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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, August 01, 2005

Responding to Non-Inerrancy Claims

I wanted to return to the brief interchange I've been having with Steve Jones from Free Thinking Faith on the doctrine of Inerrancy. I had posted an earlier critique of his non-inerrancy position, as well as responded to some of his commenter friends. He responded by offering five key points to my position.

Let me respond to each one in turn. I will mark Steve's points in blue:

Steve writes:

1. The want of original autographs is only one factor that invalidates the inerrantist position. The most damaging factor is the phenomena of the text itself, which is inconsistent with the high claims made on its behalf. (Note the thickness of Haley's "Alleged Discrepancies.")

(Fred's response) First off, Haley's work has been reprinted, and the newer edition is not nearly as thick as Steve would have us believe. Also, Haley deals more with discrepancies between two historical accounts as recorded in the Bible, like harmonizing the four Gospel narratives or the similar accounts between the books of Samuel and Chronicles.

Putting Steve's position aside for the moment, for some weird reason, critics of scripture insist that differing historical records of the same event must all read the same, even if they are written by - as in the case of the Gospels - four different individuals. Hence, any apparent conflict between the narratives is automatically assumed to represent contradictory information, rather than complimentary information. I have never understood this viewpoint. Do these individuals assume, let's say, four different historians writing about the life of President Truman, must all read the same? It is a ridiculous criticism in my thinking.

At any rate, I believe Steve is doing what many non-inerrantists do and that is to confuse the inerrancy of the autographic text (the words of the document) with the inerrancy of the autographic codex (the physical document). The lost of the latter does not entail loss of the former. In other words, just because a document wears out, becomes soiled, damaged, and unreadable, does not mean the message of that document has been lost. If it has been faithfully copied, the autographic words still remain with us. There are very few of Geoffery Chaucer's original, autographic writings available; but is there anyone who does not believe the printed edition I can pick up at Barnes and Nobles represents what he originally wrote?

As I have pointed out, both the OT and NT have been faithfully copied. Textual criticism has restored the original autographic words to near pristine fullness. Scholars may vigorously debate the authenticity of some of the key textual variants, but nothing has been lost because the full text, even with variants, is still in our possession, and the variants do nothing to harm or corrupt the true word of God. Propositional revelation still exists for God's people to hear the voice of God. Perhaps Steve will provide some examples where he believes inerrancy is lost?

Steve Continues:

2. It is possible to quote a source (such as the Bible) as authoritative without requiring that it be infallible. This should be obvious to us all. We quote from authorities all the time without ever insinuating that their authority rests on some error-free status. ("Hey, you can't quote Encyclopedia Britannica -- it's not infallible." No one ever says that.)

(Fred's response) No biblical inerrantist has ever claimed what Steve alleges here concerning secular sources. However, we are specifically talking about the Bible, the recorded words of God's revelation that is profitable in directing his people that God himself tells us he will preserve. An encyclopedia never claims infallibility, can be fallible, has been fallible, and is corrected in subsequent editions. Remember, as I pointed out, the infallibility of the Bible is bound to the character of God. Steve's comments suggest God could either be negligent in revealing correctly and truthfully what he wanted revealed, or his spirit-anointed people were mistaken in their reception of revelation, or God intentionally deceived, or God doesn't care about the accuracy and truthfulness of his revelation. Moreover, if the Bible is like an encyclopedia that can be revised as more information comes to light to correct it, then the implication is the previous revelation was insufficient and God is still in the process of revealing himself. Using the Bible as my final authority, I do not see either of these as valid conclusions.

Steve Continues:

3. The fact that God is perfect does not substantiate Fred's point. We can make the identical claim for the inerrancy of the church: a. God established the church as the "pillar and ground of truth," b. God is perfect, c. therefore, the truth that comes from that church must be perfect. Paul says that God gave us "pastors and teachers." Does the fact that an impeccable God bestowed these instructive leaders upon us prove that they are never wrong? No, the church, its leaders and its Scriptures are earthen vessels that contain the Word of God. But the three are not flawless.

