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July 22, 2014

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It occurs to me that there is another dimension to this question. Does the inspiration of the Bible make any difference to the offices of the Apostles and Prophets? In other words the Bible has been given to us by the Apostles and Prophets, how important is it for us to know that these Biblical writers are Apostles and Prophets who spoke for God? The household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets Eph 2:19-20.

Let me put this another way, should I accept the words of a modern day apostle or prophet as the inspired words of God and append what they said to the back of the Canon? Why or why not? What distinguishes the Apostles and Prophets who wrote the Bible who we believe are inspired, from modern day apostles and prophets? How do we determine Canonicity?

WLC does not argue for inerrancy when discussing/debating Atheists. He focuses on the plausibility of the historical narrative. Insofar that we discuss these issues with atheists, then I think we can happily ignore the inerrancy.

Teleologist - When each section of the scripture was written, there were eye-witnesses that would have been able to correct any inconsistencies or errors, so I think that the written word takes precedence over any modern apostles and prophets.

"I can also believe in Christ without buying that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God."

You would be at odds with Christ himself then. He affirmed the Old Testament as authoritative Scripture inspired by God. He authorized the New Testament as being the authoritative, inspired writings given through his Apostles. The bottom line is, without question, the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired, "God-breathed" revelation of God Most High.

I think Daniel Wallace has a very wise perspective on this. I would encourage everyone to read his short explanation here:

https://bible.org/article/my-take-inerrancy

BTW, I find the term "inerrant" to be confusing and misleading, and prefer "authoritative" or "inspired."

Inerrancy (probably unjustly) has too much literalistic baggage associated with it that brings out ignorant objections like "the Bible says that the number PI is 3, and it is not exactly 3, therefore the Bible is not inerrant."

1) This kind of thinking subjectivizes the information we can count on from the Bible. That is to say that if the Bible isn't reliable, then what anyone wishes to hold as true or false in the Bible is determined by something outside the Bible. So it undermines epistemological certainty.

2) It begs the question as to what kind of faith we have. Popular philosophy thinks that Christian faith is subjective in that it has no evidence to confirm or deny it. This is held over and against "scientific" knowledge that has all the facts. This is, commonly called, "blind faith". The thing is that the doctrine of inerrancy is chock full of evidence supporting the veracity of the Bible. Christians truly don't have "blind faith", but rather a well-informed faith. Our hope is not the kind of wishful thinking that many people mean when they use the word "hope". It's a hope based on factual certainty that has plenty of evidence to support it and when taken as a presuppositional structure makes perfect sense of the world. But that means that we need to be informed by everything the Bible says, not just what we want to believe is true over and against what we don't want to believe is true.

3) Regarding item 2, the reason that many wish to dismiss the veracity of much of the Bible is so that they can justify sins outside the cross of Christ by making them out to not be sins. This goes against the gospel in that we lose the reason why Christ came. So dismissing inerrancy calls into doubt the need for salvation and diminishes the work of Christ.

Jim,

I think we're at least close to being on the same side, but I want to pick your brain :)

For full disclosure, my belief is that the Bible IS authoritative/reliable/inspired (I will neglect using the word "inerrant" for the reasons I mentioned above), however this should not be the most essential doctrine of the Christian faith. That place should be held for the death/resurrection/atonement of Jesus Christ (see article I linked above).

Anyways, my question is this: If the reliability of the Bible is based on the underlying evidence supporting its veracity (as you claim in #2), does the Bible stand as the ultimate epistemological authority, or do those methods used to come to its veracity stand as the ultimate epistemological authority?

The challenge exists only on the ambivalence of the term "inspired." My on-line Merriam-Webster notes six connotations of an idea of being "breathed upon." The inspiration of a prophet/apostle is of a different nature of Beethoven's music having an austere impact on the listener. But the core of the challenge is the perceived subjective opinion of what was inspired (and tacitly, what was not).

What of the prophets themselves? They noted the Lord's influence. Note Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah notes the Lord's induction of His most poetically gifted prophet in chapter six. Jeremiah actually complained of the burdens of bearing the burden of the Lord's message (Jer. 20: 7ff). A key term for the contents of prophecy is MaSA, which deals with issues of serious, difficult topics. A prophet is not outfitted with his own words, and cases are made of those prophets who honeyed their words as being false. The idea of human beings objectively conveying divine messages shouldn't be sloughed off as some weary tenet of faith to be cozied up to on an optional basis.

I appreciate Austin's sense of the authoritative nature of Scriptures. But it can be grounded on nothing less than what we have being God's Word.

g wrote:

You would be at odds with Christ himself then. He affirmed the Old Testament as authoritative Scripture inspired by God. He authorized the New Testament as being the authoritative, inspired writings given through his Apostles.

