Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Has the Doctrine of Inerrancy Outlived Its Usefulness? PART 3

Short answer:

Robert Jimenez has posted the third and final portion of his series about Biblical inerrancy. Here are links to his three articles, and my responses to them.
Jimenez 1
Ashton 1
Jimenez 2
Ashton 2
Jimenez 3
Note: While this is primarily a response to Robert Jimenez, it also serves as a response to Roger Olson's astounding claim that "inerrancy doesn't matter."

The final post in Jimenez' series consists of three main elements:
1. An appeal to authority in which several prominent theologians are cited
2. An attempt to disprove inerrancy by pointing out several "clear mistakes in the Bible" 
3. An assertion that the term "inerrancy" is not helpful. 
At the same time, Jimenez insists that he views Scripture as "truthful," "trustworthy" and "inspired."
Before I go any further, I want to note that I have nothing personal against Robert Jimenez, and this is not an ad hominem attack. I have never met him, do not know him personally, and have no real insight into his motivations or his heart. I am responding to what I believe are dangerous and wrongheaded arguments, which he has boldly advanced in a public forum. As far as I can tell, Jimenez is a studious believer who serves God faithfully, and for that I am thankful. I earnestly hope, by God's grace, that my arguments will give non-inerrantists like Jimenez sufficient reason to turn back from their views and embrace a much higher view of Scripture.

Appeal to Authority

Jimenez quotes Evangelical heavyweights Donald Bloesch, Clark Pinnock, Roger Olson and Howard Marshall in support of his thesis. We have little to say in response to such an appeal, other than this: Evangelical faith universally affirms that Scripture is a higher authority than its critics. If Evangelical scholars want to bash inconsistent holes in their own foundation, they can. But not with any backing from the Bible, and certainly not with any shred of consent from those who place their full trust in it. It is ironic that an attack on Biblical inerrancy is made using an appeal to mere human authority (i.e. opinion). I can hear my Mom saying, "If all of your Evangelical theologian friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?"

