Sunday, 29 April 2007

What's wrong with biblical inerrancy?

With biblical inerrancy leading the current poll on “the worst theological invention,” a few people have emailed me to ask if I could explain my own view of biblical authority. I wrote a lot of posts on this topic back in September 2005 – so I thought I’d reproduce two of those posts here, on the Bible’s “authority” and “trustworthiness”:

1. The authority of Scripture

For Christian faith, the Bible is authoritative. But where does this authority come from? What sets this particular book apart from other sources of authority?

In earlier times, theologians often said that the Bible is authoritative because it is “inspired,” or because it has been authored (directly or indirectly) by the Holy Spirit. Thus the Bible qua text was believed to be qualitatively different from all other texts. According to this theory, the authority of the Bible is purely formal. What the Bible actually says is authoritative only because it is written in this particular book—and this book would still be authoritative no matter what it actually said.

This theory of biblical authority is fundamentally flawed. On the one hand, it is historically flawed: historical criticism has demonstrated that the Bible qua text is no different from other historical texts—it is just as conditioned and contingent as all other texts. On the other hand, this theory of authority is also theologically flawed. For the important thing about the Bible is precisely what it says. Any theory of inspiration or authority is legitimate only to the extent that it gives primacy to the Bible’s message.

In its text-character, the Bible is no different from other texts. The distinctive thing about the Bible is simply what it says, i.e., its message. And the authority of the Bible comes solely from this message—which means, solely from the gospel.

2. The trustworthiness of Scripture

Christian faith has always confessed that Scripture is trustworthy. But what does this mean? Here again, we need to emphasise that the important thing about Scripture is simply what it says. When we confess that Scripture is trustworthy, we are saying that the message of Scripture is trustworthy, that it is a true and reliable message.

It is especially important here to avoid lapsing into a formalised notion of a trustworthy or “inerrant” text—as though the biblical texts themselves possess miraculous properties. The Bible is trustworthy because its message is trustworthy. It is trustworthy in the way that preaching is trustworthy—and this is, of course, entirely different from the trustworthiness of scientific or historical textbooks. In short, the Bible is a trustworthy witness. It is trustworthy because the one to whom it witnesses is faithful and true.

We can take a further step, then, and affirm that Scripture’s trustworthiness lies “outside itself” (extra se). Its trustworthiness is the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ himself. It is trustworthy because it witnesses to him and proclaims him. We may even use the traditional terminology and say that Scripture is “infallible,” so long as we remember that this “infallibility” lies outside the Bible itself—it is nothing more (or rather, nothing less) than the infallibility of Jesus Christ.

35 Comments:

Chris (The Lutheran Zephyr) said...

As Luther wrote, "The Bible is the manger in which the Christ Child is laid." Yes, the Bible is true because of the Truth to which it points, the Good News which it tells.

I just got directed to your blog. Thanks!

Erik said...

Ben, thanks for this. Its very helpful. One further clarifying question. You say, "The Bible is trustworthy because its message is trustworthy. It is trustworthy in the way that preaching is trustworthy—and this is, of course, entirely different from the trustworthiness of scientific or historical textbooks." Is there anything *more* trustworthy about Scripture's witness, than the witness of preaching, or are they both trustworthy in the same way because of the trustworthiness of Christ?

Mark said...

However, is it the case that the only knowledge we have of Jesus Christ is that found in the Bible? If so, then does the authority/infallibility of Jesus Christ ultimately collapse into the authority/infallibility of the Bible?

rachel said...

thanks for the post! i think inerrancy got so many votes because people associate it with jerry falwell, six-day creation, etc.

Exiled Preacher said...

Ben,

I agree that the Bible is disnctive becasue it is a witness to the Gospel. But I would add that the Bible is also distinctive becasue it is God's own witness to his redemptive acts in Christ.

In the first part of you post you seem to dismiss the idea that God has inspired Scripture. But the Bible witnesses to its own God-breathedness. This book is what the Spirit says through human authors.

The Bible is conditioned by culture and history becasue God has spoken in many times and in many ways. But the concrete, historical nature of Biblical revelation does not undermine the unique authority of Scripture.

