God’s Word – God’s work
The Enduring Word: The Authority and Reliability of the Bible
Author: Robert M. Solomon
Publisher: Armour Publishing & the Bible Society of Singapore
224 pages, $19.25 (with GST)
Available from the Bible Society of Singapore (Tel: 6337-3222) and Armour Publishing (Tel: 6276-9976)
By Lim K Tham
THE ENDURING WORD, as its sub-title suggests, is a book about the authority and reliability of the Bible. It is written by Robert M. Solomon, Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore, in response to critics who have sought to undermine the Bible as the Word of God by casting doubts about its accuracy and textual integrity.
An introductory chapter – worth reading not least for its dramatic re-telling of the development of the English Bible – provides the background to the controversy that the likes of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman have generated over the Bible’s trustworthiness. Admittedly, due to their charge that the Bible is full of errors or inconsistencies and that the texts had been distorted, the carpet has been pulled from under the feet of many a Bible-believing Christian!
The Bishop’s overall strategy in answering the misleading claims of the critics is well conceived. He first makes a crucial theological point that there is a supernatural dimension to the Bible. In his words, “The Bible is not merely the work of human beings; it is in essence the Word of God, written as God inspired men to write its various parts.” (page 19). Throughout the book he continually returns to this theological assumption.
It is inevitable that this rebuttal to the critics of the Bible should involve a fairly technical discussion on “revelation”, “inspiration” and “illumination”. However, the author’s ability to explain these concepts and relate them as aspects of a divine process which resulted in the birth, transmission and preservation of the Bible fills the gap that has separated those who are familiar with the Bible’s history and those who know very little about how the Scripture came to be.
In a chapter on the canonicity of Scripture, the Bishop fields questions about how the books of the Bible came to be admitted into the corpus, who made the decision to include or exclude certain books, and what criteria were applied in the evaluation. In his treatment of these matters, the author sounds forth yet another point of theological significance, namely the recognition that God had played a central and essential role in the canonisation process. “It was divine illumination,” he continues, “that gave the ability to early Christians to discern which of the books they were reading were to be considered as divinely authoritative, and therefore, canonical.” (page 37).
The book is also invaluable in addressing the issue of manuscripts and textual variants, and giving assurance that though we do not have the autographs (original writings), we possess texts which can be read with confidence in terms of approximation to the original manuscripts. His assessment of the various Bible translations will be welcome for its objectivity.
The author has certainly succeeded in re-asserting the authority and reliability of the Bible. Indeed, he has achieved more by providing what a reviewer has described as “a soul-nourishing look at the truthfulness of Scripture”. For this reviewer, Solomon’s approach has an added indispensable feature – it is grounded upon the vital theological premise that “the Bible is God’s Word because God is behind it”. Why? For if one believes that God is the source of Scripture, embracing the authority and reliability of the Bible follows naturally.
Lim K Tham is the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Singapore and the National Council of Churches of Singapore.