This article views
the Bible as a message or communication from God to man, and.attempts to
establish and explore an analogy between the Bible and modern communications
technology. Various issues in Scriptural inspiration and interpretation
are related to systems design issues which confront modern communications
engineers. These issues include: Biblical inerrancy; the Doctrine
of Verbal Plenary Inspiration; literalism; scriptural perspicacity; and
the priority and role of scholarship in Biblical interpretation.
In the past century mankind made several technological breakthroughs in communication. Communications is now a world-wide, multi-billion dollar business. Communications engineering is a self-contained field of applied science, with thousands of research publications every year.
The Bible may be viewed
as a message or communication from God to man. Can communications technology
teach us anything about God’s communication? In fact, a number of intriguing
parallels may be found between practical and spiritual communication.
Consider, for instance, the design of a modern wireless communications
system. Here are some of the problems which the designer must solve:
Now, God faced similar issues when He designed His Word, to wit:
In the practical design of wireless communications systems, part of the solution to the design problem is to specify the character of the transmitted signals in such a way as to make them impervious the errors introduced during the transmission process. It stands to reason, then, that God's solution to these same difficulties also had profound effects on the character of His message. In order to properly understand God's message, then, we must understand God's solution to the communications design problem: for we are liable to misinterpret His message if we fail to understand how He has designed it to avoid errors in transmission.
FALLIBLE COMMUNICATION AND TRADITIONAL CONSERVATIVE THEOLOGY
That God had to deal with imperfect communications conditions is not a new realization. Christians have long recognized the apparent paradox of God’s conveying an infallible message through fallible agents. Conservative theologians have formulated the doctrine of "Plenary Verbal Inspiration" to rationalize the infallibility of Scripture. We have discussed this doctrine elsewhere . Apart from its questionable Biblical basis, the doctrine does not solve the problem it was raised to address. This failure can be conveniently illustrated using a block diagram, which is a common tool used by engineers to represent communications systems. Here is a simple block diagram which represents the communication of God with man through the Scriptures.
Figure 1 Block diagram representing the transmission of the Scriptures
Each block in this diagram represents one stage in the transmission process, during which the information changes form. As in most practical systems, the system shown in Figure 1 involves several blocks.
Practical experience (and common sense) shows that a communications system is only as accurate as its most error-prone block. Virtually everyone, including most conservative Christians, agrees that the “transcription and translation” stages in the communications process are prone to verbal errors . Practically, then, the Scriptures we possess are NOT verbally error-free, even if the “original manuscripts” contain no errors.
Does this mean infallibility
is a lost cause? Not at all! Modern communications theory enables
the design of practical, concrete systems in which virtually error-free
transmission of information can be achieved, even in highly unfavorable
transmission circumstances. I believe that God in His omniscience
utilized these methods to guarantee the integrity of His message. The purpose
of this paper is to indicate how He may have done this.
A PRACTICAL REFERENCE SYSTEM
In order to provide
a frame of reference for this discussion, we give a brief overview of a
typical communications system. Figure 2 gives the general picture: the
signal is generated by a transmitter, then travels through the air to a
receiver, which attempts to recover the original information. These
three stages in the communications process (signal generation, over-the-air
transmission, and signal reception) will be discussed in more detail in
the following subsections.
Figure 2 Wireless communication process: top-level overview
1. Wireless transmitter
The diagram in Figure 3 represents a typical transmitter
for wireless digital communication of voice data. (The diagram includes
only several key blocks or stages in the information processing, and should
not be taken as comprehensive).
Figure 3 Simplified block diagram for a digital communications transmitter
We shall see shortly that the blocks in Figure 3 have
analogues in spiritual communication. At this point, we shall give
a brief explanation of the blocks shown.
The Information source is the original electrical signal produced (for instance) in the telephone handset when a person speaks into the microphone.
The Source encoder condenses the source signal, and transforms it into a form suitable for further processing. Digital telephone systems use vocoders which extract the essential sound information from the source signal. This greatly reduces the amount of information which is passed on to the next block (the input-to-output data reduction for some commonly-used vocoders is greater than 10 to 1). The output of the source encoder is digital data, which can be easily manipulated in subsequent blocks.
