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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine hermeneutics, the principles that we use to properly interpret the Bible. Dr. Spencer, we discussed prophecy last time, what would you like to examine today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start with a few quick comments about poetry. I said before that I think most people are comfortable reading poetry, but it may still be useful to just point out a couple of things to look for in Hebrew poetry. We can limit ourselves to comments about Hebrew poetry since almost all of the poetry in the Bible is in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: And there are significant chunks of the Old Testament that are poetry, aren’t there?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, according to Mickelsen,[1] Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Song of Solomon – or Song of Songs, along with significant chunks of other books are all poetry.

Marc Roby: What can we say about Hebrew poetry that will be useful?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, poetry is extremely difficult to translate, so we obviously miss many of the features that would be evident if we knew how to read the original Hebrew. We can’t expect to catch any rhythmic meters or rhymes in our English translations, but most good study Bibles will point out where there is a play on words in the original. For example, the prophet Micah, who prophesied in the mid-8th century BC in the southern kingdom of Judah, loved to use wordplay and it makes it more interesting and vibrant to have these pointed out to us.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Sure. Micah 1:10 begins, “Tell it not in Gath; weep not at all.” [2] In the Hebrew, the verb translated here as “tell” sounds like the name of the city Gath.[3] The next half of that verse says, “In Beth Ophrah roll in the dust.” And Beth Ophrah in the Hebrew literally means house of dust.[4] The very next verse, Verse 11, begins, “Pass on in nakedness and shame, you who live in Shaphir.” And Shaphir in Hebrew means splendid.[5] So, the prophet was saying that those who live in splendid would go naked and in shame. Verse 11 goes on to say, “Those who live in Zaanan will not come out.” Zaanan sounds like the Hebrew for come out.[6] So, the prophet is saying that those who live in come-out town will not come out. Finally, Verse 11 ends by saying, “Beth Ezel is in mourning; its protection is taken from you.” Beth means house and Ezel resembles a word meaning withdraw, or withhold,[7] so the prophet is saying that the house of withdraw will withdraw its protection from you.

Marc Roby: I get the idea that Micah would have been a very interesting person to talk to!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. His book has many such plays on words, and having them pointed out just brings the text alive and makes it more human and memorable.

Marc Roby: What else do you want to say about Hebrew poetry?

Dr. Spencer: It uses a great deal of parallelism, which is used to emphasize the point being made. If we are careful to look for this and to think about it when we see it, it can enhance our understanding of the text.

Marc Roby: I think some examples would again be useful.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. There are a number of different types of parallelism and I don’t want to take time to go through all of them but let me illustrate a few. The first example is of what is called synonymous parallelism.[8]

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: Synonymous parallelism is the repetition of a thought stated in a different way. For example, in Proverbs 19:5 we read, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.” Now it is clear that the two independent clauses say the same thing, but in a different way. Being a false witness is synonymous with pouring out lies, and to not go unpunished is synonymous with not going free.

This example also illustrates a common literary device, which is called a litotes. This is again something that is quite common, not just in the Bible but in all human communication. A litotes is a deliberate understatement used to emphasize something, and in particular the understatement is a negation of the contrary idea. So, for example, when the proverb says a false witness will not go unpunished, to “not go unpunished” is a litotes. It emphasizes that the false witness will be punished, by the negative of the opposite idea of going unpunished.

Marc Roby: And the use of a litotes is, as you said, not at all uncommon.

Dr. Spencer: As you just illustrated it is quite common! But, getting back to idea of synonymous parallelism, the repetition does not have to be the exact same thought, it can be something very similar, but slightly different. For example, Psalm 103:3 says that God “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases”. Now, clearly, forgiving sins and healing diseases are not the same thing, but they are similar; in both cases God is graciously removing a serious problem. Psalm 103 is, in fact, a great place to look for parallelism because there are a number of examples in that one short psalm. In Verse 10 we are told that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities”, which obviously repeats very much the same idea.

Marc Roby: What other kinds of parallelism do we see in the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: The next type usually discussed is antithetic parallelism. In this case, rather than repeating the same or similar thought, the second thought expressed is in some sense the opposite of the first. A good example here is given by Proverbs 13:1, which says, “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.” We see in this example that the second statement does not need to be an exact opposite of the first, the opposite of a wise son is, arguably, a careless or foolish son, not a mocker, and instruction does not always take the form of rebuke. But, I think the antithetic nature of the parallelism is obvious, and our understanding of the fundamental idea being expressed is deepened when we take the time to think through the parallelism carefully.

