Liberal theologians in colleges and universities throughout America and Europe consistently, and eloquently, lecture and write in such a way as to create doubt about the Bible.  Many of these liberal theologians do not believe in such things as predictive prophesy or miracles, so they cannot accept the Bible or Jesus without drastic modifications.  For example, many of these do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ, his miracles, his resurrection from the dead, or his ascension to the right hand of the Father.  They may get their living by teaching the Bible, but they do not actually believe in the Biblical Christ.

Other, perhaps less-liberal theologians may believe in Christ, but have serious doubts about the Bible.  For these the Bible is a human/divine book that has multiple contradictions and inaccuracies.  Although they speak wonderfully about the Bible, they cannot accept it as the ancients saints did.  Since it is not reliable except to show that Christ is the Savior, then there is no need to be concerned about the myriads of doctrines that the Bible teaches.  Therefore, this group will go against some commands of Christ and his apostles on the grounds that the Bible is not reliable, and therefore they feel justified in changing the church's teachings and practices to match that of prevailing culture.  It is regarding this last group that I wish to consider in this page.

An excellent example of this group is found in chapter 2 of God's Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture, which is entitled, "The Bible as the Word of God."1  Dr. James Thompson was primarily responsible for this chapter according to the Introduction, but all the three authors agree with the contents of the book.2  These authors are all Ph.D.'s in their fields, and are instructors at the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, TX.  Their book is part of the Heart of the Restoration series that also includes The Crux of the Matter as well as Unveiling Glory: Visions of Christ's Transforming Presence.

These men were all raised with the conviction that the Bible was not of human origin.  Rather, the Bible was the very Word of God.  They reminisce of how 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet 1:20-21 were taught to them.  However, they then say,

What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired? How does the living voice of God actually speak through a book?3

These two questions open a broad stage on which they argue that the Bible is of human/divine origin, that it has errors and discrepancies, that it is scientifically flawed, and that it doesn't claim to be inerrant.  Thus they conclude that the Bible is trustworthy only for what God intended to be:  A guide for salvation and right living.  Having articulated this critical position, they go on in further chapters to "...to reclaim the entire Bible for the church and especially to see the richness of the Bible's story."4 

Now let's examine their major claims and see how they compare to what the Bible says.

THE BIBLE IS OF HUMAN/DIVINE ORIGIN


Dr. Thompson gives a history of what "inspiration" meant to the ancient Christians.  These understood inspiration to mean that the human authors were simply instruments of the Holy Spirit and Dr. Thompson refers to a Rembrandt painting in the Louvre as an example of what inspiration mean to him as a young man.  That picture is at the head of this page.  Then he undertakes an explanation that shows how far away from that picture the authors have come now.

TRANSLATORS


Dr. Thompson describes the "human" contribution to the Bible.  First, there were human translators who have translated the text imperfectly because the text is ancient.  He stresses the uncertainty in meaning of 1 Cor 7:21 as an example.  He tries to reassure the reader that we still hear the Word of God in these translations, despite their imperfections, and that "...no issue of translation is significant enough to affect our understanding of the Christians faith."5  I cannot help but wonder that if the "imperfections" and the "uncertainty" are so minimal, why mention them?  One needs only read on to realize it is just his way of lining up circumstantial evidence against the New Testament.

COPYISTS


Second, the "copyists" were human, and made many mistakes in their copying of the Scriptures.  The copyists were necessary because we have none of the original autographs.  Dr. Thompson says that there are more than 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and makes the following statement regarding this field of Textual Criticism:

While scholars can trace the transmission of the manuscripts well enough to believe that they record the message of the biblical writers reliably, numerous footnotes in study Bibles frequently have the words "Other ancient authorities read...."  These footnotes indicate that the editors of our Bibles had to choose among many variant readings of the Scriptures.6

What is interesting about his approach is that he continues to imply the uncertainty and the imperfections.  That appears to be his goal, all the while trying to reassure us.  But the doubts about the Bible will continue to grow as Dr. Thompson continues to present his carefully selected evidences against the Bible.

