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Tag: Biblical Inerrancy

Inerrancy according to the Chicago Statement

Inerrancy according to the Chicago Statement

Tim Bulkeley is asking a question about the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. When I say that I reject biblical inerrancy, a frequent (and valid) follow-up is to ask what kind of inerrancy I reject. The answer, for me, is the inerrancy of the Chicago Statement.

If you’re wondering what about that statement I reject, I could point to plenty of items, but the short answer would be Article XII, which Tim Bulkeley quotes, especially this: “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”

I’ve written on all this before. For now I just want to provide the link and open the discussion.

Note the recent series of articles on the Energion Discussion Network:  Creationism: A Denial of the Authority of the Whole Bible, A Literal Reading of Genesis 1-3Which Creation is the Greater Witness?

Hebrews 2:6 and Inspiration

Hebrews 2:6 and Inspiration

James McGrath brings up Hebrews 2:6, where the author introduces a quote by saying “somebody somewhere says.” Dr. McGrath uses this sort of as an argument against inerrancy, though primarily as an argument for human authorship.

I have used the text in a similar way. It is not, in fact, a good argument against inerrancy, at least as generally defined by scholars who affirm it. It is not an error but rather a failure to state a fact. Is this rhetorical? One of the commenters on Dr. McGrath’s post seems to think so. I would suggest rather that the author either did not remember precisely or simply didn’t come up with a good way to introduce the passage.

But the important thing about this, in my view, is that the verse sounds distinctly human. The problem with “distinctly human” is that we don’t really have a way of knowing how God might talk about such a thing should he choose to. But arguing about this particular issue and finding a way to make it more “god-like” in tone is not the issue.

One key point I try to make in my book When People Speak for God is that we need to look at how Scripture actually was produced and how it functions in order to understand how it was produced and how it functions. Circular? Well, in a way. There’s nothing like looking at the actual object or mechanism to discover what it is and what it does.

But the tendency in creating or producing a doctrine about Scripture is often to read texts in Scripture that say what the “Word of God” is, or texts that speak of what Scripture is (circular again, anyone?), then to imagine what this would mean in practice, and finally to force the texts to fit the definition.

What does it mean for Scripture to be “god-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)? The only way we have to really know that is to look at other things that are god-breathed, if we can find them. The difference between “All god-breathed Scripture” and “All Scripture is god-breathed” may be somewhat less substantial than people think. What we need to do is to fill in the definition of “god-breathed” by looking at Scripture, rather than concocting a definition and then imposing it on Scripture.

Besides looking at how Scripture itself came to us, we have some interesting claims regarding what God’s breath might do, such as Genesis 2:7, when God breathes into the first human being. Interestingly enough, that first human became alive. He did not, perhaps unfortunately, become inerrant.

Yet Again on the Meaning of Inerrancy

Yet Again on the Meaning of Inerrancy

John Hobbins is again correcting the rest of us regarding the meaning of the word inerrancy. The interesting thing here is that I can affirm everything he says about inspiration in his post.

He writes in opposition to the approach taken by by Michael Heiser and C. Michael Patton, each of whom have written posts regarding how to deal with errors in the Bible.

Now I’m going to be brief (don’t laugh!). Michael Heiser and C. Michael Patton aren’t idiots. I don’t mean here to imply that John Hobbins says they are. But a point I have made previously about inerrancy in response to John is that the common usage of the word “inerrancy” does not agree with the way John uses it.

That doesn’t make Heiser and Patton more right about the inerrancy of scripture, but my observation is that their view accords with the more common understanding of what inerrancy means. Maybe people ought to mean something different, but they don’t. But I’m of the school of thought that suggests the meaning of words is to be determined by their usage, and by that standard, calling Hobbins’ view “inerrancy” is misleading. Most readers, at least non-academic readers, will understanding him to believe something different than he does.

People in the pews tend to believe someone who claims to accept biblical inerrancy would be concerned with discussing whether Jacob bought or conquered Shechem (as Heiser does), or the details of gospel stories (as Patton does).

But Hobbins says:

Now, if you believe that it is part of the Holy Spirit’s teaching office to reveal to us that Jesus (say) healed two blind men at Jericho, not one; that Jacob (say) bought Shechem and then conquered it at a later time, you are claiming that the Holy Spirit speaks, not through Scripture, but through harmonizing exegetes. I oppose such outlandish claims.

But if I ignore the vocabulary, I find I can affirm, indeed that I really like many of the phrases that Hobbins uses in regard to scripture and inspiration. I like to say that when we discover the message God has for us in scripture (always through the power of the Spirit), it is always true. Recently I have had to add the affirmation that we can discover that message. We have no need to walk in darkness.

So why not use another term, such as simply stating that one has a high view of scripture?

More on Inerrancy the Term

More on Inerrancy the Term

I found this post by Roger Olson via my reader (HT:  Chrisendom) and it reminded me of my own recent post Inerrancy – Romancing the Term.

