Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ed Babinski, C. S. Lewis, and the Bible

This is a response to Ed Babinski, who accused C. S. Lewis of simply ignoring morally flawed passages in Scripture.

It's not that Christians like Lewis or myself want to ignore this stuff. In many cases, Lewis is the one that calls it to our attention. But of course if you believe that God is morally perfect, then something other than God must explain moral weaknesses in the text. We don't need smoke in his eyes to explain that. Lewis maintained that the idea of a cosmic sadist who created the world was incoherent. Not emotionally repugnant, he found it *logically incherent*. I chronicle his arguments in the first chapter of my book. So why would he accept an incoherent positon?

Do you believe that there is an evil God who inspired the Bible? If not, then you explain the moral flaws of Scripture in terms of the flawed moral perceptions of the human authors. And if you can do that, then why can't Lewis do the same thing?

Lewis wrote a chapter in Reflections on the Psalms entitled Scripture where he discussed his understanding of what it was for Scripture to be inspired. He for example read Ecclesiastes as the cold hard picture of man's life without God, and he maintained that it was something we needed to hear, even though it was far from being the full literal truth. In other words, things that by themselves are scientifically, historically, or morally incorrect my be, he thought, part of a broader truth that is inspired. What is by itself a blemish may be part of the moral and spiritual education of a barbaric people which conveys an important truth.

As for biblical inerrancy, I am not so much inclined to deny it as I am to be unclear on what it means. Consider the following.

Every word of the Bible is true.
Every sentence of the Bible is true.
Every verse of the Bible is true.
Every paragraph of the Bible is true.
Every chapter of the Bible is true.
Every book of the Bible is true.
The Bible is true as a whole.

The bearers of truth and falsity, as I understand it, are sentences. So it is logically possible for 2 to be true, but we know it isn't, because if it were, then the sentence "Ye shall surely not die," said by the serpent to Eve, would also be true, but it isn't. If however, what we mean by the inerrancy of Scripture is that everything in it participates in some wider truth that God intended to convey, then I have no problem with it, but then I don't see why, for example, this would exclude a fictionalist account of Ruth or Jonah, positions that are anathema to inerrantists. I am inclined to argue, for example, when it comes to Gen 1, that it intended to convey a monotheistic as opposed to a polytheistic story of origins to the Hebrew people. In other words, it should be read in contrast to the Enuma Elish, not the Origin of Species. Hence if you are a monotheist, it conveys the truth of monotheism as opposed to polytheism, and why should it be expected to be loaded up with science. That's not its job. The passage participated in the broad conveyance of truth without being narrowly true in every detail.

If you think there is something incoherent about Lewis's position, then you have to show me that a Christian ought to accept some version of narrow inerrancy (as opposed to the broad inerrancy that he actually adopted), which is coherent and somehow more consistent or more Christian than his own view. Perhaps some of my inerrantist brethren can help Babinski with this.

30 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

I've decided to post on other Blogs again. If it appears that I say something out of character or demeaning about myself, I hope the reader will know that I didn't say it.
------------
When I believed the Bible (as an inerrantist) I thought that the reason God didn't clear everything up into neat little packages was because he was just not concerned that everyone should believe the exact same things. He left room for people to disagree with each other so that they could "work out their own salvation" mainly in those areas non-essential to the faith. So he just wasn't that concerned to make the Bible appear to us as inerrant, even if it was.

But now I see a different side...the side that says the reason why the Bible contains inconsistencies is because it was written, transcribed, and canonized by people living in the past before scientific investigation and historical standards were in place like they are now. And the reason why people come to different opinions or interpretations of the Bible is simply because the Bible is a historical document, and any document in history is subject to the interpretations of the present day historian who is a child of his times.

Now I ask myself why God purportedly bothered with a historical document in the first place if 2000 years later Christians cannot agree on what it says? As Gotthold Lessing has said, "If no historical truth can be demonstrated, then nothing can be demonstrated by means of historical truths.” That is, “the accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.”

