How can God possibly use an imperfect text?

If God uses His imperfect people (earthen vessels) to get his saving message of grace through faith in Jesus across to those that need it, and if God uses water (in baptism) that is less than perfectly pure, and if God uses the man-made elements of bread and wine to give His forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to those at the communion rail, and if God lowered Himself to the form of a mere mortal to accomplish His saving work for mankind, then how is it that the book that He has decided to use to tell the people what He expects of them and of His great love and forgiveness for them, how is it that such a book must be free of imperfections and the devices of man?

How is it that the Bible needs to be in a different category than the other ‘apparently less than divine’ tools which God uses to accomplish His purposes?

16 Responses

  1. The ‘inerrancy’ view is a question of authority. Who has the final ‘word’. After the split from Rome, the anabaptist movement was left adrift so to speak on the issue of authority. The scriptures were then elevated to a level to meet that vaccuum. The ‘paper Pope’ is what we’re left with. I find it strange that the fundamentalist view of scripture also maintains the autonomy of man in regards to free will and the sinners need to make a ‘free will’ decision to follow the path of God. It is held by this movement that God will not impeed on man’s will (because He’s a gentleman right?) yet when it comes to the writers of Holy scripture, somehow God intervened and imposed His will over and above the free will of man when writing scripture. I hold to Luthers description of the Holy Bible..He likened it to the manger..rough hewn, splintery yet it cradles our Lord. When reading the Bible always look for Jesus and His forgiving Word of promise. If Jesus is overlooked, then you are just left with a ‘christian Qu’ran’… no life in it at all, and of no benift for salvation.
    Thank you,

  2. I suppose I would want a definition of imperfection. like are we talking about spelling errors? I can live with spelling errors.

  3. To be rightly classified as inerrant, the Bible would have to contain no errors at all.

    Spelling, punctuation, discrepancies of order, discrepancies of locales, discrepancies of translation…things like that could not be in a book that was ‘perfect’, or “inerrant”.

    I’ll cut right to the chase. I believe that the Bible does contain errors of the sorts that I have mentioned. Although I believe that there are errors in a book that was compiled by writers over the span of a thousand years, I believe the message of the Bible to be without error. The message of the Bible is inerrant.

    One discrepancy of locale and order is the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples. The Gospel of John has this event occuring in the upper room, while The Book of Acts says it happened at Pentecost.

    Which one is correct? The answer is they both are. For it is not ultimately important where and when this event happened, but that it did happen.

    I can live with errors of this sort, for to accomplish His purposes, God does not require that man’s part in compiling and translating His Word be perfect in order that He can go to work.

    I believe the Bible to be just like the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the supper, the poor words of the preacher, and our Lord…who was fully man, and yet fully God.

  4. Good way of putting the question, Steve.

    I’ve been reading about scribal errors and that sort of thing. Good documents out there. The original text was without error – and God has indeed preserved His message, though not all the nitpicky words. It’s unfortunate that Muslims try to use instances of scribal error (e.g. spelling) to claim that the message cannot have been preserved.

  5. Hannah J,

    Good point about the Muslims pointing to the Bible’s “problems” (they are not problems for people of faith), while touting their “holy” book the Koran as being perfect in every way.

    That our Holy Bible does not have to be as the Koran (I really don’t care how they spell it) and have every jot and tittle be just so. Our God will not be trapped as a spoltch of ink on a page anyway. The Word of our God is “living and active” as the Book of Hebrews says. ” Living and active.” That doesn’t sound like any book that I know of.

    The Word of God is not the Bible. The Bible is an aspect of the Word of the God. The Word of God is Jesus Christ Himself.

    It takes thousands of fragments of manuscripts to put together one copy of the New Testament. The Early Church Fahers fought long and hard over which writings to include in the Canon. Many letters and gospels did not make it in. The Book of Revelation barely made it in.

    Hannah, I guess my point in this post was to try and get folks to realize the power contained in the promises of God, apart from the constrictions of any wooden interpretations of the Bible.

    The Bible is our source for all matters in faith and life, and it is the inerrant Word of God, all the while that somes words contained therein may be in error. The first time I heard that I felt the ground start to shake. My view of this perfect book, dropped from Heaven into our hands was shaken. Now, I believe my understanding of the Word to be more freeing, and more accurate.

    Hannah, would it shake your faith in Jesus if you found there to be a few contradictions in the original texts?

    Thanks, Hannah.

