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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy III: Inerrancy Defined

The Scripture is a tree, or rather a whole paradise of trees of life, which bring forth fruits every month, and the fruit thereof is for meat, and the leaves for medicine. It is…as it were a heavenly shower of bread sufficient for a whole host, be it never so great, and as it were a whole cellar full of oil vessels; whereby all of our necessities may be provided for, and our debts discharged. In a word it is a pantry of wholesome food against moldy traditions; a pharmacist’s shop (Saint Basil calleth it) of preservatives against poisoned heresies; a code of profitable laws against rebellious spirit; a treasure of most costly jewels against beggarly rudiment. Finally, a fountain of most pure water springing up into eternal life.

-From “The Translators to the Reader” in the preface to the Authorized Version of the King James Bible, 1611.

(Intro and Ground rules are here)


In our quest to establish the meaning and need for inerrancy, we have examined how it has often been confused with other terms relevant in discussions of Scripture, as well as debunking the most common straw man arguments used against inerrancy. With this post, we will define inerrancy and demonstrate some of the Scriptural and historical evidence supporting it.

Biblical Inerrancy is: The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which is was given, is fully truthful in all it affirms.

There are other uses of the term inerrancy with different meanings. However, I would present that those uses are hijackings of the term in order to allow the users to say they believe the Scriptures are inerrant while actually denying it as such. I also recognize that my definition may seem to be rather malleable – but that is a function of form rather than being. To explain, I will give some qualifiers. I would expect comments to generally refer to these qualifiers.


1)
Inerrancy is what is affirmed or asserted rather than what is reported. The Bible contains false statements by ungodly people. This is the easiest example of a distinction – the Bible reports what occurs and does not assert to the truthfulness of these kinds of descriptive passages. Even reports of the words of godly men, such as Stephen in Acts 7, can have errors in their statements, because the Bible is describing or reporting what is said inerrantly, not that what was said is inerrant. However, when something is taken by a biblical writer, no matter the source, and used in his message as an affirmation, then it must be judged as truthful.

2) Inerrancy is judged in terms of its cultural meaning in which its statements were expressed. We should not expect the exactness of quotation to match our current standards in an age of the printing press and mass duplication. We also need to recognize that numbers were used symbolically in ancient times, much more so than today. The words “son” has one meaning in our culture today, but in biblical times its domain included “descendant”. When we speak of inerrancy, we mean that the Bible is fully true in what it affirms in terms of the culture of its time. Thus, though the culture changes, what is affirmed does not.

3) Inerrancy requires that the Bible’s assertions are fully true when judged in accordance with the purpose for which they were written. Descriptive language is not meant to be prescriptive, and vice versa. Exactness will also vary according to the intended use of the material, with approximations likely at times. A simple modern example to explain this: If I make $22,325 a year, and I am asked, “How much do you make?” and I reply, “$22,000”, is what I said true? If I am talking to a friend about employment opportunities, it is true, but if I am talking to an IRS agent doing a financial audit on me, it is false!

4) Inerrancy recognizes that reports of historical and scientific data are in phenomenal rather than technical language. The writer is reporting how things appeared to the eye, which is normal in popular (rather than technical) publication. An easy example is the phrase, “the sun will rise”, which describes what we see, as opposed to what is happening in a fixed-sun reference. It is not meant to be taken literally. Also, Biblical reports do not attempt to explain how an event exactly happened as it appeared when, for example, the walls of Jericho fell, the Red Sea parted, or the Jordan River was stopped.

5) Inerrancy necessarily implies that difficulties in the text should not be prejudged as indications of error. The failure of modern archaeology to discover the Hittite culture or the unknown Sargon of Isaiah (20:1) were eventually overcome. The philosophical fallacy of the argument from silence remains a fallacy. Overall there is less difficulty for the belief of the factual inerrancy of the Bible than there was one hundred years ago, as greater discoveries of archaeology and research have supported Scriptural truthfulness, not undermined it. At the same time, we must realize that there may be difficulties in the Bible that we may never be able to substantiate with empirical evidence, and instead of developing fanciful explanations, we should leave them unresolved in the confidence that they will be resolved as the data becomes available, even if it is not in our lifetime.