Original Manuscripts

Jimenez takes issue with the inerrantist belief specifying the original manuscripts alone as faultless, saying:
"I think that it takes a huge leap of faith to assume that the Original Autographs were perfect, and it is a pretty remarkable hypothesis considering the fact that the manuscripts we have are extremely reliable and no reason to think they differ from the Original Autographs."
The original manuscripts were the direct result of divine inspiration. How is it unwarranted or difficult to believe that God produced them flawlessly? We are talking about "God," with a capital G, the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator. If God Himself inspired the original text, how is it a "leap" to believe He prevented the writers from making factual errors? He did, after all, create the writers in the first place. Is He not omnipotent enough to produce a faultless document through human agents? Not wise enough? Not perfect enough? How, exactly, is God incapable of this? And why should I not believe He produced a flawless result? Jiminez offers no compelling reasons. By framing the discussion in terms of a "leap of faith," he rightly points to the core issue driving the rejection of inerrancy: unbelief. We just doubt it, so it can't be so.
In spite of the considerably studious character he displays, Jimenez seems to have missed the whole point of the doctrine of inerrancy, and all of the major reasons for affirming it. Had he studied more classical and conservative sources (rather than the very confused Dr. Peter Enns CORRECTION: Brother Jimenez has informed me that he has not read Peter Enns' book), he might have discovered why we have every reason to think the available manuscripts are slightly different from the originals. We have textual variants that must be accounted for. Where did they come from? Which variant is more likely to match the original? The goal of textual criticism is to painstakingly work back toward an inerrant original, to discover its actual contents as best we can.
SIDE NOTE: Under the mistaken impression that I was attempting to broadly define the term "Textual Criticism," one blogger took exception to the last sentence (see here). What follows is my response to his continued insistence that this was a "made up definition." - even after my clarifications to the contrary.
You’ve made something out of nothing. I offered no definition. I simply stated the goal, the motivation, the reason for consulting/applying/studying textual criticism, from an inerrantist’s point of view, in the hermeneutical process. Consider my statement from this context: it was made in response to Robert Jimenez’ claim that “the manuscripts we have are extremely reliable and no reason to think they differ from the Original Autographs.” I pointed to textual variants as proof that we have “every reason” to believe the current manuscripts differ from the originals. I further noted that we engage in textual criticism (or apply the results of textual criticism, if we must be that precise) in an effort to get back toward the content of the original, as far as that is possible. I also noted that the conviction of inerrancy has a huge bearing on how we handle the application of textual criticism. For example, if we believe in an inerrant original, and we have, say, a synoptic situation where there are 700 charioteers killed in one passage and 7 thousand in the parallel account, we are going to reason that the Holy Spirit inspired the correct number in the originals but a scribal error was introduced at the transmission stage. If we don’t believe in inerrancy, we have an open field to come up with all sorts of fanciful theories, perhaps saying that one author was more pro-Davidic and inflated the numbers on purpose, or that he was anti-Davidic and purposely lowered the count (stranger theories have been made, just look at the absurd JEDP Documentary Hyposthesis). Apart from the conviction of inerrancy, we may use the science of textual criticism (which, again, I have nowhere defined) in ways that seem sensible but treat Scripture as less than genuinely divine in origin (just look at what the German “higher” critics did in the early 20th century, and the effect it had on the mainline churches). Read the FULL context of my words, and you will see that I qualify this later in the paragraph (beyond the short section you quoted in your comment), by saying that inerrancy “is the solid rock on which conservative textual criticism is built, and Biblically faithful exegesis depends on it.” Conservative being the key word. By way of illustration, imagine you overhear a fisherman say, “The reason a guy has a boat is to get where the fish are biting.” You go home, look up 7 definitions of the word “boat” and publish an article in the local newspaper, challenging the fisherman’s “definition.” Only one problem: he wasn’t giving a definition, he was giving a reason. Specifically, a fisherman’s reason. A conservative inerrantist’s engagement in textual criticism most certainly has the goal of discovering the content of the inerrant original. To quibble with the word “inerrant” in this stated goal is pointless and only begs the question. It IS his driving presupposition, whether or not he ever states it. I am contrasting this with the goal of the “higher” critic who doesn’t believe in inerrancy. He has a different goal. Going back to the boat illustration, he might want a boat so he can kill the fish, go diving, enjoy a pleasure cruise, or perhaps ram into the fisherman’s boat just for fun. In any case, the “higher” critic’s rejection of inerrancy produces a completely different hermeneutical result. This was my only point, and I must say again very clearly that I DID NOT OFFER ANY KIND OF DEFINITION. Context, context, context.
In case you're wondering, he still wasn't convinced and continued to insist that I was somehow incorrect. I guess we'll have to let the historians decide.
How does one launch a public challenge against inerrancy without understanding these basic facts about hermeneutics and Biblical transmission? If we assume the originals contained errors, we can easily lose our way amid the sea of potential reconciliations, and we are free to make the text say whatever we want through theories of emendation and cultural accommodation. Apart from inerrancy, we have no True North. Thus we unwittingly follow in the footsteps of liberal scholars who have built their house of cards on the sand swept foundation of assumed Biblical errors. The conviction of inerrancy is the solid rock on which conservative textual criticism is built, and Biblically faithful exegesis depends on it.
There seems to be a lack of knowledge among some of today's Evangelicals concerning basic textual issues and simple ways to resolve run-of-the-mill Bible difficulties. Some are apparently ignorant of the fact that truckloads of ink has been spilled in addressing these questions. For example, the supposed "discrepancies" and "contradictions" in the Gospels and other parallel accounts (e.g. Samuel-Kings/Chronicles) have been well documented and effectively answered by a whole host of scholars and commentators. The universal conclusion of Bible-believing scholarship has been that these synoptic discrepancies typically boil down to misinterpretation by the reader, copyist's errors or emendations, and historical misunderstandings. But all of this is ignored so that the precious doctrine of Biblical errancy can be maintained.
The non-inerrantist makes the mistake of uncritically accepting the arguments of skepticism, rather than tracing and identifying the root of the apparent contradictions, and explaining the texts in a way that backs up the claim that the Bible is a divinely inspired and entirely reliable document. Evangelical errantists want to enjoy the fruit of a truthful and reliable Bible, but they don't want to lay the necessary foundation. Their belief in the "truthfulness" and "reliability" of the Bible can ultimately be no stronger than their conviction regarding the inerrancy of the originals.