Though my experience is largely outside of academia, I can relate to much of what Dr. Olson says.  Inerrancy is not understood in the pews of any church I know in the same way as it’s defined by evangelical scholars.  I often find that when I discuss with someone who affirms inerrancy I’m even arguing a more conservative position than theirs, which always feels odd.

In any case check out Dr. Olson’s comments.

Spong vs Mohler

Spong vs Mohler

I found this video interesting, even though I don’t consider Spong one of the better advocates of a liberal approach to the Bible.  From my perspective he’s slipped off the far edge of the map.  I would suggest there is a position that does not affirm biblical inerrancy, yet maintains biblical authority.

(HT: Exploring Our Matrix)

Michael Dowd, also debating with Dr. Mohler (who seems to be keeping busy!) claims that biblical Christianity is bankrupt. I intend to respond from my “passionate moderate” viewpoint a bit later. For now I would just note that I see problems with the definition of “biblical Christianity.”

(Another HT to: Exploring Our Matrix)

On Inerrancy Again

On Inerrancy Again

My previous post refers to Preserving Democracy, written by my friend Elgin Hushbeck, Jr., but doesn’t actually mention that we have been friends for some time. I say this because I’m about to take his name in vain (sort of). We’ve been friends since the mid-90s when we met on the Religion Forum on Compuserve.

One of the books I publish is Elgin’s book Evidence for the Bible. Now he doesn’t explicitly argue for inerrancy in that book, but he does affirm the doctrine of inerrancy, while I do not. I recall when I had occasion to drive him from Pensacola to the airport in New Orleans, after he’d spoken at a conference I had organized, and we spent the nearly three hours involved in discussing inerrrancy and applying it to specific scriptures.

What we found was that we stated our view of scripture differently, but when it came down to specific cases, we handled passages in a very similar way. Our practice was much closer than our theory. Now I would maintain, and I suspect Elgin would as well, that a good theory works in practice, and thus there is probably some weakness in the expression of one or the other view of inspiration, if not both.

I was reminded of that conversation when I read the iMonk Classic: We thought he was such a nice boy…and then we found out he didn’t believe in….Inerrancy!!, and a response on JOLLYBLOGGER. Many of the arguments are very similar, even though I’m not a Calvinist. In the places one refers to belief in Calvinism one could, with equal force, refer to similar positions from Arminianism.

I commend these two posts for re-reading and discussion. I haven’t yet changed my mind, but there are serious points here that deserve consideration.

Origen: Stumbling Blocks in Scripture

Origen: Stumbling Blocks in Scripture

The following is from Origen, On First Principles, 4.1.15.  All emphasis is mine.  (Also from CCEL.)

But since, if the usefulness of the legislation, and the sequence and beauty of the history, were universally evident of itself, we should not believe that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was obvious, the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offences, and impossibili­ties, should be introduced into the midst of the law and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in all directions by the merely attractive na­ture of the language, either altogether fall away from the (true) doctrines, as learn­ing nothing worthy of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of nothing more divine.  And this also we must know, that the principal aim being to announce the “spiritual” connection in those things that are done, and that ought to be done, where the Word found that things done according to the history could be adapted to these mystical senses, He made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but where, in the narrative of the develop­ment of super-sensual things, there did not follow the performance of those certain events, which was already indicated by the mystical meaning, the Scripture interwove in the history (the account of) some event that did not take place, sometimes what could not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not.  And sometimes a few words are interpolated which are not true in their literal acceptation, and sometimes a larger number.  And a similar practice also is to be noticed with regard to the legislation, in which is often to be found what is useful in itself, and appro­priate to the times of the legislation; and sometimes also what does not appear to be of utility; and at other times impossibili­ties are recorded for the sake of the more skilful and inquisitive, in order that they may give themselves to the toil of investi­gating what is written, and thus attain to a becoming conviction of the manner in which a meaning worthy of God must be sought out in such subjects.

The more things change, the more they are the same!  We discuss these same sorts of things today.  The more I read Origen, the more I like him!

Inerrancy – Romancing the Term

Inerrancy – Romancing the Term

I’ve previously expressed my surprise about what some people can believe about the Bible and yet call their belief “inerrancy.” As an example, I responded to Earnest Lucas’s excellent commentary on Daniel in which he maintains that one can hold both inerrancy and a late dating of Daniel. I think a good one sentence summary of the approach is to say that what is asserted by a text differs by genre, and that inerrancy refers to what the text is actually asserting.

Thus if Jonah is fictional, it is not trying to assert an actual size for the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:3), thus this is not an error, even if that information is incorrect. Jonah is not a book about the sizes of cities, but rather a fictional account designed to deal with other issues. (Which those are is not important right now.) If Daniel relates a history of the Babylonian Empire which does not conform to history, that is not a problem, since it is a pseudonymous work of apocalyptic, and this was a common practice in apocalyptic. If Genesis does not relate well to science, it is not a problem, because Genesis is not a science textbook.

