Monday, November 2, 2009

Inerrancy: some further thoughts ...

I have two simple questions for my Inerrantist friends. I have posed them on numerous occasions. So far, no one has even attempted a response. If inerrancy is important, there simply must be a meaningful answer to these questions. They are based upon the following premise:


No one holds an inerrant Bible today.


... that is, unless you subscribe to the King-James-Only concept. King-James-Onlyism declares that God directed not only the original authors, but also the transcribers of the New Testament Greek Textus Receptus and the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament, and the translators of the King James Version. This view is ridiculous, easily refuted, and the only way Inerrancy can make any practical sense today! Putting it aside, we are back to the premise:


No one holds an inerrant Bible today.


Rather, we have thousands of original language manuscripts with thousands of variant readings. In fact, no two manuscripts agree! And we do not possess a single original manuscript. When I open my Greek New Testament to any page, the footnote section is filled with variant readings, which are graded according to manuscript evidence. But the simple fact is, we do not know what Paul, or Luke, or John actually wrote. Some of our Bibles contain verses, even entire sections, which are of questionable origin.


As a Bible teacher who understands textual criticism, I have always downplayed these textual variants. They actually have minimal impact upon the teachings of the Bible. Nevertheless, it is the contention of most Inerrantists that the Bible was carefully inspired by God word for word. This is known as “verbal (word for word) plenary (absolute and extending to all) inspiration.” In the view of those who espouse inerrancy, it was important that the Biblical authors get it right down to each and every word. I have two questions to ask of this view, based upon our premise:


No one holds an inerrant Bible today.


1) Why, if God deemed it important to supernaturally inspire this written revelation, if it was vital that the authors get every word right ... why is it that within 100 years of the original penning of the New Testament the texts were corrupted with innumerable copyists’ errors, omissions, and additions? If God could ensure a word-perfect revelation, and such a revelation mattered, why would he not superintend the transmission of that revelation? Wouldn’t safeguarding the revelation be equally important as giving it in the first place? And wouldn’t such safeguarding be just as easy to accomplish as the inspiration of the original authors?


2) Perhaps more to the point, since no one holds an inerrant Bible today, how important is the doctrine of Inerrancy really? If the Inerrantist must rely upon tools of textual criticism, and if he must allow for doubt about what was contained in the original manuscripts, and if he must therefore exercise intellectual judgments upon the text, how is his reading of the Bible different from the non-inerrantist? None of us holds an inerrant Bible. So what practical difference does a doctrine about some original manuscripts now thousands of years old and which no one today possesses—what practical difference does it make in how we approach the Bible?


When an Inerrantist reads the Bible, 1) he/she makes thoughtful judgments about what the text actually says, 2) he/she makes thoughtful judgments about what the text means, and 3) he/she might ask for Holy Spirit illumination as he reads.


When a non-inerrantist reads the Bible, 1) he/she makes thoughtful judgments about what the text actually says, 2) he/she makes thoughtful judgments about what the text means, and 3) he/she might ask for Holy Spirit illumination as he reads.


What is the difference? In short, what practical difference does a doctrine of an inerrant Bible make if nobody, in fact, possesses an inerrant Bible?

42 comments:

Michael Thompson said...

Hi Cliff
Funny you should mention the King james only belief.
I had a friend who believed that, and he used the same arguments.
I do like the KJV, for other reasons, but already knew it wasn't perfect, so he kind of drove me nuts, but he did get me to thinking about and doubting inerrancy, for the same reasons you brought up.
On the other hand, though manuscript evidence does show inconsistants, they are a lot more close than any other ancient documents and there is a lot more of them, so i would see the Bible as, not perfect, but genrally very reliable.
As for the stuff in the bible that contradicts physical reality, like 6 day creation, the firmament, global flood, etc, mabye that is God just accomodation the people of that time. I don't
think a scientific essay on the age of the earth or evolution would have been of much use to those people.
Have you seen Gordon glover's blog beyond the firmament? he does an excellent job explaining this.
He posts alot about it on biologos blog too, so you probably have.
Keep up the good work Cliff, thanks again for your thought provoking blog!

MT

Michael Thompson said...

ooops, I just looked at your blog list, and glovers it on there! so what do you think of his views? I find them very helpful, but i am always willing to consider that I am wrong...

