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.


At 3/26/2006 4:47 AM, Blogger 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?


At 3/26/2006 11:33 AM, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger 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

"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, Blogger 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 9:08 PM, Blogger David Wilkerson said...


I suppose I owe you one of those half-apologies where I say "I'm sorry if you were offended." The rant (as I characterized it) was made by Hauweras and I think contains a boulder of truth.
Of course it is over the top (Hauerwas always provokes) in its claims if it is applied to every individual evangelical. Though I will say that I have found as a rule the social witness of a group of evangelicals to be inversely related to their doctrinal rigor with such things as inerrancy, justification etc.

I grow weary of the 'narrative of decline' defense of inerrancy which says that groups who stop believing in this doctrine inevitably drift away and are no longer evangelical or perhaps even no longer Christian. Perhaps their drifting is actually a moving into the fray of the practice of true theology instead of the reading off of a script as Wright has put it(though to slightly different ends I admit). Many evangelicals feel they are thereore doing the "safe" thing by just being fundamentalists and "believing" the Bible. What could be wrong with that? I want them to remember "A man sits as many risks as he runs." Their "safe" decision can have negative ethical consequences as well.

On Wilberforce, two things. It was long ago since evangelicals were on the forefront of social policy and a strong view of inerrancy has come up in the meantime. Evangelicals have largely become reactionary to progressives on social views. And there is scant social witness coming from the mega churches of America. Instead the broader culture is simply critiqued for "rejecting God's word" on this or that teaching which these figures have not grappled with beyond what "God's word" says. So they are, I think, rightly seen as "unthinking, self-righteous, reactionaries" by the broader culture even if they may sometimes be correct an ony given issue. Add to this the totally similar patterns of behavior by evangelicals and "the world" by every measure and you can add the label "hypocrite" to the list. USA Today did in an article today in fact. This is the smug confidence I was referring to. "We don't need to wrestle with modern ways of thinking, we have the truth right here, and we are little different than you ethically speaking but we are forgiven." Outsiders could be forgiven however for not seeing the inerrant truth and power of our message. I think we are indeed distracted and inerrancy plays a part.

Point two on Wilberforce, perhaps his evangelicalism was the more fervent-pietistic-devoted-to-Jesus and-the-cross variety, and less the reformed precisionist variety. I suspect so being an Episcopalian. Surely the abolitionists in the States were more the "crazy type". The really great reformed precisionists (Southern Baptists and Presbyterians, the fathers of today's bible belt evangelicals) wrote the best defenses of the practice of slavery proven directly from the inerrant word of God. Who needed to grapple with evolving standards of justice along with the Scriptures? That's what liberals do, but God's word stands forever.
Incidentally this reminds me (though in a slightly different way) of how evangelicals in America now try to take credit for the church's support of MLK when it was Liberals, Catholics and Jews primarily who supported him. It was a great moment of testing. They failed, so they are sneaking into that legacy. Similarly we should be careful of who claims Wilberforce's legacy. Many who claim these social reformers' mantle belie that claim with their a current political posture supported by a conservative reading of the Bible that those same thinkers may not have shared.

Surely, inerrancy is not fully to blame for these errors. Does it comfort you any to know that I lay the greater portion of blame for what ails the church on the Reformed doctrine of imputation?

Sorry again for any offense, I am not trying to take cheap shots or inflame. My apologies to our host as well.


At 3/27/2006 10:09 PM, Blogger 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,

At 3/28/2006 4:25 AM, Blogger 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

At 3/28/2006 4:28 AM, Blogger 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, Blogger 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, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

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

At 3/28/2006 8:53 PM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

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


"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.


At 3/29/2006 2:38 AM, Blogger 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 5:23 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

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


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 11/23/2006 5:38 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Wasn't the origin of "inerrancy" something like this...

Exegetical conflicts arose from the 1860s onwards. It was a time of turmoil that also led to the Catholic Church adopting its doctrine of papal "infallibility." The view that the Bible is "inerrant" and the pope "infallible" seem to have similar roots around that time.