Now I have no problem with any of those statements as such, but I do have some problem with their relation to the doctrine of inerrancy, though not in equal measure. But before I discuss why I have this problem, let me refer to a post today by John Hobbins on inerrancy. In this he is discussing people with relatively similar views about the inspiration of scripture, but a disagreement about the words. (The views are not identical, but they are close enough for my purposes.)

In fact, I agree with most of what I read about inspiration on John Hobbins’ blog. I think in some cases he comes out more liberal on the issue than I am, as in this post on legend and history. It seems to me that he and some others are trying to assert that they can believe both in Biblical inerrancy and also that the Bible is a collection of myths and fairy tales.

Now I think that “myth” and “fairy tale” are actually quite complimentary terms. I have no problem with finding myth in the Bible. In fact, for many purposes I find it to be a more admirable form of literature than some sort of pure, objective, narrative history. Each has its place, but we tend to treat history as good and myth as bad.

And therein beings the problem. I must note in passing that I don’t think that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says quite what some folks are saying it says. I keep getting told that it allows for all this flexibility, but when I go back and read it, it doesn’t look that way to me. But that is a side issue for me.

I find it odd that people who can recognize the changing meanings of words in a translation context fail so miserably in seeing the “street” meaning of a word in current usage. Apart from a few people who are trying to save the word “inerrancy” for their own use, almost nobody understands inerrancy to mean that a Bible book that claims to come from Paul might have been written by someone else after Paul was dead, or that a book can claim one author but have been written by quite a different author.

Thus when someone claims to believe in inerrancy and then writes a commentary on Daniel, for example, it is not expected that the commentator in question will say that Daniel did not write the portions attributed to him in the text. Similarly, it will not be expected that a commentary on Ephesians written by someone who espouses inerrancy will suggest that it was not written by Paul.

John Hobbins suggests a solution:

To which I would say, where evangelicalism rules the landscape, it is time for saner voices to take courage with two hands and patiently, ever so patiently, advocate for a broader and safer use of the word “inerrancy.” This is precisely what I see Michael Horton doing, and I commend him for it.

I would suggest that this is a fool’s errand. People who consider themselves intellectual leaders are constantly trying to save one or another term from the people who use it. It rarely works. If one salvaged inerrancy from those who use it, one would just have to invent another term to distinguish one from of belief in inspiration from another.

I should note that I believe that the “rescuers” of the word inerrancy have another problem, which is that I don’t think it meant quite what they claim when it was first used. But that would take a different blog post and a number of additional references, so I’m going to leave it aside for now.

For what it’s worth, my own view is that God always speaks his Word into a human matrix, to be understood by humans according to their knowledge and referents at the time. I believe that God’s Word in a situation is always true and that the Bible is precisely what God wanted it to be. But at the same time, that human matrix was not inerrant, and it impacts the message. I’m quite certain, for example, that early hearers of the story of Genesis heard it as a literal week, evidenced by references in Exodus 20, though not in the liturgy of Genesis 1. (Nonetheless, worshipers using that liturgy would not have distinguished the liturgical presentation from the historical events as I do.)

That means that the message God sends to me is different in some way from the message that was first heard. Hearing God’s message requires prayerful care and interpretation. Once you have heard God speak, that is truth. In addition, I believe that if we knew all that God knew about those to whom he first spoke, we would understand why things were said as they were.

It appears that some call that inerrancy. I think I would deceive most who heard me were I to do so.

Fallibility, Inerrancy, and Mystery

Fallibility, Inerrancy, and Mystery

I think Mark at Pseudo-Polymath is absolutely correct in his excellent post Of Scripture and Tradition.

When I first decided that inerrancy didn’t work, it was because I found errors as they would be defined by the people that first taught me to regard the Bible as inerrant.  At the same time I remained convinced of Biblical inspiration.  Over time this has evolved in my mind to the position that inerrancy causes us to ask the wrong questions of scripture, something I still believe, despite the efforts of many to frame inerrancy so that it does not have that effect.  My problem is that once one has so framed inerrancy, it appears meaningless to me.

It seems to me that we try to judge the Bible as a book amongst books, and that we err in doing so whether our judgment is favorable or not.  As scripture, the Bible is a unique phenomenon.  There is no standard by which we could judge it.  There is no category “books inspired by God” which as a set of criteria (presumably also divinely inspired) against which we can judge the Bible.

I like Mark’s statement “The mystery is the experience …”  That is a very good descriptive phrase.

Now I don’t think there is any problem evaluating the Bible’s impact on some area of study, for example, its value to historical study, and so forth.  But its value to historical study is not the same thing as its value as God’s message.