Monday, May 20, 2013

Biblical Christianity in African Perspective - O'Donovan

Chapter 2:  The Bible - The Basis Of What We Believe

O'Donovan starts this section with a discussion between friends about how one would know which of the many authoritative teachings ought to be followed.  It is obviously a thorny, yet very important discussion as it involves finding and following the truth.  So O'Donovan asks seven basis questions.

A.  How can we know if the Bible is the Word of God and not just the words of men?
Everyone bases their beliefs on something, whether that something is a person, a book, or an oral tradition passed on down through the generations.  Christians base their faith on the Bible as the Word of God.  Is there evidence that would support such an assertion?  O'Donovan lists several reasons to believe that the Bible is a trustworthy foundation.

  • evidence from Apostolic testimony - this is basic eyewitness testimony
  • evidence from prophecy - the biblical test for a true prophet is found in Deuteronomy 18:21.  "If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken."  While most prophetic writings are calls for a return to biblical precepts, there are parts which are predictive...and those predictions have been proved to be true, in spite of repeated attempts of critics to prove otherwise.
  • O'Donovan lists examples of fulfilled prophecy.  Here is a good site to visit:\
  • O'Donovan lists several other reasons such as the unity of the Scriptures - although the Bible is made up of 66 books written by 40 authors living at different times in different places over a period of about 1,600 years, it is one unified story.
  • evidence of changed lives - no other book has had such a consistent life-changing moral effect on people
  • answered prayer

While I agree with all of O'Donovan's points, I do think that he has missed that single most important way we know that the Scriptures are true and that is God's own witness by His Spirit to our spirit.  No one has ever been convinced of the Bible's  Divine authority through any form of cognitive proof.  This is a spiritual matter and can only be believed if the Holy Spirit makes it apparent through divine illumination.  Paul told the Corinthians that "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  We may supply all the evidence we can muster, but unless the spirit of the unbeliever has been touched by the Spirit of the Living God, such evidence will make no difference.

My mother always used to say:  "A woman convinced against her will, is of the same opinion still."  That is true of us all.

B.  Is the Bible the only revelation from God or are there other books which are also revelations from God?
O'Donovan really does not deal with this question adequately.  He basically calls for a comparison between rival writings to see which one meets the desired criteria.  All I will say here is that truth can only be singular...either something is true or it is false simply cannot be both at once.  If what the Bible says is true then all other sacred texts cannot also be true.

C.  What did Jesus teach about the authority and accuracy of the Bible?
Jesus taught that the Bible was true, accurate, fixed, unchangeable, eternal, and inspired by God's Spirit.  This is true of all the biblical authors.  They believed that what they were writing was the very Word of God.

Let me add here that the Bible must be read the way it was written.  When a star-struck lover describes the object of his devotion as having teeth that looked like sheep coming up from the washing pool, we must not think that her mouth was woolly and that she spoke in bleats!  Not everything needs to be taken literally!

D.  What about contradictions in the Bible?
This questions has been debated for a very long time by very capable scholars from both sides of the aisle...there's no way this will be settled in a book like O'Donovan's or a blog like mine.  :-)

But I will say this.  J. I. Packer introduced me to a wonderful word.  Antimony.  Two seemingly contradictory ideas that are equally necessary and reasonable.

E.  What may we say about things we don't understand in the Bible?
O'Donovan admits that there are passages that even the best scholars struggle to understand.  In my opinion, the best thing to say in answer to this question is simply, "I don't know."  No one knows everything there is to know about a subject they whole heatedly believe in - even the best scientists would admit that there is much they simply do not know.  Why would we be any different?

F.  What is the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?
The bottom line here in this lengthy discussion is that the two Testaments make up the whole of God's dramatic revelation to us through the stories of His interaction with His people.  There is a continuity between these two testaments simply because they have one Author.

G.  What is meant by the inspiration of Scripture?
Again, this is a long discussion, but the easiest way to explain the term inspiration in relation to the recording of the Scriptures is to say that the Holy Spirit directed the authors to write what they wrote about things they would otherwise not have known without robbing them of their character, culture, or human faculties.  Even so, often the meaning or the outcome of the things they wrote about was not clear to them.

I believe the Bible to be what it says it is.  The Word of God.  But believing this and living it are two very different things.  I think the best evidence there is for the unbeliever is a changed can present as many "proofs" as you will, but if your life does not show that what you believe is better than what someone else believes, you might as well spit into the wind...

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