Proverbs 15:1 provides another example. It says that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Marc Roby: What other forms of parallelism do you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: The other types that occur have different names, and not everyone agrees on the names in every case, so I don’t think it will be profitable to list a whole bunch of terms, but it will be profitable to give some more examples. A number of parallelisms involve building on a basic idea by adding to it in successive lines. For example, in Psalm 92:9 we read, “For surely your enemies, O LORD, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered.” You can see how new information is added in each phrase. The psalmist begins with the phrase “surely your enemies, O LORD”, and adds information saying, “surely your enemies will perish”, and then he concludes by making a different but similar statement, “all evildoers will be scattered.”

We see this same kind of parallelism in Psalm 29:1-2, where we read, “Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name”.

Marc Roby: That is a great example. And I see your point about paying attention to this kind of pattern. Those verses have a greater impact when we meditate on the repetition and additions – we are to ascribe something to the Lord, then we are told that we are to ascribe glory and strength, and then we are to ascribe the glory due his name!

Dr. Spencer: And the verse then ends by saying “worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness”, which is not considered part of the parallelism, but I think caps the growing thought of ascribing glory to God quite nicely.

Marc Roby: Is there anything more to be said about parallelism?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. R.C. Sproul gives a good example of how recognizing parallelism can even help with understanding.[9] In Isaiah 45:6-7 we read, “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Now that rendering is not problematic, but if you read the KJV, Verse 7 says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

Marc Roby: I see the problem immediately, this says that God creates evil!

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the problem. But, Sproul points out that if you notice the parallelism the problem goes away. God forms both light and darkness, which are opposites, and he makes peace and evil, which are not opposites in our normal understanding of the word evil. In this case, the better translation is to say that God makes peace and disaster as the NIV rendered it.[10]

Marc Roby: That is a very useful application of parallelism. It would be a grossly unbiblical characterization of God to say that he created evil in the sense of moral evil.

Dr. Spencer: That would, in fact, be blasphemous. But, let me go off of the topic of parallelism for a moment to point out that the word evil used to have a broader range of meaning. If you look in a good dictionary, the archaic meanings of the term include denoting something as worthless, uncomfortable, painful, angry and so on.[11] So you find the KJV of the Bible saying things that are very strange to the ears of modern man.

For example, in Exodus 32, we read about the Israelites making a golden calf to worship and when God tells Moses he is going to destroy the people for this sin, Moses intercedes on their behalf and we read in the KJV of Exodus 32:14 that “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” The word “repent” is also clearly being used in a way that is strange to most of us in this verse, but the word can simply mean to change your mind. So, the NIV translates this verse as saying that “the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

I wanted to point this out simply to illustrate that we need to be very careful in interpreting the Bible. If you have a translation that says something strange, look in other translations. Find out what the original words mean and be careful to interpret each verse in a way that is consistent with what is taught in all of the Bible.

Marc Roby: In other words, use Scripture to interpret Scripture again; our first rule of hermeneutics.

Dr. Spencer: Precisely, or as we noted last time you can say that all of Scripture is a unity and cannot contradict itself.

Marc Roby: Do we want to say anything more about parallelism or Hebrew poetry?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t have anything more I want to cover with respect to poetry specifically. But with the time we have left I would like to say a little bit more about figures of speech, which are quite common not just in poetry, but throughout the Bible and human communication. We’ve already mentioned the use of a litotes to emphasize a point, but there are many other figures of speech that it is good to take notice of as well.

Marc Roby: Certainly the Bible uses a lot of anthropomorphic speech when it speaks about God.

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the big categories. Anthropomorphism is actually a type of metaphor in which we ascribe human characteristics to animals or objects or, in this case, to God. The Bible tells us that God is a Spirit, so he does not have a physical body as we do. Nevertheless, in speaking about God, the Bible frequently talks about human characteristics. So, for example, we read in Isaiah 59:1, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” And in Exodus 33:11 we are told that “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” These are anthropomorphisms that describe God in ways we can relate to.

