Time For Truth

A place to grow in the Grace & Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ

Inerrancy part 2

A friend once told me that when you are blind and everything is dark, the only light you have is the truth. Would God if he truly exists leave himself without an infallible witness to guide his people into the truth?
In response to this statement that I made on my last blog entry…The Bible is inerrant, meaning that God’s truth resides in the words, propositions and sentences…what the Bible teaches about history and science as well as theology and ethics according to the standards of accuracy of their own day are truthful and accurate, a fellow blogger, who clearly presents himself as a liberal/progressive/postmodern wrote this, “This is interesting because I think almost every liberal would agree with your statement here. It seems very similar to the historical-critical position, in fact. The difference is perhaps what we mean by ‘the standards of accuracy of their own day.’ I don’t argue that the Bible wasn’t cutting-edge ‘science’ for the ancient world, I just doubt that it is still to be considered cutting-edge thousands of years later…when the standards for accuracy are far more exacting, especially in the sphere of science – which is a recently-developed category that the authors of the Bible wouldn’t even recognize.”

His comment, which I appreciate very much, highlights the academic liberal and neoorthodox perspective on evangelical theology. Sadly, they presume ignorance on the part of evangelicals on the historical and literary context of Biblical texts. The reality is quite to the contrary for most evangelicals I have known. As in my case, I am very passionate for the Word of God and I have a deep desire to understand the historical, literary, and social context of each section of scripture I am studying. In my own library, I have many hundreds of commentaries, theology books, and Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic reference books written by extreme liberal to extreme fundamentalist scholars (Western and non-Westerners), anyone that might help me understand – some do some don’t. I love God’s Word and I want to know it and communicate it as faithfully as I possibly can with the limitations I have (time, family commitments, etc.). I believe with 100% of my heart that to love God means to love His Word and to hold it to the highest authority in one’s life. I believe you cannot truly love God without loving what he has revealed about himself to be true.

I will refer to the theological liberalism that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as liberalism, while I will be referring to the liberalism that has great affinity for postmodern relativistic thought as neoliberal, while it has many roots within German rationalists, such as Leibnitz and Lessing, and a great affinity for Neoorthodox authorities, such as Barth and Brunner, it stands firmly within the more modern skeptics of history.

For liberals supernatural revelation is at best problematic, more commonly denied altogether. Horace Bushnell (father of American liberalism) rejected in no uncertain terms verbal inspiration, the infallibility of the scriptures, and that God had a hand in guiding the early church in selecting the books that would be included in the Bible. The term “inspiration” was redefined to mean “the stirring of the prophetic spirit in living men”, as Walter Rauschenbusch put it. The Biblical books were no more inspired than much modern day poetry, or writers in different liberation movements. For liberals, inspiration has nothing to do with inerrancy or even final authority.
Neoorthodoxy also rejected the idea that the Bible was the actual Word of God in and of itself. Karl Barth rejected the conservative view of the Bible as a “paper pope”. For Barth, error was a natural consequence of humans writing the books of the Bible. Rather, the Bible becomes the Word of God in a moment of crisis, when the individual meets Christ through it. Neoliberals tend to float between these two positions, with an underlying skepticism and agnosticism of any definitive statements about scripture, including their own. Revelation tends to be experience based (emotive and affirming of individual choices) limited within community. For neoliberals objective truth claims in the arena of “religion” or “spirituality” is anathema (despised). While in our postmodern culture, this position often has a veneer of wisdom…it is self-refuting, inconsistent and ultimately affirms little or nothing.

Justin Martyr (100-165) and Athenagoras (133-190) both spoke of the inspiration of scripture often describing it metaphorically as God playing an instrument. Irenaeus defended verbal inspiration (the words of the Bible (down to the least important word) are given by God), “the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit”. Gregory of Nazianzus argued that even the smallest stroke of Scripture came from the Holy Spirit. Augustine stood firmly for the full authority and verbal inspiration of the Bible, writing to Jerome, “I believe most firmly that not one of those authors has erred in any respect in writing.” John Calvin wrote that, “from Genesis to Revelation the Bible has come down to us from the mouth of God.” He referred to the biblical writers as clerks, penmen, amanuenses and organs and instruments of the Holy Spirit. He referred to the Bible as “the certain and unerring Rule…”, “sacred and inviolable truth”, “sure and inviolable record”, and “unerring light”. These same views are reflected in the 2nd Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith, as well as the Thirty-Nine articles in the Anglican tradition.