Here's a link to more. I really think Christians have not sufficiently dealt with Lessing on this issue.

Vic, what do you think about Lessing? Do you have a link to a rebuttal of what he wrote?

Mike D said...

John,
I have an alternative to your inerrant past self and your current skeptical self. The reason why people come to so many different ideas about what they Bible teaches is that they are asking questions the Bible didn't attempt to answer. It is not a bad thing to do, but it is something that inevitably leads to differences of opinion. The Bible neglects to explain the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free will. But we want an explanation so we did until we think we have found it. I prefer your former attitude that celebrates the differences and embraces the diversity within God's kingdom. I also tend to see the glass as half full seeing much more agreement among Christians on the big issues than in the past. I sense a melding of denominational differences. There is a genius in the different flavors of Christianity.

Your question about Lessing and the value of revelation based on history is a good one. History no longer works as an apologetic. At UCSB my son learned that "History is Propoganda." It take this to mean that the modern abuse of history is to reconstruct it into whatever agenda you wish to promote. With tricks of word choice, selective memory, and citations of only those who agree with you, history is used to support any position. This does not mean that historical events cannot be meaninful in the pursuit of truth, it only means by abusing history we have made its truths harder to mine.

Mike D said...

Victor,
Your description of inerrancy is a strawman. The Chicago Statement is a good place to start:
http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/chicago.htm

Article VIII addresses most of your concerns:

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Regarding moral flaws, Article V is helpful:
We affirm that God's revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.

Lewis is right that Ecclesiastes includes many wrong-headed statements as does Job contain a lot of bad advice. This does not surprise the advocate of innerancy. They will also admit that the Parables of Jesus are fictional accounts. The hard part about Jonah is that Jesus seems to have believed the story. I think you are right about Genesis that we try to make it answer modern questions that were not being asked at the time.

My view on innerancy is that it is a useful hermeneutical principle. When interpreting Scripture, it is helpful to be able to depend on the tense of the verb or whether the noun is singular or plural. Paul does this in Galatians when he discusses Jesus as the "seed" (not seeds) of Abraham.

Inerrancy is not for the arena of apologetics. It is a discussion between people who already believe in God, Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible. It is not a discussion between theists and skeptics. Once you agree that a loving God has reveled Himself through the Jewish prophets, Jesus, and the apostles, you can start talking about just how inspired the Bible is. Until you reach that ground, the discussion is meaningless.

es said...

If the Bible is not inerrant, then it's all open to interpretation. In which case, every person who reads it will have a slightly different interpretation.

At that point, what earthly good is it? You might as well refer to the prophecies of Nostradamus or Confucius' sayings for guidance.

Frank Walton said...

Ed Babinski also said that CS Lewis was a universalist, which is demonstrably false.

Jason said...

Frank,

Ed Babinski says a lot of things, mainly whatever feels to him at the moment like it will oppose a strong believer. He has consistently treated me for years as if I _wasn't_ a universalist (which is also demonstrably false. {g})


Vic,

The ref from Lewis' _Reflections on the Psalms_ is good, but could even be strengthened (from the same book): if Lewis goes out of his way to discuss the moral fault in expecting God to bless you for dashing a baby's brains against a rock, then whatever else can be said about him, he isn't simply ignoring morally flawed passages in Scripture. (But then, Ed also claims Lewis the former outspoken atheist and anti-ecclesiast was also head-in-the-sand ignorant of the sceptical and non-conservative writers of his time. After a while, one could almost get to the point of checking the sky if Ed says that it's normally blue... {wry g})


John,

Actually, I agree with Mike (though I don't think what he was saying was actually an "alternative" to your "former inerrantist self", since after all he does go on to say he rather appreciates the kind of view you took at that time {s!}): the two positions you gave aren't irreconcilable. They do however mean more, practically speaking, than just that a hard inerrantist position is untrue. (See next comment, to Mike, which I think you'll appreciate. {s})

Also, I agree with Lessing (I think), that we shouldn't try to use historical arguments to reach metaphysical conclusions--something Christians have a bad habit of doing, even when we ostensibly know better. (Not exactly restricted to Christians, either--I've certainly seen sceptics apply it often enough, too. {wry g} But that doesn't make it any more proper.)