The Multiplexer combines the user's information with reference information which is used to facilitate accurate transmission. This is absolutely necessary in a wireless system, for over-the-air transmission distorts the signal, and the receiver requires some reference information to estimate the distortion, so that it can compensate and interpret the signal correctly.
The Channel encoder modifies the multiplexed information so as to reduce transmission errors. The over-the-air transmission environment is extremely noisy, and is bound to introduce errors into the message. The channel encoder uses error correction coding, so that corruptions of the message can be identified and corrected. Error-correction coding works by "spreading out" the information over time, so that even if part of the signal is corrupted by noise the message can still be recovered from the remaining parts.
The Modulator converts the information to transmittable form. The digital signal is “shaped” with a filter and “upconverted” to a high-frequency signal which may be transmitted via antenna with reduced propagation loss.
2. Over-the-air signal propagation
Following the sequence of blocks shown in Figure 3, the
signal is sent out over-the-air via antenna. During its over-the-air
transmission, the signal is subject to a number of distorting effects,
including attenuation, multiple reflection, and interference caused by
signals from other sources. It is not necessary for our purposes to discuss
these effects in detail – suffice it to say that the signal which finally
finds its way to the receiving antenna has been significantly changed in
3. Wireless receiver
Figure 4 gives a block diagram for the receiver in our
prototypical wireless communications system. Notice the exact one-to-one
correspondence with the transmitter blocks of Figure 3: in Figure
4 we have drawn the information flow from right to left to emphasize this
correspondence. Each receiver block reverses the operation of the
corresponding transmitter block.
Figure 4 Block diagram for a practical receiver
Some of these receiver blocks are far more complicated than their transmitter counterparts, for they have to work with a signal which has been distorted and corrupted by over-the-air transmission. The demodulator, for instance, must estimate and correct for the signal distortion as part of the demodulation process. The channel decoder generally takes indefinite "soft" information about the message, and produces a best estimate of what the actual message is. The demultiplexer is of comparable complexity with the multiplexer, and the source decoder is actually simpler than the encoder.
It should be clear from this discussion that the receiver requires information about the transmitter processing in order to correctly recover the message. The receiver must be apprised of the source encoding, muliplexing, and channel encoding operations in order to perform their reverse operations correctly.
Figure 3 and Figure 4, taken together, show all of the blocks through which which the signal passes during the communications process. Now, errors can be introduced into the signal within any block, or between any two blocks. Within the blocks, there may be hardware or software failure, that is, the hardware or software may not perform the function properly. Between any two blocks, there may be transmission error (especially in over-the-air propagation between the transmitter and the receiver).
One of the most remarkable results of information theory is Shannon's theorem, which states that messages can be sent with arbitrarily small error probability even over an error-prone system . The magical element which makes this possible is error correction coding. Practically, the effectiveness of error-correction codes seems almost miraculous. In digital cellular telephony, for instance, it is common to receive an encoded digital data signal which is 30 percent noise, and decode with such accuracy that the error rate is less than 1 in 10 million.
The effectiveness of error-correction coding has significant
implications for God's error-free communication with man, as we shall see
in the next section.
Having established a practical basis for comparison, we now examine the nature of God's communication with man. We shall use the practical communications system described in the previous section as a reference model in the following discussion. The practical model shall serve to clarify and concretize the genuine issues in God's accurate communication with us.
Figure 5 depicts the process of God’s communication
with us through the Scriptures. Note the similarity between Figure
5 and Figure 2. As in the previous section, we will analyze each
stage in this spiritual communications process in the subsections below.
Figure 5 Scriptural communications process, top-level view
1. Formation of the Original Scriptures.
Figure 6 is an expanded version of the first two blocks
of Figure 1, showing one possible representation of the formation
of the Scriptures.
