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The King & I

Is The Bible Reliable?

Do we toss it out?

By no means. But I believe the process that brought us the KJV was no better protected than that which brought us the New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, or my preference, the elegant New International Version. Begun in Palos Heights, Illinois, in 1965, the NIV was the product of a transdenominational group of over a hundred Bible scholars working from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts (excluding the Latin Vulgate and Masoretic Text, which were considered in the translation of the KJV). The Holy Bible, New International Version began as selected books of the New Testament and Psalms in 1973, and is now a highly respected rival to the KJV, although few people in my church accept it. They've got to hear a “thou” to get with the program.

Is any Bible perfect? I suppose that depends on your definition of “perfect.” Noted Theologian Charles C. Ryrie writes:

Basic Theology
A Popular Systematic Guide To Understanding Biblical Truth
by Charles C. Ryrie

“...the inerrancy of the Bible means simply that the Bible tells the truth. Truth can and does include approximations, free quotations, language of appearances, and different accounts of the same event as long as these do not contradict.” He concludes, “The Bible is inerrant in that it tells the Truth, and it does so without error in all parts and with all its words.”

But, Ryrie also asserts:

“It is essential to remember that the Bible is self-authenticating since its books were breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). In other words, the books were canonical the moment they were written.”

To me, this “self-authenticating” argument opens the door to head-in-sand rhetorical stonewalling. Maybe I'm missing Ryrie's point, here, but he makes Christianity out to be a self-reinforcing delusion by side-stepping issues of authenticity and accountability.

So, what are we to do?

If our belief is based on the Bible, and the Bible could mean almost anything, given a minimum of fourteen centuries of handwritten transcription and another six or so of hands-raised-voting on the meaning and relevance of scripture, how do we now find God in any of this? How do we find the incorruptible amid the corruptible? The Truth in the midst of everybody's opinion? Bottom line: can we trust this thing, this book? 

I think the trick is to keep our eye on the ball: to figure out what we want from all of this. To find a personal space with Who and What we consider God. To take comfort and meaning and purpose from the intent of scripture: to connect us with something greater than ourselves. Do we excuse shoddy Biblical research? I hope not. I hope we are reasonable and prudent and prayerful, while not getting so hung up on minutiae and holding out for impossible standards of authenticity.

But, if God be God, couldn't He have protected His Holy Word so there is a valid chain of custody back to the Apostles? Of course He could. Why didn't He? I dunno, you have to ask Him. I tend to believe, perhaps like some of the men at the Synod of Carthage, that the intent of the work— in that it amplifies and enhances Scripture without contradiction— is a valid consideration. So I don't really worry about who wrote John, but take comfort in some of the greatest and most profound statements about Jesus ever committed to writing (while decrying John's frequently anti-Semitic tone; a tone that makes it seem unlikely the book was written by a Jew— John, the brother of Jesus).

Does having faith in a Christian God, in spite of the problems with textual criticism make me a loon? Probably. As I've said in other rants, I believe faith is a choice. A choice we make sometimes in direct conflict with our intellect, and our need for rational, detailed data and encyclopedic reference on Why This Is True.

At the end of the day, it may be impossible for many intellectuals (of which I am certainly not one) to find God, or to have a thriving spiritual life and relationship with a higher power. But, perhaps, at the very end of intellect and reason there is a precipice beyond which no rational thought exists. Perhaps faith involves leaping into that abyss and, in so doing, elevating our thinking beyond what we can prove on paper or websites. Without dismissing intellect and reason, we can evolve both and, in so doing, find that small piece of ourselves that we've been missing.

My Nameless Friend the theological scholar put it this way:

Anonymous “The thing to remember is that most people don't put any thought into their religion at all. And the people who do, generally stop believing. Religion is by nature irrational absent some variety of what is generally termed “mystical experience.” St. Paul experienced such a phenomenon and went a bit nuts. (Or he just went a bit nuts if you don't believe his account of what actually happened.) The Apostles and St. Francis and Muhammad had mystical experiences. Otherwise it becomes a question for philosophers, and after the Cartesian Dilemma, philosophy is not that easy a hurdle to clear “I believe in God the same way I belief in water and television sets and my mother. He's a concrete reality which is just there all the time. The question of God's existence doesn't even make sense to me at some level. I see it as an academic question, like proving the existence of the self. (Of course, Descartes demolished the self...)"

“I believe in God the way I believe in water.” I like that. Maybe I could have saved us all a few hundred kilobytes of bandwidth by just having said that.

Christopher J. Priest
3 March 2002