May’s Third Way magazine carries a discussion of the integrity of biblical texts between Justin Brierley, Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman author of Misquoting Jesus.Ehrman’s claim is that we no longer have all the original words of the New Testament documents so how can they be authoritative. Misquoting Jesus,Ehrman claims, isn’t questioning whether God is true ,but whether scripture can give us access to the truth of God when we are in a palce where we don’t really know what the New Testament books originally said. I have blogged before about the bible see https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/the-eric-morecambe-bible/ and https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/oops-more-questions-than-answers/ and the accuracy and reliability of the texts is a subject of much impassioned debate if you thing the scriptures are completely inerrant and everything hangs on their accuracy. All of the Bible is inspired (2 Tim3:16), but that is not the same as saying that all of the bible is to be taken literally. We need to listen to scholars and commentators to grapple with a better understanding as best we can which parts are literal and which are metaphorical or figurative truth. We need to teach people in our churches more about the origin of the bible and how to interpret its various genres. Too much is at stake not to. As Dan Kimball puts it; “If we believe that all of the Bible is inspired, then our job is to study the Scriptures with great prayer and humility and to distinguish between the literal and parables, metaphors, hyperbole and other figures of speech.”
On Saturday two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door ranting about lack of morality in the church and they began to use the Bible as a weapon for beating, bashing ans shooting down people. By the time they had left we prayed, and I hope I had introduced them to a Bible that provided light and guidance for walking in freedom- leaving the judgemental stuff for God later. They went away smiling and I went back in the house without a copy of The Watchtower- Maybe they’ll be back next week!
It is important to accept that the Holy Spirit can use the Bible to draw people to God but it is not the only source of dividne inspiration- he uses people and particularly what we say and do to reflect Jesus to others. Ehrman writes that; “We have more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, between which there are hundreds of thousands of differences…there are more differences in these manuscripts than there are words in the New testament!”. The foundation for Scripture is not scholarly agreement, and as Peter Williams put it in Third Way; “Scripture could be certain without humans being certain about it. The important thing…is not what humans think but what God thinks. My personal level of certainty about something is not the foundation for a Christian doctrine of scripture.”
He may be right, all I know is that if there are 5,000 contested words in the New testament then God has more than 5,000 ways of showing us that he loves us. Even if someone has changed (deliberately or by accident of translation) words or phrases found in the scriptures down the years it hasn’t lessened their impact to change lives and to reflect something of God’s love and the teachings of Christ.
For more on Third Way see http://www.thirdway.org.uk