No, I’m not talking about The Hunt for Red October, and Ivan really isn’t crazy. Frankly, he’s a breath of fresh air.
To help readers avoid the task of going back through Ivan’s comments, I’ve quoted a number of them here and offered some brief responses. At the end I’ll give you a bit of a sense of direction for where I’ll take this discussion next.
“We glibly say that “Jesus says X” when saying “Matthew says that Jesus said X” would be more accurate. We do this for the sake of expediency, but also because doctrines such as inspiration and inerrancy fool us into believing that Matthew’s presence in the equation neither adds nor takes away. However, as readers, we cannot relate to people, places, and events, but rather characters, settings, and plots. Points of correspondence between a literary reality and the reality-qua-reality that it exposes may be many or few, but the two are NEVER one and the same. Congruent, but not equivalent.
This is why secular postmodernist literary theorists say that you cannot “know” or “experience” the reality that lies behind a story, but only the story itself. Why? Because the author interposes himself, selectively revealing or obscuring as it suits his purposes, using words to manipulate the imaginations of his readers. In fact, in narrations, you cannot know the author, because he distances himself through the narrative voice he adopts, which may be a construction, wholly or in part. Furthermore, the reader is immediately present in the text, participating in recreating the events in his own mind, construing and misconstruing the author’s intent, and arriving at a model of reality that is unique to himself; but he is not present in the world behind the text, and can have no influence on it. Therefore, in any communication there is a barrier between the sign (the text) and the signified (its subject), a distance which cannot be crossed by reading alone.
MSH: True enough, but I’m not sure this is as “disturbing” for a discussion of inspiration or inerrancy as you suggest. Neither theological term is ever purposefully articulated as referring to the event – both refer to the record of the event. We can still engage the text (the “artifact” as it were) and discuss the notions of inspiration and inerrancy in light of the text. These doctrines are not attempts to describe our ability to re-discover past reality; they refer to the text as produced and received. That said, it’s certainly true that some people don’t comprehend the distinctions you are drawing.
This is where my hermeneutic gets off the pomo train: What differentiates the Bible from The Brothers Karamazov or Catch-22 (which also happen to be “true” in much that they “affirm”) is that the Signified, to which all biblical typology points, is able to pierce the sign-signified barrier and make a personal encounter with believers as a real individual and not a literary construct. You CAN know Christ through the text, not because of anything the text does, but what God accomplishes through the work of the Holy Spirit.
MSH: Yes, although without the text you couldn’t know Christ the same way, or as well, or perhaps even at all (How would we know about the work of Christ without a written revelation? Personal encounter without the more objective (not perfectly objective, just “more”) is inherently (and wildly) subjective.
Put another way, the text is not the truth, but points to it. We do well to realize the distinction, since even if we rescue some form of inerrancy, we have still not gained as much as we may think.
MSH: I think this is correct, but overstated. The text “is” the truth in some way, as it is able to reflect the reality to which it points. That is, the truth and the text are not altogether separable, but they are distinct.
Further to author-as-author: Any formulation of inerrancy must deal the human element in inspiration. Westminster says in response to Peter Enns that the Bible is production of God, not man. The first part is obvious; the second unnecessary. And demonstrably false.
As I wrote previously, readers encounter Jesus the character, not Jesus the person. The evangelists stand between us and Christ, filtering, shaping, arranging, sometimes changing (!) what Jesus said to suit whatever purposes they had in writing the gospel in the first place. No one sits down to write a book that might get him executed without having some kind of agenda! The gospels are literature, biography, history, revelation, propaganda – texts that define the boundaries of a counter-cultural community and bind it together – but they aren’t transcripts, nor even journalistic accounts. They are cast as drama, based on actual events, but fairly bristling with the thoughts, emotions, intents, and biases of their human authors – to say nothing of grammar and diction. Read Luke and then John, in Greek, and tell me that the Bible is not the production of God AND man!
Put another way: Does God swing the hammer, or the man who holds it?
