Category Archives: Scripture

A Theology of Typos (and Worse)

Today I received a question from one reader of Lit!

Hey Tony,

On page 26 you say that Scripture “needs no editing or revision. It is Perfect.” I’m trying to understand what you mean by that. Would you elaborate on or paraphrase this for me, please?

Thanks very much,

SW

Certainly! The reference is to this line in chapter 1:

Scripture is unique. It is eternal. It never contradicts itself. It needs no editing or revision. It is perfect (Ps. 19:7).

That point comes in my attempted summary of the character of scripture. Earlier I made the point about Scripture’s inerrancy, which then builds up to this closing thought in question.

When I say Scripture requires no editing or revision I cite Psalm 19:7, but it is really an attempted summary of Psalm 19:7–11. The whole of God’s written word (i.e. his law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and rules) require no editing (i.e. it’s perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true).

Another way to look at this is to take a step back to see a much more fundamental point: God himself is perfect and requires no improvement. Therefore, all “God breathed” writings will require no editing, since they are breathed out from an infallible mouth. That applies to the original autographs of what was written by God, beginning with the very first published edition of the Bible carried by Moses down from Mt. Sinai in the form of stone tablets written by the finger of God. I believe this same point now applies to the whole of canonical Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

Infallibility, however, stops with the original autographs and does not extend to the many copies made throughout the centuries by scribes nor, of course, does inerrancy extend to Bible translations. Copies and translations do contain errors which requires the constant attention of keen biblical scholars, for whom I am deeply grateful.

By contrast, I’m a sinful man in need of much grace and personal change. Therefore everything I write contains errors and will require hours of editing and constant improvement, a taxing labor for my poor wife and friends and for my publisher! And I am painfully aware of the mistakes that managed to get into Lit! (for which I take full responsibility). For example, on the top of page 185 that should be “efficiently” not “inefficiently.” In footnote 25 on page 196 the parallelism should be “acute/acute” not “acute/astute.” Duh. And in the acknowledgments on page 188, I’m afraid my thanks to two dear pastor-friends got miffed by the inclusion of one extra word, see if you can find it: “When I speak of the pastor’s ability to encourage Christians to read, these are two faithful examples have deeply impacted my own life.” The spare “are” breaks the sentence and kills the sentiment.

When I find errors like these I palm-slap my forehead. Of course these are all relatively minor mistakes, but they fluster me. I don’t doubt that other errors lurk unnoticed, my point is that I am a redeemed sinner, and that means I am a work in progress. God is, he is not a work in progress. Therefore, I will have errors in my writings. God will not. My book requires hours of editing to weed out mistakes. God’s word, as it was originally given in the original autographs, is infallible and requires no editing or revision, it is breathed out infallibly. God writes no second drafts.

That was the point I was trying to make there. Is that clearer?

Thanks for the question!

Tony

The Tapestry of Scripture

That list of biblical references running down the gutter of each page the ESV Study Bible is a compilation of thousands of cross-references that point to other thematically related parts of Scripture. All told the ESVSB has 80,000 of those cross-references.

There’s a history to who actually made those connections. The references found in the ESVSB were compiled by a team of Bible scholars from Oxford and Cambridge Universities over 100 years ago. Their work was first used in the English Revised Version (RV), a version that appeared in 1881.

A few years back Lutheran pastor Christoph Römhild wondered if an infographic could capture cross-references like these for the purpose of visualizing the tapestry of Scripture. He contacted Chris Harrison, who said yes, and together they created this:

Each bar along the bottom represents a chapter from Genesis (left) to Revelation (right). The length of the bar correspond to the length of the chapter (Psalm 119 is easy to find in the middle). The cross-references are arched and colored by arch length. In all this graphic represents 63,779 colorful cross-references (I’m unsure how they arrived at this number, cross-referencing being something of an art — the Thompson’s Chain-Reference Bible has over 100,000, for example).

Beautiful graphic, isn’t it? This is a wonderful visual reminder of the thematic unity of Scripture, and it serves as a great personal reminder to read every verse in light of the bigger biblical storyline.

You can find a large version of the graphic and more information here.

Extrabiblical Books and Scripture’s Sufficiency

Without extrabiblical literature we cannot make use of the Bible, argues John Frame. He makes this point in a chapter on the sufficiency of scripture (ch 32) in his new book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010), 220–238. On pages 232–233, Frame writes this of our need of extrabiblical books in order to properly apply Scripture to our lives:

All our use of Scripture depends on our knowledge of extrabiblical data. Scripture contains no lessons in Hebrew or Greek grammar. To learn that, we must study extrabiblical information. Similarly, the other means that enable us to use Scripture, such as textual criticism, text editing, translation, publication, teaching, preaching, concordances, and commentaries, all depend on extrabiblical data. So in one sense even the first premises of moral syllogisms, the normative premises, depend on extrabiblical knowledge. So without extrabiblical premises, without general revelation, we cannot use Scripture at all.

