I thought it might be helpful to direct our attention to some specific thoughts / items that have appeared in posts or (mostly) comments. I’ve reproduced a dozen below. These thoughts seem to me to be fundamental to beginning a problem-solving path or paths.
1. To what extent does the worldview of the Biblical authors affects the accuracy and understanding of the text?
2. I believe that inspiration is a PROCESS, not an event.
3. Personally, for me the issue is becoming how to answer the question, “what information did God want us to have – what was the point of the exercise?” That is, I think we need to focus on the inerrancy of the ENDS to which God did what he did in dispensing revelation, recognizing the imperfection of the MEANS.
4. let us imagine Jesus saying, “As it was in the days of Prince John, etc”? Must we then believe that Robin Hood in fact split the shaft of an arrow?
5. As an interpretational stance, we must imagine everything happening just the way the narrative says, because that’s what it invites us to do. Beyond that, though, the epistemological ground gets very soft very quickly.
6. We can (should?) extend Jesus the same courtesy we do Paul – he says whatever he deems necessary in order to communicate his message in a way that his hearers can understand.
7. But can we not assume that Jesus is capable of condescension? In fact, being peerless, Jesus must condescend in order to communicate at all. Or if you like: The communication occurs at grasshopper-level, and Paul is already down in the lawn with the rest of us, where Jesus is not. Whether or not Jesus knows better as a matter of fact is beside the point; he must still communicate to his audience on their level, not from his.
8. In any case, if we “affirm” verbal plenary inspiration, then surely we must hold God the Holy Spirit as he carries Paul along to the same standard as God the Son when he speaks? Or does the Holy Spirit get a pass but the Son does not? Is it because the Holy Spirit, operating under the aegis of a mortal, can thereby shield God from error, where Jesus, speaking under his own aegis and revealing the Father in word and deed, cannot?
9. That is, Jesus is not the author of Matthew 24:37, Matthew is. (Let that percolate for a while.). We glibly say that “Jesus says X” when saying “Matthew says that Jesus said X” would be more accurate.
10. Any doctrine of inspiration that tries to write the human authors out of the picture is hopelessly impoverished.
11. If humans are involved, the process is human (!), but that doesn’t mean it’s ONLY human. The reverse is also true. IF God is involved in the process, it’s a divine process, but that doesn’t mean human agency isn’t involved. The “addendum” seems to deny any genuine human input or decisions resulted from this process (the “all of God” idea). I think that’s a bogus position and antithetical to Scripture, much less the reality of the text as we have it (and as God preserved it).
12. We have the providentially preserved, inspired text before us, produced by a process whereby God used imperfect humans to write. I believe that the result of it should be called inspired and inerrant, but current explanations of these terms don’t help resolve the “messiness” – but that doesn’t mean we are left with errancy. It means (to me) we need to do better.
As I noted in one of my recent comments, once the dictation theory is dispensed with, we are not left with “God alone” authorship. God can still supervise a human process without dictation. The problem before us is how do we deal with the “messiness” that is the result of that process? How do we frame things like the pre-scientific worldview issue, the “misquotations,” authorial bias (Chronicler), the secondary nature of the gospels and all the historical narratives – the reality that no one preserved the exact dialogue through taping it, so to some extent dialogue is “made up” (better, recalled imperfectly; Ivan: “We glibly say that “Jesus says X” when saying “Matthew says that Jesus said X” would be more accurate”). I think these things (and a panoply of others) can be allowed to be what they are and not impinge on inspiration and inerrancy. But HOW TO SAY THAT? HOW TO DEFINE THE DOCTRINES so as to be honest with the data of the text?
The Letter of Aristeas tells us that 72 men (that’s a number infused with deep significance – 6 from each Tribe of Israel) went off and translated the Torah from Hebrew into Greek. They got back together and compared their notes, and what do you know? Holy Cow! Their translations all matched perfectly. This miracle was very important to the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria because they were too lazy to learn to read the Bible in Hebrew and felt guilty about it. But this miracle exonerated their guilt and placed a divine stamp of approval on their native translation.
The modern phenomenon of King James Only-ism is just an extension of this same translation-myth. If our translations are inspired, we can feel safe and secure and not worry our little heads about the vagaries of Greek and Hebrew.
Could it be that the Doctrine of Inerrancy is just an extension of the same need for security? Absolute submission is a form of freedom… If we declare the book to be perfect, we don’t have to struggle with the text. It’s less messy. We feel safer. More secure. The Bible is Inerrant because we desperately need it to be!
