More Scattered Thoughts on Inerrancy

Tony Sig

–  The fact is that there are many versions of inerrancy.  What it means for one will not necessarily hold for all.  For some it includes all historical realities all (apparent) contradictions, for some it means only in matters of faith.  This reality alone should alert us that even IF inerrancy were a true proposition concerning the nature of Scripture, it remains that the content of such a proposition is either pluriform or meaningless.  I vote the latter.

–  If Infallibility means that “Scripture will not fail to fulfill its purpose” and if it’s purpose is to elucidate the nature and plans of God, then it most certainly fails all the time.  There are countless skeptics and non-believers who can and do read the Scriptures and who are not illuminated as to the nature and plans of God.  Moreover, even believers will sometimes read it wrongly (according to the pattern of the Church) and believe all sorts of silly stuff.

But, some might say, that is the problem of the subjectivity of the interpreter.  That seems to me to miss the point.  We have no reason to believe that God wanted to pour himself into a text for the sake of having an infallible text, that is, if the problem is in the subjectivity of the reader and not the objectivity of the text, then we are in effect saying God’s intention for the creating Scripture is an end in itself.  The point of Revelation (and Creation for that matter!) is relationship.  God desires not so much to convey intellectual truths about himself as he does to extend his love and fellowship.  Is it necessary, or anywhere described, that in order to bring mankind into fellowship it is necessary for Scripture to be infallible?

–  It does not follow logically that Scripture must posses the same features as God.  For example in the propositional argument:

God does not error – the Bible is God’s word – therefore it has no errors.

Only God posseses God’s characteristics in their wholeness.

–  Which brings us back to “The Word of God” – Within Scripture it is used in many ways, only some of which relate to the words of Scripture themselves.

  • They are most often in the OT used to refer to prophetic words.  It should be noted, as I did before, that it these prophetic proclamations that are properly so called the “Word of the Lord.”  The elaboration, redaction and collection cannot call itself the Word of the Lord in the same fashion.  Not that I’m trying with a scalpel to set up artificial “hierarchies” of “Word,” I’m trying to flesh the distinctive facets of Scripture.
  • In the NT, as far as I can tell, it is used exclusively of the Gospel proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
  • Which brings us to Jesus.  If we want to say that there is a self-communication of God that shares the traits of God intrinsically we need to look to the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity.  When asking about the Father, Jesus told his disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  He didn’t say that there was an infallible grouping of holy writings they should check out.  Indeed, the risen Lord elucidated the Scriptures in reference to himself and founds a community of forgiven around himself.

–  On Tradition – It is always risky to speak monolithically of the Fathers, but I took some time and found that the Fathers I read were concerned with the unity of the Scriptures over and against Marcionites, Gnostics and others who were attempting to set Jesus and his Father against the God of the OT, or turn Jesus into a demi-urge, etc…

In point of fact, what we think of as conservative evangelical inerrancy is indeed a very late and highly dogmatic and, dare I say, un-Christocentric turn.  It is largely a reaction to critical scholarship and is problematically modernist and foundationalist.

A look at perhaps the most famous Statement on Inerrancy, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy demonstrates clearly what I have been saying now for some years.  I quote:

The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Inerrancy functions as a dogma in order to guarantee the authority of Scripture in the community, but it in no way says anything instrinsically essential about its nature.

–  If the doctrine functions to ensure authority and not truth, then it would be fair to ask if any post-modern might rightfully see this as a hidden discourse of power.

–  If inerrancy only pertains to the original documents and we posses none of these, then is it not possible that the texts we have do contain errors?  Indeed what text do we have when we have a text in our possession?  Even the exact text among printed Greek and Hebrew bibles differs even if only in minor and inconsequential ways.  So then might not even a strict inerrantist affirm errors in the Bible as we have it?

