Sunday, September 4, 2011

Divine Inspiration

Darkknight56 asked me what it means for the Bible to be inspired by God, and I said that I would do a post on the subject. So let’s start by looking at the story of Peter warming himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest and denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the high priest and other members of the Sanhedrin questioned Jesus in the courtyard and condemned Him to death before Peter denied Jesus and before the rooster crowed. However, in Luke 22, Jesus was only held in custody in the courtyard, and the denial of Peter and the rooster’s crowing happened before the Sanhedrin took Jesus to the council chamber to be questioned.  

In other words, Mark and Matthew have the meeting where Jesus references Daniel 7:13 take place before dawn in the courtyard and Luke records it as taking place in the council chamber during the day. Unless Jesus was questioned and pronounced guilty twice—once before and once after Peter denied Him—it looks like the details don’t quite line up. 

Oh, no! What do we do? We take a chill pill because the sky is not falling. What does the Bible say about divine inspiration? 2 Timothy 3:16 says: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The Greek word theopneustos is only used in 2 Timothy 3:16 and it literally means, “God-breathed.” 

So it says that all of Scripture is God-breathed, but it also tells us the purpose of the Scriptures—to train us in righteousness and equip us for every good work, or, as 2 Timothy 3:15 says, to give us “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 

If this is the purpose of divine inspiration, then unless we insist on holding the Bible to a standard that it doesn’t set for itself, the minor discrepancies I mentioned before don’t matter. We can be saved through faith and equipped for God’s work without knowing exactly when and where Jesus was questioned by the Sanhedrin. 

Historical Accuracy

But of course the facts do matter because Christianity is a religion based on the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is in vain. This fact is the lynchpin of Christianity.

So the New Testament narratives have to be historically reliable, and according to the late Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White, they are. Sherwin-White did a detailed analysis of the trial of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts. He says, “As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit at Jerusalem, the confirmation begins. For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming.”

And he does address the question of when and where the trial before the Sanhedrin took place by saying: “The detail of the time-table may seem trivial, but it is like the button that hangs the murderer. Mark and Matthew have the time-table right, where Luke is less probable.” In other words, Mark and Matthew (and John) are correct that it took place at night and they took Jesus to Pilate in the morning. 

Why does he say that the details are like the button that hangs the murderer? For two reasons: First, Sherwin-White says that we have enough information about Roman officials’ daily round to know that they started their workday very early and ended it by noon at the latest. Some officials started before dawn and completed their work by ten or eleven. This means that on Luke’s scheme, the Jews would have arrived at the Praetorium to see Pontius Pilate too late, while he was engaging in his organized leisure activities. Sherwin-White concludes, “The Jews, because of the festival, were in a hurry. Hence there was every reason to hold the unusual night session if they were to catch the Procurator at the right moment.”

Second, he says: “The quite unessential detail of the fire, which is common to both Mark and Luke, in the story of Peter’s denial, supports the Marcan version. Why light a fire—an act of some extravagance—if everyone was sleeping through the night?” If Jesus had just been held in custody in the courtyard of the high priest, as Luke reported, no fire would have been lit.

So through his knowledge of Roman history, Sherwin-White is able to confirm the historicity of these important events that have in the past been rejected by scholars like German theologian and church historian, Hans Lietzmann. (According to Sherwin-White, Lietzmann “pours a great deal of scorn” on the idea of the trial taking place at night and concludes that no trial ever took place before the Sanhedrin.) 

Sherwin-White likewise confirms the historicity of minor details like the soldiers dividing amongst themselves Jesus' clothing (Luke 23:34), by saying: "Given the relevant prophecy from the Old Testament [Psalm 22:18], there is every reason to assume that this is one of the evolved myths dear to the form-critics. But, as has been familiar since Mommsen, legal texts confirm that it was the accepted right of the executioner's squad to share out the minor possessions of their victim."