Scripture is trustworthy - infallible and inerrant becasue of the Spirit-given caracter of its witness to Jesus Christ as the Truth.

R.O. Flyer said...

I think it is important to clarify what one means by inerrant. When I hear someone say the Bible is inerrant I think of historical inerrancy, that is, the Bible is without historical error. However, does biblical inerrancy also refer to a belief that the Bible does not err on theological matters? Or is this what you mean by infallibility, Ben?

Jason Goroncy said...

Nice (re)posting Ben. It equates with my piece here on the same topic: (http://ptforsythfiles.blogspot.com/2006/03/error-of-inerrancy.html)

That said, I'm both shocked and a little grieved to see Biblical Inerrancy voted 'The Worst Theological Invention'. Is this a reactionary vote like we see in so many political elections (with the exception of in apathetic Ozland, where I wish we would see such a reaction!)? I think Athanasius might be shocked to see Arianism listed 4th! ... shocked enough to even turn him off blogging for good :-)

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

While I agree that "inerrancy" was a bad invention of 17th C. Protestant scholasticism, I think those of us who (rightly) reject it usually do a poor job of explaining how we understand the clarity, trustworthiness, and authority of Scripture. That's why we get posts like Looney did denouncing something called "Biblical Errancy" (a view that might be an accurate label for some forms of modernist liberal theology, but not for most non-inerrantists). We have to do better and Ben's two posts here are a good start.

kim fabricius said...

There are many problems with the doctrine of inerrancy.

Its very modernist branding (like papal infallibility), a defensive, not to say paranoid, reaction to the rise of theological liberalism, should make one dogmatically suspicious.

It is also hard to see how the doctrine cannot but be docetic, divinising the text. The Bible is certainly "holy", but only as an entirely human reality. "As sanctified creature," writes John Webster, "the text is not a quasi-divine artifact: sanctification is not transubstantiation."

And then there is the rather obvious problem than an inerrant text, to have any real hermeneutical purchase, requires an inerrant interpreter. Any takers?

Most importantly, if revelation is taken to be a literary deposit, a quality that inheres in the text itself, what happens to the "internal testimony of the Holy Spirit"? The Holy Spirit, in effect, becomes otiose. Or, again, inerrancy makes revelation a predicate of the biblical text, when the reverse is surely the case.

Finally, any doctrine of scripture must take its bearings from, and be set firmly within, the doctrine of God the Trinity. Inerrancy, it seems to me, does not fulfil this dogmatic requirement.

To apply some (in)famous words of Stanley Hauerwas, if you need a theory of scripture like inerrancy, worship the fu***** theory. The witness of the Bible, as a matter of fact, has brought folk to faith and sustained them in faith for two millennia - and it continues to do so. For me, the inspiration, trustworthiness, clarity, and sufficiency of scripture is the textual analogue to Paul's dictum that God's power is perfected in human weakness. And for me that is enough.

derek said...

Ben,

i appreciate your view here in that it puts the focus where the bible wants it to be; on the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That said, i think that i may have stumbled onto what appears to be some dualistic thinking in your view. You wrote:

"It is especially important here to avoid lapsing into a formalised notion of a trustworthy or “inerrant” text—as though the biblical texts themselves possess miraculous properties. The Bible is trustworthy because its message is trustworthy."

Can you make such strict disconnect between content ("the message") and the form ("the text") the message comes in? I think that this might be a little naive.

If the form is unreliable, then how can we know the message is accurate, without entering the realm of an unhealthy subjectivity? Is a Keirkegardian (sp?) leap of faith in view here?

I hope to read your response soon.

Derek

Jordan said...

Kim, if you think that inerrancy negates the internal testimony of the Spirit then you clearly misunderstand inerrancy.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Jordan,

With inerrantists, it seems to me, the Spirit's testimony amounts to little more than a guarantee of the reliability of the text, which, moreover, is illicitly secured by assigning divine attributes to it. But the Spirit's testimony, I think, is much more dynamic than that: it has to do with the sanctification of the reader. That is, I think that for inerrantists the Spirit cedes the reader a sense of security by "furnishing the epistemological warrants for Christian claims" (John Webster), such that the Spirit's disruptively transformative power is actually occluded.

