Posted By MSH on June 20, 2008
Taking off on Chet’s lengthy response to my “Definitions of Inerrancy” post:
The first thing I’d like to pursue is Chet’s criticism of the word “affirm” — I also think it’s a weasel-word. You quote 1 Cor. 11:14, which says, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” Here Paul makes a specific statement about nature–it’s clearly a comment on the natural world and a truth that Paul believes the natural world communicates or points to. Having read the article in the readings list, it is quite clear that Paul’s statement is rooted in an absolutely non-scientific worldview. His statement is scientifically false. I’d say he’s clearly “affirming” something about nature here and then extrapolating to his more significant point. So, I think we need to dump this “affirming” language as some sort of safeguard (read: weasel-word) for defending inerrancy. Here’s what I’d like your (and others’) thoughts on:
1. Paul is clearly in error in terms of his understanding of nature on this point (he’s a pre-scientific man). Does that matter? Although Paul believed this, is he putting forth this belief as something his readers must believe? that is, while his contemporary readers no doubt believed what he believed, should be view this belief as something that we must believe? Is this the way this statement is cast? Put another way, when I read this passage, is Paul’s belief about hair what I am supposed to embrace as truth from this passage? I don’t think so, and I think you’d agree. But I also think it would be silly to say Paul isn’t “affirming” the particular erroneous belief about hair. He believes it.
2. Should we give Paul a pass? I’d say, of course — how is he supposed to know anything else? The science of his day was primitive by our standards.
3. What ARE we supposed to embrace from the passage? What is Paul teaching? I don’t think he’s teaching us about biology or sexual reproduction–though he presupposes some beliefs about those things that are erroneous when making his argument. If he’d said “this is what God wants you to believe about how we get babies,” the inerrancy issue would be a dead one-inerrancy would be untenable. But is it coherent to say that a speaker or writer’s conclusion or position cannot be correct if his arguments are not always correct? Obviously, the answer to this is no. People are right about X all the time when their reasons for thinking they are right are bogus. We all know that. But in this passage of Scripture this leaves us with a problem: How are we to correctly discern WHAT Paul’s point is (the thing that can still be correct) if the argument he’s using is wrong? That’s a problem, but I think it’s not an issue of inerrancy so much (as stated) as it is an issue of interpretation.
I say all the above to say this: perhaps in our understanding and articulation of inerrancy we should make it clear that taking the Bible on its own terms means not expecting more from the culture that produced it than is fair. I don’t think it’s fair for us to judge Scripture by standards foreign to the people who produced it. God chose to come to people of a particular culture, a particular region of the world, at a particular time. He used what he had at his disposal once he made that decision-some people who didn’t know squat about a whole host of things (and we’d have to say that about ourselves were we the people God chose to communicate through). God wasn’t trying to teach us science in the Bible precisely because he wasn’t teaching its authors science. They wouldn’t have understood it, and even if correct science was dictated to them, their readers wouldn’t have understood it. That would sort of defeat the purpose of dispensing revelation, wouldn’t it? (“I’m going down there and telling them lots of things they can’t grasp-and then hold them accountable for it” Huh?). To use the weasel-word, I’d say the Bible specifically does NOT “affirm” anything about science because God didn’t have anyone at his disposal sufficient to the task. So, I don’t care if Paul is wrong in his science; God didn’t care either.
But while Paul’s science shouldn’t be embraced by us as truth, can’t we still embrace what he says in this passage outside of science? I don’t think the hermeneutical gap in this instance (1 Cor 11) is that wide, either. I think we can get a pretty good idea of what Paul meant, however odd or wrong his reasoning process was. I’d say we CAN discern the truth item God wanted him to communicate while allowing Paul (even directing Paul) to make that point on the basis of his worldview’s bad science. The original audience wouldn’t have been able to understand it any other way. Our task is to recover his worldview and THEN judge the ends to which he’s arguing, not necessarily the means.
So, I just don’t think the pre-scientific worldview issue forces me to not hold to inerrancy. It DOES force me to not word what I believe the way the earlier definitions are worded (at least with respect to the “affirm” wording). I’d like to do better.
Not sure this helps (me or anyone else).