Thursday, January 28, 2016

[BTT014] "If the Bible is the Eternal Word of God..."

Previous: [BTT013] "Isn't the problem of Time..."

Question 2. “If the Bible is the Eternal Word of God, how can the historical events within it be wiped out?”

This objection may seem strange at first, so let's lay it out in a little more detail.

Essentially, this argument rest on two claims;

1). The Bible is the inerrant Word of God - it cannot contain errors or untruths.

2). The Bible is the unchanging Word of God - not "one jot or tittle" will pass away.

These are claims that most Christians would accept with little objection. However, if the Bible is to remain both inerrant and unchanging, it is impossible for history to change.

Why is this? Because certain sections of the Bible describe actions and events that took place within time, such as in the historical books of the Old Testament or the Gospels and Acts of the New Testament. Were history to change, then the information contained in the Old and New Testament would either become incorrect (since it would differ from the actual occurrences of history) or else would be changed (to reflect the new timeline).

Even books of poetry, such as Psalms, are intimately connected with the story of God and His people. Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. Our God is not a remote and distant being, but a God who takes glory from His interactions with us throughout history.

So the very reasonable motive behind this objection is the concern that that the redemption of time would in some way render the Scriptures null and void. How can this be when the Bible, the Word of God, is eternal? Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will not.

However, while we must agree that the Bible is indeed the eternal Word of God, we must also explore exactly what this means.

While we confess that the Word of God revealed in the Bible is eternal, we also recognize that it has a temporal element. It was a progressive revelation throughout time. The book of Revelation was not available to Moses, just as the autograph manuscripts are not available to us. God has used the passage of time to craft the Bible into its current state in addition to direct revelation.

In fact, without the unfolding of the Bible throughout time, it would be impossible for it to record the story of God and His people. We do not worship an unknown, amorphous "god," but a God who committed specific actions throughout history - who revealed Himself to His people by walking among them. An eternal Bible, in the sense of a static text which is never added to, would not be suited for this purpose. Perhaps there is an Eternal Bible which exists in the mind of God, but the Bible He has revealed to us was revealed through time.

This should not surprise us nor cast doubt on the authenticity of the Bible. Jesus was born, grew, reached maturity, died, and was resurrected. These things would not be possible without time, and yet they in no way detract from Jesus's eternal nature. Just as Jesus was eternal God and yet lived in time as a temporal being, so the Bible is the eternal Word of God in temporal form.

There is no inherent contradiction in being temporal and eternal. Scripture tells us that Jesus retains His physical body in His current, eternal state in Heaven at the right hand of the Father. Our future resurrection is not only a spiritual one, but also a physical one, with perfect eternal bodies much like the one Christ now has.

If the physical universe will be destroyed and remade, how is it that the physical material on which Bible are printed be spared this fate? In a sense, we already believe that every physical copy of the Bible will either be destroyed, or if some object to that, divinely preserved in the Great Conflagration. If we say they will be destroyed along with all other physical matter, then how would the destruction of time make matters worse? If we say they will be divinely preserved the physical destruction, then why not the temporal destruction?

Jesus is referred to as the "Word of God", for the very good reason that all of Scripture is ultimately about Jesus. Jesus did say that no jot or tittle of Scripture would be lost, but He also claims to be the fulfillment of all Scripture. So even if there is no physical copy of the Bible in the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal Word of God will be present in the person of Jesus Christ. There will be no need for a Sun in Heaven for the Lord will be our Light. There will be (in a sense) no need for a Bible in Heaven, for the Lord will be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths.

I do not think it impossible that some sort of physically perfected (free from decay and other ways in which sin effects physical objects) Bible would or will exist in Heaven. Whether this would involve a divinely preserved physical copy of the Scriptures, a divinely recreated Scripture, or an eternal copy of the Bible already present in heaven, I will not venture to say. My point is only that whether you accept the destruction of space/time or only the destruction of space, some divine means will be necessary to preserve the physical book.

All of this is to say that while the Word of God is eternal, the physical book known as the Bible is not. It has been progressively revealed through history and exists in the physical world as printed words (or else digital bits). When the physical universe is destroyed, these physical copies will either be destroyed along with everything else, or else miraculously preserved by a miraculous act of God. If Bibles can be preserved from the physical destruction of all matter, why not from the destruction of time?

But all of this still dances around the edge of the main objection. We would all recognize that God has the ability to preserve the Scriptures into eternity, just as He has preserved them throughout time against those who sought to stamp out their light. The more worrisome question is if by destroying and remaking time, the contents of the Bible would be rendered untrue.

The Bible does not simply record history - it also records many descriptions of sins committed throughout history. Whether it is the original fall of man, the wickedness of Noah's day, or the adultery of King David, examples abound. So if time is remade without sin, wouldn't the Scriptures (even Scriptures eternally preserved by God) become out of line with the new timeline, and thus inaccurate?

My argument, in a word, would be "no," but the reader may want a more detailed response.

This objection follows what may be termed the Back to the Future theory of time travel. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly changed things in the past which caused changes to the future. Because his actions in the past prevented his parents from falling in love, he was never born and began fading from reality. In the sequel, he brings a sports almanac from the future back to the present, which allows the evil Biff to bet large sums of cash on the winners, once again changing the future.

