January 30, 2010

Is My Bible Scripture?

Someone dear to me once asked me whether I believe that the Bible I read is scripture. Thinking about this deliciously stimulating question, I realize the wide range of possible meanings these terms have, and the need to clarify and specify what is meant before I can say "Yes" or "No" and hope to be understood properly—and avoid being branded a heretic.  
  1. By "Bible" do we mean English translations of the Bible? We might, but not necessarily. As I have written elsewhere, I would prefer to call them so, rather than lump together all editions of all translations in all languages with the original Scriptures in their original languages, for
  2. Are translations of anything "the same as" the original? No. By definition, they are not. No scholar of French poetry, for example, would be content to study translations, and for good reason: There is no substitute for reading the actual words in the actual language with all of its nuance, connotation, historical context, rhythms, word play, and all else that makes language what it is.
  3. Does "Bible I read" mean "translations other than the one true translation," or "any translation"?
  4. And would I call my Bible(s) "scripture," meaning
    1. "sacred writings"? If I understood exactly what that phrase meant, I might say so.
    2. "the specific sacred writings that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to pen"? No, since what is available to me is impressive but translated products of textual criticism, rather than the original thing.
    3. or "equal to those specific sacred writings"? Equal in some ways more than others, but perhaps.
    4. or "an equally inspired translation into a different language"? Definitely not. 
    5. or "written documents that transmit God's intended message to us"? In a sense, yes.
    6. or "written documents through which the Holy Spirit can speak his intended message"? Yes, I do believe this.
  5. And what does the original question presume about how reading works?
  6. And presume about how God can or does speak through text in any language or perhaps in one uniquely special language?
  7. And presume about what God intends the Bible's function to be—now or in various hypothetical dispensations?
  8. And are we presuming that there is a critical mass of "scripture" that we must have among the pages of what we hold for its function to be fulfilled? What would it be?
    1. 100%?
    2. 99%?
    3. 80%?
  9. And, if so, what do we presume about the result of reading less than that percentage of true scripture?
    1. Total error?
    2. Significant, life-changing error?
    3. Sin? 
    4. That we are now reading the words of Satan? 
    5. The failure of God's plans in the world? 
    6. The failure of God's intended purpose for the Bible?  
So, what do I believe about the Bible? 
  1. I believe that the English translations of the Bible that I read are significantly and even divinely different from all other books, even if I am not sure that, as translations, they are fully and equally "scripture" in the way that the original Bible is. 
  2. I believe that, at this point in history, I am blessed to have the luxury of comparing several good translations that merit not only my confidence in the text but also my awe at God's provision. 
  3. I believe that, like copies of any original document, there are some real differences among them, and also differences between them and "the original Bible" written down in days of yore. 
  4. I believe, however, that the differences, or any outright errors in the human words I read, are not sufficiently powerful to keep me from hearing the "'Yes!' of God in Christ" through these translations as the Holy Spirit aids my reading of them. 
  5. I believe that God is greater, and is able to overcome whatever I may lack.
I believe many other things about the Bible, too, but you can read my other posts to discover more of those.


franklins7 said...

My comment is that you make us think beyond the normal thinkings of our lazy western cultural norms! Brain hurts, but in a good way. So how does this all fit in the boat??

keo said...

It fits perfectly in the boat. Regardless of how much we understand and regardless of our convictions, opinions, and preferences, we maintain the bonds of peace and love as we pursue truth together.

keo said...
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