That being said, I would disagree that "no historical truth can be demonstrated". No historian of any stripe who studies the data, will reach any kind of valid conclusion that (for instance) GosMatt was composed anytime or anywhere other than the Mediterranean area sometime between 29CE and 129CE (at the ridiculously extreme outside ranges), or that Hitler lost World War II. I am slightly unsure whether this sort of thing can be _deductively_ proven instead of only inductively inferred; but even if only the latter case is possible, it isn't as though anyone (informed of the data) recognizes any liklihood at all that GosMatt was written in, say, the 3rd century BCE by Australian aborigines (or that the nations of the world swore fealty to Hitler in 1950 after he nuked Washington).

Still, I would agree that metaphysical positions can at best be _suggested_ by historical truths.


Mike,

Actually, I agree with John. {ironic g!} While I'm sympathetic to many of the intentions in the inerrantist statement, I also question the practical point to calling the resulting position "inerrancy" at all. When church leaders nod their heads at this, and teach the qualifications when they _have to_, while also publicly teaching the same people that the scriptures are perfectly true and completely reliable throughout; then after a while, it starts to look duplicitous. (As a recent example, I know of one man, a relatively new convert, whom I haven't seen at church since our former pastor gave both sets of affirmations during a Greek class last year. If he left our congregation because of that, I can't say I blame him. {shrug})

I agree, of course, that inerrancy shouldn't be used as an apologetic tool; but that doesn't keep its theological use from being a tacit counter-apologetic, to believers and unbelievers alike.


(And, fwiw, I don't think the scriptures, as a group, are the same kind of thing as the Analects or Nostradamus' writings--not that aphoristic teaching and poetically worded prophecies aren't part of the package, too, but if that's what the whole thing was about, I'd probably ignore it. Didn't want "es" to think I was slighting him. {s!})


Jason Pratt

John W. Loftus said...

Mike:
the modern abuse of history is to reconstruct it into whatever agenda you wish to promote. With tricks of word choice, selective memory, and citations of only those who agree with you, history is used to support any position. This does not mean that historical events cannot be meaninful in the pursuit of truth, it only means by abusing history we have made its truths harder to mine.

Wait just a minute. How are you to conclude that modern people abuse history? We interpret the past in light of the present. Who built the pyramids? Who killed JFK? What is history's verdict on the Watergate scandal? Who was Shakespeare? There is forensic evidence and DNA evidence to solve cold cases.

And when it comes to the Biblical past how do we do they were writing history? Their world was a superstitious world to the core. You simply cannot read this, and this and conclude anything else.

So we re-examine the past. And because our modern conclusions might not fit some preconceived notions that does not mean that our modern conclusions are an abuse.

Jason said...

Opps--composition error. The first ref to Hitler should read "or that Hitler won WWII".

JRP

Jason said...

John,

I think Mike was actually trying to sympathize with you, and your reference to Lessing; otherwise he wouldn't have written "history no longer works as an apologetic".

It does highlight the problem with taking Lessing's position too rigorously, though, eh? {g!} A lot of your _own_ positions rely on agreeing with the notion that historical truth _can_ in fact be demonstrated in principle; the operative question being whether it has been accomplished in practice. The limitations and strengths both apply to Christians and sceptics equally.


(and now I'm off to do 'work' work for a while--I'll check back in later...)

JRP

Anonymous said...

es:

The Bible is always open to interpretation, whether or not it is true. Every reading of the Bible is interpreted. In fact, you can't read the Bible without interpreting it since we don't have the original authors to consult. I believe the exception to this would be when God speaks directly to someone through the text of the Bible.

I suspect what you meant to say is that the Bible is meaningless if it isn't inerrant. But of course the question is what is inerrancy and what position did Lewis actually take etc.

Victor Reppert said...

