Come the Theocracy, Whose Bible Will Rule?
For example, what does it mean to be a Christian? Who decides what the criteria are, and on what basis? And for those who are planning for an America where all of family life, society, and government is based solely on the Bible as the complete and inerrant Word of God, then which Bible are we talking about? Can you be a Christian if you favor a different translation of scriptures than a Protestant version preferred by the Chalcedon Foundation? Can you be a Christian if your Bible is bigger than the Protestant one? For that matter, does Chalcedon even have a translation preference, and if so, how do they defend it against all comers? And if they don't defend their preferred translation as the pure and complete Word of God, then how can they know when they've correctly applied Biblical law? Is it just a matter of opinion?
The Chalcedon Foundation thinks it has some answers to all of these questions. For example, Chalcedon's Communications Director, Chris Ortiz, insists that Christians must believe in the "veracity" of Scripture. He made that clear on December 23, 2005, when he posted a response to my "Adventures of Lamby the Liberal" on Chalcedon's blog. Ortiz writes:
Can a person be theologically liberal and still be a Christian? That is where the debate lies. To a biblically conservative Christian it appears oxymoronic to doubt the veracity of the Scriptures and yet claim a genuine belief in the Christian faith -- which is based upon the Bible. Like it or not, that's how we see it. Does that mean that Mr. Huston [sic] is not a Christian? I don't know. I can only say that IF he doubts the truth of the Bible, then he appears oxymoronic.
In an earlier post on December 12, 2005, Ortiz took Rev. Bruce Prescott (Mainstream Baptist) to task for debunking the unbiblical notion of "inerrancy." Ortiz wrote:
"[Frederick] Clarkson refers to Prescott as a "serious Christian whose view of Christianity happens to be different than that of Rev. Ortiz." Fred, what in the world is a serious Christian? You'd think it would be someone who actually believed the Bible. Well, Prescott denies the veracity of the Christians holy text, and labors to convert others away from such biblical confidence.
Now these references to scriptural "veracity" and its related concept of biblical "inerrancy" -- where do they come from, and what do they mean? Well, they don't come from my Bible (or yours -- the words don't appear in any Bible, no matter which version you are using). If you want to say that "veracity" means truth, I can agree with Brother Ortiz that scriptures present truth. But the Bible does not insist that Christians believe that the Bible is "inerrant" -- in other words, the Bible itself does not claim that it is 100 percent free of factual errors or personal opinions. People whose interpretation of sacred scripture leads them to adopt a (non-biblical) doctrine of inerrancy insist that their particular, preferred translation of ancient and sacred Hebrew and Greek texts is the complete and error-free Word of God. But belief in such a non-biblical doctrine does not define who is a Christian; rather, such a belief is just bibliolatry -- worship of one's preferred translation of the Bible, rather than worship of God. Further, such a narrow and rigid viewpoint could deeply offend potential supporters of dominionism, including Catholics and Mormons, two Christian groups whose view of sacred texts expands far beyond the traditional Protestant canon of 66 books .
The word Bible comes from the Greek biblia, or "the books." But which books are the sacred and canonical ones? Catholic editions of the Bible contain 77 books, but Protestant copies usually lack several of these books (including Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees). Protestant Bibles also lack parts of two books (Esther 10:4-16:24, and Daniel 3:24-90; 13:1-14:42) which are not found in the Jewish editions of the Old Testament. So, according to Chalcedon, does Christianity include Catholics, who do not view the King James Version, the new King James Version, or any other Protestant Bible, as the final and complete Word of God?
How about Mormons? Mormons revere the Old Testament and the New Testament, but also regard the Book of Mormon as sacred. The Book of Mormon makes clear that, from a Mormon perspective, the Protestant canon is not the only inspired Word of God. The word "Bible" appears 11 times in the Book of Mormon, all in this passage right here (count 'em):
"And because my words shall hiss forth -- many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever. Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. " (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 29: 3-10)
That sounds like unto an open-handed fool-slap, yea, in the manner of Ike Turner, to all who believe in a perfect and complete Protestant Bible. (Trow ye not that TWELVE references to a Bible would be a more biblical number? Verily, like unto the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, dozen Krispy Kremes, and other blessed items.)
But we kid the Mormons, because we love the Mormons -- and recognize them as fellow Christians. Even though, strictly speaking, they don't seem to fit with how our brothers at Chalcedon define Christianity.
And now back to kidding Chalcedon. If what it takes to be a Christian is belief in Biblical inerrancy, then Saint Paul was not a Christian. Say again? Well, if belief in the "veracity" of Scriptures and biblical inerrancy is absolutely, positively required to be a Christian, then none of the Apostles and none of the First Century followers of Jesus would qualify, and why? Because "the Bible" -- as many Protestants today define the term -- did not exist in the First Century.