Then he writes:

None of those considerations detracts from the primacy of Scripture as we have described it. Once we have a settled conviction of what Scripture teaches, that conviction must prevail over all other sources of knowledge. So Scripture must govern even the sciences that are used to analyze it: textual criticism, hermeneutics, and so on. … Scripture must remain primary. …

Frame’s argument culminates here:

Certainly, it is a misunderstanding, then, to think that the sufficiency of Scripture rules out the necessity of extrabiblical information. At every stage of our use of Scripture, we should legitimately refer both to the content of Scripture and to extrabiblical revelation. But each in its proper place: when we are convinced that a teaching is the teaching of Scripture itself (even when we used extrabiblical information in reaching that conviction), that teaching must take precedence over any conclusion derived from outside Scripture.

General and Special Revelation

Writes Herman Bavinck in Our Reasonable Faith, page 44:

“In determining the value of general revelation, one runs the great danger either of over-estimating or of under-estimating it. When we have our attention fixed upon the richness of the grace which God has given in His special revelation, we sometimes become so enamored of it that the general revelation loses its whole significance and worth for us. And when, at another time, we reflect on the good, and true, and beautiful that is to be found by virtue of God’s general revelation in nature and in the human world, then it can happen that the special grace, manifested to us in the person and work of Christ, loses its glory and appeal for the eye of our soul. This danger, to stray off either to the right or to the left, has always existed in the Christian church.”

Words and Relationships

The word is the basis for our relationships. Without words we form no connections, no closeness, no self-disclosure, no knowing. Without words there is no relationship. A picture of my face will not build a relationship with you (it will more likely repel you!). But words like these can begin to do so. Self-disclosure is the first step in a relationship. Ellul makes the point from Genesis: “God is not only creator; he is creator through the word, which means that he is never far from, never foreign to, his creation. God speaking means he is in relationship” (Humiliation, 59). The word forms the basis of our relationship with God, or, rather, God’s relationship with his creation.

This point is taken to another level in the Gospel of John, a book that opens by echoing the creation event as we are introduced to the Savior as the self-disclosure of God. The theme of word and relationship returns. God’s children, his flock, listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Jesus came into the world to speak and His children hear his voice (10:16, 27; 18:37). But they do more than listen. When God speaks his children recognize their Shepherd, are drawn into relationship, and are moved to follow Him. Whenever words are spoken directly at us we are invited to respond, normally it would be odd not to respond, even of those words come from a complete stranger on the street. Or to illustrate it in a different context think of a time when you drove a car past a friend in another car and waved but got no response back. The immediate thought is “Maybe that wasn’t my friend.” A lack of response makes us question our relationship. Words are like that. Words, like the voice of the Shepherd, invite us into relationship.

If words are the foundation for our relationships, lies destroy those relationships. The one seeking to destroy man’s relationship with God–Satan–is the one who has busied himself in seeking to distort and twist the truth into lies from the beginning of God’s creation. He did this to sever man from God. And he succeeded. But it gets worse because to be a liar is to be a murderer (8:44). When truth is twisted into lies a world of relationally-networked sinners becomes a very bloody place and a war breaks out between God and the people he created. The only hope for this severed relationship between a holy God and sinful man (each of us) is through the death and resurrection of Christ. Thus the Father of Lies can be defeated–and our relationship with God can be restored–only through the ultimate murder, the severed forsakenness of our Savior on the cross. For us to know God the Word of God must be murdered by lies.

The connection between word/relationship and truth/lies has profound implications for just about every sphere of life. But the simple point of these musings is to see the connection between our Bibles, our God, and our relationship and response to Him. Scripture is more than a book. It’s the voice of our Shepherd and therefore is the foundation of our relationship with Him. Those words are God’s invitation for us to know Him, to respond, to enter an eternal relationship with Him. He speaks truth so we can know Him.

The Word in the Church

“…Without this transcendent Word in its life, the church has no rudder, no compass, no provisions. Without the Word, it has no capacity to stand outside its culture, to detect and wretch itself free from the seductions of modernity. Without the Word, the church has no meaning. It may seek substitutes for meaning in committee work, relief work, and various other church activities, but such things cannot fill the role for very long. Cut off from the meaning that God has given, faith cannot offer anything more by way of light in our dark world than what is offered by philosophy, psychology, or sociology. Cut off from God’s meaning, the church is cut off from God; it loses its identity as the people of God in belief, in practice, in hope. Cut off from God’s Word, the church is on its own, left to live for itself, by itself, upon itself.”

David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Eerdmans, 1994) p. 150.

Scripture’s Majesty and Simplicity

“O, what words but thine, can expresse the inexpressible texture, and composition of thy word; in which, to one man, that argument that binds his faith to beleeve that to bee the Word of God, is the reverent simplicity of the Word, and to another, the majesty of the Word; and in which two men, equally pious, may meet, and one wonder, that all should not understand it, and the other, as much, that any man should.”

John Donne (1572–1631), The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (The Modern Library, 1952) p. 446.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 444 other followers