6) Inerrancy is applied specifically to the originals and in a derivative sense to the translations and copies, to the extent they reflect the originals. Any research on Greek manuscripts will show that there is not a single passage of significant length that does not have a manuscript with at least one difference in it. However, our Bible today can be considered inerrant in preservation. Clearly some translations will not be – see my Bible Translations series – but those that convey the truth of the originals are entirely reliable. A Scriptural example is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy that all Scripture is inspired, yet the Scriptures Timothy was familiar with were translations of copies. The God who is able to inspire is able to preserve, and in a fashion that those who seek him will find his word.

7) It is worth noting that inerrancy does not entail a few things. It does not tell us what type of material the Bible will contain. Nor does it tell us how we are to interpret specific passages. In particular inerrancy does not imply that the maximum amount of specificity will be present. Words mean something, and their meaning is not only drawn from themselves, but also from their purpose and meaning. That said, “truthful” must mean something, and cannot be expanded so as to mean nothing, as some do. If Jesus did not die on the cross, if he did not still the storm at sea, if the walls of Jericho did not fall, if the people of Israel did not leave their bondage in Egypt and depart for the promised land, then the Bible is in error.

The following three posts will develop toward a defense of the need for inerrancy in much the way these three built toward a definition of inerrancy. The next post will discuss the ways in which God speaks to men, followed by a post describing other types of theologies that do not hold to inerrancy, with a concluding post in defense of inerrancy.

What follows here is a selection of Scriptural and historical support for Biblical inerrancy. Although I have tried to keep it as short as practicable for its purpose, it may be tedious to some, so I will lead with a statement by Kirsop Lake, a respected liberal biblical scholar at Harvard University in the early twentieth century, who himself had little respect for the accuracy of Scripture:

It is a mistake often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians. How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches of the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few. No, the fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum (body of historical theology) of the Church are on the fundamentalist side.

Scriptures:

Jesus of Nazareth clearly assumed the errorlessness of the Old Testament in all its statements and affirmations, even in the realms of history and science. In Matthew 19:4, 5 he affirmed that God himself spoke the words of Genesis 2:24, with reference to the literal, historical Adam and Eve, as he established the ordinance of marriage. In Matthew 23:35 he put the historicity of Abel's murder by Cain on the same plane of historical factuality as the murder of Zechariah the son of Barachiah.

Matthew 24:38, 39 Jesus clearly accepted the historicity of the universal flood and Noah's ark: "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away...."

"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). In the same way, Christ goes on in the very next verse to confirm that the heathen population of Nineveh really did repent at the preaching of Jonah, just as recorded in Jonah 3:7-9.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).

[Jesus speaking] “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19:7-9)

All your words are true (Psalm 119:60)

Every word of God is flawless (Proverbs 30:5)

[Jesus speaking] Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt 5:17-18)


Historical:

If a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind [contradictory to another Scripture] be brought forward, and if there be a pretext (for saying) that it is contrary (to some other), since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself.

- Justin Martyr, circa 100 A.D.

Give ear for a moment that I may tell you how you are to walk in the holy Scriptures. All that we read in the divine books, while glistening and shining without, is far sweeter within.

- St. Jerome, fourth century

You have studied Scripture which contains the truth and is inspired by the Holy Spirit. You realize that there is nothing wrong or misleading in it.

- Clement of Rome, mid-first century

No person of common sense can permit them [those who deny the authenticity of Luke’s Gospel] to receive some things recounted by Luke as being true, and to set others aside, as if he had not known the truth.

- Irenaeus, second century

For those who have ears to hear [there is in fact] no conflict…[they] are truly at perfect concord.

- Origen, 4th century

We, however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazardly by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day.

