Archives For inerrancy

Bob Smietana, “Snake-handling believers find joy in test of faith,” The Tennessean (June 3, 2012):

Andrew Hamblin, 21, serves as the pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, TN. He is, according to this article, “part of a new generation of serpent-handling Christians who are revitalizing a century-old faith tradition in Tennessee. . . . They want to show the beauty and power of their extreme form of spirituality. . . . Their intense faith demands sinless living and rewards them with spiritual ecstasy – the chance to hold life and death in their hands.”

This small group of snake-handling Christians has existed in East Tennessee and the Appalachians since the early 1990s. They base this practice on the King James Version of the Gospel of Mark 16:9-20 (vv. 17-18), which they interpret literally:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Hamblin concludes about this practice, “It is the closest thing to heaven on earth that you could get. You can feel God’s power in the flesh.” One of Hamblin’s boyhood friends, Adam Gibson, had been married by Hamblin this past November. Neither he nor Gibson grew up in the movement but have been “converts.” Shortly after his wedding, Gibson was saved. At a service this past New Years, he handled his first rattler. His conclusion to this experience was the following: “It’s a great feeling to know that God is on your side.” And then in evangelist fashion he says, “I would like to let everyone know if you don’t have a home church, come to the Tabernacle. We believe in the Bible, we believe in the signs – and if you come out we will treat you like family.”

Here are a few thoughts/conclusions.

First, one can appreciate from our brothers and sisters the fact that they take the Bible seriously, all of it. If God says something in the Word, they believe it. They don’t engage in hermeneutical gymnastics (it might be more accurate to state that they don’t’ engage in hermeneutics at all) to determine what it does and does not mean. They believe it. There is something right and healthy about that dependency on the authority of God’s Word. But, there is also something troubling and wrong with it as well.

Second, like often happens in these kinds of circumstances and situations, the movement becomes noted for some unique thing that is tangential to the gospel at best, and it becomes the center point of beliefs and practices. One did not read of a single reference to Jesus Christ or the gospel. Granted this is a secular newspaper, so it may have been stated yet not reported/recorded. But something was off-center. Moreover, inevitably, it fosters a two-tier Christianity, and those who believe and live this way are more godly because they take the Bible literally because they live by greater faith, because . . .

Third, this raises the question about what is part of the original writings. It is the original writings that are inspired, inerrant and authoritative. This, of course, gets into the discipline of textual criticism. For KJV-only proponents, it the KJV that is often considered to be inerrant and authoritative. This creates problems both for belief and behavior because behavior is rooted in belief, and belief finds expression in behavior. It must be stated that there are not many passages besides this text in Mark that would bring to the fore these kinds of aberrations.

Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1994), 106, comments on the United Bible Societies’ The Greek New Testament, 4th ed:

Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16.8. At the same time, however, out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of the Gospel, the Committee decided to include verses 9-20 as part of the text, but to enclose them within double square brackets in order to indicate that they are the work of an author other than the evangelist.

By the way, the discussion about inerrancy and original writings has been made popular by Bart Ehrman, who does everything he is able to do to undermine doctrine of inerrancy and the Bible’s authority.
Ehrman is an example of a rational and intellectual response to the Scriptures, from the vantage point of one who has an agenda to undermine it. The snake-handlers are an example of an irrational and anti-intellectual response to the Scriptures, from the vantage point of those who undermine it all the while attempting to uphold it. In saying this, one needs to be careful not to sound as if we are the impassioned, distanced, objective interpreters of the Bible who have all this figured out either. That is often the fleshly response when critiquing and assessing other people and views.

Fourth, it brings to mind the oft-quoted statement on the definition/understanding of inerrancy, that we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible when properly interpreted. When we apply that understanding to this situation we could conclude that though they claim the Bible is inerrant and authoritative, they deny those truths through their interpretation/understanding of it.  But inerrancy defined/understood in this way is a fallacy. That definition/understanding actually contains two statements that are both true, but not when logically/theologically connected in that way. The inerrancy of the Bible is not dependent on one’s interpretation. The Bible is inerrant, and it is inerrant regardless of one’s interpretation. This gets to the heart of what Paul writes in the proof-text on the inerrancy of Scripture: “All Scripture is breathed out by God [God-breathed]” (2 Tim. 3:16). As an important point of application, it concerns me greatly when inerrancy is determined by or dependent upon one’s own interpretation.