Basically, this theory claims that changing something in the past will necessarily change the present. So if we were to go back in time and help Hitler win World War II, when we returned to the present, the Nazis would rule the world. If we were to go back in time and kill Hitler, perhaps World War II never happens.

This theory makes a certain sort of sense in a purely naturalistic universe. Since all of the events of history are irrevocably linked, stepping on a butterfly in the past might cause Robo- Genghis Khan to conquer Europe in the present. No one would know that anything had changed, because from their perspective, nothing has changed.

So then, if we go back in time and prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit, does this mean that all of the sins recorded in the Bible would fade from its pages like the picture of Marty McFly?

This model only makes sense if we have a purely physical universe. An observer not limited by our temporal perspective, one "looking in from the outside," would be fully aware that a change had taken place. A being not bound by the rules of time and space would not be affected by a change in either.

So it is with God, the angels, and the saints gone before us. Were something to be altered in our timeline, it would not be hidden from God. He would know what the world was like before the change and what had changed as a result. Knowledge of the original timeline would not be truly lost, since knowledge of it would not be lost to God. The Scriptures would remain a perfectly true account of God's work in time, since changing the timeline in no way impinges on the God who exists beyond time.

Arguably, it would not affect our knowledge of the past either. Only creatures bound by time would be affected by changes in the past. If the new heavens and new earth come after the final judgment, as seems to be indicated by Scripture, we will have already been gathered into eternity by the point the physical universe is destroyed. If so, we will already be outside the bonds of time and thus unaffected by changes to it. We would know the Scriptures to be true both because we would have God to vouch for them, and because we would be surrounded by witness from all of history.

So even if time is changed, this does not mean that the Bible would necessarily change or that changing it would make it untrue. It could remain in its current state, as a true account of God's actions within time. Additionally, since the autograph versions of the Bible are currently lost, the Bible could even potentially be restored to its original state. Far from changing the Bible, the destruction of space and time could de-change the Bible.

There is one other means by which we could deal with this objection, but I fear that it will be considered more controversial. I am advancing it here with a double portion of my usual caveats: the Bible may predict its own destruction along with the physical universe.

Now, since this is a fairly big statement, let's start with Jesus' own words on the subject from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."

- Mat. 5:17-18

This passage does not necessitate that the "law or the prophets" will be destroyed, but it does at least open the possibility. While Jesus goes out of His way to stress that not a single punctuation mark of the law will change during His life, He does tell us what would end it. Specifically, He gives two things:

1. Heaven and Earth passing away.

2. All of the law and prophets being fulfilled.

In a sense, these two conditions are actually one: the law and prophets will not be fulfilled until Heaven and Earth pass away and Heaven and Earth will not pass away until the law and prophets are fulfilled.

So then, it would be reasonable to say that the Bible will endure until "All is fulfilled;" that is to say, all of the laws of the Old Testament are perfectly fulfilled in Christ and all of the prophets are fulfilled in the Second Coming, when "heaven and earth" pass away. Once these conditions are met, it would be acceptable for jots and tittles to change, since their Divine purpose has been fulfilled.

While Jesus' words in Matthew 5 allow for the Bible to pass away once its purposes are fulfilled, God's words in Isaiah 65 lean towards actively suggesting it:

"So that he who blesses himself in the earth
Shall bless himself in the God of truth;
And he who swears in the earth
Shall swear by the God of truth;
Because the former troubles are forgotten,
And because they are hidden from My eyes.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy."

- Isaiah 65:16-18

Once again, God speaks of a new heavens and a new earth which are distinct from the former. Moreover, "the former shall not be remembered or come to mind." In other words, the current world will not even be worth thinking about.

Since the contents of the Bible largely deal with events that occurred in the current world, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible will also not be remembered. The "former troubles" which the people of God endured in this world will be forgotten in comparison with the joy of the new world. So even if the timeline will somehow be isolated from physical matter and preserved, the events of that timeline will not matter to us in the slightest.

Now it is possible that the book of Isaiah is speaking figuratively here. God says that the former troubles will also be "hidden from My eyes," which does not imply that God will lose knowledge of past events. It simply means that He will not count our past sins against us. Either way, the point stands that even if we have memories of the old earth, God's command is that we should rejoice forever in the new world, not dwell on the troubles of the old.

Once the Bible's purpose has been fulfilled, the Bible itself allows for the Bible to be changed and/or pass away. Furthermore, both the Old and New Testament seem to indicate that this is exactly what will happen. However, these are only suggestions, not explicit statements. Therefore, we can only say the Bible passing away is something that could happen rather than something that definitely will happen.

That said, by recognizing that the Bible allows for the Bible to pass away after its fulfillment, we can say with certainty that changing time does not contradict the status of the Bible. The Word of God is eternal, but the physical book of the Bible is not. Or rather, the physical book of the Bible will be eternally fulfilled - the law by Christ's perfect life, the prophets by His second coming.

In summary:

1). Changing history does not necessarily change the Bible.

2). Changing history would not make the Bible untrue.

3). Once the laws and prophecies of the Bible are fulfilled, it is possible for it to pass away.

4). God commands us to rejoice in the new heavens and earth rather than dwelling on what happened in the current world.

Next: [BTT015] "If the Death and Resurrection of Jesus..."

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