‘The Enduring Word: The Authority and Reliability of the Bible’ by Robert M.Solomon
This book is written to educate the general Christian population in order to help them deal with the issues raised by popular works by scholars in textual criticism, particularly Bart Ehrman.
Solomon in this work tries to cover all the major pertinent concerns surrounding the Bible such as the theology of scripture, the canonical process, the textual variants, and translation. With his gifted writing style, Solomon makes these topics easily accessible to those who have no exposure to them previously.
That is the strength of the work. It is a popular-level work meant to counter popular-level challenges.
When dealing with the theology of scripture, the author summarizes the various approaches to understanding the nature of the scripture. (Chapter 2)
Scripture is understood as the result of special revelation, that is the process proceeded from God’s keenness to “make Himself known—He is keen to reveal His thoughts and purposes” directly to humans (p.20-21). The scripture is an inspired book which means it is “the unique inspired book in the world, in which God revealed Himself to humankind.” (p.24)
Following Rene Pache, Solomon asserts that the “Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but is itself the Word of God.” (p.24. Emphasis original) Yet there is a difference between the scripture and Jesus Christ who is also recognized as the Word of God. Therefore the bible should not be worshiped in the same way as Christ.
There are several theologies of scripture that Solomon rejects. First, the ‘Spiritual Principles Theory’, which teaches that only the spiritual principles in the Bible is inspired. 2 Peter 1:20 is quoted by Solomon to show that “All Scripture is inspired”. (p.25. Emphasis original.)
The second rejected theology is the mechanical ‘Dictation Theory’ that affirms that the authors of the scripture are merely recorder of God’s words and have no input of their own. Solomon thinks that inspiration is a “more complex and dynamic process than God merely dictating words to the writers,” where the “human individuality” is involved. (p.25-26)
Solomon thinks that the most satisfactory theory to think about inspiration is one that he calls “Verbal-Plenary Inspiration” that affirms all scripture to be inspired dynamically. He thinks that this theory is confined only to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and is “not generally extended to the transmission (copying) and translation of those original autographs which are now not available to us.” (p.29)
Besides inspiration, Solomon also stresses the theology of illumination that says that the Holy Spirit helps readers of the Bible to understand what they read, and the theology of inerrancy that teaches that “the original manuscripts in Greek and Hebrew were error-free and totally trustworthy.” (p.30)
On top of that, Solomon seals his theology of scripture in divine providence to preserve the Biblical texts:
“Because of the nature of divine inspiration, the autographs or original manuscripts written in Hebrew (and Aramaic in a few places) and Greek cannot be with error. This protection against any error cannot be said of copies of the originals and translated versions. However, divine providence is still at work in the process of transmission and translation.” (p.31)
Moving onto Chapter 3, Solomon turns his attention to the canonical process by laying a confessional statement that the Protestant canon is closed by referring to Deuteronomy 4.2 and Revelation 22.18-19. (p.38) Though his appeal to these two verses are anachronistic yet he can hardly be faulted since his appeal is on confessional ground. Nonetheless I think Solomon is assuming too much in this chapter. Three examples to show what I mean.
First, on page 41, Solomon writes:
“Jesus declared, “‘Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ The he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). We have already seen how the Hebrew Bible was divided into three major sections—the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the key book being Psalms). Jesus, in referring to all three major sections of the Hebrew Bible, gave further confirmation of the canon of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). This confirmation comes from none other than the Lord Himself.”
There is an assumption in the above quote that (1) the word “Psalms” in Luke 24.44-45 refers to the “Writings” category of the Hebrew Bible, and (2) the Hebrew Bible was divided into three major sections—the Law, the Prophets and the Writings—in the time of Jesus.
Craig A. Evans provides several reasons why these two assumptions are doubtful:
(a) 4QMMT, a letter from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection, seems to list 4 categories of the Hebrew canon: ‘Book of Moses’, ‘books of the Prophets’, ‘book of David’, and ‘chronicles of every generation’.
The category ‘book of David’, since it is separated from the ‘chronicles of every generation’, could well refers only to the Psalms and not the ‘Writings’ as Solomon assumes (as per the quote above and his list of the ‘Writings’ on page 38). Therefore we cannot be certain if there was a clear three division of the Hebrew Bible as Solomon assumes.