Once we establish this fact, this truth, then we can begin to ask the second question that has to do with interpreting the inerrant Scripture. Paul addresses this in the next part of his statement on the God-breathed Scriptures, where he focuses on the fruit, purpose or goal of these Scriptures: “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Though they are intimately related and organically connected, we must be careful about how we speak of these two truths, and how we prioritize and connect them.

Here is how we have acknowledged these two truths in Evangelical Convictions, Article 2: The Bible (p. 59, brackets mine):

we maintain that though the Bible is without error [the first truth], we can know its truth only when it is properly interpreted in accordance with the purpose  for which it is written. . . . the Bible must be understood in its intended sense [the second truth].

Point of Application: This would be an excellent question of application for those pursing credentialing in the EFCA. It would also be a worthwhile discussion among your elders or other leaders.

P.S. If you read this article, you will read of deaths associated with this practice. Would you expect anything differently? I did not include reference to it because of the lengthy post. But since someone asked about it, I thought it important to make reference to it.

Andrew Hamblin, this young pastor, is attending the funeral of Rev. Randy “Mack” Wolford of Bluefield, W.V, his mentor and friend, who had died from a rattle snake bite one week prior to the writing of this article. This was written about in the Washington Post (thanks to the Bill Kynes for the reference). Wolford’s father had also died from a rattle snake bite in 1983. Hamblin’s words of encouragement in the midst of this grief were, “keep on, keep doing the signs of God.”

When things, issues, beliefs, practices, etc., become the center of one’s message and ministry, it means one is left with an empty message. Note that the encouragement is on the basis of the that which is unsure and uncertain as it focuses on the “do” of oneself or the group, i.e. “keep doing the signs of God,” not the “done” of the finished and completed work of Christ. Jesus’ last words from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), and his first words to the gathered disciples post-resurrection, “peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19, 21, 26) fit together – it is only through his completed and final work on the cross that peace with God and one another is accomplished, it is done. This is why (one of many reasons I may add) we are Christocentric in our message, our preaching and our sure and certain hope.

Text + Culture: Talking Points

Greg Strand – March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

—comment by Greg Strand, EFCA director of Biblical Theology & Credentialing

I am always looking to read pertinent works and to listen to relevant lectures/messages on foundational matters of the Christian faith. The “talking point” lecture series, began last year at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, focused on “Text and Culture” this year. Though I have not listened to the lectures, because of the subject-matter addressed I will. You may be interested as well.

Talking Points is an annual forum designed to bring about thoughtful perspectives on current ministry topics through presentation, dialogue and interaction.

“Text and Culture”
October 3, 2011

The Bible is…

  • an ancient text written to an ancient culture.
  • a relevant word from God for today.

In these two realities lay the challenge of pastors, ministry leaders and students of the Bible.

  • How do we understand the meaning of the biblical text in its original context?
  • How do we translate the text into the vocabulary of today’s reader?
  • How do we speak of the relevance of the Bible to our contemporary culture?

Biblical Text in Ancient Culture
Daniel R. Watson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Scot McKnight, on his blog noted that Watson’s lecture addressed “how culture informs the Old Testament, and his theoretical as well as illustrative examples were a good warm-up to the topic. Showing how culture informs that text is what many need to see all over again, and Dan offered plenty of examples.”

Biblical Text in Contemporary Culture
Douglas J. Moo, Ph.D.
Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies
Wheaton College

McKnight noted how Moo, the Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation, addressed “how the NIV translators worked: how they examined original text in original language, how they sought to create “natural” English, and how that involves both interpretation and seeking for natural English equivalents to what the text says.”

