“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life…” (John 5:39-40).
Jesus made this accusation to the Pharisees, but I believe that it could be said for much of Christianity today. We do not seem to know the purpose of the Scriptures. We hold them as sacred, yet do not understand the fundamental message of the Scriptures nor heed what it says. My belief is that Christ is the Message…even from the very beginning. Our Salvation through Christ Jesus was prepared for us, even before the foundation of the Earth was laid (Eph 1:4, Matt 25:34, Rev 13:8).
When Jesus made this accusation, he was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, not the Christian Bible. He said that He came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Matt 5:17). The Hebrew Scriptures point us to Christ, and everything that happened before His coming prepared the ground for Christ to come. When Christ came, on two recorded occasions, God spoke in an audible voice saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him” (Matt 3:17; Mark 9:7).
Jesus is the gift of God to us, the Word of God, Himself. It is as though we have been given a gift with an accompanying card. We seem to have put aside the gift without opening it, in preference for the card (which directs us to open the gift). If we would open the gift, we will receive the entire MESSAGE of God, even as written on the card. Or maybe we have opened the gift, and do not realise what a treasure it is (Matt 13:45-46)… Just as the Galatians did in the time of Paul, the Church is acting as if Christ never came (Gal 3:1-3).
THE BREAD OF LIFE
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).
The nutritious word of God is essential for the growth of every believer. It should be our spiritual food, building us to maturity. If we are truly spiritually alive, we would be hungry for the word of God and passionate about doing the will of God. Jesus Himself said: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). The will and word of God have been revealed to us through the Holy Scriptures we know as the Bible, and it is good for us to study and live by them.
However, just as we are not to esteem to God’s level the prophets and messengers of God, we also must be careful the esteem we accord to the revelation of God’s Word as recorded in scripture. Idolatry can set in when we wrongly ascribe the infallibility of God to the medium He has used to communicate or preserve His word for us. A fallacy happens when the words and traditions of men are weighted equally with the enduring Word of God. As I have already stated, the whole MESSAGE of God is Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
Since Christ is the Word of God, it should be very important to us what Christ has to say. His very words are as the words spoken direct from the mouth of God (John 12:49-50), which should be our food. It is revealing that Jesus spoke of Himself as the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35). He is the nutritious meal that we must daily savour. We must let His Word dwell richly in us (Col 3:16), if we are to grow and bear fruit.
THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal 3:24-25)
Before Christ was revealed, the word of God was spoken to His prophets, who He instructed to record them. He also charged them to meditate on His words, to let them into their hearts, and to delight in keeping His commandments. We know that in Christ Jesus, these have all been fulfilled (Matt 5:17). Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on the two greatest commandments, being to love God with all our being and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt 22:38-40; Gal 5:14).
Yet, the Hebrew Scriptures are still very important to us. They contain the prophesies of Jesus, which we need to declare Him to the world (Acts 18:28); a third witness in addition to the witness of creation (Rom 1:20) and our own conscience (Rom 2:14-15). Lest anyone think to disregard them, Paul also wrote: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
“The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).
The expression “the word of the Lord” was used in the Old Testament, whenever God brought a message through His prophets (255 occurrences in KJV). The term “the word of God” was rarely used in the Old Testament (appearing only four times in KJV). However, it was popularly used in the New Testament (44 times), often by Jesus, but mostly by His Apostles. It was mostly used in reference to the teaching of the Gospel of Christ (Acts 11:1), and rarely in relation to the revelations of old (Mark 7:11), which were often referred to as ‘the Scriptures’.
In a number of places, there is a reference to the word of God increasing (Acts 6:7), which could mean the preaching of the gospel or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit being more common. Peter believed this was a fulfilment of prophecy when he quoted the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
I also see this happening among Christians, who through the Internet, share the gospel message to any that will hear. Through Christian hymns, music, film and literature, the word of God – the Gospel message – is abounding through the work of the Holy Spirit.
THE HOLY BIBLE
At the time Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, stating that “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16), it is notable that there was no Christian Bible. There were no gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Though it can be conceivable that Paul included in ALL scripture past, present and future writings that are “given by inspiration of God“, it is quite unfathomable. This would be an open door for a lot of error and false revelation being weighted as scripture. There must be a strict criteria for what makes up scripture, and what does not, otherwise the quality of scripture would be compromised! The criterion for what constituted scripture was left to the judgment of the early leaders of the Church, using the authority Jesus had given to bind any matter (Matt 18:18).
