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August 16, 2010


Al Mohler: The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War . . . and Counting

from here

...Back in 1990, theologian J. I. Packer recounted what he called a “Thirty Years’ War” over the inerrancy of the Bible. He traced his involvement in this war in its American context back to a conference held in Wenham, Massachusetts in 1966, when he confronted some professors from evangelical institutions who “now declined to affirm the full truth of Scripture.” That was nearly fifty years ago, and the war over the truthfulness of the Bible is still not over — not by a long shot.

From time to time, the dust has settled in one arena, only for the battle to erupt in another. In the 1970s, the most visible battles were fought over Fuller Theological Seminary and within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod…more

Inerrancy is such an important doctrine. I make sure that any seminary candidate we send forward upholds Inerrancy and I do my best to place them in Anglican schools and/or programs that uphold the same.


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56 comments

Ok, the Bible was inerrant in its original manuscript, which was completely accurate and without error. We most certainly do not have the original text of either of the two Testaments. Christian Churches can’t even agree on which of the principal OT textual streams (Masoretic or Septuagint), though the vast majority of Christians use a Septuagint based text. And our NT texts are basically a collection of best guesses by a variety of scholars pieced together from numerous manuscripts with an estimated 30,000-400,000 textual variants (I’d opt for the low end). Therefore, beyond any doubt the current Bibles we use cannot be inerrant. Except, I believe they are, in that they are the way the Lord intended, and not otherwise. And be so, the OT and NT contains all that is necessary for salvation, as well as canonically (according to the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils) the basis of the teaching authority of the Church, beyond which the Church cannot stray without falling into error.

[1] Posted by A Senior Priest on 8-16-2010 at 12:59 PM · [top]

Interesting.  I went to a national exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the OT manuscripts they had on display were, in the words of the senior researcher conducting the tour “98% or better current” with what we would read in the OT today, specifically the Latin Vulgate or a typical Hebrew Torah.  I dont’ rightly know what all that means, but when I realized that versions of the OT had been buried in jars in the desert 2,000 years ago and that the versions we read today held essentially the same stories and meaning, I could only come up with one possible way this could have happened:

Divine Intervention and Preservation.

KTF!..mrb

[2] Posted by Mike Bertaut on 8-16-2010 at 01:31 PM · [top]

#1 - A Senior Priest:

1.  Do you know how the Bible was copied?  There were several data checks performed for each page, including counting the number of each consonant used, to ensure the copy was as good as the original (think of it like the “checksum” used to verify credit card numbers).

2.  Did you know that from the Dead Sea Scrolls and over 25,000 sermons delivered in the 1st century that the Bible is PROVEN to be 97.8% accurate, with ZERO changes in meaning to any important passage in scripture?

So sir (or ma’am), frankly I don’t appreciate your assertion that “We most certainly do not have the original text of either of the two Testaments”.  Why would you believe for a second that the Creator of the Universe can’t preserve His Holy Word?

Might I recommend “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” as some light reading for you?  wink

[3] Posted by B. Hunter on 8-16-2010 at 02:03 PM · [top]

Bingo Mr. B!!!!!!!

[4] Posted by Capt. Father Warren on 8-16-2010 at 02:05 PM · [top]

Hi Senior Priest,

Inerrancy applies to the autographa alone…but see B.Hunter’s post.

[5] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-16-2010 at 02:13 PM · [top]

I have always believed that Holy Scripture is inerrant when read according to the sense of the text - history for history, biography for biography, poetry for poetry, myth for myth.  The rub is what is the correct genre for particular texts?  Is Job history or myth?  Is Jonah history or morality play?  If Job is myth or Jonah morality play, then does that invalidate the truths that are taught through those books?  If it turns out that the numbers of troops in the OT was off by a factor of 10 or even 100 then does that invalidate the truth that God acted and fought for Israel?  What if Elisha did not (or did) sic a bear on two boys because they made fun of his baldness? 

We certainly have manuscripts with differing texts.  But, the texts are so close in what they do say and teach and the words used, that I don’t believe that the differences matter even a little bit.  It’s not like one version has “No Adultery” and the other one has “Yes Adultery”

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

[6] Posted by Philip Snyder on 8-16-2010 at 02:46 PM · [top]

A senior priest wrote:

Therefore, beyond any doubt the current Bibles we use cannot be inerrant. Except, I believe they are, in that they are the way the Lord intended, and not otherwise.

B. Hunter then asks:

Why would you believe for a second that the Creator of the Universe can’t preserve His Holy Word?

 

It seems to me both of you are saying the same thing—or pretty darned close. 

And Matt adds that “Inerrancy applies to the autographa alone…” (in other words, not necessarily to the Bibles we have), and B. Hunter says, that the Bibles we have are “97.8% accurate” (in other words, not 100% inerrant) but adds: with ZERO changes in meaning to any important passage in scripture (which, I’ll bet is a statement with which ALL of us would agree).

There seems to be a hermeneutic of suspicion with regard to each others statements that is keeping us from recognizing the underlying agreement.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the Creator of the Universe did preserve his holy Word, so that our current Bibles are the way the Lord intended, and not otherwise (except for the NRSV, but I won’t go there wink).  And I believe that the original manuscripts are without error and that the text has been preserved to such a high degree that there are ZERO changes in meaning to any important passage in Scripture.

Now, would y’all like to agree or disagree with that statement?

[7] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 8-16-2010 at 02:50 PM · [top]

Well said #7, ToAllTheWorld.

Where this matters in my mind are those who are “on the fence” with regard to Christianity.  If you can assert to them that the Bible we are reading today is the same Bible God gave to Moses and written by the Apostles I believe this gives more “uuumph” to the fact that it is Holy Scripture, given to us by God and preserved by the Creator, vs. some watered-down version full of errors.

