Monday, May 28, 2012

5 The Inerrancy of Scripture

Grudem begins by referring back to one of his arguments in chapter 4 (82, n. 13):

1. The Bible is God's words.
2. God never lies.
3. Therefore, the Bible never lies.

He extends this in chapter 6 on inerrancy.  "The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact" (91).  What does he mean by this?  He does not say so but he implicitly is referring to the Bible taken in its plain sense (usually its literal sense, although sometimes the plain sense can be figurative). And he means "everything it talks about," every detail (93).  "The Bible itself does not make any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully" (93).  He is ultimately referring to things like historical details, scientific implications, attributions of authorship, etc...

He gives three further clarifications:
1. The Bible can be inerrant and still speak in the ordinary language of everyday speech.
2. Loose or free quotations are not errors.
3. Unusual or uncommon grammatical constructions aren't errors.

He also addresses some challenges to his (Chicago Statement) understanding of inerrancy:
1. Some say the Bible is only authoritative in areas of faith and practice.
Some groups from the late 1960s started to distinguish the word "infallible" from the word "inerrancy," where infallible meant that the authority of the Bible only extended to matters of faith and practice.  I suspect that he rightly describes the way the language evolved (93 n. 2).  He has a long paragraph on pages 93-94 where he argues that "the New Testament writers were willing to rely on the truthfulness of any part of the historical narratives of the Old Testament."

2. Some say the term inerrancy is a poor term.
His rejoinder is that "we often use nonbiblical terms to summarize a biblical teaching" (95).

3. Some say it's misleading to speak of inerrancy in the original manuscripts since we don't have them.
But their content is 99% assured.  Basically, "the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament are the same as the original manuscripts" (96).

4. Some say the biblical writers accommodated their messages in minor details to the false ideas current in their day or taught those ideas in an incidental way.
So, he says, doesn't that imply that God is a lying God?  What kind of a role model does that make God, a God who makes "white lies" (97).  Can't God use human language to communicate perfectly without having to affirm any false ideas.

5. Some say this overlooks the human side of Scripture, overemphasizing the divine aspect.

6. Some say there are clear errors in the Bible.
"There are many evangelical Bible scholars today who will say that they do not presently know of any problem texts for which there is no satisfactory solution" (99).

The chapter ends with some problems Grudem thinks follow from denying inerrancy:
1. It creates moral problems--should we imitate God and lie in small matters too?
2. If we deny inerrancy, can we really trust anything God says?
3. If we deny inerrancy, we make our own human minds a higher standard of truth that God's word itself.
4. If we think the Bible is wrong on some minor details, then we must also say it is wrong in some of its doctrines as well.

These are very unfortunate chapters to me.  They're unfortunate because we could have a much more helpful discussion of how God speaks through the Bible without all the misunderstandings that are "fundamental" to Grudem and his fundamentalism. We could have talked about the spiritual and sacramental quality of Scripture, whereby God mysteriously speaks to us and changes us. We could have talked about how God met the authors and audiences where they were at.

Instead, we're forced to get under the hood to see why his engine doesn't run so well sometimes.  He's not wired the thing correctly. It runs... it just doesn't run well.

Grudem's already acknowledged that his argument is circular--he assumes certain things and goes from there.  He also warns us about making our own human minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible. But since his argument is circular, he starts with the assumptions of his own mind as well, as I've already said repeatedly. In fact, because he doesn't dig into the probable assumptions of the texts themselves, his assumptions are far more his than those of the texts themselves.

This is a problem with his sort of inerrantist.  He thinks he has a high view of the text but isn't willing to let the texts themselves set their own agenda. So it turns out their high idea is what is important to them, not the texts themselves.  In practice, his method actually rapes and violates these texts repeatedly in the name of a so called "high idea."

What if the real situation, the one that actually listens to the biblical texts--rather than shoving preconceived definitions down their throat--goes like this:

1. God spoke to the people of the Bible mostly in their own categories, in their own thought categories.
2. God's speaking was more about changing their heart than giving them perfect understanding.
3. God has given us the Bible as a place to meet him and be changed by him, and his Spirit continues to walk with us today as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

We can still affirm that the Bible is inerrant in all that God affirms through it, infallible in all that God tries to do through it, authoritative in all that God commands through it. Grudem doesn't accept the incarnation principle fully.  He'll accept that a phrase like "the sun rises" is simply putting things in the perspective of the author. But he won't accept that "As David said" could be exactly the same thing. There are arbitrary boundaries to his own rules.

