Thursday, June 08, 2006

Does the Bible Contain Errors?

A note about the following. It's a letter written early in 2006 in response to a man (a former LCMS pastor, I'm sorry to say) who challenged me after I wrote a piece in a local newspaper defending the veracity of the scriptures. I was not surprised to receive no response, save a note in which the man accused me of being "hostile." Others will have to judge whether I was being hostile; I have decided that unbelievers such as this individual must be challenged to put up, or shut up.

"I did not start this current exchange. You -- for reasons known only to you -- seem to feel compelled to keep it going. When you wrote me in December, I answered you kindly, because I feel genuine compassion for you. But when you make the blasphemous assertions you made in your letter, be assured that I will answer you. I am sorry that you cannot admit the sad and soul-damning errors which you have promulgated throughout the time you’ve spent in various congregations. But be assured that -- with God as my helper -- I will rather die than renounce the faith he has given me. I am a most unworthy sinner. I am not worthy to hold, much less defend the truths he has given in his word. But with the blessed Apostle (cf. II Timothy 3.16), I confess clearly that all scripture is theopneustos. And as such, that holy Word is profitable. That you feel somehow compelled to deny this reveals nothing about the word; it only reveals something about you. People who are “free” -- as you describe yourself -- don’t jump like Pavlov’s dogs just because someone happens to publicly defend the Bible. But -- as I expected -- your letter arrived, and here we are.

"A challenge for you. You opine that “The Bible, with all its historical, geographical, and grammatical errors, along with many words that have been mistranslated in various translations …” Instead of painting with a broad and fallacious brush, why don’t you list those “errors” of which you allude? I would like specific, detailed, tangible, verse-by-verse listings of the “errors” which you allege that God has put in his word, complete with the intra- and extra-biblical historical, geographical and grammatical information (and specific paginated listings of source note bibliographical information, of course) needed to substantiate your assertions. A list, likewise, of the substantive “mistranslations” you allege in English Bibles would be good, too. Especially ones -- and detailed information from the Greek, Hebrew, or -- when needed, Aramaic -- would be helpful here -- that supposedly change the doctrinal teachings of catholic Christianity. I am intrigued when people allege mistranslations in English Bibles, especially when folks who are able to read Greek and Hebrew don’t find the same “errors.” But you have claimed that they are there, so I am assuming that you can give me such a detailed list. No photocopies, no broad assertions, no suggesting I read something else: a detailed list, pure and simple, of the “errors” will work just fine.

"You frequently made vague assertions about the “errors” that supposedly abounded in the scriptures; now I’m offering you the chance to give -- in exact detail -- what those “errors” are. Since you say that the “errors” are so “numerous,“ a list of 50 to start off with would not be amiss. And since I’m giving numbers, let’s go with 50 substantive “mistranslations” (in my published piece, I didn’t deny that there are insubstantial ones) to which you allude. If I don’t receive such a list, I’ll know what I’ve suspected for a long time: you are unable to even substantiate what has been the very basis for your sad and pathetic reign of error. In other words, it’s all been a bluff. I’ll be waiting."

Catholicity and Specificity

We confess that we believe in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." Catholicity meaning, of course, that the church is universal, that the church is not regional, not provincial, not limited to one ethnic, racial, or cultural group.

In America during this season, we're in the midst of a season in which the catholicity of the church is sometimes not clearly confessed. The reason for that problem is the occasional in-church celebrations of Memorial Day, Independence Day and other such national celebrations.

Such things don't belong in the church. Several problems spring to mind. First is that the church is an embassage of heaven, and as such, is not specific to any country where a particular Mass is celebrated. Faithfulness to the liturgy precludes such nationalism; there's no place in the Mass for it. Related to this is that the Mass is God's, and secondarily that of all God's people, and no one should be excluded. If the American flag pledge is recited in the context of the Mass, someone who is not an American cannot participate. (Leaving aside questions of whether it should be recited at all).

Bottom line: national celebrations are offenses against the catholicity of the church. They should not be part of the Mass. Having them prior to or immediately after the Mass also gives the obvious appearance that they are a part of the Mass.

How to deal with national celebrations? A couple of suggestions:

1. We are commanded (I Timothy 2.2) to pray for "kings and all in authority." So do it. Liturgical prayers for those in authority should be in every Mass. I'd also argue -- on the catholic principle -- that prayers should be included for rulers of other nations who are known to be dealing with serious issues.

2. Prayers should be in the Mass for those occasions when there are serious problems going on for one's nation.

3. American flags (and other flags, including the so-called "Christian" flag) have no place in the church.

4. Faithful, ongoing teaching should be done involving a right understanding of submission to governmental authorities.

5. It goes without saying that governmental officials should never speak in the church in their official capacity, which includes campaign appearances. It's the nature of politicians to use any forum possible for campaigning, but the church should have nothing to do with campaigns. If a politician shows up for the Mass, that's wonderful, but should be given no recognition that would not be given to any other person.