Marc Roby: You mentioned that anthropomorphic speech is a type of metaphor, so perhaps it would be good to remind our listeners that a metaphor is a word or phrase used to refer to something else because of some underlying similarity in the things. For instance, if I say someone is drowning in his sorrows, I’m using a metaphor to describe the depth of his sorrow.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good example, and it’s always useful to be reminded of these definitions.

Marc Roby: In addition to using anthropomorphic speech, the Bible also describes God as having emotions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. The technical word for ascribing human emotions to something that isn’t human is anthropopathism. God is a personal God and does have emotions however, so this is a bit different than talking about God’s arm or face.

Mickelsen very usefully points out that “Grief, anger, wrath, etc., are all genuine responses of God. The metaphorical element arises from the fact that human grief, anger, and wrath are a complex array of elements. Grief can involve self-pity; anger can be filled with an irrational obsession for revenge; wrath can be overlaid with a passion to return in kind. Yet these elements must be excluded from an accurate picture of God’s grief, anger, and wrath. God’s response is genuine; it is the human counterpart that is tainted by corrupt elements.”[12]

Marc Roby: I like that way of putting it. God’s anger is a genuine anger, it is human anger that is a corrupt copy.

Dr. Spencer: I like that too because it makes it clear that the problem is with us, it is our sin. There is nothing necessarily wrong with getting angry, in fact, we should get angry at some things. But our anger is almost always, perhaps I should just say always, corrupted by other emotions and sinful motives. That’s why the Bible does not command us to never be angry, but we are told in Psalm 4:4, which is quoted in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin”.

Marc Roby: What else do we need to know about the figures of speech used in the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: We need to realize that many of them are foreign to modern readers. Most of us grew up in the city or suburbs and buy our food at a grocery store. We may have gardens and pets, but very few modern people are well versed in the ways of agriculture, livestock or wildlife, and many of the metaphors used in the Bible come from these areas. That means that we have to do some work to properly understand them.

Marc Roby: It’s not hard to find examples for these. I immediately think of Jesus calling Herod a fox for instance in Luke 13:32.

Dr. Spencer: Now that one is probably pretty easy for most modern readers to grasp. For whatever reason foxes are considered clever and sly, perhaps because they are small nocturnal carnivores and must rely on stealth to catch their food, I don’t know.

But there are other references that are more difficult for modern readers. For example, in Psalm 18:33 the psalmist, in speaking about God, declares that “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.” When someone raised in the city reads this, he may be confused. What do deer have to do with standing on the heights? The answer, of course, is that deer are known for being very surefooted. If you go up to Lassen National Park in Northern California you can watch deer run quite quickly over terrain that would cause almost any human being to stumble. So, this simile is an apt one, having feet like a deer would be pretty good at times.

Marc Roby: You just used the word simile, so it might be worthwhile to remind our listeners of what that means – it’s been a while since some of us were in high-school English class!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. A simile is a type of metaphor, it is a phrase that uses either the word like or as to compare something with something else. So, if I say that someone is as swift as a gazelle, that is a simile. The reason it is important to point these things out is that we are accustomed to reading things too quickly in this day and age and we tend to skip over simile’s and other figures of speech far too quickly. We should stop and take the time to consider the comparisons being made carefully.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the Bible uses many other figures of speech as well.

Dr. Spencer: It does, and I don’t want to take the time to go over all of them, but it is worthwhile to point out a couple of things that sometimes cause people trouble. We mentioned these when we talked about the infallibility of the Bible, but it is worth quickly repeating two of them. The first is that the Bible uses hyperbole, which is an intentional exaggeration for effect. So, for example, in John 21:25 we read that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” This is a clear example of hyperbole and is not meant to be taken literally. Secondly, the Bible also uses phenomenological language, which is language that describes something in terms of how it appears to the observer. So, for example, the Bible speaks about the sun rising and setting in many places, and about the earth not moving, for example in Psalm 93:1 we read that “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” This again is clearly not contradicting what we know from science, it is simply describing our everyday experience.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that wraps up our time for today. I’d like to once again encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would very much appreciate hearing from you.