    – Steve

  6. Steve,
    Though I am not sure that even the originals were without spelling errors or punctuation errors, I do not believe the discrepency you cite is a discrepency at all.
    Actually, the gospel of John seems to have some quite different variants in spelling from the norm of Biblical Greek. I’m not sure that these could be classified as spelling errors though, as I am doubtful that the Greeks had uniform spelling for their words to the extent that we have in modern English. As for punctuation there is no set rule for it until long after the Bible had been decided on. Even the pnuctuation we have in the Nestle Aland is a later edition to go along with chapter and verse numbers.
    However, what you describe as a discrepency is one of those child play things liberals like to manufacture in order to discredit the witness of the Bible. I do believe that Jesus gave the disciples the Holy Spirit in the upper room, and that they there received the authority to forgive and retain sins. I do believe also that the Holy Spirit also manifested himself in a different and more spectacular way on the day of Pentecost, and from that time on the Disciples were able to perform miracles as testimonies to the validity of their message. It is not a matter of it happened in one place or another. It is a both and sort of thing.
    This is like the event of Jesus clearing the temple. People assume it could have only happened once, so they wonder: did it happen at the beginning or the end of His ministry? When It probably happened twice.
    However I will agree with you that the message, that Christ forgave our sins, is the inerrant gospel that deserves our foremost attention.

  7. BTW,
    I tend to believe the book of James to be in error, and dire need of correction by the Pauline Corpus, but that opens another can of worms. Talking to most neo evangelicals I’m not sure we are talking about the same book. I can reconcile James to Paul, but it doesn’t come out well in translation, and a plain surface reading of it can put it at odds with the gospel. The distinction of first and second class books, legoumena, and anti legoumena, of necessity needs to be maintained when dealing with the N.T. Canon, as we now have it.

  8. Bror,

    I like your explanations, Bror. I agree with you on spelling and punctuation and so forth when it comes to the Bible. That the hand of man is his earthen state can render the message of the Bible less than perfect, to me, would be a ridiculous notion. Did you hear that Muslims? Did you hear that Fundamentalists? Ridiculous.

    The book of James surely seems(‘seems’ is the operative word) to contradict what Paul says throughout the New Testament. I do think we could do quite well without it. But those who decided to put it in had the last word. I think it has confused many many people, and helped to bolster Pelagian theology.

    That the living God can and does use these Holy Scriptures according to His purposes is testament to His power and His power alone.

    Thanks Bror.

    – Steve

  9. Hello Steve,

    Hope you and your family are well.

    I completely agree with you 12:20 post. I also believe that men may have changed some facts about people in the Bible, especially women. After Jesus left, I believe men may have changed some things to meet their own ideas/beliefs. But, I agree, the Gospel message is pure. God will take care of all the rest and make all wrongs right.

  10. Magdalene,
    So what things would men have changed? What things concerning women? Who would have done that, and what evidence do you have?
    Surely you are not calling into question the integrity of the disciples, and their faithfulness to their lord Jesus Christ. Men most of whom met violent deaths for their confession of faith. They may have abandoned him in the garden, and run for their lives, but I think they would have been quite loath to put words in Christ’s mouth. Peter slipped up once, and Paul confronted him. I think there would have been quite a few words regarding one of the disciples changing things in regards to the word of Christ.

  11. Magdalene,

    All is well in the Martin household, Magdalene, thanks for asking. I hope you are well, also!

    Since the men that compiled the Bible and translated the Bible were fallible men, some things may have been slightly altered or changed (from the way it actually happened or what was exactly said). We can’t know for sure.

    The writers of scripture may not have gotten everything just so, as if it all had been camcorded. They may have used some literary freedom in the way they spoke of Christ, in order to make their case that Christ was, and is the One.

    John’s Gospel has Jesus saying things that the other Gospel writers do not have.Jesus saying. How does that happen? Surely the ‘I am’ sayings were strong enough sayings that the others would have known about them. Why did the other three not use any of those sayings in their Gospels?

    The ancient Hebrew writers did not know how the universe and earth were situated in the scientific sense, so they descibed a flat earth in Genesis, with the stars hung in the dome that covered the earth. What else would we expect from people that did not have the benefit of satellite imagery, or advanced telescopes?

    My question about all of this is “so what?”.

    Why does everything have to line up exactly so, for God’s message to be true and valid in our lives?

    I have had people say to me, ” well, if you have errors in the Bible then how do you know what parts you can believe and what parts you can’t? You can believe all of it! It is all true!