Essays and Reviews (a book on the Bible that said among other things that the raqia or firmament in Gensis 1, was solid) published around the time of Darwin's Origins (the mid-1800s) caused quite a stir in the religious world as did Colenso's book, The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined, as did the questions of German theologians.

Battle lines began being drawn, and the Catholic church came up with papal "infallibility" (which also was invented to combat growing ideals of "freedom of conscience and belief" that the Catholic Church was against), and the Presbyterians came up with inerrancy of the Scriptures.

For instance soon after The Presbyterian Review was founded in 1880, Warfield and Hodge began formally arguing in its pages for verbal inspiration and consequent inerrancy of the Scriptures.

One prominent "heresy" case (a generation before "The Fundamentals" were even published) involved several Presbyterian professors, Dr. Briggs, Dr. Henry Preserved Smith and Dr. Llewelyn J. Evans. (A retelling of the case in Smith's own words may be found in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.) All three men pointed out that neither their church's Presbyterian Creed nor the teachings of many of the best known seventeeth-century Puritan theologians would have agreed with the ideas of "inerrancy" that Hodge and Warfield were then developing.

H. P. Smith's account of his heresy trial in 1892, and the arguments he and Dr. Evans put forth regarding their rejection of "inerrancy" can be found in a book titled, Inspiration and Inerrancy [Cincinnati, Ohio: Robert Clarke & Co., 1892]. Smith added that if you wanted to go back much further, Walton's work from the mid to late 1600's, The Considerator Considered, was also still worth reading. (Walton published in 1657 his great Polyglot, giving the ancient version a place alongside of the Hebrew text, and also supplemented the work with a list of various readings that called forth a bitter attack from John Owen, defender of Presbyterian orthodoxy. Owen deprecated the publication of facts which might militate against the authority of Scripture. Walton's reply to Owen was the work Smith suggested reading, The Considerator Considered.)

Dewey M. Beegle from the 1960s-70s is a more recent example of an Evangelical Christian theologian who left inerrancy and thereafter debated his inerrantist brethren in print, yet remained in the church. (H. P. Smith had to switch denominations to a non-inerrantist one, wherein he continued his scholarly writing career.) Beegle was on the board of trustees and the translations subcommittee of the American Bible Society, and was author of God's Word Into English, as well as, Scripture, Tradiation and Infallibility, and, Prophecy and Prediction. He also composed articles on Moses for Encyclopedia Britannica and the Anchor Bible Dictionary, i.e., based on his research for his book, Moses: The Servant of Yahweh. (Beegle's story, "Journey to Freedom," is in L.T.F., the book already mentioned above, in which Smith's testimony can also be found.)

Today's Evangelical Christian "inerrantists" include Evangelical Theological Society members whose views range from young-earth creationist, to old-earth creationist, to theistic evolutionist (like Clark Pinnock), as well as those who hold rival interpretations of the book of Revelation and the "end times," as well as those with rival interpretations concerning all manner of "teachings" and "commands" in the Bible (as can be read about in the "Viewpoints" series of debate books published by InterVarsity Press and also Baker Books).

Neither can various "inerrantist" seminaries agree whether a person is "saved" by believing in Jesus as "Savior and Lord," or just by accepting Jesus as their "Savior." Nor can "inerrantist" Evangelical and "inerrantist" Pentecostal churches agree on how necessary or unnecessary "speaking in tongues" is, or whether or not it is a visible sign of having rec'd the baptism of the holy spirit. Nor can "inerrantists" of various churches agree on how to view the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church.

If you want to read a brain sizzling book on the topic of inerrancy, there is one that may soon be available at, titled, Inerrant the Wind: The Troubled House of North American Evangelicals. It compares and contrasts the many view of inerrancy and semi-inerrancy advocated by different Evangelical theologians. Very interesting distinctions each makes.