Cliff Martin said...

Michael,

Yes, I've been acquainted with Gordon for a couple of years, and I often recommend his site and his book. In fact, I was the first to review his book on Amazon. Gordon asked me to read it quick and review it, because he feared an onslaught of negative reviews and was anxious to get a favorable review posted first! Actually, most all of the Amazon reviews have turned out to be favorable! And deservedly so. Gordon is a good writer, but I think he is an even better presenter in his video series.

I understand Gordon's view on accommodation, and that may well be a piece of the puzzle, but my own view is a little different.

Jeff said...

Cliff,

I think it is important to note Michael Thompson's main point, as a groundwork for this discussion. The more you immerse yourself in the textual criticism of ancient documents, the more breath taking the reality of the unity of the bible documents becomes. It is truly incredible.

I am currently doing an exegetical analysis of Matthew 2:16-18, and as primary research I am seeking to establish the text, so I did an initial overview of the textual variant. If you are interested, you can read my analysis at http://docs.jefflacine.com/Matthew2.18TC.pdf . What is so glaringly obvious is the insignificance of such a variant (though I still find it helpful to establish a text that has any significant variants before moving on to exegesis). Furthermore, the vast majority of the thousands of variant readings in the bible are more insignificant than this one! This is simply unparalleled in surviving ancient literature, and truly jaw dropping.

In His inspiration of difficult texts and His ordaining the need for textual criticism (by making a place for imperfect scribal work in the transmission of the text), God has ordained a world in which the use of the mind in our faith is extremely valuable. He has created a world with a place for the Christian academy, and the seeking of Him in study, with humility and faith.

You are right when you say the UBS 4 or the Nestle-Aland 27 that you hold in your hand does not perfectly represent every iota of the original autographs. Yet, because of the startling similarities of our thousands of manuscripts, I think it is extremely reasonable to say that the Greek NT in your hand does accurately represent the meaning of the original autographs, even when doing careful proposition-by-proposition exegetical analysis. Remember, meaning is derived by intention, and intention is communicated in a context. So while each proposition holds a meaning, it is only meaningful in relation to its larger context. Each proposition is built together to form a larger work. Matthew did not intend his audience to try and derive meaning from Matthew 2:18 in isolation, but in the context of the whole book, and I would argue, in the context of a larger canon.

I think that the importance of preserving a term like inerrancy (in the original autographs) is derived from the way in which we should study the text. Do we do textual-criticism with a desire to see the fully inspired, fully authoritative, and fully inerrant (in what it seeks to affirm), word that came from the hand of Paul two-thousand years ago? Do we do exegetical analysis with this same mindset?

Cliff, I know you are a busy man. However, I encourage you to be delinquent in your other responsibilities for the purposes of our interactions! Just kidding. But, here is the link to a wonderful apologetic work. I just read it a few months ago, and I found it beautifully compelling. I am curious to see if you find it equally as compelling.

It is a portion of the unpublished syllabus for a hermeneutics class taught by Daniel Fuller at Fuller Theological Seminary almost 40 years ago.

http://docs.jefflacine.com/fuller.pdf

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

"I think it is important to note Michael Thompson's main point, as a groundwork for this discussion. The more you immerse yourself in the textual criticism of ancient documents, the more breath taking the reality of the unity of the bible documents becomes.

I agree, and attempted to say as much in the original post. Most of my N.T. teaching has been sourced in the Greek N.T., and I sometimes reference variant readings. When I do so, I am careful to make the very point you are making, to set the hearer at ease that he can trust modern translations to carry the author's original intent faithfully.

And I understand that, if we presume verbal inspiration, we might pay better attention to the sciences of textual criticism. Still, it has always seemed strange to me that we place importance on verbal inerrancy, because we presume God did, but that he apparently failed to apply the same diligence to superintending the transmission of the Scripture. Unless it is you point that he guarded it somewhat, the result being that the manuscript evidence for our Bible is far more unified than other texts from antiquity. But is that how God does things? Half-way? And if so, why do we presume it was any different in the actual process of inspiration?

Rich G. said...

@All:

Has anyone noticed how this discussion (about inerrancy) starts to parallel that of the POE?

Rich G.

Jeff said...

