Thursday, October 14, 2010

Inerrancy and Scissors

Walter: Even the most fundamentalist of Protestant inerrantists approach the bible like it is a buffet from which they take what they want or need and leave the rest on the table. The truth is that most believers are mentally snipping out sections of the bible that they find hard to believe or morally distasteful. Did Jonah really live three days in the belly of a fish? No, that's just crazy. Did our heavenly Father really order the brutal deaths of women and children? That can't be right.


If you are an "errantist," then in reality you are implicitly doing the same thing Jefferson did overtly with a pair of scissors.

I think Christians would say that even parts that are not taken in a purely literal way are edifying and do have a role in God's inspired message. So they aren't snipping them out exactly, but they are assigning somewhat of a different role to them within the framework of a broadly inspired Scripture, even where the narrow content is, strictly speaking, incorrect.

I think even people who would say they believe in inerrancy do this.


One example of this would be the message of some portions of Deuteronomy and the Wisdom literature that, in the course of earthly life (and there is no robust belief in heaven or hell through most of the OT), that righteousness is rewarded and evil punished on earth. If there's a God then something like this has to be true, but if you restrict your vision to earthly life, it looks pretty obviously false, as books like Job forcefully point out. Narrowly speaking, you can't say "God said it, I believe it, that settles it", and yet it is part of a message which, taken as a whole, is thought to be inspired.

Interestingly enough, debunkers of Christianity really rely on the sort of "inerrancy-or-chaos" argument used by fundamentalists against compromising inerrancy. In his chapter on Ancient Near Eastern cosmology in The Christian Delusion, Ed Babinski lays out the prescientific cosmology of the Old Testament. What of course is going to be the reaction from just about anybody except the AIG crowd, is to ask why we should expect God to give us lots of good science lessons and straighten out our cosmology in inspiring the Bible.

19 comments:

Mr Veale said...

Can we define what we mean by "inerrancy" here?

I've read Beale's and Enns' definitions. I lean towards Beale, but can't exactly agree with either.

And Beale doesn't 'exactly' agree with the Chicago Statement.

So where does this leave us?

unkleE said...

"Even the most fundamentalist of Protestant inerrantists approach the bible like it is a buffet from which they take what they want or need and leave the rest on the table."

The interesting thing is, if you study Jesus and the NT writers, this is sort of what they did too. Sometimes they quoted the OT accurately, but sometimes they change the wording a little, and sometimes they even change the meaning. It looks like they are using it as a flexible but authoritative resource rather than a fixed authority.

Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide us into all truth. I think interpreting and re-interpreting the Bible is a major part of that.

So, Walter, I think your perception is broadly correct, though not entirely accurate, and I think that is exactly how it's supposed to be.

Crude said...

Re: the Jefferson bible:

This link is of interest. The blogger presents some evidence that Jefferson did not do with the Bible what most people think he did.

That said, to read a passage in a certain way may be to apply scissors to all the other possible readings of the passage. "So what?" is my response, since that means we're all using scissors constantly, in this very thread.

Steven Carr said...

'....ask why we should expect God to give us lots of good science lessons and straighten out our cosmology in inspiring the Bible.'

CARR
To avoid atheists laughing at alleged eyewitness reports of Jesus flying into the sky on his way to Heaven?

I think telling people that you don't get to Heaven by flying into the sky would avoid Christians having never to talk about the Ascension except to try desperately to claim these alleged eyewitness reports are metaphorical.

Of course, Muslims have the same problem with Muhammad riding his horse.

But Christians are outsiders as regards Islam, and so can write it off as the writings of people trapped in a , what's the phrase again, 'pre-scientific cosmology'.

Walter said...

I will admit that 'errancy' is more of a problem for the Protestant who holds to the bible as the sole authority over man, and it's less of a problem for groups who get their theology pre-canned from Mother Church.

