Posted By MSH on June 8, 2008
I’ve been thinking about inerrancy a good bit lately–not whether I want to surrender it, or whether it’s a term that has any value or not. My thoughts have focused on the Peter Enns dismissal from Westminster. I think they made the wrong decision, and the reasoning behind the decision has troubled me as to the state of clear thinking in a theological institution I have admired for a long time. You may or may not be familiar with Enns or his dismissal or its circumstances, so I don’t want this discussion to be about Peter. That said, his book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (which led to his dismissal) raised some very important issues for any coherent articulation of inspiration and inerrancy. I think he was doing the Church a great service. It’s really been appalling to see how the side opposite Enns seems to be painfully unaware of the reality of the issues the book raises and has retreated to 17th century articulations of inerrancy as authoritative, or to more recent articulations produced by scholars who seem under-informed (i.e., they aren’t in the field of OT, the ANE, and Semitics) as to what Enns is trying to address. Like me, Peter’s field is OT and ancient Near East (his PhD is from Harvard). He is quite aware of the “cost” of contextualizing the OT in its ANE environment — something everyone says they want to do and needs to be done, but few seem to take as seriously as Peter did. I guess now we know why. Unfortunately, paying lip service to contextualizing the Bible doesn’t help us articulate a coherent view of inspiration and inerrancy in light of the Bible’s very real context. Those who deny this needs to be done (those who want to say naive things like the Bible is a product ONLY of God and not an ancient cultural context) are either inept in that assertion or dishonest. I don’t want either writing theology for me. Sorry, but that’s how I see it. Peter knows what contextualizing the OT really means and wanted to serve those who take the Scriptures seriously, with conservative presuppositions, and help us make a coherent statement of these doctrines. I’m in the same boat. Since my training is in Hebrew Bible and Semitics, I carry a day-to-day awareness of how the OT is indeed a product of its culture–but I believe at the same time God broke into human history to a people in that cultural milieu to dispense revelation for all human posterity. How to marry the two and express that marriage in coherent definitions of inspiration and inerrancy is the issue. Hiding behind the work of theologians of the past who were not exposed to the ANE data we have today doesn’t make the problem go away. In fact, choosing their articulations of these doctrines over those scholars who have the same faith commitment and whom God has led to navigate the mountain of recent data bearing on the content and character of the Bible is foolhardy. It just makes those conservative in their theology look like the priests who condemned men like Galileo.
I therefore want to start a discussion on how to word the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. I more or less know what I think, but I’m having a hard time putting it into words, and so I need your help. HOWEVER, in order for the rest of you to really get into my head on this, you need to do some reading. Below are links to articles that bring to light very real data that show how the OT and NT are products of their ancient environment. They make it evident that the Bible didn’t just drop out of the sky or ONLY from the mind of God–God used people, like he does all the time (at least according to the Bible!). I want you to read them all, and then I plan to go back to this thread in about a week. This isn’t casual reading. For the one on 1 Cor 11, it would help if you at least knew the Greek alphabet. If you haven’t read the material and want to take me or others who comment to task, you’ll be ignored. This is for people who want to help me think through the issue, not for people who want to be contentious and offer simplistic solutions. Here they are:
1. The Three-Storied Universe of the Bible – a brief overview of OT cosmology
4. Paul’s Argument from Nature for the Veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle instead of a Head Covering – yes, you read “testicle” correctly. This is a fascinating article with great explanatory power for a vexing passage. The article focuses on the Greek word usually translated “head covering” and the problem of knowing what the heck Paul was talking about in the chapter about a woman’s hair and long hair for men. The author traces the word back into medical literature of the day and the result is that you’ll never look at this passage the same way again — and, frankly, you won’t have to. It resolves all the problems.
Give these a read and we’ll talk in a week. I’ll wrap up the ghost thing in the meantime.