I'm also emphasizing in my wording that God is the authority behind the Bible. The words themselves, as all words, are capable of all sorts of meaning.  The meaning that is inerrant, infallible, and authoritative is the meaning God wanted and wants them to have. But it's all about God--the text is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Grudem arguably makes the Bible into a barrier between us and God and his god is the pop-up God he splices together from his out-of-context readings of the Bible rather than the immortal, invisible, real God-only-wise that stands behind it.

I said there are arbitrary boundaries to his rules.  So I'm with him that grammatical infelicities, loose quotations, and street Greek aren't errors. But why stop there.  What if some creative license was acceptable in ancient biography or history writing?  What if Genesis 1 is more poetic than literal? Why would those be errors if they were perfectly acceptable at the time of writing?

And why only inerrant in the original manuscripts?  Because your sense of God's speaking is so limited that you have to have a strong demarcation of what is in and what is out, of which text is the right one?  Funny, God doesn't seem to have been so concerned.  If God is really that concerned with the precise contents why didn't he reveal the list? Why didn't God reveal a list of the authoritative OT books in the gospels or Paul?  Why doesn't Revelation include a list of the NT books that are authoritative?  Why did God let the church debate such things for 400 years? Why didn't he preserve the original manuscripts? Why did he let the church, on your admission, overwhelmingly use the less original text for 1500 years?

The best answer is that God isn't nearly as concerned about these sorts of things as Grudem is. That God is primarily interested in a relationship with us, not having us memorize and regurgitate head knowledge. God meets us where we are at with our understanding and moves us along in our hearts and lives.

So let's quickly go through some of Grudem's claims. First, there is a difference between what might cause me doubt and what is true.  Let's say there was only one blind man that Jesus healed around Jericho, does that make it untrue that "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"? Not at all. The truth in one part of Scripture is not contingent on the truthfulness of another part.  Truth is truth, no matter where it comes.

I actually agree with Grudem that the distinction made in the last part of the twentieth century between inerrant and infallible was somewhat of a false distinction, but not for the same reason.  Every word of the Bible was revealed in the language and categories of its audiences.  That means that even in matters of faith and practice we have to do some translation.

For example, the OT does not deny the existence of other gods like Dagon and Ba'al. It is henotheist rather than technically monotheist.  We call them demons in the New Testament.  The understanding of God's relationship to evil develops in the pages of the Bible as well. In Samuel, God sends evil spirits and tempts people. In Chronicles, Satan tempts and in James, God certainly doesn't tempt. So even in matters of faith and practice, we need to consider God's continuing relationship with his people to have a full picture of who he is. Matters of faith and practice in the Bible are also incarnated truths.

There is also something quite Victorian about Grudem's assumptions about lying. There is lying in a military context in the Bible (Rahab). If John 7:8-10 were not telling us about Jesus, I'm quite sure Grudem would consider it wrongful lying.  Grudem's preoccupations with precise history and such are part of his own sub-cultural assumptions. Think more in terms of teaching a child. It's more important to move them in the right direction than for them to understand everything.

So inerrancy is probably a poor term today, given the way it is used by fundamentalists like Grudem.  But it is usable, if we use it more generally and not as Grudem himself or the Chicago Statement does.  Obviously anything God taught or teaches through Scripture is without error if we understand it in context. Obviously anything God commanded or commands through Scripture is absolutely authoritative.  Obviously anything God intended and intends to do (e.g., to promise) through Scripture will not fail.

As Asbury Seminary puts it, "The Bible is without error in all it affirms." Then we get to work together to figure out what that is.

A key insight in all of this is to realize that the same words can be taken by different people to teach, command, or promise different things.  The God-breathed interpretation at any time is arguably a Spiritual one, and that is a key insight into understanding 2 Peter 1:20-21. Indeed, this has been a previous critique of mine in this series. Grudem assumes that the teaching, commanding, and promising of Scripture will always take place with the plain or literal sense of a text.

But this is not what the Bible itself actually does.  More complicated? Yes. More accurate? Yes. Grudem's wiring can work a good deal of the time, on the simple things. But his wiring will lead us to fight against God when things get more complicated.

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