(Fred's response) The citation Steve quotes is from 1 Timothy 3:15, which follows after Paul's instruction about elders and deacons leading and serving in the local body of believers. I am not sure what his view is on the importance of hermeneutics and proper biblical study, but there are a couple of problems I spotted.

First, Paul's contention is that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Note the article before the word truth. The phrase, The truth, is used many times in the NT as a reference to God's revelation and our faithfulness to it. See for example Paul's words at 2 Corinthians 4:2, But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

Coming back to 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul is stating the truth of God, which entails the gospel of Christ, is God's inscripturated revelation. The Church, then, is the ground and pillar of that revelation, which means it is through the Church where God reveals the truth. Additionally, the Church is to uphold and proclaim that truth. As David King points out in volume one of Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith, "the Church's role is to be a support to the truth by faithfully holding forth the message and authority of the written Scriptures. It is not independent of, or above scripture, but beneath it." (pg. 82).

Furthermore, I believe Steve improperly compares human teachers and the institutions (like denominations) with scripture itself. I will grant that the message of scripture is contained in "earthen vessels" of written documents, but like I pointed out above, there is a stark distinction between the text of the autographs (the truth of God's written revelation) and the codex of the autographs (what the revelation is written on). The physical documents may be imperfect, but the authoritative message they contain is not. The local Church, and the leaders who shepherd the people in the Church, are only as impeccable as their proper handling of God's Word. Hence the reason why one of the key marks of a good elder is the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), and why Paul later writes in 2 Timothy 2:15 to "rightly divide the Word of God."

Steve Continues:

4. The oft-repeated quote from 2 Peter about how "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" really does not have much bearing on this whole process that was supposed to have occurred when the authors penned their documents. The 2 Peter text is talking about speech, not writing. The prophets were moved by the Spirit, but this doesn't mean that the writing down of their utterances was perfectly safeguarded from error.

(Fred's response) I am not sure Steve has read the passage carefully. Peter specifically says, knowing this first, no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). The revelation spoken by these holy men of God was written down in scripture. That is Peter's main point here. There is something more sure than just spiritual experience: It is the written Word of God.

Steve Continues:

5. The taint of subjectivity is not the peculiar province of the non-inerrantist. The inerrantist works his subjective spin into his interpretation via a variety of exegetical stunts and sophistries. (I've performed many such myself -- Fred nailed me on some of them in my Calvinism article.) The fact is, we all view the Bible -- and everything else -- through the lens of our presuppositions and life experiences.

(Fred's response) I would consider myself an affirmed presuppositionalist, meaning, I begin with the belief that God has provided an infallible revelation in scripture. I would be curious for Steve to demonstrate how I subjectively spin this interpretation. What exegetical stunts is Steve referring to? I am, as a matter of certainty, basing my presupposition on the revelation found in scripture. A revelation God himself has stated he has given and is trustworthy. The question certainly can be asked, "Can this presupposition be sustained or justified?" As I have already shown, yes it catextuall the texual evidence I have mentioned in the last couple of blogs on the subject of inerrancy, affirm the traditional Christian conviction that God's Word, the text of the Holy Bible, is inerrant. I have yet to see anyone disprove that claim.

Steve then concludes his post by writing:

Also, for the record, I do believe that the Bible we have today, with all of the textual variants, is still an accurate representation of what the original authors penned.

(Fred's comments) I really don't understand how Steve can honestly claim the Bible is "still an accurate representation of what the original authors penned" in light of what he wrote and what I have interacted with. The errantist's position is basically, "the Bible must contain errors, because we have no originals to compare our Bibles to." That is what Steve argued when I first began responding to his view point. Well, at what level exactly is the Bible "accurate"? Is the Bible so errant that it has lost the overall message originally written? Is it just in certain places? Certain doctrines? Biblical errantists exist at all sorts of levels. Some are more extreme than others. Steve, apparently, is a milder errantist, but if the Bible cannot be trusted and no one is certain as to which portions are true and which ones are not, even Steve cannot claim the Bible we have today is "still an accurate representation."