[1] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pp 323-324

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] See text note in the 1985 NIV Study Bible

[4] See text note in the 1985 NIV Study Bible

[5] Calvin says “splendor” (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Prophet Micah, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XIV, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 175), The text note in the 1985 NIV Study Bible says “pleasant”

[6] See text note in the 1985 NIV Study Bible

[7] See text note in The Reformation Study Bible, ESV version, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2015

[8] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 2nd Ed, InterVarsity Press, 2009, pg. 95, or A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pg. 325

[9] Sproul, op. cit., pp 96-97

[10] W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 233 (in Old Testament Section)

[11] Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2002, pg. 789

[12] Mickelsen, op. cit., pg. 185

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. We have established that the Bible itself claims to be the very “words of God” [1] to use the apostle Paul’s expression from Romans 3:2. Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by beginning to answer the question raised by the existence of some errors in the Bibles we have in our possession, and you pointed out that inerrancy does not require perfect grammar, or unreasonable precision, nor does it prevent the Bible from using normal modes of human expression like hyperbole or phenomenological expressions.

Dr. Spencer: Except I didn’t use the words hyperbole or phenomenological, so let me define those in case our listeners don’t recall what they mean. Hyperbole is simply exaggeration used for effect, rather than any attempt to deceive. If I read in the newspaper that the whole town of Davis showed up for some event, I recognize it as hyperbole. I don’t truly expect that every single person in town showed up.

Phenomenological expressions are expressions that indicate how something appears to us, they are not meant to be descriptions of what is truly going on. So, for example, when we talk about the sun rising or setting, or the earth standing still, we all understand those expressions and don’t accuse the speaker of being scientifically illiterate.

Marc Roby: Very well. What else do you want to say about supposed errors in the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I think it will be worth our while to examine what the 19th-centuray theologian Charles Hodge said about them. In his Systematic Theology, he wrote that “The objection under consideration, namely, that the Bible contains errors, divides itself into two. The first, that the sacred writers contradict themselves, or one the other. The second, that the Bible teaches what is inconsistent with the facts of history or science.”[2]

Let’s discuss the supposed contradictions first.

Marc Roby: OK, what does Hodge say about those?

Dr. Spencer: He makes four points. First, he says that the apparent discrepancies, although numerous, are for the most part trivial. An example might be the question about whether there were one or two demon-possessed men who came to Jesus when he arrived in the region of the Gadarenes. In Matthew 8:28 it says there were two, but in the parallel accounts in Mark 5 and Luke 8 it says there was one. Some people think this is an error, but that is simply not true. There were, obviously, two demon-possessed men, but for some reason, Mark and Luke only mention one. Perhaps he was notorious and the other was unknown, we don’t know. But, whatever the reason, Mark and Luke don’t mention the other one. That can hardly be called an error however; as has been pointed out by many, where there are two demon-possessed men, there certainly is one. So, there is a rather easy way to deal with the difference.

Marc Roby: Some have also claimed there is another error in these stories because Matthew refers, as you just did, to the “region of the Gadarenes”, whereas Mark and Luke both refer to “the region of the Gerasenes”. How would answer that charge?

Dr. Spencer: First of all, Gadara and Gerasa were both prominent cities in the region to the east of the Sea of Galilee and it is likely that the area was sometimes called the region of the Gadarenes and at other times the region of the Gerasenes. This is somewhat similar to the fact that some people will refer to the town of Sunnyvale, California as being in the San Jose area, while others will refer to it as being near San Francisco, or in the south Bay Area. There are different ways of referring to the same general area. In addition, not all of the Greek manuscripts we have agree on the name used. It seems perfectly reasonable then that both names might have been used in the original documents and later copyists changed the name to try and make things uniform. We can’t know for certain of course, but this most definitely is not evidence of an error in the autographs, and is another example of the kind of trivial errors noted by Hodge.

Marc Roby: Alright, that sounds reasonable. You said Hodge makes four points, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: His second point is that the great majority of these supposed contradictions are only apparent, and disappear after careful examination, as we’ve just seen with the story of the demon-possessed men. His third point is that many of these supposed contradictions can reasonably be ascribed to errors made by transcribers, which we also just noted in regard to the name of the region in which Jesus drove demons out of a man.

