About a year ago, when I figured out I was probably more of a Calvinist than I ever wanted to admit, I wrote an essay on the Bible's authority. It would probably do for me to include this topic in the Basics Series. Instead of coming up with an entirely new analogy, though, I've decided to revise and repost the original.
My friend Joe has a sick sense of humor. He told me one day to read a particular post and the subsequent comments. This post dealt with a line in 2 Peter 2:7 calling Lot "righteous". Of course, you had the people who talked about justification versus sanctification. Others rejected the passage as "a misunderstanding", because how could God call Lot righteous when he offered his daughters to gang rape, then later got drunk and committed incest with them? Eventually, and Joe intended this, the conversation came to the authority of the Bible, its inerrancy, comparisons of Old to New Testament, and Universalism.
One man created a sub-argument about a supposed misquotation in Mark where the writer "quotes" Isaiah, but actually quotes both Malachi and Isaiah. I wonder if it would do any good to tell him that ancient Greek writing didn't have quotation marks or that they used indirect quotations. For example, if Joe tells me "Dinner is at six tonight. Come over with the guys and join us." I might tell my friends, "Joe wants us to be at his house for dinner at six." Even though I didn't directly quote Joe, I correctly communicated what he said.
For most of my life, people outside of the church have told me the Bible is just a book full of contradictions and inconsistencies. When I was seventeen, I wondered if these people were right. So I read the whole thing, looking for a contradiction or inconsistency. I think my Bible teacher knew what I was doing because he invited me to challenge the Bible's authority and inerrancy openly in class whenever I thought I had found proof. Believe me, I tried. But he always had answers that both cut through my cynicism and satisfied my questions. Soon enough, I began to ask him to explain hard passages because I wanted to know more of how the Bible truly was authoritative and without error. By the end of the school year, I knew without a shred of doubt that the Bible is God's book. To disbelieve or disobey the Bible meant I disbelieved or disobeyed God.
If any of you ever want to take a poke at me the way I did my Bible teacher all of Senior year, please feel free. I'm certain that, given time, I could find a sufficient answer for you. For now, I want to set a foundation for the Bible's authority with a few scriptures. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." This sums up the Old Testament writings and the words of Jesus. Whatever the prophets said in the Bible, God said through them. That's not to say they themselves were always infallible. Even if Moses thought the world was flat, he never said so in the Bible because God oversaw every word written in scripture and kept it truthful. Going back to 2 Peter, it seems the writer shared Joe's intentions. 2 Peter, 3:1-2 says, "This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." This adds the writings of the Apostles into the category of "Authoritative". In the same chapter, Peter equates Paul's writings with scripture and calls those who distort Paul's teachings "untaught and unstable". Paul refers to Luke's and Matthew's gospels as scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18 "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
The whole controversy over Biblical authority and inerrancy reminds me of board game tantrums. You know what I'm talking about. We've all played Monopoly and accused the banker of cheating before flipping the whole board into the air. My favorite checkmate in chess was the one where I swept all the pieces to the floor with my spindly arm. I get the same feeling every time I hear arguments for or against the ultimate authority of anything.
While studying Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, I read, "It is one thing to affirm that the Bible claims to be the words of God. It is another thing to be convinced that those claims are true. Our ultimate conviction that the words of the Bible are God's words comes only when the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of our Creator speaking to us." Then he quotes 1 Corinthians 2:14, "The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (Grudem's translation)."
Essentially, what Grudem said was this, "If you don't believe the Bible, it's because God hasn't revealed it as truth to you." And think of this, if we claim that the Bible is our absolute standard of truth, then we can't appeal to another kind of standard to validate it. To do so would put the outside standard on par or greater than scripture. So what difference is there between us saying the Bible is true because it claims to be true and the claims of ultimate authority for an Atheist who supremely values science or historical accuracy? They think science is authoritative because it's scientifically proven. They think history is accurate because of the accuracy of historical documents. If you think about it long enough, you want to kick the game table, knock over the pieces, and shout, "No, I'm Sorry!"
The difference I can see comes from what I said long ago about Xerox copies. We are not ultimate beings. We're limited. Blaise Pascal had this realization and said that man was merely a point on a line. We can't comprehend the extremes of anything in nature, and yet those extremes exist beyond our comprehension. From there, he explains that a being must comprehend those extremes and only God is ultimate enough to do so.
So where else but the Bible could I find a standard of truth? I can't base my standard of truth at all on myself. My perception, my logic, my experience, it's all limited. And I can't base my standard on other men because I recognize their limitations as well. The Bible, with the Holy Spirit's instruction, convinces me of its own truth. I believe its truth to such lengths that I allow the words of the Bible to offend my reason and change the way I think.
Some people might think that I worship the Bible rather than God when I say these things. Let me assure you I do not. God reveals Himself to man through the Bible. God also says that He reveals Himself to man through nature. In fact He reveals Himself to us in all things. But God doesn't want us to worship nature or any other means of revelation. There can be no other gods before Him, not even His book. My point is that the Bible is a complete, though not exhaustive, way in which God revealed Himself.
Cornelius Van Til said that in order for us to truly know God, He would have to reveal Himself truly to us. If the Bible were not the absolute, authoritative, perfect standard of truth, then my understanding of God would be incomplete. No one could truly know God. If the Bible contained any falsehood, the pluralist claim of all religions worshiping the same god might have some merit. God would be subjective to our perception. So if you claim to be a Christian, you absolutely must recognize the authority of the Bible.
Have you thrown the game table yet? I know I've seen and thrown enough board game tantrums to wonder if I should even bother playing in the first place. But it wouldn't do any good if I surrendered by saying, "It's a Christian thing, you wouldn't understand," or, "Just take a leap of faith," or, "We don't ask those questions." The Bible I claim to believe makes it clear I should still work to understand my faith and reason with people. But 1 Corinthians 2:14, as well as other verses, tell me I don't need to convince anyone. I can leave that up to the Holy Spirit and find comfort in knowing He'll do a much better job.