Figure 6 Block diagram portraying the origin of the Scriptures
We shall give a brief overview of the blocks in Figure 6, but first we point out the strong resemblance between Figure 3 and Figure 6. In fact, the blocks are in one-to-one correspondence, and blocks in the two figures which occupy the same position perform similar functions.
The input (at left in Figure 6) to the system is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture itself identifies the Spirit as its “information source” (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). The Spirit is God's creative agent, the creation of the Scriptures being just one example. When the Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters in the beginning, the whole world was created (Genesis 1:2). When the Holy Spirit moved upon Mary, Jesus the Incarnate Word was formed in her womb (Luke 1:35).
The second block denotes the translation (or “encoding”) of divine inspiration into thoughts and emotions produced in the author’s mind and heart. We should not suppose that the human heart and mind are large enough to encompass the Spirit's full impression, for the glory and depth of the Holy Spirit is beyond man's comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33). Nonetheless, what is conveyed to the author is suffficient for God's purpose, and captures the essence of His intention.
The third block denoting combination (or “multiplexing”)
has been included in Figure 6 because human thoughts and emotions are woven
into the Biblical message. The Psalmist for instance expresses the gamut
of human emotions, including hopeless despair and vicious vengefulness
(Psalm 31:9-13, 137:8-9); Ecclesiastes mixes divine wisdom with human
world-weariness (Eccl. 1:2); Jeremiah complains against God even in the
midst of his prophesying (Jer. 20:7-10, Lam 3:1-20).
It may appear that this multiplexing of human with divine is contradictory to 1 Timothy 3:16, which states "All Scripture is God-breathed … ". On the contrary, our communications analogy clarifies the meaning of this verse. Suppose my friend calls me on a wireless telephone. I can hear my friend's voice, all the words I hear are 'breathed" by him. However, there is quite a bit more information being sent over the air than my friend's voice! This additional multiplexed information does not detract from my friend's message. Rather, it contributes to its clarity, for without it my telephone could never receive my friend's signal in the first place. In the same way, the human thoughts and emotions expressed in Scripture do not distort or detract from the Spirit's message—rather, they provide us a reference frame for understanding the message. They help us identify with the writers, for we too hear from the Holy Spirit against a backdrop of our own thoughts and emotions.
The fourth block represents the stage in which in which the author’s thoughts are formed into words. This is of course necessary in order for the thoughts to be clearly transmitted to others. For this reason, it bears a strong resemblance to the Channel encoding block in Figure 3.
The fifth block represents the writing down of the words
arrived at in the previous stage. Writing was the form of verbal
communication which was most suitable for repeated transmission, and for
relaying from one person to another without distortion. Evidently,
this is similar to the modulation performed in the fifth block in Figure
2. Transmission of the Scriptures
The final output shown in Figure 6 is the original Scripture manuscripts. Between the original manuscripts and those we now possess and read lies an iterative process of transcription and translation, which may be compared to “over-the-air transmission” in our reference wireless system.
Let us consider this transcription and translation process, by which the Scriptures were passed down through the ages and made available to the world at large. This process inevitably changed and corrupted the message. Most scholars agree that the even the oldest of existing manuscripts contain scribal errors such as miscopied census numbers, ages, and names. Translation is an even greater potential source of distortion, for linguistic features such as connotations, idioms and implicit references are not preserved by the translation process.
Now, wireless communications systems also have to deal
with the same problem of signal distortion during the transmission.
Practically, there are two significant methods used to avoid communication
errors associated with transmission:
1) The receiver in interpreting the message does not rely on characteristics of the message which are readily corrupted by transmission. For instance, a wireless receiver does not rely on the signal phase or frequency, for the received phase is completely different from the transmitted phase. Also, the receiver does not rely on individual transmitted binary bits, which are bound to be transmitted incorrectly. Instead, the receiver utilizes a cumulative combination of bits, which is not so easily corrupted.