In other words, in spite of minor discrepancies like the one between Luke and the other Gospels regarding the time-table, the New Testament appears to be remarkably accurate historically. 

How Can We Tell if God Inspired the Scriptures?

Of course the evidence for historical accuracy tells us little about whether the Bible is God-breathed. It merely says something about the human authors, much like the accuracy of a secular document does. Nor does the minor discrepancy in Luke tell us that the New Testament is not God-breathed, since it does not undermine the purpose of divine inspiration stated in 2 Timothy 3:16. 

To address the question of whether the Bible is divinely inspired, we have to see if it contains evidence that it is the product of one Mind, communicating the message of salvation. If so, then this evidence would be supportive of the claim and purpose of 2 Timothy 3:15-16. 

Let’s focus on the beginning of Genesis, one of the most contentious parts of the Bible and, if my observations are an accurate gauge, the cause of most defections from Christianity. But I'm not going to get into the question of the age of the earth or other scientific aspects of creation. Instead, I am going to talk about some of the typology of Genesis and see how well it fits the theology of salvation. 

A "type" is something in the Old Testament foreshadowing or pre-figuring Christ or His salvation. Luke 24:27 refers to typology (Moses) and prophecy (the prophets), when it says, "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." Although what Jesus actually said is not recorded there, Jesus often explicitly referenced the Old Testament types during His ministry. However, other types are left for us to discover on our own.

Paul says in Romans 5:14 that Adam is a type of Him who was to come. So if Adam is a type of Christ, then Eve is a type of the church, which is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25, Revelation 21:9). In Genesis 3:6, where Eve is tempted to eat the fruit, she noticed that the tree was "good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise." In other words, her temptation falls into all three categories mentioned in 1 John 2:16, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life." But she fell.

Jesus was also tempted by Satan in ways that fit into these three categories (Luke 4:3-12): Turn a stone into bread (lust of the flesh), worship Satan and He would receive the splendor and authority of all the kingdoms of the world (the lust of the eyes), and jump from the highest point of the temple and legions of angels would catch Him (the boastful pride of life). He resisted the temptations and fulfilled all righteousness on behalf of the church. 

After Adam and Eve fell, they sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves. This corresponds to Matthew 21:19, where Jesus curses a fig tree that has no fruit but only leaves, as well as the parable in Luke 13:6-9 of the fig tree in the vineyard that didn't bear any fruit. 

In Genesis 3:21, God takes away the fig leaves and covers Adam and Eve with garments of an animal's skin. Likewise, God covers us with the righteousness of the sacrificial Lamb, Christ. John 15 says that if we abide in Christ, we will bear good fruit—in other words, we will have the righteousness of God.

Genesis 3:8 says that Adam and Eve hid from the presence of the Lord God after they sinned. Isaiah 59:2 says that our sins separate us from God. However, God sought them (Genesis 3:9), and when they responded, He gave them the garments of skin. Luke 15:4-9 says that God seeks the lost. However, it is up to us to respond if we are to receive His salvation (Revelation 3:20).

They were driven out of the Garden of Eden and not permitted to eat from the tree of life. But Paradise was restored through Christ, who says in Revelation 2:7: "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God."  

A lot more could be said—like how Adam was put into a deep sleep and Eve was "taken out of man," just like the church was born out of Christ after He died on the cross (Jesus often referred to death as "sleep"), and how God finished His work of creation on the sixth day and Jesus said on the sixth day, "It is finished!" However, my purpose in all this is simply to illuminate the theological cohesiveness of the Bible, as if one Mind is communicating His message through all the various human authors, spanning many centuries and two religions. And even in the very first pages of the Old Testament, the central message is about salvation. 

1 comment:

Darkknight56 said...

I appreciate that you went to all of the time and trouble to post such a response to my question. Unfortunately, it doesn't really answer my question. To say that the bible is God-breathed, for example, is no clearer than saying it is inspired. Thanks, though, for giving it a try.