If the writings were not sealed off, we might still be adding to our Bible writings by Christian leaders or the collection would not have been preserved at all or given any authoritative value! However, since many were falling away, giving in to false teaching and preaching false gospels, ‘scripture’ was limited to only those writings accepted by the Roman Catholic Church to be canonised (though it didn’t stop other denominations from coming up with their own compilations). Thereafter, future writings by Christians are simply regarded as “inspirational” and not “inspired by God” nor “scriptural”. This is widely accepted by believers, and I also see the wisdom in this decision.
THE INFALLIBILITY OF SCRIPTURE
However, no where is it written, in any verse of any chapter of any book of either Hebrew or Christian Bible that ‘scripture’ equals ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’! What it does say is that God’s words are flawless (Psa 12:6), His Law is perfect (Psa 19:7), that His word will not return to Him void (Isa 55:11), that His words will all be fulfilled (Matt 5:18) and that all scripture is profitable for teaching (2 Tim 3:16). However, it should be crystal clear that not every word written in the scriptures (whether Jewish or Christian) were the very words of God, so they do not all have the same claim to flawlessness.
I’ve also contemplated on Jesus’s statement that “scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). I understand that to mean that once bound, scripture cannot be loosed; its authourity is honored also in Heaven. We are taught in scripture that our words have power (Pro 18:21) and we must be careful what we say, because Jesus said we will give an account of every careless word (Matt 12:36-37). We can and should regard the whole Bible as holy, just as we regard the Body of Christ as a holy Priesthood, but still recognise that being holy does not mean we are infallible. It means we are set apart, consecrated to God. Likewise, people have translated “inspired by God” to mean “God-breathed” to equal “inerrant”. But God first breathed into Adam, and he certainly was not inerrant!
What we know concerning revelation is that “the spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32). Therefore, inspiration does not equal infallibility. The Psalms of David, the Songs of Solomon or the Epistles of the Apostles can not bear the same weight as the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. Jesus clearly made a distinction between the weight of His words and others, when He said: “The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42). Claiming equality of all scripture is a dishonour to Jesus, the Word of God.
I believe that the doctrine of inerrancy was conveniently brought in by the Church to protect the Bible as a consecrated canon of scripture, with the authority to teach and convict. With this, the false doctrine of “papal infallibility” was also established. However, the assertion of inerrancy is a lie on both counts, considered to be the lesser of two evils; the other being chaos! Now, what started as a lie is now a deeply entrenched doctrine that every professing Christian is compelled to accept as true or be branded as a heretic! But how can we claim to have the truth in Jesus, when we are forcing many to believe a lie?! It shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to protect His Church and reveal His Word to true believers.
THE MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:21).
If the Holy Spirit moved the prophets back then, how much more should the Holy Spirit be moving Christians to speak and teach today? However, there seems to be a belief that the time of the Holy Spirit ministry has come and gone. The Holy Spirit was promised to those who obey Jesus (John 14:23), to empower them to preach the word, so if we are not obedient to Christ nor preaching the word…that should explain the lack of inspiration.
It is good to note the times that Paul was careful to make a distinction between a direction or commandment from God (1 Cor 7:10), and when he was giving his own counsel (1 Cor 7:12). There are also times that Paul gave dated instructions in his letters, which we have to admit are not the inerrant words of God (2 Tim 4:13)! Peter appreciated Paul’s ministry, and seemed to align his epistles with scripture when he said: “speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the [or other] Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 2:16).
I believe there is a lesson here for us to appreciate the ministry of the Holy Spirit in each other, so that we can recognise when the word of God is spoken or revealed by the Spirit to a brother or sister (1 Cor 14:31). All too often, we only consider what is sealed as scripture as the word of God, when the Holy Spirit has not stopped moving and teaching us. The word of God should still be increasing in the Church, but too many deny the power of the Holy Spirit. This is contrary to Peter’s teaching, for he said: “if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11). He was a firm believer of the Priesthood of every believer (1 Pet 2:9)!
The problem with referring to the Bible as the COMPLETE and inerrant word of God is that we limit the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the gift of prophecy. By so doing, God has been gagged, and cannot reveal a new word, for fear of false teachers and prophets. In light of this, I do believe we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the Pharisees, and will brand as heretics true prophets of God and ministers of His Word. As Paul wrote: “do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thes 5:19-21).
THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)
It is undeniable that Jesus and the Apostles referred to the Hebrew Scriptures as the ‘word of God’. They also referred to the gospel message as the ‘word of God’. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that the Bible, being a compilation of both, is also the ‘word of God’. The scripture above rings true for the word of God, whether recorded in the Old or New Testament. They are ageless pieces of wisdom that cuts to the heart of the matter every time.
Paul taught that the sword of the Spirit, our weapon of warfare, is the word of God (Eph 6:17). We are to use it in defeating the enemy, when he attacks us, and also in winning over captives for the Lord. It is the Spirit of Truth that convicts the hearts of men and will set us free from every bondage (John 8:32). Men are quickened, saved and born again, by the word (1 Pet 1:23, John 15:13). So we must preach the word diligently (2 Tim 4:2), that all men may be saved, which is the will of God (1 Tim 2:4).
However, it is notable that the Greek word used for ‘word’ in this quote, popularly applied to scripture, is ‘logos’, meaning “the principle of divine reason“, which is the same as that used in John 1:1 in relation to Jesus. It is also interesting to note the reference to a double-edged sword. John’s revelation makes the connection to Christ again:
“And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev 19:15).
We can see here that Jesus will defeat and judge the world, through His Word. Jesus also said: “he who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). I will make the point again that Jesus’ words, and the words of other prophets do not by any means bear the same weight. Like Peter testifies…”to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7).
Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it (Matt 5:17). When He addressed different commandments in the Law during His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, He was not changing the Law…He was revealing the Spirit of the Law. John said: “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
The Pharisees thought they were righteous because they studied the letter of the Law, technically meeting its requirements, but missing the Spirit. Jesus had a few things to say about that. He accused them of straining at gnats, but swallowing camels (Matt 23:24). He accused them of neglecting the weightier matters of the Law (Matt 23:23). Jesus taught us that that kind of superficial textbook righteousness will not do (Matt 5:20)… While they were focused on not stealing, lying or murdering, they did not address their greed, dishonesty and hate! However, what was needed was a heart transplant, not a new set of laws!
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (Eze 11:19)
Many still approach the Bible legalistically, straining at gnats and swallowing camels. Others who are keen on the teachings of Jesus still find a way to make a commandment out of everything He said, while still missing His grace! Paul’s warning is invaluable here; “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).
The problem is we feel we need a manual, or at least a to-do-list, so we can feel good about our goodness, but Christ really just wants us to follow Him (Matt 11:28-30)…learning constantly and growing continually. This is a humbling process of daily dependency, requiring a real living relationship with Him. This is only possible with the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we try to put God in a box or be righteous in our own strength, we deny the power of the Holy Spirit; to break the yoke of sin and make our hearts tender towards God.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb 10:16-17).
In the Old Covenant, the Israelites had the Law of Moses written in a Book for their adherence. In the New Covenant, God’s righteous Law is in our hearts! We are called to be living Bibles (2 Cor 3:3).
Please note that I am not making a case against the Bible. How can I? I have referenced it so many times to make my case for Jesus. I am not an advocate for chaos; like Paul said, God is a God of order (1 Cor 14:33). I am making a case for faith; faith in Jesus, faith in God to work through His Holy Spirit to build up and unite His Church. We can’t let fear hinder us from nurturing our relationship with God, through His indwelling Spirit (Luke 11:13). We must believe that when we pray, He is able to reveal His word to us (James 1:5-7) – a timely word of wisdom, just as He gave to Paul and Peter…
It is important to make a distinction between the enduring Word of God (as revealed in Christ) and the timely word of God (as revealed to men). One is whole and infallible, while the other is neither. I believe the teaching of Biblical inerrancy has hurt more than it has helped the Christian faith. I think it could be responsible for the stunted growth among Christians, who do not develop their relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. We need to thirst for more of God’s Spirit, so that we can have the outpouring of revelations, which He promised will come in the latter days.
The Bible does not need to be inerrant to be authoritative, just like Pastors and Christian leaders should not be expected to be inerrant to be authoritative. When we lay such great expectations on the fallible, we are bound to be disappointed. I suppose this has caused many, who have undeniably come face to face with the reality of the Bible not living up to the infallibility claim, to decide that it is all lies and walk away! If we are dishonest on this issue, we are not going to attract sincere people to the faith.
We need to stop stubbornly defending Biblical inerrancy, while we continue to appreciate its inspiration and authority to teach. Sticking a label on the Bible that says “infallible word of God”, will no more make it inerrant than saying “there is no God” makes God nonexistent! The only infallible Word of God is Jesus, and He is the only One we should place all our hopes in.
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