It is my contention, as I draw this post to a close, that Steve's argument with inerrantists like myself, is not over the certainty of whether the autograph's are truly represented in the texts we use today. Rather, his disagreement is with the authority the inerrantist draws from the text itself. Inerrantists (read Bible-believing Christian, here) believe God's Word is authoritative. With it, we have a standard of truth claims by which we can make judgments and evaluate our world. Most free thinkers, whether they have "faith" or not, don't like truth claims meddling in their personal affairs.

A recent post by Steve illustrates my point. He draws the reader to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. There, we read of how the council concluded that gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to be saved. They affirm what God had always said: that salvation is by faith alone. Then, Steve uses this passage to make an absurd leap by comparing the apostle's rejection of circumcision with the need for Christians today to reject inerrancy. He writes:

My purpose for opposing the doctrine [inerrancy] so often in this blog is not to discredit that holiest of books. It is because I see the flawless-Bible demand functioning as circumcision did in the first century. I am convinced that it keeps many good people outside the body of Christ.

Jesus and the apostles never performed such a litmus test when preaching to sinners. When the Philippian jailer was ready to impale himself in despair, Paul said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." There was no addendum to that proclamation, such as, "and you must also believe in every word of the Law and the Prophets; you must accept Adam as a historical figure; you must believe without question that the stories of Balaam, Samson and Noah are literal history."In effect, some of our conservative brothers and sisters do that very thing when they press inerrancy on people who enter the faith. Many, especially those who did not grow up with the Bible, are incapable of receiving inerrancy. They may try. They may cajole their intellects into affirming something they secretly find untenable. But that is a prescription for emotional instability and unhappiness.

The demand of a flawless Bible does not equate the demand for circumcision. The two are so non-related it is not even comparing the fruits of apples to oranges, but rather elephants and lug nuts. Steve's rejection of inerrancy as he puts it, has nothing to do with the reliability of the autographic codex, what I originally responded to. He rejects the authoritative message of the text. No one doubts the historical records of Adam, Noah and Samson are part of the original text of scripture. It is the authenticity of those stories that is in doubt. Believing the historical record of Adam's creation, the global flood of Noah, and Samson's exploits against the Philistines requires a belief in a sovereign God who made sure their historical records were maintained. That in turn requires us to believe God and take his historical record at face value, which further requires us to think outside the mainstream of secular thought with regards to man's origins, God's judgment and his redemptive work in space and time. Such a belief means we are not at liberty to thinking freely about our faith, but instead, it must be informed by an authority outside ourselves. That authority, I maintain, is inerrant scripture.

5 Comments:

Blogger SteveJ said...

Hi Fred,

A couple of quick comments:

1. I don't think I did a good job of communicating my thoughts about the autographs issue. Like you, I believe that the text we have pretty closely approximates the minds of the ancient authors -- but not necessarily word-perfect. My whole reason for bringing the issue up was to address a common inerrantist claim: God must safeguard every word of Scripture because our need for an error-free document. My retort is that if God were so concerned about our having an error-free document, it seems logical that He also would have secured the subsequent copies against error. He didn't. (I think we might be talking past each other here.)

2. You wrote, "No biblical inerrantist has ever claimed what Steve alleges here concerning secular sources." That's my point. No one gets uptight when we quote an authoritative (albeit, imperfect) source. We don't destroy the Bible as an authoritative source by denying its inerrancy.

3. You wrote, "Peter specifically says, knowing this first, no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). The revelation spoken by these holy men of God was written down in scripture. That is Peter's main point here." My contention about this stands. The prophets (whose words were recorded in Scripture, as you pointed out) spoke as the Spirit moved them. But this has no bearing on the elaborately defined process by which God came upon *writers* and secured them against all error.

4. About subjectivity: We're all guilty of it. The inerrantist, like the liberal, may also have texts that chafe against him. But he can't dismiss those texts, so he interprets them in a "creative" way to escape their discomfort. I've seen so many exegetical sophistries among Bible students (I'm sure you have, too). For example, when I first became a Protestant evangelical, my fellow church members believed in "eternal security." But the way they interpreted the apostasy texts in Hebrews was so convoluted that I assumed they must be tailoring the text to the presupposition.