I am inclined to say that it does not matter a whole lot whether one uses the word inerrancy or not. I think I prefer the term special revelation to inerrancy, simply because using the word inerrancy opens me up to people who want to say I have to believe in YEC, or I have to defend the Amalekite ban, or I have to believe in the big fish in Jonah, etc. On the other hand, the rejection of Jonah simply on the grounds that it involves God's supernatural intervention would be evidence that I somehow did not take the God's-word-ness of Scripture seriously.

So, being asked "Do you believe in inerrancy" is kind of like being asked "Do you believe in evolution?" Without a whole lot of clarification as to what you might mean by that, I don't know how to answer the question.

The real question is "What hermeneutical constraints follow from the status of Scripture as special revelation?" Can I believe that Scripture is special revelation and also believe that Ruth was fictional. If I can't, why not?

Anonymous said...

If the book of Ruth is a fiction, what entitles it to be called a special revelation of God?

Victor Reppert said...

Anonymous: The Parable of the Good Samaritan is fictional, and I regard that as God's special revelation.

John W. Loftus said...

The real question is "What hermeneutical constraints follow from the status of Scripture as special revelation?" Can I believe that Scripture is special revelation and also believe that Ruth was fictional. If I can't, why not?

Sure you can, just like you can think Job and Jonah are fiction, as is Genesis 1-11, since they are indeed fictional. But then what is your criteria for distinguishing fact from fiction in the Bible? The particular genre of a Biblical book will give us the needed clues, but if your criteria is the same as mine there is a great deal of fiction in the Bible.

The difference between us is between supernaturalism and naturalism. But between supernaturalists what is the difference?

Victor Reppert said...

So far as I can tell, the Chicago Statement is compatible with the view that Ruth is fictional. But as I pointed out, every inerrantist I know believes that the parable of the Good Samaritan is fictional. Have there been instamces of people using the Statement as a basis for saying that someone's interepretation of Scripture was not in accordance with inerrancy?

Mike D said...

Jason,

You are right to question the label, “inerrancy.” It says way too much and way too little to accurate describe what is really being said. It is confusing to the faithful and sounds ridiculous to those outside. But most labels fall into the same rut.

As a counter-apologetic, inerrancy gets the most mileage from the skeptics. On the Infidels site, there is constant baiting of inerrantists by atheist because the smell an easy prey. It is an easy straw man. To the surprise of many, there is a scholarly version taught in seminaries by smart people who really believe it. Unfortunately, on the web and in the pew, we may only hear the popular version which is easily toppled.

Es,

I don’t think it matters if you approach the Bible from inerrancy or something else, interpretation is always an issue. I agree with Anonymous on this. This does not mean that every interpretation has equal validity. Among reasonable, honest interpreters there will be more agreement than differences. I don’t agree that the Bible is meaningless without inerrancy.

John,

It seems you are close to a false dichotomy here between the objective history of the moderns and the superstitious writings of the ancients. We have alien versions of the pyramids, conspiracy theories of JFK, partisan versions of Watergate, debates about what Shakespeare wrote and who he was. Even modern history is not a scientific objective description of reality. We interpret history to learn lessons and anticipate trends. We even interpret purpose into the mechanics of evolution as it “seeks to preserve genes.”

The ancients told of real events, real places, and real people. They lived in the real world even as they interpreted events as the results of supernatural causes and purposes. Their shared memories of their history molded their identities and values just as the Boston Tea Party molds us.

I agree that not all modern re-telling of history is abuse. Only the parts on talk radio (grin).

Victor,
Someday I want to defend the Amelekite ban. I think it is doable yet complicated. Today is not the day.

Victor and John (on Ruth and fictional genre)

We do not need to be afraid of fictional genre undermining the reliability of the Bible although I have heard some claim that all the parables of Jesus actually happened the way he said! The hard part is when the literature claims a specific time and place and references real, known people. If we conclude it is fiction, we can feel duped. The revelation feels less special if that happens. If Ruth claims to be non-fiction, then we conclude it is fiction, how can we believe anything in it? The value of genre is when it tips us, “Please don’t take this too literally. Just look for the main points.” We know that proverbs are not unbreakable laws. We know that parables are illustrations (We should also know that they do not need to walk on four legs and fly.).