The latter part of your statement sounds like logical nonsense, since the compiled NT canon did not exist during Christ's lifetime. How did He authorize it, exactly? It was not even recognized as a compiled canon, in its present form, for several hundred years. Even Luther, centuries later, questioned the veracity of several NT books. So, in many ways, it most certainly is human opinion that decides what is "inspired" and what is not.

As for authorizing the OT canon, yes, but at the same time, Jesus re-interpreted it radically from its stilted interpretation by the Jews, continually inviting charges of blasphemy. He didn't follow the widely-recognized and accepted interpretations of the time. He brought a fresh perspective, something we seem so afraid to do today.

Likewise, modern Evangelical Fundamentalists will throw around the words "blasphemy" and "sacrilege" if somebody posits an alternate view of Scripture that does not comport with their stilted, preconceived interpretation.

We must open our eyes to the fact that we will always wrestle with Scripture, whether we believe it to be inspired or not. We bring our life experience and background to texts we read, and what may be crystal-clear to one is not so crystal-clear to another. As such, we should be open to dialogue and not so quick with the "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" rhetoric.

No matter how much we argue to prove the Scriptures are the Word of God, unless a person has the Holy Spirit, our task will remain impossible.

Following is a comment by Loraine Boettner in his book Inspiration of the Scriptures; “Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth (of Scripture), and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts" We would doubtless make better progress in our present day discussions if we kept that principle in mind.”

And an excerpt from the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the Inspiration of the Scriptures, Chapter I:V; “yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”

Hi Perry, it seems to me you are arguing for no inerrant interpretation/interpreter. This is quite a different issue, blaming the articles for the errors of the readers.

A systematic theology has only one chance to approach the Divine Logos' intent, internal coherency. The bulk of your examples of conflicting interpretations are from false teachers/hirelings, not true called ones ala Eph. 4, they neither show skill or a calling in dealing with the Scriptures. Just because someone is charasmatic and can draw a crowd doesnt mean that what they say means anything or carries any weight at all regarding the Holy Scriptures.

On a separate note, dave makes a crucial point!

For some reason, I was reminded of C. Michael Patton's words on a similar issue:

"[...] the Bible does not have to be inspired for Christianity to be true. Before you jump all over me, think of it this way: Did God have to give us the Bible in order to be God? Of course not. If he never gave us any written testimony of himself, he would still be God. There was nothing that obligated God to this form of revelation (or any form at all!). Christ could have come and lived a perfect life, gained representation, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and never had it recorded in the Scriptures. How would we know about the Gospel? I don’t know. Maybe angels, maybe word of mouth, maybe direct revelation, or maybe not at all. The point is that God did not have to inspire any books in order for him to be who he is and do what he did. The Bible does not make Christianity true; the Bible simply records true Christianity through inspired words and thoughts."

THAT said, I believe the idea that the Bible is inspired comes from the fact that it had so many authors, in different moments in history and throughout so many years that talked about things that would happen (like the incarnation of Christ and his death, for example) and have the same general ideas and principles without contradictions. That is a gargantuan task and one, I believe, would not have been achieved without some help from the Holy Spirit.

Now, this is important for Christian living, I think. If the Bible is to be doctrinally authoritative and personally applicable, then it would be best if it was inspired. Otherwise, things like "love your neighbor as yourself" are just... suggestions.

Looking forward to the response!

[/two cents]

Perry,

I noted your post and must comment on two points you made.

>> It {the NT] was not even recognized as a compiled canon, in its present form, for several hundred years.

But remember that such a recognized canon was those several decades in the making. We may speak of a proto-canon developed by the mid-second century. All those stamp-sized fragments that Bart Ehrmann speaks of represent a progressive effort to disseminate the originals. The NT epistles speak of gathering and sharing of writings, so there would be small collections of NT documents held by congregations (think of baseball cards and the swapping and trading connected to that. Apostolic writings could be easily copied and sent to other churches who had there's to copy and share). The Apostolic Fathers from Clement to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus were quoting the apostles in their works. These quotes came from somewhere. The gospels were well-established by the mid-second century to the point that Tatian could offer his compiled harmony Diatessaron around A.D. 160. Even the Apostolic Fathers were consistent in presenting four authors to these originally anonymous gospels. The attempted culling of apostolic material by Marcion at the same time was recognized as an untoward censoring of Apostolic tradition and led to better summations as Irenaeus in A.D. 180. While he asserted the apostolic nature of 85% of the present NT (the lack of a known author leading him to omit Hebrews, for example), he set the rule of apostolic source. If an apostle or one associated with an apostle wrote it, it is noted as part of the NT. The recognition of the present canon at Carthage in A.D.397 (Nicea had nothing to do with canon matters) was recognizing what the church had all along, works describing the works and significance of Jesus Christ.

