Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Bible vs the scriptures

I mentioned some time ago in my review of Misquoting Jesus that I thought Ehrman was using the word 'Bible' in multiple senses: to refer to individual copies of works given by divine inspiration, and to refer to the non-material entity, the Word of God, to which Christians often ascribe complete inspiration and truthfulness. The point of my distinction is that educated Christians down the ages (Jerome, Calvin) seem to have made a distinction between the copy in front of them (which might be in error) and the communication they held to come from God, which they did not see as in error.

It has been occurring to me that the confusion in Ehrman (and many others) arises from a disjunction between the language used in creeds and in popular Christian discourse.

I've been looking through Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson, eds, Reformed Confessions Harmonized (Baker, 1999) which lays out synoptically various reformed confessions. The word that is completely absent in treatments of scripture is of course 'Bible'. The same is true for the 39 Articles (see articles 6 and 7). The phrases that tend to be used are 'the Word of God', 'the Scriptures', 'Holy Scripture' (capitalization varies and I haven't checked early mss or edns of these creeds).

I suspect that more recent creeds (e.g. UCCF, InterVarsity, Campus Crusade) tend to use the word 'Bible' more prominently, though the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy uses the word 'Bible' less than 'Scripture(s)'. I'd be interested in knowing whether a shift has indeed taken place and, if so, when and why it took place.

I am tending to think that the word 'Bible', though advantageous in some settings, too readily focuses those considering doctrines of scripture on particular material manifestations of the word of God. Would anything significant be lost if we focused our discussions about doctrine and textual criticism on the terms 'scripture(s)' and 'Word of God' and reserved the term 'Bible' exclusively for material entities?

4 Comments:

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

PJ,

RE: Your distinction between the physical documents and the nonmaterial "Word of God", do you understand the "Word of God" as a semantic entity or as code, i.e., a fixed linear string of words in a specific language?

I think a lot of the confusion over preservation could be cleared up if one were to affirm that what has been preserved is the message God intended to communicate. The relationship between the code, a string of Greek or Hebrew words and the message (divine semantic intent) needs to be made very clear since the majority of NT scholars are not linguists and some of the major players in this discussion e.g., D.Wallace have made it a point of honor to remain ignorant of linguistics (see the introduction to his greek grammar).

I think the distinction between code and semantic intent will help in the discussion of translatability.

As long as we keep our focus on the preservation of the code we will continue to take incoming from Bart Ehrman and friends.

csb

Daniel R. Buck said...

It's interesting that when Jesus said that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all be fulfilled, the specific words recorded are Greek words loaned from Hebrew and/or Aramaic: iota (yod) and keraia (krn). But we aren't even sure which of those three languages he was speaking when he used those words. If the message of those words--in whatever language they were expressed--is the important thing, then we need not worry ourselves that the original Aramaic edition of Matthew has long been lost and that the Church has always used the subsequent Greek translation.

Bill Combs said...

"The point of my distinction is that educated Christians down the ages (Jerome, Calvin) seem to have made a distinction between the copy in front of them (which might be in error) and the communication they held to come from God, which they did not see as in error."

Pete: I think this is true. An article that I have found very helpful along this line is:

Greg L. Bahnsen. “The Inerrancy of the Autographa.” In Inerrancy. Edited by Normal L. Geisler. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.

It can be found at:
http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pt042.htm

P J Williams said...

Clay, If God's word really does abide forever then it does not cease to exist when the Universe does. It may be represented by things within the Universe and it may act within the Universe but does not need to be expressed by arrangements of molecules.

The Word of God is certainly a semantic entity which in its authoritative expression was given as 'a fixed linear string of words' in specific languages.

I agree that the message that God intended to communicate has been preserved, but that is not all that has been preserved.

CSB: 'As long as we keep our focus on the preservation of the code we will continue to take incoming from Bart Ehrman and friends.'

Sounds like a recipe for a good debate! The message and code are of course distinct but related and as textual critics we tend rightly to use definition of the code as a means of defining the message. I intend therefore to keep focus on the code, including the exact letter sequences that constitute the code.

Why Ehrman is persuasive to some has little to do with the present state of certainty about the code sequence and much more to do with theological misunderstandings both by evangelicals and by others.