Posted By MSH on June 18, 2008
Let me say at the outset that I personally have no problem with the word “inerrancy” and want to embrace such a doctrine as an evangelical. My problem is that I’m not sure how to articulate what the word should mean so that it’s honest, defensible, and coherent. I believe truth corresponds to reality (correspondence view of truth), and so I can’t make up a definition that does not correspond to reality and then pretend it works (and worse, is self-evident). My goal is therefore not to undermine the idea of inerrancy, but to come up with a definition (or even a lengthy explanation) of the idea that honors the data of the text and the world around us, for which God is also responsible (general revelation). We can’t look away from the phenomena of Scripture–what’s written is what’s written, and it’s what God intended to be written (yes, I distinguish the autographs from copies)–nor the phenomena of general revelation (if the Bible said “pigs can fly” it would be in error). Now some brief “first thoughts” about the definitions:
1. Grudem’s definition: It’s simply inadequate. On one hand, it doesn’t offer the sorts of qualifiers the others do in a succinct way (though Grudem eventually gets to some of that discussion); on the other hand, those who lack any experience spent on this issue would be led to believe the issue is far simpler than it is. Grudem knows the issues, so I’m not sure why he settled on this definition.
2. Two of the articles I asked you to read are very clear illustrations of the pre-scientific worldview of the Bible. Erickson and Reymond have language in their definitions that seem to allow for this (without using the word “pre-scientific” or “unscientific”), but they also talk about the Bible not erring in what it “affirms.” There is nothing in their definitions that informs us what is meant by “affirm,” though they do insist that the Bible be taken on its own terms (and I’d agree there). A key issue will be what is meant by “affirm.”
3. Reymond wrote: “we must not evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its Sitz im Leben . . . .” I like that, but do we mean it? What if that means the biblical authors believed there was a solid dome over the round, flat earth? I personally don’t think we should judge them for that–that was their worldview. Why would we expect anything else? Here’s the real issue, though (for these definitions): is this pre-scientific worldview “affirmed” by the biblical author? Is it “assumed” — and is that any different than “affirmed”? Does it even matter — maybe the “affirming” language has to go, to yield to something better. That’s what I want us to think about.
4. Reymond’s discussion also includes the qualification about “the use of hyperbole and round numbers.” Fair enough–but what if the use of such hyperbole is a literary feature and completely deliberate (a deliberate exaggeration)? I have a friend who did his dissertation on large numbers in the OT, and reached the (quite coherent) conclusion, based on comparative ANE historioraphic accounts, that exaggeration of numbers was a stick element in such literature (you were supposed to brag up your god). Is this “affirmation” of deliberate disinformation? Is there a better way to view this?
5. I think the issues in numbers 3 and 4 need to be viewed in light of Erickson’s note about “the purpose to which Scripture was written.” Purpose can dictate both literary technique and is not thwarted by pre-scientific worldview. The author’s audience could not process anything by their own worldview, and has certain expectations about how something should be written to accomplish an intended purpose. In other words, there is nothing deceptive going on. Yes, the biblical author can be scientifically ignorant and still get his point across–the purpose isn’t impeded. But is ignorance of some now-known scientific fact to be equated with “affirming” that ignorance as truth?
6. I’m on Peter Enns’ side, but I find his definition unsatisfying. It just doesn’t deal with any of the issues (and doesn’t pretend to want to). Someone who is struggling with the phenomena of Scripture isn’t going to find any help there.