Sunday, March 26, 2006

Inerrancy? Pt.4

The ‘get out clause’ – the original manuscripts were inerrant.

Wayne Grudem, in his chapter on biblical inerrancy in Systematic Theology, defines inerrancy in the following way: ‘The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact’ (90).

I think even very conservative readers of the Bible will agree, the Bible as we now have it has errors. And undeniably, the original manuscripts and autographs are lost – they don’t exists. All we have are x-generation hand copied texts that approximate the originals only to a greater or lesser extent. This fact has enabled some to argue that the existence of some errors and contradictions in the bible must be due to copyist errors. In this way, many have found a quasi-argument for explaining errors like those I outlined in part 3 of my series on inerrancy. As Grudem writes:

‘... if we have mistakes in the copies (as we do), then these are only the mistakes of men. But if we have mistakes in the original manuscripts, then we are forced to say not only that men made mistakes, but that God himself made a mistake and spoke falsely. This we cannot do’ (97)

But I don’t buy this ‘get out clause’, not for a minute. Why?

  1. The oft quoted 2 Tim 3:16 passage, in light of the fact that the quotes from the OT in 2 Tim come from the LXX, not the original autographs or even original Hebrew, suggests the author/editor of 2 Tim seemed happy to ascribe inspiration to (faulty) copies, not original autographs.

  2. Why was God so careful to inspire texts so thoroughly, overriding human imperfections, only to give up once the final ‘full stop’ was penned, and allow for variety and error? Can a reasonable theological explanation for this be given? It suggests that what God starts, he won’t bring to completion (cf. Phil 1:6).

  3. If God can mediate his truth through imperfect copies, which inerrantists will insist, then isn’t the necessity for the theory of flawless autographs immediately nullified? (For these three points, cf. the discussion in Law’s Inspiration, 90-93)

  4. And most importantly - there are errors in the Bible that simply cannot be accounted for by copyist errors. The gospels, for example, cannot be harmonised with reference to copyist errors. Rather, they are all interpretations of the life and work of Christ, with slightly different theologies and agendas. Unless one argues that copyist errors are so substantial, as to pervert the originals so seriously, this variety of interpretation and difference in detail at the original autograph level must also be assumed.

  5. Besides, I have already demonstrated in my previous posts why the understanding ‘inspiration = inerrancy’ is to be rejected. Hence, the statement of Grudem, that errors means ‘God himself made a mistake and spoke falsely’ is simply a gross misunderstanding of the texts themselves.

Were the original manuscripts without error? Only if you are willing to suggest that there is a considerable and substantial difference between the autographs on the one hand, and the copies we now have on the other. If this is so, however, the old argument that the bible we now have is inspired because it is basically the same as the originals, is immediately to be rejected.

There are a few more posts in this series to come, so I look forward to your continuing response.

22 Comments:

At 3/26/2006 4:47 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Hey Chris,


"And undeniably, the original manuscripts and autographs are lost – they don’t exists."

P.J. Williams of the Evangelical TC blog has gone into this in DETAIL have you been following it?

clay

 
At 3/26/2006 11:33 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Excellent post, Chris. I think you're exactly right -- on the one hand, the concept of inerrant autographs is irrelevant, since it refers only to hypothetical artefacts that don't exist; and on the other hand, the concept of inerrant autographs doesn't really explain away any of the most interesting problems, such as conflicting theologies within the New Testament, interpretations of phenomena based on pre-scientific worldviews, etc.

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

If we have grasped God's faithfulness, then all the anxiety about an inerrant text is like a child begging her father for a stone, when she has already been given bread.

 
At 3/26/2006 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The irony of these types of arguments is that it devalues the bible we now have. Grudem is left with a bible of contradictions and errors by his own reasoning. The bible he teaches from, preaches from, and does devotions in is corrupt and not really the word of God anymore. Arguing for infallibility in the original manuscripts devalues the scriptures we have now, the scriptures we use to proclaim the gospel to the world.

Danny Zacharias

 
At 3/26/2006 10:06 PM, Anonymous T.B. Vick said...

Of all the posts you have presented in this series thus far, in my estimation this one is the best. Point 5 comes closest to home with me and my seminary educational background.