Athanasius, 4th century

[To those who disregard portions of Scripture] Do not utter such infamy. God speaks, and you have the effrontery to say, “Nothing is useful in what is said.”

With the Scriptures…it is not like this. The gold does not lie before us mixed with earth; instead it is gold and only gold.

Chrysostom, 5th century

[Regarding the 66 canonical books of the Bible] Of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.

Therefore everything in Scripture must be believed absolutely.

Whatever they [scientists] can readily demonstrate to be true of a physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises to be contrary to these Scriptures of ours…we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events, we must without the smallest hesitation believe it to be so.

Augustine of Hippo, 4th century

For I am sure that if I say anything that unquestionably contradicts Holy Scripture, it is false, and if I am aware of this I do not want to hold it
- Anslem, late 11th century

All which is spoken of in Holy Scripture is spoken of God.

We must keep to that which has been written in Scripture as to an excellent rule of faith so that we must add nothing to it, detract nothing, and change nothing by interpreting it badly.

- St. Thomas Aquinas, mid 13th century

…I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred.

Consequently, we must remain content with them [words], and cling to them as the perfectly clear, certain, sure word of God which can never deceive us or allow us to err.

- Martin Luther, 16th century

You all have by you a large treasure of divine knowledge, in that you have the Bible in your hands; therefore be not contented in possessing but little of this treasure. God hath spoken much to you in the Scripture; labor to understand as much of what he saith as you can. God hath made you all reasonable creatures; therefore let not the noble faculty of reason or understanding lie neglected. Content not yourselves with...divine truth...you accidentally gain in conversation; but let it be very much your business to search for it, and that with the same diligence and labor with which men are wont to dig in mines of silver and gold."

Jonathan Edwards, 18th century

Since for unbelieving men religion seems to stand by opinion alone, they, in order not to believe anything foolishly or lightly, both wish and demand rational proof that Moses and the prophets spoke divinely. But I reply: the testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men's hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded ... "
--John Calvin, 17th century

If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.

- John Wesley, 18th century

12 Comments:

  • This seems to be a very reasonable, well thought out definition of inerrancy. Kudos.

    The only part I think you will have a hard time defending is the issue of translation and the belief that some translations themselves should be considered inerrant. And even then, the italicized part of #6 seemed perfect, but you appeared to back away a bit from that in text. Perhaps I'm being to nit-picky.

    What stuck me the most, and was probably the reason I liked the definition so much, was the parallel your points had to issues in science. Science makes no claims to inerrancy, but many of these same points show how one should judge and interpret data and theory.

    #5 in particular has an interesting parallel often called "God of the Gaps" where missing data is used to discredit a theory and introduce God into the equation. (I was going to provide a link, but a quick Google shows tons of different definitions, arguments, etc., nothing I wanted to get into here.)

    The quote from Kirsop Lake reminds me of a show I saw the other day that included Penn of "Penn & Teller" fame supporting the atheist view, which more often than not was the same as the fundamentalist view. Obviously, Penn was very much anti-fundamentalism, but he agreed with definitions and what was actually in the Bible.

    Elsewhere I've tried to make a slightly different case on the newness of fundamentalism, but my point is subtle and I think we agree more than we disagree and it eventually comes down to semantics. And since it is your religion, you get to be the authority on the definitions. :-)

    By Blogger Mark, at 9/10/2006 04:32:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    Nice description. However, I see two problems with it.

    First, a practical issue - you locate inerrancy in the original text. As you said, all our texts have variants, which makes it rather difficult to know which is the "inerrant" truth and which the "wrong" one. That is, by placing inerrancy in the original text, you substantially reduce our ability to actually use it as a doctrine. To appeal to inerrant preservation, as you do, requires an extra article of faith that actually seems to contradict the facts - there is no agreed single text, unless we declare (ex nihilo) that the TR is inerrant! However, this is less of an problem when we face the second issue.