Marc Roby: And what was Hodge’s fourth point?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to just quote him on this one, because I think he makes the point beautifully. He wrote that “The marvel and the miracle is that there are so few [apparent contradictions] of any real importance. Considering that the different books of the Bible were written not only by different authors, but by men of all degrees of culture, living in the course of fifteen hundred or two thousand years, it is altogether unaccountable that they should agree perfectly, on any other hypothesis than that the writers were under the guidance of the Spirit of God. In this respect, as in all others, the Bible stands alone. It is enough to impress any mind with awe, when it contemplates the Sacred Scriptures filled with the highest truths, speaking with authority in the name of God, and so miraculously free from the soiling touch of human fingers. The errors in matters of fact which skeptics search out bear no proportion to the whole.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is a powerful statement. After nearly 2,000 years of searching for errors, you would think that the Bible’s critics would have come up with some better objections.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, if the Bible were just a book written by men, without being miraculously guided by the Holy Spirit, I’m quite certain they would have come up with a number of very serious errors and contradictions. The fact that they haven’t is, as Hodge politely put it, unaccountable.

Nevertheless, we do have to concede that there are some problems that don’t lend themselves to quick, easy answers. In the book we’ve been using, Thy Word is Truth, E.J. Young writes that “In our doctrine of inspiration we are faced with certain perplexities, and they are real. Let us grant that freely. Nevertheless, they seem almost trifling when compared with the tremendous problems which face those who do not accept the Scriptural doctrine. Those who do not receive the Biblical witness to itself must explain the Bible. How did it come to be? Whence came the heavenly doctrine that is found within its pages? What is its origin?”[4]

Marc Roby: I really like the fact that he turns the question around on the skeptics and points out that they have far more serious questions to deal with!

Dr. Spencer: I like that too. Whenever someone attacks Christianity, we should not feel defensive in any way. People sometimes seem to think that we should have the answer to every possible question. But, that is simply unrealistic and irrational. Why are we supposed to know everything? God hasn’t revealed everything to us, and I’m quite confident we wouldn’t be able to understand it all even if he did, so it doesn’t bother me at all that I can’t answer every question that might be asked.

Marc Roby: I want to return to the concession that you made though, that there are problems that don’t lend themselves to quick, easy answers. Can you give any examples of this?

Dr. Spencer: Sure, in his book Young gives the example of Matthew 27:9-10, where we read “Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’” And he notes that the quotation is actually from Zechariah 11:13. So, we must ask, was Matthew in error when he ascribed it to Jeremiah? He was, after all, a fallible human being, maybe he just got mixed up and remembered incorrectly which prophet made the statement.

Marc Roby: That would seem to be an impossibility if he was “carried along by the Holy Spirit” as 2 Peter 1:21 tells us and if the promise Jesus made to his apostles in John 16:13 was true, where he said that when “the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it is impossible. This may not seem very important to someone if they haven’t thought it through carefully, but if you conclude that Matthew made an error in ascribing this Old Testament quote to Jeremiah, then the doctrine of infallibility goes out the window and we are left with the insurmountable problem of having to decide which things in the Bible to believe. In other words, we are back to subjectivism.

Marc Roby: So how do we handle this problem?

Dr. Spencer: Young discusses this question at some length and I’m not going into all that he says, but I will note that there have been several attempts to explain the reference. I’ll briefly mention one as an example. In the Babylonian Talmud Jeremiah is placed at the head of the prophets, and this tradition may be much older than the Talmud, which is from hundreds of years after Christ, so it is possible that Jeremiah’s name may have been used to refer to the entire section of the Hebrew Bible that contains Zechariah.

Now, I must say that I don’t find that explanation very satisfying, and it is less problematic than the other possibilities Young presents. At the end of the discussion it is clear that none of the proposed solutions are satisfying to Young either because he says that he “inclines” toward the view that there was a copyist’s error early on and he gives an idea of what might have happened.[5] I’ll let the interested listener consult Young directly for the details. But, whatever the solution, Young is correct when he states that “One thing, however, is clear. There is no warrant for the assertion that Matthew has made a mistake.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is a difficult passage to explain, but I also agree with Young’s conclusion that we have no warrant for saying that Matthew made a mistake. This example reminds me of an objection that is sometimes raised to the doctrine of infallibility though. How can an infallible book be written by fallible men? Doesn’t their fallibility guarantee that there are errors, even if only in detailed matters having to do with history or geography, or maybe even getting an Old Testament quote wrong? There are people who would say that such errors are not that important, it is only the larger truths in the Bible that are important. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: As we have attempted to make clear a few times, you can’t pick and choose. If the authors of the Bible were wrong about details of history or geography, then how can we possibly know that we can trust them on more important issues? Errors of any kind would make it clear that the Bible had not been written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If it is only a fallible human record of what Jesus did and said, then we have no solid basis for our faith.