You asked: “Unless it is you point that he guarded it somewhat, the result being that the manuscript evidence for our Bible is far more unified than other texts from antiquity. But is that how God does things? Half-way?”

God does nothing halfway, but rather, He does what He intends to do, all the way. Yet, it seems to be His modus operandi, in many cases, that His intentions are carried out in extremely natural ways. God often uses natural means even in the inspiration and the preservation of Scripture! I am fully convinced that at least the vast majority of what we have in our canon was not originally written in way that the dictation theorists would have us believe. Paul’s eyes did not roll to the back of His head, while He was “possessed” by the Holy Spirit. Rather, His theology and his communication of that theology was superintended by God.

In the same way, God preserves His word for us through the battles being waged in a seminary in a small Seminary in North Carolina, in Dr. Dehorter’s classroom, over the textual variant in Matthew 2:18, because a student in that classroom will be on the UBS 7 committee 37 years from now. And UBS 7 will largely influence the English International Standard Bible, which most translations around the world will get their cues from.

So, the short answer to your question is,Yes, this is often the way God works His amazing providences (a la Esther). And He leaves us excellent clues to this in the amazing way the empirical evidence singles out the bible as being unparalleled in its historical preservation.

Jeff said...

In relation to your first question you ask: “And if so, why do we presume it was any different in the actual process of inspiration?”

Mostly, I don’t think it is any different in the actual process of inspiration, as I hinted to above. However, the time factor demands some differences in the way these two processes play themselves out. Transmission is a point in time event, meaning there was one point in which Paul wrote Philippians. Preservation is ongoing, as long as the Lord tarries. I will compare the process of preservation with the process of Inspiration, and I hope you will catch what I am trying to say.

a. In the process of textual criticism there are certainly errors being made in the micro. We can look at Erasmus’ Comma Johanneum in 1 John 5:7, the final chapter of Mark, or John 8, and see this pretty plainly. It is constantly in flux, and through the tugs and pulls in scholarship, God is preserving his word in a way that I still have the confidence to hold UBS 4 (or even the ESV let’s say) in my hand, and say this is the fully inspired, authoritative, even inerrant word of God. I still preserve the word inerrant, because of the degree to which the bible testifies of the original autographs in the process of God’s preserving providences through scholarship… and also because there is a rough consensus on the meaning of “inerrant” as it relates to biblical scholarship, and most everyone would agree that this is the camp that my view best fits in.

b. In the process of transmission, Paul surely had errant thoughts in his head. Meaning, just because he was an apostle and writer of scripture, does not mean that every thought that came to him was authoritative doctrine. I envision Paul, sitting in prison, thinking of what he might say to the Philippians. There he was, arguing with himself about it, in much the same way you and I write letters and think through doctrine. (However, it could be said, though this is not essential to the point I am making, that Paul’s degree of confidence as he worked things out was different than yours and mine, because of his visitation and commissioning from the risen Jesus.) Yet God superintended Paul’s thought process and communication to write (and probably to teach during his times of teaching) the inspired word of God. Though it was still entirely human, it was also divine.

I would describe my understanding of God’s preservation of the text, and His inspiration and transmission of the text, as more similar than different. Yet, even if you judge them to be more different than similar, or my view needs to be altered, it still makes for a poor argument to defend the point you are trying to make. God does some things through very obviously supernatural means, and He does other things through very natural means.

Cliff Martin said...

Rich,

POE?

Jeff,

Your thoughts about inspiration are rational, sensible. I will not argue against them. But it does seem to me that the level of technical language necessary to make inerrancy reasonable, and the very concept itself, go way beyond anything that the Bible actually declares about itself. Since "inspired of God" (theopneustos) is found only in one verse of the Bible, and no where else in all ancient Greek literature, its definition is pretty much up for grabs. To build the doctrine you are elucidating here (and in the 73 page Fuller document which I have downloaded and intend to read!) upon a word that likely means no more than its Latin equivalent seems overreaching to me.

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

POE?

Yes. At least I see a parallel emerging.

In the broad sense, the questions seem to boil down to "How can a perfect God create [inspire] something with imperfections [errors] and still call it "good" ["profitable"], or was it perfect [inerrant] at the beginning [original manuscript].

Rich G.

