April 24, 2004

Scripture and certainty

I was recently asked on a message forum how I could determine for myself, out of all the myriad of translations of the Bible, which is the correct one for any given reading. What, in other words, is my authority? This is a question that could be (and frequently is) posed (and is) in many different contexts:

  • By KJV-onlyists arguing for the infallibility of the King James Version of the Bible.
  • By Roman Catholics arguing for the infallibility of the Pope and the Magisterium.
  • By pagans (e.g. Muslims, Wiccans, Hindus, atheists, etc.) dismissing Christianity altogether.

Here is my pat answer to that question.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. . . . (Eph. 4:11-12)

God gave learned and wise men to the church, as Scripture says, "for the work of the ministry" and "the edifying of the body." They are there to build us up. When my own understanding is insufficient, then it is to pastors, friends, scholars, commentaries, and theologians of the past that I turn for help. I would be a fool not to, notwithstanding the prevailing attitude amongst many evangelicals and fundamentalists that "history is bunk."

It seems to me that the presupposition driving this question can be formulated like this: Lack of certainty = lack of truth. KJV-onlyists look at the plethora of English Bibles and pronounce them the work of the devil. Roman Catholic apologists point to the 20,000 Protestant denominations (or however many they are saying there are this week) and conclude that Protestantism cannot be right if they can't agree amongst themselves. The atheists note that no one can agree on who or what God is, and conclude that he must not exist at all. (By the same argument, we may as well look at all the differing interpretations of Hamlet and deny that Shakespeare ever existed.)

But why should I accept that presupposition? Is there no such thing as "close enough"? Are the scholars infallible? Of course not. Do I sometimes have to weigh the evidence for competing theories and decide which one (if any) is correct? Of course. That's what God gave us brains for.

Put another way: Slide rule accuracy got men to the moon.