Does this make sense?

[8] Posted by B. Hunter on 8-16-2010 at 03:03 PM · [top]

Take for example that the Book of Mormon has been revised AT LEAST 5 times…so if the Bible was perfect the first time around…and still is…hmmm then maybe it really IS the Holy Word of God Almighty, and maybe the Book of Mormon really isn’t…

[9] Posted by B. Hunter on 8-16-2010 at 03:06 PM · [top]

#6 I have read that the very 1st edition of the KJV had exactly that honest transcriber’s (no doubt very tired and eye-strained) typo - “Thou shalt commit adultery”!  Where such human (as opposed to divine, which are zero) errors occurred they were sooner or later corrected.

And for other possible “errors” in exact numbers as you also mention in #6, the contemporary authors had the same standard for inerrancy as you and I and Matt and the Chicago Statement have, that the points the writers intended to make, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have come to us without error.

[10] Posted by Milton on 8-16-2010 at 03:27 PM · [top]

There is what can only be an intentional mistranslation in the KJV in Acts chapter 12, verse 4.

[11] Posted by St. Nikao on 8-16-2010 at 03:46 PM · [top]

Yes, B. Hunter, I agree with your #8 completely and also your observations about the Book of Mormon in #9. Of course, Mormons point to our multiplicity of translations as a sign of weakness, while ignoring the numerous times the Book of Mormon (called by Joseph Smith “the most perfect book on earth”) has had to be revised to correct errors.  Unfortunately, most Mormons are unaware of the history of the revisions of their own book, even though googling “book of mormon revisions” will get you more than 9,000 hits, including many sites with very clear examples.

[12] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 8-16-2010 at 03:48 PM · [top]

Why not say the Bible is “trustworthy” or “completely turstowrhty” in all that it aims to teach? Why deploy word “inerrancy” which rose basically in response to challenges of science and specifically a kind of foundationalist epistemology in Descartes and in (most Englightenment) science? “Inerrancy,” that is, brings a lot more baggage with it than the average seminarian, at least those without a strong background in philosophy understand, probably realizes. The word seems to be strong, but it really is weak. Also, inevitably, one is pushed to hermeneutics and the meaning of the grand sweep, and individual passages, of Scripture. I say this not to challenge the primacy of Scripture, the efficacy of God throught it, or the pearl of great price that Scripture annouces. I say it mainly to challenge the laziness of my own evangelical tradition which just has not done the hard work of thinking through this, and equipping seminarians to work through this.

[13] Posted by MP2010 on 8-16-2010 at 04:10 PM · [top]

“Inerrancy” is not so much a true or false doctrine, as it is a useless doctrine.  When the Holy Scriptures are used for the purpose that God gave them to us, and are used in the manner that He intended them to be used, then they are effective in accomplishing His purposes.  When they are misapplied, misinterpreted, and (frankly) perverted to answer questions God never intended them to provide answers for, the Holy Scriptures are anything but “inerrant”; or, rather, it is we who are being “errant” in the way that we are using the Scriptures.

Thus, when the Church uses the Scriptures, in her liturgical ministry of Word and Sacrament, according to the Apostolic rule of faith, to proclaim and impart the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then “the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith.”  When the Scriptures are used in some other context, with some other agenda, then all bets are off.

[14] Posted by Chris Jones on 8-16-2010 at 04:24 PM · [top]

How do we define “inerrancy”? I agree with Phil Snyder who points out the genre issue. For example, a literal reading of a poetic passage is inappropriate.

I have not read Kent Sparks’ book myself, so I will not attempt to speak about the book. But, I will point to one issue in the Biblical text that he does mention. (I do not know Hebrew, so pardon my use of Greek in the OT. However, when Sparks discusses this issue, he does use the Hebrew.) Many translators recognize the difficulty of these two passages and find various ways of softening the difference. In Exodus 12:9 it says of the Passover sacrifice, “Do not eat any of it raw or boiled (hepsemenon-from hepso, “to boil”) in water, but roasted” (ESV) and in Deuteronomy 16:7 it says, “Roast it and eat it” (ESV). But, the ESV’s rendering of Deuteronomy 16:7 translates opteseis (“roast”), but ignores and leaves untranslated the additional command to hepseseis (from hepso, “to boil”). As Kent Sparks points out, there are two different texts speaking of how to prepare the Passover meal: one explicitly says to boil (hepso) it (Deut 16:7) and the other explicitly says NOT to boil (hepso) it (Ex 12:9).

[15] Posted by SeminarianPA on 8-16-2010 at 04:25 PM · [top]

It is sad that Churches which identify themselves as being “Anglican” have abandoned the use of the Authorized Version in public worship and instruction only to embrace versions which grew out of Nineteenth Century higher criticism which stray so far from the Hebrew and Greek originals. Men like Dean John William Burgon and Dr. E. W. Bullinger spent their ministries and lives defending Scripture against such distortions. Now, generally, these Churches present distorted and inferior translations which themselves are wrongly divided.

[16] Posted by RMBruton on 8-16-2010 at 04:29 PM · [top]

RMBruton [16]  I shelved my NLT and picked up a couple of ESVs, and an NASB.  Is that close enough?  My kids are required to use KJV in their school, so I suppose I could borrow from them if they are willing to share.

[17] Posted by BAMAnglican on 8-16-2010 at 04:34 PM · [top]

#11, It is either an attempt to use variation in translation (a noted feature of the KJV) or an error in the substitution of Easter for Passover, or an intentional error?  Granted, pascha is Passover every other time, it would seem most likely a variant in the language understanded by the people of a particular region at a particular time to a particular purpose (variation).