Please.  Have mercy on me readers.  Perhaps I should mention once again my affirmation of the inspiration of Holy Scriptures, of their trustworthiness read in the believing community and of the ability of God to reveal himself in Holy Scriptures.  And I like long walks on the beach.

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14 Comments

  1. Dr. Wallace is such a conundrum. On the one hand he’s a gifted scholar, especially in NT Textual Criticism, and he writes essays like the one you linked which include a wider range of learning in the classical disciplines; but the guy’s a complementarian and fairly conservative.

    I do like the NET notes though. What a gift!

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  2. Adhunt wrote:
    This reality alone should alert us that even IF inerrancy were a true proposition concerning the nature of Scripture, it remains that the content of such a proposition is either pluriform or meaningless.

    RESPONSE:
    What does it mean to say that inerrancy is pluriform?

    I hope you are not saying that all of its forms are untrue simply because there is more than one form of inerrancy. The law of noncontradiction would not invalidate all forms. The law of noncontradiction would simply force one to dig deeper in order to find which form is valid.

    I am also puzzled by your comment that it is “meaningless.” Do you simply mean that it is “meaningless” because you personally find the term “inerrancy” to be a useless term due to the abuse of the term? Or do you mean that the term “inerrancy” should be “meaningless” to all observers because you beleive the term does not fit the facts or does not fit the nature of the biblical data?

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  3. Roger,

    Certainly a fair logical point. There is a possibility that one of the many doctrines of inerrancy is the true one per the law of noncontradiction. By ‘meaningless’ (a spurious word, not to be taken to seriously, sometimes I write in a hurry) I meant that with the several variations, judging between them seems to be arbitrary.

    So if we don’t have a way to “settle” its usage, then the doctrine is confused IMO since the word refers to several things with no way to “prove” which is the most correct.

    I, like you, don’t think that every paradox or tension means that a contradiction has occurred. But i think there are some contradictions and factual errors (I’d rather not get into a discussion of a handful of passages) and I think there are many who would agree but be less bombastic or dogmatic as I am.

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  4. A. D. Hunt, another good post. I think you have hit the proverbial nail upon the head. Over on Green Baggins I noted in comment 382 that:

    My biggest concern is that modern evangelicals are being educated with a basic formula of inerrancy that simply does not work (so the CSBI states some very dogmatic things and then it nuances them in such a way that undermines its original intent) and actually has some disasterous, albeit unintended, consequences. Now I know of noone who means by inerrancy that any version of the Bible is inerrant. All of those advocates I know personally would argue that only the original autographs are inerrant and the goal of textual criticism is to recover the original autographs. Now if only the original autographs are inerrant then that means when I sit and read my NRSV I am not reading the inerrant word of God. It also means that when I sit and read my BHS I am also not reading the inerrant word of God. In reality this means that we do not possess the inerrant word of God today. Ok, it may be close to it but still it isn’t inspired nor inerrant. So by saying that “copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original” will, I fear, undermine the faith of God’s people as none contain the exact text of the original autographs and so none can be said to be the Word of God. Hence I worry that the way modern evangelicals explain inerrancy actually results in their being left without God’s word. It is very much a pastoral concern.

    I have quoted Muller here who assesses the differences between the modern defence of inerrancy and the historic formulation.

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  5. “Hence I worry that the way modern evangelicals explain inerrancy actually results in their being left without God’s word”

    I dig that line.

    Is it just me or is this whole hullabaloo based on the use of the phrase “The Word of God?” Can’t we just call them the Holy Scriptures? If Protestants had kept calling them this would we even have run up against this problem?

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  6. God desires not so much to convey intellectual truths about himself as he does to extend his love and fellowship.

    But for Tony to know that fact, he had to get it from somewhere?

    It does not follow logically that Scripture must posses the same features as God.

    Sure, a writer’s creation does not have to have her characteristics. A writer could be very neat, but her writing sloppy. A writing could be a perfectionist, but her writing peppered intentionally with mistakes.
    But when it comes to a god trying to establish relationships, you think perfect information that shines to make relating easy would be the obvious choice. But, wait, I can hear it now, “God’s ways are not our ways.”

