Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is the Bible the Word of God?

This is the first summary I post in this blog that is not shared by Dr.Rev.Stephen Tong. This is my personal summary of Pastor Amin Tjung's sharing to the youth fellowship in GRIIS (Indonesian Reformed church in Singapore founded by Dr.Stephen Tong). It was an interactive discussion with questions and answers so I organized the points and put up my personal notes. Pastor Amin Tjung was once a student of Dr.Stephen Tong.

The Doctrine of the Scriptures

The first question is “what is the Bible?”

1. The Bible is God's own words literally.
This cannot be since there are literal words of animals, human beings, and even the devil.

2. The Bible's pre-history account is mythical
Obviously, we reject this.

3. The Bible is a record of witnesses testifying about God, not really God's Word, but when a person reads the Bible, God will make it come alive. This is Karl Barth's view.

Then it becomes purely subjective. What if it becomes alive in one part and not alive in another part? So some part becomes God's Word and another part remains human words? We reject this too.

4. The Bible is God's inspired Word in human language (the correct answer)

So who tells us the Bible is God's inspired Word in human language? The Bible itself! Where does it tell us? 2 Pet.1:20-21; 1 Tim.3:16

Yes it is written by human beings, but the Holy Spirit inspires and supervises the writing of the Scriptures such that every word written by the authors originally is from God.

My Personal Note:
Principally, the highest authority has to authorize itself. If it needs to be authorized by something else, it no longer is the highest authority, and something else has assumed a higher authority then. That is the reason why we cannot use human reason and explanation as the ultimate qualification to authenticate the Bible as the Word of God. They are limited and too small to authenticate such a huge claim. Therefore, the Word of God will authorize itself.

As John the Baptist says, “The one who comes from heaven is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (Jn.3:31)

It means that there is self-authorizing power of the highest authority and whatever that is of earth (our human reason, evidence, etc) is below this realm and is unable to authorize what comes from heaven. So I highly concur with Amin Tjung’s words that the Spirit of God convinces the believer that the Scripture is the Word of God. This is the epistemology (the study of knowledge, how we know what we know) stand of Cornelius Vantil, which is presupposition.


The next question is, there are so many books that claim to be Scriptures or holy books and revelation from God. So why is the Bible the Word of God? What about the rest? Is Al-Quran the Word of God?

There are not many revelatory religions/philosophies in the world. Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, for example, do not claim to be of God's revelation. This leaves us with 3 major revelatory religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Judaism only receives Old Testament. Islam receives partial Old Testament, partial New Testament, and Al-Quran. Christianity receives Old and New Testament. So who is guilty of adding and who is guilty of subtracting?

To answer this question, first of all, let us examine how and on what basis Al-Quran claims to be God's Word. Islam receives the 4 gospels and renounced the rest of NT as false Scriptures. Their claim of Al-Quran as revelatory is based on John 14:16 which says: “I will pray to the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”

This word “Comforter” is from the word Parakletos in Greek, which coincides with the name Mohamed. So according to Islam, Jesus prophesied Mohamed's coming as another promised comforter after Him, and Mohamed is the last prophet, not Jesus. Suppose it is true that the name Mohamed is indeed the same meaning as Parakletos, how do we answer this? Is he then the promised comforter?

Looking at the context of Jesus' saying, He promised the Comforter to the Apostles. But historically Mohamed only appeared many centuries after the death of the last apostle John. He also says that the Comforter will be with them forever, but Mohamed died as any other. Also, Jesus said the Comforter cannot be seen, as He is a Spirit.

Now we add more question before answer completely the previous ones. So even if the Bible is the Word of God, how do we know it is written properly and interpreted correctly? Can humans remember what Jesus really said, can they record wrongly, can they forget, can they understand wrongly?

It is true that as humans, things are subjective to our interpretation and perspective. In fact, many great philosophers do not write their books but the disciples wrote for them. Socrates never wrote but all his sayings are written by Plato. So are those really Socrates' words or Plato's own words or his interpretation of Socrates' words? What about Al-Quran? Is it recorded properly?

