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I. Scripture Divinely Inspired

Now according to the A/C model, Scripture or the Bible figures importantly into the process whereby the believer comes to believe the great things of the gospel, and also into the process whereby these beliefs have warrant for him. Roughly speaking, he reads or hears 376the central message of Scripture; moved by the invitation or instigation of the Holy Spirit, he comes to believe. The Bible also figures into the intellectual economy of traditional Christians in quite another way. By way of the above process, perhaps I come to believe that a specific teaching—say, that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself—is true and is a divine revelation. But a traditional Christian also believes, for example, that the Gospel of John and Paul’s epistle to the Romans and the book of Acts are divinely inspired and hence authoritative for Christian belief and practice. Indeed, he will believe this of the entire Bible. The whole Bible is a message from the Lord to humankind; this entire book is authoritative for Christian belief and practice.

Now that belief itself is not one of the great things of the gospel—it is not an essential element of Christian belief. It wasn’t accepted by the earliest Christians and isn’t to be found in the ecumenical creeds. This is partly because there were Christians before these books were written, and, barring divine revelation to them that the books were indeed soon to be written and would indeed be authoritative, they wouldn’t have known about them. The apostle Paul himself, for example, was certainly a Christian believer before he wrote his first epistles; he was a person of faith and held the essentials of Christian belief. Still, he no doubt didn’t believe that the Bible—the Bible as we now have it, in Protestant or Catholic (or Orthodox) version—was divinely inspired. So the belief that God has inspired, say, the New Testament in such a way that it is a communication from God to us human beings—that belief is not itself an essential element of Christian belief. Strictly speaking, therefore, giving an account of how it is that this belief about the Bible has warrant for the Christian, if it does, lies outside the scope of my project, which concerns the way in which traditional Christian belief has warrant. Yet that belief does figure heavily into Christian practice; at millions of worship services every week, Christians all over the world hear passages of Scripture and respond by saying, “This is the Word of the Lord.”

I shall therefore begin this chapter by inquiring into the epistemology of the belief that the Bible is divinely inspired in a special way, and in such a way as to constitute divine discourse—the belief that the Lord speaks in a special way to us human beings in and through this book. How does a Christian come to believe that the Gospel of Mark, the book of Acts, or the entire New Testament is authoritative because divinely inspired? What (if anything) is the source of warrant for this belief? There are several possibilities. For many of us it will be by way of ordinary teaching and testimony. Perhaps I am brought up to believe that the Bible is, indeed, the Word of God (just as I am brought up thinking that thousands perished in the American Civil War), and I’ve never encountered any reason to doubt this. 377But an important feature of warrant is that if I accept a belief B just on testimony, then B has warrant for me only if it had warrant for the testifier as well. The warrant a belief has for the testifiee is derivative from the warrant it has for the testifier.451451   See Warrant and Proper Function, pp. 34–35. Our question, therefore, becomes this: what is the epistemological status of this belief for those members of the community who don’t accept it on the testimony of other members? What is the source of the warrant (if any) this belief has for the Christian community? Well, perhaps a Christian might come to think something like the following:

Suppose the apostles were commissioned by God through Jesus Christ to be witnesses and representatives (deputies) of Jesus. Suppose that what emerged from their carrying out this commission was a body of apostolic teaching which incorporated what Jesus taught them and what they remembered of the goings-on surrounding Jesus, shaped under the guidance of the Spirit. And suppose that the New Testament books are all either apostolic writings, or formulations of apostolic teaching composed by close associates of one or another apostle. Then it would be correct to construe each book as a medium of divine discourse. And an eminently plausible construal of the process whereby these books found their way into a single canonical text, would be that by way of that process of canonization, God was authorizing these books as together constituting a single volume of divine discourse.452452   Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim That God Speaks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 295.

So a Christian might come to think something like the above: she believes

(1) that the apostles were commissioned by God through Jesus Christ to be witnesses and deputies,

(2) that they produced a body of apostolic teaching that incorporated what Jesus taught,

and

(3) that the New Testament books are all either apostolic writings or formulations of apostolic teaching composed by close associates of one or another apostle.

She also believes

(4) that the process whereby these books found their way into a single canon is a matter of God’s authorizing these books as constituting a single volume of divine discourse.

378

She then concludes that indeed

(5) the New Testament is a single volume of divine discourse.

But our question then would be: how does she know, why does she believe each of (1) through (4)? What is the source of these beliefs?

Could it be, perhaps, by way of ordinary historical investigation? I doubt it. The problem, once more, is the principle of dwindling probabilities. In chapter 8 (pp. 271ff.), we saw that this principle is a real obstacle for those who think that Christians might come to know the great things of the gospel by way of ordinary historical investigation—by coming to know, in this way, that the Bible is indeed the Word of God and that God does indeed teach these things. Of course the problem isn’t as severe in the present case. We are imagining the Christian as already convinced of the great things of the gospel; her knowledge of them does not depend on her beliefs about the authority or divine inspiration of the Bible. According to the model, she doesn’t reason thus: the Bible is the Word of God; it says that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself; therefore, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. It is rather that upon hearing the gospel preached, reading the Bible, or in some other way encountering its message, she comes to believe these things immediately (i.e., not by way of inference), as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart. So suppose a Christian proposes to give a historical argument for the divine inspiration and consequent authority of the New Testament, say: we are to think of her as already knowing the central truths of Christianity. She already knows that there is such a person as God, that the man Jesus is also the divine son of God, and that through his ministry, passion, death, and resurrection we sinners can have life. These constitute part of her background information and can be employed in the historical argument in question. Her body of background information with respect to which she estimates the probability of (1) through (4), therefore, includes the main lines of Christian teaching. And of course she also knows that the books of the New Testament—some of them, anyway—apparently teach or presuppose these things. So her epistemic condition is much more favorable to (1) through (4) than it would be if she didn’t already know these things. With respect to her background information B, therefore, perhaps each of (1) through (4) could be considered at least quite plausible and perhaps even likely to be true.