In the time of Jesus, his followers understood "the Scriptures" to mean the Hebrew Bible -- commonly called the Old Testament. That's what is referred to when Jesus appeared to his followers in the Gospel According to Luke, 24:32: "They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'" Whenever Jesus cited "the Scriptures," he quoted from the sacred texts of Israel.
After Jesus completed his time on earth, the Apostle Paul still did not have a Christian Bible in his hand -- because the Bible as Protestants understand it today did not exist. So to what "holy Scriptures" did Paul refer to when he mentored Timothy? We know for sure that Paul had learned the Hebrew scriptures at the feet of Gamaliel. But there was no King James Version; there wasn't even a complete canon of Greek texts. So when Paul instructed Timothy that "all Scripture" is inspired (from the Greek for "God-breathed"), what did he mean? Whatever Paul meant, he clearly did not have in mind the King James Version, because it didn't exist! No, Paul points Timothy to the Scriptures that were known in the First Century -- the ones that Timothy had known since his childhood.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Let's suppose, however, that in addition to Hebrew Scriptures, Paul is also referring to the letters that he wrote to churches. Now, does Paul claim to be "inerrant" in writing these letters? No. The word "inerrancy" does not appear anywhere in the Catholic Bible, the Protestant Bible, or the Book of Mormon for that matter.
Apostle Paul: 'I say this (I, not the Lord)'
Was Paul a good Christian? I believe he was. Yet he did not have a copy of the New Testament. So being a Christian is not about believing the "veracity" and "inerrancy" of the Bible (whether one defines the Bible as a Protestant version, a Catholic version, or a Mormon version). And plenty of Christians read a Bible in church on Sundays, preach from it, and believe that the Bible is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," but don't believe in the (non-biblical) notion of "inerrancy".
If Paul did not define Christianity for himself as a belief in the "inerrancy" of the New Testament (which didn't yet exist) then what made Paul a Christian? Paul was a Christian because he confessed "Jesus is Lord" (rather than proclaiming "Caesar is Lord," as the Romans would have preferred for him to say). And Paul didn't claim infallibility for himself. Rather, he claimed that he was a fallible human working it out as he went along. For example, see I Corinthians 7, and note especially verses 12 and 25. Here Paul says he has no Word of the Lord on certain matters, but gives his own personal opinion and offers his own judgment instead. But what was he working out? Paul was working out the implications of his understanding of a crucified Jesus as God's resurrected Messiah. Here specifically, Paul was working out questions about celibacy. Because of his submission to the lordship of Messiah Jesus, he was a Christian, not because of any theological view he held about any particular Scriptures. And he stated up front that on certain matters, he was just giving his opinion: "I say this (I, not the Lord)," Paul states in verse 7.
Was Paul's opinion wise? I'm sure it was. Was it inerrant? Paul made clear that he didn't believe his personal opinions were inerrant. So worshipping Paul's writing as if it were completely error-free and opinion-free is setting up a false idol; it's bibliolatry.
The key question that Jesus' ministry poses is not, Do others hold the right beliefs about the Bible? No. The key question posed by the ministry of Jesus is, Given that God reigns, how then shall I live?
Now Brother Ortiz, as a matter of common courtesy, may define what he means when he chooses to call himself a conservative Christian; if he chooses to define that in terms of a narrow, rigid test of orthodoxy, then I will respect his right to do so. And I will recognize his claim to be a Christian, even though he and I disagree. However, I won't allow him to define what I mean by the term liberal Christian, and by that I mean someone who recognizes and tolerates the ideas of others, even those with whom he or she does not necessarily agree.
To be a Christian is to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, and to be engaged in working out what that means for one's own life. Beyond that, any narrow, rigid tests that would exclude fellowship to groups of fellow believers are pointless -- like staring at the hole, and forgetting the Krispy Kreme.
When theocrats call for a society based on Biblical law, they expose themselves to a wedge issue with enormous political and social implications. One cannot implement Biblical law without a Bible. But Catholics and Mormons and Protestants cannot agree on what constitutes the pure and complete and error-free Word of God, since they hold in their hands very different Bibles. So who's to say which Bible is the right one? Who's to say who is a Christian, and who is not? How can conservative Christians continue to insist that the Bible is inerrant, when the Apostle Paul actually claims that his writing contains some personal opinions on celibacy that did not come from the Lord? If Protestant theocrats fail to frankly answer such questions, including the question of whether Catholics and Mormons are fellow Christians (as, in our view, they plainly are), maybe it's not because they can't decide. Maybe it's because they're tiptoeing blindfolded on a serious fault line and hoping that no one points out the obvious. Because once the fundamentalists are forced to answer such fundamental questions, they will set off a tremor that will crumble their powerful but fragile political coalition.
Come the Theocracy, Whose Bible Will Rule? | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)
Come the Theocracy, Whose Bible Will Rule? | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)