The fact is that many copyists made errors, but not all the copyist made the same error.  Thus, by looking at all the Greek texts in question, the discipline of Textual Criticism can clearly determine the majority opinion, especially among the oldest texts.  If there is any doubt about that, consulting other ancient translations of the Bible as well as the extensive writings of the early Church Fathers will reveal the preferred text.

THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON


Third, the process of collecting the 66 books of the Bible into a single volume "...is, in part, a mystery."7  He says that our current canon of books in the Bible was not settled until A.D. 367 by Athanasius.8  Obviously this, in addition to the uncertainty he has already created with his prior concerns, would stir additional alarm with the reader.  What Dr. Thompson doesn't say is that the writings of the "Church Fathers," which were written between A.D. 90-160, quote or allude to most of the books in the New Testament.9  Dr. Neil Lightfoot offers this summary of the Church Fathers' witness in the second to the fourth centuries to the New Testament:

The most important of these for the New Testament text include Justin Martyr, Titian, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria, all of the second century; Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian, of the third century; and in the fourth century the famous names of Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome.  Volume after volume of their writings have been preserved, many of which are literally filled with quotations of the New Testament Scriptures.  These men lived long ago and possessed copies of the Scriptures which are naturally older than our manuscripts today.  How their many quotations read certainly tells us much concerning the ancient Bible of the primitive church.  "Indeed," as Professor Bruce Metzger has pointed out, "so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone in reconstructing practically the entire New Testament."10

Dr. Thompson also doesn't mention that even in the writings of the Gnostic school of Valentinus, written before the middle of the second century, "...most of the New Testament books were as well known and as fully venerated in that heretical circle as they were in the Catholic Church."11  Dr. Thompson also fails to mention the various early lists of New Testament as follows:

LIST DATES BOOKS INCLUDED
Ignatius c. 115 A.D. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Marcion (heretic) c. 140 A.D. Marcion's revision of Luke, 10 of Paul's epistles (pastoral epistles omitted)
Tatian c. 170 A.D. Tatian turned the fourfold Gospel into a continuous narrative or "Harmony of the Gospels."
Irenaeus c. 180 A.D. Recognized the fourfold Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).
Muratorian Fragment c. 190 A.D. Mutilated at the beginning, but evidently mentioned Matthew & Mark; Luke is specified as the 3rd Gospel, John, Acts, Paul's 9 letters to churches and 4 to individuals, Jude, and 2 Epistles of John.  Some other non-canonical books in the list also.
Origen 185-254 A.D. Mentioned the Four Gospels, Acts, 13 epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation as acknowledged by all; Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, James, and Jude, with the Epistles of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the Gospel according to the Hebrews', were disputed by some.
Eusebius 265-340 A.D. Mentions as generally acknowledged all the books of our New Testament except for James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, which were disputed by some, but recognized by the majority.
Athanasius 367 A.D. Lays down the 27 books of our New Testament as alone canonical.12

Bruce then makes this statement:

One thing must be emphatically stated.  The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct and indirect.  The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa--at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397--but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.13

After summarizing an extensive overview of the formation of the canon, R. S. Riggs offers this meaningful summary:

In conclusion let it be noted how much the human element was involved in the whole process of forming our NT.  No one would wish to dispute a providential overruling of it all.  Also it is well to bear in mind that all the books have not the same clear title to their places in the canon as far as the history of their attestation is concerned.  Clear and full and unanimous, however, has been the judgment from the beginning upon the Gospels, the Acts, the Pauline epistles, 1 Pet and 1 John.14

This is a fair statement from the standpoint of what can be known about the formation of the New Testament canon.  That all of Paul's epistles were among the first to be recognized as scripture (2 Pet 3:15-17) should be of some interest to Dr. Thompson and his colleagues, as they are quick to bring doubt on their applicability for today.15  Certainly I would applaud Riggs' statement that God was active in His providence in the formation of the canon of the New Testament.  Yes, I believe that God was powerful enough to accomplish that too!