This is a very important point because it is common view in the modern church. And it goes back to the 19th century. Young quotes from something written by the 19th-century Scottish theologian A.B. Bruce, where he criticized those who try to find ways to harmonize the gospels in the sense of trying to explain apparent contradictions. He wrote, “To the harmonists busy at their petty task we are inclined to say, Sirs, we would see Jesus. … To paint the image of the Great Master successfully, one must be set free from slavish solicitude about harmonistic problems, and feel at liberty to handle the materials with a fearless breadth of treatment.”[7]

Marc Roby: I don’t like the idea of treating any part of the Word of God in a so-called fearless way!

Dr. Spencer: Neither do I, but Young’s response to this view is very important. He wrote that “One wonders how it is possible for a man so completely to miss the point. … Dr. Bruce would cry, ‘Sirs, we would see Jesus’. Very good, but how is Jesus to be seen? Are we to find Him in a record that is filled with blemishes?”[8]

Young’s point is precisely the one we have been laboring to make. If the Bible is not the infallible Word of God, we have no objective basis for knowing Jesus Christ. And if we don’t know Jesus Christ, we are not saved, we are still subject to the wrath of God.

Marc Roby: That is a terrifying thought. But, before we finish for today, I want to tie up one loose end. You said that Hodge divided the supposed errors in the Bible into two groups. We’ve dealt briefly with the supposed contradictions. You said that the second group is that the Bible teaches what is inconsistent with the facts of history or science.  What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: Nothing. We handled that issue at great length when we discussed external evidence that corroborates the Bible in Sessions 7 through 11.

Marc Roby: That was quick! Are we done discussing the infallibility of the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I think we are, at least for now.

Marc Roby: Well then, that wraps up this session. I’d like to remind our listeners that we encourage them to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. 1, pg. 169

[3] Ibid, pp 169-170

[4] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, the Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 59

[5] Ibid, pg. 172

[6] Ibid, pg. 173

[7] Ibid, pg. 127

[8] Ibid, pg. 127

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. In our previous sessions we have shown that the Bible is infallible because God is its author, and that this is a critically important doctrine, which was central to the reformation. We also showed that Jesus himself used the Bible as his ultimate authority. Dr. Spencer, what else do we want say about this doctrine?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to point out that, as with every other doctrine, we should turn to God’s Word itself to see what it says. And, when we turn to the Bible, we find that it clearly claims to be the authoritative Word of God as we documented extensively in Sessions 4 and 27. I don’t want to repeat all of that here. But, let me quickly summarize what we said. The Old Testament clearly claims to be the very words of God in many places. In fact, phrases like “God said”, and “The Lord says” are used over 3.800 times. There is also an implicit claim to being the Word of God when the Old Testament tells us things about creation, or things said in heaven that cannot possibly be known by any human being except by divine revelation. In addition, as we saw with a couple of examples in our previous session, Jesus Christ treated the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God, as did all of the apostles. We have quoted the famous statement in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (ESV) several times.

Then, with regard to the New Testament, we previously cited 2 Peter 3:16 where he calls the apostle Paul’s writings “Scripture”. We have also noted that in John 14:25-26 Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them and remind them of everything he said. Paul then explicitly mentions this guidance in 1 Corinthians 2:13, and he claims to speak the very words of God in 1Thessalonians 2:13. I will let interested listeners go back and listen to Sessions 4 and 27 for more details.

Marc Roby: And in that connection we should remind our listeners that all of the old sessions are available in the archive on our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org. So, we have made the case that the Bible itself clearly claims to be the Word of God. What else is there to say about infallibility then?

Dr. Spencer: There are even more references in Scripture that we have not previously adduced, and I think it would be worthwhile to go through some of them because this doctrine is so frequently denied in the modern church. For example, when the Sadducees tried to trick Jesus by asking him about marriage in heaven, Jesus rebuked them saying, in Matthew 22:29, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”[1] Which clearly holds up the Scriptures as the ultimate authoritative standard for us.