[18] Posted by dwstroudmd+ on 8-16-2010 at 04:36 PM · [top]

Hi MP2010,

I know that what you suggest is commonly held to be true but it simply is not. The word “inerrancy” may be relatively new. The concept is not and predates the Enlightenment.

RC Sproul’s recent book “Sola Scriptura” does a pretty good job of revealing that canard for what it is.

[19] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-16-2010 at 04:46 PM · [top]

Re [17]  I am going to issue my first SF apology.  I fear my snark jumped out and perhaps I was too cute (or attempting to be) in response to RMBruton [16], who commented about the need to use KJV in Anglican worship.  I am not competent to speak to this issue as I have neither studied it nor have I given it much thought.  I apologize for being a bit of a jerk.

[20] Posted by BAMAnglican on 8-16-2010 at 04:51 PM · [top]

This is a helpful discussion, and I think I agree with #13 MP2010’s points above.  I hope I’m not derailing the thread by asking for an explanation of posts #2 and #3 above, or rather, what I’m after is the theology behind this articulation of inerrancy. 
I wonder, how do we know that the doctrine that ‘scripture is inerrant in the autographa’ is true?  I don’t think that scripture itself demands that we believe this.  What do we lose if we stop asserting this doctrine?  You could still say that scripture is good, true, beautiful, God-breathed, useful for teaching, reproof, etc.  Does ceasing to assert this doctrine of ‘inerrancy of autographa’ automatically put one on the fast track to revisionism and heresy, and if so how?
I see above that we are invoking God’s providential direction, to the effect of: “God would not let his Church have an insufficient scripture.” I totally agree!  But… why do we have to perform this calculation such that we say, “Well, the original was perfect scripture; what we have is 97% so it’s passable scripture”?  Why not simply invoke God’s providential direction one step back—saying something like, “The scripture that we have in our hands is the scripture that God wants us, the Church, to read; and we know and believe that it is entirely trustworthy, good, true, and beautiful”?  This would be a sort of… theology of ‘versions’, as it were.
At any rate, thank you for this conversation.  I want nothing more than to believe the faith once delivered, and desire to be corrected if I have gone astray.

[21] Posted by Matthew N. on 8-16-2010 at 05:19 PM · [top]

That the scriptures are God’s own Word—and that the scriptures themselves make that claim—is quite clear. Jesus affirmed their truth and that down to the individual words they cannot be broken. The burden of proof is not on those who recognize that the Word of God is without error but those who would presume to argue otherwise.

[22] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-16-2010 at 05:40 PM · [top]

[21] Matthew N.

[H]ow do we know that the doctrine that ‘scripture is inerrant in the autographa’ is true?  I don’t think that scripture itself demands that we believe this.  What do we lose if we stop asserting this doctrine?

How will you identify those parts of Scripture that are true?  How will you defend the truth of any part of Scripture once you admit that some parts of Scripture are false?  What standard will you use to test the truthfulness of God’s revelation?  The practical impact of declaring the Scriptures “errant” is to move the source of Scripture from God to man, because only man can introduce error.  This moves the authority of Scripture from God to man, and allows Scripture to be controlled. 

carl

[23] Posted by carl on 8-16-2010 at 07:44 PM · [top]

How do we define Biblical inerrancy? I have heard the term used to mean different things, some of which I wholeheartedly agree with and some of which I simply do not.

[24] Posted by SeminarianPA on 8-16-2010 at 07:52 PM · [top]

SeminarianPA:

The definition used by the author in the post above—and by JI Packer—was provided in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. You can read it here:
http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/icbi.html

[25] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-16-2010 at 08:08 PM · [top]

The link that Matt Kennedy posted in #25 will help me sharpen my question a little—my point of contention is Article X.

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

What I want to know is the scriptural and theological warrant for believing everything in the ‘affirmation’ section of that Article.  I think I agree with all the rest of the statement, but I don’t see how Article X fits in there, how it is necessary if one is to affirm the other articles.  What work is the phrase ‘strictly speaking’ doing there?  Again, it implies that Scripture can be, like, 97% inerrant—which is to say, NOT inerrant!  What is the point of asserting this doctrine if, “strictly speaking”, it doesn’t apply to the Bibles we, the Church, use throughout the world every day?  The scripture that Jesus heard and read, in whatever language, was certainly not the autographs, but I don’t think this distinction would have ever occurred to them at all (with the note that Jesus, as the Logos, is the font and source of scripture itself).  Also, if this statement denies that “any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs”, the wording implies that some non-essential element of the Christian faith IS affected by that—and if so, what is it?

[26] Posted by Matthew N. on 8-16-2010 at 08:37 PM · [top]

As most everyone here knows, if you don’t read Biblical Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, you need to have multiple translations.  All translation is treason to the original text.  I prefer the ESV, but the NASB is quite accurate.  I even use the NLT on occasion as it sometimes pick up a nuance in the original language that other translations missed.

By and large the translators have done a very good job, and we can also have a high degree of confidence in the apparatus (the Greek NT and the OT equivalent which are well footnoted with the manuscript sources) from which the translators work.

