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Comments on Biblical Inerrancy Articles

December 26, 2013

Inerrancy Articles
  • The Error of Biblical Inerrancy, by JS Gibson
  • Inerrancy: A Response, by RA Baker
  • Why Inerrancy Doesn't Matter, by R Olson

  • See Reader Comments
  • Inerrancy: Reader Comments and Responses
  • I don't want to over simplify, but here is my take on this issue. The Bible is inerrant with regard to the intended message of the original author. So by the gospel author's canons of history writing there is no error. The error comes when we inappropriately require ancient authors to conform to our standards of precision (versus accuracy). They were entirely accurate, but not precise in our sense. We also do not take authorial intent seriously enough. For example, was the Chronicler an inept harmonizer, or was there theological meaning in his idealized presentation of David? I believe he is presenting not the David of history, but the David of his Messianic hopes: a worship and prayer leader centered in the second temple. I think you see where I am going with this brief sketch. Indeed, inerrancy is not what some may have intended in the 70s battle for the Bible. Still, the Scritures, correctly understood (salvation-historically) cannot be broken. Well anyway, there is my seed thought.
    - Craig K., Pastor and University Religious Instructor

    Response:
    "The Bible is inerrant with regard to the intended message of the original author" is not the standard definition. Part of my problem is making "inerrancy" such an important doctrine is that the definition is fuzzy - when I say I do not believe "inerrancy" most readers assume I am talking about their definition.

    "Still, the Scriptures, correctly understood (salvation-historically) cannot be broken." If you read my review of DH Williams, "the early apologists had to rely on "tradition," and "the rule of faith" instead of the known "scriptures" when defending the faith because Gnostics used the same biblical texts, giving it their own spin. (pp.87-94) This reminds us of all the Protestant sects that hold to a high view of the biblical text, yet disagree on significant doctrinal points: ten different preachers can give you ten different opinions on water baptism."

    Again, what good is it to say we believe in "inerrancy" when there are so many variants of the definition?

    The problem as I see it is our apparent inability to admit to textual difficulties, texts where the meaning is just not crystal clear and the fact that our biblical text is, to quote Gordon Fee, "the Word of God/man." (I doubt this is original with Fee). Fee did not say it, but I do: anything touched by man is flawed. The wonder is that a perfect God willingly, joyfully uses imperfect people to conduct His business. Amazing. Why can't we just say it?

    One of our pastors delivered the sermon yesterday. We are doing a four-part series on Isaiah 9:6 and his text was "his name will be EVERLASTING FATHER." He admitted that he struggled with his sermon because in his mind he could not get past his trinitarian model to call Messiah Jesus, the "Father."

    He did a good job of dancing around this difficulty, but he said it took him a few days and a lot of reading to come up with some explanation. I jokingly told him after the service that he should have called me and in 30 seconds I could have answered it for him. I was joking, but not entirely. Isaiah had NO concept of trinity in his head when he wrote this. WE read the text as Messianic, and I think it is, but we cannot force our NT conceptions into the text.
    You said something like this below.
    I went on to say that the explanation of the actual text is not as important as WHY he had struggled. Our teaching of inerrancy leads to the "need" to read/interpret the text literally. This led him to feel pressure to read the Isaiah text and take it literally. MOST people define inerrancy with some kind of idea that the individual words are inspired...which leads to a literal reading and forces difficulties.

    It is the message that is inspired, not the individual words.

    In our teaching of interpretation, we don't give enough time to progressive revelation. So that we have a full revelation in Christ, Isaiah not only did not know the Trinity, but only a foggy view of after life; David even less; Moses even less...

    ...we have a discipleship problem: how to move thinking believers from a Sunday School understanding to a more precise and clear perspective without causing them to doubt their faith? This is a huge problem. There are significant pressures on students to "universalize" ("all will be saved") or simply duck under a rock. I have seen some simply lose their faith under a combination of "New Atheist" rhetoric and what should be a more nuanced understanding of Scripture. In those settings, students hear "Prof X doesn't believe in innerrancy" as "Prof. X doesn't believe the Scriptures are true." I prefer to give them a precise term of what the Scripture does claim for itself: inspired by God and truly accurate with respect to what the original author was intending to communicate.
    -   Craig K.