My position on the inerrancy of Scripture is very similar to that of Carl F.H. Henry, who believed that the Bible teaches truth in matters of history, science, theology and ethics. He wrote that the God’s truth resides in the words, propositions and sentences of the Bible.
“What the Bible teaches about history and science as well as theology and ethics according to the standards of accuracy of their own day are truthful and accurate.” What I mean by this is stated very clearly in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which I recommend highly. Here is an excellent quote from that statement, which I wholeheartedly affirm:

We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of His penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise. So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed. The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be onvincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions. Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one Biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer’s mind. Although Holy Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventional views of a particular period, so that the application of its principles today calls for a different sort of action.

Example of Interpretation from these different perspectives:
Problem: The gospels put the events of Christ’s life in different sequences.
Liberal response – 1 or more are in error.
Possible neoliberal responses – error or we simply do not know.
Evangelical Reformed response – No error. This is the nature of this kind of literature. The orderly fashion that Luke refers to has more to do with theological, rather than chronoligical ordering.
Problem 2:How many donkeys did Jesus ride on his way into Jerusalem? Matthew has 2, but Luke, Mark, & John have only 1.
Liberal response: Clear contradiction. Matthew most likely erred, thought it could have been the others that erred.
Neliberal response: Clear contradiction. Do not necessarily point out the error, but live with the tension realizing that we all err.
Evangelical, Conservative response: Absolutely no error. The Greek term for foal is not a scientifically precise term, and does not exclude the mother of the foal as well. The nature of biblical history is that it is “selective” and not exhaustive, so they include or exclude certain data for their theological purposes…a completely acceptable and accurate methodology within that context. Matthew includes both donkeys to emphasize the prophetic fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. The texts are quite easily harmonized.

The final example I would like to look at is the very complicated and difficult issue that this neoliberal blogger referred to is that God in the book of Joshua commands the total destruction of the Canaanites.
Here is the issue: Ĥerem or killing in the name of Yahweh, which would be a difficult biblical issue even if Yahweh had not commanded these utter destructions of cities and people groups. It includes burning of entire cities and all their inhabitants, including women and children. The verb means devotion or devoted to the Lord for destruction – 10:40 and 11:12 – as the Lord commanded. How do we reconcile these killings with the Sermon on the Mount – Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you?

Some Gnostic leaning Liberals: God the Father of the New Testament is not the same as Yahweh of the Old Testament.

Liberal and neoliberal solution: Biblical revelation is progressive….they didn’t have the sermon on the Mount, therefore this understanding had to wait until the new Joshua – Jesus Christ. The writer/s of the book of Joshua were in error, or were in the process of evolving with God.

Evangelical Reformed solution: There is no error. Consider these important points: the Canaanite religion and culture were extremely sinful… Abominations against God…Would entice the Israelites to follow other gods…Ugaritic documents discovered at Ras Shamra in Syria confirms such acts as religious prostitution and child sacrifice as a general practice…Ultimately their religious practices were a plague to the Israelites throughout their history…Purity of the Israelite faith had to be preserved for the purpose of blessing and salvation for the world…The commands were not to exterminate all non-Israelites, but only Canaanites…This policy is neither permanent nor a normative principle…Was for the immediate situation only – to occupy the promised land.

Also consider the fact that this is the response that all of us as completely corrupt sinners should expect from a holy, just and righteous God. We all deserve death, not just physical and temporal death, but eternal death.

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July 21, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

10 Comments »

  1. Your last two paragraphs make my point nicely, I think. From your position, you can’t get away from saying that in some cases, God demands genocide. Pretending as if a particular culture deserves genocide because we are all sinful and deserving of death doesn’t really help the issue in my view. It still leaves you with God calling for a moral atrocity of the highest order, which…well, I’ll let you deal with the consequences of that, since it is your chosen position on the matter.

