Adrian responded to my earlier post on sola scriptura on his blog (read his response here). He rightly points out that I have not yet interacted fully with the biblical data as regards penal substitution. I will of course do so, but I feel I need to explain the authority of the Bible and the role it plays in the formation of doctrine a little more clearly. I am fully aware of the arguments for penal substitution from scripture and from theology, though I remain unconvinced by them. Scripture is fully authoritative, but it does require some interpretation. If everything were so clear cut, then you would have to account for how two people can read the same verse and yet come to different conclusions.
Adrian notes that the bible “does not derive its authority from our experience of God.” He’s right – but that’s not what I was saying. What I said was that our experiences inevitably affect the way in which we read and interpret scripture – unless of course you are the only person ever in history who has no prejudices or presuppositions. We bring these personal experiences and cultural values to the Bible whether we like it or not, and they inevitably colour our interpretation of the Bible – though the authority of the Bible stands regardless, because it derives authority from God. (Surely then God is the final authority?)
In any case, what is the Bible if it is not a record of human experiences of God?
“…The Bible is our only inerrant source of authoritative knowledge about God.” I will dispute this. Cannot our own experiences (for example, a healing) also reveal knowledge about God? I am not saying that the Bible is subject to our own experiences, but that our experiences can also be used by God to commnicate himself to us. Similarly creation communicates knowledge of God (Psalm 19:1-2,) so the Bible is not alone in revealing God. As I said in my previous post, it is Christ who is first and foremost the revelation of God, and he is God. The Bible testifies to him.
As for the Bible being inerrant – you need to explain what you mean by this. If you mean that the Bible has no contradictions or inconsistencies within itself you have got problems. It’s common to say that the original manuscripts were inerrant – but that’s a moot point because we don’t have any original manuscripts.
In any case, the idea of the Bible being inerrant and infallible is actually a very new idea in church history, and exclusive to protestantism. It was ultimately a reaction against the scientific and philosophical onslaught of the enlightenment, and biblical inerrancy is not a claim that the Bible makes for itself, though this does not mean it does not have divine authority and is not God-breathed.
Some tensions and contradictions in the Bible
1 Sam 16:14-23 and 1 Sam 17:55-58 – Saul knows David and knows that he is Jesse’s son, yet by chapter 17 he has no idea who David is.
1 Kings 15:1-2 and 2 Chron 13:1-2 – What was King Abijah’s mother’s name? One account says she is Maacah daughter of Uriel of Gibeah, the other says she is the daughter of Abishalom.
Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27 – Is the disciple called Matthew or Levi?
Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20 – Does this story take place in the region of the Gadarenes, or Gerasenes? The manuscripts do not agree. Does Jesus heal one demon possessed man or two? The accounts differ.
Mark 10:46-47 and Luke 18:35-38 – Does Jesus heal Bartimaeus on the way to Jericho, or on the way back?
Mark 11:15-19 and John 2:13-22 – Does Jesus trash the temple at the beginning or end of his ministry?
Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-20 – How did Judas die? Did he hang himself or fall headlong and burst open? Was the field called the field of blood because it was bought with blood money or because it was where Judas met a bloody death?
John 20:22 and Acts 2:1-4 – How did the disciples receive the spirit? By Jesus blowing on them prior to the ascension or on the day of Pentecost?
Matthew 26:17-20 and John 19:12-14 – What night of Passover week did Jesus eat the Last Supper on before his arrest? The first day of the feast or the day of preparation for the passover?
Proverbs 26:4-5 – What is the biblical response in answering a fool? Two apparent contradictions in consecutive verses.
2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 – Tricky one for inerrantists. According to 2 Kings Rezin and Pekah are not able to overcome Ahab, yet according to 2 Chronicles, not only did they overpower Ahab, they also killed 120,000 of his men and took 200,000 wives. So which biblical account is true? Following that, in 2 Kings says that Ahab took some sacred silver and gold and used to persuade the King of Assyria to help him, which the King of Assyria did, yet 2 Chronicles says that King of Assyria did not come to help him at all. How do you maintain biblical infallibility in the light of this?
I don’t you think you have by any means actually demonstrated my arguments against sola scriptura are wrong, and although you will probably disagree with me I maintain that the teachings and actions of Jesus have more authority than some other biblical texts. For example, the law says ‘eye for an eye’, yet Jesus says ‘turn the other cheek and love your enemy’ – both are biblical, but which is the correct and authoritative teaching for the church?
Another question to ponder on this issue: the Bible does not say which books are authoritative and which are to be left out of the canon (the contents page not being part of the original text of course!), so how do you account for the arrangement and composition that we have today? And how do you account for the different canons of scripture that the Orthodox and Roman Catholics have? Are they authoritative and inerrant too? The decision over which books to leave in and leave out were of course taken by councils of human beings, and (although still led by God presumably) this means that when you say sola scriptura you also have to accept a particular historical tradition about how the Bible came to be formed in its present state, in which case you also have a historical tradition running along scripture, which means again that scripture does not stand sola, on its own in a vacuum.
I would request that you do not refer to me as a liberal, or a neo-liberal. My theology and view of the Bible has nothing whatsoever in common with the great liberals like Schleiermacher, von Harnack, Tillich, Bultmann, J A T Robinson and even Bishop Spong etc, and the atonement model I am going to argue for as being biblically superior to penal substitution has infinitely more in common with early church orthodoxy than liberalism, which did not appear until the 18th century. If you must use a term, I’d prefer to be called neo-orthodox.
Lastly, don’t think that I am going to suggest for one minute that God does not hate sin, that he does not want to annihilate evil and injustice, and that he does not want to swallow up death in victory. I also believe that he punishes sin, and that the atoning death (AND life) of Jesus is all that can save us from sin and death’s power. God also has wrath of course, I would not dispute that either. What I will dispute however is that the penal substitutionary model is not what the biblical texts teach, and that p.s. does not actually deal with the sinful corruption in humanity itself, or in creation. We cannot leave creation out of God’s plan for redemption, unless you fancy spending eternity being homeless. In any case, God’s work in Christ aims to reconcile ALL things in heaven and on earth with God (Col 1:20), but I’ll have to leave it there for tonight.