encountered the Risen savior (through the Holy Spirit), just like with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.” [John …]

    Abby

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  14. When do you believe, Pastor, that the Church became apostate? Prior to Nicea as do many Baptists and evangelicals? If so, why do you accept the canon of the apostate Church Catholic?

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  15. Many religions have their martyrs. Just ask the Jews, especially those who refused to denounce their faith in the Spanish Inquisition or during the Holocaust.

    I believe that the change in behavior of Jesus' disciples and THEIR martyrdom are evidence to support the Resurrection, but not the martyrdom of their followers who did not witness the post resurrection appearances. Many people have followed a false belief system and have been willing to die for it. For example the Jim Jones cult.

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  16. It's like a coin toss. Just call heads or tails. Whatever comes up makes no difference ultimately.

    Abby

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  17. I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead thereby confirming his claims to be the Messiah and the Son of God. The teachings of Jesus come to us from several sources, not just Mark, as some atheists want us to believe.

    I now do not believe that any of the Gospels were written by an eyewitness to the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. I think they were written by someone who tried to retell a story that best that he could…but got some of his facts wrong. However all sources agree:

    1. Jesus lived when we believe he did.
    2. Jesus was from Nazareth.
    3. Jesus performed miracles, taught love for one's neighbor, and forgiveness for one's enemies. He also taught Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
    4. Jesus was crucified.
    5. On the third day the tomb was empty.
    6. Jesus appeared to the eleven at some point after his resurrection.
    7. The change in behavior of Jesus' followers is evidence to support their testimony of a resurrection.

    So do I still believe that Paul's writings and the other epistles in the NT are the very Word of God, inspired Holy Scripture? Answer: I don't know. I have to work that out.

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  18. Was I misunderstanding all along that you had put away “reason” as a means for determining whether Christianity was real or not? And that you had put away “reason” because it contributed to a false view and determination of the non-validity of the Sacraments and their work?

    I guess I am very confused right now.

    Abby

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  19. Bart Ehrman:

    “His desire to understand the original words of the Bible led him to the study of ancient languages and to higher textual criticism. During his graduate studies, however, he became convinced that there are contradictions and discrepancies in the biblical manuscripts that could not be harmonized or reconciled. He remained a liberal Christian for fifteen years but later became an agnostic after struggling with the philosophical problems of evil and suffering.”

    He is not an agnostic anymore. He claims there is no God or afterlife. He believes that when we die we will be just like the mosquito that he had just swatted and killed. (His words.)

    But, at the bottom line, in the Appendix of “Misquoting Jesus” by Ehrman, he says ““Essential Christian beliefs ARE NOT AFFECTED by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”

    Unfortunately that's the part everyone misses. So, in my simple interpretation, his agnosticism/atheism doesn't really materialize from the textual variants at all. And what he teaches has lead many people down the road to apostasy.

    If his view that our life ends like the life of his mosquito, he'll be ok. But if it is true that there is an afterlife, he will be accountable for many souls.

    And, no, I'm not believing the way I am in order to hedge my bet.

    Abby

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  20. Luckily or by fate, I belong to a denomination that does not require that I KNOW for sure that I believe. Lutheranism teaches that one must be baptized, must then WANT to believe, and thereafter, follows God's commands.

    I intend to do just that.

    Besides, I'm a betting man and I prefer to bet with Pascal:

    Pascal's Wager

    In the seventeenth century the mathematician Blaise Pascal formulated his infamous pragmatic argument for belief in God in Pensées. The argument runs as follows:

    If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I don't bet because I always lose. 🙂

    But Pascal sounds like a very wise man. Although even he is hedging.

    Our bet is sounder — our God rose from the dead. And promises our resurrection as well.

    Though I might place a bet for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown . . . 🙂

    Abby

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Gary,

    The problem for you isn't whether or not the texts have errors or if there are variants. The undermining of your faith isn't coming from that. Its coming from wondering how you can “know” something.

    How do you “know” the stories of Jesus?

    How do you “know” Luther got it right?

    How do you “know” that your perception of the facts is correct?

    How do you “know” that Church leaders in the past got the canon right…or the doctrines right.?

    This is an epistemological crisis that you are facing.