Both groups tend to think of the bible as the product of the divine realm, though. I am not sure that I see any real evidence that the bible is anything more than a collection of texts that come from purely human human minds. For the 'errancy' crowd, how can you know for sure which are the divine revelation parts and which are the fallible human parts that got mixed in? Maybe the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus is just meant to be some kind of edifying fiction like many here believe the Jonah story is?

unkleE said...

I am not sure that I see any real evidence that the bible is anything more than a collection of texts that come from purely human human minds.
If it was a collection of human texts which God "inspired" rather than wrote, I would think it would require spiritual enlightenment and faith to see it for what it is.

how can you know for sure which are the divine revelation parts and which are the fallible human parts that got mixed in?
I cannot see why there have to be discernible "parts" which are in each category. And who said we have to "know"? We are promised the Holy Spirit to guide us if we will listen, and we move forward by faith. I honestly think one of the major misunderstandings of nonbelievers is regarding knowledge and certainty.

Walter said...

@unkleE

The problem that I see with Holy Spirit discernment is that this particular methodology has led to one schism after another resulting in there being over 30,000 denominations of Christianity worldwide. What if I feel that the HS is telling me something different than what "he" tells you? Who becomes the arbiter of truth when we disagree? If you are not Catholic you can't call on the Church to arbitrate disputes.

Anonymous said...

Are you really asserting that the divisions among every one of those denominations are very radical? Even most of them? I wonder how many believe that Christ was resurrected, for example. I wonder how many even called upon the Holy Spirit as a reason for their division.

Walter said...

Are you really asserting that the divisions among every one of those denominations are very radical?

Define radical?
Certainly, not all divisions are caused by differing interpretations of scripture.

I wonder how many believe that Christ was resurrected, for example

I would imagine virtually all of them. Belief in 'Christ resurrected' is pretty much the lowest common denominator for all groups claiming the label of Christian. This differences are usually concerning things like differing ideas on Christology, soteriology, eschatology, sacramentology, etc.

I wonder how many even called upon the Holy Spirit as a reason for their division.

Point I was making is that many Christians claim that the Holy Spirit guides the believer in finding the "correct" interpretation of scripture, but the actual evidence is that most denominations do not agree on what constitutes the correct interpretation. Go to any Christian blog with an unrestricted comment policy and watch the arguments start between people who are supposed to each be guided by the Spirit.

This is why I have a hard time accepting Holy Spirit epistemology.

natamllc said...

What of course is going to be the reaction from just about anybody except the AIG crowd, is to ask why we should expect God to give us lots of good science lessons and straighten out our cosmology in inspiring the Bible.

What is the answer? Don't know and don't care! If I knew it it would not change one bit the facts.

God is.

Jesus is and was sent into His creation made through Him for Him by Him.

The Holy Spirit is still sanctifying souls as I type away on this word processor by the same delivery service any midwife employs when attending the birth of a child!

Get over it!

Expect foolishness and scoffers. If you don't, don't be surprised to be called a fool and scoffed at simply because you do everything for the Glory of God in the Name of the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Here, it's simple. Take it, receive it, do as you must with it, but, if you are condemned by it, it's not on me:

Mar 16:15 And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
Mar 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.


Now, of course, we ought not to be so coarse as we do have this moderation to apply:

Tit 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
Tit 3:2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.


Yet, this too:

2Ti 3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.
2Ti 3:2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,
2Ti 3:3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,
2Ti 3:4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
2Ti 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
2Ti 3:6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,
2Ti 3:7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.


Even still, "Lord", come quickly!

unkleE said...

"What if I feel that the HS is telling me something different than what "he" tells you? Who becomes the arbiter of truth when we disagree?"

Walter, People are "ornery", and we will find ways to disagree no matter what. That is a problem with being human, not with being led by the Spirit.

And again, you are using some sort of legalistic or scientific paradigm - who said we need an arbiter? God is the only arbiter, and he seems to be able to cope with diversity. And he is willing to guide us if we work in unity - it's often a faltering process, but who said speed was important? God's aims are (IMO) different to what you think they are!