Besides I have the autographs in my home library.smile

[27] Posted by Br. Michael on 8-17-2010 at 06:20 AM · [top]

The word “inerrancy” is not, in response to Matt Kennedy, “innerrant.” smile It is not used in the Bible, it was not used by Jesus, nor by the apostles, nor by any signficant number of early church fathers. In deploying it, a case has to be made for it. Proponents of innerancy ought to be able to state there case more positively using other words (and, after all, how odd is it to use a double-negative, which innerancy is!) Thelogical reasoning is inescapable. One can acknowledge the authority of Scripture and the efficacy of God through it without relying on it. The word “trustworthy” seems good enough to me but, again, not to the epistemological foundationalists (or something similar) who promote innerancy. J.I. Packer—God love him and I wish I were as humble and gentle as he—for all his merits has never really taken on or been in dialogue with all the pressures that make modern theology modern theology. For my money, he always ignores, effectively in the end, the humanity involved in Scripture, and the testimonial nature of Scripture (even if it is more than testimony it is not less), and runs the risk of having a docetic view of Scripture.

Also, I am always bewildered by a championing of Scripture as the Word of God without an equal emphasis on Jesus as the Word of God, which I have seen a lot in Packer, in Harold Lindsell (remember him?),and others FWIW.  Also, I would add that inerrancy ought to lead to fresh, solid, amd joyful exegesis—exegesis being of a higher order. For me, counting the Bible as trustworhty pushes me toward this kind of interpretation and thus, toward life! Innerrancy leads generally to inter-ecclesial battles IMHO

[28] Posted by MP2010 on 8-17-2010 at 07:13 AM · [top]

[28] MP2010

The word “trustworthy” seems good enough to me

You have offered this word as an alternative standard, but you haven’t defined this word in any meaningful way.  Nor have you addressed the practical consequences of discerning truth from Scripture by considering Scripture ‘trustworthy but errant.’  I asked three questions earlier.

1.  How will you identify those parts of Scripture that are true? 

2.  How will you defend the truth of any part of Scripture once you admit that some parts of Scripture are false? 

3.  What standard will you use to test the truthfulness of God’s revelation?

You must address those questions specifically.  Because eventually someone is going to ask you whether the Ressurection really happened, or wasn’t it just a metaphor to illustrate a theological point, and you aren’t going to be able to respond “Oh, no! THAT part of Scripture is true.”

carl

[29] Posted by carl on 8-17-2010 at 07:34 AM · [top]

“The word “inerrancy” is not, in response to Matt Kennedy, “innerrant.”  It is not used in the Bible, it was not used by Jesus, nor by the apostles”

Um…neither is “Trinity” “Incarnation” “Hypostatic Union”...but the fact is that the concepts to which those words point are clearly taught in scripture…so is inerrancy.

[30] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-17-2010 at 07:41 AM · [top]

No, Matt, I don’t think Scripture teaches inerrancy in the way that Incarnation and Trinity are implicit in the person and history of Jesus viz., the Incarnation, for instance, tells us what was going on when Jesus, for instance, said ‘Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden .. . ” namely, this was God in the flesh making the offer. It wasn’t a parable or an illustration of something else (hat tip: Donald McKinnon).

And, I already mentioned that theological reasoning is inescapable so I am on board with theology and making conceptual and coherent sense of things. Having been in the evangelical world for a long, long time—Wheaton College in the late 70’s, TESM, Campus Crusade—I have never been convinced of the health of the word “inerrancy” This was fortified BTW by many of the philosophy profs at Wheaton—Arthur Holmes and Steve Evans esp., who maintained a high view of Scripture while not elevating innerrancy and bringing with it, one more time, sorry, all its weaknesses. 

To Carl, of course it would take a long paper—wouldn’t it?—or a book to promote and defend ‘trustworthy’ in a way thorough enough to dislodge “innerancy” from its pride of place and to win some converts from the camp in which is it thought to be something like the article on which all things stand or fall.

FWIW I like John Webster’s somewhat recent little gem ‘Holy Scripture’ if readers know it. Outstanding work.

And, proponents of innerrancy might ask if they are aware enough of the ways in which things can theologically wrong when epistemology following Descartes looms too large in an overall account and understanding of the faith for, without question, many proponents of innerrancy are following this train.

[31] Posted by MP2010 on 8-17-2010 at 08:36 AM · [top]

“No, Matt, I don’t think Scripture teaches inerrancy in the way that Incarnation and Trinity are implicit in the person and history of Jesus viz…”

It is obvious that you don’t. It is equally obvious that the argument “the word ‘inerrancy’ doesn’t appear in scripture” is facile and weak. Which was my point.

As far about your feelings and intuitions about the “health” of the word inerrancy, there are many doctrines that are true even though they may not “feel” right. The doctrine of the Hell, for example, is not one that I “like” and or think “unifies” but because it is clearly revealed, it is nevertheless true. It is not subject to my feelings about it.

In the same way whether the doctrine of inerrancy is true or not has nothing to do with whether you or I consider it “healthy”. If it is true it is “healthy” whether we consider it to be so or not.

[32] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-17-2010 at 08:56 AM · [top]

Well, MP2010, you repeatedly (and rightly) point to Jesus as the living Word of God.  Fine.  From what source do you derive the overwhelming majority, if not the whole, of what you know of Jesus?  Can there be any source other than Scripture?  And if you point to the Gospels as being the sole entirely “trustworthy” section of the Bible because they give us Jesus’s own words and actions while He walked the earth, you ignore at least two major problems.

First, the Gospels were written using the pen of man, though we believe the Holy Spirit guided the pen.  Only three of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and one of those may have written down much of his secondhand by interviewing one who never wrote a Gospel of his own.  By your standards, how “trustworthy” is that?

Second, you find yourself gainsaying the same living Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In the Gospels He is recorded quoting from nearly every book of the Old Testament.  Never once did He qualify any of His statements or express any reservations about errors in the texts.  He summed up His view of the inerrancy of the whole of Scripture - “and Scripture cannot be broken”.  I, for one, do not dare to disagree with Him.