In addition, Jesus frequently noted that what the Scriptures say will happen, not only will happen, but must happen. For example, in Mark 14:21 he said “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.” And in Mark 14:27 he told his disciples, “You will all fall away, … for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” Then again, in Mark 14:49 he said, “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” And, in Matthew 26:53-54 he asked the rhetorical question, “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”, with the clear point being that it must happen this way because that is what the authoritative Scriptures have declared.

Marc Roby: It is compelling when you consider all of the references, and these are just ones that we had not mentioned in the previous sessions.

Dr. Spencer: It is very compelling. And it is also clear that it wasn’t just general ideas or principles that came from God, but the very words themselves; Christ said, in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” In other words, every single word is infallible.

I don’t believe it is possible for a born-again person to carefully read the entire Bible, or even just the New Testament and come away with any view other than that the Bible is, in its entirety, the very words of our infallible God. And if it is his words, then it is itself infallible.

Marc Roby: And yet, there have been and still are many professing Christians who deny the doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: There have indeed been many, and are still many. And I think they must fall into one of two camps; either they are not truly born again, or they have had bad teaching and have not yet looked into this issue and carefully thought it through for themselves. You can be saved without believing this doctrine, as Article XIX of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states[2], but it is an extremely important doctrine, and not believing it will stunt your growth and life as a Christian and, as I said last time, not agreeing with this doctrine is a serious warning sign that you may not be born again at all, you may be believing in a false gospel – so you should take it very seriously indeed. What is extremely sad is the number of ministers who have given up on this doctrine. But, that isn’t really all that surprising when you consider that many modern ministers are trained more as social workers than ministers of the gospel.

Marc Roby: That’s a pretty strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. But it isn’t hard to back up. Just listen to the sermons that are preached, look at the counsel that is given – if, in fact, any counsel is given, read modern supposedly Christian books and so on. So much of it is completely dominated by an anthropocentric, or man-centered, outlook, rather than a theocentric, or God-centered, outlook. Much of it is simply social work done in the context of the church. Human psychology, rather than the Bible, dominate.

In his book No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, David Wells tells a story about when he was a seminary professor teaching theology. He says that after giving an introduction to the class on the first day an “obviously agitated student” came up and told him that he “had had a mighty struggle with his conscience about” whether it was right “to spend so much money on a course of study that was so irrelevant to his desire to minister to people in the Church.”[3]

Marc Roby: It’s amazing to think that someone could consider theology to be irrelevant to being a minister of the gospel!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. This man’s view of a minister was obviously that he is basically a social worker. But, even given that view what he said was wrong. Theology is not irrelevant to anyone. Every person alive is a theologian in one sense; they have all decided whether or not they think God exists, and if they think he exists, they have some idea of what they think he is like and what he requires of them. So, the question isn’t whether or not you will be a theologian, the only question is whether your theology will be biblical or not. This young man probably thought the only theology needed for a minister was to say that Jesus was a good example for us to follow and that God loves us and has a plan to bless us, or something along those lines. But, such a view of theology is not even close to biblical, and it can’t save anyone. In fact, with the anthropocentric view of most churches today, there is really nothing for us to be saved from because we aren’t really all that bad in the first place, and hell doesn’t really exist. So, the whole concept of salvation is missing.

Marc Roby: At that point you might as well join the Elks Lodge.

Dr. Spencer: Or spend your Sundays fishing, or golfing, or watching television and doing yard work, or whatever. And your morning quiet times in private meditation, rather than prayer and reading the Word of God.

Marc Roby: Very true. But we have digressed again, so let’s get back to the infallibility of the Bible. What other biblical evidence do we have that it claims to be the infallible Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Let me cite some more examples. But, we must realize that when the New Testament speaks of the Scriptures – the Greek word used is γραφή – it is usually speaking of the Old Testament. Therefore, we understandably have more evidence for the Old Testament being the very Word of God than we do for the New. Although, as we saw a few minutes ago, there is compelling evidence for the New Testament as well. In any event, in Romans 1:2, Paul says the Scriptures are holy – he says this because he knows they come from the thrice-holy God. And, in Romans 3:2, Paul calls the Scriptures the “very words of God”.