    Also, I never assumed your ignorance, but I understand that at this point I am a place-holder for your frustration with “neoliberals”.

    Comment by Doug Hagler | July 22, 2008

  2. Wow,

    Its too bad there is no scriptural argument for the inerrancy of Scripture.

    It invariably goes goes down like this:
    0- Inerrancy exists
    1- The scriptures are inerrant
    2- I understand and interpret them correctly
    3- Therefore I am inerrant and anybody who opposes me therefore opposes God.

    The fundamental assumption here is the belief in inerrancy. It is an a priori assumption that cannot be verified. Some would argue even that it is easy to impeach, but only if you agree to certain basic rules of logic and empiricism.

    My objection is that the belief in inerrancy of the Scriptures in practice always leads to the subversion of their authority.

    I think that the only way to preserve the authority of Scriptures is to deny their inerrancy. That way, no matter how good you are at interpreting the Scriptures, you are never tempted to believe in your own inerrancy. We can therefore easily deny the inerrancy on the part of the interpreters and rely on the Scriptures alone to interpret the Scriptures – right or wrong, a level playing field.

    Comment by Jodie | July 23, 2008

  3. Jodie,

    I will not address your convoluted logic, as my blog entry defense stands, but let me address the biblical foundation of inerrancy.
    I will only be selcting a very small portion of the pertinent text on the subject and good systematic theologies such as Wayne Grudem’s and Lewis and Demarest’s should be consulted for a more thorough biblical defense.

    “They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry” (Zech 7:12). God reveals himself through his prophets and repeatedly we find throughout the Old Testament, those prophetic writings to be held up as the standard of what to believe and how to live. Rejection of them, equalled rejection of God. When people refused to repent and become faithful to the Word of God revealed, It was God’s Holy Spirit inspired texts which provided a just basis for their accountability. In Romans 3:2, Paul tells us that the chief advantage of the Jews is that “they have been entrusted with he very words (ta logia) of God.”

    Jesus recognized the final authority of the scriptures as he resisted Satan by quoting the Old Testament. In fact, he asserted that the Law and Prophets (a common way of refering to Old Testament) could not be abolished and all must be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18) and ought to be believed (Luke 24:25). Paul emphasized that all the scriptures originated with God (2 Tim. 3:16)(he is speaking of the written word) and according to Peter not with the human writers (2 Peter 1:20-21).

    Not only does Jesus affirm the full authority and truthfulness of the Old Testament, he then prepared the way for the preservation of his teaching to the apostles. Jesus having all authority delegates that authority to the his apostles. John chapter 16 here is vital, for we find that the promised Holy Spirit would remind them, and also guide them into “all truth.” He would take from Christ and make it known to them (16:13-15).

    Paul told the Thessalonians who were saved “through belief in the truth” to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (1 Thess. 5:25). In fact, disobedience to Paul’s letter was considered disobedience to God’s revealed Word (3:14-15).

    Before Paul gives an amazing defense of physical resurrection, he states “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (1Cor. 14:37). Paul wrote the Galatians, “The gospel I preached is not someting that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12).

    Peter puts Paul’s letters on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures (2Peter 3:15-16). Paul also quoted from Luke 10:7 as Scripture alongside a passage form the Old Testament (1 Tim. 5:18).

    The New Testament (apostolic writings) also make truth assertions that are empirically reliable, existentially viable, and logically noncontradictory. (I am planning on writing further on this in the future).

    Inerrancy therefore is not “a priori” assumed as you put it, but rather it is clearly gleaned from the Bible itself.
    Further as a Presbyterian (I have no idea what your affiliation is since your posting includes no information) I am called to affirm the Scriptures as authoritative and the confessions as binding (the 2nd Helvetic and the Westminster both clearly affirm the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture). I am clearly writing to those who are making some form of affirmation of Jesus as Lord and Savior. I am calling for them to take that very seriously and to look very seriously at what the Bible has to say for itself.