[33] Posted by Milton on 8-17-2010 at 09:13 AM · [top]

People - the Bible is the direct and real Holy Word of God.  Period. 

There are of course language challenges in TRANSLATING from one language to another, in trying to get the meaning as accurate as possible, given language and cultural differences, but God’s Holy Scripture is PERFECT as written.  People who do Bible translations take AMAZING care to get it right.  Many devote their entire lives in this Holy endeavor.

[34] Posted by B. Hunter on 8-17-2010 at 09:15 AM · [top]

Oh dear. Okay, to be a little more professional: the word innerrancy does not, upon theological reflection, do justice to the trustworthiness of Scripturee because (1) as a double negative it is fundamentally either defensive or indebted to a Cartesian influenced foundationalism and (2)gained momementum historically in response to the challenge science posed to Christianity in modernity (showing again its defensive nature and historically conditioned genesis) and (3) saying a word is not ‘healthy’ has nothing to do with ‘feelings’ of ‘intuitions’ (ad hominem here?)—it has to do with reading for decades about this, seeing many dead ends, and not being rationally or theologically or spiritually persuaded. By ‘healthy’ I meant not up to the task. If you try to answer ‘Why innerrancy and not trustworthy?” what do you say?

By pointing out that “inerrancy” does not occur in Scripture I was not advancing an argument but making a point, namely, that there seems to be a fixation on a word which itself certainly can lay claim to divine inspiration, can it?

[35] Posted by MP2010 on 8-17-2010 at 09:18 AM · [top]

oops. “Can NOT lay claim to divine inspiration ” was the attempted sentence by this awful, errant typist!

[36] Posted by MP2010 on 8-17-2010 at 09:20 AM · [top]

“(1) as a double negative it is fundamentally either defensive or indebted to a Cartesian influenced foundationalism”

yeh…kind of like “And the scriptures cannot be broken”

“(2)gained momementum historically in response to the challenge science posed to Christianity in modernity (showing again its defensive nature and historically conditioned genesis)”’

At least you do not say that it “originated” historically in response to the challenge of modernity. The doctrine was certainly sharpened in light of challenges to its truth.

But if apologetic sharpening in defense of a held truth qualifies as a reason or basis to reject or suspect it, then we must throw out the results of the first four councils because just about every clearly articulated doctrine has come to be clearly articulated precisely because the church had to respond carefully, clearly, and in detail to error.

“(3) saying a word is not ‘healthy’ has nothing to do with ‘feelings’ of ‘intuitions’ (ad hominem here?)—it has to do with reading for decades about this, seeing many dead ends, and not being rationally or theologically or spiritually persuaded. By ‘healthy’ I meant not up to the task.”

The task of what? What task have you set for the doctrine? Inerrancy is a truth claim. The question is: is it a “true” truth claim, not “does it work” or “is it up to the task”. If pragmatism is your standard then, again, we must begin to cut away whole swaths of Christian doctrine.

If you try to answer ‘Why innerrancy and not trustworthy?” what do you say?

[37] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-17-2010 at 09:52 AM · [top]

I took MP2010 to have said he/she prefers “trustworthy”, but was soliciting Matt’s opinion.  But he can speak for herself on that.  This is a very interesting thread, but, at root, it seems to get hung up on semantics.  If “inerrant” means that every word is factually true in a literal sense (and I do not consider “inerrant” to have that meaning in this context) then the translation/treanscription errors and discrepancies of the Bible are fatal to faith.  But if “inerrancy” means a wholly accurate revelation of the will and nature of God to Man, Scripture is robust and well suited for propagation and sustenance of faith.

[38] Posted by NoVA Scout on 8-17-2010 at 10:10 AM · [top]

Sorry forgot to answer that last question:

“If you try to answer ‘Why innerrancy and not trustworthy?” what do you say?”

I would say that if the scriptures do not err then they are certainly trustworthy. But if they do err, why on earth would you trust them?

[39] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 8-17-2010 at 10:22 AM · [top]

I begin to think that an affirmation that one has read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in full should be required before one can comment on the subject. smile  That reading would prevent the continued equating of inerrancy with word-for-word prosaic literalism, modern scientific accuracy, and exact numbers for commonly understood and accepted approximations, among other confusions.

[40] Posted by Milton on 8-17-2010 at 11:31 AM · [top]

I agree with [14]. But consider also the Bible as narrative truth. Various translations are useful in different ways. The Good News and The Message Bibles usually make the point in easily understood language, although they can miss nuances and sometimes get it wrong. But getting it right is about the Holy Spirit in reading to match the inspiriation of the Holy Spirit in writing. In the KJV (and some others) the woman HID the yeast in the flour. Many translations edit out the humor.
Respectfully

[41] Posted by Don+ on 8-17-2010 at 01:20 PM · [top]

MP2010, This one can trust the scriptures because they do not contain nor propagate error.  Are you saying another one can trust scripture even though they thought it to contain and propagate error?

[42] Posted by Bo on 8-17-2010 at 01:38 PM · [top]

[35] MP2010

[T]he word innerrancy does not, upon theological reflection, do justice to the trustworthiness of Scripture

You keep using this word ‘trustworthy’ like it means something.  Yet you will not define it.  I ask you to define the term and you say: 

it would take a long paper—wouldn’t it?—or a book to promote and defend ‘trustworthy’ in a way thorough enough to dislodge “innerancy” from its pride of place

But it wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) take a long paper to define the term so that I at least know what you mean when you use it.  Your unwillingness to define the term even as you use it leads me to believe you do not wish to define it for purposes of tactical advantage.  You do not define it so that you do not have to defend it.

gained momementum historically in response to the challenge science posed to Christianity in modernity

There it is.  It had to be there.  Just one more attempt to rescue the Christian faith from man’s ultimate source of Truth - Science.  What do I think ‘trustworthy’ means?  I think it means “The Bible is true except when science says it is false.”  You know - like about that ‘resurrection from the dead’ idea.

carl

[43] Posted by carl on 8-17-2010 at 06:52 PM · [top]

1. Like Carl, I do have difficulty in working out what MP2010 means. Perhaps the fault is mine - its easy to argue unnecessarily over a word.