There also a number of places where the words of Scripture are equated with the words of God, for example, in Romans 9:17 Paul wrote that “the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” But, this quotation is from Exodus 9:16 where the words are attributed to God himself, so we see that to say “Scripture says” is equivalent to saying “God says”.

Marc Roby: Are there other similar examples you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are other examples as well. In Galatians 3:8 Paul wrote that “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’” So, Paul tells us that Scripture said something, but he was quoting from Genesis 22:18, and when we look there we see that these words are again attributed to God himself.

And this isn’t just the apostle Paul. In Acts 4:25, we read that after Peter and John were released by the Sanhedrin, they returned to the other disciples and prayed to God, saying, in part, “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’” They were quoting from Psalm 2 when they said in prayer to God that he “spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of” David.

Marc Roby: That is a pretty clear statement that they considered the Old Testament to have been written by God through the agency of the Holy Spirit working in the human authors.

Dr. Spencer: And there are more examples as well. In Acts 28:25-26, the apostle Paul was speaking in Rome and said “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”’”.  Notice that Paul says that God the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet, in this case Isaiah, words that are recorded for us in Scripture.

Marc Roby: Yes, another very clear statement that God the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. We’ve already gone over a number of instances in previous sessions of Jesus himself treating the Old Testament as the infallible Word of God. But, we also have a very interesting statement from Jesus about how important it is to receive the Bible as the Word of God. In John 5:46-47, Jesus is rebuking the people for not believing him and he said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Jesus is saying explicitly that if you fail to believe what the Old Testament says, you are not going to believe what he says either. This puts the lie to the idea that I can have some private relationship with Jesus apart from the Bible.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of Jesus talking to the men on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. We are told in Luke 24:27 that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a good passage to mention. Jesus often spoke of the Old Testament prophecies concerning himself and used them as evidence that he was the promised Messiah. He clearly believed the entire Old Testament to be the infallible Word of God and we have given many more biblical references in earlier podcasts to show that.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think we have presented enough evidence today, and in previous sessions, to clearly demonstrate that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. The doctrine we have been advocating by the way, is often called the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible. The word plenary just means all, and the word verbal refers to the individual words. So, to speak of the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible just means that every individual word was breathed out by God himself.

Marc Roby: Having established the biblical doctrine, let me ask you the question that I’m sure many of our listeners have in mind. What do you say about all of the supposed errors in the Bible? We are saying that it is infallible, but can an infallible book have errors in it?

Dr. Spencer: That depends on what you mean by an error. Everything the Bible teaches us is true. But, when we say the Bible is inerrant, we do not mean, for example, that the grammar is perfect or that every number is precisely correct. James Boice notes that this is one reason some people don’t like the term inerrant.[4] But it would be silly, I think, to say that the Bible is in error if something in it is ungrammatical, or if when the it says 300 people did something the number was actually 302. The rules of grammar are violated by great writers all the time, the purpose of language is communication and the rules of grammar, while useful, are not absolute laws. And when I say 300 people did something, I think every reasonable person recognizes that I’m giving a round number. They wouldn’t say I was wrong if the precise number was 298, or 303.

Also, the Bible uses every kind of normal human expression to communicate truth. So, for example, if I read a newspaper report that says something like “all of the fans in the stands jumped to their feet when the ball was hit”, do I accuse the newspaper of being factually incorrect if, in fact, a few people stayed seated, or slowly stood up rather than jumping up? Of course not. We all recognize hyperbole as a normal mode of communication. So, the word “all” does not always mean “all”. You have to use the context to judge the true meaning. Also, if I look on the calendar on my cellphone or computer, it tells me the time of the sunrise and the sunset for today. Should I conclude that whoever chose those words actually thinks the earth stands still and the sun rotates around us? Of course not! I understand that is a common expression that refers to what we normally see.

Marc Roby: I sense that we are getting ready to launch into an entirely different discussion at this point, so this is probably a good place to finish for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that we invite them to email their comments and questions to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Available from http://defendinginerrancy.com/chicago-statements/ and also from http://www.alliancenet.org/the-chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy

[3] David F. Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993, pg. 4

[4] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 71

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