2) Part of the the information which is transmitted is “control” information, which is used to help the receiver estimate the changes produced by over-the-air transmission, so that corrections can be made accordingly. For example, although the signal phase and frequency are changed by over-the-air transmission (as mentioned in point 1)) can still be recovered by measuring the phase and frequency of the “control” information, which is used as a reference. The control information comprises part of the information which is added to the message in the “multiplex” block shown in Figure 3.
Suppose God used similar methods to ensure accurate communication through His Word, in spite of corruptions introduced by the transmission process. This would imply that:
1) God expresses His meaning expressed through features of the text which are not readily affected by translation or transcription errors;
2) God included “reference” information in His Word, which is multiplexed together with His intended message, and which enables the reader to identify and correct for cultural and linguistic changes introduced in the transmission process.
The Bible is full of examples which support these two conclusions:
1) First, Jesus in His teaching consistently uses examples
and illustrations drawn from universal human experience, such as:
“A tree is known by its fruit”
“Narrow is the gate which leads to life”
“The wise man built his house on the rock, while the foolish man built his on the sand”
These examples are so common as to be impossible to mistranslate.
Furthermore, Jesus frequently teaches spiritual truth through entire stories and parables, so that His overall drift is clear even if individual elements of the story are unfamiliar to the reader, or are varied in translation. The parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance, refers to pigs, but can be understood in any society where youth are self-willed and rebellious – even among those who lack familiarity with pigs. Short of willful mistranslation, it is virtually impossible to distort the sense of Jesus' illustrative stories and examples.
Jesus’ teaching is in fact representative of much of the rest of the Bible, including the historical portions of the Old Testament. Many Bible stories which are not explicitly parables are still essentially parabolic in nature. Consider for instance the events of Moses’ life, such as Moses' encounter with God in the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, or Moses striking the rock to make the water flow. In this last instance, the fact that Moses used a certain sort of stick, wore a certain sort of clothes, or spoke a certain language is immaterial. The rock represents Jesus Christ; and Moses’ striking the rock represents Jesus’ crucifixion, as attested by large number of Scriptural witnesses The point is that through human impatience Moses disobeyed God and committed violence against God’s creation, and in doing so bore his own share of responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ.
The Psalms are culturally independent in that they express universal human emotions under general circumstances. People throughout the world and throughout the ages have experienced the feeling of being surrounded by enemies. All have at times felt overwhelmed by sin and far from God. All have felt elation at the glory of creation. The Psalms’ poetical imagery is drawn from general agricultural and everyday natural phenomena which are easily accessible to all. All can understand when the righteous are compared to trees flourishing on the riverbank; all can understand “The Lord is my shepherd”, even inner-city readers who have never seen a sheep. Any required agricultural background is supplied by the rest of the Bible.
2) Second, the Bible itself supplies sufficient cultural background for its complete interpretation. This serves as “reference information”. The Bible paints a very clear picture of the agrarian, conflict-ridden, feudal conditions of contemporary Jewish society. The Bible itself tells us about how shepherds lived and how fishermen fished; about how Jews and Samaritans hated each other; and about the Anointed One, and what was expected of Him.
So far we have claimed nothing controversial (given a
conservative Christian standpoint). Somewhat more controversial,
however are the converse assertions, namely:
1') In the Bible, God does NOT express meaning through features of the text which are easily corrupted or distorted;
2') Additional, extrabiblical reference sources are NOT required in order to understand God’s message through the Bible.
While the corresponding assertions are absolutely true in reference to practical communications, they would not be accepted by many Bible scholars. If true, they would remove much grist from the scholars’ mill! For these assertions imply that the proper spiritual understanding of the Bible NEVER hinges on the following:
A few examples of Biblical exegeses which would be ruled out by 1') and 2') are:
If hypothesis 2’) is false, and God did rely on extraneous cultural and linguistic features to convey His message, then a translation of the Scriptures alone is not sufficient in itself for the conveyance of His message. Instead, a collateral source of information is required, namely “scholarship” which provides cultural and linguistic background. Although this supposition is reasonable, it poses a serious problem, namely, it makes us all dependent upon “experts” to properly understand God’s Word. This was exactly the situation in Jesus’ time, when the common people were deemed unfit to understand the Law for themselves, and people depended on the scribes to tell them what the Law “meant”. The same situation existed in the Catholic church at the time of Martin Luther. It was against this situation that Luther raised the banner of “Sola Scriptura”, “The Scriptures alone are sufficient.” 
