Frequently around these parts I have opined that the standard evangelical view of inspiration/inerrancy is much more at home in Islam or Mormonism than in anything remotely resembling biblical Christianity. Now I am a blogger and as such it is part and parcel of my unique calling to pull things out of thin air and make things up on the fly. But I am not making this up. I wish I was, but I am not. Today I give you none other than American evangelicalism’s Dean of Systematic Theology (and lately turned political hack) himself: Dr. Wayne Grudem. Take a listen and judge for yourselves.
This is an expression of the standard evangelical view of biblical inspiration, par excellence. Grudem’s take can best be described as a “binder theory“: God gave us an open 3-ring binder. As the writings which make up our Bible came down the pipe, we received them, accepted them unquestioningly, and dutifully placed them in the waiting binder. When the last of these writings was received, the binder was closed, snapped shut, sealed, in perpetuity, for ever and ever, world without end, amen.
According to Grudem’s take, God gave Moses the binder up on Mount Sinai. It contained the Decalogue (the 10 Commandments) and other writings that God directed Moses to produce. Moses then later added other writings at God’s direction. Joshua added some, then Samuel, then other Old Testament authors. When the last of the historical writings (Esther) and the last of the prophetic writings (Haggai/Zechariah/Malachi) were received, the binder was temporarily closed. Jesus reopened the binder and commissioned the apostles to add to it. This they did, dutifully producing the Gospels, the Epistles, and other writings. When the last of these was received, the binder was closed, snapped shut, sealed, in perpetuity, etc. And such is the Bible we have today.
This theory completely and totally omits the human element in the story of how we got our Bible. In real life, there was a bewildering variety of gospels, epistles, etc. floating around out there. Some were recognized as more authoritative than others, and there was a sifting process by which the cream rose to the top. But this took centuries and it wasn’t until the fourth century AD that a definitive scriptural canon was settled upon.
When Paul wrote letters to the churches to which he wrote, he was not sitting down to write books of the New Testament. He was writing letters to real people in real churches who were dealing with real issues. From his perspective, he had no reason whatsoever to believe that any of these would make it out of first century Rome, let alone make it into anything that could be called the New Testament.
As to the Old Testament…well, you can believe what you want to believe about the Mosaic authorship of the first five Old Testament books. I see no reason to doubt it, but I find it well nigh impossible to believe that Moses’ finished work product was anything even remotely close to what we have in our Bibles today.
But there is a larger issue in play here, and it is this: We in evangelicalism basically conceive of the Christian faith as something akin to a house of cards. We hold this view of the Bible as basically having been brought down to us from heaven on golden tablets like the Book of Mormon (it is a very short–and very direct–line from what Grudem advocates to that), and we desperately–desperately–need for that view to be true. Start tugging just a little too hard on one of the assumptions that hold it up and the whole thing comes crashing down, taking all of Christianity with it, and suddenly Jesus is no longer raised from the dead and we are all still in our sins.
I’m so over that, people.
Think back to the earliest Christians. Think back to Paul and the apostles, to the believers who made up the early churches in which they ministered. These people either saw Jesus rise from the dead themselves, or they knew people who had. They went on to start a movement that would reshape history. Because that’s what you do when you see your leader violently executed in the most horrific way imaginable, and then have breakfast with him a few days later.
You can rest assured that these people were not thinking about the (potentially) eternally catastrophic consequences of believing something as divinely inspired and part of Scripture that wasn’t supposed to be there, or of missing out on something that was. They were not worried about some perfect and inerrant book given to us by God as if brought down from heaven on golden tablets by angels and if any part of that isn’t true then Jesus Christ is suddenly not raised from the dead and we are all still in our sins. They had seen too much and knew too much to be taken in by the issues and concerns of us moderns. Would that we could take a similar view of things.