Ben Witherington III on inerrancy
Mike Bird interviewed Ben Witherington III on his blog recently about his forthcoming book on scripture. I very much enjoy BW3's exegetical works, so I was interested to hear what he had to say. I liked what he was saying, but this bit drew my special attention:
Mike Bird: '3. What do you make of terms such as "inerrant" and "infallible"?'
BW3: 'The terms inerrant and infallible are modern ways of attempting to make clear that the Bible tells the truth about whatever it intends to teach us about. I much prefer the positive terms truthful and trustworthy. When you start defining something negatively (saying what it is not) then you often die the death of a thousand qualifications, not to mention you have to define what constitutes an error. I am happy to say that the Bible has three main subjects-- history, theology, and ethics, and that it tells us the truth about all three'.
I liked everything about his response, especially the matter of making our doctrinal confessions positive – a matter discussed previously here. But I stumbled over the italicised sentence. What do you think? Do you think he is right in this last sentence? I suspect that BW3 would probably have to qualify his own position to death were he asked to unpack the nature of this 'truth'. In that sense I am not sure that simply reversing the nature of the proposition (from inerrant to truthful) really helps us here. Rather, the nature of the truth of scripture, as I have argued previously (in the New Statement of Inerrancy part 1 and part 2), needs to be redefined as to involve our posture and active response to scripture. Otherwise, - from this perspective - in the name of a supposed 'orthodoxy' we may all end up getting hung up on whether the dinosaurs entered the Ark, or some other similar monumental waste of time - all to confirm the 'truth' of scripture. But what ones thinks about such matters as the dinosaurs and the Ark is surely not the measure of an orthodox doctrine of scripture. I am guessing that BW3 would agree with me, but I am not sure how he can do so if his statement above is taken at face value.
A little later, Mike asks: '9. What are the failings of some evangelical approaches to the Bible and what are the failings of some liberal approaches to the Bible?'
Ben answers: 'Too often Evangelicals tend to treat the Bible in a Gnostic manner, as if it dropped straight from heaven, and that the human contribution to the text is nil, or unimportant'.
Did I hear an 'Amen'?!