Once you get your head around the ideas of uncertainty and personal responsibility towards God, and of God having different objectives, I think you will see that many of your arguments fade away.

Edward T. Babinski said...

VIC! For a philosopher you don't seem to know which are the right questions. At least not in this case.

If the writers of the Bible took the flat earth for granted, the heavens as God's abode directly above their heads for granted, the descent of spirits into the world of Sheol beneath their feet for granted, that leaves open the question of what other ideas the writers of the Bible took for granted concerning kingship, laws, gods, religious beliefs and sacrificial rites.

How can one know such ideas are true or whether they need to be reinterpreted or at least questioned based on later knowledge?

That also raises the question of whether the Scriptures can indeed "interpret themselves?"

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,
I'm running a series on my own blog you might want to check out. Shake a bit of that fluffy C. S. Lewis allegorizing out of your skull for a sec, and notice what the Bible actually says. If you've read my chapter, these posts continue points I raised in it:

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/

Edward T. Babinski said...

ISRAEL'S THEOLOGICAL WORLDVIEW

RELIGIO-HISTORICAL APPROACHES: MONOTHEISM, METHOD, AND MORTALITY

MUST READS! FREE ONLINE! They are excellent companion pieces to my chapter, "The Cosmology of the Bible" in The Christian Delusion

Vic, I'd suggest reading more biblical scholarship. C. S. Lewis never had time for much of it, and even less patience for it, except for studying a few Greek words on Love and some Chesterton and in-depth analysis of Medieval writings. He demonstrates little knowledge throughout his entire corpus of what biblical scholars were researching, or why they wrote and thought as they did. The above articles, along with my chapter on biblical cosmology focuses on what concerns the ancients had and shared, and even presents some evidence as to how and why monotheism arose. If you get past those there's more, much more going on in biblical studies, especially related to ANE thought in general, which is fascinating.

Walter said...

Once you get your head around the ideas of uncertainty and personal responsibility towards God, and of God having different objectives, I think you will see that many of your arguments fade away.

Since I am an agnostic and a bit of a deist, I don't have much problem with uncertainty--I embrace uncertainty. It's dogma that annoys me.

Victor Reppert said...

I wonder how you go about deciding whose biblical scholarship to take seriously. D. A. Carson is a major-league biblical scholar who has a Ph.D from Cambridge. His credentials in the area of biblical scholarship are far superior to your own. He's also a Calvinist, so I haven't chosen anyone I can be expected to agree with on a regular basis, necessarily. But, I'll bet you don't trust his scholarship. I wonder why that is?

When you want people to read biblical scholarship, you always want people to read the kind of biblical scholarship that YOU like and agree with.

And it's interesting that you use the argument that if you can raise doubts about the Bible's cosmology, then there's a domino effect to everything else, and eventually the whole edifice of Christianity comes crashing down. I've heard that argument before, but where? I know, HENRY MORRIS!

Ed Babinski and Henry Morris make strange bedfellows.

unkleE said...

"you always want people to read the kind of biblical scholarship that YOU like and agree with."

I agree with you Vic. For every highly sceptical scholar there are several equally competent evangelical scholars. I think the only way to have a reasonable view is to start with the middle ground, the mainstream of scholarly opinion - people like Sanders, Meier, Borg, Crossan, Wright, Evans, Bauckham, Vermes, etc.

And I certainly think tat the only way to have a reasonable discussion is to go with the consensus. But generally I find that sceptics prefer not to do that.

unkleE said...

"Since I am an agnostic and a bit of a deist, I don't have much problem with uncertainty--I embrace uncertainty. It's dogma that annoys me."

Then we have a small level of agreement, Walter, which is better than none! : ) But hopefully then you can see that many of your objections don't apply to christians who see things as I do.

BenYachov said...

From a Catholic perspective it's not inerrancy that is a problem. It's inerrancy plus the doctrine of perspicuity that's the problem. Once you deny perspicuity there is no inerrancy problem.