Jeff said...

While there is not necessarily a book or section of scripture that we can point to and say, "THERE is a well laid out doctrine of inspiration." I do think that as we immerse ourselves in the text, we do see the bible representing a certain view of epistemology. The bible also imparts a respect for "the canon" as an authority, in its usefulness to reprove, teach, and relate history. (I use the word canon to mean not only our completed canon, but also the canon available at various stages in the process of transmission).

Because we must work with scripture, we must develop a hermeneutic. In developing a hermeneutic, we must deal with inerrancy. I believe my view of inerrancy best accounts for the bible's view of epistemology and authority of the "canon."

As we immerse ourselves in the bible, we see that the "canon" is viewed as the rule by which we are to judge, rather than be something which we are to stand in judgment of. An errant view of the bible, I believe, forces us to judge the canon in a way that would contradict the way it teaches us to utilize its own teachings.

In short, I am not building my understanding of Scripture from a single word, nor do I know anyone else that does. It would be silly to do so.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

“In short, I am not building my understanding of Scripture from a single word, nor do I know anyone else that does. It would be silly to do so.”

Granted. But no single verse is more foundational to the teaching of inerrancy than 2 Timothy 3:16.

As you know, I attended fundamentalist Christian colleges. I learned, and then (to some extent, at least) promulgated inerrancy, using many of the same lines of reasoning which you so eloquently present. But I must confess I was never fully satisfied. When I read the Bible, it never quite rose to the standard of what I would expect if God had gone to great lengths to leave us a written revelation of himself. The whole fundamentalist bibliology seemed convoluted, forced. Even today, when I read Packer's musings on the the Chicago Statement (which I understand he largely wrote), his misgivings and equivocations, I wonder if inerrancy has any real meaning.

Since I started reading the Bible as a human book, but one that journals the remarkable journey of a community of faith, and one in which a revelation of God gradually emerges with ever increasing accuracy, it makes perfect sense. I no longer have to struggle with question like "why would the Holy Spirit inspire David to revel in the thought of dashing babies against the rocks?" Reading the Bible does not leave me conflicted. Now, if something strikes me as weird, I just raise my eyebrows and say “that’s strange.” This instead of my old pattern of trying to make it fit in somehow to the larger message of the Scriptures.

It is interesting that you and I agree (and Rich has noted the similarity to evolution) that God has chosen to use natural means, imperfect vessels, and imperfect mechanisms, to produce products which are less than perfect! It leads you to expect something only slightly less than a verbatim divinely written book. It leads me to expect what I believe we actually have: a rich storehouse of wisdom, inspired by God, bearing the marks of humanity, a faithful journal of a growing man-God relationship, one that is profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, instruction in righteousness, a book worthy of a life-time of study ... but not the "inerrant word of God".

Jeff said...

That is why my contention is that your qualm is not ultimately with the bible, but rather with the God of the bible. I do not see how you can objectively teach or prove anything from your bible, other than the idea that "God progressively reveals himself in a developing relationship with man." Your bible must itself be judged before it can do any judging. It leaves you in quite a pickle, I must say. It would be very interesting to see how a doctrinal dispute works itself out among the eldership of a church that embraces your view of scripture.

But, you are quite convinced of your view, and you appear to have considered my arguments long before I present them. In the end, it seems you just do not like the God that my bible paints for you. I do not like to say it, but it seems to be the unavoidable conclusion of your statements.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

".. it seems you just do not like the God that my bible paints for you."

Perhaps not. But I love Jesus! and I love the God that is revealed in the Bible as I read it.

Rich G. said...

Jeff:

I haven't seen all that much doctrinal unity (in daily practice) between several church streams that claim identical views of plenary inerrancy of scriptures. Baptist, Church of Christ, Adventist, Nazarene, Assembly of God, United Pentecostal all share the same view of inerrant biblical authority, yet...

So whence come the differences?

It seems that we all stand in judgment of what the scriptures say and what they mean.

BTW, how would you defend Jesus' mis-quoting OT scriptures (at best using a mis-translation of the Hebrew text, i.e. the LXX), or Jude's use of an extra-scriptural source (Book of Enoch)?

