Friday, March 17, 2006

Propositional Revelation and Scripture, pt. 1 of 2

Some thinking ‘out loud’ on the nature of propositional revelation and scripture, as it is a subject that has surfaced in some recent comments. I don’t pretend to have all the wisdom and answers on this and any feedback is welcome, especially as I’m a NT man, and not as well read in modern theology as I would like to be.

First, I want to affirm the propositional character of revelation. But I would see it as a second order reflection on the Word of God. Even Scripture must be seen as a provisional and imperfect, even if normative and trustworthy, witness to the definitive Word of God spoken in Jesus.

In particular, the provisional nature of biblical propositions is seen in the fact that Scripture sublates (fulfils/contradicts) its own propositions on numerous issues.

Apart from this, scripture, as far as I see, is demonstratably not ‘without error’, i.e. inerrant (to get an idea, just type ‘bible contradictions’ into to Google, and have a read of some of the pages linked to). This fact forces us to drive a wedge between the ‘word spoken’ and the ‘word received/interpreted’. I don’t mean to cause offence with this claim, but to return to the question of the fundamentals, to make biblical inerrancy a true propositional fundamental, i.e. something that you must believe to make you unorthodox, then this will simply mean, for me: to turn my brain off and believe ten silly things before breakfast. And the bible doesn’t claim of itself that it is inerrant. There was no complete bible canon of which it could have said this of itself. Only texts that are decontextualised and read through a deductive-logical wringer can be taken to affirm this. I insist that the scriptures are inspired, but the manifest self witness of these scriptures is that there are some small errors, and so the evidence and self attestation of scripture, inductively read, leads us away from the deductively sustained argument of inerrancy (cf. Goldingay, Models for Scripture for more on this line of reasoning). To put it roughly: The bible is not inerrant in detail, but nothing in it will, I believe, mislead us about the nature of salvation. Neither is biblical inerrancy ‘what the church has always believed till them compromising liberals showed up’. Cf. Irenaeus, and the unproblematic way some in the early church dealt with bible contradictions. Think also of how ‘trigger happy’ Luther and others were with the books of the canon during the reformation.


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