Mistakes, yes . . . but Whose Mistakes?

The examples presented by Jimenez as "clear mistakes" only prove that he has not invested sufficient time in examining the factuality of the Scriptures. I will show that these are not actual errors in the process of inspiration (which would make them divine mistakes), but errors in the process of transmission (which makes them purely human mistakes). This is the point of the doctrine of inerrancy: although minor human mistakes were made in the transmission of the text, no mistakes were ever made in the process of inspiration. Let's study the four examples of Biblical "mistakes" cited by Jimenez.

Example #1
I Corinthians 10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did,and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
Numbers 25:9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000.
This could be a simple scribal error. He wrote a 4 rather than a 3. No big deal. But there is another possibility: note that Paul says 23,000 fell in one day. Numbers says 24,000 died from the plague, without any reference to the time frame. It is easy enough to believe that 23,000 died the first day, and 1,000 died later from the lingering effects. Yet another possibility: perhaps 23,000 Israelites died from the plague, while an additional 1,000 Moabites also died, leading to the 24,000 figure in Numbers. Whatever the case, it is expected that these numbers are only estimates with an acknowledged imprecision. Inerrantists accept acknowledged imprecision as a standard and acceptable mode of communication that would be understood as such by the original readers - and should also be understood by us.

Example #2
I Samuel 31:4 Then Saul said to his armor bearer, "Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me." But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saultook his sword and fell on it.
II Samuel 1:10 "So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knewthat he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the braceletwhich was on his arm, and I have brought them hereto my lord."
The Biblical author tells the real story in Samuel. The account in Chronicles is of an Amalekite re-telling the story from his own perspective. Note the quotation marks. The resolution is obvious: the Amalekite is lying. He thinks he will gain favor with David by claiming to be Saul's killer. Ironically, this lie cost him his life. It is also ironic that his story is now used as an attack on Biblical inerrancy as well. This proves that Satan can use the same lie for different purposes.
Inerrancy affirms that the Amalekite actually said those words, and that his words were false. Errancy would dictate that the Biblical writer may have remembered the words incorrectly. That the Holy Spirit may have inspired him to write something not factually true. How can we trust a Bible that is potentially full of significant, message-altering human errors? This is where the rubber meets the road.

Example #3
II Samuel 10:18 But the Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed700 charioteers of the Arameans and 40,000 horsemen and struck down Shobach the commander of their army, and he died there.
I Chronicles 19:18 The Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 footsoldiers, and put to death Shophach the commanderof the army.
A very easily explained scribal error. He simply forgot to write a zero. Errantists would have us believe God sanctioned this error by allowing it in the original, rather than that a human being made the error later. What, exactly, do they gain with this move? It seems calculated to discredit the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

Example #4
In Jimenez' own words: "We have different accounts of what was said in the Gospels such as Luke reporting that they cried out “Glory in the highest”, while the other Gospels says they cried out “Hosanna in the highest”.  All four Gospels report differently the wording of the inscription above the cross."
This is about as weak as an argument can get. I could recommend about 20 different books capable of correcting the erroneous thinking underlying this claim, but this post is already too long. Notice, again, that Jimenez is standing in lock step with skeptics rather than countering their fallacious claims. Are Apologetics courses no longer taught at Bible Colleges?
Using these 4 examples, Jimenez has committed the great mistake of arriving at a foregone conclusion based on scant evidence. He has made a worse mistake by trusting the claims of errant men over the claims the Bible inerrantly makes about itself.