    My very first course in a seminary setting was textual criticism. I was hooked on the subject. Thus this article spiked my curiosity. I found the content to be well written and researched. However, I'm not sure I understand the importance of the argument especially when how many times the rooster crows is the example of "error". Really? In that first seminary course I was introduced to Constantin Von Tischendorf. His discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus utterly amazed me. I'm amazed by the mere possession of a copy of the scriptures. Are there problematic text variations? Sure. However I don't get the energy level of the article. The rooster crowed. One writer records one crow. Another records two crows. So? That is a barometer of "truth?" - "Both cannot be true." Sure they can. Depends on the source of the information. One author's source said once. Another twice. I just think too much is made of this. The message is clear. "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:" That is the life-giving Good News! That is where all believers find the foundation for their faith. The text doesn't save. The Logos incarnate saves to the uttermost those who are lost. I believe we have common ground there.
    -   Charles, Pastor

    Response:
    I agree with 99% of what you just said. The only difference would be that the rooster crow is used for those who hold to "total inerrancy," that the text is perfect as written. It is not meant to be a barometer of "Truth," but it is a barometer of whether the text is perfect. Those who hold to strict inerrancy would argue that God whispered in the writer's ear what to write - at least that is how I was taught. The idea that our synoptic gospel writers actually had other gospel texts in front of them, using them as reference is NOT something the strict inerrantist can stomach very well.

    I have read this again, maybe for the 4th or 5th time. Thanks for this. All of these points needed to be made. Lord forgive us and protect us from becoming worshippers of "text." Rather, make us worshippers of who the text reveals. (I can hear the wails of the Baptist apologists screaming in my ear saying "we only know for certain because the TEXT is certain"...this debate will never end until Jesus reappears in person.)...

    I also got to revisit the following revelation...I looked it up for myself, not because I don't believe you, but because having this thought fully settled in any believer's mind allows that person to retell the teaching with personal passion...

    Now we see through a glass in enigma... - 1 Cor. 13:12

    This may be the single greatest point of understanding you have ever taught me about understanding the nature of things now vs. things as they will be. If it's NOT the greatest point, it is certainly in the top 3. You should hammer this point of understanding wherever you can to as MANY as you can all the days of your life. (if I am a case in point, I think you do this already)

    The idea we will always have to accept is a certain level of "riddle" or "mystery" (enigma) in Theology is clear. Paul is clear in telling us nothing is as clear as we wish it to be on this side of eternity. I think I can see the desire to be "crystal clear" on all matters concerning the things of God is just not possible at this time. The notion of a single Human Being thinking he has arrived at full understanding of all mystery is hubris.

    The desire of humans to arrive at perfectly clear perceptions concerning eternal things is somehow corrupt (wanting to answer EVERY uncertainty). I think I am coming to the point you have reached already, which I think is: "I am going to HAVE to be content with some level of mystery concerning what I know about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." I don't really see anybody has a choice in this matter. The more I think about it, the more comfortable I become knowing I CAN'T know all that can be known. If I did, wouldn't that make ME God? It appears receiving a mystery by trusting another with the outcome of the mystery is what is called for here. I'm thinking this is what "faith" means in this context...faith and trust appear to be synonymous.

    Bottom line...you have helped me trust a person, not a "text". That is no small thing. I appreciate that about you. -   Steve

    Response:
    Thank you, Steve. I sincerely appreciate the affirmation.

    [The reader quotes my comments regarding 1 Cor 13:12...] Paul uses "en enigmati" which can easily be translated "in enigma," then offers:

    As an Orthodox Christian I really appreciate that you pointed this out. Western Christians and many Protestants in particular, especially those who hold to strict inerrancy, have lost the concept of mystery. To us in the Eastern Church it is a vital part of theology and walking with God. I feel like the inerrantists' approach to Scripture and theology is similar to that of a lawyer (insert Calvin-was-a-lawyer-joke-here) in the context of a court room. He may be talking about something important, but it's as if this approach thinks that all of the entire spiritual life is in this courtroom when in fact there is an entire world outside of it to be explored and experienced.  -   Luke S.

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