5. Many examples exist of parallel biblical accounts that go beyond differing vantage points.

Got to run.

10:25 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Steve

My whole reason for bringing the issue up was to address a common inerrantist claim: God must safeguard every word of Scripture because our need for an error-free document. My retort is that if God were so concerned about our having an error-free document, it seems logical that He also would have secured the subsequent copies against error. He didn't. (I think we might be talking past each other here.)

(Fred) Perhaps we may be talking past each other, but I am still under the impression you are not distinguishing between the inerrancy of the autographic text (the message and text of God's revelation) and the inerrancy of the autographic codex (the subsequent, physical documents the revelation is written upon of which we have the many copies). I would agree with you that there are no autographic codices; but we are not addressing the physical copies. The point under debate is whether or not the revelatory message inscripturated is in error and thus, non-inerrant. Textual criticism, as you point out, tells us that even though we have no inerrant autographic codex, we can still determine, with all those errant copies of the autographic codex, the inerrant message contained in them.

Steve
That's my point. No one gets uptight when we quote an authoritative (albeit, imperfect) source. We don't destroy the Bible as an authoritative source by denying its inerrancy.

(Fred) Well, like I stated in my article, secular sources, like a dictionary, are not claiming to be a Word from God. The Bible, however, has made this claim and testifies to the promise that God would preserve it from error. In all honesty, I believe you are being a tad naive to think authority and inerrancy can be mutually exclusive. The word "authority," means simply to have the power to enforce laws and demand compliance to those laws. Moreover, like I originally stated in my initial comments to your "autograph hounds" post, the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility are bound to the character of God, a character He has revealed as being pure, holy and truthful. Errancy in the very revelation he provided brings His character into question and casts doubts upon the God we worship. How then can we trust the authority God wields if what He reveals of Himself is erroneous to begin with, or we are unable to determine with certainty the message He gave, because we have "lost" it to the sea of time? I am sort of mystified as to why you can't see this (dare I say) fundamental fact. You are a rarity among liberal free thinkers because you hold to some semblance of trusting the text of scripture. However, most liberal free thinkers from your ilk, reject wholesale the testimony of scripture. It is obvious they do not respect the authority of God's Word because they reject its inerrancy.

Steve
The prophets (whose words were recorded in Scripture, as you pointed out) spoke as the Spirit moved them. But this has no bearing on the elaborately defined process by which God came upon *writers* and secured them against all error.

(Fred) I am not sure I am following you here. Are you saying there is a distinction to be made between the actual prophetic revelation the prophets and apostles spoke (verbal) and the same exact prophetic revelation those same prophets and apostles wrote down (scribal)? Perhaps you can explain what you mean by the "elaborately defined process."

Steve
About subjectivity: We're all guilty of it. The inerrantist, like the liberal, may also have texts that chafe against him. But he can't dismiss those texts, so he interprets them in a "creative" way to escape their discomfort. I've seen so many exegetical sophistries among Bible students (I'm sure you have, too). For example, when I first became a Protestant evangelical, my fellow church members believed in "eternal security." But the way they interpreted the apostasy texts in Hebrews was so convoluted that I assumed they must be tailoring the text to the presupposition.

