According to historic Christianity, the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But what does it mean to confess the Bible as inspired, as “the Word of God”?
Like many Christians, growing up in the Church I was taught that the various books of the Bible were produced by the Holy Spirit acting in history to inspire certain individuals so that they could become mouthpieces for God, speaking his perfect truth and wisdom into the world.
In 2 Peter 1:20-21 we read, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Very often Christians have understood this verse to apply not simply to the prophet, but to the biblical author as well.
Given this picture, it should hardly be a surprise that the revelation which resulted from this process of inspiration would itself be perfect in all subjects it addresses, from doctrine and morals to science and history. Put simply, since God is perfect, his book must be as well.
Alas, one does not need to read far into the Bible before one encounters texts that seem to stand sharply at odds with this simple and reassuring picture. To put it bluntly, the Word we’ve declared perfect, appears to be imperfect, the very Word we’ve deemed sacred, appears to be broken. So what do we do? At first blush, the choices appear stark. We could follow the skeptic in denying that the Bible is a sacred, inspired, perfect Word from God. Or we could retain the convictions of perfection while rejecting the witness of history, science, ethics or theology: in short, the Bible trumps it all.
But is there a third way?
In this episode of The Tentative Apologist Podcast we sit down with Dr. Kenton L. Sparks to explore the complexities of reading and interpreting God’s sacred Word. Dr. Sparks is presently the Vice President for Enrollment Management and Special Assistant to the President at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania where he has worked since 2000.
Dr. Sparks is also a respected biblical scholar and author of such books as God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Baker Academic, 2008) and Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible (Baker Academic, 2005). In this interview we will focus on Dr. Sparks’ 2012 book Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical authority and the dark side of Scripture (Baker).