Edward T. Babinski

At 11/25/2006 10:12 PM, Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Let me add a couple of points from the perspective of a non-believer who is fascinated by religion as a HUMAN activity and who attempts to be respectfully curious about people's beliefs. (How many other people have links to five translations of the Qur'an, own a sixth, have several bibles, and have downloaded both the Book of Mormon and the Zend Avesta to his hardrive?)

I think some of the problems with 'biblical inerrancy can be answered by the "original audience" hypothesis. That is, if we, for the sake of discussion, take 'God' as the author or inspirer of the Bible, we have to assume that he wanted the books to last for, at least, many centuries. But, for the books to survive at all, they had to be written in terms that were both acceptable and comprehensible to the audience that was first to receive them. They could not have been written with ideas that match those of modern science, with a round, non-geocentric, earth and stars being many times the size of the earth, to mention just one example, because the hearers would have considered the speakers or writers to have been madmen and the books would have been lost. Similarly, the ethical standards might not have matched those of today, because the society that received the books were not ready for such ideas. A condemnation of slavery in its entirety, a full defense of the equality of women, even a total condemnation of polygamy would have been unacceptable. (1 Titus and Timothy show that the early church must have, to a certain extent, accepted polygamy -- as did the Jews of the time, see Josephus' autobiography -- because they stress that 'bishops' (or 'deacons' or 'overseers') must be the husband of one wife, but if this was a special requirement for those in higher positions, it COULD NOT have been a requirement for the church as a whole. (Compare it to the other 'regulations' for these offices. They all are requirements that the office-holders be of a higher moral character than the average believer. They do not, for example, say that he must not be a murderer, or must 'believe in Christ.')

It is even possible to argue from this the need for a second 'Testament,' arguing that the ethics that Christ preached could not have been preached to a society as war-like and 'barbaric' as the societies of the Old Testament, but needed the relatively civilizing effect of the Greek and Roman civilizations for it to be heard and accepted. (I've even, in a series of novels I have temporarily abandoned, created an "American Catholic Church" -- I was raised Catholic -- whose founders argue that the reason why Christianity has always been either Unitarian or Trinitarian and not Duotarian -- is there such a word -- is that there needed to be a 'Third Revelation' from the Holy Spirit that could not have been accepted even in the society of Jesus' times, a revelation of freedom and democracy.)

However, while many of the questions of Biblical inerrancy can be shunted aside by the 'original audience' argument, I do not see how some things can be. I am thinking of either unnecessary additions -- the extreme silliness placed in God's mouth in the discussion of his suggestions to treat mildew, for example (can anyone read Leviticus 13 & 14 without laughing) or, more importantly, ethical examples that are, to say the least, questionable.

For example, the story of Judah and Tamar, Genesis 38. Had this been written as a condemnation of Judah's hypocrisy, it would have been acceptable -- and I don't think this hypocrisy would have been acceptable even under the original audience theory. But as it stands, can it support Feinberg's assertion "the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics..."?

After all, Tamar does not solicit Judah. She merely sits, veiled, on a corner that he will pass, knowing him well enough to know that he will solicit her. After their 'transaction,' he gives her the staff and string and seal. But when he hears that Tamar has been acting as a prostitute and is pregnant, he would condemn her to death until she shows him her fee.
But what does Judah condemn himself for? Not sleeping with her, not condemning a prostitute to death when he has made use of her, but simply because he had refused to give her his third son -- after the Lord has 'smote' the first two -- as her husband. It is this that makes him proclaim 'she is more righteous than I.'

I could list other examples. Even if you accept the reading of 'youths' rather than 'young boys' and assume that the taunters of Elisha were the equivalent of juvenile delinquents, does calling even a prophet of the Lord "Old Baldy" deserve the death penalty? (I speak as someone who could match Elisha in hairlessness.)

It is this sort of ethical question that I find problematical in the Bible, whoever is the author.

At 12/01/2006 8:04 AM, Blogger byron 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, Blogger 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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