Still, each is only probable. Perhaps, indeed, each is very likely and has a probability as high as .9 with respect to that body of belief B; more exactly, perhaps the probability of (1) on B is as high as .9, the probability of (2) on (1)&B as high as .9, and the same for P((3)/(B&(1)&(2))) and P((4)/(B&(1)&(2)&(3))) (see above, pp. 272ff.). Even so, we can conclude only that the probability of their conjunction, on B, is at least somewhat more than .5. In that case, belief that 379the New Testament is the Word of God would not be appropriate; what would be appropriate is the belief that it is rather likely that the New Testament is the Word of God. (The probability that the next throw of this die won’t come up either 1 or 2 is greater than .5; that is nowhere nearly sufficient for my believing that it won’t come up 1 or 2.453453   If I believe whatever is quite likely with respect to my background information or what I know, I will wind up believing contradictions: for each number n between 1 and 6, it is likely that the die won’t come up n; but, of course, it is also likely that the die will come up n for one of those numbers. I do not mean to say that historical investigation can never furnish enough evidence so that the appropriate attitude is that of belief (rather than just believing probable). That there was a Holocaust, an American Civil War, a French Revolution, a war between the Athenians and Spartans, and a Roman conquest of the Jews are all to be believed, not just believed probable. But the same doesn’t go for (1) through (4). We don’t have anywhere near that level of evidence for, for example, the claim that the apostles were commissioned by God, or that God authorized the books of the New Testament as constituting a volume of divine discourse.) We could quibble about these probabilities: no doubt they could sensibly be thought to be greater than I suggested. No doubt; but they could also sensibly be thought to be less than I suggested. The historical argument for (1) to (4) will at best yield probabilities, and at best only a fairly insubstantial probability of (5) itself. The estimates of the probabilities involved, furthermore, will be vague, variable, and not really well-founded. If the belief in question is to have warrant for Christians, its epistemic status for them must be something different from that of a conclusion of ordinary historical investigation.

Now most Christian communities have taught that the warrant enjoyed by this belief is not conferred on it just by way of ordinary historical investigation. For example, the Belgic Confession, one of the most important confessions of the Reformed churches, gives a list (the Protestant list) of the canonical books of the Bible; it then goes on:

And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them—not so much because the church receives them and approves them as such, but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God.

There is a possible ambiguity here: “we believe all things contained in them not so much because the church receives them”—to what does this last ‘them’ refer? The teachings contained in the books, or the books themselves? If the former, then what we have here is another example of what we’ve already noted: the Holy Spirit leading us to see, not that a given book is from God, but that some teaching—for example, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself—is true. If the latter, however, what we would be led to believe is such propositions 380as the Gospel of John is from God. I think it is at least fairly clear that the latter is what the confession intends. According to the confession, then, there are two sources for the belief that (e.g.) the Gospel of John is from God. The first is that the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that this book is indeed from God; the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely impel us to believe, with respect to a given teaching of this book, that it is from God but impels us as well to believe that the Gospel of John itself is from God. The second is that the book “proves itself” to be from God. Perhaps here the idea is that the believer first comes to think, with respect to many of the specific teachings of that book, that they are, indeed, from God; that is, the Holy Spirit causes her to believe this with respect to many of the teachings of the book. She then infers (with the help of other premises) that the whole book has that same status.454454   Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), p. 303: “And the opening to view with such clearness, such a world of wonderful and glorious truth in the gospel, that before was unknown, being quite above the view of a natural eye, but appearing so clear and bright, has a powerful and invincible influence on the soul to persuade of the divinity of the gospel.”

This is only one way in which this belief could have warrant; there are other possibilities. Perhaps the believer knows by way of the IIHS that the Holy Spirit has guided and preserved the Christian church, making sure that its teachings on important matters are, in fact, true; then the believer would be warranted in believing, at any rate of those books of the Bible endorsed by all or nearly all traditional Christian communities, that they are from God. Or perhaps, guided by the Holy Spirit, she recapitulates the process whereby the canon was originally formed, paying attention to the original criteria of apostolic authorship, consistency with apostolic teaching, and the like, and relying on testimony for the propositions that such and such books were composed by apostles. There are also combinations of these ways. All (and still others besides) are consistent with the extended A/C model; the model need not choose among them. However precisely this belief receives its warrant, traditional Christians have accepted the belief that the Bible is the Word of God and that in it the Lord intends to teach us truths.455455   I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that teaching us truths is all that the Lord intends in Scripture: there is also raising affection, teaching us how to praise, how to pray, how to see the depth of our own sin, how marvelous the gift of salvation is, and a thousand other things.


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