    If a Christian were to reject the inerrancy of Scripture then they must address Jesus Christ’s view of Scripture, the claims of the prophets, the claims of the apostles, dominant views of the Scriptures throughout the varied history of the church, and fulfilled prophecy and miracles confirming the office and messages of the apostles and prophets.

    The doctrine of inerrancy rests firmly upon the doctrine of a truthful God. If God is truthful, communicating in word and deed, then the scriptures whose source is God (2Timothy 3:16) are also wholly truthful.

    Comment by Adel Thalos | July 23, 2008

  4. I’ll ignore the “convoluted logic” comment except to note that it is both ungracious and unmerited.

    I love the reference to Zechariah. The “word” that Zechariah is referring to is quoted in the preceding verses 9 – 11:

    “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. (NAS)”

    Can’t say I can find any error in those words. Perhaps the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Comment by Jodie | July 24, 2008

  5. Adel:

    “Problem: The gospels put the events of Christ’s life in different sequences.
    Liberal response – 1 or more are in error.
    Possible neoliberal responses – error or we simply do not know.”

    You don’t mention the most interesting Liberal answer:

    Multiple, differing witnesses to Christ’s life is exactly what was intended by the early Church so that Christ would remain a mystery, so that built into the very fabric of our salvation history would be an allowance for multiple voices – continuing in the tradition of the OT of course, as one would expect.

    That’s my favorite anyway.

    Jodie:

    As always, you bring out the orthopraxis. You’re a heretic like me! Don’t you know that Christianity is entirely about cognitive assent to objective truth?

    Comment by Doug Hagler | July 24, 2008

  6. Thank you Doug. Although I was not attempting to be exhaustive of all options.

    You wrote ” Multiple, differing witnesses to Christ’s life is exactly what was intended by the early Church so that Christ would remain a mystery…” Clearly there are 4 witnesses (Gospels), so of course there are “multiple” witnesses. They are also clearly “different”, in this case putting the events of Christ’s life in different order. The “intended by the church” part I would point out is not accurate in reading early church history, records of councils and early church Fathers writings, but I will deal with this issue in detail in subsequent blog entries.

    The major aspect of contention would be this part of your statement, “…so that Christ would remain a mystery, so that built into the very fabric of our salvation history would be an allowance for multiple voices – continuing in the tradition of the OT of course, as one would expect.”
    Built into this, is the assumption of error in 1 or more of the gospels, as I have already stated. You are merely elaborating on what you believe to be the purpose of the early church in allowing what you state as “multiple differing witnesses”, but what it seems you are really saying is multiple incompatible or conflicting witnesses.

    I would first like to point out that you are making what appears to be a serious fallacy that you often accuse conservatives of making (but only if by different you mean historical errors which clearly conflict with each other). That is, you are reading the texts with a Western scientific (modern forms of biography and history) schema.
    Here is how I would present the logic of your statements (You can assess for me the accuracy).
    1. There are 4 different gospels which put the events of Jesus’ life in different order.
    2. Since they all cannot be right in their order, some or all of them must be historically (time linearly) wrong. For instance Mark after each event, says, “then this”. If one event does not follow linearly after the other, then Mark must be wrong.
    3. They are clearly left that way and included for a purpose.
    4. The purpose must be to have the “mystery of Christ” built into the fabric of Christian history and faith.

    Here is, I believe, the fallacy of this view. In statement 2 it imposes a schema of modern biography/history upon the genre of the gospels. If the gospel writers were not attempting to communicate in linear time sequence the events of Christ’s life, but rather were ordering the events for theological purposes, then there is no error. In other words, the authors, while they knew the order of the events, had no intention of communicating them in that order. One of the foremost Gospel scholars of our day, Dr. Craig Blomberg has written an excellent book, entitled “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” (he has also written a book specifically for the gospel of John, “The historical reliability of the Gospel of John”) which discusses this and many other objections to the historical reliability of the gospels.

    While you might describe the gospels as dissonant voices, I would describe them as harmonious. One filling in some of the details that another left out. One emphasizing something different from another. All 4 completely completely harmonious and inerrant.