As for having a problem with the God as presented in the Bible, I would be in good company with (iirc) A.W.Tozer. I remember reading a statement that went something like this: "In the beginning stage of a man's walk with God, his greatest struggle is with his neighbor. In the middle stage, it is with himself. In the end it is with God."

Rich G.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

"It would be very interesting to see how a doctrinal dispute works itself out among the eldership of a church that embraces your view of scripture."

Driving home from Portland this evening, I tried to remember a single dispute in my 18 years of leading an eldership in which a view of inerrancy or non-inerrancy might have been a factor leading to resolution. I could not remember one. Maybe you could give me an example.

We often consulted the Scriptures for wisdom in dealing with issues in the body, typically relational issues. We did not always agree on all theological or doctrinal matters, but I do not recall ever feeling compelled to settle a doctrinal issue. And if we had considered it essential to come to unity on a doctrinal matter, I doubt very much that an inerrant view of Scripture would have helped, for the very reasons Rich cites above.

Without any aspersion intended, I think doctrinal precision is a much higher value among Reformed people than it is for others. That might partially explain why inerrancy is so important from your perspective.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

From my perspective outside of any faith I think this is an elegant posting of rational points made logically and clearly.

I hope this comment doesn't hinder those of faith from considering it carefully.

Best,

Psi

Jeff said...

I remember when I first read what D.A. Carson has to say about the goal (and means) of doctrinal unity, in the introduction to his book Exegetical Fallacies. I rejoiced, and maybe even shouted, “That’s what I believe!” because it was an understanding that I had formerly felt almost entirely alone on. The postmodern waves of reaction to the errors of modernism have been pummeling the church’s epistemology, mutating it beyond recognition to the pilgrim church of history.

Here is an excerpt from Carson's introduction:

"Why is it that among those with equally high views of Scripture’s authority there are people who thing tongues are the definitive sign of the baptism of the Spirit, others who think the gifts of tongues is optional, and still others who think it no longer exists as a genuine gift? Why are there some who hold to a dispensational approach to Scripture, and others who call themselves covenant theologians? Why are there several brands of Calvinists and Arminians, Baptists and Paedo-baptists? Why do some stoutly defend a Presbyterian form of church government, others press for some form of congregationalism, and still others defend the three offices and hierarchical structure that dominated the West for almost a millennium and a half from the time of the subapostolic fathers? Dare I ask what is the significance of the Lord’s Supper? Or why there is such a plethora of opinions regarding eschatology? …I am restricting myself for the sake of this discussion to the wisest, most mature, best trained, and most devout leaders of each position: why cannot they move to greater unanimity on all kinds of doctrinal fronts? …It follows, then, that the study of exegetical fallacies is important. Perhaps we shall find extra incentive in this study if we recall how often Paul exhorts the Philippian believers to be like-minded, to think the same thing – an exhortation that goes beyond mere encouragement to be mutually forbearing, but one that demands that we learn to move toward unanimity in the crucial business of thinking God’s thoughts after him. This, surely, is part of the discipline of loving God with our minds."

jeff said...

The starting point for these discussions and investigations, is answering the question of inerrancy. The issue of Inerrancy is the largest rudder steering the ship of Hermeneutics. It will change the way that I approach, exegete, and exposit every chapter of the bible.

Rich and Cliff, while among all Christians who espouse inerrancy there is not unity in doctrine, I am certain that there is more cohesion than if the group was broadened to include those who don’t espouse inerrancy. In other words, it is extremely likely that I have much more in common (doctrinally) with the Anglican who espouses inerrancy than with the Anglican who does not. It is much harder to find theologies like open theism, darwinist theology, feminist theology, universalist theology, and homosexual theology, in inerrant communities… though these doctrines are still present.

All this is to say, I think it is not helpful to posit that an inerrant view of the scripture will not lead to more doctrinal unity. Albeit, this is not a reason to discard an errant view of the bible, if it is the correct view of the bible. However, if it is incorrect (and I believe it is), it is a reason to be extremely concerned about it. Especially if, as Dr. Carson says, “unanimity in the crucial business of thinking God’s thoughts after him,” is a goal of the church.

Cliff, I am shocked that you never felt compelled to settle a doctrinal issue as an elder. You felt comfortable with false doctrine being preached from your pulpit? Did you ever have to practice church discipline, coming to an agreement on what the bible says about it? Would you allow just anyone to get married in your church (I’m thinking issues of divorce and remarriage)? Was there no unified teaching?