Anyway, I don’t have a problem with Fr. Matt using the word “inerrant”, nor with others describing them as “trustworthy”.

2. I have read the Scriptures in their original languages (including LXX and MT) for many years now, and I am yet to find anything inconsistent with Dean Munday’s description at #7:

For what it’s worth, I believe that the Creator of the Universe did preserve his holy Word, so that our current Bibles are the way the Lord intended, and not otherwise (except for the NRSV, but I won’t go there *wink*).  And I believe that the original manuscripts are without error and that the text has been preserved to such a high degree that there are ZERO changes in meaning to any important passage in Scripture.

3. As MP2010 correctly observes, the source of our faith is Christ - I came to faith through an encounter with Him, through knowing in a way that even intellect could not fully do for me, that He is God and His words are true.

So everything depends on Christ. But what does He tell me?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
[Matt 5:17-19]

Just how exactly can anyone reconcile this clear statement from our Lord himself, with a view that the scriptures may err?

4. Christ also taught:

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”
[Luke 16:16-17]

and

“Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
[John 10:34-36]

5. Jesus equates his own words with the Old Testament scriptures:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
[Matt 24:35]

6. Jesus also warned against trying to get around the scriptures ‘by stealth’, as it were:

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
  ” ‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
[Mark 7:5-13]

This surely indicates that Christ had a very high view of Scripture?

7. In the same way, the Holy Apostles whom Christ himself commissioned to found his church held a similar view of each others’ writings, applying to them the epithet “scripture” which Christ had interpreted as “unchangeable” and “must be obeyed”:

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

So, if we go back to Christ and his Apostles, what we find is a clear statement that Scripture is inerrant, trustworthy, free from error, whatever words we want to use.

And of course this means that we have to read Scripture on its own terms: if the scriptures tell us that God is like a lion, it doesn’t mean scripture intends us to believe that he has fur and fleas. Nor does describing Jesus as a lamb mean that he has wooly fur and lives in New Zealand. But I don’t see that as a qualification on “inerrant”, just simple common sense.

[44] Posted by MichaelA on 8-17-2010 at 08:56 PM · [top]

Here’s what I don’t understand about Reformed teaching on inerrancy:  What good is it to know that “the Bible” is inerrant if one has no authoritative way of knowing whether this or that book—e.g., the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of James, or the Book of Sirach—is or is not part of “the Bible”?

[45] Posted by slcath on 8-17-2010 at 09:24 PM · [top]

[44] MichaelA

Perhaps the fault is mine

No.  No it’s not. Consider:

[12] Also, inevitably, one is pushed to hermeneutics and the meaning of the grand sweep, and individual passages, of Scripture.  I say this not to challenge the primacy of Scripture, the efficacy of God throught it, or the pearl of great price that Scripture annouces.

Meaning what exactly?

[28] One can acknowledge the authority of Scripture and the efficacy of God through it without relying on it.

Meaning what exactly?

[28] I would add that inerrancy ought to lead to fresh, solid, and joyful exegesis—exegesis being of a higher order. For me, counting the Bible as trustworhty pushes me toward this kind of interpretation and thus, toward life!

Meaning what exactly?

That’s about as close as he gets.

carl

[46] Posted by carl on 8-17-2010 at 09:36 PM · [top]

SLC,
The Canon of New Testament Scripture is known to the reformed in the same way it was known to the rest of the Church Catholic - Universal acceptance as scripture by the whole of the Church.  The ‘table of contents’ of the New Testament was firmly established well before Rome fell into error, split from the communion of the saints, and declared itself the only see that counted.  The ‘table of contents’ for the OT having been left to the ‘Jewish Editors’ by the Church.

Rome having more in the OT list than Canterbury, and having less than Constantinople proves that the Church never addressed the question of ‘which Jew’s scripture’.  It does not indicate that Rome’s answer is ‘right’.  Sirach didn’t make the cut as ‘Jewish Scripture’ for Jerome (since it was not extant in Hebrew) - personally I’ll stick with the St. Jerome on the ‘which books are Jewish Scripture).  Until a real ecumenical council can be called, the ‘conservative’ position would be that expressed by men like Jerome, and the Anglican Church.

Bo, who isn’t nearly as reformed as Carl.

[47] Posted by Bo on 8-17-2010 at 09:48 PM · [top]

[45] Silver Lake Catholic

What good is it to know that “the Bible” is inerrant if one has no authoritative way of knowing whether this or that book—e.g., the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of James, or the Book of Sirach—is or is not part of “the Bible”?

What church told the Israelites that the Book of Exodus was Scripture?  And yet Jesus held them accountable for knowing it. 

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”  Matt 22:29-32 ESV

carl

[48] Posted by carl on 8-17-2010 at 09:51 PM · [top]

carl, in response to your comment in #48:  Jesus spoke of the “Scriptures” as something actually knowable, so apparently there was an authoritative Tradition among the Old Testament People of God that people were supposed to adhere to with respect what was and what was not “Scripture.” I guess I thought—perhaps incorrectly—that Reformed Protestants didn’t believe in an extra-biblical authoritative Tradition.

