Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 4: Inspiration and Inerrancy

St. Paul at His Writing Desk, Rembrandt van Rijn
The Inerrancy and Inspiration of Scripture

All scripture is inspired by God 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.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

I.  The Inspiration of Scripture

"Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.
     You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since He who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for He is not subject to time. (St. Augustine)"--CCC 102 
Scripture is God speaking.  "God is the author of Sacred Scripture" (CCC 105).  God inspired the human authors to  write down "without error....that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred  Scriptures." (CCC 107)  In this process, God fully respected the freedom, style, and personality of each human writer.  The words God inspired by the Spirit were the words that the human authors intended, and at the same time they were the exact words that God wanted written down.  

     When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Jewish people were already the "People of the Book".   Since the time of Moses, if not even earlier, the Jews had written down the words and deeds of God Almighty that had been part of their history.  Everything that was recorded before the birth of Christ is known to Christians today as "The Old Testament".   Then, after the ascension of Christ, the evangelists and apostles began writing down Jesus's words and deeds (we will not discuss here in any depth the dating of the New Testament, it's too long and involved). The collection of their writings are called "The New Testament".  Together, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT) make up our Christian Bible.

  For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him  they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them,  they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.   Dei Verbum

II. The Inerrancy of Scripture
The passage from the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, quoted above, continues on:

     Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.  Dei Verbum

     Inerrancy is the term used to express the fact that the Bible  teaches "without error" the truths God intended to reveal to us.  When we think about the inerrancy of Scripture, we must remember that this inerrancy applies only to the original writings, so some error could enter in due to improper interpretation or translation.  This is one reason why the Bible needs to be translated and interpreted in the context of the Church.  The Holy Spirit preserves the accuracy of the Scriptures through the teaching of the Magisterium and the illumination of Sacred Tradition.  Here we see our three-legged stool again!

But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.  Dei Verbum

We need to note here that when we talk about the inerrancy of the Scriptures, we mean they are inerrant when properly understood.  Later we will discuss the various genres of books that are in the Bible and the four different ways of looking at Scripture, but here I need to mention that the "fundamentalist" interpretation of Scripture is not always correct.  Jesus, for example, did not mean that we were literally to cut off our hands in  Matthew 5:30, but was employing the common technique of hyperbole (or exaggeration) to stress His point about the utter abhorrence we should have for sin in our lives.
III. How the Bible came to us 
The Bible didn't fall fully written from Heaven!  How were these books chosen?  Who determined what was in fact "inspired" and "inerrant" and what wasn't?  Many books were written, both in Old Testament times and in New Testament times that could have been included in the Bible, but were not.  How do we know the books in our Bible today are the ones God intended to have included in the Bible?  How do we know some weren't left out, or whether extras were put in that didn't belong?

In ancient times, the Phoenician city of Byblos made and exported across the Mediterranean the material used as paper--papyrus.  After its place of manufacture, papyrus was called "bublos", which later was to evolve into the word "biblios", meaning"book".   This word entered Greek and then Latin as "biblion", or "biblia" for "books".  Our word "Bible" really means "books".  And it is a collection of individual books!  Here's a look at papyrus growing along the Nile, for all you Nature Study folks:

II.  What is a canon?
     When we talk about the "canon" of Scripture, we mean the list of books that are included in the Bible.  These are the books the Church believes to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

  "Canon" comes from the Greek "kanon", meaning a measuring rod or standard.  One of its meanings is "the works of a writer that have been accepted as authentic" (Wiktionary).  In this sense, the accepted books of the Bible are the works of God, who is their ultimate Author. 

In our next few lessons, we will discuss how the canon of the Bible, or list of authorized books, was determined by the Church.

Your Assignment

1.  Read 1 Timothy 3:14-15.
2.  Read CCC 120.
3.  Spend some time meditating on the gift of Scripture.  How can you appreciate this gift more deeply in your life? 
Thank God for this great gift, which is a true source of inspiration, strength, consolation, and wisdom.

Main Idea:  The Holy Scriptures are inspired by God and teach " solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation."

My dear readers, is this study what you were expecting?  Are you looking for something else?  I really want to accomodate your needs, so please let me know how you are faring.  Is twice a week too often, or is only one topic too slow?  Or is everything about what you expected and needed?  I know this is all basics and that you would probably find it more exciting to be actually studying the Bible itself, but I believe these basic lessons are important in understanding what the Bible is, how to read it, and why it is reliable.  Let me know your thoughts on the matter!

Next lesson: The Canon of Scripture

Editing comment:  I just want you to know, in the interests of full disclosure, that I will edit these posts as I find errors, or points of confusion, or just weird layout issues.  I won't use strike-outs or necessarily indicate these edits and corrections.  I know there is some kind of blog "law" that dictates that you should show all of your edits, but frankly, I think it would be distracting for people who happened along on this study to have to endure all sorts of strike-outs and ETA's.   .... so I'm breaking the blogging law and the blogging police may have to come and get me......


  1. I think this is great! Last week life was unusually crazy, so this week the study is much more doable for me and it should be most weeks. Thanks for pulling all of this together!

  2. Jen, hope life settles down for you this week! It's a nice thing about blogs...they just wait patiently until you have time to read them! How great is that?

  3. I am enjoying it! I look forward to more.

  4. I am loving your bible study. Will do some more beginners bible studies after this?

  5. Suz, if you read over the "Introduction" post, you will see there a *very* tentative plan for further studies. After an overview of the entire Bible, we could move on to a lot of different studies. Some ideas are: A Scriptural Study of the Rosary, The Life of St. Paul, or an indepth study on a particular topic, like a virtue or marriage. It really depends on you readers!

  6. I think these posts are fantastic. Thanks for all your efforts. The pace is good, but with some busyness of life, I have neglected to comment, but know, I am reading,learning, and pondering.