One issue we need to grapple with is what tips a story from fact to fiction. If Luke gets Quirinius wrong, does that mean he is discredited? If we took the whale/big fish out of Jonah, would we have believable history? Is the only way to find the historical truth of the Gospels to edit out the miracles? If Deuteronomy includes an account of Moses’ death do we conclude that Moses had no part of the authorship?

Supernaturalists will permit miracles to be historical. They will also recognize allegory, hyperbole, parallelism, chiasm, poetry… But the reporting of the miraculous will not require categorization as fiction. The differences among supernaturalisms are usually about the level of literalness or allegory. Were the twelve stone pots just the number that were handy or do they stand for the 12 tribes of Israel?

Steven Carr said...

'If not, then you explain the moral flaws of Scripture in terms of the flawed moral perceptions of the human authors.'

Of course Victor is right.

Most of the Bible was written by barbarians.

It is not a book to learn morality from.

JD Walters said...

I could certainly contest John Loftus' statement that Biblical times were "superstitious to the core". What exactly does that mean? If it means people had different religious views that is incontestable. But if it means that all people everywhere and always during biblical times kissed a rabbit's foot 17 times and danced the hula whenever they heard lightning, I'd certainly be skeptical. And I hardly think that posts by a blog called "debunkingchristianity" constitutes neutral evidence in this regard.

As a matter of fact the Prophets are full of indictments of superstition. The writers are constantly stressing that idols are made of stone and cannot save, that the people are deceiving themselves by following pagan rituals, and that their little talismans and trinkets will not save them from judgment.

Has anyone ever wondered why very few (if any, I haven't seen any) defenses of polytheism, animism or idol worship appear in the philosophy of religion journals, but Christian theism continues to be debated and defended? That is because Christian theism is a rational hypothesis concerning the best explanation of human experience, and even its opponents see the need to address it responsibly.

Other than to score cheap points against believing opponents, I have hardly ever seen skeptics defend a consistent, rigorous polytheistic or animistic worldview. It's just not a serious competitor to either scientific naturalism or Christian theism.

And to my fellow supernaturalists, I think that on the issue of inerrancy Emil Brunner has a LOT of light to shed on the issue. See especially his "Revelation and Reason", throughout but especially his section on "Holy Scripture".

Blue Devil Knight said...

Somehow, at debunking Christianity, I have ended up defending Christianity against some silly arguments. Go figure. I forgot how annoying and irrational the skeptical types can be (that's why I cancelled my subscription to all the skeptical/atheist journals after less than a year: bunch of religious nuts, they are).

JD says:
Has anyone ever wondered why very few (if any, I haven't seen any) defenses of polytheism, animism or idol worship appear in the philosophy of religion journals, but Christian theism continues to be debated and defended? That is because Christian theism is a rational hypothesis concerning the best explanation of human experience, and even its opponents see the need to address it responsibly.

Based on statistics from English philosophy of religion journals in Christian countries, you want to say something about the superiority of Christian theology. Not parochial at all.

JD Walters said...

BDK,

I did not try to draw any conclusion just from the fact that philosophy-of-religion discussion is dominated by Christian theists and their opponents. I did not say that "since there are more Christian theists than polytheists in philosophy-of-religion debates, therefore Christian theology is superior". In fact, my claim was just the reverse. BECAUSE Christian theism is more philosophically respectable than many other belief systems, it continues to dominate the philosophy-of-religion discussion. I mean think about it: do you really feel the need to debunk Australian aborigine shamanism in making your case for scientific naturalism? If not, why not? I claim that it is because Christian theism is a more 'worthy opponent'. And if you reject that claim and insist that all supernaturalistic belief systems are equally philosophically respectable, why isn't there more discussion and debunking of shamanism and polytheism in philosophy-of-religion journals? (And a simple appeal to historical contingency won't help here either; it is no answer to my question to claim that it just happened to be that Christianity dominated Western Europe until the modern age. You still have to account for why Christianity dominated Western Europe, and that involves the possibility that, uniquely among most belief systems, Christian theism has nurtured philosophy and science, albeit sometimes for its own purposes, and thus it constitutes a more serious contender with scientific naturalism than polytheism).