For all the religions that claim to be revelatory, if we are to examine them as strictly as we examine Christianity, they will all fall flat on their own ground. All these are debatable at their own ground, and with the process of history, it is impossible for us to trace everything back absolutely since all the authors are dead now.

But how does Christianity guarantee that the Scriptures are correctly written and correctly passed down and interpreted? We have a guarantee in John 14:26; John 16:12-13.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, would teach us all things, and would remind us of what He had said. So can the disciples forget? Yes. Did the disciple understand everything Jesus said when he first taught them? No. How do they know and remember and write down accordingly and correctly then? It's the Holy Spirit. Unlike all other religions/philosophies where preservation is questionable because the authors die, we have the Holy Spirit who is living and actively leading God's sheep. This is the guarantee.

Coming back to the previous questions, we can now look at the books of the Bible itself. How do we reach this consensus that Old Testament and New Testament is the Word of God, no more and no less?

The question of Old Testament is easily settled as Jesus Christ accepted the 39 books we hold today. That was in Septuagint during His time. The Old Testament went through a lot of copying and re-copying and we do not have the exact historical evidence to say that they are all preserved. But what did Jesus say? He accepted them as Scriptures that cannot be broken (John 10:35), Scriptures that would not pass away which He came to fulfill (Matt.5:18). Since He is our Lord, we accept what He accepts as authoritative.

For the Old Testament, there is a division between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees only accepted the Tanakh, i.e. Torah (5 books of Moses), while the Pharisees accepted the Torah, the Nevi'im (the Prophets), and Kh'tuvim (Writings). What is the principle for accepting Nevi'im and Kh'tubim then?

The Torah is commonly accepted by all the Jews, the Islam, the Christians as the Word of God. And in the Torah, in Deu.18:15-19 it revealed that the canon is not closed yet. There Moses said that the Lord God would raise another Prophet like him among their own brothers. So they are to be waiting for that Prophet.

Islam debated that Israel's brother is Ismael, so Mohamed, a descendent of Ishmael, is the promised prophet, not Jesus Christ. But looking more closely, Isaac and not Ishmael is the chosen seed promised to Abraham, and Israel is the descendent of Isaac. Moses is from the tribe of Levi and Jesus is from the tribe of Judah. Levi and Judah are brothers. Therefore Christ Jesus is the promised prophet like unto Moses, raised from among the brothers.

All the books of Nevi'im and Kh'tuvim (other books of OT other than the Torah) contain the sign of the Prophet so they are included in the canon. What about the New Testament?

Look at Malachi 4:5-6 – “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

So the canon is not closed. They are waiting for the prophet Elijah who will come before the Messiah.

So we turn to New Testament now. Matthew 11:12-14 and Luke 1:13-17 show clearly that John the Baptist is the one prophesied in the book of Malachi that would prepare the way before the Lord comes. In Acts 3:21-23, Peter quoted Deu.18:15-19 to remind Israel of the Prophet promised and expounded to them that He has come, and is Jesus Christ, whom they have crucified.

The books included in the New Testament have the sign of the Apostles, just as the books of the Old Testament has the sign of the prophets which point to the Prophet, Jesus Christ. New Testament is written for consolidation regarding the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah foreshadowed in the Old Covenant. But how do we know the canon has finally closed?

The Scriptures again has declared it closed in Rev.22:18-19.

Therefore, what we see is the Word of God that declares itself to be the Word of God, it points to itself and unites in itself, that is progressively revealed by God's own agenda, closed by God's own declaration and preserved by God's own power.

But how do we as human beings, know clearly since we can be wrong? The council which finalized the canon is done by human beings anyway. Can they decide wrongly?