Dr. Thompson's selected evidence appears to emphasize "mystery" and differences, and thus generates suspicion about the canon of the New Testament.  F. F. Bruce's comprehensive evidence is meant to emphasize the firm ground on which the canon of the New Testament stands, and this builds confidence instead of doubt.

DIFFERENT WRITERS' STYLE


Dr. Thompson then lists his fourth evidence for the human element in the Bible--that of style.  Admittedly, the styles of the various biblical authors are diverse.  Some were elegant, some were simple, some were poetic, some were complex.  He says, "Therefore, the human element of the Greek and Hebrew styles is undeniably present in the biblical writings."16

Dr. Thompson apparently assumes that since varying styles are clearly present, inspiration cannot be viewed in the same way.  However, is it not possible for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to so superintend the writing of Scripture so that it conveys the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even if there are differences in style?  Obviously this is not a strong evidence for Dr. Thompson's hypothesis, but he is still going to use whatever he can to bring home the point that the Bible is substantially human, and therefore we must change our minds about inspiration.

BIBLICAL WRITERS CONSULTED SOURCES BEFORE WRITING


Dr. Thompson then lists his fifth evidence of the human element in the Bible--that of sources.  He notes that both Joshua and Samuel quote from the "Book of Jashar."  Some material in 1 & 2 Kings was drawn from "Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel."  Ezra consulted Persian archives.  And Luke "carefully investigated everything from the beginning," implying sources since he was not an eye-witness.  It appears that Dr. Thompson wants us to infer that not everything in the Bible is inspired since non-biblical sources were consulted by the writers.  Therefore, we must change our definition of "inspiration."17

However, again I must ask, is it not possible for the Holy Trinity to so superintend the writing of Scripture so that it conveys the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even if there are other sources?  Cannot God even control and use other sources?  God demonstrated that He could superintend Pharaoh, leading that pagan, that most powerful man in the world at that time, to humiliation, defeat, and death ( Ex 9:16; 14:10, 17, 18, 28; Rom 9:17).  Paul certainly quotes from pagan writers in Acts 17:28, 1 Cor 15:33, and Titus 1:12, and Jude quotes from non-canonical writings in verses 9 and 14-15.  However, in so doing , they are portraying these quotes as truth, and I would suspect that the first audiences were familiar with the sources, and the quotes from these sources probably helped that original audience understand the purpose of what was being communicated.  It should not seem strange that one might find truth in a pagan poet, or in a non-canonical book.  However, neither Paul nor Jude were trying to say these were canonical writings, but what they had quoted was, in fact, truth.  We can be certain of this because Jesus called God's Word "truth" (John 17:17).

Therefore, my response is that God can inspire the writing of Scriptures and even superintend the use other sources to communicate truth.

ENDNOTES:
  1. Cukrowski, KL, Hamilton, MW, Thompson, JW.  God's Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture.  ACU Press, Abilene, TX, © 2002, pp 23-35.
  2. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p xi.
  3. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p 25.
  4. Cukrowshi, et. al., ibid., p 45.
  5. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p 32-33.
  6. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p 33.
  7. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p 33.
  8. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p 34.
  9. Bruce, FF. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, UK, © 1943, 1946, 1950, 1960, 1981, p 13.
  10. Lightfood, NR.  How We Got the Bible, second edition.  Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, © 1963, 1988, p 56.
  11. Bruce, FF, ibid., p 14.
  12. Bruce, FF, ibid., pp 17-21.
  13. Bruce, FF, ibid., p 22.
  14. J. S. Riggs. The Canon of the New Testament," in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, General Editor.  Volume 1, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Mich, © 1939, 1956, p 566.
  15. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid, p148
  16. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid., p 34-35.
  17. Cukrowski, et. al., ibid, p 35