Some Christian scholars today cast doubt over the canon of Scripture – those 66 books that the Church has long held to be the complete written revelation of God. They justify their views by claiming: (1) that surviving texts of the Old and New Testaments are corrupt and therefore unreliable, or (2) that early Church leaders deliberately excluded certain books for personal or political reasons.
As Craig L. Blomberg responds in Can We Still Believe the Bible?: “there is not a shred of historical evidence to support either of these claims; anyone choosing to believe them must do so by pure credulity, flying in the face of all the evidence that actually exists.”
But what if we discovered an apostolic writing that has remained hidden for the last 2,000 years?
For example, in 1 Cor. 5:9, Paul alludes to an earlier letter to fellow believers in Corinth. We don’t have that letter, nor are we aware of its specific contents. Let’s say, however, that archaeologists unearth a clay pot containing a manuscript dating from the mid-first century and fitting the description of Paul’s letter.
Should the Church welcome 3 Corinthians as the 28th book of the New Testament? Not so fast.
Evangelicals may disagree about many things, but we stand together on the non-negotiables that define the Christian faith: The Trinity, justification by faith, and the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, to name a few.
Many false belief systems, from Mormonism to Islam, profess a high regard for the Word of God. But, in fact, they deny its inspiration, inerrancy, or preservation and thus reject the Bible as supremely authoritative.
Specifically, false religions employ four tactics to undermine the Scriptures:
(1) They change it. The most notorious offender is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, whose members are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the late 1800s, Charles Taze Russell launched a Bible study to spread his denials of the Trinity, Jesus’ physical resurrection, and eternal punishment of the wicked in hell, cleverly twisting the Scriptures to buttress his false teachings. Not to be outdone, his successors produced their own version of the New Testament in 1950, and the completed New World Translation (NWT) in 1961.
Revised in 1984, and again in 2013, the NWT is a sanitized version of the Bible. Six translators — only one of whom had any training in biblical languages — essentially scrubbed the deity of Christ out of passages like John 1:1, John 8:58, and Col. 1:15-17, and blurred other essential doctrines.
The mass shooting earlier this month at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Texas left 26 people dead, made a hero of a civilian who confronted and shot the murderer, and raised lots of security-related questions for Christians:
- Should I buy a gun?
- Does my church have a security plan?
- Is it ok to defend myself, or my church family, when threatened?
- How do I reconcile Jesus’ instructions to buy swords with His rebuke of Peter for using one?
- What would Jesus have done in Sutherland Spring?
The answers to at least some of these questions are matters of Christian conscience over which followers of Jesus sincerely disagree. Others concern proper exegesis of Scripture, or simply create fodder for social media.
So, perhaps we should ask: Does the Bible say anything about self-defense?
The answer is yes.
Christians are sometimes asked if we believe the Bible is literally true.
After all, whether eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood is a plunge into cannibalism, or a figurative expression of full devotion, depends on how we understand the language of Scripture.
In one sense, we might say the Bible is divinely inspired literature through which God speaks to human beings in our own language. This naturally includes a range of literary devices, from narrative to hyperbole.
So, what does it mean to take the Bible “literally”?
It means applying a natural reading as the author or speaker intended, with a goal of grasping the writer’s message. This requires context and may include approximations, analogies, metaphors, quotations, parables, apocalyptic language, etc.
In contrast, taking the Bible “literalistically” means adhering to a rigid understanding of the primary meaning of words, without allowing for figurative language or a possible range of meanings.
An example may help clarify this. In John 10:9, Jesus states, “I am the door.” A literalistic rendering of this passage means that Jesus is calling himself an actual wooden piece of hardware, which either is absurd, or communicates a failed grasp of reality for the One who claims to be our only hope of everlasting life.
A literal understanding of this verse, however, considers the figurative language of Jesus’ words and the context in which He speaks. In other words, Jesus is the one true hope of everlasting life.
Previously: The inerrancy of Scripture
This is the third in a series of columns on the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture.
When Christians say the Bible is true, we often use terms to describe the manner in which God has spoken to us through His written Word.
One such term is “infallible.” But what does that mean?
Incapable of error
By infallibility, we mean the original manuscripts are incapable of error. This is because the Bible is inspired, or God-breathed, resulting in “autographs” that are inerrant and infallible.
If the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, and His breathed-out words are exactly what He wanted to communicate to us, then we can rightly say these autographs are incapable of error because God is wholly dependable. He does not lie, make mistakes, or lead us astray.