Jan 19 2011

The Ehrman Project

A number of well-known theologians, including folks such as D.A. Carson, Ben Witherington, Craig Evans, and Alvin Plantinga, have contributed video responses to many issues raised by Bart Ehrman (who I have mentioned before), to The Ehrman Project, a website whose sole purpose is to address these issues.

The site is well put-together, with specific responses to each of Ehrman’s books. There is also a resource page with links to numerous articles addressing these issues.

On one hand, I’m not sure Ehrman is worth the trouble. However, his books have proven fairly popular, and most people do not have the background or understanding with which to judge Ehrman’s claims. So, this site should prove to be a very helpful resource, especially as—as Erhman himself states—none of these thoughts are new or unique to Erhman.

Here’s a short intro video from the site (it appears the videos are also available on YouTube):


Jan 25 2010

What do you believe about the Bible?

Faithful readers of this blog will know that I occasionally post articles about why you can believe and rely on the Bible, as well as criticize people like Bart Ehrman for making really stupid arguments to the contrary.   That being said, I also believe that there are serious issues with those who claim that the Bible is inerrant, or “without error in any way.”

Believers in inerrancy, I think, find themselves putting more faith in inerrancy than they do in the Gospel; however, the 1st Century Christians didn’t, for the most part, even have the Bible. Yet, it is clear from Paul’s epistles that they had “the Word of God.”  I suspect that the real issue underlying inerrancy is that these Christians have become trapped in modernistic thinking, where propositions must meet certain criteria in order to be “true.”  In this way, it seems that those requiring that the Bible be inerrant actually suffer from a lack of faith – one of the unfortunate consequences of modernism – rather than having a greater faith, as they would have us believe.

Yesterday Stephen at Undeception posted The Bible and the need for proof, makes some good points about why we don’t need to believe in “inerrancy” in order to believe the Gospel.  He asks at the conclusion, “why is it logically necessary, rather than merely preferable for one reason or another, that the Bible be entirely true through and through?”

My question, just because I’m curious, is “What do you believe about the Bible, and why?”


Nov 2 2009

Rethinking Tradition and Sola Scriptura 2

In my last post, I discussed a few of the issues surrounding the concept of sola scriptura, that doctrinal authority is limited to that found in the Bible.  I discussed that the doctrine has evolved from its original intent into what could now be called “solo” scriptura – in other words, my interpretation is all that matters.  Luther, however, understood the authority behind the Bible. While Luther did not have the benefit of the vast history of the Eastern Orthodox churches (very few of the early writings were available in Latin, much less German), he was still aware that the authority of Scripture depended upon the teaching of the Apostles. As I quoted,

Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it.

For most modern evangelicals, tradition (regardless of whether it is capitalized or not) is thought of as the rumors, myths, hearsay, and old-wives tales of an ancient Christianity that is sometimes interesting but of very little value when it comes to either theology or practice.   This anti-historical bias is, unfortunately, a key element of the modernism which has permeated evangelicalism.  We assume that what we know now is automatically more factual and reliable than what someone would know in, say, the 2nd Century.  Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries didn’t read, for the most part, and probably didn’t think critically.  Aside from Paul, that is.  And, since much of “tradition” was passed along orally, who can trust it?  Right?

We now have thousands of fragments of various books, and through modern analytical processes, we obviously are better able to understand the meaning of the Gospels and Epistles then those who understood 1st Century Israel and actually knew what all of the words meant.   Right?

Well, isn’t it?  After all, who needs to know what 1st and 2nd Century Christians like Polycarp (who actually knew John and some of the other disciples) thought?  Did you even know that there was a guy named Polycarp who knew some of the disciples, and who taught other guys like Irenaeus who also wrote stuff?  It doesn’t matter, because now we have John Piper.

Okay, so I’m being facetious.

The thing is, the Gospel began as oral tradition.  There are dozens of places in the Epistles where the writers speak of the Word of God as something which was presented orally.   Furthermore, the Gospels we find in our Bibles are thought to have been written after many or all of the Epistles.  The Gospel – the Word of God – is presented throughout the New Testament as authoritative, even though it was at that time oral tradition. The Word of God, in fact, existed before there was a Bible. (Athanasius was the first person that we know of to list the same 27 books we have in our modern New Testaments – in 361AD.)

Now, consider the Bible itself.  The Canon of Scripture – those books which were considered authoritative – was disputed for hundreds of years.  Luther himself questioned 4 of the books – including Hebrews, James and Revelation – though he left them in the Bible he translated to German.  Still today there are disagreements about the books we refer to as the Apocrypha.  The Bible is a product, if I can use that word, of Tradition.  The Canon (i.e. the list of accepted books) was not handed down on golden tablets; it came about “the old-fashioned way”: by prayer, study and debate.