Note that I am not here trying to say something about the truth claims of Christian theism either. A belief system can be philosophically respectable and robust, and still be very wrong (which I believe is the case with scientific naturalism and atheism).

Mike D said...

Victor,
You asked, "Have there been instances of people using the Statement as a basis for saying that someone's interpretation of Scripture was not in accordance with inerrancy"

In 2003 Clark Pinnock was the lightning rod. There was a move to expell Pinnock from the Evangelical Theological Society because his book, "The Most Moved Mover" went beyond what some considered inerrancy. The Evangelical Theological Society cites the Chicago Statement as their definition of inerrancy.

Part of the discussion is here:
http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/2003-challenge.html

Norman Geisler's involvement is here:
http://www.ses.edu/NormGeisler/pinnock.htm

I find the link between Clark Pinnock's modified inerrancy and open theism interesting. He seems to be pushing the limits of genre to get to a place where he can more comfortably defend Christianity in the philosophical quagmire of free will and the problem of evil.

Anonymous said...

What entitles the fictional Parable of the Good Samaritan to be called a special revelation of God?

Steven Carr said...

And what entitles Revelation 2 to be called a revelation from God?

'I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.'

Did early Christians simply lie about having had revelations from Jesus after his death?

JD Walters said...

Go back to sleep, Steve Carr, this is an adult conversation.

Steven Carr said...

JD Walters demonstrates why American Christianity is so unappealing to secular Europeans.

Still, it was an eloquent admission that defending the Bible is an impossible task.

Jason said...

Mike,

it isn't the label I object to, so much as a tendency to try to have it both ways (which the continued use of the label reflects. "Inerrancy" isn't a term with a lot of leeway built-into its face-value.) I dare say most of the highly educated doctors teaching at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville (to take an example) would agree to the qualifications of the Chicago Statement. Nevertheless, in order to teach at that university, they are also certainly required to sign and abide by a statement which puts the matter a lot more strongly than the qualifications of the Chicago Statement; and could in theory lose their jobs if they didn't routinley affirm the stronger statements in their teaching.

Not that I'm against a university setting standards for their professors to abide by, and expecting the professors to do so. But the result in this case is the sort of "two truths" situation which Lewis warned the Anglican seminarians about in his famous "Fernseed and Elephants" address.


I'm more familiar with Gregory Boyd as a systematic theologian who seems to accept a high inspiration character to scripture while also vigorously promoting open theism on both philosophical grounds and scriptural testimony. And I recall him getting into trouble with over this, too, like Pinnock, though not as recently. (His scriptural defense is at least interesting; though in my evaluation his metaphysical defense leaves much to be desired. I think he does properly address problems with traditional omniscience/predestination theory, though.)

Jason said...

Vic,

Despite not being an inerrantist (except perhaps in whatever ultra-qualified way the Chicago Statement sets forth, which to me doesn't count as inerrancy {g}), I'm leery about calling Ruth, Job, Jonah or the parables "fictional"--and I would still be leery about calling them that if I was a rank atheist.

Few of the parables feature any details which render them certainly fictional. Some of the "exaggeration" parables probably count; where Jesus takes a humorous popular caricactured stereotype and applies it as illustration of a theological truth. But parables like that of the Good Samaritan, among others, strike me as being entirely plausible as events; and what preacher does not sometimes use real experiences he knows about to illustrate a point he wants to make? I do it myself not infrequently. (In fact, I briefly did it just now. {g!}) Do those parables _have to be_ historical? No, I agree they do not. But 'not necessarily historical' does not equal 'fictional'.