Any doctrine of inspiration that tries to write the human authors out of the picture is hopelessly impoverished.
MSH: Agreed – and well said. Westminster’s statement is startlingly naïve.
As a simple example, consider the very real differences between the character of Christ in the four gospels:
– Mark’s Jesus is an impenetrable stranger, the ultimate “alien other”, walking among us but is not really one of us, disclosing of himself what he sees fit to whom he sees fit, come to do a great work (in secret!), knowing that he will be misunderstood, persecuted, and rejected. Who is this who teaches with authority? Who is this that demons flee before him? Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him? Who IS this? (I am content to let chapter 16 end at verse 8. It is perhaps an unsatisfying ending, but consistent with the themes of the gospel as a whole.)
– Matthew’s Jesus is teacher and fulfiller of the Law, come like a prophet of old to denounce the wayward practices of the day and call the children of Israel back to their former glories and beyond, to re-establish their connection with Holy God and inaugurate his eternal Kingdom through a paschal self-sacrifice. He is a reformer, come to tear down the old institutions and bring in the new.
– Luke’s Jesus reads more like a Greek philosopher, a paragon of divine virtue, a great physician dispensing both wisdom and random acts of kindness, brimming with compassion, caring for the needs and ailments of his people, a tragic hero who lays down his life for the salvation of the world.
– John’s Jesus is the strangest of all: A walking, talking paradox, he is both tangible, palpable, and all-too-human – we find him tired, hungry, thirsty, frustrated, angry, weeping for a dead friend, letting Thomas fondle his wounds – but at the same time he is the Pantokrator, god-in-flesh, a full and perfect manifestation of the Old Testament God, equal parts love and fury, barely contained within the flesh he pours himself into. John’s Christ is a cosmic phenomenon, but on a human scale.
Granted, these are caricatures – each gospel is complex in its own way, and themes and episodes are freely swapped between them, often transformed in the process. But the differences in characterization arise from the literary conceits of their respective authors, a certain amount of “spin” applied to the narratives to achieve a unique purpose: Mark intends to tell the good news of Jesus, plain and simple; Matthew intends to demonstrate Christ as fulfillment of Scripture; Luke intends to set down an orderly account so that his readers may feel secure in their knowledge of the truth; John intends to give you a sign that you may believe.
These conceits rest upon a very real underlying historical event (1 Corinthians 15:12-18 means what it says!) but they are literary productions nonetheless, and subject to the demands of Story as much as to Accuracy, subject to the whims of their human authors in submission to and in participation with the will of God.
If we fail to recognize this and account for it, we fail.
MSH: Agreed again
We ought to be honest about what we mean when we use various terms. Let’s start with “truth”.
Do we take a correspondence view of truth, where the truth value of any statement is only legitimately evaluated with respect to the world? Or do we take a coherence view, where the truth of any statement is evaluated with respect to other statements? Does a true system necessarily have to correspond to observable, knowable facts about the world (correspondence)? Or does it merely have to internally consistent (coherence)? Put another way, does truth arise from the propositions within a system (correspondence)? Or may it only arise from as a gestalt property of the system as a whole (coherence)?
As I understand it, Dr. Heiser opts for a correspondence view of the truth, which means that in order to hold the Bible inerrant, he must admit to realities that are both real and unobservable. This is a defensible position, although requiring some exertion, but it is consistent with a state of affairs that should be self-evident to all but the most hardened empiricist/positivist/materialist/nincompoop, namely, that we are unable to observe All Things.
MSH: By “correspondence view of truth” I refer to my desire that one cannot accept something as true if it does not correspond to reality as we are able to comprehend or detect it. I freely accept that there is reality beyond what we can discern with our senses or our science (e.g., the divine reality).