Exiled Preacher said...

Kim,

I believe in Biblical inerrancy, but I also know that without the witness of the Spirit, no one will understand or be transformed by the Bible's witness to Christ. This is the classic Protestant position.

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. (WCF 1:V)

derek said...

Kim,

I think the question an inerrantist would have for you is: how do you "know" it is the Spirit speaking to you? The inerrantist would say that you have to check your internal emotions against Scripture. What is your reply to that?

Don't read any combative tone in that question. I genuinely think that Ben and yourself have some great critiques of a more evangelical inerrantist position. That being said, how do you avoid making a religion in your own image?

derek

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

As someone who has been very influenced by Barth, especially on Scripture, I think you are right to locate Scripture's truthfulness and authority to its function as witness to the gospel. But I would not want to rule out all formal dimensions: although inerrancy is not a biblical concept, Scripture does testify to its own inspiration. I want to avoid equating the witness of the Holy Spirit with just internal testimony of historical accuracy, etc., but I do not want to avoid all talk of the Spirit's role in the creation and transmission and collection of these texts. God can speak through anything--from a Vonnegut book to Balaam's ass to even my worst sermon. But God speaks in and through these writings in a way not analogous to God's speaking through anything else.

The material and formal authority of Scripture are intertwined--though in a more complex fashion than usually denoted by scholastic terms like "inerrancy."

It may sound strange for an (ana)Baptist to say this, but my view of Scripture is sacramental: The Word of God comes to us in and through these human words. But we cannot dispense with the words any more than we dispense with the water in baptism or the elements in the eucharist.

I have seen a few definitions of inerrancy I could sign--but I won't because I think they die the death of a thousand qualifications!

Also, I have to agree to being disappointed that this was voted first in the worst theological inventions. I think both Arianism and Constantinianism are worse.

Bob said...

I’m with Ben and Kim on this one. I’ve heard it said the term could be used if given proper clarifications [e.g. the theological intention of the authors vs. concerns over scientific/ historical/ mathematical factuality] and juxtaposed with the category of "truth". For example, the statement, "My name is Bob" (which it is) could be deemed a true statement and "inerrant" if you will. Yet even if such a project was undertaken, at the end of the day the term “inerrant” is unhelpful because it focuses on “truth” in a reductive sense that is foreign to the robust sense used in scripture. Jesus is “the truth”. Paul seems to link “truth” to the sense of “reliable” or being worthy of our faithfulness. The real problem is the categories of "error/inerrant" are foreign to the concerns scripture has about the kinds of perlocutions elicited in its hearers. “Error” and “inerrant” refer to properties of information. Information attempts to produce a flat “objectivity”. Scripture is not information but proclamation (thus Kim links it with preaching). It is not simply prose but poetry (and wisdom/promise/narrative. etc.) It is not concerned with factuality or certainty but fidelity and divine speech acts [thank you Brueggemann/ Vahoozer].

The problem is not that the Bible is not inerrant but that the category of inerrancy is not Biblical.

Is the Bible inerrant? No, it’s way better than that!

And that’s why I voted for Arianism. It is one thing to misunderstand the nature of scripture. But what about the Word made flesh? For all of you who voted inerrancy...we don’t worship a F**king book! [thank you Stanley Hauerwas].

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these very interesting comments. Derek, I appreciate your point about "dualism". My intention isn't to advocate a naive dualism between the Bible's "form" and "content" -- I'm more interested in a dualism between "text" and "God"! The theological attributes which are traditionally predicated of scripture are properly predicates of God: God is trustworthy, authoritative, infallible -- and scripture participates in these attributes only in as much as it witnesses to God.

As far as the text's form is concerned, though, I think Bob makes the important point here: the quasi-scientific concept of "inerrancy" simply doesn't correspond to the diverse forms of scripture -- it's a totally inadequate concept. As John Goldingay has pointed out, the biblical genres themselves should determine the way we think about biblical authority: e.g. the Psalms function authoritatively only when they are properly employed as liturgical texts.