(b) Due to (1) the close correlation of the Psalms to the Prophets as seen in Dead Sea Scrolls, (2) that David is seen as a prophet (Acts 1.16, 2.30, 4.25), and (3) Psalms is recognized as prophecy (Acts 1.20), the phrase “the Prophets and the Psalms” in Luke 24.44 may best be read as one category.
The reading of this verse should be something like this: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets (including the Psalms).”
(See Craig A. Evans, ‘The Scriptures of Jesus and His Earliest Followers’ in The Canon Debate, ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders [USA: Hendrickson, 2001], p.185-195)
Second, on page 44, Solomon writes:
“Jesus and the apostles, though they quote extensively from the canonical Old Testament books, never refer to the Apocrypha. Also, the New Testament writers, in quoting verses from the Septuagint, never used the Apocrypha.”
Yet when we turn to Jude 14-15, we find parallels in 1 Enoch 1.9 and 60.8. Then we have early Church authorities like Athenagoras of Athens, Irenaeus of Gaul, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Carthage who recognize 1 Enoch as canonical, if not almost with the same status as the Old Testament. (See James C. Vanderkam, ‘1 Enoch, Enochic Motifs, and Enoch in Early Christian Literature,’ in The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, ed. James C. Vanderkam and William Adler [Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Comp. B. V., 1996], p.35-60.)
Although it is debatable whether did Jude actually refer to 1 Enoch or a tradition he received, the point is that Solomon is assuming too much that this issue is settled.
Third, we find on page 45:
“When it came to the Apocrypha, [Jerome] clearly differentiated between the Old Testament canonical books as authoritative in the canonical sense, and the Apocrypha as books that were not canonical but which had some spiritual value. [Solomon went on to cite Jerome’s ‘Preface to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs’]”
Solomon’s selective usage of Jerome’s work misrepresents Jerome’s position. There are three letters that are dated to be written later than ‘Preface to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs’ show us another side of Jerome.
In these letters, passages from the Apocrypha are quoted side-by-side with Old Testament canonical works as if they bear similar authority:
At least that is what Solomon says: ‘wisdom is the gray hair unto men’ [Wisdom 4:9]. Moses too in choosing the seventy elders is told to take those whom he knows to be elders indeed, and to select them not for their years but for their discretion [Numbers 11:16]? And, as a boy, Daniel judges old men and in the flower of youth condemns the incontinence of age [Story of Susannah 55-59].
(Letter to Paulinus.)
I would cite the words of the psalmist: ‘the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,’ [Psalm 51:17] and those of Ezekiel ‘I prefer the repentance of a sinner rather than his death,’ [Ezekiel 18:23] and those of Baruch, ‘Arise, arise, O Jerusalem,’ [Baruch 5:5] and many other proclamations made by the trumpets of the prophets.
(Letter to Oceanus.)
Does not the scripture [Sirach 13.2] say: ‘Burden not thyself above thy power’…
(Letter to Eustochium.)
A five-points summary regarding the issue of Apocrypha is given on page 48. Although this book is not entirely about canonization, yet the discussion of these issues could be handled with more care.
The next two chapters are detailing the manuscript record of the Old and New Testaments. We are introduced to the various oldest copies of surviving manuscripts and their implication to the confidence to trust that the current biblical texts in our hand are reliably transmitted.
After that, Solomon dedicated a chapter discussing issues surrounding problematic texts like the ending of Mark’s gospel and John 7.53-8.11, which apparently are not found in earliest manuscripts. In tackling these problems, Solomon relies heavily on the work of Bruce Metzger, who was the teacher of Bart Ehrman.
Next, the book describes and compares the different version of Bible widely used at the present. Solomon helpfully summarizes the translation philosophy of each version and provides a chart to guide readers to understand the differences between each version. (p.164)
The final chapter carries on what is being discussed in Chapter 2. After expressing his appreciation for the works that have been done and still doing in the field of textual criticism (p.172-173), Solomon raised three important theological aspects of scripture to the Christian community: (1) The Bible ought to be read, (2) the scripture is accessible and can be understood even after a long process of transmission and translation, and (3) God’s Word is to be obeyed.
Overall, this is a remarkably easy-to-read book which lives up to its intended purpose. The author has also provided a Glossary section at the end of the book to facilitate readers with technical terms that are used in the book. This book can be used as a brief introduction for catechism in Churches. It is a good prelude on the extensive issues surrounding the Bible.