(One of our "Anon"s testifies, if a bit backhandedly, to the mundane character of the Good Samaritan parable, too. The answer to his question, of course, is that the "entitlement" hangs completely on the character of the reported speaker. The same is true, in principle, for the message Steven brings up from RevJohn: is Jesus someone who can be expected to send messages like this, and is the author of RevJohn someone who can be expected to receive them? The former question might be answerable in various ways, but we aren't in much position to answer the latter question anymore except by acceptance of church tradition--which was kind of iffy about RevJohn in the first place. {lopsided g} And I agree, Steven was being a flamebaiter when he asked that question.)

Similarly (back to the main topic), Jonah looks a lot like an extended parable to me. But I know from experience that a story like this can have a substantially historical core, even if the details are being exaggerated in service to the moral of the story. (The city takes three days to walk across; everyone in the whole city goes into repentence, due to the ridiculously minimial proclamation of the surly central character who doesn't want to be there doing it.) The "great fish" (the Hebrew is much vaguer than this) could be a fictional detail, or some kind of real (if possibly exaggerated) event, or a real miracle of some sort. It isn't incidental to the plot, though; so if there's a historical core to the rest of the story, I expect there's a historical core to this as well. (And Jonah himself does seem to have been a historical character; referenced in 2 Kings 14:25, a rather prosaic part of a document which serves very well by the standards of ancient Near Eastern chronicle.) Does the story of Jonah _have to be_ historical? I agree, no it doesn't. But I don't think it has to be strictly fictional, either.

Job could be entirely fictional, but whatever it is, it certainly isn't parable in its received form (though it might be greatly extended from one; the prologue and epilogue have a parabolic character to them.) And I really don't find any details in it which stand out as marking the document as ancient fiction. Some rich man in ancient Mesopotamia could easily lose his family and health to situations like this (though given a typical brush of Near Eastern exaggeration to hammer home the impact of what happened), and go into a near-suicidal depression; and get into a theological dispute with three friends (plus a young man who happens by and wants to give _his_ twenty paragraphs--my kind of guy {g!}) about why bad things happen to good people under Heaven. The job of a good bard who hears about this kind of thing, and sees the value of it, would be to render it stylistically interesting to his particular audience. The Jews then either pick it up when they return to the Mesapotamian area during the Diaspora (although if they did, they exercised a freakishly improbable level of restraint not to make it overtly Jewish, compared to the kind of thing we _know_ they were writing during and after that period); or it got passed down as an heirloom via Abraham, the patriarch who originally came from that neck of the desert. {g} Either way there are significant improbabiities (if it was picked up in the exile, why wasn't it Judaized?--on the other hand, if it was handed down in some form over centuries of Jewish development, and left untouched out of reverence for its antiquity, then why is mention of Job elsewhere in scripture limited to a rhetorical 'a fortiori' use of "these three men" in one prophecy of Ezekiel, so far as I can find? Itself a highly interesting usage reference, by the way.) Which leaves the work quite mysterious in its provenance; but not necessarily fictional in its content.

To finish out, I don't (yet) see the grounds for Ruth to be judged fictional. It's a romantic story, but romantic stories _do_ happen. I'm not aware of any clear anachronisms which would, by their centrality to the plot, tag it as a creation from whole cloth by a later writer. (In fact I'm not aware of any anachronisms at all in it, although in my case that doesn't go for much. {g} But even if there are, it isn't unusual for stories to be brought up-to-date a bit in terminologies for purposes of better audience assimilation, even in known histories by legitimate historians such as Josephus and Tacitus.) I suppose if David is fictional, then his great-grandmother must be fictional, too; but that depends on how one is prepared to regard various documents purporting to be regal chronicle (which Kitchen, no friend to "fundamentalists", has shown to be quite in keeping with reasonably reliable genre standards of that timeframe and general area.) That being said, I also suppose there is no reason why a story couldn't be sheerly invented about the real great-grandmother of a really real king, either; although given the gargantuan importance of David in Jewish culture, it would be surprising that this little romantic tale is all that someone thought was worthy of the (non-Jewish!) semi-distant ancestor of a king considered second only to the Messiah To Come (who also must be the descendent of this obscure pagan nobody-woman!) I mean, when the Jews want to invent a romantic tale about an obscure woman important to the Messiah's family tree, they can be demonstrated not to just fiddle around: they write an epic (and highly popular) love/theology poem like _Joseph and Asenath_! By contrast, Ruth looks like oral history handed down as a good short story, with emphasis on the romantic aspects certainly, but also without significant amounts of tweaking.