What’s more, even the “experts” themselves do not claim to be divinely inspired. Scholarship changes over time, and contemporary scholars themselves often cannot agree. Paul makes it quite clear that we are not to look to ‘experts’ for spiritual understanding, and that more often than not God speaks through those who are disdained by the world (1 Corinthians 1:19-20). Jesus chose fishermen, not “experts”, to be the primary purveyors of His message.
Better scholarship is NOT the key to a deeper understanding
of the Bible. This is a mistaken emphasis of the Church. I
am not saying that scholarship is useless, for better scholarship CAN help
us identify our own faulty assumptions and cultural biases. However, extrabiblical
scholarship is certainly not the key which unlocks the Bible. The
real key is discussed in the next section.
3. Spiritual Reception.
We have shown above (e.g. Figure 4) how a practical communications system requires a receiver which necessarily employs some sort of decoding process. The same is true in the spiritual realm -- we who are the “receivers” of the Bible message necessarily employ an interpretive process to “decode” the message. Those who claim to take the Bible "objectively" or "at face value" are nonetheless using a subjective interpretive process, without recognizing or acknowledging it. The proof of this may be found in the multitudes of Biblical expositors who claim to take the Bible "literally", and yet cannot agree with each other on its "literal" significance!
Some conservative apologists recognize the problematic nature of strict literal interpretation, and instead refer to the “literal interpretation of Scripture in context”. But the two parts of this statement are in conflict. ‘Literal’ implies an OBJECTIVE interpretation, whereas judgements about context are always SUBJECTIVE. Many interpreters forget the subjective nature of their contextual decisions. This is why many biblical disputes, unlike scientific disputes, have dragged on for hundreds of years, because can never be resolved by objective means.
The greatest obstacle to an accurate understanding of
the Bible is not the writers' lapses of memory, nor the scribes' slips
of the pen, nor arcane cultural and linguistic details. Rather, the
greatest obstacle lies in our own inevitable biases and preconceptions
which corrupt the interpretive process.
Block diagram of spiritual “receiver”
Figure 7 illustrates the interpretive process which occurs
within a hearer or reader of the Scriptures.
Figure 7 Interpretation of the Scriptures
The blocks in Figure 7 have been arranged to facilitate
comparison with the blocks Figure 6. The process proceeds from right
Block-by-block descriptionThe “Demodulation” and “Channel decoding” blocks correspond in straightforward fashion to the “Modulation” and “Channel encoding” blocks in Figure 6.
Demodulation and Channel decoding
DemultiplexingThe “Demultiplexing” shown in Figure 7 is actually referred to in the Scriptures themselves: 2 Timothy 2:15 talks about rightly dividing the Scriptures, while Hebrews 4:12 talks about the Word of God dividing soul from spirit. Now, the Bible in itself is insufficient to perform this demultiplexing, for the Scriptures can be misused either willfully or through ignorance (2 Peter 3:16). The Scriptures can only be rightly demultiplexed or divided by those who are approved of God (2 Timothy 2:15), that is, those who through faith have received the Word into their hearts (Romans 10:8-9, Hebrews 11:6). We have already mentioned that a similar situation holds in the practical case, namely, that the receiver requires information concerning the multiplexing used in the transmitter, in order to correctly perform the reverse operation.
I remember hearing one Christian’s testimony (I believe
it was Hugh Ross) that for some time he was put off from Christianity
by the fact that Jesus’ name was not Immanuel as predicted in Isaiah 7:14.