    Because the second issue is this - you locate inerrancy as occurring after correct interpretation has been performed, especially in light of cultural and literary issues. That is, although you said that the original texts are where inerrancy lies, you also say that nothing is inerrant until correctly interpreted. This means that inerrancy actually operates at the level of the individual reader (or, perhaps more correctly, at the level of the Church's corporate discernment). The interesting point is that this seems to make inerrancy as a practical issue almost impossible to use. Because we can never be sure that we actually have the inerrant text in the first place, nor that we have the correct (in this particular aspect) translation, nor that we have understood it correctly. In other words, inerrancy can never be used as a tool in discussion - it can only ever be a guideline for application. Inerrancy becomes the reason that we cannot ignore putting our understanding of the Bible into practice, rather than being a guide for carrying out biblical interpretation in the first place. (Placing inerrancy as the result of correct interpretation means that it cannot be used as a tool to choose the correct interpretation.)

    Interestingly, though, I agree with you that inerrancy must lie after interpretation if it lies anywhere. I'm just not sure that this concept can really be called "inerrancy". I'll watch with interest to see where you take this next :-)

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/11/2006 05:12:00 AM  

  • Wow, Hammer. Thanks so much for this post.

    I appreciated the historic citations, as well as the Biblical tie-ins to how Jesus Himself believed in inerrancy of prior Biblical texts! The quote by Kirsop Lake is also quite revealing.

    It truly becomes the human mind that chooses to deny inerrancy, out of their own inability to fathom something so true, so correct and so properly preserved. In addition, that inability to fathom that the Bible is uniquely inerrant assists the mind in disobeying the contents.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/11/2006 10:57:00 AM  

  • Good stuff.

    By Blogger karl, at 9/11/2006 12:55:00 PM  

  • The whole idea of "interpretation" is driving me nuts! So much of the Bible is just meant to be read and believed- no "interpretation" necessary. While there are lessons that can be learned from the stories and examples and then applied to our lives, the OT stories (Jonah and the whale, parting of the Red Sea, etc, etc.), the miracles of Jesus (walking on the water, healings that took place, feeding the 5,000) and the writings of the apostles are simply accounts of what happened. NO ONE HAS TO BE ABLE TO "INTERPRET" ANYTHING here because it's clear as a bell. These aren't analogies (like the parables are meant to be), metaphors, similies or anything else left to the human mind to "interpret" to our own meaning, but innerrant accounts of exactly what happened. Thus, innerrancy does not require any interpretation for much of the Bible!
    When Hammer refers to interpreting within the contexts of the culture, the TRUTHS in the Bible that applied to the culture then still apply now. While, for example, the rules for how to treat slaves no longer apply because we don't practice slavery any longer, if we did have slaves the rules for how to treat them are still valid and true. For example, when Paul outlines the rules against women being leaders over men in the church, this still applies because there are still women, men and the church. The truths still apply and we can't twist them to fit the times or pick and choose what still applies and what doesn't, based on what we want it to be. I am so tired of the argument that "it's all open to interpretation" and innerrancy doesn't exist because of this nonsense.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/11/2006 01:31:00 PM  

  • John wrote: ”The interesting point is that this seems to make inerrancy as a practical issue almost impossible to use. Because we can never be sure that we actually have the inerrant text in the first place, nor that we have the correct (in this particular aspect) translation, nor that we have understood it correctly.

    […]

    Placing inerrancy as the result of correct interpretation means that it cannot be used as a tool to choose the correct interpretation.”


    I don’t think that inerrancy is (or even should be) a tool for choosing the correct interpretation of Scripture; exegesis and hermeneutics perform that function. Inerrancy is simply one of the qualities, or characteristics, of the objective meaning of the Word of God. To deny the inerrancy of the Bible is to deny the truthfulness God, as it is His testament to us (I’m not accusing anyone in particular of denying this, BTW).