>> Even Luther, centuries later, questioned the veracity of several NT books. The usual take on statements of Luther like his "strawy epistle" assessment of James. His methodology in Biblical interpretation sought for the "advancement of the Gospel," and placed all books that did not focus on this central truth as secondary in importance. James was placed in his Deutsches Bibeln with only this comment. Luther modified his position on James later in his life as he began to appreciate the paradoxical interplay of Law and Gospel.

Luther often made much of his understanding of Scriptures as allowing the Holy Spirit to have preeminence when human minds tend to stagger at the truth of God's Word. This seems to be the core of our understanding of what is inspired of God, and what dave was hinting at.

Inerrancy (probably unjustly) has too much literalistic baggage associated with it that brings out ignorant objections like "the Bible says that the number PI is 3, and it is not exactly 3, therefore the Bible is not inerrant."
This baggage comes along with the claim "I believe the Bible".

Honestly Austin, if you are looking for the phrase that will satisfy irrational unbelievers so that they don't associate idiotic views (that virtually no one holds) with Christianity, that phrase is "I give up, you are sooooo much smarter and more scientificy than me!"

I go ahead and embrace the phrase "inerrancy". Should someone try to say that number of digits of precision given for the the size of Solomon's cast sea is germaine, I point to the doctrine of inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement which is easily available online. If they persist, they are attacking some view, but it's not the doctrine of inerrancy.

I also take the time to answer the objection. First, no number given will correctly equal the ratio of circumference to diameter. Would 3.1 satisfy the Bible-denier? Probably not. What about 3.14? 3.142? 3.1416? 3.14159? 3.141593? Or this? And if any of those do satisfy the Bible denier, why shouldn't the approximation with one fewer significant digit serve as well? And if that, then why not 3, also a correct approximation of the ratio, serve? Or is it the contention of the Bible denier that in a description of a room, the God should have inspired the author to launch into a discussion of real numbers in order to avoid some dimwit construing an error at some later stage.

Now, some, Bible-deniers may persist in saying that it should at least have said 3.14. Why? Because atheism.

Well, even for these 'thinkers', it turns out that sea is described as having a flared rim.

What would be the simplest way to measure the circumference of such a vessel? You would stretch a rope around the unflared body and measure the rope. And what would be the simplest way to measure the diameter? Maximize the chord with the rope across the top of the sea (which would include the flared rim).

Now measuring thus in the simplest way, the measurements come out to 10 cubits in diameter, or about 180 inches. And 30 cubits around, or about 540 inches. That's assuming the typical 18 inches to the cubit. The flare of the rim is described as being one hand wide. That's about 4 inches. When you maximize the chord, you'll be measuring the width of the rim flare twice, so the inner diameter, given a measurement of 180 inches, is 172 inches. The ratio of 540 to 172 is about 3.14.

WisdomLover,

I agree with pretty much everything you say, but I don't think that solves the problem. I've never read through the entire Chicago statement, but I anticipate that I would agree with at least the spirit of it.

My issue with the word "inerrant" isn't only pertinent to atheists who are trying to find something wrong with Scripture. The word can be a stumbling block for believers too. I'm not sure if you believe in 6 day creation or not, but plenty of people do, and would hold that for the bible to be without error, then the earth must have been created in six literal days. Once again, I think it is a naive understanding of the word inerrant, which does not take into account the nuances of genre and literary devices, which leads to these problems, not the word itself.

However, the word has become associated with an understanding which is only familiar to those of us in a post-Enlightenment, hyper-scientific culture. Since that understanding is the wrong way to look at scripture, I choose not to use the word as it can confuse the issue. It's not always about being right or wrong. Yes, I think the word "inerrant" technically applies to Scripture, when properly understood. But our goal shouldn't be technical correctness, but overall effective communication.

I guess my last point is that the words "inspired," "authoritative," and "reliable" all do just as good of a job or better, without that baggage. In fact, I believe it's only in relatively recent history that the word "inerrant" began to be used in this context. I'm in the middle of reading Warfield's "The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture," which is one of the most ambitious defenses of the highest view of scripture possible, but guess what? In 300 pages, he might have used the word "inerrant," or "inerrancy" once or twice. "Indefectible?" Check. "Irrefragable?" Check. "Plenary Inspiration?" Check. "Authoritative?" Check. But rarely, if at all, does he use inerrant or inerrancy.

So I don't look at this as an issue of conceding a word that has traditionally been used in this context. I look at it as a recognition that a newly applied word can have confusing baggage tied to it.

The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was written in 1978.

B.B. Warfield died in 1921.