A Biblical Case for Inerrancy

Jimenez asks:
"What does the bible say about itself?  Does it claim to be inerrant as they would have us believe?  Or does it claim something else about itself?  Where is the proof text that makes these claims?"
Now we're getting somewhere. These are the right questions. Unfortunately, the wrong answers are given. Strikingly, Jimenez offers not a single Scripture verse, while quoting his favorite scholars at length. We will attempt to correct that situation now by answering his questions from Scripture. I'd challenge Jimenez to offer up a verse that affirms "something else" than inerrancy. If he found one, I would ask him how he knows it was not a mere cultural accommodation by the writer.
Let's look at two tiny verses that completely demolish the arguments presented by advocates of Evangelical errancy. These are the pills that can cure us from mistaken views of Scripture.

Psalm 12:6 And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times

The point is made emphatic by the use of two Hebrew words for refining and purifying metal, Tsaraph and Zaqaq. The obvious meaning is that God's Word is "flawless" and does not contain any kind of impurity or falsehood. God's Word is here compared to highly purified silver (7 times!), refined in a clay furnace. The clay does not contaminate the silver, as some errantists would suggest in their "incarnational" model. Their view of inspiration is like rolling molten silver in the dirt. But according to this verse the clay is merely the container in which the silver is smelted. The word picture removes the possibility of human error contaminating the Word.
A Biblical view demands that inspiration took place under the direct involvement and sanction of the Holy Spirit, to such an extent that the Biblical text can be called the Holy Spirit's own Word. See Hebrews 3:7 and 10:15. While the writers themselves were errant, the Words given by the Spirit could not have been. Any lesser view amounts to a denial of "verbal, plenary inspiration."

II Peter 1:21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

The Biblical writers were men, yes - and fallen men - but they were men moved by the Holy Spirit and they spoke from God. If words contain error, they are not "from God." Denial of inerrancy is ultimately a denial of God's perfection, or a denial of inspiration. They were moved by the Holy Spirit, not by cultural accommodation. They spoke from God, not from culture.
The requested proof texts have been given. Now, compare Scripture's high view of itself with Jimenez' baffling, backhanded affirmation of a fallible inerrancy:

"I believe in inerrancy with the understanding that “The Bible contains a fallible element in the sense that it reflects the cultural limitations of the writers.  But it is not mistaken in what it purports to teach, namely, god’s will and purpose for the world” Bloesh (sic) EET, p69"

So, the Bible is inerrant only if it is fallible? That's unintelligible, like saying a towel is only dry if there is moisture in it. If the Bible ONLY touched on "God's will and purpose for the world," this would be enough. But as soon as the Bible speaks of historical events, scientific realities, or any other spheres of knowledge, its reliability as a divinely inspired text depends on its correctness in these matters as well. I daresay the real cultural limitation at work here is a postmodern refusal to accept Scripture as the only
entirely reliable
absolutely trustworthy
totally and unequivocally faultless 
Word of God. Period.

A Final Illustration

Picture a river. Its source is a mountain spring, perfectly clear and pure. Further downstream, flowing through a city, it gets muddied a bit and slightly polluted - but it is still 99.99 percent pure and completely drinkable. The Bible as we presently know it is not perfectly pure, but pure enough, and with proper effort we can strain out most of the contaminants. Those who reject inerrancy make the untenable claim that the pollution entered the Bible at its very source, in the very process of inspiration. Worse, by making this claim they actually join with skeptics and cast more pollution into the stream rather than straining out the little bit that is truly there. Thus, for them there is no pure source to work back toward, and there is no underlying perfection. This is a grave error, and the consequence - intended or not - is that both the river and it's source are viewed as less trustworthy, less healthy, less authoritative than they truly are. These are life and death issues, for we are called to take this water to the thirsty and save their lives by sharing it with them. These are not trifles.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hallelujah Revisited

If you appreciate heartfelt music, you will probably like this video. We'll call it a "blog response" to this post from Barry Wallace (warning: if you listen to these songs back to back, have a box of tissues handy). Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" has needed better words for a long time, and now thanks to one of our Roman Catholic friends we have a "Gospel-centered" version! How's that for irony?

Uniting Church and Home Blog

Eric Wallace has written several excellent articles to kick off a new blog about Uniting Church and Home. After my pastor introduced me to Eric's book, I was surprised to "accidentally" bump into him on a train in Atlanta (you can read about that adventure here). Subsequently, I have been excited and encouraged by his Gospel-centered thoughts.