    Comment by Adel Thalos | July 24, 2008

  7. Doug,

    “Don’t you know that Christianity is entirely about cognitive assent to objective truth?”

    yeah, they keep telling me that, but it just doesn’t seem to stick. 😉 Greek Philosophy is cool, but weren’t most of the philosophers a bunch of perverts?

    Adel,

    You make a lot of assumptions based on assumptions before you start applying logical reasoning. I think you are about five steps out on thin ice.

    Comment by Jodie | July 25, 2008

  8. “You are merely elaborating on what you believe to be the purpose of the early church in allowing what you state as “multiple differing witnesses”, but what it seems you are really saying is multiple incompatible or conflicting witnesses.”

    I’m sorry if that isn’t clear – that is not what I am intending to say at all. “Incompatible” or “conflicting” are categories you are bringing up as important. That is, to me, differing witnesses are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    The fallacy you point out shows me that I’m not really getting across what I intend to get across for whatever reason. It isn’t a fallacy I am making (though I’m sure it would only be one of a great multitude) because what you are laying out as my claim is not my claim. I don’t (intend to) impose a modern schema of biography/history on the Gospels – on that issue, we seem to completely agree – and I think we’ve even talked about this before on another thread of comments.

    Of course, I can’t possibly read the Gospels as their original audience would, but I agree that one should not read them by our own modern standards of biography and history.

    I actually never used the term “dissonant” – again, that is a concept/judgement that you are imposing on what I am actually saying.

    Depending on what you mean by “harmonious”, we might agree there, though I think there are excellent reasons that “harmonies” of the four Gospels have been rejected throughout Christian history.

    I’m still not sure you’ve addressed the point I tried to make at all. I just tried to put forward another Liberal response to the fact that there are four Gospels which are distinct which you didn’t cover in your blog – really, so that you could cover it if you wished, and because I think its an interesting position. I didn’t at any point claim that one of them had to be in error (your category) or that they are necessarily dissonant (again, your category) and I don’t think I even implied that we should judge them by modern biographical/historiological standards. If I did, I didn’t intend to.

    I think once again we’re talking past each other, but I can never be sure.

    Comment by Doug Hagler | July 25, 2008

  9. As for “inerrant”, that seems like a modern standard to me. I’m not sure that the 1st Century Judaeans would be analyzing sacred texts to determine whether they are “inerrant” or not. So, just as we shouldn’t judge those texts by modern standards of biography or history (except maybe as a theoretical/critical exercise), should we really be judging them based on their “inerrancy”?

    Comment by Doug Hagler | July 25, 2008

  10. Doug,

    Thank you for the clarification of your post. Could you elaborate then as to how your view would be considered “liberal”? Are you telling me that simply saying that the four gospels are “different” or “distinct” is a liberal position? Any casual reader can see that they are different. All sides of the issue from extreme conservatives to extremely liberal would agree that they are distinct and different. Where they differ is the cause and whether or not the gospel writers erred or could err.

    As to your comment on error and inerrant being a modern scientific category rather than an ancient Jewish/early Christian category — I would contend that you are right and you are wrong (which should make you very happy seeing how much you love paradox). It is true in that they never used this term. On the other hand they took witnessing/being a witness very seriously, especially when it comes to speaking for God (something about killing a false prophet).

    the concept of inerrancy is one that is gleaned from the whole revelation of scripture and I have given a brief defense of that in an earlier comment, which I am developing as a full blog entry. This is similar to the Christian view of the Trinity–while not clearly articulated in one or two verses, is very clearly developed and gleaned throughout scripture.

    For instance in the full biblical defense of inerrancy one might start with the Old Testament view of truth and witness. In the Old Testament the word truth occurs about 100 times, “true” about 27 times, “truly” 38 times. In the vast majority of cases the Hebrew word root ‘emet is the background. This term connotes “support” or “stability,” with the ideas of “faithfulness” and “truth” developed. A good working definition of the OT concent of Truth–is that firm conformity to reality that proves to be wholly reliable, so that those who accept a statement can depend on the fact that it will not turn out to be false or deceitful. This then becomes foundational to our understanding of the purpose of revelation and historical records and witnesses.

    Comment by Adel Thalos | July 25, 2008


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