A Biblical Examination of the
Original Doctrinal Statement of the
“Christians for Biblical Equality”
Second Paragraph – CBE on the Scriptures
The second paragraph of the preamble is a statement of CBE’s view of holy Scripture. As we have observed before, lucidity is not the strong suit of this document. Accordingly, we find in it a weak, ambiguous, and misleading statement on Scripture authority and interpretation:
The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in the totality of Scripture, the authoritative Word of God (Matt 5:18; John 10:35; 2Tim 3:16; 2Peter 1:20-21). We believe that Scripture is to be interpreted holistically and thematically. We also recognize the necessity of making a distinction between inspiration and interpretation: inspiration relates to the divine impulse and control whereby the whole canonical Scripture is the Word of God; interpretation relates to the human activity whereby we seek to apprehend revealed truth in harmony with the totality of Scripture and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To be truly biblical, Christians must continually examine their faith and practice under the searchlight of Scripture.
Concerning Scripture itself, we find none of those good old strong terms used by orthodox Protestant theologians: “verbal plenary inspiration”, “infallibility”, or even the more modern (and considerably weaker) “inerrancy”. The statement says that the Bible is “God’s word”, in some sense; that it is in some way “inspired”, that it has some authority; nothing more.
Now, the theologically astute know what this means. All the terms used here have been used before by theological Liberals to disguise their unbelief of God’s holy word. In a public declaration like this, the omission of more robust terms must be presumed to be by design. In a day when most theologians and preachers openly admit that they believe Scripture to be a merely human production, full of errors and prejudices introduced by “primitive” man; in a day when a man can be considered conservative and orthodox, even though he believes that the Bible we have today is very different from the Bible as it was penned; in a day when we are told that dumbing down the Bible is a practical necessity – even if the meaning is substantially altered in the process; in such a time, a weak statement on Scripture such as this can only mean one thing: its authors and subscribers have no intention of denying the modern errors, either because they agree with them, or (which is practically the same thing) they think such matters unimportant. There is nothing in the terms chosen to lead the reader to believe otherwise.
Likewise, concerning interpretation, new and undefined terms like “holistic” and “thematic” take the place of traditional terms descriptive of Protestant hermeneutical methodology: “grammatical”, “normal”, “literal”, “historical”, “contextual”.
Remembering that the point of this whole document is to invalidate the traditional interpretation of many texts, and to substitute novelties that would never have been imagined by unbiased readers, we can discern some of the reasons why this statement has taken the form it has.
For example, the use of the phrase “the totality of Scripture”, used twice in this paragraph, is commonly used to appeal to some supposed “tenor” of Scripture against the plain sense of particular texts. Here, we read not that God has revealed Himself in every word of Scripture; but that He has revealed Himself in its “totality”. Egalitarians, used to reading Scripture with their biases, truly think that the Bible is an egalitarian book. They interpret every passage in the light of their prejudices, and so when they come to what they call a “problem passage” (by which they mean a passage which does not “fit” their views) they evade its plain grammatical sense by an appeal to “the totality of Scripture”. We will see instances of this in this document as we proceed.
The same idea appears in their definition of inspiration, which says that “inspiration relates to the divine impulse and control whereby the whole canonical Scripture is the Word of God”. This sounds like an endorsement of plenary (full) inspiration; but in reality it is something quite different; for plenary inspiration in the orthodox sense means that every word is inspired, which this statement fails to affirm.
Again, we read that Scripture is to be interpreted “wholistically”. This may seem like the Protestant principle of “the analogy of faith” championed by Calvin. Obviously, Scripture must be interpreted in light of the presupposition of its own consistency. But “wholistic” interpretation turns out to be a back door that allows subjectivity to enter into the hermeneutical process.
This paragraph is not just a gratuitous recitation of commonplace truths. It is double-tongued, saying one thing to the initiated, who know the “code”; and something else to the naive and unsuspecting outsider, who will probably interpret it in an evangelical sense out of charity. Why stress something so obvious as the distinction between inspiration and interpretation? Because to them it means this:
“The traditionalists think that their interpretation is inspired, and that it can’t be wrong, just because it has held sway so long. But they do not understand how to interpret correctly (as we do). And they don’t appreciate that every human interpretation is fallible and tentative (except ours).”
Howard Douglas King
January 31, 2020