Rob Bell’s “What Is the Bible?” Part 4
Written by Gabriel Rench on September 15, 2017
Given what Bell has said so far about the Bible, a brief excursus about the doctrine of Scripture would be helpful. As I have pointed out, one of Bell’s problems is that he will simply not accept some things that the Bible says, especially what the Bible says about itself.
Several salient points should be made about the doctrine of Scripture:
1. The Bible claims infallibility for itself. This means every last detail of it is true and cannot possibly be untrue. This has been pointed out before, but it bears repeating that Paul based a theological conclusion in Gal. 3:16 on the fact that the word in Gen. 13:15 and 17:8 for “offspring” was singular instead of plural. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”
2. Infallibility is also affirmed in more general statements in Scripture. Jesus says, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Thus, Scripture cannot contradict itself: “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been ‘Yes’ and ‘No’” (2 Cor. 1:18).
3. The prophets and apostles claimed that the very words they spoke were identical with God’s words. Jer. 1:9 says, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” In Revelation 1, the message is said to be a revelation of Jesus Christ in v. 1, but v. 4 says it is a transmission of John’s. In other words, when it comes to God communicating His revelation to His apostles and prophets, and them communicating it to God’s people, transmission error is an impossibility. What the prophet or apostle says is what God says. To be sure, the recipient may reject the message outright, as Paul writes in I Cor. 2:14 that, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”; or someone may sinfully distort the message, as Peter says in 2 Pet. 3:16 that, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”; or someone may simply misinterpret it, as Luke says about Apollos in Acts 18:26 that, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” But the answer to the question, “What if the prophet or apostle garbled the message?” the answer is, “God does not let that happen.”
4. Holy Spirit inspiration does not preclude “normal” means of communicating a message, such as interviewing eyewitnesses, as Luke 1:1-3 says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” Further, it does not preclude having a secretary do the actual transcription of the message, as Paul says in Rom. 16:22 that, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord”; nor does it preclude translating the message, as Paul says to Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:15 that “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and Paul was almost certainly referring the Septuagint there. Inspiration by the Holy Spirit also does not preclude consulting books of history as Daniel says in Dan. 9:2 that “in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years,” referring to Jer. 25:9-12. 5. This does not contradict the fact that revelation comes entirely from God’s own authority, as Peter asserts in 2 Pet. 1:21 and Paul asserts in 2 Tim. 3:16-17. Paul so identifies the revelation of God to men with the category of “Scripture” that in Gal. 3:8, when he refers to God speaking to Abraham, he simply says that “Scripture” spoke to Abraham. Scripture is presented as communication from God that is rational and adapted to man’s status as a creature, and yet this does not diminish its truth or authority in the least.
Both written and verbal communications are infallible, as Paul says in 2 Thess. 2:15 that the brothers should “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter”. Daniel had dreams, Isaiah saw visions, Moses wrote his messages down (Num. 12:6).
6. The most original form of the message is to be preferred (Ex. 34:1, 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Chron. 34:14-21). However, even a translation is capable of making one “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:16). The written message is to be the standard by which any deviation from the Word of God is to be corrected to ensure accuracy (Deut. 13:1-5, 17:18, Ps. 102:18). Even the infallible oral message of an apostle was to be confirmed by a reading of the written Scriptures (Acts 17:11).
So what is left of Bell’s assertion that the Bible is “contradictory” or “paradoxical”? Scripture’s own witness stands against him. His comment that “[The Bible is] actually a library of books written across a number of years by people who didn’t know each other with agendas and opinions and limited perspectives? Yes of course it is” (p. 16) is true enough, but the entire document is infallible in every detail. But more on this in a later article.