Such objections arise from an inability to separate spiritual elements
(namely the nature of Jesus as “God with us”) from literal elements (namely,
the ordinary concept of name). The prophecies of the Old Testament
typically include a mixture of literal and spiritually figurative elements,
and there is no systematic rule for identifying which is which
(some Old Testament prophecies, unlike the “Immanuel” prophecy, do predict
literal names, cf. 1 Kings 13:2 and Isaiah 45:1). Jesus’ teaching also
includes a similar mixture, which is why Nicodemus, for instance,
was unable to understand when Jesus spoke to him of being “born again”
Source decodingJust as in practical systems, source decoding is the key to accurate spiritual communication. In a remarkable passage, Paul describes exactly what occurs in spiritual source decoding:
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:11-14, NASB)
Spiritually, source decoding, like demultiplexing, requires the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Actually, the two processes are intertwined, for identification of spiritual content depends upon interpretation and vice versa. As Paul indicates, source decoding requires drawing spiritual comparisons, including the comparison of Scripture with Scripture: in this respect, it bears a remarkable resemblance to practical source decoding. Those who lack the Spirit cannot spiritually decode the Scriptures, and so the Scriptures appear to them as nonsense.
This apparently poses a problem, for many so-called “prophets” and spiritual teachers imagine themselves to be inspired by the Spirit. How may we distinguish the false inspiration from the true? God gives both internal and external witness. Internally, the Holy Spirit causes our hearts to burn when the Scriptures’ true meaning is opened to us (Luke 24:32). The "wisdom from heaven" which we receive through the Scriptures has internal watermarks, being “ … first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) Externally, the Lord confirms His Word with signs and wonders, including miracles of healing and restoration. The Gospel proclaims, “Jesus is risen from the dead!”, and the active, personal witness of the living Lord Himself is the ultimate proof of this joyous truth.
We must never become conceited and self-assured in our spiritual knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:2). We must continually request fresh insight and fresh confirmation of His will. By this means God compels us to continually cry out to Him for wisdom, to continually seek His face and His will (Psalm 27:8, Proverbs 4:7). We are absolutely dependent upon His grace through the Holy Spirit to understand His Word through the Bible. The Lord teaches the humble in His way (Psalm 25:9).
Those whose hearts perpetually strive to hear God’s
voice cannot fail to hear it (Matthew 7:7-8). To be sure, the reception
is a drawn-out process, full of misunderstandings and wrong perceptions
which are corrected over time.
In this section, we list some of the significant consequences
of our analogical model of the Scriptures as communications system:
The spiritual nature of Scripture
God's message, which He infallibly conveys to us, is a spiritual message. It is an infusion from His Spirit to our spirits. This spiritual message is conveyed by means of words, but does not require the exact transmission of each and every word to preserve its exact integrity.
Charismatics and Pentecostals who practice tongues with
interpretation have a prototype for information transmission which
does not depend on word-for-word accuracy. When tongues with interpretation
occurs in a Pentecostal assembly, the interpretation is evidently not
word-for-word, but rather a conveyance of the sense of the utterance or
"word" which was given to the speaker in tongues. (I
am sure this example does not endear me to non-charismatics!)
We do not need to feel obliged to find an explanation
for every stray age and dimension in the Bible, for even inspired prophets
were capable of factual slips. Further, we may give up this obligation
without losing confidence in the divine character and trustworthiness of
the Scriptures. Unfortunately, within Christian apologetics
much energy is expended in attempts to reconcile Bible minutiae such as
ages, genealogies, census counts, and other incidental details. They
defend the Bible against nit-pickers by gathering nits themselves.
Such expositors are in some sense the spiritual descendents of the Pharisees,
who had such respect for the text that they entirely missed the intent
of the message.
Our analogy does not at all assert that the Bible is fictional or non-historical. The Bible portrays a living God who intervenes personally and particularly in histories of nations and lives of individuals. As far as the Christian faith is concerned, the factual, historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a non-negotiable.
Some assert that the Bible is embellished history,
consisting of invented portrayals of supernatural events painted
on a quasi-historical canvas. They are not swayed by
the Bible’s own assertions to the contrary (Luke 1:1-4, John 21:24, , 1
Cor.15:12-17, 1 John 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-18). Christian apologetics
notwithstanding, there is no way to logically refute their paradigm.