    This sort of crisis occurs when you find out that you were completely and totally wrong about something while also remembering how incredibly certain you were that you were right about it. When you realize that you can be so dead wrong about something you were totally sold on and believed in, whether it is inerrancy, or some other dearly held belief, that's when the crisis comes….and that is why your Christian commenters don't get why you keep coming back to this crisis. They are still in the “solidly believing it” camp and they can't know or understand the devastation of realizing what it is like to see that you were wrong.

    It's devastating because you can recognize that the mental process that got you to believe in the discredited idea is the same process that you use to determine a whole host of things you believe.

    The ida of inerrancy came to exist because theologians saw the problems inherent in the assembled texts. The only way to deal with those problems was to develop the idea of inerrancy. It seemed logical that if God is in control of the universe and actively working in his people, then we can know that his leaders, the people we assumed to be closest to Him and wisest about His ways, would communicate his thoughts and will as perfectly as possible. And, that this communication wasn't simply their considered opinions on the matter, but God's opinion on the matter.

    If you believe in a world that is tightly controlled by God, with little to no free will and with every circumstance working out the way God wants it too, then the idea of inerrancy easily takes hold…..which is why you will never find Calvinistic churches of any stripe denying inerrancy. In their view everything that happens….happens because God willed it so and there is no such thing as a “mistake”.

    Liza

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  23. Well, luckily I do not attend a Calvinist church.

    There are many LCMS pastors who do not believe in inerrancy, such as those who anonymously emailed me this document. They believe that Jesus Christ is the foundation of our Faith, not the Bible. Yes, the LCMS' official statements adhere to inerrancy. It is the official position of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. However, I would bet that the (silent) majority doesn't believe in it. It is the nasty, loud, heretic-burning fundamentalists in the LCMS who keep the majority from speaking out.

    Pastor Mahlon, a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, is correct: Inerrancy is safe. Everything is black and white. You don't have to think in that belief system. You just do and believe as you have been taught.

    Denying inerrancy opens Pandora's Box: I say, open Pandora's Box! Keep our faith based on Jesus, HIS teachings, and his resurrection, not on a human book that is full of discrepancies and blatant errors.

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  24. Bishop Shelby Spong highly regards the Book of John. Whatever that means I'm not sure. Maybe he believes this to be true.

    “He [Jesus] said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

    So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” John 8

    http://everfaith.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/wolf-in-sheeps-clothing.jpg

    Abby

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  25. “If you believe in a world that is tightly controlled by God..”

    Is that the crux of the matter? To be out from under God? Are you including Jesus as God?

    Abby

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  26. “There are many LCMS pastors who do not believe in inerrancy, such as those who anonymously emailed me this document. They believe that Jesus Christ is the foundation of our Faith, not the Bible.”

    These, though, are in the “solidly believing it” camp.

    Abby

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  27. No. Contrary to many of your previous comments and hack apologists' comments most people who leave the faith don't do it because they secretly believe it's true and want to be out from “God's” control. That's just a justification some believers make up so that they don't have to worry about the implications of how people–who really, truly believed and dedicated their lives to something–could decide that they were wrong.

    Liza

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  28. Gary,

    The problem is that everything you know about Jesus you learned from that very same book. You haven't solved the problem.

    Liza

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  29. Here is an LCMS statement of belief:

    “While Lutherans believe that any doctrinal error has the potential to distort or deny Scripture’s teaching regarding salvation, we also believe that anyone (regardless of denominational affiliation) who truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, will be saved.”

    – Quoted from the LCMS Denominational Differences, Other Denominations
    http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=581.

    Abby

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  30. Yes, Gary. You still need to deny everything about the Book and Jesus, Himself. That is the only way the problem will be solved.

    Abby

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  31. Here is the thing you are overlooking Liza:

    Just because I no longer believe that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are inerrant, does not mean that I cannot look at these four documents, along with source Q, source M, and the non-canonical Gospel of Peter and use these historical documents to make a decision on the historicity of the Resurrection. Just as I and every other person living today use documents to determine the validity of other events in Antiquity.

    You may not agree with me that my seven documents are sufficient to believe in the Resurrection, but you cannot discount these historical documents just because they are “Christian”.

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