Erik, you ask: "Is there anything more trustworthy about Scripture's witness, than the witness of preaching, or are they both trustworthy in the same way because of the trustworthiness of Christ?"

This is an important point. I think we need to affirm a dialectical relationship between text and preaching, and this relationship is especially clear in the case of the New Testament. On the one hand, the NT is itself a "document of preaching" (Gerhard Ebeling), a document whose source and norm is apostolic preaching; and on the other hand, these texts function as the source and norm of all subsequent preaching. So there's no unidirectional movement of authority from scripture to preaching; instead, there's an unfolding reciprocity between scripture and preaching, as both of them move outwards from their central focus on the one Word of God (i.e. the event of Jesus Christ).

kim fabricius said...

Hi Derek,

Thanks for your question (and no combative tone detected!). It helps me to come at inerrancy from yet another angle, responding to your concern about how we "know" that the Spirit is speaking to us through scripture; it also suggests where inerrantists are coming from historically. For I sense in this question a very Cartesian nervousness about knowledge, and in the inerrantist's answer an attempt to allay our hermeneutial anxieties with a version of Descartes' "clear and distinct" ideas, grounding faith in a foundationalist epistemology. And just as for Descartes God serves to establish the subject's self-certainty, so for the inerrantist the Spirit serves to secure the certainty of faith.

In his masterpiece God As the Mystery of the World (1983), Jüngel plots the trajectory of Cartesian foundationalism - it ends in the "death of God" crisis. Analagously - and ironically - inerrancy simply exacerbates the angst it is meant to allay. This angst can only be overcome by a doctrine of inspiration that takes seriously the extra nos of faith's certainty, through (John Webster again) "an understanding of God's continuing free presence and relation to the creation through the risen Son and the Spirit's power. In this continuing relation, creaturely activities and products [viz. the writing, editing, collecting, copying, and passing on of the biblical texts] can be made to serve the saving self-presentation of God without forfeiting their creaturely substance, and without compromise to the eschatological freedom of God."

By the way, Webster is essential reading on this subject. A bibliography would include:

Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (2003)

The three essays under the heading "Scripture" in Word and Church: Essays in Christian Dogmatics (2001)

The essay "On the Clarity of Scripture" in Confessing God: essays in Christian Dogmatics II (2005)

Anonymous said...

For the Catholic view, I submit:

SACRED SCRIPTURE, ITS INSPIRATION AND DIVINE INTERPRETATION

11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

12. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (8)

But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (9) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God. (10)

13. In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous "condescension" of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, "that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature." (11) For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.

Peace,
John

michael jensen said...

Yes, Webster IS essential reading on this subject Kim F: but don't you find it curious that his works on the doctrine of scripture contain so little reference to, well, scripture?

Chris L. Rice said...

My issue with biblical inerrancy (the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)is with its underlying purposein winning once and for all the American theological battle against liberalism. It serves the political purpose of being a hammer by which the users search out and destroy any liberal leanings. This makes the bible into a sinister political tool. God won't stand for that.
All of this is not to say that all use of biblical inerrancy is with this political intent, much but not all. I know many people who use the Chicago Statement for clarity, not as a hammer. We must remember Bonhoeffer's word that the church is the church of sinners, not the righteous. In the end we can't say what theologies are of no use to God. He manages to use us humans in spite of ourselves!:)

Chris L. Rice said...

"Article XVI.

We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church's faith throughout its history.

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism."

--Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 1978

Here is the article that I have the biggest trouble with. It reveals that the signers cannot see their own history in its proper light but are superimposing their doctrine onto church history. I can't find a list of the 200 signers online, but its significant that they seemed to all be evangelical Americans of Protestant reformed persuasion. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Why wasn't this an ecumenical statement?

SaintSimon said...

As a catholic-bashing evangelical, i obviously HAVE to agree with John and the stuff he has copied onto his comment (with the exception of the part which makes the church the only interpreter - I voted papal infallibility the worst invention). (Ariansim i deemed to be outside of Christianity and therefore alien to the list)

What John's post also shows is that inerrancy is not actually an invention, but part of our catholic and apostolic faith.