They may be convinced only through spiritual intervention, as God intervened
in Saul of Tarsus’ life.
The “Doctrine of Verbal Plenary Inspiration” is
fallacious. It is man’s attempt to justify the veracity of the Scriptures.
The infallibility of Scripture is guaranteed by God’s construction of
the overall process of communication, and not by a dispensational mode
of inspiration available only to writers of Scripture. The
Doctrine of Verbal Plenary Inspiration is detrimental to faith because
it misrepresents the Holy Spirit’s activity in and through human
beings. The proponents this doctrine have unrealistic expectations
of the Holy Spirit as He interacts with flesh, so frequently they are unable
to identify His workings in the present day.
We do not have to be Greek or Hebrew scholars to have
a profound understanding of the Bible. Such education can even be
detrimental, leading to an unhealthy focusing on details. The Bible
was intentionally designed by God to be understood and expounded by "unlearned
and ignorant men". The key to a more thorough Biblical understanding
is NOT more thorough scholarship. Revivals throughout the ages, from
John the Baptist all the way up to the Charismatic renewal in the last
century, did not originate from leading scholars, but rather from people
whose eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit to understand the Scriptures
in a more profound way. More often than not, the scholarly “establishment”
opposed what God was doing through these “outsiders”.
So-called “Biblical” doctrines which have run counter
to science, such as young-earth creationism, have sprung from a parsing
of the Scriptures which cannot pass the test of cultural and linguistic
invariance. Chauvinistic doctrines such as the cursed ancestry of the black
race and Anglo-Israelism may be similarly discarded. Also, God did not
use “Bible codes” or numerology, which would not be robust to the
human errors incurred in Scriptural transmission.
An infallible understanding of Scripture can be achieved
only through an extended process which involves both prayer and comparison
of Scripture with Scripture (Just as in practical communication, the more
accurate the transmission, the longer the decoding process. We should
not be surprised, therefore, when some Scriptural meanings become clear
only after several centuries!). Prayer is necessary because the Holy
Spirit must be involved in the process; and the comparisons are required
because the Scriptures, just like practical communications, achieve reliability
by sending redundant information in multiple forms. As the Scriptures
themselves testify, “Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses shall
every matter be established” (Deut. 17:6, Matthew 18:6, 2 Corinthians 13:1).
Comparison with literalistic Scriptures
It is instructive to compare the Bible with the Koran,
which Muslims believe to be the angel Gabriel’s dictation to Mohammed.
Muslims believe the Koran cannot be translated, since they suppose that
each and every Arabic word of the Koran is directly from God. They maintain
that it must be read in the original language to understand its true significance.
It follows that preservation of the Islamic Scriptures depends also
on preservation of the exact original culture as well as the exact original
language, for otherwise cultural allusions shall be misconstrued.
As a result, Islamic society and culture is frozen. Eventually, this will
run counter to social and technological progress, as in fact has
already begun to happen. According to our model, the Bible is infinitely
more robust than this, and can withstand extreme changes and variations
in language and culture.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
 “Another Look at the Doctrine of Plenary Verbal Inspiration”, http://www.accuros.com/thornbush/pollen/plenary_verbal_inspiration.htm
 To my mind, this fact in itself casts grave doubts on the doctrine of Verbal Plenary Inspiration. Why should God go to such great lengths to ensure word-for-word infallibility in one link of the chain, while leaving the rest vulnerable to chance and error? This would be very poor engineering design, not at all typical of what we would expect of He who is omniscient and perfect.
 Federal Standard 1037C, Telecommunications: Glossary of Telecommunication Terms, http://www.its.bldrdoc.gov/fs-1037/dir-033/_4816.htm
 “Unless I am convicted by
Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and
councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is
captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for
to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can
do no other. God help me. Amen.” (Martin Luther, the Diet of Worms
- April 18, 1521, quoted in http://www.aloha.net/~mikesch/sola2.htm)
Copyright © 2002 CrossPollen
Last Revised: April 27, 2002
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