What is truth?” Pilate asked (John 18:38), perhaps not as a serious question since he did not wait to hear Jesus’ answer. Yet his question epitomizes an age-long query that arises in the human mind and has been the object of many discussions throughout the history of philosophy.
That’s a quote from today’s book, by Roger Nicole. And while Pilate may not have taken his own question seriously, the authors in today’s collection of essays do. They all contend for the Scripture and Truth.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review Scripture & Truth, a collection of 12 essays edited by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Scripture & Truth is a Logos Free Book of the Month. You can buy it for USD25.99 in Amazon Kindle, or download it for free in Logos if you do it before November ends, which is less than 10 days from today.
Scripture & Truth. 446 pages, published by Baker Academic. The first edition was published in 1983. Today I review the second edition, published in 1992.
Scripture & Truth
In the preface to the second edition, the editors wrote:
… the issues treated in the old edition have not vanished from contemporary theological debate. Today, scholars continue to address questions such as these: What is the nature of truth? How have Christians viewed the authority of the Bible during the last two millennia? What are ways to interpret Scripture in a responsible fashion? These questions have, if anything, taken on greater prominence in the Christian community. For this reason the demand for Scripture and Truth has not abated.
30 years on, this book reads as if it was written for today. It’s a classic.
Speaking of classics, have you watched that Akira Kurosawa movie, “Seven Samurai”? A village hires seven samurais to protect them from bandits. Each samurai has their own expertise and style. The Seven Samurai was later adapted into the Western, “The Magnificent Seven”. We have gunslingers instead of sword-wielders. We can arguably trace the influence of the Seven Samurai in movies like Star Wars or Avengers.
In today’s book, we have the editors assembling a team of twelve warrior monks to do battle to protect the church against a great threat. Instead of guns or swords, they wield pens and typewriters. Each writer has their own expertise and style. The result is 12 battle essays from a witty dozen. The doctrine of Scripture that we know to be true today is thanks to the ink spilled by them and others like them.
The twelve essays are divided into three groups. Do you recognise these names?
In first group is the Biblical Essay group. Here we have five essays from Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, Richard Longenecker and Moises Silva. In the Historical Essay group we have four essays from Philip E. Hughes, Geoffrey Bromiley, Robert Godfrey, John Woodbridge and Randall Balmer. The third group and last group consists of three Theological Essays from Roger Nicole, Paul Helm and J. I. Packer. If you are not aware, then let me tell you that these are a list of distinguished scholars.
Also note that 40 years have passed since Scripture & Truth was first published. In 1990, Philip Hughes returned to the Lord, Geoffrey Bromiley in 2009, Roger Nicole in 2010, J. I. Packer in 2020, and Richard Longenecker passed away in June this year.
40 years on and their words continue to speak to us today. You can take this collection of essays as a sampler. Who knows you might find your next favourite author here!
To keep this podcast manageable, I pick one essay from each group, and hopefully this will give you a sense of what to expect from this collection.
From the five essays in the Biblical group, I chose D. A. Carson’s “Redaction Criticism: On the Legitimacy and Illegitimacy of a Literary Tool”.
If you are familiar with redaction criticism, then please let me explain to those who are not familiar. What are the tools of a carpenter? A hammer, drill, saw and many others. What are the tools of a Bible scholar? Textual criticism, historical criticism, redaction criticism and many others.
When we read Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me”, the Bible scholar could ask, “Do all manuscripts have the exact same words or are there variations?”. That’s textual criticism, to ask questions on the text or the manuscripts. If he asks, “Who was the Pharoah and what do we know of him?”, that’s historical criticism.
So let us not be intimidated by textual criticism or any other criticism. They are simply tools. And tools can be helpful or they can be useless. The question Carson poses here is, “Can redaction criticism be a legitimate tool?”
Carson narrows the scope to the New Testament only. By narrowing the scope it is easier for readers to understand the issue.
For example, we know there are overlaps between the Gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke. How do we explain that?
One answer is “There are overlaps because the three gospels are using the same source”. Scholars then use source criticism to figure out what is the original source.