    The problems of the various translations are not negligible, but God’s ability to preserve His Word ultimately trumps human error; if not, then the entire exercise was in vain. Having said that, I can’t make the following point more eloquently than Jonathan Edwards did: ”The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded ..." I’ll add one thing to that: I firmly believe that, in so doing, the Spirit uses the mind of the individual, assisting him/her in the employment of reason and logic, so that he/she is able to intellectually navigate the turbulent waters of misguided and erroneous teachings and doctrines.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/11/2006 02:27:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    "the OT stories ... the miracles of Jesus ... and the writings of the apostles are simply accounts of what happened. NO ONE HAS TO BE ABLE TO "INTERPRET" ANYTHING here because it's clear as a bell"

    Actually, I couldn't disagee more. For example, the feeding of the 5000 contains layer upon layer of meaning, Simply reading the surface (miracle showing how powerful Jesus was) misses almost the whole of the point - and certainly misses the heart of the story. Similar logic applies to almost every event in the Gospels, and to a great many in the OT as well. To understand why, consider that the Gospels tell us that they selected only a very few of the events from Jesus' life. Faced with this, we have to ask why these particular events were selected and arranged as they were. To treat the Gospels as simple reportage (with no interpretation) is to miss out on the riches that they hold. This is the position of the Church from the very beginning - that narratives always have deeper meanings.

    This has nothing to do with "explaining away" the miraculous. Quite the reverse - it is discerning the depth of meaning in the text, taking the miracle seriously and looking for the signs of the Kingdom that it proclaims. These writers were often very gifted, and laboured for a long time to get their texts right (not always in the pastoral letters, though!). That being so, we should not expect them to be a plain and simple record of events, and indeed they aren't.

    This is precisely why I (and many others) have trouble with the way that "inerrancy" is sometimes used - to diminish the depth of wisdom and truth contained in the divinely inspired word. Reducing the Bible to a "plain and simple" record of events abuses and trivialises it, and denies much of what God says in these stories. While accepting the Bible as fully truthful and authoritative, we must also accept that it requires careful reading and interpretation - both to discern those cultural biases and also to dig beneath the surface of trivial events to spiritual riches. Interpretation is at the heart of reading the Bible correctly and fully. If we refuse to interpret, we refuse to listen to God.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/11/2006 02:41:00 PM  

  • I think Mrs. Hammer's dislike of the word interpretation is very similar to John's dislike for the word inerrant. Sometimes words take on meaning beyond what the speaker intends. The Bible says you should not eat pork. Jesus later says it is okay. Whether you want to use the word "interpretation" or "inerrant", the fact remains you can't just read the line about not eating pork and accept it as God's will for you. At a minimum, you have to say the Bible in its entirety is inerrant, if you want to avoid the word "interpretation". But no human can really keep the entire Bible in their head all at once.

    Or to take one of every atheist's favorite sections, try reading this as both inerrant and totally without need of interpretation:

    Deuteronomy, 21
    18: If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them,
    19: then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives,
    20: and they shall say to the elders of his city, `This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.'
    21: Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

    By Blogger Mark, at 9/11/2006 03:55:00 PM  

  • John-
    I think you missed my point. As I thought I had made clear: "there are lessons that can be learned from the stories and examples, and then applied to our lives...". Of course, each of the miracles of Jesus has a deeper meaning than just the obvious, and many sermons are preached on these deeper meanings of the supernatural events that take place in the Bible. My point was that if you ONLY interpret the "deeper meanings" and see the supernatural events and miracles in the Bible as only metaphors to teach lessons, you are denying the inerrancy of scripture by saying that these events didn't actually, literally happen. (BTW, I'm not saying YOU are doing this, but many do- see my post on Borg, for example)These stories are intended to be actual accounts of what happened- not fairy tales that are made up to teach a moral lesson- and are to be believed- or God is a liar and His word is a hoax and no more dependable than ancient myths and books from any other religion. THAT was my point, not that we shouldn't also glean wisdom and insight from the "riches" of the Bible. In summary, when we take away the literal truths of the Bible and just see it as a book of metaphors, you are denying the inerrancy of Scripture. And, you DON'T have to be able to interpret in some theological or scholarly way to be able to understand the Bible. You need to have faith to believe (that it is literally true and inerrant- nothing in it is false) and the Spirit to guide you into all understanding to glean as much wisdom as is hidden in the text.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/12/2006 01:44:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    Fair enough if that's what you meant. It just what you said :-) The Bible does require interpretation, or we miss much of what it says. Most of it isn't "as clear as a bell" - the clear parts are the least interesting parts!