The principle is not the Church deciding the Scriptures because in that sense, the Church would be of higher authority than the Scriptures. But the principle is this:

“I am a good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me” – John 10:11
So God's sheep is able to hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him. Sure we can be wrong, but as sinners that have been sanctified, we have to potential to be right. So although we can be wrong, it's not an inevitable situation. By God's will and guidance, we can know His will.

Personal Note:
All principles regarding the doctrine of the Scriptures are embedded in the Scriptures itself. So the Word of God is all- sufficient to convince, to convict, to comfort, to correct, to strengthen, to establish, to equip for faith and life. This is consistent with the principle that the Scriptures is of the highest authority, and so has to authorize itself and reveal to us whatever we need to know about its nature, its progressive revelation, its preservation, its interpretation. No human power can do this but the Scriptures alone.

8 Comments:

At 9:03 PM, Blogger The Hedonese said...

Interesting discussions by the pastor... :)

I found it interesting that although we may say that the Bible authorises itself, I find that we also found it necessary to use 'reason' and historical arguments to discuss and explain why other claimants to be God's revelation are actually not 'authoritative'...

ie we appeal to discussions about 'early versions of septuagint' and the like...

These arguments appear to be unnecessary since the Bible authorises itself without the need of reason and historical inquiry :)

 
At 1:06 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Interesting observation you made, Dave. I look at it this way. Essentially the Scriptures do authorize itself and those who have tasted the power of the Word that subdue them before God's throne would testify it to be so.

All these human arguments are not so much for the sake of authorizing the Scriptures, (for the Word of God comes with it its own self-authorizing power) but more to aid the weakness of human beings in their seeking journey before they come to faith. But when they have that God-given faith, they would see it to be true that the content of the Scriptures authorize itself that they are indeed of God and not of men.

 
At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Agnosthoughts said...

I came across this blog and found that the entry is an interesting one concerning the doctrine of revelation. I have always been fascinated with apologetic. Being an agnostic, it is rather important for me to be sure that my stand is right given the burden of having to update myself with apologetic arguments from time to time. But i think, the best of that entry can only shows that the Bible is the word of God only to God's people. There is no basis for unbelievers to even consider to regard the Bible as God's word.

Ps. Amin Tjung's sharing gave insights to a doctrine within the church but bear no witness to the world at all. It seems that such statement bear less of what Christians call the 'Great Commision', since it is noly true to believers and failed to demonstrate that the Bible is also true to unbelievers.

Even the Bible verses quoted in the entry to authenticate itself tends to be very weak. For eg.

'But how do we know the canon has finally closed?

The Scriptures again has declared it closed in Rev.22:18-19.'

After looking through the verses, it seems to be that Rev. 22:18-19 is concern more on the book of Revelation itself than the entire NT.

As for the guarantee in John 14:26; John 16:12-13, i think these verses itself is doubtable. It is like Dan Brown (the author of Da Vinci Code- hope you have come across it) claiming that his works are true and accurate. It is useless for Christians to protest agaisnt it because Mr. Brown can use Ps. Amin Tjung or stand of Cornelius Vantil to authenticate his own claims. That is Mr. Brown's own words bear authenticity in its words.

And if my skepticism proves that the Holy Spirit is not in me just because the Bible says so, then Michael foccault is right when he says that Truth is power/agenda-laden. Christians have been using the Bible as a channel to coerce others to share their beliefs. If we dont agree with them, we are considered the 'reprobate'.

And the case of the authenticity of the Quran and the Bible; if the Bible is the true word of God because it claims itself to be, then
the Quran is also the true word of Allah because it claims itself to be too. So as other religions' manuscripts. It is rather intellectual unbearable to claim authenticity of oneself by quoting oneself in refering to others. For eg.'i'm right because i says so and you are wrong because i say so too.'

Anyway, overall, i still think the entry is a good description of the Revelation doctrine of the Christian God for the Christians. And for the Christians only. And if that's the case, keep the religion to yourself and perhaps it is wise to stop pushing Christian agendas unto other religios people (like the Muslims). Let people have their own truths since truth is self-authenticates.