It has been a 'problem' that has bothered me for years, that such men like Grudem (and others from that type of background) can state as you quoted, “if we have mistakes in the copies (as we do), then these are only the mistakes of men. But if we have mistakes in the original manuscripts, then we are forced to say not only that men made mistakes, but that God himself made a mistake and spoke falsely.” And this leads to the point you made by stating "that errors means ‘God himself made a mistake and spoke falsely’ is simply a gross misunderstanding of the texts themselves."

I have noticed in my research over the years that those who hold to the view of inerrancy hold to it as an either/or in light of the original manuscripts. For example, either the original manuscripts are without error because God does not err or they have errors and we must then conclude that God errs. This is simply a false dilemma.

This view seems to ultimately boil down to what those who hold to the view of inerrancy communicate (believe) about how the original manuscripts were written - i.e. by the hand of God through the pen of men - did God direct the pen, etc. And this is at best pure speculation. Of course there is much more to this than what I am describing here in this small comment, but I think you have hit on as a few of the more major problems in this issue especially from the Grudem camp.

 
At 3/26/2006 10:52 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Clay,

Thanks for the reminder. I wanted to read them, but I simply forgot – so I caught up with them today. I’m not sure if I’d want to add much more to my comments in the light of his, at least given my purpose for writing. The link to the Wallace article was useful, but I’m really not sure I like his thinking. It seems to fall to the same old problems that I address in the post. Or what do you think?

Thanks for your great comment, Ben. I’m also feel that inerrancy, ironically, works as a distraction, however well intentioned it is, from the meaning of the texts themselves. Actually, the purpose of my posts is to say a ‘no’ to make space for the sort of ‘yes’ you are here affirming.

Thanks, Danny, for your words. The logical conclusion is that, as you say, original manuscript inerrancy can devalue what we have today. Of course, inerrantists want to say ‘no’, as what we have today is much the same as the original. However, this argument doesn’t work if one uses it to defend inerrancy, as then one must assume radical discrepancy between the original and today’s.

Thanks for the encouragement, TB! You write: ‘It has been a 'problem' that has bothered me for years’. If there is any one book on Scripture that I would recommend, it is the one by Goldingay: Models for Scripture. He carves a way of affirming a very high view of scripture, that doesn’t hid from the phenomena of the bible itself.

 
At 3/27/2006 2:36 AM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

Chris and Ben,

You both point out how inerrancy is a distraction from "the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ" and from "the meaning of the texts themselves". I agree. Another thing it distracts from is the actual performance of the Christian life. (This came by way of Hauerwas which like most things from him is more of a rant than a argument. And Anabaptist flavored at that.)
With inerrancy the Bible is seen as providing a certain foundation on its own apart from the church, God's people, his body. The truth can be known by us and by others from a casual glance at the page. No wrestling, no doubting, just be rational. Isn't nice to have a coercive body of facts as evidence and proof of our message? No need for the church's embodied witness for the world to know God. Since our collective witness as the body of Christ can't provide evidence of God's presence(shabby as it is), then we can direct them to the book which conclusively proves our claims. Sing along... "They will know we are Christians by our book, by our book". Just the passive and non-transformative theology the American culture was looking for. Truth that can be possessed and protected often inspiring smug confidence instead of a truth that requires discernment and an embodiment that entails risks.
End of Stanley-rant. I remember the feeling of "Yes!" when he spoke it. The inerrantist will of course respond that it isn't necessarily true, but that's what inerrantists always say when faced with devastating arguments ;)

 
At 3/27/2006 9:28 AM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

I don't think ascribing inerrancy to the original autographs is unreasonable as you suggest. Why should the Biblical writers be made responsible for the mistakes of copyists?

The copies of Scripture we now have are not as full of errors as you have argued. What you describe as errors in your 3rd post on this topic are not really errors at all (see my comments on that post).

David W,

No dobut the dotrine of Biblical inerrancy can be abused. All doctrines are open to abuse. Some took Paul's doctrine of justification as a licence to sin that grace may abound. Was Paul therefore wrong about justification?

You seem to have mistaken a prejudiced caricature for a devastating argument. Evangelicals have, on the whole believed in inerrancy. Those same Evangelicals have been responsible many great social reforms: The abolition of slavery. Wesley started the abolitionist ball rolling (see my blog for as post on Wesley's attitude to the Bible), Wilberforce completed the task. Lord Shaftesbury reformed working conditions for the urban poor in the UK. I could go on.

Many of the Evangelical Christians I know live lives of sacrificial godliness, helping the sick and reaching out to people sidelined by society. We do not hide behind an inerrant Bible. We try, albeit imperfectly, to put its message into practice.

