A while back I read the book, What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills. (See blog: WHAT DID JESUS MEAN?) I loved this book and have recommended it to others with a few caveats, the main one being his acceptance of the views of “historical criticism” – a late date for the composition of the gospels and the pseudonymous authorship of some of Paul’s epistles and the epistles of Peter. I felt, however, that this did not affect the thesis of his book.
Well, then I read Wills’ next book, What Paul Meant and was sadly disappointed. Here Wills lets his historical-critical views reign. He throws out six of Paul’s 13 canonical writings: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. Even those he accepts as genuine aren’t spared: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians are composites of 2 or 3 letters each (pages 15-17). Acts is to be treated “with great caution when it purports to be telling the story of Paul” (page 1).
Wills gives very few notes as in many of his books on historical subjects. He quotes or refers to a few “experts,’ whose opinions he feels are to be accepted as true.
So are we to accept what Wills tells us Paul meant, based on his views of what Paul really said?
Wills’ book joins the ranks of those by other “experts” who pick from the Bible what they feel is authentic and reject the rest. Usually what they find inauthentic is whatever disagrees with their viewpoints. Paul (or Jesus) couldn’t have said the things he allegedly said, because they don’t fit with what I think that he thought. The argument is totally circular. Some of the writings attributed to Paul are dated as “late” or inauthentic not because of textual evidence, but because the content supposedly disagrees with what Paul said. And the “fact” that Paul didn’t say these things proves they are inauthentic!
Come on! To hold views like these requires a faith, not in the biblical writings, but in the ability of the student to pick and choose for himself what is authentic.
I remember long ago hearing some preacher say that there are two questions that need to be answered: “Has God spoken? And “If so, what has God said?” Authors like Wills and many others seem to be trying to answer the second question without answering the first.
If we spend our time and efforts constantly examining and reexamining biblical writings to determine whether they are true, we will never be able to really know what God said.
I would rather hold the position held by Christians through the centuries that the whole Bible is as it claims to be, the Word of God, that it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 – literal) and is without error. I do not have the authority to pick and choose portions of it and reject others. I have many reasons for holding this view, but I hope the following will suffice.
First, a supernatural author requires a supernatural book. This may sound overly simple, but it seems to me to be essential to one’s whole attitude toward the Scriptures. Our view of God and our view of Scripture are inseparable. Our concept of God comes from the Bible, which we believe to have come from Him.
The Bible witnesses to its own inspiration and inerrancy. It claims to speak for God --- to be His Word, and nowhere does it even hint that it may contain error in any field.
If we are in doubt about what the Bible says in any area, we are at least partially in doubt about what it says in any other area, and we are left in doubt about its statements concerning the person and works of God. All we are left with is a weak and limited witness which, like the witness of natural revelation, can never bring us to a sure knowledge of Him.
Second, the only alternative is subjectivism. If the Scripture contains error, even though slight, we need some criteria for distinguishing truth from error, of ascertaining the “true facts.” Are all historical records and data to be disposed of? If not which do we retain? Some facts seem to be required for our faith and practice (1 Corinthians 15). Do we retain these? How do we distinguish? Do we go along with what was known in the 19th century as “the assured results of higher criticism”? Does the changing world of science give us any criteria?
Whatever the criteria I choose, any are changing and dubious. I am left with only myself as the final judge of what is true and what is false. Or I can choose to remain in doubt. I do not desire that responsibility.