Having been brought up with a doctrine of inerrancy, my observation is that it tends to elevate the Bible to being on a par with Christ. And so i state categorically that JESUS is the Word of God. This is in contrast to Islamic doctrine, which makes the Koran the eternal word of God.

And so, whole I believe in inerrancy of the original text as intended by the authors, it would be wrong to elevate it above its correct station.

History has also taught us that scholars and translators and interpreters (and bloggers) are not inerrant. So we must always try to re-discover what the Bible means.

And yes, it is good for countering the heresies of those who wish to re-invent the faith in a way that is conveniently similar to our culture.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Another problem with inerrancy is that it is usually attached to a foundationalist epistemology--and, as such, is clearly a modern invention. In my own tradition, I note that the earliest Anabaptist and Baptist confessions did not even contain an article on Scripture. Scripture's authority was assumed, but not an article of faith. (The ancient ecumenical documents, the "Apostles'" Creed, & the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed function the same way.) When my very biblicist tradition DID add an article on Scripture (e.g., the 1st London Confession of 1644), it was not placed first. GOD is the first article of faith. The term "infallible" was not used of Scripture in my tradition until the 2nd London Confession which, being largely copied from the Westminster Confession (that most scholastic of all Reformed confessions) also was the first Baptist document to begin with Scripture.
Baptists in the Southern U.S. did not have any "official" confession until 1925. Alas, that is where we first used the ambiguous phrase "truth without error in all that it affirms" which has always been interpreted by inerrantists as an endorsement of historical and scientific inerrancy, although the full statement seems far more dynamic.
What gets lost from our earlier statements is Christ as hermeneutical key to Scripture: We used to say that Scripture was our authority with Christ as the norm for interpretation. But as we lost the Anabaptist influence and became more scholastically Reformed and then had the same fundamentalist/modernist controversies as most denominations, Scripture came to be seen in a "flat" hermeneutic and we became more concerned with worrying about how many times the cock crowed before Peter finished denying Christ (and other minutiae)than about the nature of the gospel of Christ.

Maybe not all forms of inerrancy belief end up with these problems, but it seems to me that this is the trend.

michael jensen said...

'Another problem with inerrancy is that it is usually attached to a foundationalist epistemology--and, as such, is clearly a modern invention.'

You do paint history with rather broad brush-strokes Michael W-W!

Isaac Demme said...

I appreciate what you have written here Ben, and I wholeheartedly agree that the authority of Scripture is found in its message.

My question is, how this is in any way a problem with affirming inerrancy as a property of the comprehensive and creation-wide message of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

I agree furthermore with those who complain that the language of innerancy and infallibility is reactionary, modern, and deeply rooted in the philosophy of our time, but the same could easily have been said in the 4th century about the language of Trinity!

All systematic theology is formed in reaction to specific heresies in specific cultural contexts, and all our language is rooted in the spirits of our ages.

16 centuries have helped us nuance our understanding of God's Triune nature in many ways that have helped us escape from being mired in 4th century Greco-Roman philosophies, and I hope and trust that we will be able to do the same with our doctrines of biblical authority.

Wishing for the time when the trustworthiness of Scripture, like the divinity of Christ, were simply assumed rather than debated in abtruse and feeble human terms is simply wishful thinking -- those days are long gone and nothing short of the parousia of Christ will bring them back.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Well, Michael J., the comment section of a blog post tends to lend itself to broad brush strokes! But I'm open to being corrected: Give me a half-dozen movements that championed inerrancy which did NOT use it in a foundationalist fashion, please.

michael jensen said...

No, my comment refers rather to 'foundationalist epistemology' (so-called) being a 'modern' (whatever that is) invention. Since most (all?) pre-modern theologians believed the Bible was without error, you will have quite a job proving that inerrancy and modernism are inextricably linked in the way you suggest.
(And I am NOT an inerrantist!)

And Ben: it is really hard to see how the 'content' of scripture isn't a textual property in some way...how could it be otherwise? This is a false dichotomy, surely.

Halden said...

I'd just say that while I think inerrancy has significant problems, it's disgraceful that it is occupying the first position as worst theological invention.