Then, form criticism appeared. The background is folklorists and anthropologists study oral tradition in primitive cultures. They categorised oral stories into specific shapes or forms. You can have many different types of stories, each with their own characteristics. For example, a miracle story must look like a square. Just bear with me for a moment as I try to simplify things. If the miracle story that we received has the shape of a square, then form critics conclude that the story was faithfully transmitted. But if the story does not have the correct form, “I expected a square but I got a pentagon”, then form critics conclude that the story was edited from the source. Scholars use form criticism to categorise different parts of the Bible and determine whether it was faithfully transmitted or not.
Redaction criticism takes another step forward. Scholars notice that the NT authors were not just passing stories on. They took the stories and edited them to express their theologies. So now, scholars use redaction criticism to distinguish between what is traditional or authentic versus what is edited.
If you think this tool sounds iffy, it is. Carson lists 20 common criticisms against redaction criticism. I give you one example:
Carson informs us that form criticism came from folklorists who were trying to get at the original oral stories when it was first spoken 300 years ago. However, unlike those oral stories from primitive cultures, the Gospels were: 1. written within 60 years of events making it possible to check your source and 2: the gospels were written in a literate culture. People wrote things down. So the use of form criticism and hence redaction criticism is suspect.
The essay ends with two examples of how redaction criticism is used and suggested guidelines. Carson gives the answer to his question:
How legitimate, or illegitimate, is redaction criticism as a literary tool? If its application to questions of authenticity depends on its roots in radical form criticism, the answer must surely be that redaction criticism is well-nigh useless.
Yet, Carson knows that some scholars see some good in redaction criticism. He responds:
If conservative Evangelical scholars adopt redaction criticism of the conservative variety and, believing that it is an objective tool, ignore the doubtful historical assumptions that make up at least part of its pedigree, they are likely to find themselves in an intensely embarrassing position.
Embarrassing because if you say that this verse is authentic as a result of using redaction criticism. What happens when for another verse, the tool tells you that it is unauthentic? What do you do?
But what does redaction criticism have to do with the everyday Christian today? Plenty! Today, there is a fault line in the church because some say Critical Race Theory (CRT) can be an objective tool, while others say it can’t. Let me repeat what Carson says but with one small redaction, one small edit.
If conservative Evangelical scholars adopt Critical Race Theory of the conservative variety and, believing that it is an objective tool, ignore the doubtful historical assumptions that make up at least part of its pedigree, they are likely to find themselves in an intensely embarrassing position.
I know it’s not right to use Carson’s words here and apply it to a different tool with different assumptions and pedigree. I’m just saying Carson’s essay sets a standard for intelligent discourse. It asks and answers the question. I’m asking a new question for today: “Is Critical Race Theory a legitimate or illegitimate tool?” And I’m calling for people to write like how Carson wrote to bring clarity to a divisive topic.
The next group of essays is the Historical Essays. The first is titled, “The Truth of Scripture and the Problem of Historical Relativity”. Is it possible to learn from history or are the events and people too far away for us to meaningfully learn from them?
The next three essays combat the notion that Scripture inerrancy was a recent innovation or a recent priority.
Bromiley tells us what the church fathers believed. Augustine, Origen, Tertullian and others make their appearance.
Then Godfrey tells us what the Reformers believed. We hear from Martin Luther, John Calvin and Francis Turretin.
And the last historical essay by Woodbridge and Balmer tells us what 19th century Christians believed. We hear from A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield and many others from that time.
Let’s take Robert Godfrey’s essay as an example. His essay’s title is “Biblical Authority in the 16th and 17th Century: A Question of Transition”.
In 1979, Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim wrote “The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach”. Godfrey writes:
they [Rogers and McKim] insist that the greatest Christian thinkers, including the early Reformers, fully recognized errors in the form of the Bible while maintaining the faithful fulfillment of its function.
If Rogers and McKim are correct in one of their claims, that Martin Luther and John Calvin did not subscribe to Scripture inerrancy or take this doctrine as a high priority, then it implies Christians can hold to the doctrine of salvation and also believe the Bible contains errors. Although if we concede the human writers can make errors in some places of the Bible, why can’t they make errors in the doctrine of salvation… and other doctrines?
