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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Foundation of our Faith - the Bible or Jesus Christ?

I made some comments on the posting Bible translation and imperfect textual transmission which I think are worth repeating here for a wider and more permanent audience, even though they are only peripherally on the subject of better Bibles. So here they are again, in an edited form.

In his series The Bible, the Qur'an, Bart Ehrman, & the Words of God, Mark Roberts writes:
his realization that the original text of the New Testament was passed on imperfectly led Ehrman to abandon his belief that the Bible was inspired, and ultimately his belief in God.
I find this very sad, not just that Ehrman has lost his faith, but that this was the route of his logical deduction. It seems that his logic was formerly "the Bible is true, therefore God exists"; and because he is now unsure about the premise he has decided that the conclusion is unsafe and has become agnostic.

However, it seems to me that this logic is entirely backwards. I don't see how anyone can conclude that the Bible is true and the authoritative Word of God without first believing in God. There is no evidence or logical argument for the authority or infallibility of the Bible except through belief in God.

The logical way to come to belief in God is not through belief in the authority of the Bible. People come to believe in God in many ways. For some it is through spiritual experience. For others, like the author of "Who Moved the Stone?", it is because they realise that there is no way to explain the Bible accounts (even if they are not presupposed to be authoritative) except by understanding that there is a God, who raised Jesus from the dead. When people do come to accept that God exists, and that the Christian description of him is basically correct, they can accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and then move on to an understanding that the Bible is inspired and authoritative.

And then of course there are those who believe in God because they have been brought up to do so and told that they should do because the Bible tells them to. ("Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so" - a song I would like to see rejected as false teaching.) Perhaps Ehrman was one of these. When these people actually start to think critically, of course they will realise that this is not a firm foundation for their faith. And if they do not have a real personal experience of God, they are then likely to fall away into agnosticism as Ehrman has done.

To bring this back to the original topic of the Mark Roberts' series, which was the Pope's comments on Islam and Christianity: Muslims believe that the foundation of their faith is the Qur'an. They take the Qur'an as their infallible text in its own right, and so don't accept any questioning of its literal truth. But Christians understand, or should do, that the foundation of their faith is not the Bible but Jesus Christ. Only a faith built on him can survive and grow.

PS One small point on which I would take issue with Mark Roberts. He wrote:
If you were to remove from the Bible every single passage where there is legitimate uncertainly about the original text, the impact on Christian theology and practice would be minimal at most. (The only folk I know who would be in trouble are the snake-handling Christians of Appalachia...)
One other such practice is the use of fasting in relation to exorcism, which is supported in the NT only from Matthew 17:21 (MT, KJV), omitted in most modern versions, and Mark 9:29 where the word "fasting" is probably a later addition. Another practice which is in part dependent on a verse omitted in most modern versions is the requirement of a confession of faith before baptism, based on Acts 8:37 (MT, KJV).


At Wed Feb 01, 03:42:00 AM, Blogger David McKay said...

If we don't know that Jesus loves us because the bible tells us so, how else do we know?

How would we know of Jesus at all without the bible?

At Wed Feb 01, 05:20:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Faith in a book is bibliolatry. It is idolatry to equate a book with God- or God with a book. The Bible is a witness pointing to God- it is not God itself. To make it more than a witness is to make it into an idol. If Bart's faith was in a book- he should have lost it; as should all those who place their faith in a book instead of in God.

At Wed Feb 01, 06:19:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

It seems to me that the whole point of faith is that we cannot prove it. That's why it's faith (as opposed to experience).

If someone one proved that the entire Bible was factually accurate, what need would there be for faith?

As for David's question, without the Bible, the knowledge of Jesus would have been passed on orally, as it was in the early church. That's what Tradition is all about.

At Wed Feb 01, 06:31:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

"How would we know of Jesus at all without the bible?"

The Bible is not the only witness. This is why the Orthodox and Catholics, from the very beginning, have said that it is scripture AND tradition that witnesses to the reality of Christ.

We know of Jesus through the Church, through a living, continuing tradition. Just in the same way that I know about the Irish or Nigerian people, even though I don't know much about their exact origins. They're here now, and that's what matters. So it is with the Church.

The totality of expression and the foundation of Christianity goes beyond just a book -- It's much more rich and organic than that. We have a cloud of witnesses from the past 2000 years -- the saints and martyrs of the Church -- We have the Holy Spirit working NOW -- We have the Eucharist -- all of which testify to vitality and worthiness of the Gospel.

Secondly, just to touch on the Bible's own internal evidence of worth:

If Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction..If Jesus of Nazareth was a fabrication...Then whoever fabricated him and created the Gospel must have been someone as wise as Jesus then. Only a perfect person of otherworldly ideals could "create" a perfect character like Jesus -- Only a person as good as Jesus could even think of something like the Sermon on the Mount. If Jesus was created by a fabricator, then I would still believe in the fabricator!

That's all hypothetical, of course. My point is that Jesus is too good to be a mere fabrication. The very nature of the gospel is a testimony itself -- No one just "creates" a message and person like that. The writers must have witnessed or heard of something first. They must have witnessed a real man named Jesus. Then they wrote about him. Nobody just makes up a story like that.

Even the most modern and scientific of minds could at least agree with that:

"As a child I received instruction both in the Hebrew Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life." -- Albert Einstein

At Wed Feb 01, 07:50:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Well, my kids are going to be sad now that they can't sing that song anymore! ;^)

Thanks, Peter for a challenging post. I keep trying to write something, but I just keep coming up with a muddle of questions. This one will take some pondering and prayer.

At Wed Feb 01, 08:07:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

I agree that Jesus is our foundation, not the Bible. At the same time I believe the Bible is the word of God inscripturated. While my faith is dependent on God, I think one has to be careful not to treat the Bible as just another witness among many. Its witness and God's use of it is unique. That being said, certainly it's true that God uses other things, including his own voice to a person's heart and mind.

At Wed Feb 01, 08:09:00 AM, Blogger Eddie said...

"You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart."

Here is a kids' song reflecting Christian tradition (or is it existentialism?) and showing that knowledge of Christ is possible apart from the Scriptures.

The whole issue of God making himself vulnerable through the transmission of the faith by human agents is a fascinating one. Thanks for raising here, Peter.

At Wed Feb 01, 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Gerald said...

Well said Peter. And Ted, I agree with your comment as well. At the end of the day, we know about Christ--not because the apostles have met him and told us about him--but because we ourselves have met him. He is not a propostion to be believed, he is a person to be known. The certainty of faith is not grounded in our knowledge of the Word of God written until it is first born out of our encounter with the Word of God made flesh.

At Wed Feb 01, 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for all the responses! I think Straylight has made some excellent points. They clarify that the Bible is a real witness to Jesus and his love, and survives as a witness even if subjected to open-minded criticism, rather than presumed a priori to be infallible. So perhaps I was too hard on the song. But I would personally prefer to rely on Eddie's song (I wonder if one was written as a response to the other?). A few years ago my own faith was under serious stress in part because of doubts about the Bible. But in the end I came to recognise that Jesus was alive and at work in the world today, and in my own life. And because of this I could trust the Bible as the word which tells about him and to which he bears witness.

At Wed Feb 01, 04:08:00 PM, Blogger Brian Russell said...

Great discussion. I continue to enjoy reading this blog. I added your site to my Links page on .


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