 
At 2:51 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi Agnosthoughts,

Thank you very much for your input. It is good that you update yourself with apologetics from time to time. I think both believers & non-believers should learn to do that.

I do agree with you that this particular entry is more for the benefit of Christians rather than the non-Christians because it states its presupposition from the start, which is not accepted by non-Christians. I post this note mainly for the Christians. And as you said, everyone of us has our own truths (presupposition) to begin with, which others might not agree. We do not deny that this issue of subjectivity applies to Christians as well, as far as human communication is concerned, and will always be the case.

But should that necessarily be the reason to stop sharing? Though differences and even conflicts will inevitably exist, we cannot stop seeking, asking and sharing, because as human beings such huge questions on truth, who we are, why we are here, and where we are going, are intrinsically in us, and history of religion & philosophy basically shows our attempt to answer all these questions. It tells us something about ourselves that deep inside such things matter to us. We question the origin of things.

Yet as humans we are bound by own own presupposition, unless something stronger and higher break our current presupposition. That is why I agree with you that we should not push our view unto others (because faith does not come by human power), but it does not mean we cannot share our faith to others.

For one thing, the fact that different presuppositions exist does not mean that objective truth doesn't exist, or that all the different 'truths' are equally true in objective sense. Note that every 'faith' has its implications on how a person will think, speak and act in his life. So it matters what we believe.

I agree with you that we cannot push our faith to others but I disagree with you that we should keep our faith to ourselves. We welcome questions and inputs and will try our best to address in ways that can be best understood. You are right that this article is more for the Christians, but this is not all there is, as though Christian message can never be relevant to non-Christians. We want to share because we have been given so much and above all, the abundant life that the world does not know.

There are plenty of other stuffs that Christians can share and give based on their foundation of faith, which would be and has been of great value and relevance to non-believers too. Have you studied only apologetics? Perhaps you can try exploring more concrete stuffs, like Christian valuation system on important aspects of life like worldview, social justice, morality, politics, philosophy, history, etc. We are not living in our own narrow world and just playing around with theories, but true Christianity has impacted the entire world in all these concrete stuffs throughout history.

Agnosthoughts, such issue on the truth is very profound and deep stuff that requires time and earnestness. A lot of times things things are not what they seem to be. Be patient and give yourself the chance to explore. I wish you well in your journey!

P.S. Yes, I have read the Da Vinci Code and made a review out of it. If you like, I can send you & I will be most glad to welcome your feedback. My email is mejlinachua@gmail.com

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger Benjamin Ho said...

amen Mejlina! You've really articulated the essence of Christian apologetics. In fact, so much of world culture we see today (from the arts to the sciences) owe their foundations to Christianity. Perhaps we should study closely the impact of Christianity on these things... less we reduce our faith into an insular, non-relevant way of life.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger The Hedonese said...

Great dialogue going on here...

imho, we need to be careful of arguments that only make sense to our own 'crowd' and are not useful 'fishing boats' to the lost...

For example, how do we know the Bible is God's word? Well, only those who have been subdued to God's throne will know...

That's fine, except tat it seems to have no relevance to outsiders. What if I have not yet been subdued? Am I free then to believe that it's not God's word? :)

Imho, presuppositional apologetics is fantastic if we're already believers and an excellent fortress that cannot be shaken. But for outsiders, we may need to twitch it a bit :D

 
At 7:07 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Yeah I agree with you. Thanks. Will keep that in mind.

 
At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedonese said:
" Imho, presuppositional apologetics is fantastic if we're already believers and an excellent fortress that cannot be shaken. But for outsiders, we may need to twitch it a bit."

Disagree. In fact, I believed the apologetics are mainly very useful for people who wants to believe but something still didn't make sense.

When you start twiching, how far would you go before it's consider too far? Who will be the final arbiter? Wonder when you finally think that you have won that person, is it really she won you or you won her?
Are you 'trying to help God' in that case?

 

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