    I appreciate the argument against inerrancy and infallibility, of course. And I wish all Christians would move your way. But I feel the reasons you give to hold any of even those positions as flimsy.

    Finally, I find it sad that in the last paragraph you have to reassure your readers of your deep commitment to orthodoxy while you doubt. It leaves a very odd flavor. But it seems your readers dig you.

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    1. Sabio,

      Let’s see if I can give this a proper stab. Though, I didn’t think I was merely attacking your character, it was an honest thought that I’m not sure that a non-empirical test would satisfy you. If I am wrong please explain more clearly what you meant.

      There would be several ways to “know” that “God desires relationship”
      1) The first test is that God created the heavens and the earth from nothing. The traditional doctrine of “creation out of nothing” posits that since God is self-existent, without need in any way, to create is an act of pure gift to extend his self-less love to that which is “not him”
      2) It is a consistent theme in Scripture
      3) Jesus’ resurrection community is both a forgiven and forgiving community, that is, a community built on mutual self-gift with no thought of putting another in our debt

      You asked: “But when it comes to a god trying to establish relationships, you think perfect information that shines to make relating easy would be the obvious choice?” on the one hand, but then mocked a possible answer (“God’s ways are not our ways”) because it seems to you not to be good enough.

      The question is not “why didn’t God give “perfect information”?” but, “Is “perfect” information possible?” I would most certainly argue that it is not since all information is dialectic, then also our own “knowledge” of God would be a dialectic. And, again, the point is not “information” but “union.” Since the Christian God is transcendent (and imminent), how do you suppose a transcendent being would “transmit” clear and timeless and unsullied truths?

      So there is a certain degree of ambiguity and yes, faith, involved in the coming to the knowledge and love of God.

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  7. Sabio,

    I imagine that unless God were in a test tube somewhere i could say the most wonderful things and you would find all my positions flimsy.

    “Finally, I find it sad that in the last paragraph you have to reassure your readers of your deep commitment to orthodoxy while you doubt. “

    I was neither doubting nor reasurring. In my last post, I spent most of the time explaining that I didn’t think the Scriptures a merely “human product.” I just wanted to avoid the same discussion.

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  8. Tony,
    You are doing Ad hominem attacks again with the scientist crack instead of addressing the actual issues. You were writing long paragraphs which, due to much word-knotting, gave the appearance of using reason (instead of being confessional) and so I engaged that reasonable side. If you only meant it poetically, you should warn the reader.

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  9. A. D. Hunt: In a sense I do think that the phrase “The Word of God?” has clouded matters, that said I don’t think that one can lay the blame on the shoulders of the Protestants. The Church has historically taught that the Scriptures are the Word of God, however as Ratzinger has noted in the NT the term Word of God referred primarily to the preached Gospel.

    I vastly prefer to have a dynamic view of the Word of God but as you noted, just because God is without error does not mean that his word, when mediated through the believeing community, are also without error.

    One of the problems of modern evangelicalism is the equation of scripture with revelation, I like Ratzinger’s statement, “Revelation goes beyond Scripture, then, to the same extent as reality goes beyond information about it.”

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  10. Sabio,

    I’m not sure what exactly you think is unreasonable. Could you be clearer as to what you would like me to respond to?

    Tony

    Reply

  11. […] Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D. writes Traditions and Traditions. Along those lines, Dr. John Gerstner writes on Sola Fide and The Franciscan Mafia issues their post on The ‘Sola Scriptura’ Myth (Part 1). Wei Hsien asks, perhaps rather re-asks, Who needs Scripture? And for the Scriptures, the unknown author sends a thank you letter to Paul, Athanasius and Tyndale. Not wanting everyone else to have all the fun, the Theophiliacs posts on Inerrancy. […]

    Reply

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