But how are we to refute Rogers and McKim’s claim? They are not questioning the Bible, because if they did we could just read the Bible. They are questioning Luther and Calvin. To check would require us to read much if not all of Martin Luther’s writings, to read much if not all of John Calvin’s writings. Thankfully, we have Christian historians to do that for us. Robert Godfrey offers a concise response in one essay.
First, Godfrey quotes Luther. Listen to Luther here:
But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they [the Fathers] have erred as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred.
After establishing Luther’s commitment to inerrancy, Godfrey responds to the Rogers-McKim proposal. Rogers and McKim say that “Luther stressed God accommodated Himself in speaking to man in the Scriptures.” Humans make errors. Human language is prone to errors. Thus, for God to speak using human language means errors. Godfrey tells us that is a leap in logic.
Rogers and McKim goes on to point out:
- Luther’s comments on the lack of beauty in Scripture,
- His list of recognised errors, and
- His question on canonicity
All of which Godfrey responds by showing what Luther and other scholars have said.
After Luther, Godfrey turns and does the same for Calvin: What did Calvin wrote, what did Rogers-McKim propose and finally Godfrey responds.
One particularly damning piece of evidence is Calvin’s declaration that Luke had “made a manifest error”. Godfrey shows us the sentence in context. Calvin did not say the Bible or the Apostle Luke was in error but he suggested the copyist was in error. This is a textual criticism issue, not a Scripture inerrancy issue.
The rest of Godfrey’s essay covers the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms, English Puritanism, and Reformed Orthodoxy and Francis Turretin. All in order to decisively refute the Rogers-McKim claim that the Reformers did not hold to Scripture Inerrancy.
Apparently the Rogers-McKim book was the centre of a firestorm when it was published 40 years ago. After reading Godfrey’s short treatment on this topic, you may want to read for yourself the Rogers-McKim book and even a book length critique. John D. Woodbridge wrote “Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal”. 240 pages. Published by Zondervan in 1982.
“Why would I want to?” you ask.
For the same reason we learn and remind each other of World War 1 and 2. Because humans commit errors and we are always in danger of committing the same ones. We really should pay more attention to historians.
The next and last group is the three Theological Essays consisting of Roger Nicole’s “The Biblical Concept of Truth”, Paul Helm’s “Faith, Evidence and the Scriptures” and J. I. Packer’s “Infallible Scripture and the Role of Hermeneutics”.
I pick Paul Helm’s essay and he begins like this:
Let us consider the following situation. Mrs. Jones is worried about her husband’s loss of weight and his lassitude. With some difficulty (for her husband has never needed a doctor before) she persuades him to have a series of medical tests. The tests strongly support the view, the consultant tells her, that Mr. Jones has cancer. Mr. Jones says he has never felt fitter and that the consultant is probably incompetent.
In this situation there are three different kinds of questions that arise and need separate treatment: the question of whether or not Jones has cancer, the question of what evidence there is that he has cancer, and the question of what would persuade him to accept the diagnosis that he has cancer. These three questions are connected, but they are not the same question. Let us see why not.
Later Helm connects the cancer scenario to the Bible:
Exactly the same three questions arise about the Bible. Is the Bible the Word of God? What evidence is there for the Bible’s being the Word of God? What evidence ought to persuade people that the Bible is the Word of God?
This essay is not a mini version of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”. Instead of listing and explaining all the evidence, Paul Helm is concerned to ask sort of evidence might provide adequate answers. The keyword is what sort of evidence. And there are a few views.
Externalism says that external evidence validates the Bible. For example, signs and miracles. Helm asks by what standard do we accept such evidence? There are counterfeit signs and miracles. What is a reasonable evidence to you may not be reasonable for me. And come to think about it, doesn’t externalism encourage would-be believers to insist on signs and wonders in order to believe?
Contrary to externalism, there is fideism. You have heard of Sola Scripture? It means “By Scripture Alone”. Sola Fide is “By Faith Alone”. Fide is L atin for faith. Fideism is:
the view [is] that the proof or evidence that the Bible is the Word of God is not to be found in a set of external criteria, but elsewhere. The contrast established by fideism is not necessarily between faith and reason but between faith and external proof.