Because the reality is that Christianity is not based on logical propositions that can be tested in a laboratory (or defined on a blog). Christianity is based on eyewitness accounts. We believe because a bunch of people we’ve never met two thousand years ago told the world they saw a man die, rise from the grave, and ascend into heaven. And some of the people they told believed them. Witness is STILL foundational to Christianity. When we hit the pavement to preach the faith, we say we are ‘going witnessing’. We’re not ‘going reasoning’ or even ‘going arguing’ (unless you’re an apologeticist – gak!). Even today, we don’t spread the faith through Systematic Theology, but witness. Enough people tell us that this phenomenon changed their lives, and we say, “Ok, I’ll give it a go and see if it’ll change mine.” And if it does or does not, all we have to share with the world is our subjective, human, unreliable account of our experience.
When we encounter an ancient religious text (such as a papyry that tells us that the world was created when Ptah touched himself in inappropriate ways), we don’t automatically consider that it MIGHT be divinely inspired and inerrant, and seriously consider its propositions. The reason that we think about the Bible in terms of inerrancy and inspiration is that lots of people have been telling lots of stories for hundreds of years.
Down with the Inerrancy Blanky! Embrace the messiness of a religion based on the largest Game of Telephone ever played.
Chet: It may indeed be a blanky for many, but it isn’t for me (nor Warfield). I’m just not impressed with my own omniscience on calling things errors.
I understand the old version of Naked Bible was getting hacked but while this new version appears quite expensive and elaborate it in
fact is hard to navigate for far too many reasons . Heck, we need a tutorial to navigate through this stuff.
There’s a short video tutorial in the first issue of the newsletter, which I also posted on the blog.
Thanks, for responding Dr. Heiser and I gave your new site another look. I found MIQLAT and what I think is your first newsletter but I didn’t see a tutorial. Mike I think what you are doing deserves the utmost praise and I for 1 appreciate it . You can count on my support , GOD Bless brother !
same here – just saw this. It’s like it got orphaned. If you still have a question, email me and put a note about the comment thing in the subject line.
Thanks I found the tutorial .
Mike I’ve replied to you twice and it keeps disappearing ; how weird.
it’s odd – this one appeared *outside* the normal “Disqus” comments. Not sure why.
Dr. Heiser, I’m reading UNSEEN REALM and I read in the beginning your were obsessed with bible study as a teenager. Was this purely academic? I ask because if I’m correct your a theist now so I’m wondering was the teenage Heiser an evangelical Christian or were you always a theist? Also, with your fascination over UFO’s you give me the impression you’re not convinced of the demonic connection over a view they’re actually extraterrestrial. You seem like your waiting for that one thing that’ll change your mind.
Anyway, I hope you never become tired of teaching us and I’m telling everyone I know about you and your book The Unseen Realm.
I’m reading the FACADE also.
Are you also a pastor or minister?
I became a Christian at 16. It was at that point I got interested in the Bible. I’d not read it before that.
I’m not a pastor or minister.
I think most UFO stuff is modern human technology, or misidentification of something (weather or astronomical phenomena). But there are outliers. I see no reason that, if there are aliens, they must be demons. That said, a very high percentage of the messaging of alleged “alien encounters” (contactees) is very anti-Christian and old-world pagan thinking. I leave the door open in such cases for an evil supernatural intelligence behind such things.
In short, the messaging is sinister, but the larger question of “could there be aliens / have been aliens?” doesn’t require demons or supernatural evil. Aliens could just be part of creation. There’s no 1:1 equation.
Aliens could just be part of creation. That is an interesting point and if true would still make us the knuckle dragging bipeds of the universe ; the less evolved they call us to be nice.
But, then there’s the bible; which makes things more confusing because if there are beings that are much more intelligent and for lack of a better word ; evolved and in fact are part of creation then where does that leave us
and who was Jesus?
The only reason this is a question for many is the image of God idea, which is wrongly equated with intelligence. Our unique status (biblically) is unaffected by an alien life form (intelligent or not — you presume one direction in that). For more you’ll need to look up my “Can Christianity Accommodate a Genuine ET Reality?” lecture / essay on YouTube or my website. The image of God isn’t intelligence (or any other quality).
A question: I get what you’re saying, and I certainly agree when it comes to the Bible’s historical passages. But what about the prophets? They claim directly hearing the Lord speak and in some cases claim to have had visions. Was this just their way of “messaging” their sermons, or do you believe that in those cases, God really did communicate directly with them?
If the former, then aren’t the Biblical authors basically lying when they said, “And the LORD spoke to me and said . . .” ?
If the latter, then doesn’t that mean that in those passages where the human author is recording what he heard and saw, inspiration is indeed an “event”? Shouldn’t we expect that the God who spoke could indeed impart information to the prophet that went beyond their personal knowledge, as the NT claims?