Monday 27 March 2006

Inerrant autographs?

The latest post in Chris Tilling’s excellent series on biblical inerrancy is particularly good. Here’s my own comment in response:

On the one hand, the concept of inerrant autographs is irrelevant, since it refers only to hypothetical artefacts that don’t actually exist. And on the other hand, the concept of inerrant autographs doesn’t really explain away any of the Bible’s most interesting problems, such as the conflicting theologies within the New Testament, and the interpretations of natural phenomena based on pre-scientific worldviews.

More than all this, though, I think the doctrine of inerrancy is a gigantic distraction from the really important matter of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in the gospel (both preached and written) that witnesses to him.

When we have grasped (or rather, been grasped by) God’s faithfulness, then all the anxious hand-wringing about inerrant texts suddenly seems like a child begging her father for a stone, when she has already been given bread.


Jim said...

Barth couldn't have said it better himself. Though I am a bit surprise that in your discussion of Scripture you didn't note that the doctrine of inerrancy is utterly absent in it. Still, well said.

Jim said...

Thanks Steph!

Anonymous said...

Rather you than me, Chris - I don't have the patience for it - but thanks for cracking this doctrinal nut - or rather this nutty doctrine - with your analytical sledgehammer.

Post-enlightenment doctrines of inerrancy have always struck me as hermeneutical theologiae gloriae, resulting from a theological failure of nerve in the face of the crisis of biblical authority, both allowing the sceptics to dictate the agenda and succumbing to their demand for "explanations".

Interestingly, this mania for "explanation" is also fatally evident in most theodicies, as well as in many a model of the atonement, as has recently been suggested by Stanley Hauerwas in Cross-Shattered Christ (2005). In On Being Liked (2003), James Alison refers to this pathological need for theory as "physics envy".

jps said...

<tongue in cheek>
Wait a minute, you are destroying the holy trinity of Father, Son and Holy Bible! What, that's not biblical either?


revdrron said...


Since when did a strongly held belief in hypothetical artifacts become irrelevant? Where is your since of exploration and adventure? After all, most of those interesting and intellectual souls that believe in an inerrant Scripture offer sound arguments for the conflicting theologies, pre-scientific interpretations, etc. found in Scripture.

Additionally, if one is truly captured by God in Christ, equivocation over the inerrant autographs hardly amounts to a gigantic distraction. Besides, if one is given the faith to declare he is born from above, claiming also an inerrant Scripture is barely a leap of faith.

I agree that “anxious hand-wringing about inerrant texts” seems child like in comparison to much that passes for profound theologizing today. Although I’m still waiting for the discovery of the original artifacts, I have no problem with the doctrine of inerrancy. Why? Like a child who knows the difference between dough and rock, believing in inerrancy and believing in a God who becomes human for my salvation seem complimentary in nature.

worship & enjoy, ron

Ben Myers said...

Nicely expressed, Ron. You ask: "Where is your sense of exploration and adventure?" Well, I can always handle being wrong -- but I would hate to seem unadventurous! ;-)

Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Ben, for getting involved with this discussion. As I said in one of the first posts, I'm a NT man, not a theologian per se - theology is simply my hobby. So it's good to hear your more educated thoughts.

Hi Kim,
Because I have made a journey from Fundamentalism to, err, wherever I am now, my doctrine of Scripture was once something of a personal issue to address. So going back over things for these posts has actually been fun.

revdrron said...


Since giving my two cents above, I noticed that my musing didn’t make sense or scents without a “sense of exploration and adventure” on your part!

worship and enjoy, ron

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with you summation of inerrancy.

Revelation of "Jesus and the Gospel?" Have you or I seen Jesus? No. How then did we learn of Him and His Gospel? Through the witness of Scripture. A witness which, consequently, is quite faulty indeed if we do not have the assurance that it is divine and errorless in origin.

Without the doctrine of inerrancy your faith is built upon a fuzzy, hope-so picture of Christ.

I know whom I have believed because the Bible tells me so.

joel hunter said...

kim fabricious, you rock. The reason you rock is b/c you said in about 100 words what took me a whole master's thesis to write (and poorly, at that). Actually, your quote of Alison, "physics envy," does it in two.

It is the psychology of this doctrine that so fascinates me. Franticness (you also said "mania") is indeed afoot, and the comparison to theodicy strikes at the very same nerve. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Something I've always observed about Fundamentalists... they toss out two rather contradictory views of the biblical texts:

(1) The autographa are inerrant ergo when there is a demonstratable error in our present texts, this error was not in the autographa.

(2) The texts we have are 99.999999% identical to the autographa.

Doesn't (2) more or less preclude the viability of the defense in (1)?

In any case Ben, I appreciate and agree completely with your post.

Gil said...

The fundamentalist concern is helpful on one level and misguided on another. Inerrancy is an attempt to guarantee the trustworthiness of our information about Jesus. I appreciate this partial (if unstated) reminder that the NT is primarily about an introduction to Jesus himself and not about a perfectly accurate source of religious truth.

This concern seems to see no other guarantee than the elusive inerrant autographs. Many have correctly observed that the doctrine of inerrancy claims far more for the Bible than the Bible claims for itself. In my reading of the NT the 'guarantee' is the Holy Spirit (or the ongoing presence of Jesus) in midst of the church.

Anonymous said...

Glen and Ron you guys rock. You guys worded perfectly what I have been thinking on innerancy of Scripture as well. DH

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