[49] Posted by slcath on 8-17-2010 at 10:10 PM · [top]

SLC,
I’m very much aware of extra scriptural ‘authoritative’ Tradition.  The Pharisees also promoted that (Tradition) above the words of Scripture, and were for that rebuked by God in the Flesh.

Still the Jews in temple and synagogue knew; Pharisees, Sadducees, and whatever fundamentalists Jews were called -  alike, what was the Word of God delivered to them and preserved for them, without the ‘benefit’ of Rome.

[50] Posted by Bo on 8-17-2010 at 10:49 PM · [top]

Silver Lake Catholic wrote at #45:

Here’s what I don’t understand about Reformed teaching on inerrancy:  What good is it to know that “the Bible” is inerrant if one has no authoritative way of knowing whether this or that book—e.g., the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of James, or the Book of Sirach—is or is not part of “the Bible”?

As you point out at #49, it is clearly inherent in Jesus’ many words on the subject that both he and his listeners knew what Scripture was.

However, the essence of scripture for the Jews (as indeed can be seen from the quotes from Christ in my post above) is that it is the words of God. That means each book was “scripture” from the moment it was written down.

It follows that no group or person can declare a book to be scripture at a later time. Either the book objectively was scripture from the moment of its first existence, or it never was and never will be.

Christ only tells us of two classes of person who have the authority to write scripture: Prophets and Apostles. So your question may be re-phrased as: How can we tell which books are of Prophetic or Apostolic authority? At this point we have two complimentary sources for an answer:

The first is the testimony of the books themselves - do they claim prophetic or apostolic authority? In almost all cases they do, explicitly.

The second is the testimony of the people of God who received these books. Do they testify unambiguously to the Prophetic or Apostolic authorship of each book?

You could call this “tradition” if you like, but that doesn’t really correspond with usual uses of the word. A “witness” would be more accurate.

And you could also call it “authoritative” in the sense that we believe and accept it. But it doesn’t teach us anything so its not an Authority in that sense. Its just saying: “The evidence for us, the church, is overwhelming that these are the oracles of God. Now that you and we know what they are, we have to read them, learn from them and (most importantly) subject ourselves to them in all ways”.

Thus, even though the church is a witness to the Scriptures, the church is also subject to the Scriptures in every way.

I trust that helps.

[51] Posted by MichaelA on 8-17-2010 at 11:05 PM · [top]

I first apologize: I do not come from the Reformed tradition (Tradition?), and thus may come off sounding like a lame-brained ignoramus (wich is at least polysyllabic, and won’t be the first time!).

I am currently volunteering (very-)part-time as priest of the Igreja Lusitana (Comunhão Anglicana) in northern Portugal—I’m disabled enough to have been forced into retirement, but can still get through a Sunday Mass, and the tiny Anglican Church in Portugal is desperately short of clergy (there is one further cleric in the north than there are parishes—including the bishop!). But it means that I am preaching weekly in Portuguese, from Portuguese translations of Holy Scripture (the Protestant ‘Portuguese Bible Society’ uses a translation done by Roman Catholics, so it includes the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books, but has the approval of the Presbyterian Seminary).

What I have discovered is less differences in translation of Scripture as in understanding of those translations—by working in different language and culture, I am forced to see the degree to which culture has an affect on understanding. Familial relationships are different here, for example, than in North America or Britain, and so the understanding of what it means to be a brother or uncle, a sister or aunt—and more to the point, a Godparent, is quite different.

When Jesus asks “Who are my mother and brothers?”, there is a different shade in the understanding of the question—not in the translation of the words, but in how those words are understood.  There are also words in Portuguese that cannot be translated into words in English without elaborate descriptive paragraphs (and probably vice-versa,although what comes to mind at the moment is the Portuguese have no word for a “koozee” (or however it’s spelled)—those foam things we use to keep our cans of soda cold. And… that’s at least partly because they prefer soda at room temperature, and have no real need for the word.

Where I’m going with this is that a discussion of the inerrancy of Scripture is by definition one-sided: it’s saying that the text is inerrant (I shan’t get into autographa, etc.—it’s irrelevant to my point, which is this: For Scripture to contain all that is necessary for Salvation, it isn’t merely necessary that the words as translated contain all that is necessary, but that the reader within his culture be able to understand those words in a manner that will ensure his Salvation.

As I understand it (it’s been 22 years since Seminary), Greek and Aramaic differ in some manner in their abilities to describe generalities, and yet in the Gospels, the Evangelists translated Jesus’ words from the Aramaic he would have spoken to the crowds into Koiné Greek- divinely inspired and guided, but in a language that may not have contained some of the same “inflections of meaning”. From those divinely guided texts we have the various translations we now work with, translated into languages which again almost certainly have culturally-different “inflections of meaning”—certainly when I work with the Gospel in Portuguese, even things which would translate easily and exactly into English (or vice versa) don’t necessarily have the same significance or weight (sometimes it’s been marvelously more for me, and I have had new flashes of ‘insight’ into otherwise very familiar texts).

I think that where I am going it this: For Holy Scripture to “work” at all, it cannot be a matter of a text that was originally divinely inspired, or even that is divinely inspired in every translation. It has to still be alive—to a degree, the original texts don’t even matter to me, because if I had them neither I nor my congregation could read them—and even if we could, we couldn’t read, say, St. John’s Gospel and understand it as the members of his community did.

Holy Scripture, to be worth anything to us, has to be currently divinely inspired, and we who read it must equally be divinely inspired: God must work in us, in and through our cultural understandings and biases and simple differences, for the words He wants us to understand to be His words. My congregation isn’t made up of first century Hellenes, and I’m not even a 21st century Portuguese, but God must make the text alive to us, and bring us to understand it as He wants us to, or it doesn’t matter how “inerrant” the words printed on the page are.