(Fred) I think you are mixing categories here. The illustration you provide from Hebrews is not a demonstration of inerrancy per se. Inerrancy is confined to the actual text of scripture in whether or not it conveys accurate information, contradictory facts, genuine falsehoods, and so forth. How a person exegetes the warning passages in Hebrews, I believe, does not fall into the category of genuine errancy/inerrancy concerns. A person can have a deficient understanding of the book of Hebrews, which I believe you do, but that has no bearing upon whether the book is conveying truth or not. For the record, I will readily admit that I have a presupposition when I approach and exegete the warning passages in Hebrews. I would contend, however, that my presupposition is justified by the whole testimony of scripture concerning God's redemption. That being, God has promised to justify sinners, Christ's death secured the salvation of those sinners, and they are promised eternal life. This is with out a doubt affirmed by an entire reading of the NT gospel message and the theology taught by Paul, John, Peter, etc. Hence, bearing the whole witness of the Holy Bible on the certainty of a Christian's eternal security, it is improper of me to isolate the book of Hebrews from the rest of the Bible's teaching on salvation and conclude it teaches a person can loose his or her salvation. Those warning passages are to be understood in a specific context and are for a specific purpose. A person may call that convoluted and sophistry, but I believe such a person is sorely mistaken, for such, in my mind, is plain, biblical exegesis.

Steve
Many examples exist of parallel biblical accounts that go beyond differing vantage points.

(Fred) That may be, but the burden is upon the critic to demonstrate these examples genuinely prove errancy as we have been discussing it here with in the text of scripture. I have yet to come across anyone who has done this. Generally, the critic is mistaken about the conflicting passage to begin with, and any answer provided is never satisfactory. They begin with the starting point that the Bible is a fraud and refuse to hear anything to the contrary in defense of the Bible. 9 and half times out of 10, the problem is not so much with the text of scripture and whether or not there is a genuine error; it is with the critic who has the bitters against God. I trust this is not you.

7:37 AM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger SteveJ said...

My last round of comments, once again, didn't get my ideas across well. I shouldn't be so quick to shoot from the hip (and thigh) and bang these comments out before thinking them through.

Instead of going over my previous objections and trying to make my points better, I'd like to key in on claims that you say the Bible makes about itself.

First, I'm not aware that any author of Scripture ever claims to be writing under the plenary verbal inspiration that others claim on their behalf. Luke, in his prologue, gives no indication that a supernatural process was involved in the writing of his gospel. His comments to Theophilus about the project all sound as if he compiled and wrote his book after the manner of other writers.

For that matter, I've never seen a text anywhere in the Bible that says something like, "The Word of the Lord came to me and I began to write His very words." As I mentioned earlier, there are quotations in the Scripture from prophets who said (orally), "The Word of the Lord came to me saying ..." But this comes far short of the point you are making.

Suppose I had lived during the time of Jeremiah, and I wrote down his messages myself in a journal. Would anyone ever suggest that my journal was written supernaturally -- plenarily and verbally -- simply because I quote him as proclaiming, "Thus says the Lord"?

Paul's writings, in which he occasionally claims to have "received this command from the Lord," also is a weak proof of the position. First, if the churches had generally understood that all of his writings -- from beginning to end -- were the very words of God Himself, why would Paul make a point of saying that certain parts of his messages were commands of the Lord?

But simply announcing in print that you have received a message from the Lord is not the same thing as writing under plenary verbal inspiration. Again, a hypothetical: I receive a prophetic word from God. Let's say it contains a command for my church. So I sit down and compose a letter to the congregation, conveying the prophetic word I had received the day before in a vision.

No one would ever suggest that because my letter contains a prophetic message, a command from the Lord, that the entire letter must have been written by a supernatural impulse and, thereby, error-free from start to finish. Why would they?

But the most perplexing part of the argument is this: As a collection of documents, the Bible can't make any claim about itself as a whole. Even if Paul in Romans were to pen, "I am writing under the unction of God and my words are His words," that would say nothing about the nature of, say, Matthew's gospel (where no such claim appears). How can one writer's claims apply to another writer? Even if James had said that he was writing God's own perfect words, how would I know that the Acts of the Apostles had been written the same way?

And this doesn't even begin to the address the question of why the book of Hebrews was written by God but the epistles of Clement and Polycarp were not.

Finally, I appreciate that you trust my position is not motivated by bitterness toward God. Maybe some are so motivated. For me, it is impossible to read through that book and come away saying, "Obviously, it is free from all human error."

I can't help but wonder what kind of discrepancy an inerrantist would accept as a genuine human imperfection. If another religion had a book that it claimed as inerrant, conservative Christians would be quick to point out discrepancies and falsify the assertion -- discrepancies that are no more pronounced that the ones between the four gospels.