    I'd certainly agree with you that trying to extract a deeper meaning while denying the surface is fraught with problems. However, even the spiritual greats fall foul of this - almost everything written about understanding the Song of Songs goes to great lengths to avoid the obvious fact that it's a piece of erotic poetry!

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/12/2006 01:59:00 PM  

  • I think that you are arriving at a very logical, faith formed conclusion . In reading over your post, I don't find anything that contradicts my understanding of innerancy and Scripture. Your post gives a basic synopsis of several works with which I am familiar e.g.

    "De Doctrina Christiana" by Augustine, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/augustine/ddc.html

    "The interpretation of the Bible in the Church" The Pontifical Biblical Commission,
    http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTM

    "Dei Verbum" Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation; Vatican II,
    http://www.rc.net/rcchurch/vatican2/dei.ver

    Pyro

    By Blogger pyrosapien2819, at 9/12/2006 04:33:00 PM  

  • I'm not sure I can say that Jesus' reference to the flood assumes that it was a universal flood in the sense of covering every inch of land on the whole earth. Since people only existed on part of the earth, it may have just covered all the inhabited earth. I think the presumption is against that, but I don't see how it's a denial of inerrancy to think that it's not universal, and nothing Jesus says indicates any view at all on the universality of the flood.

    I'm also not sure Jesus' reference to Jonah requires Jonah being a historical account. Jesus spoke in parables all the time, and the reference could just be a literary reference, as we would do if we referred to when Gandalf visited Frodo in the Shire or when the prodigal son went home. I do think the presumption is against such a view, but I don't see how the view is at odds with inerrancy.

    John, there's no problem with locating inerrancy in the original texts. The fact that what we have isn't the original texts just shows us that it takes work to reconstruct what was probably the original text. Our epistemic status is less than absolute certainty, but the word of God itself is inerrant, and what is preserved of the word of God (which is not 100% in any of the texts, perhaps, but is largely right throughout the manuscript traditions) is inerrant when it is preserved.

    On the second issue, what happens in the process of interpretation is discovering what the inerrant text says. It's ambiguous to say that the interpretation is inerrant. The process of interpretation is not inerrant, but that's what you're claiming Hammer to be saying. The content of the correct interpretation is inerrant. That's all Hammer is saying. It's irrelevant that our process of interpretation can have errors.

    As for inerrancy being a tool, why would anyone have thought that it was? It's a doctrine about God's inspiration of the text, not a tool. Scripture itself is profitable and useful for many purposes, but the fact that it is inerrant is not a tool. It's just a statement about scripture, that it isn't wrong. You don't use inerrancy any more than you use bigness. Big things might be useful because they are big, but you don't use bigness for anything as if it's a tool.

    It's interpretation even to say that it's a miracle showing how powerful Jesus is. We do interpret, we should interpret, and what interpretation we arrive at depends on how well we interpret. But the status of our interpretation is epistemological. How certain we can feel about our interpretation is completely independent of inerrancy, which is a metaphysical issue. The text is inerrant, and our interpretation of it is not. We can be wrong in interpreting it, but what it says is without error. This line of argument against inerrancy seems to me to be asking of the view something that it never claims, even changing the subject.

    Inerrancy is not about reducing narratives to mere facts, either. It very clearly implies that the factual statements of narratives are true, but if there are deeper thing that are communicated in those narratives (e.g. God's sovereignty in the events of human affairs in Esther), it isn't erring in those statements either. Inerrancy should include those.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 9/20/2006 06:55:00 PM  

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