Well, here we go with the inerrancy issue. Hopefully by now you have read the required readings for this discussion (yes, they are required; I have specific goals with this thread, and comments posted that make me think you haven’t done the reading will likely not be displayed).
In the wake of the readings, I’ve listed below a number of definitions of inerrancy. Some come from respected systematic theology books; others do not. What I’d like it for you to read them and then comments about their strengths and weaknesses, especially in light of the readings. These definitions will be our starting point.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine:
The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. (p. 90)
Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith 2nd Edition – Revised And Updated:
What does the word “infallibility” mean? The Westminster Confession uses the word infallible” in I/v and I/ix (“the infallible truth and divine authority thereof”; “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself”). By it we assert that the Bible is true, that is to say, devoid of, and incapable of teaching, falsehood or error of any kind in all that it intends to affirm. It is internally noncontradictory and doctrinally consistent. Its assertions correspond to what God himself understands is the true and real nature of things . . . By “inerrancy” we intend essentially the same thing as “infallibility,” namely, that the Bible does not err in any of its affirmations, whether those affirmations be in the spheres of spiritual realities or morals, history or science, and is therefore incapable of teaching error . . . It is important that we mean by these two words no more and no less than what the Bible itself would permit by its own claims to truthfulness and by its textual phenomena. That is to say, we must not evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its Sitz im Leben, usage or purpose. Such phenomena as a lack of modern technical precision, perceived irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts and the use of free citations should not be used as arguments against the Scripture’s inerrancy. (pp. 70-71)
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology
The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was written, if fully truthful in all that it affirms. (pp. 233-234)
Peter Enns offers this definition on his blog:
The Bible as it is is without error because the Bible as it is is God’s Word.
Such a confession does not predispose us to affirm in what way Scripture is without error. Rather, it puts us in a position of reverent expectancy to see what the Spirit will teach us from and about Scripture, to be self-reflective enough to allow the very categories about which we speak of Scripture to be driven by Scripture . . . To put it another way, a belief in Scripture as God’s word is an article of faith, a gift of the Spirit, and is confirmed by faithful study and following Jesus within a community of believers. It is not where we end up after some rational proofs. It is where we begin so that we can end there.
This should be sufficient to get us started. However, I also recommend reading Chris Tilling’s proposal for a new statement on inerrancy, posted a year ago on his Deinde blog. I think it will help in some respect to stimulate our thinking.
Ok, I read your required readings. Good to see the great piscine deity Cod making an appearance. I’m pretty sure he’s the Ancient Near Eastern God of Bad OCR. And given his slippery nature, He might just be the Patron God of Inerrancy Statements.
Grudem left himself a LOT of wiggle room in insisting that the protective umbrella of inerrancy only covers the original manuscripts. Since we don’t have a single original manuscript of the Bible, everything can be disputed. Coincidentally, this is exactly what the Mormons teach about the Bible.
I think the greatest wiggle word found in all of the definitions above is ‘affirm’. I think there must be a secret definition of ‘affirm’ going around the systematic theology circles that I am not aware of. Anything stated positively is an affirmation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is an assertion, and therefore an affirmation. For that matter, so is “God created a firmament to separate the waters under the firmament from the waters above” and so is “Nature shows that long hair on a man is shameful”. Indeed, that last is an example of BOTH meanings of ‘affirm’, as it is both a positive statement “long hair on a man is shameful” and a statement of agreement or support of the assertion “Nature shows (affirms) that…”.
In this highly nuanced world, how are we to determine what the Bible affirms compared to what it merely asserts? Is all our faith to be put in exegesis? Or is it a charismatic phenomenon, with the Spirit dividing between bone and marrow? (Are the Mormons on the right track, placing their faith in a Prophet rather than a document?)
Take the required reading article on head coverings. So Paul was wrong about the physiology from which he makes his argument. Hair does not function as part of a woman’s sexual apparatus. Does this mean that women don’t need to cover their heads? Or is scripture affirming that women should have their heads covered, while merely asserting that women’s hair function as genitalia? Who gets to draw the line between assertion and affirmation? It seems that even reading this stellar article, we are left back at square one, with having to choose between obeying the instruction or dismissing it as culturally relative. If anyone feels contentious about it, the church has no other practice…
And if we decide that the cultural relativity of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11 means women don’t have to cover their heads, then what do we make of 1 Timothy 2 that says women shouldn’t teach or have authority over men? One of Paul’s arguments there is based on the order of creation, but your required reading article shows that the biblical view of creation is itself culturally relative. And it becomes difficult to hold to a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden once the creation account itself has been re-mythologized. So both of Paul’s arguments (i.e. men were created first, and women were deceived first) become suspect as culturally relative remarks. Huzzah, women can now teach!
But wait a minute; doesn’t the author of Hebrews use the same stories of Creation and Fall to discuss the saving work of Christ? The first Adam brought sin into the world, and the second Adam (Christ) brings salvation? And hasn’t our lowest common denominator definition of inerrancy asserted that the Bible affirms everything that is to do with salvation? Oh, now we are in a pickle. We just made Original Sin (and perhaps even the Atonement) a culturally relative doctrine.
Indeed, if everything pertaining to salvation is ‘affirmed’ rather than merely ‘asserted’, doesn’t this bring into doubt our dismissal of 1 Timothy 2, since it concludes the section on women not teaching by saying ‘she shall be saved (soizdo) through childbearing’? Well, that certainly sounds like it has something to do with salvation. Ok, sorry women. No teaching for you. And maybe you need to cover your heads as well.
I have a hard time with the lowest-common-denominator inerrancy which defines ‘affirm’ narrowly to statements about salvation, with everything else up for grabs. It seems somehow too selfish. On some level, isn’t scripture about learning how to serve God (rather than just learning how He is going to save us)?
Another difficulty raised by the separation of fact and Truth is that the deutero-canonical books need to be reconsidered. External criteria (such as Judith claiming that Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Assyria instead of Babylon) can’t be used to discredit the books. (Indeed, isn’t it possible that in the Seleucid period, when much of Israel’s troubles came from the direction of Syria that moving Nebuchadnezzar to Syria served a literary function that has nothing to do with relaying ‘facts’?) And internal criteria are trickier to use as well. For example, the Prayer of Manasseh was discredited by the Protestants for ‘asserting’ that the patriarchs were sinless. But if we realize that 1) not every verse is meant to be a logical proposition, and 2) that readers of the Hebrew Bible would actually be familiar with the ‘sins of the fathers’, and 3) the point of the beautiful prayer is to ‘affirm’ that God made the law as a blessing for the common man, not just the heroes of the faith, then it needs must follow that the Protestant rejection of the Prayer isn’t based on a definition of inerrancy that we ourselves hold anymore, but rather based on ideas of propositional logic that we ourselves reject. If neither internal nor external criteria are all that helpful in determining canonicity, then all we have is faith in the traditions of the church that somehow they ‘got it right’. Take THAT ‘Sola Scriptura’! I’d like to be the first to welcome Manasseh back into the canon. Excuse me while I go kill the fatted calf.
Chet: Funny one about “Cod” (so much for OCR scans!).
Your lengthy comment gives us a lot to think about – too much, really! You bring us several specific trails to follow. So, I’d like to start with it by pulling one item out. We can always return to the rest.
I decided to put that one item into a new post so others could see it more easily.
@Wooden Inerrancy and the Evangelists « The Theological Ramblings of an Anglican Ordinand: What is “the Evangelists Inerrancy” and how is it distinct from “Inerrancy”? (In other words, I couldn’t make sense of this comment).