Guy Davies

 
At 3/27/2006 1:13 PM, Anonymous Steven Harris said...

I'm really enjoying this series Chris, keep it coming!

How do you see the interaction between divine inspiration and human fallenness in the composition of scripture?

 
At 3/27/2006 2:15 PM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Guy, you said: "Many of the Evangelical Christians I know live lives of sacrificial godliness, helping the sick and reaching out to people sidelined by society."

Yes, I'll definitely agree with you there!

 
At 3/27/2006 3:06 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks Ben,

So far we have managed to avoid odium theologicum in our discussions. The issues at stake are important and our discussion should be open and robust. But rubbishing ones Theological opponents as a bunch of smug hypocrites is out of order.

Guy Davies

 
At 3/27/2006 5:43 PM, Anonymous Sivin Kit said...

Hi Chris, I'm new to this blog and so happened what you are blogging in this series is what some of us are talking about.

I was reminded of this definition by Millard Erickson on inerrancy by a friend on his blog http://hedonese1.blogspot.com/2006/03/are-there-errors-in-bible.html

"The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time of writing, in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms."

how would you respond to that? Like you and Ben I too feel that "Inerrancy" is a major distraction from a more constructive way of communicating the doctrine if Scripture.

 
At 3/27/2006 8:06 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Sivin Kit,

"The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time of writing, in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms."

I don't know about Ben or Chris, but I agree with that statement.

Guy Davies

 
At 3/27/2006 10:09 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for your comments, David.

You write: Another thing it distracts from is the actual performance of the Christian life.

I think it can do, yes. History has shown, however, a high view of scripture can also work as inspiration for ‘good works’. On the other hand, dogmatic inerrancy, when it is pursued to ‘exclude’ the ‘liberal’, or merely, as you write, as aggressive foundationalism, can, I think, get in the way of true Christian concern for the world. Why? It tends towards dualism (between heart and mind, world and spirit, bible and science etc), so that all that is important is getting the neighbour to believe a certain set of propositions so they don’t go to hell, rather than aiding a world-transforming open posture to the in-breaking reign of Christ’s lordship. At least that is what I suspect.

Hi Guy,
The copies of Scripture we now have are not as full of errors as you have argued.

I never claimed they were full of errors, as if the bible isn’t basically trustworthy. I do believe the bible can be trusted. But I think it is clear that there are, nevertheless, real errors.

What you describe as errors in your 3rd post on this topic are not really errors at all

I think this statement is debatable! I really don’t think your comments in that post lead to this conclusion.

No dobut the dotrine of Biblical inerrancy can be abused. All doctrines are open to abuse. Some took Paul's doctrine of justification as a licence to sin that grace may abound. Was Paul therefore wrong about justification?

I agree, Guy. However, a comparison with Paul’s teaching on justification isn’t the best. In my opinion, inerrancy is simply not a biblical doctrine. I hope I am as concerned to be biblical about my doctrine of scripture as you are.

Hi Steven, I loved your post today on IGod – really funny.

Hmm, good question. Just a few random late night thoughts: If you think of many of the psalms etc. (‘Oh Lord, I hate your enemies with a perfect hatred’, ‘dash their heads against the rocks’ etc.), then human sin seems to be part of the scriptures in a direct way. So Packer’s analogy of the bible and the incarnation (one I see you’ve done on your blog – great stuff, btw) could fall apart.

Hi Sivin,
Welcome to my blog, and thanks for your comments.
First, having just seen your profile, I’ve gotta ask: how many blogs do you contribute to?!

Anyway, to your question. I certainly prefer this definition of inerrancy to others and feel mostly happy with it. However, three points come to mind:

1) The ‘correctly interpreted’ doesn’t sound, in this definition, pneumatological enough for my tastes.
2) Not only that, a test case comes to mind, i.e. the prayer in the Psalms – going something like: ‘Lord, I hate your enemies with a pure hatred’. We have to ask ourselves if more knowledge about the correct interpretation of this verse will ever make it right and able to be God’s Truth. In other words, can we really make Erickson’s definition of inerrancy, at least the first part of it, applicable to the whole bible?
3) The important phrase ‘in view of the purpose for which it is given’ could be taken to mean just about anything – which is why I prefer the catholic definition which I’ll post on in a few days.

