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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