NOTE: this is a long-for-me post.

Bill Arnold is having a great discussion on the nature of Scripture and its perceived function as a guide for morality and ethics. [see here and here]

I weighed in; here are my comments, smoothed out and cleaned up:

What is the Bible?

I believe humans wrote the bible, but I also believe that when they finished writing exactly what they had in mind it was also exactly what God had in mind. In other words, much like the incarnation, the bible is 100% human and 100% God. Don't ask me to explain that, though; it's up there with Trinity.

From my reading and study so far, this "incarnation" view of inspiration best explains the available data. Now, any one who has done textual criticism knows that the exact text of Scripture is not something we have access to. Many typos, glosses, and "corrections" have found their way into the Bible over the centuries of manuscript copying. Therefore, any perfection of scripture applies only to the original manuscripts. True, the manuscripts are not preserved perfectly, but they have been preserved (I believe) sufficiently. Frankly, I don't think God's so anal and controlling to lord it over humans (made in his image) by preserving a human-divine document to the degree that we deem necessary.

What is the Bible for?

By my reading of scripture--and I have read the whole thing, and am doing it again this year--the message has not changed. It has always been about God's gracious redemption. Yes, there were different means to communicate that (some of which make it hard for us to see the grace...Joshua's wars, for example), but I believe this remains the case.

Finally, this may get me in trouble with my fellow Baptists, but, in regards to the Bible as the answerbook for our moral/ethical questions, I do not believe that the Bible is "the only rule for faith and practice." I do not believe that the Bible is a "rule" at all. Rather, I believe it is God's communication about himself and his ways. Yes, there are moral/ethical guidelines (even laws! though we are under grace), but most moral/ethical issues are left to our wisdom and reliance upon the Spirit. Wisdom, though, is where Scripture comes in. The Bible seems to say the we get wisdom by meditating on Scripture (Psalm 1; Joshua 1:8).

One of the issues in our understanding of Scripture's nature and purpose--especially the OT--is our reliance on tradition rather than the text itself. John Sailhamer, who taught the Theology of the Pentateuch class I took Fall 2005, basically pounded on the idea of gathering our theology from the text rather than the history behind it or the tradition after it. His books, Introduction to Old Testament Theology and Pentateuch as Narrative are excellent resources for OT reorientation toward a canonical approach.

I wrote a 1,900 word paper for his class (which I'll email if you ask... and promise not to be a thieving plagarist). Here is an applicable selection from that paper:


The Pentateuch contains large sections of law and has been understood as such. But the Pentateuch is good news. It teaches God’s sure intention to create a people for himself and to be their God, despite their failures. The laws were graciously given to lead God’s people to him.

In John 5:39, Jesus says that the Scriptures tell of him. The OT was the scripture for the early church and the NT is the apostles’ exegetical understanding of the OT. So, if the NT is the exegetical understanding of the OT and the NT is good news, then the OT must also be good news.

Law and biography are the most frequent genres, but the most important are blessings and poetic summaries. The notion of God blessing his people runs throughout the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch begins with God blessing humanity with fruitful land and dominion (Gen 1:28-30) and ends with God blessing Israel with fruitful land, safety, and his presence (Deu 33:26-29).

There are four large poetic seams. In Genesis 49, Jacob’s blessing of his sons concludes the patriarchal narrative. In Exodus 15, Moses’ song after the crossing of the Red Sea concludes the exodus narrative. In Numbers 24, Balaam’s prophecy concludes the Sinai narrative. In Deuteronomy 32, Moses’ final song concludes the wilderness narrative. Three of the seams (Gen 49, Num24, and Deut 32) contain the key phrase be’harit hayyamim (“in the latter days;” Gen 49:1; Num 24:14; Deut 31:29). In these seams, the narratives are summarized according to their eschatological, messianic meaning.

One of the arguments against the "incarnational" view of inspiration is that Paul does not seem to use the OT in a way that verifies the notion. I'm not sure exactly what this means, but I agree with Sailhamer that the Pentateuch is actually "Pauline". NO, this does not mean that Paul wrote it, but that the Pentateuch teaches exactly what Paul teaches: by grace through faith. I know this is a hard pill to swallow; it was hard for me to wrap my brain around in the beginning weeks of Sailhamer's course. But it's the only explanation that makes sense and hangs together. It makes NO sense to me that salvation was by works and is now by grace. It does make sense that the laws so apparently prominent in the Torah actually have another purpose: to be a tutor to lead people back to God and God's grace. That is what Paul says and, I believe, is what Torah teaches.

So, I stand by my statement that the purpose of the Bible is to show us God and God's ways--to lead us to him. Following his ways does not mean blindly following a book, but faithfully following the divine Person. This was the case in the OT and it is the case now.

Extra: here's what I see as the general "genre" breakdown of the Bible:
  • Torah: instruction about God and God's ways.
  • Neviim: exegetically-based, prophetic exposition of Torah
  • Ketuvim: exegetically-based application of Torah
  • New Testament: exegesis of the main theme of Torah--Messiah and Kingdom


“Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” http://www.esv.org/


  1. Thanks for posting this Laura. I've found it very helpful.

  2. Thanks. I would highly recommend Sailhamer's books. One of the most helpful things for me was finally having the grace theme shown by textual evidence rather than by opinion. His take on the Tanakh as a whole (that the compiler was inspired) is intriguing, challenging, and enlightening--I'll be looking at this closer this summer, if I can squeeze it in between ecclesiology stuff.