P.S., you must be proud of your Zodiac sign. :-)

Hi David,
Really thought provoking words. Again.
And no need to apologise to me, but thanks anyway! This blog has no ‘rules’ so you can say what you want, and I don’t tend to get offended too easy. Unless you make me cry with mean words of course.

All the best to you all,
Chris

 
At 3/28/2006 4:25 AM, Anonymous May Chin said...

Chris, the story goes that when the twelve animals (cf. zodiac signs) were dashing to the finishing line - the Ox was beating the rest. The rat was having a great time sitting on top of the head of the Ox and leaped over the finishing line first. My wife is born in the year of the Ox :-) that's a long story saying I think it's cool and rats hopefully are pretty smart *grin*! Sorry, nothing to do with inerrancy here.

As for blogs ... some of it are older ones I mainly blog through http://sivinkit.net/

 
At 3/28/2006 4:28 AM, Anonymous Sivin Kit said...

opps sorry that was my wife's sign in! then again, you get a glimpse of my son Gareth and her.

 
At 3/28/2006 11:44 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

I'm a rabbit, so I guess I can't say too much. Where did the rabbit come in this race? If 'last', then don't answer!

 
At 3/28/2006 11:46 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

P.S., I'll have a look at your blog. Thanks.

 
At 3/28/2006 8:58 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

D.Wilkerson

"I grow weary of the 'narrative of decline' ..."

Go study the history of Fuller Seminary. It wasn't much over a decade after Black Saturday, when Barth's doctrine was officially embraced, that Paul K. Jewett put in print his reading of the Apostle Paul on women.

The 'narrative of decline' is based on history.

I grow weary of the sneering clever rhetoric.

csb

 
At 3/29/2006 2:38 AM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

"It wasn't much over a decade after Black Saturday, when Barth's doctrine was officially embraced, that Paul K. Jewett put in print his reading of the Apostle Paul on women."

Horror! Perhaps you should notify them. Maybe they are not aware of the changes. Surely they were not intentional. Decline indeed!

I'm not sneering, promise! And my wife assures me I'm not clever.

 
At 11/23/2006 5:36 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

COMMENTS CONCERNING

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Articles 13 & 14, We 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. We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

[COMMENT: So, the Bible is inerrant DESPITE a plethora of items that any sane person would take as prima facie evidence of errors.]

~~~~~~~~~~

Article 15, "We deny that Jesus' teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity."

[COMMENT: Yet these same inerrantist are free to appeal at will to any and all possible "accommodation" hypotheses to explain a host of other Old Testament and New Testament verses.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Article 18, "Scripture is to interpret Scripture."

[COMMENT: Really? The opposite appears to be a fact of Evangelical history. Scripture does not interpret Scripture. Rather, it takes dozens of lexicons, history books, commentaries, and plenty of education to interpret Scripture, and what are the odds those commentaries all contain the same interpretations? About the same odds that every Evangelical theologian contributing to the "Viewpoints" series of InterVarsity and Baker Books will interpret Genesis and Revelation and everything inbetween the same way.]

Edward T. Babinski

 
At 12/01/2006 8:04 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

There is another issue not yet mentioned here (here being 'Inerrancy Pt.4' - let the blogowner understand): which autographs are we talking about? Paul's letters might be a little more straightforward (although even there, perhaps some of them are collections of earlier pieces (2 Cor anyone? I haven't looked at this closely, but many seem to think so. Others don't. Not a debate I want to go into here)), but which autograph of the Psalms? David's originals? Solomon's? Those of various later editors who kept adding and rearranging (and subtracting?...)? The usual answer is "the manuscript in Jesus' day", and broadly I would agree with this. But it doesn't solve the problem because, once again, which manuscript? While broadly the Masoretic text has a very good claim to preserving a stable tradition that goes back to the 1stC, this is still not a straightforward claim. When we get to Jeremiah, things get even more complex, since it seems like Jeremiah might have published two different editions during his lifetime!

 
At 7/13/2009 3:36 PM, Anonymous Lars Leevi said...

Inerrantists often emphasize the "inerrant" view of NT writers and quote e.g. Paul's singular "seed" in Galatians. But then we should maintain that NT writers whole relationship with the scriptures should be the model for our relationship and understandwe don't use their OT (LXX plus possibly targums etc. which some may quote) or their hermeneutics (a mess).

One question i'm not sure about is that what was their theory of inspiration? Was it even close to "verbal-plenary" view? I'm happy if somebody would help me with this.

 

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