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

[Written in response to your comment above quoting D.A. Carson]

Our Supreme Court, time and again, splits 5 to 4 on the original intent of a document a little over 200 years old which we possess in totality and in its original manuscript, a document written by a single author (Thomas Jefferson, with some input from Benjamin Franklin and others.) Some of those justices simply throw their hands up, claiming our Constitution to be a “living document” with flexible meanings adaptable to each new age. As I read the Carson excerpt, I totally relate to the questions he poses. But I am dismayed by his answer. Better scholarship will lead us to unity? I doubt that very much.

Of course, his premise begs the question. If we assume the words of the Bible accurately represent the very thoughts of God, then perhaps a more scholarly look at those words ought to lead us to unity. But they have not done so in 2000 years. the trend, in fact, is toward ever increasing splintering.

Yet you will give yourself to meticulous study of words, believing that if you learn Greek and Hebrew well enough, if you use exegetical tools proficiently enough, if you can discover and put to use the correct set of hermeneutics, these will lead you ultimately to the correct view of reality. I set out on that course when I was young; but the more I pursued it, the more it appeared a futile venture.

Today, with what seems a more realistic view of the Scriptures, using the best of Natural Theology, setting loose my God-given rational mind to think logical thoughts, and to ask honest questions about reality, and drawing richly from that other great repository of divine revelation (natural revelation, both nature and natural history), and integrating these into a meaningful whole, I feel like I am standing on a mountain top with fascinating vistas in all directions, gaining fresh insights into the purposes and actions of my Creator.

Really, Jeff, the view is so much better up here.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

“Cliff, I am shocked that you never felt compelled to settle a doctrinal issue as an elder.”

There were times when correction was needed. I cannot recall the eldership ever being divided over a course of action when such issues arose. E.g., there was a teacher that came through who was way off base. But the issues had far more to do with attitude and heart than with any specific “false” teaching. This seems to me to be most often the case. We confronted the issues, and he left.

Perhaps we were blessed in that the only differences of opinion about teaching that arose were insufficiently significant to demand our attention. They were well within the parameters of tolerance. And unlike Carson (above), I see in Paul’s teaching that forbearance is not just as some second-best provisional approach to unity, but that it is the very lynchpin of unity in the church.

I have a hard time imagining Jesus and his disciples spending an afternoon discussing the merits of Limited Atonement, or developing a correct view of the Hypostatic Union. Can you?

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > ... imagining Jesus and his disciples spending an afternoon discussing ...

They weren't Christians ;-)

Cliff Martin said...

Good point, Isaac!

Jennifer said...

Thank you guys so much for this discussion. I am really enjoying reading/thinking about it!
Jen

Jeff said...

Cliff,

You said: “I have a hard time imagining Jesus and his disciples spending an afternoon discussing the merits of Limited Atonement, or developing a correct view of the Hypostatic Union. Can you?”

Why can’t you imagine Jesus talking in that way? Is it because your “errant” bible portrays a Jesus that wouldn't talk that way? Or are the gospel accounts somehow more error free in communicating the mind and heart of God than the Pauline epistles? God didn't give us the gospel of John by itself, He gave us the whole bible. The red letters are no more authoritative than the book of Romans (I was going to say Leviticus, but I didn't want to muddy the waters), and both lack the same authority they are granted when read in the context of the canon.

If what you are implying is, that often doctrinal disputes are not centered around the gospel or the mission of the church, you are right. This is a sad commentary on the state of many in the Christian academy, both liberal and conservative. People fight to win, and not with the motivation of the spiritual health and vitality of the church. Moreover, when pastors/theologians do spar over a doctrinal issue with the church in mind, they are not often conscious of, specifically, how it will help the church. All they know is “right doctrine produces right practice.”

I can (and do) see Jesus speaking to these issues (definite atonement and the hypostatic union), but not in the way that we do. I do however envision Paul, if in a similar context, speaking to these issues in a very similar way as the apologists of the historical church.