I hope I haven't dragged this out too long. Like you, I enjoy this sort of exchange. Please know that, despite my non-inerrant perspective, I revere the Bible as indispensable to the life and health of Christ's church.

8:01 PM, August 05, 2005  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I too appreciate the interaction, because like any challenges to my convictions, they help to sharpen my responses.

As I mull over your comments, I think you may be mixing categories of inspiration and inerrancy. Perhaps you don't recognize their distinction, but I believe there is a need to distinguish between the two. Inerrancy, obviously flows out of the doctrine of inspiration, but it deals specifically with the veracity of the biblical message itself: the truthfulness and accuracy of the information recorded, its consistency of the revelational record, and the nature of the copies and so forth as we have discussed earlier. Inspiration, on the other hand, pertains primarily to the nature of the Bible itself, in that it is not just a book written by men about God, but that it is a book revealed by God through men who wrote it down. Remember the whole section in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Inspiration implies the scriptures are breathed out by God, which is to say, in a manner of speaking, it is the breath of God. That in turn clearly indicates scripture is claiming to be a product of God. That is why I believe the ultimate starting point for affirming the nature of scripture begins with the character of God. If He is the one inspiring it, then it will reflect his purity, holiness, and truthfulness and He will maintain its veracity from being corrupted so His revelation is never lost.

With those distinctions in mind, let me interact with some of your comments.

First, I'm not aware that any author of Scripture ever claims to be writing under the plenary verbal inspiration that others claim on their behalf. Luke, in his prologue, gives no indication that a supernatural process was involved in the writing of his gospel. His comments to Theophilus about the project all sound as if he compiled and wrote his book after the manner of other writers.

(Fred) That is true, however, I believe Robert Reymond provides a good response to this objection:

It is true that the Bible writers recognize their own personal finitude and sinfulness and thus their liability to error. Indeed, they insist that everyone is (or may be) a liar (Pss. 58:3; 116:11; Rom. 3:4). But they nevertheless claim inerrancy for the written Word of God which he gave to humankind through them by inspiration (Pss. 19:7-9; 199:86, 138, 142, 144, 151, 160; John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). In fact, it is precisely because they could err, that the Spirit's inspiring influence was necessary to keep them from error.

We need to also keep in mind that terms like "inerrant," "infallible," and "plenary verbal inspiration" are theological concepts used to explain the totality of a doctrine revealed in the whole of scripture. The theological concepts of God's omnipresence and omniscience are also not stated directly in the Bible, but we can plainly determine from a reading of the whole of scripture that the Bible would affirm these attributes of God.

For that matter, I've never seen a text anywhere in the Bible that says something like, "The Word of the Lord came to me and I began to write His very words." As I mentioned earlier, there are quotations in the Scripture from prophets who said (orally), "The Word of the Lord came to me saying ..." But this comes far short of the point you are making.

(Fred) I would encourage you, if you have access, to do a word search on Bible Works (or from a run of the mill concordance) for the words "Written" and "write." You will be surprised to learn there are more references than you think. There are 89 references for the word "write" and 280 references for the word "written." Maybe a good two thirds of each speak to God's Word being written down or someone being commanded to write down God's revelation. Remember, the Children of Israel were to memorize the law and that included more than just the 10 commandments, but all that Moses wrote down, which is a lot. If there were no written records of God's revelation, then there would be nothing to memorize. There are many other similar references, especially in the NT, when Jesus and the apostles all appealed to what had been written.

Suppose I had lived during the time of Jeremiah, and I wrote down his messages myself in a journal. Would anyone ever suggest that my journal was written supernaturally -- plenarily and verbally -- simply because I quote him as proclaiming, "Thus says the Lord"?

(Fred) Yes, because by the very fact the revelation in your journal was supernatural in origin, meaning from God Him self. That is the key. The message comes from God and God affirms the truthfulness of that message by providing the prophet with supernatural abilities. BTW, Jeremiah's disciples did just this and recognized his message as being revelation.