If you're looking for a Biblical alternative to the culturally-driven, Gospel-diluting, program methodology of contemporary Evangelicalism, you will find a good one in Eric's paradigm-shifting approach (or should I say paradigm-restoring?).

Eric's blog:

Here's an excerpt from one of the posts:

Tragically, the Gospel has become one-dimensional, not the all-encompassing rubric through which God's Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ. Everyone (men, women, children, youth--and most especially--elders and Heads of household as they are the ones whom God has called to oversee the transformation process in those under their care) must understand how to apply the Gospel to the whole of the Christian life; from start (justification) to the process of transformation (sanctification) to the final perfection of that transformation when we get to heaven (glorification).

You can also learn more at this link: Institute for Uniting Church and Home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Good is Evil? A Quick Theodicy

This changed my life. A friend once said: "When evil is done, it creates a unique opportunity for good . . . an opportunity that could not otherwise exist."

You may want to read that again.

"When evil is done, it creates a unique opportunity for good . . . an opportunity that could not otherwise exist." My friend said this, and it changed my life.

Here are a couple of questions to consider:
Is forgiveness good?
Could there be forgiveness if there was never sin?

Evil is allowed to exist because it opens the way to a greater good. That's a theodicy any forgiven person will immediately understand.

Think of it! God has created a world in which every act of human evil carries with it the seeds of a potential new act of good. Evil is ultimately self-defeating, because no amount of sin or evil can possibly overcome God's great power of grace.

I know someone will respond, "If this is the case, then let us do evil so that good may result." Such an attitude can only betray the fact that the greater good has not yet been received and cherished. The heart has not changed. Paul's retort in Romans 3:8 is applicable here: their condemnation is just.

One who has faced the intensity of his own evil, and then received the beautiful and transformational light of God's forgiveness, can only thank God for allowing evil to come - and for wisely administrating its effects. Such a person hates evil for its inherently ungracious nature, though he loves the things God brings about when He uses it as a tool. God did not author evil, but He certainly foresaw it, created a world in which He knew it would exist, permitted it, and chose to use it for the best possible end. Reformed theologians call this permissive ordination.

We throw evil at God, He sends back twice as much good. Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, can not, and will not overcome it. Ever.

Romans 5:20-21 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 11:32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
James 2:13 For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Great Quote From D.A. Carson

You'll have to visit Paul Manata's "Aporetic Christianity" site to see it.

I've listened to several of Carson's sermons in the past year. Although he is an A-level scholar, he has a gift for explaining complex concepts in the most understandable terms. He is gentle yet passionate, quietly provocative, Gospel-centered and deeply edifying in content. He reminds me of a Reformed Ravi Zacharias.

Carson also advocates theological paradox in the form of compatibilism.

In one sermon, I was delighted to hear him address the famous dilemma of the "immovable rock." You've heard it before:

Can an omnipotent God create a rock so heavy he is unable to move it? Say "no," and He must not be omnipotent. Say "yes," and it's the same result.

Carson wisely observed: this question doesn't point us to a limitation on the part of God; it points us to a limitation on the part of logic.

Brilliantly humble answer, that.

We might add: Since God IS omnipotent, He is not the least bit threatened by ridiculous questions!

We might further add that God can cause the rocks to cry out in praise, make them gush with fresh water and follow people around, and raise up sons for Abraham from them. Just look at what he's done with a handful of dirt.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Life Chain

The kids were enthusiastic participants in the Life Chain, along with my wife and me. I explained to them - in very basic, kid-friendly terms - what abortion is, and they were both eager to take their stand against it. My daughter said it all: "I think women should be free to make choices, but not THAT choice ... That's a wrong choice." She was also amazed to learn that people don't want the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public. And she was very dismayed to learn that president Obama supports abortion. There is at least one young lady who is not going to be fooled by liberal rhetoric of the left, Lord willing.

As I stood next to a busy road holding a sign reading "Life - the first inalienable right," I felt deeply saddened about the slaughter of unborn children in my nation. I was glad to do a little something to protest this abominable injustice. But it was so little.
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