If I would be prepared to say exactly the same things about these works as an atheist (and I would be--I make a point of doing that as much as possible {g}); I don't see why I would have to be less than optimistically agnostic about their historicity as a Christian.

Jason said...

JD,

I agree that John was going rather off base in asserting that the world in ancient times was "superstitious to the core"--not that superstition wasn't rampant, but people, including religious authorities, did distinguish it; and superstition has very little to do with what historians look for when trying to find the extent to which an ancient author is trying to write history and generally succeeding at it.

But BDK is right that most English (and German and French and other European-language) philosophical journals, if not all of them, are primarily concerned with defending or contesting some variant of Judeo-Christian theism (when they do talk about theology); and it's hard not to link this with territorial importance. I expect agnostics and atheists put in their showing, just like we do, in the relevant philosophical venues of other cultures (Hindi and Buddhist come to mind.)

Besides, John of all people can't call irrational origins against it, even if that was historically the case--since atheism itself necessarily involves claiming that _all_ truth claims (including true ones) have inescapably non-rational foundations. {ggg!}

Mike D said...

Jason,
The definition of inerrancy falls along a wide spectrum. I come from the perspective that the Chicago Statement is a very conservative definition and what most of the professors at conservative seminaries mean when they sign the statement. I think it is wrong to think that affirming an unqualified statement of inerrancy in a doctrinal statement is saying something different than what is in the Chicago Statement. I also expect that a discussion about the "wide" spectrum o opinions among inerrantists would be incomprehensible to those outside the camp. Steve Carr is completely justified in his interjections.

Jason said...

Mike,

Speaking as someone who does occasionally defend Steven's remarks--the basic question was good. The sheerly rhetorical followups were not, and demonstrate that he never had any interest in listening to a serious answer in the first place. He was only flamebaiting, and abusing what would otherwise be a good question in the process. (Which is par for the course for him. Otherwise I might charitably suggest he was being impostured by a troll instead. {wry s})

There is no sane (much less complete) justification for claiming "defending the Bible is an impossible task"--even an atheist could fairly defend "the Bible" on hundreds if not thousands of discreet points. But that's the purely rhetorical (and unfair) spirit he was asking his question in.


As to the other, it's been a few years since I've read over the Abstract of Principles at LSBTS; so I went over this morning and re-checked--and indeed, either my memory is faulty, or they've dialed back the language since last I looked. So on that I (gladly!) stand corrected.

At LSBTS the Abstract on Scripture (currently) reads:

"The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience."

I agree, so far as I can tell this fits in entirely with the Chicago Statement.


As to whether affirming an otherwise unqualified statement of inerrancy at a university is _necessarily_ saying something different from the Chicago Statement, of course I agree it isn't necessarily different. And even if it was, by the intention of the affirmer, that could easily still be self-consistent, so long as he does not go on to affirm and play by the Chicago Statement _also_. (And, furthermore, a university with an otherwise unqualified statement would not be inconsistent to have professors of different positions concerning inerrancy teaching their positions.)

What I protest, is the practice of affirming qualified statements of (call it "limited") inerrancy _and also_ affirming the characteristics of scripture in maximally strong language. Well, that and calling limited inerrancy "inerrancy" at all... {g}

I grant a term has to be used; but I think nothing is gained other than for rhetorically useful promotional purposes, when a word with such a strong an internal face-value meaning as "inerrancy" gets spread across such a "wide spectrum". It certainly doesn't help make the meaning any more comprehensible to those "outside the camp".