    If my father witnesses an accident where a pedestrian is killed by a hit and run driver, and gives his report to the police that the driver was wearing a blue baseball cap, and a different witness said the driver wore a red baseball cap, does it invalidate that a man was killed by a hit and run driver?
    The story is true, no matter what color hat the driver had on.

    I beleive that to hold the view that everything has to jive exactly so in scripture does not enhance one’s faith, but diminishes it. To believe that God is living and active is to free Him from the ink on the page, and to let Him work when and where He wills, with no restrictions.

    As you have rightly said, Magdalene, “the gospel message is pure.”

  12. Bror,

    I don’t think Magdalene was question the integrity of the disciples, but I think she was remarking about their state of humaity. Saint and sinner. The sinner part is apt to make mistakes of comission and omission.

    But then, she goes on to say (and rightly so I believe) that God can handle it, and that His Word will not be held captive to any text… in any book.

    Now don’t get me wrong, Bror, I believe that the Bible is God’s Holy Word. His inerrant message to a sinful world. I just think it’s always helpful to recognize reality and to broaden one’s understanding of the doctrine of the Word.

    I think this is helpful, in the apologetics realm (you see, you did change my mind!) also. You don’t get all caught up in the tail chasing excercise with un-believers over jots and tittles in scripture, but can rather affirm God’s hand in all that we do, pefectly…or not.

    These things are better discussed over ale. Next time you’re down here, let’s have a couple and iron all this stuff out.

  13. Bror,

    What evidence do I have? Well, I have these 2,000 year old documents that state… 😉

    Bror, it was just a post… Steve asked us what we thought about the Bible and any imperfections. I gave my 2 cents… 😉

    I can guarantee you, there were not very many men who were pleased with women following Jesus around as He shared/taught about the Kingdom of God.

    Men do many evil things… sinner and saint. Martin Luther showed us (repeatedly) how far men will go to twist God’s Word (for personal gain).

    Steve’s comments reflect my own (Hi Steve!). The gospel message is pure (which I believe with all my heart). Have a good day, Bror. †

  14. Magdalene,
    I know many men were not happy with Christ for letting women follow him around. No arguement there. Neither is their any argument that men will twist God’s word for their own gain. (So will women.) I think this is one such place where men and women alike have twisted God’s word for their own gain, by ignoring what it says to be politically correct.
    I wasn’t trying to be hostile. I was challenging you to think about where your misgivings with the word of God come from. Are they based in fact with evidence? Or is it just a manifestation of our old age desire to do and believe what we want despite God’s word?
    I do this at times, I guess because I am a pastor, I like to make people examine their positions concerning the Bible. Of course I liked to do that even before I was a pastor.
    You too have a good day.
    Your brother in Christ,

  15. “Hannah, would it shake your faith in Jesus if you found there to be a few contradictions in the original texts?”

    Depends on what the contradictions were. Almost all of the contradictions people find can be resolved by factoring the context – one interesting one is the two consecutive verses in Proverbs that tell us NOT to answer a fool according to his folly, and then TO do so. Knowing Hebrew and connotations helps there.

    My second answer would be to blame less-than-stellar scholarship.

    If the contradiction in question passes both of my answers, then I would think about it.

  16. Hannah,

    I was thinking about things such as when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples.

    Th book of Acts says it was at Pentecost, while John’s Gospel has the event occuring in the Upper Room.

    Also, when did Jesus go to Jerusalem? Was it early in His mininstry, or late in His ministry?

    Why does the writer in Genesis paint a picture of a flat earth? (the lights hung in the dome, etc.)

    Are those the kinds of contradictions and or errors that can just be explained by ignorance, or misrecollection, or… ?

    For me, it does not matter. For me it just proves nothing more than that the writers were fallible humans and that the story painted was indeed the real and true story because the point of the stories was made and made well, that Jesus is the Guy (God), and that the death on the cross was enough.

    I don’t see it that God somehow would require the ‘book’ to be perfect in every sense, while every other tool that He uses for His purposes down here is imperfect because of human, or inherent created properties.

    As I said in earlier comments to someone, it really shook me up at first when I came to the conclusion that the ‘book’ was not exactly perfect in every way. But now I have reconciled the notion to everything else I know about our Creator and Redeemer and I actually feel that my faith is stronger.

    Anyway, Hannah, that’s my 2 cents. Thanks very much for your ideas on the matter!

    Yours in Christ,


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