Why do we call the Bible “the Word of God” when the Bible calls Jesus the Word of God (John 1.1)? It seems that we make a leap from Scripture being inspired (“God breathed” as it states in 2 Tim. 3.16) to Scripture being this inerrant, perfect document, given to us from the very hand of God, with no meaningful human involvement. Isn’t there some space between those two views of Scripture? Need they be conflated?
Because that second view, the one prevalent in so many theological texts (like Grudem’s popular tome), puts us in quite a difficult place when it comes to whether women can speak in church, whether people who have been divorced can serve in ministry, etc. If you take the view that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then a passage like this has to be taken literally and obeyed without question:
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor. 14.33-35)
Paul’s statement usually leads to one of these responses:
- Ignore it
- Find some clever interpretive way around it (e.g., it only applied to some boisterous Corinthian women – this involves moving “As in all the churches” to the previous statement; it only applies to “public” gatherings, not private gatherings in homes, which was where most church services were held at the time; balancing it out with another place in 1 Cor., where Paul talks about women operating in the gifts of the Spirit)
- Create some way in service to pay token obedience to this, despite the degrading effect it has on women (e.g., have women speak from the floor, not the stage; not allowing women to use the main pulpit; only allowing women to teach in all-women settings)
- Use it as a weapon against women who would serve in ministry to bludgeon them into silence
The real issue though is that what Paul says here contradicts the attitude toward women that Jesus displayed in the Gospels and in pouring out His Holy Spirit on women and men on the Day of Pentecost – power that was poured out for the express purpose of speaking publicly all that Jesus had taught and accomplished.
The real issue is that this one statement in Scripture is not in line with so much else in Scripture.
Which is a real problem if you think the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, perfect Word of God.
The thing is, the Bible doesn’t make this claim about itself. The Bible makes this claim about Jesus Christ. The Bible doesn’t claim to be the Word of God. It says Jesus is. According to John 1.1, Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the perfect, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible also tells us that nothing and no one is perfect, except God alone.
Even if the Bible had dropped down out of the sky, even if God had emailed us the PDF directly, even if no humans were involved in writing, editing, compiling, and deciding on which documents to include (OT, NT), the Bible would still be something other than God’s own Triune Person. The Bible is not God.
See, what we as humans always want – what we have wanted since Adam and Eve ate the fruit – is to make it so that we do not have to depend on God. People who hold an inerrant view of the Bible are just the latest in a long line of people looking for some way that they can live apart from being at every moment dependent on hearing from God.
Remember the Pharisees, the scribes, and the experts on the law? They held this view of Scripture (Torah for them). They didn’t need to listen to prophets like Jesus, because they had the text right there. They knew what it said. They knew what it meant. They knew what God wanted from them. Except. they. were. exactly. dead. wrong. Jesus hammered them repeatedly because their own expertise in Scripture had blinded them to what Scripture really meant.
So what am I saying? Am I saying the Bible isn’t important? Am I saying it’s just some book written by humans with nothing special about it? Am I saying we don’t have to take it seriously? Live by it? Learn from it?
I love Scripture. I am committed to the Bible. I have devoted the better part of my life studying it and acquiring the tools to study it as deeply as possible. I could not feel more strongly about the importance of Scripture and the key role it plays in living the Christian life.
Which is why it drives me nuts when people misuse it to work directly against the kingdom Jesus came to establish. The Bible is for drawing us close to God and each other – not for driving us apart. Just like Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden for fellowship with God and each other – not for estrangement.