Throughout Paul’s letters he addresses particular issues that specific churches were struggling with. He dealt in detail with doctrines that would set a particular church on a trajectory away from the gospel of Christ. I can envision Paul addressing a church that has been affected by universalist teachings, trying to convince them about the definite atonement of Christ for the church. In this vain, in the midst of a rising universalist mindset among many in our churches, it is also important for us to talk about the definite atonement.

Most of the doctrines we deal with (such as perseverance, imputed righteousness, justification, church polity, the sacraments/ordinances, soteriology, missions, prayer, worship, social justice, etc…) are extremely relevant to how we live and worship. If you take a person who really believes (not just teaches) one way on these issues, versus a person who believes (not just teaches) another way, their life will look and feel different, and their trust in God and prayer/devotional life will be of a much different substance.

Jeff said...

I will also take the risk making this concession (though I want to stay on topic as much as possible with inerrancy, which I do not commiserate with you on at all). I believe it has been an error of the church to make doctrines that were developed as polemics our primary/universal pulpit points. It is our habit to represent ourselves by our polemics rather than by our biblical theology (especially in the reformed tradition). I believe historical polemics do have their place in theological education, and we should be taught them, especially in our study of church history. But I also think that our primary study should be straight biblical theology, over systematics. In this way, we should put much more energy into the narrative of scripture (because the bible is one large narrative, made up mostly of the narrative genre).

Believe it or not, this is where most of my study has been in the last two years... not in reformed systematics (though I am reformed, and though I love systematic theology and very much value the orthodox apologists of history). So, while I heartily embrace the five points of Calvinism, I do not define my theology by those five points (they were developed as a polemic). I would express my doctrine of Sovereign Grace in a way that is shaped by the narrative of scripture. I actually hope to complete a paper on it in the coming year... but in order to do that, I may have to stop commenting on your blog!

Cliff Martin said...

Oh, Jeff!

I release you, my brother, to get back to those tasks at hand. I've enjoyed very much our discussions, both blog and email. I hope they resume some day, face to face.

I do appreciate your last two comments, especially the second. I applaud your efforts to transform theological polemics into a more faithful (and useful!) exposition of the narrative of Scripture. And when you finish that paper, ship it off to me. I'd love to read it.

For a five-pointer, you are in many ways a breath of fresh air.

Cliff Martin said...

Jen,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad you enjoyed listening in!

Isaac Gouy said...

> They weren't Christians ;-)

Cliff > Good point, Isaac!

Better when considered alongside some other example - such as Muhammad and his followers.

Better when considered in the context of some contemporaneous Jewish teaching - "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn".

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Yes, and the fact that Jesus said almost the same thing suggests to me that he was not meticulous about word meanings, and specifics of systematic theology (as were others of his Jewish contemporaries). He summed up the entire Torah in one short sentence. He seemed to be about condensing, simplifying, summing up, and getting to the heart of the matter which in most cases comes down to motives, behaviors, etc. as opposed to categorical delineations of the finer points of theology.

Isaac Gouy said...

More Beit Hillel than Beit Shammai‎.

Greg said...

Cliff,

I didn't really start to think about this issue until you brought it up on CMP's blog the other day, but what about revising inerrancy?

Instead of basing it on our modern standards, why not base it on the original author's standards?

For example, ancient cosmology, using our standard, is an obvious error in the Bible.

Using their standard changes it into an accurate statement about the universe at that time.

Kinda makes truth relative in a way, but all truth is relative to the time period that spoke it, right?

That idea is only a few days old in my mind, so there's still room for improvement if its a good idea, and I don't know if its been specifically mentioned in the comments yet, but I thought I'd put it out there to see what you and others think.

Cliff Martin said...

Greg,

Thank you for your thoughts!

"Using their standard changes it into an accurate statement about the universe at that time."

Genesis 1 does not contain an accurate statement about the universe at that time or at any time. Truth is not relative. But I understand what you're thinking. Why wouldn't God reveal truth (theological truth) in the context of their reality, the universe as they understand it? If that is your view, it is not new and already has a name: Accommodation.

While some ECs who wish to preserve inerrancy have turned to the principle of Accommodation, it strikes me as a futile effort to prop up a doctrine which is dubious on many other accounts.