Now, if that isn’t enough, let’s consider more recent forms of Tradition.  Many Lutherans, when faced with issues of Biblical interpretation and Doctrine, don’t just wrestle with the text; they go to the Book of Concord and Luther’s writings.  Reformed folks (and many others) look to Calvin.  For that matter, much of what we accept as Biblical Doctrine is not “the plain meaning of Scripture,” but the opinions of Augustine (original sin, anyone?).

The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are a part of Tradition.  The concept of the Trinity, argued so famously by Athanasius at the Council of Nicea, is tradition.

Whether or not we want to admit it, we all rely upon the some church tradition.

When considering the place of tradition, there are some considerations. First, is a tradition that started in the 15th Century more or less reliable than a tradition that dates back to the 1st Century?  Also, we have to consider the possibility that the 1st and 2nd Century Christians actually passed down what they had received from the Apostles?  (btw, we know from the New Testament that not everything was written down.  We also already know that we can trust Oral Tradition, otherwise we would have issues with the four Gospels.)  Third, do we think that the Christians of the 1st – 3rd Centuries actually understood what was passed down?  Can we trust their opinions? Finally, how authoritative is “Tradition?”

In my next (and probably last) post in this series, I’ll discuss various church traditions’ thinking on tradition.


Oct 31 2009

Rethinking Tradition and Sola Scriptura

Rethinking the Reformation concept of Sola Scriptura is a rather intimidating task, especially for someone who was raised Lutheran (and especially on Reformation Day!).  Sola Scriptura – the principle that says that the sole authority of the Church rests in Scripture alone – is one of the hallmarks of the Reformation.  It was a response to the abuses of Church Tradition by the Roman Catholic Church, who had added teachings that included Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception (the belief that Mary the Mother of Jesus was born without original sin), and of course, the doctrine of Purgatory and the benefits of purchasing Indulgences.  It was this last doctrine that prompted Luther to post his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Chapel.

Martin Luther saw the dangers in following the obviously arbitrary doctrines created by the RCC, and at the Diet of Worms (yeah, I’ve always laughed at that, too) made this famous statement:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.  God help me.  Amen.

The interesting thing about Luther is that he actually tried to follow church authority, going back to earlier Papal teachings that contradicted those he was questioning.  When he found out that he couldn’t reconcile the various “authoritative” teachings, he turned to the only unchanging authority, that of the Bible.

Sola Scriptura has become foundational to hundreds of protestant denominations, each of which follow “the plain meaning of Scripture” but yet disagree with each other on any number of points.  When someone claims to follow “the plain meaning of Scripture,” you really have to ask, “which one?” To most evangelical Christians, sola scriptura has come to mean, “the Bible means whatever I think it means.”  I have heard this theory of Biblical interpretation referred to as “solo scriptura.”

How far we’ve come from Martin Luther, whose intent was never to disregard the tradition of the Apostles, but rather to remove the authority of men from the Church.  The irony is that today, each Christian who asserts his own right to interpret the Bible for himself is once again relying on the authority of man, not the authority of the Bible.

What?

Sola Scriptura is not without its problems.  For one thing, the Bible didn’t exist in it’s current form(s) until the 4th Century; it wasn’t just handed down from God with a gold-embossed burgundy leather cover.  Decisions were made – by men – as to which of the many books that had been collected met the standards of Scripture. Even then, there were books – such as those we call the Apocrypha, as well as some we find in our Bibles today – that have been routinely questioned.  Luther himself questioned the inclusion of one or 2 books.  How, then, could Luther rest on the Bible’s authority alone?  For that matter, how could the Church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries exist without what is considered by many to be the sole authority of the Church?  It seems obvious that Luther had some different thoughts in mind when spoke of the Authority of Scripture alone.

While I haven’t found any specific quote from Luther defining sola scriptura, he does give some clues as to his thinking:

Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the Passion and resurrection and office of Christ, and to lay the foundation for faith in him, as Christ himself says in John 15[:27], “You shall bear witness to me.” All the genuine sacred books agree in this, that all of them preach and inculcate Christ. And that is the true test by which to judge all books, when we see whether or not they inculcate Christ. For all the Scriptures show us Christ, Romans 3[:21]; and St. Paul will know nothing but Christ, I Corinthians 2[:2]. Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it” (Prefaces to the New Testament, LW 35:396).

Luther, it seems, was never ruling out the authority behind the Bible: Apostolic Authority.  For Luther, the key in determining whether a book deserved to be included in the Canon of the Bible, it had to contain the Apostolic message.

The point Luther was making, and which is more obvious today than ever, is this: no man has an infallible interpretation of the Bible.  This, then, begs the question: Where is such authority to be found, if not in the Bible itself?  This is not to suggest that the Bible is not authoritative; I believe that it is.  The problem is in the exegesis, the interpretation.  It seems logical to conclude that either there is no source of authority in interpretation, in which case we have problems, or there is an authority, in which case we should find it.

Next, we turn to the issue of Tradition.