Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Rhetoric of Inerrancy

Some Evangelicals go out of their way to combat the term inerrancy. As I've said recently, I don't mind Evangelicals not using the term inerrancy, but I think it is problematic for Evangelicals to make the concerted effort to berate the usage of the term.

Usually, Evangelicals who berate the term inerrancy are quick to affirm the Bible as the Word of God. They might even affirm the Bible's "infallibility" (I can't really perceive much difference between the two terms) and "authoritative."

This being the case, their argument against "inerrancy" is problematic. They end up implying that the Bible has errors in it, and this is a problem for people who otherwise have such a high view of scripture.


Peter Dunn said...

Hi Jim: You seem to have taken some time off blogging in your quest for your PhD. That's great. Meanwhile, I am very busy writing and blogging. One essay on touches the question of inerrancy is here. Now with regard to the term inerrancy: I don't think we have anything like a consensus on this term among Christians generally, nor among Evangelicals particularly. In fact, if I am not mistaken, British Evangelicals are cold to the term. So these days you must be brushing shoulders rather frequently with such friends who are are indifferent or even negative towards the term. Can we stick with Biblical terms, 2 Tim 3.16: inspired (God breathed) and profitable? To suggest that by objecting to the term "inerrancy" that I am implying that the Bible has "errors" in it, is a logical fallacy. See this response: . It is logical error based on the semantics. But reality is that I like the positive terms that don't get us into trouble: I wrote this: To maintain the essential reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible is substantially different in practical terms than insisting upon its infallibility or inerrancy. A new believer who is told that the Bible is inerrant will fret over small problems of historical or scientific accuracy. The skeptic ridicules the Bible over such issues. And what about the sincere believer who discovers the true nature of NT text—does that person not become an antagonist of evangelical faith (Bart Ehrman). To say that the Bible is a divine guide and a witness to Jesus Christ would largely avert such problems.

Rev. James M. Leonard said...

Thanks, Peter for your thoughtful comment. I'll be sure to follow it up soon.

Let me just throw out one small response which has been stewing in my mind for some time, but has not had the opportunity to spill over into the blog.

This thought goes back to the notion which you've raised once again that you can't have inerrancy if you don't have the original manuscripts.

Of course, I still wonder how you think that this argument works against the Bible being inerrant, but not against it being authoritative. It would seem logical that if you can't have inerrancy without the original manuscripts, then you can't have authority, either. But let me move on....

It seems to me that the whole crux of Ehrman's and your concern over the "true nature of the text" comes back down to not having the original manuscripts--and therefore you conclude that we don't have the original wording.

Or perhaps you do think we have the original wording, more or less. If we do have the original wording, more or less, then the whole "but we don't have the original manuscripts" argument against inerrancy is empty.

Obviously, evangelicals who believe in inerrancy believe also that they have substantially the original wording.

Peter Dunn said...

I am not sure what I said before that has caused you to stew. I don't think we would have "inerrancy" if we had the original MSS. I said that (remember? regarding Rom 5.1). Thus, I feel it is completely wrong to put me in the same camp as Ehrman.

What we have is a Bible that is inspired and profitable guide for the church, which is trustworthy when understood in light of the Rule of Faith and the continuning influence of the Holy Spirit. Now this applies even when the text, such as BYZ, has accumulated variants creating distance from the autographs. For example, the KJV despite its being based in the NT upon the BYZ, served the English-speaking church well through two evangelical awakenings, and many generations of true believers found edification, comfort and joy in its text.

Thus, I would rather have the KJV/BYZ and the Rule of Faith with the Holy Spirit than NA27 and new post-modern hermeneutics (e.g., homosexual, feminist, or liberationist interpretations). Thus, the perfection of the Biblical text is not paramount in understanding God's will, but rather a submission to what Paul calls the sound didaskalia. I would however commend the arduous work of textual critics like yourself, because it is better to have both a more accurate text and sound didaskalia. It is more accurate because even the NA27 is not perfect or "inerrant" or otherwise, you would not need to pursue your PhD in NT textual criticism.

I don't argue that the Bible derives authority from a concept and a term ("inerrancy") that I don't even agree with. It is authoritative because of God's grace: even in all the imperfections of our situation God makes available an amazing gift of salvation. The Bible is also authoritative because these are the founding documents of the catholic church and faith and of Judaism out of which Christianity sprung. It is authoritative because God inspired the authors. But it doesn't have to be "inerrant".

I think one of the problems that we have is a crisis of authority because we don't understand that the Bible is not authoritative on its own. The sound didaskalia is what assures its authority and this didaskalia is passed on from generation to generation in the church as an oral tradition. Heretics like liberal theologians don't just threaten the Bible, for they have discarded the Rule of Faith long ago. (Note: The Rule of Faith and sound didaskalia are two ways of referring to the same oral tradition in the church).

Take the homosexuality debate as an example: some Christian use hermeneutics to eliminate the plain sense of the biblical teaching about same-sex relations. But these relations are condemned by sound didaskalia of the catholic (universal) church. Thus, they reject the important authority the Rule of Faith in addition to their having an inadequate view of the Bible.