When I read the Bible, it reads like a somewhat disjointed set of poems, history, teachings, wisdom, genealogies, etc., of human origin, which faithfully journals the progression of a people who sought to know and serve God. As such, it is a wonderful and powerful resource for us today. But to attempt to superimpose upon it some miraculous status of divine authorship and therefore errorless strikes me as a complete denial of the obvious.

As irreverent as this may sound to our church-trained ears, it is possible to overhype the Bible, to give it more honor than it ought to have. We have a name for that, too. It is Biblioloatry.

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

"When I read the Bible, it reads like a somewhat disjointed set of poems, history, teachings, wisdom, genealogies, etc., of human origin, which faithfully journals the progression of a people who sought to know and serve God. As such, it is a wonderful and powerful resource for us today. But to attempt to superimpose upon it some miraculous status of divine authorship and therefore errorless strikes me as a complete denial of the obvious.

The phrase "Poorly edited" comes to mind (from a message by a guy named Wil Willison I have around here somewhere). Sometimes I compare the scriptures to "God's tracks" - and while get excited following an elk trail (the fresher the better), I can get tired of nothing but track soup.

I think there is something valuable to be retained with a doctrine of inspiration: The idea that the Bible says what God wants said. I am convinced that there is a (are?) supernatural message(s) contained in the the words - not conveyed by getting the spelling "just right", but simple truths that come through the imprecise (and possibly erroneous) language, prepared for those whose hearts and minds are ready to receive them. God has said that He would give wisdom and understanding to the simple, and confound those who think they are smarter than all the rest.

This is not to say we should lay down our pursuit of knowledge and understanding, for there is a whole untapped ocean out there waiting to be explored. But the truths contained are not complex. Sometimes the path is long and arduous, but usually leads to a simple answer (In my college physics class, the prof. took Maxwell's equations, and derived the velocity of light - I could barely follow the math).

I think you alluded to this in one of your answers to Jeff. We see Jesus not getting into the minutiae of the theological disputes of his day, but cutting through all the verbiage to the heart of the matter, putting the emphasis on the motivating attitudes of his hearers, in terms so simple that they had to either love him or destroy him.

It appears that he held a very high view on the inspiration and authority of the scriptures, with little apparent concern for literal word-for-word precision.

WWJD? I think the more telling question may be WDJD? (What Did
Jesus Do?)

Cliff Martin said...

Great comment, Rich. I totally agree!

Greg said...

Cliff,

I make use of the concept of accommodation, but not for this. It's useful for explaining why God didn't go and correct all their inaccurate science, for example.

I believe there is merit in redefining inerrancy. It acknowledges our limitations even today, and it emphasizes the human aspect of scripture. I'm going to look into this idea further before I abandon it.

Before we do away with inerrancy completely, I think it would be good if we were to explore an alternative that isn't as drastic as telling people straight up the Bible contains errors.

Anything after that may just fall on deaf ears.

Cliff Martin said...

Greg,

You may be right when you observe that ...

"Anything after that may just fall on deaf ears."

However, that never seemed to deter Jesus from speaking truth.

Greg said...

Cliff,

However, that never seemed to deter Jesus from speaking truth.

Of course it didn't.

But he who has perfect doctrine may throw the first stone!

:-)

Rich G. said...

"Before we do away with inerrancy completely, I think it would be good if we were to explore an alternative that isn't as drastic as telling people straight up the Bible contains errors."

I think I'm with Greg on this one. I haven't seen Jesus, or any of the NT authors asserting or admitting any errors in the scriptures. I think they were pretty comfortable with scriptures that do not derive their authority from being free of all contradiction.

The teaching in my current church (as well as the previous one) is that God still speaks through men (ans women), and that what He has spoken comes through that person's internal filters (vocabulary, understanding, prejudices, etc.), and that separating out God's "pure" words is virtually impossible, and we are not to just take them at face value. Getting God's thoughts requires thought, wisdom, counsel and experience (with prayer).

I am of the opinion that the process of writing, collecting, editing, preserving and translating the scriptures followed a similar path.

Rich G.

Isaac Gouy said...

Anything after that may just fall on deaf ears.

If someone thinks the use they make of scripture requires inerrancy then they are likely to demand that scripture is read as inerrant.

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Cliff Martin said...

Thank you, Dudley.

And now that I've discovered mobileterrasistema, I'm looking forward to a little exploration there!