For my part, I opt for a coherence view of the truth, which means that I can hold the Bible inerrant if all of its statements form an extensive body of consistent propositions, some independently verifiable and some not. This is easily defensible – I can clear vast swaths of jungle by declaring all questions that boil down to “Come on, none of this nonsense actually ever happened, did it?” as moot – and causes me great glee because it gives positivists and materialists severe indigestion. I can ask a positivist, “But how do you know?” all the way back through the chain of evidence until he must finally admit, “Because I think I must know”, and then I have him right where I want him, stuck in the morass of his own perception. It’s all just a big appeal to authority, isn’t it? Huh? Huh? Why do you think your authority is better than anyone else’s? Huh? Huh? In the meantime, those who hold a correspondence view of the truth have to slug it out on the merits. Boring!
MSH: I don’t think a properly-qualified correspondence view omits this kind of defense.
That said, I can “coherently” argue that Paul’s appeal to nature in 1 Cor 11 is true, because if we adopt the same framework that he has adopted (so far as we can tell, a Hippocratic theory of physiology coupled with a to-some-extent Hellenized flavor of second-temple Judaism), none of his statements contradict. It all hangs together as a coherent whole, and the whole truth that emerges as being greater than the sum of its parts becomes readily apparent. His argumentation is sound, his propositions reasonable, and his conclusions justified, even though some of his premises are now known to have negative correspondence with the real world (but were not so known at the time). As a matter of truth, they are coherent, but not correspondent. Deal.
MSH: There’s something about this I don’t like. It seems an inadvisable retreat to adopt a scientifically-flawed framework (in terms of how that might be used against us later on in other areas). I get Ivan’s approach, but someone might come along and ask us why we don’t adopt a framework that includes the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause and argue accordingly. That said, Ivan’s approach seems related to my own thoughts on just admitting the obvious: biblical writers are part of a pre-scientific culture, and this in turn explains why their writings reflect pre -(un)scientific ideas. I said earlier in some place something to the affect of not judging them unfairly for this, which seems akin to what Ivan is saying-but I don’t want to “adopt” their framework. This takes me back to what has become a touchpoint for this whole discussion: What was the point of the exercise of God revealing truth to us through flawed and limited humans in writing?
Of course, all of us will wander back and forth between the two viewpoints. I agree with Paul by saying, “Well, yeah. That resurrection thing really happened, because if it didn’t, man are we screwed!” which forces me, for the sake of my own skin, to adopt a correspondence view of the truth, at least for that proposition. On the other end, I doubt if anyone really wants to take a full-on correspondence view of, say, the Apocalypse of John. Really? The locusts in Rev 6 have to be real locusts with people-heads and not blackhawk helicopters. Still interested?
MSH: These interpretive choices have little to do with a correspondence view of truth (witness the Van Til crowd – champions of the correspondence view and vehemently amillennial).
Surely I jest, but given how much of the Bible is cast in mythopoetic rather than empirical terms, we will find ourselves fairly often dealing with a coherence view of truth rather than a correspondence one. A correspondence view of truth could make the entire book of Ecclesiastes into a house of cards, for two reasons: First, it’s filled with speculation, rumination, hypotheticals, and general cases. Very little to accord with reality in the first place.
MSH: I get what Ivan is saying, but don’t agree that his conclusion follows. Since when does genre consideration require a choice between these two views of truth? Seems either can state the obvious: this is wisdom literature, and wisdom literature is by nature characterized by such things. I don’t buy this point at all. This caricatures the correspondence view as though it is ignorant or afraid of genre considerations.
Well, two things – I could post these now, but this one is already long. Look for these two posts, one each in the next two days:
1. I’ve been collected some phrases and ideas from the posts and comments (mostly Ivan since he’s the windiest 🙂 ), and I’m going to post them. I think they reduce some of the problem areas to manageable propositions (there you go, Ivan) or concisely-put “issues with which to take account” in the discussion. I will suggest one as a targeted discussion point.
2. The Chicago Statement has surfaced in the discussion. I’m going to reproduce its affirmations and denials in a post and then target a few for specific critique.
This may have a convoluted sort of feel right now, but this is how it usually feels when you try to go beyond statements and confessions that don’t deal with their blemishes. It’s useful, but it will take time. I’m in no hurry for this one.