Is the Bible God’s word or does it "contain" God’s word?

I was listening to a formal debate on whether churches should have women preachers and I found an interesting argument supporting that position:

The Bible isn’t God’s word, but it contains God’s word. Paul wrote what he thought, but he wasn’t writing for God. Same with Moses, etc. – they were not writing God’s words, but what they wanted to write.

Now I have to say right out that I think that’s crazy. Not because I don’t think it is true (I don’t, but someone isn’t wrong just because they don’t agree with me) but because if one believes that, then upon what (other than your own preferences) do you base your belief system on? I do admire this lady for one thing: she has the courage to actually state this – I think many people believe it but won’t actually say it in public.

I’m not saying that someone is stupid if they believe this. I sure hope that’s not the case because I’ve made this exact argument before. I’m just saying that if you really think about it, you can’t hold this position because it doesn’t make sense. If it is true the Bible doesn’t hold any meaning for us – it is no better than any self-help book that tries to show us how to live better. If you can pick and choose which parts to believe, you can support pretty much anything.

I’m stating flat out that the Bible is either true, or it isn’t. It is either God’s perfect, consistent, complete word, or it isn’t. There is no middle ground. There is no gray area here – it is black and white.

If you side with me here then you and I may disagree on what Paul meant when he said this or that but if the words in the Bible say that what Paul was writing was inspired, we can’t just ignore them. Here are a few sample verses that show that the Bible states that Paul is writing inspired doctrine, not his own words: 1 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Corinthians 7:10, Ephesians 3:3-5, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 1 Corinthians 14:37, 2 Peter 3:15-16.

Again, either the Bible is true or it isn’t. It says that Paul was inspired and that is either true or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then we should ignore it all (or perhaps browse it for some common sense “good ideas”). If it is then we should obey it…completely. But it can’t be partially true and we can’t pretend that it is.

Well, of course we can – and we do, all the time. What I mean is that we can’t do that and be consistent or intellectually honest. What we want to do (what I’ve absolutely done, to my shame) is pick the things we like, focus on those, and ignore the rest. As C.S. Lewis says, that’s what allows two people to both claim to be Christians while arguing for completely opposite things. I think one of the most serious (and common) mistakes is this: we create a Jesus who agrees with us, then we worship that Jesus.

I’ve done that for years, but have recently decided to stop. Either the Bible is God’s word or it isn’t. I’ve decided that it is, and that means that I’ve got to live by what it says. Even if I sometimes don’t like it. Because here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter what I want, or what I like, all that matters is what God wants. His job is to define that, my job is to do it. I may not understand all that the Bible says, but I understand enough to know that I’ve not been following it. And I can’t look Jesus in the eye and justify my past behavior – and let’s be honest, if we can’t do that, we’re in deep trouble.


One Response to “Is the Bible God’s word or does it "contain" God’s word?”

  1. AD Says:

    >> “I’m stating flat out that the Bible is either true, or it isn’t. It is either God’s perfect, consistent, complete word, or it isn’t. There is no middle ground. There is no gray area here – it is black and white”

    Hi Keith. You are obviously a nice person, and very sincere. I am glad I found your blog.

    For many years I earnestly held your view above. Now I believe this isn’t the case. I do believe there is middle ground.

    This is how I see it: the miracle of the Bible is that the message about God arrived in our hands *despite* the great problems of the writings of the Bible travelling through so many generations. That is the miracle which God directed. The bible writers put down their intense experience of God, as they felt the spirit. Their stories were handed down, lost, found, banned, changed, assembled from different sources over thousands of years, before being translated, with bias. So it’s a miracle we have such a full picture about God in our hands today. It’s a beautiful book, full of sublime things of God.

    Now of course this makes life very inconvenient. It’s much neater to require that the bible is pure truth. On that platform we can then make apparently clear statements about the state of the world, or the role of women, or homosexuality, or pro-life, or middle eastern policy, etc. We can say that “the bible says X” about a subject, because we hold a position that the bible is an absolute reference for life today. We can think a bit less and let God talk from the book. Or can we?

    You ask an important question:

    >> “… ‘The Bible isn’t God’s word, but it contains God’s word’ … if one believes that, then upon what (other than your own preferences) do you base your belief system on?”

    I think the answer to this is, your belief system stands on your experience of God as your life progresses. If the God you believed in doesn’t fit with your experience, eventually you will find that the beliefs you hold are broken – perhaps by something in your life – and your beliefs are painfully changed into something new over time. Our real beliefs are based on those things that you experience as really true. I have seen churches with problems, theological troubles, pastoral difficulties … but the thing that is *true* is that Christ asked us to be deeply loving. I find that to be true, while our theological debate and plastic “churchy behaviour” is false. We hold theological ideas which amount to holding women back, while some women among our number are out in the streets, doing Christ’s work. That is true, while our theorizing is false. I am inspired by their goodness and my belief is strengthened by their example of Christ.

    We encourage our youth to read the bible, and to think and to ask questions. When does this stop? I think it’s too simple to require that the Bible is pure truth, and to say that our own thoughts and experience are false as the basis for belief. We are made in the image of God and that includes being able to think about God. We should give thanks that the message about God has reached us, and recognize we have to interpret what we have received.

    I think this is a more difficult path than a black and white view about the completeness and precision of the book. The key point is that the message of love is not damaged despite the journey and the mail delivery service of 2000+ years.

    I doubt we will agree but I enjoyed reading your blog post. I hope I gave you another view to consider a little.


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