Perhaps that is why the Church is and can only be the Body of Christ—because if it is not Christ’s—not of the Logos—then the “Word” will be understood as having a culturally-different meaning to every culture and every generation across the planet and across time, however perfectly transcribed.

If it is inerrant, it is because it is alive—it is the Logos, which was with God and was God at Creation, which was made incarnate and liven nine months as an embryo and fetus within the Blessed Virgin, the Theotokos,, which was born as one of us, lived as one of us, and died for all of us, and descended into Hell to preach even there in His love for us*, and sits at the right habnd of the Father… but is also and always still the Logos, the Word, constantly “translating” Scripture to us in our various cultures so that the words, which mean different things to different people, are somehow the Word, the true and holy Scripture that God wants us to hear, where and when and who we are, that we might be saved.

In this sense, “Scripture” isn’t inerrant—God is. It’s what keeps us from replacing Christianitry with Bibliolatry—that the only Bible worth our worship is the Logos that allows us to understand, despite our different cultures and languages, the Word of God.

It’s why we can somehow continue to read 2,000 year old words and hear them as true, when the list of sermons in the Book of Homilies of the 39 Articles makes us snicker (“Against Excess of Apparel”? I assisted at a parish in San Diego while in the Navy, and we were far more worried about see-through beach tops over micro-bikinis than any ‘excess of apparel’)... but God’s Word is somehow alive in the wealthy southern California beach communities and in poor and massively-unemployed Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, even though an exact translation of a novel or a film script is impossible (I enjoy reading the Portuguese subtitles to US fils—they sometimes have to say something radically different to imply the same thing).

God is inerrant, and Scripture is perhaps the single most imporant way he speaks to us. [I say perhaps only in that I won’t speak for Him—it’s the most important way I know, but I am finite and within His creation… perhaps He is speaking to me, to all of us, with the very air we breathe (ruach, pneuma<i>) in some way that is incomprehensible to us—but that He is “speaking” our ongoing Creation.  How could I know, as a mere human, how God does/can/may/will choose to speak? Holy Scripture is what I DO know, and trust, and believe.]

Enough. I don’t even know if I am disagreeing with the Refrmed understanding of Scripture, agreeing with it, or havinf a separate conversation. I am in part asking you who do know, and in part simply sharing and rejoicing in how God can speak across cultures and languages (and using a broken tool in me—not just physically but my Portuguese is not fully fluent, although after almost three years of work its much improved).

*I just hit on an example—in Portuguese, I would write of His <i>amor incompreênsivel—but the adjective incompreênsivel, translated by the dictionary as “incomprehensible”,  doesn’t have quite the same connotations, but nor is it exactly “inconceivable”...  but it has aspects of both of those and of “unbelievable” as well—yet I can conceive of it (and He was, by definition and doctrine, conceived!), “incomprehensible” has, often enough to ‘taint’ its meaning, a somewhat negative connotation—(“How could you do such a incomprehensible thing?” doesn’t so much imply ‘mysterious’ as it does ‘dumb’, depending on vocal tone, which isn’t true in Portuguese), and “unbelievable” certainly isn’t appropriate… and that’s a single adjective with an apparently clear meaning!

[52] Posted by Conego on 8-18-2010 at 12:48 AM · [top]

Make that one fewer cleric in the north—we’ve one bishop, two bivocational Portuguese priests (the bishop was bivocational—a banker—until he retired—Portugal has no full-time paid clergy), and me, plus one deaconess (or female deacon—in Portuguese, nouns have gender), to cover five parishes in Porto and Gaia. Either one of the bivocational priests or the bishop gets to two parishes, or or one parish had Morning Prayer every week—I can’t do two Eucharists on the same day.

Anyway, given the time difference, it’s either very late or very early here, and I’m very tired but unable to sleep (the back problem).  There are probably far more typos that I didn’t spot… Sorry..
FCZ+

[53] Posted by Conego on 8-18-2010 at 12:58 AM · [top]

Conego’s comments and experiences make for extremely interesting reading.  Hats off to him for taking the time to share this with readers here.  His ministry in Portugal is a fascinating story, and his observations are valuable contributions to this thread of comments.  Translation is, as he suggests, more than a simple problem of interchangeability of words from one language to another (although it is very much that kind of problem).  It is also the cultural overlay that has impacts beyond the words themselves.

[54] Posted by NoVA Scout on 8-18-2010 at 03:31 AM · [top]

Re [51] on prophetic/apostolic authority, claimed and accepted: what about Psalms, Lamentations, the Wisdom Books, etc? Re [52]: wonderful post. I like “currently divinely inspired.”  It also suggests that famous Navajo, Herman Newtick, is at play.

[55] Posted by Don+ on 8-18-2010 at 09:18 AM · [top]

Conego wrote:

“Enough. I don’t even know if I am disagreeing with the Reformed understanding of Scripture, agreeing with it, or having a separate conversation.”

I think you make a very good point, and its one that the scriptures themselves teach us:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
[1 Timothy 3:14-17]

I would have thought that “God-breathed” is an explicit reference to the Holy Spirit’s current work in guiding us through the scriptures. As you say, if the Scriptures are not inspired right now, there is something missing. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit works with us to teach us how to read and understand God’s words.

And that also applies through the vagaries of translation - “Traduttori traditori”. But if the Holy Spirit is there to apply God’s word to our hearts, then he can do the same despite sometimes poor translations.

[56] Posted by MichaelA on 8-18-2010 at 06:22 PM · [top]

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