There are three types of fideism. The first is: “I don’t need evidence, I just need to have faith.” And presumably because there is no need for evidence, Helm wastes no time elaborating this view.
The second type of fideism has Helm discussing Alvin Platinga’s paper, “Is Belief in God Rational?” I summarise the discussion to mean: “My faith is so foundational, so basic, so indivisible, that is nothing else underneath the foundation. There are no further reasons or whys for my faith.” Helm then explains why he finds this unsatisfactory and moves to his solution.
Which is the third type of fideism. This is the view that:
the Bible is the Word of God is a matter of its own evidence, and there are external arguments leading to this view.
Are you confused? Because I was! Helm just wrote pages on why externalism is wrong and here he suddenly supports it. Then Helm explains that externalism and the other two types of fideism share one thing in common, they all consider evidence apart from the Bible. Whereas, Helm’s view is we must take the Bible as evidence and there is evidence outside the Bible to support this. Let us hear from Helm’s own words:
“Considering the content of the Scriptures” means not merely looking at what the Scriptures say about themselves but examining the force or impact of the Scriptures. Part of the reason for believing that a person is a king may be that he says that he is a king. But the evidence that he is a king is much stronger if he is seen exercising the prerogatives of a king. It is not simply that the Scriptures say that they are the revelation of God that is the evidence for their being so, but also that they function as the Word of God. Let us try to look at this in a little more detail.
As I read Helm’s explanation, it dawns on me that Helm is trying to explain the way the Holy Spirit creates belief. There is more – a lot more! – but let me select just one quote here:
The internal testimony of the Spirit is not to be thought of as in some way short-circuiting the objective evidence or making up for the deficiencies in external scriptural evidence, nor as providing additional evidence, nor as merely acting as a mechanical stimulus, but as making the mind capable of the proper appreciation of the evidence, seeing it for what it is, and in particular heightening the mind’s awareness of the marks of divinity present in the text in such a way as to produce the conviction that this text is indeed the product of the divine mind and therefore to be relied on utterly.
Scholars need to be precise and Helm is no exception. Helm pre-emptively distances himself from the accusations of subjectivism. There is the subjective component in the person. But there is the objective component, “the text and its meaning, something public and verifiable.”
But surely this appeal to religious experience is purely subjective, isn’t it? Not necessarily. If an engineer predicts the collapse of a bridge and it collapses, his prediction has physically objective confirmation. But physical objectivity is not the only kind of objectivity. Suppose Smith wonders whether Robinson really dislikes him. If Robinson does dislike Smith, then in a sense this is subjective, something about Robinson’s state of mind. But in another sense it has objectivity. It has objectivity if, for example, it is sustained in varied sets of circumstances, if it is expressed in different ways. In the case of religious experience similar sorts of tests apply, and a person may become rationally convinced of the objectivity (i.e., the reality) of God’s love, even though God does not have objective physical reality.
Feeling loved is a subjective experience. But the people and events that produce that subjective feeling has an objective reality. You can quote Helm for Valentine’s Day or wedding anniversaries.
I hope my choice of Carson, Godfrey, and Helm’s deep and thought-provoking essays will entice you to read the rest of the collection.
If the book wasn’t free, I would never have gotten it. Scripture inerrancy is not a current issue in my side of the world and the book cover was attractive 30 years old ago.
However, to my surprise, in Scripture & Truth, I found scholars assembled to fight a now forgotten battle. Like many forgotten battles, we don’t realise the debt we owe to these men and all like them who fought to secure the doctrine of Scripture and so the many doctrines that flow from it.
This is a Reading and Readers review of Scripture & Truth, edited by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Currently priced at USD25.99 in Amazon, but free for November from Logos.
Logos is offering two books for free this month. The other one is “Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions” by Millard J. Erickson. The best thing about free stuff is you don’t have to choose between the books, you can just get both of them today and read them later.
Before you go, don’t forget to subscribe to Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you.