Worse than Arianism? Or Christendom? Really? Come on.

Maybe if the poll was for the most annoying theological invention, but surely not the worst.

Anonymous said...

Arianism isn't a good selection because it hasn't been a part of any remotely mainstream Christian theology for centuries. Christendom was bad news, surely, but my reason for considering inerrancy worse than Christendom is that inerrancy makes it impossible for people who are simultaneously intelligent, critical, and honest to be Christians. Sorry if that offends the inerrantists who read this list, but I'm just convinced that people take up inerrancy out of a fear of uncertainty and not for any good theological or philosophical reason.

Of course, the issue becomes more complex as soon as we begin to qualify what 'inerrancy' is. Once we abandon the idea that Scripture contains nothing that is scientifically or historically false, then I'm less inclined to question people's intellectual honesty. Despite that, I'm inclined to say that even limiting inerrancy to 'theological' matters still makes for an impossible position. Am I really to believe that the same God who is revealed in Christ believes, or used to believe, that people who have anal intercourse are abominations and should be killed? or that men who have sex with their wives during menstruation are likewise abominations? Maybe there's something I don't understand about the word 'abomination,' but so far nobody's been able to explain to me what that is. My faith is not in Scripture, but in God. If God really does or ever did take the views that I've described, then my faith is an illusion, because it is emphatically not a faith in that kind of God.

So, I should add that it is not only intelligent, critical, and honest people who cannot believe in Christ if biblical inerrancy is a non-negotiable part of Christianity, but also loving people. There have been a few spirited supporters of inerrancy among the responses to this post, but I haven't yet read any good reasons why inerrancy doesn't lead to the consequences I've rejected or why I shouldn't reject them.

Paul L said...

If you will permit a non-professional theologian Quaker to comment: Here's what the Quaker's only proper systematic theologian, Robert Barclay, has to say about the authority and place of Scripture as understood by Friends. Note how he ties the relationship of the "words of God" and the "inward testimony of the Spirit" (from Proposition 3 of his Apology):

From these revelations of the Spirit of God to the saints have proceeded the Scriptures of Truth, which contain,

I. A faithful historical account of the actings of God's people in divers ages; with many singular and remarkable providences attending them.

II. A prophetical account of several things, whereof some are already past, and some yet to come.

III. A full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ, held forth in divers precious declarations, exhortations and sentences, which, by the moving of God's Spirit, were at several times, and upon sundry occasions, spoken and written unto some churches and their pastors.

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.

Anonymous said...

Yes, here we have it, folks.

The evangelical left is really just the Left.

Children playing cat and mouse with Heidegger, Gadamer, and Barth.

Under which shell will you find your vaunted "Word of God" this time? I think the Nag Hammadi may have just as much gospel in it under these rules once we apply the proper roulette wheel choice of hermeneutic.

I don't frequent here, so I'll dispense with the name. Evangelicals used to say "truth is where you find it." Now, they just say "truth is what you make it." The Enlightenment and it naive modernity had its problems, but even the Fathers understood the difference between truth and error. That is why they are called the auctoritas.

Chris said...

Is the Bible a uniformly trustworthy witness? If so, how do we reconcile the genocidal Israelite God with the loving one of the Sermon on the Mount? I think it's dangerous to assume that the OT canon chosen by Jews at Jamnia and accepted by early Christians is prima facie trustworthy. Authoritative perhaps, because it was accepted by the church. But trustworthy? Maybe not.

Errancy said...

"And the authority of the Bible comes solely from this message—which means, solely from the gospel."

Presumably this means that the Bible is only authoritative insofar as it teaches the gospel. Anything incidental that's crept in (e.g. fine detail of history) doesn't have any special authority.

Roughly what proportion of the Bible would you say falls into that category?

Errancy said...

"And the authority of the Bible comes solely from this message—which means, solely from the gospel."

Presumably this means that the Bible is only authoritative insofar as it teaches the gospel. Anything incidental that's crept in (e.g. fine detail of history) doesn't have any special authority.

Roughly what proportion of the Bible would you say falls into that category?

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