Paul's writings, in which he occasionally claims to have "received this command from the Lord," also is a weak proof of the position. First, if the churches had generally understood that all of his writings -- from beginning to end -- were the very words of God Himself, why would Paul make a point of saying that certain parts of his messages were commands of the Lord?


(Fred) I think what you are missing is that Paul was distinguishing between something Jesus had already taught and the new revelation he was then giving to address a specific situation. You may have in mind, for instance, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:10ff. where he is addressing divorce and remarriage. He first states commands taught by Jesus personally in Matthew 19, but then he adds new revelation he is now giving on the subject that Jesus did not specifically address. He is not separating his words from Christ’s as if his words not inspired. I think that is where you are mistaken. I would also hasten to add that Paul’s mention of what Jesus said indicates that more than likely Matthew’s gospel had already been written when he wrote the letter to the Corinthians. That is because Paul appeals to something commanded by the Lord. Where is Christ’s command pertaining to divorce recorded? Only in the gospels.

But simply announcing in print that you have received a message from the Lord is not the same thing as writing under plenary verbal inspiration. Again, a hypothetical: I receive a prophetic word from God. Let's say it contains a command for my church. So I sit down and compose a letter to the congregation, conveying the prophetic word I had received the day before in a vision.
No one would ever suggest that because my letter contains a prophetic message, a command from the Lord, that the entire letter must have been written by a supernatural impulse and, thereby, error-free from start to finish. Why would they?
But the most perplexing part of the argument is this: As a collection of documents, the Bible can't make any claim about itself as a whole. Even if Paul in Romans were to pen, "I am writing under the unction of God and my words are His words," that would say nothing about the nature of, say, Matthew's gospel (where no such claim appears). How can one writer's claims apply to another writer? Even if James had said that he was writing God's own perfect words, how would I know that the Acts of the Apostles had been written the same way?


(Fred) But the Christian church always viewed the letters from the apostles in this way. I believe that is evidence of a supernatural work of the Spirit to direct God’s people to honor His Word in such a way that they would collect the letters of Paul, Peter and the other apostles so that they would “canonize” them rather than other early writings by men like Polycarp. The nature of how we understand the canon is directed by the same considerations as inspiration and inerrancy: God's trustworthiness and sovereignty. God would see fit to keep those books He wanted read from being lost, while at the same time preventing spurious books from entering the canonical list permanently.

I can't help but wonder what kind of discrepancy an inerrantist would accept as a genuine human imperfection. If another religion had a book that it claimed as inerrant, conservative Christians would be quick to point out discrepancies and falsify the assertion -- discrepancies that are no more pronounced that the ones between the four gospels.

(Fred) A couple of things. First, compared to all the other major "holy books" of the other world religions, you have to admit the Bible is unique unto itself. It has a logical flow to its order, contains historical narrative, doctrinal treatises, a hymnal for worship and prophetic utterance which claim to have come true in time and space. The Qur'an, for example, is not like this at all, nor are many of the Hindu and Buddhist writings, so it is difficult to compare the claim of "discrepancy" between world religions.
What would I consider to be a discrepancy? Any record of a genuine logical fallacy. Either some sort of clear contradiction of God's character, for instance, or obvious falsehood or misstatement of fact. The internet is full of atheistic websites claiming to be able to demonstrate these type of discrepancies, but like I have already discussed, all of them are pretty much straining at the proverbial gnat. A good illustration of what I mean can be found in the Qur'an, where in the record of the Exodus event, Mary the mother of Jesus is with Moses and Haman, the adversary in the book of Esther, is instigating the golden calf incident.

6:23 AM, August 11, 2005  
Blogger SteveJ said...

Fred,

I appreciate that you took so much time to respond to these objections. Many of your points are challenging and you've given me plenty to chew on.

Whether we agree ultimately on this issue, I'm thankful that there are conservatives like you out there. You guys help some of us on the other side to apply the brakes once in a while and think about where our arguments are taking us.

6:37 PM, August 23, 2005  

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