Biblical Text in & Cultural Relevance
Scot McKnight, Ph.D.
Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies
North Park University

McKnight’s summary of his own message was as follows: “My talk, after lunch, which had one of its goals to keep everyone awake and away from those early afternoon naps, was devoted to the theme of “cultural relevance,” and I developed seven themes — briefly of course.”

Question & Answer
Daniel R. Watson, Ph.D.
Douglas Moo, Ph.D.
Scot McKnight, Ph.D.

A Classic: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
—comments by Greg Strand, EFCA Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible is a classic. It has been used profitably by many since the time it was written. What he accomplished is incredible. In the first installment, the Pentateuch, Henry began with a preface, written on October 2, 1706. In it he spells out six principles. In his final principle, Henry emphasizes the important role of ministers to assist and guide believers in the understanding of the Bible.

I include a quote from Spurgeon on his assessment of the importance of Henry’s Commentary. I also include a link to Henry’s complete Commentary.

Though it is most my concern, that I be able to give a good account to God and my own conscience, yet, perhaps, it will be expected that I give the world also some account of this bold undertaking; which I shall endeavour to do with all plainness, and as one who believes, that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write. And it may be of use, in the first place, to lay down those great and sacred principles which I go upon, and am governed by, in this endeavour to explain and improve these portions of holy writ; which endeavour I humbly offer to the service of those (and to those only I expect it will be acceptable) who agree with me in these six principles:

  1. That religion is the one thing useful; and to know, and love, and fear God our Maker, and in all the instances both of devout affection, and of good conversation, to keep his commandments, (Eccles. 12:13) is, without doubt, the whole of man; it is all in all to him.
  2. That divine revelation is necessary to true religion, to the being and support of it. That faith without which it is impossible to please God, cannot come to any perfection by seeing the works of God, but it must come by hearing the word of God, Rom. 10:17.
  3. That divine revelation is not now to be found nor expected any where but in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament; and there it is
  4. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament were purposely designed for our learning.
  5. That the holy scriptures were not only designed for our learning, but are the settled standing rule of our faith and practice, by which we must be governed now and judged shortly: it is not only a book of general use (so the writings of good and wise men may be), but it is of sovereign and commanding authority, the statute-book of God’s kingdom, which our oath of allegiance to him, as our supreme Lord, binds us to the observance of.
  6. That therefore it is the duty of all Christians diligently to search the scriptures, and it is the office of ministers to guide and assist them therein.
  7. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991), ix-x.

C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (1876; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969), 2-3, wrote the following about Henry’s work:

He is the most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy. You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing will illustrations, superabundant in reflections… Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least.

By the way, the full text of Henry’s work is available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library:

Infographic on the Attributes of God

Greg Strand – March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

—comment by Greg Strand, EFCA Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing

Tim Challies, a master blogger, has begun putting some theology charts together in the form of infographics. There are two so far. Consider using this one on “The Attributes of God” in a small group or personal study.

Note: The resources used in “The Attributes of God” chart are Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, and A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God.

The Attributes of God Infographic

Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

Greg Strand – March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

–comments by Greg Strand, EFCA Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing

Here is a very interesting Symposium, hosted by Liberty University, on Bible translations, specifically comparing and contrasting the New International Version (2011), the English Standard Version (2011), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004). The presenters were Ray Clendenen (HCSB), Wayne Grudem (ESV) and Doug Moo (NIV). The three presentations were followed by a Q and A. A message on “The Trustworthiness of Scripture,” that was also a part of this Symposium, is also included.

The Liberty University Biblical Studies Symposium
Monday, September 26, 2011
“Which Bible Translation Should I Use?” With Dr. Doug Moo, Dr. Wayne Grudem, and Dr. Ray Clendenen

Video 1: Dr. Ray Clendenen and the Holman Christian Standard Bible
Video 2: Dr. Wayne Grudem and the English Standard Version
Video 3: Dr. Doug Moo and the New International Version
Video 4: Responses and Q&A
Video 5: Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Morning Session: “The Trustworthiness of Scripture”
Learn more

EFCA Statement of Faith
Evangelical Convictions
Other “Thoughts to Consider”