I would not expect him to use the term "inerrancy".

Now, in the 36 years since the Chicago Statement, the word "inerrancy" has been successfully laden with the baggage you note.

And it didn't actually take 36 years. If it took 36 months I'd be surprised.

This lading did not happen by accident either. It came about by the concerted effort of group-thinking Bible-deniers to construct straw men for their jousting pleasure.

Should all inerrantists accept your counsel, Austin, and eschew the word "inerrancy" still, they would have to have some name for their doctrine. Let's suppose that they chose the name "authority" and issued the Cincinnati Statement of Biblical Authority. I contend that the same baggage currently being carried by "inerrancy" would be transferred to "authority" before the ink was dry on the 'Cincinnati Statement'.

Better to embrace the name "inerrancy" on my view. Using other names because of 'baggage' just makes the Bible-denier believe that he's won a point...when he really has no point, and should be made to see that. Indeed, one of the nice things about an opponent's use of a straw man is that when the lie is exposed, the person who raised the straw man is the one that ends up looking foolish. The kind of exposure is more likely to happen when you don't let the Bible-deniers set the terms of the debate.

WisdomLover,

That's exactly my point. Biblical Christianity has been around for almost 2000 years. So why get hung up on a word that just began to be used about it 36 years ago?

Two points:

1) What do you think about my comment that the word inerrant is a stumbling block for believers also, rather than just "group-thinking Bible-deniers?"

2) I think it's at least partially a problem with the word itself as opposed to what people attach to it. Inerrant = without error. What kind of errors? Scientific? Historical? Theological? Are they all the same? What if the God made a theological statement and it was understood by 21st century post-enlightenment Christians as a scientific statement. Is that an error? What if God made a historical statement and it was understood as a theological one. What then?

On the other hand, "inspired" is straightforward and taken directly from scripture itself- breathed from God (1 Tim 3:16). "Reliable," likewise, is straightforward and directly from the bible itself (2 Peter 1:19). "Authoritative" (binding)... once again, straightforward and in scripture (John 10:34).

It seems like we have too many good options directly from scripture itself to insist on using one that may technically be right, but has only been used for 18/1000 of the amount of time, and has a tendency to confuse people.

Once again, it comes down to two choices to me:

A) We can be technically correct and stubborn or

B) We can be effective communicators of what God's Word is.

The two are not always at odds, but when they are, I'll take the latter.

"why get hung up on a word that just began to be used about it 36 years ago"

I think my point is that there is nothing to be gained by using a different word. The word "inerrant" was loaded with the baggage you mention by those who hate Scripture. If you use a different word to express the same concept, it will quickly get loaded with the same baggage by those who hate Scripture.

So what will you have gained? Nothing. And you'll have paid the price of sowing doubt and confusion.

Your approach reminds me of the racial politics. We're constantly treated to new terms to use to refer to the same people, on the grounds that the old terms are derogatory. But guess what, the new terms quickly become derogatory.

You're chasing after the wind.

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"Inspired" is straightforward?

"Reliable" is straightforward?

"Authoritative" is straightforward?

None of these words are any more straightforward than "inerrant"

And none are in Scripture either, since Scripture isn't written in English.

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"What do you think about my comment that the word inerrant is a stumbling block for believers also"

I think it is made more of a stumbling block when we start confusing matters by changing the words we use to refer to the same set of concepts.

As much as possible, we should keep the meanings of words fixed and educate people on what those fixed meanings are.

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"Inerrant = without error. What kind of errors? Scientific? Historical? Theological? Are they all the same?"

The thing that's nice about inerrancy is that you don't try to pick and choose. The answer to your first question is "All kinds of errors" so it doesn't matter whether different kinds of errors are the same as one another (though I should think the answer to that question is obviously "No", if they were the same, they wouldn't be different.)

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"What if the God made a theological statement and it was understood by 21st century post-enlightenment Christians as a scientific statement. Is that an error? What if God made a historical statement and it was understood as a theological one."

The Chicago Statement pretty much settles this question. The Bible is free from errors in its autographs. It's not idiot-proof, nor do we assume that it is free from transmission error. It can be misinterpreted, miscopied, misused etc.

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Once again, it comes down to two choices to me:

A) We can be technically correct and stubborn or

B) We can be effective communicators of what God's Word is.

The two are not always at odds, but when they are, I'll take the latter.

Really? You would prefer effectively communicating something that's not technically correct?

I think I'd rather you be ineffective at that.

Since I think that God's Word is inerrant, you will never be technically incorrect when you communicate God's Word effectively.

Perry Shields:

The latter part of your statement sounds like logical nonsense, since the compiled NT canon did not exist during Christ's lifetime. How did He authorize it, exactly?
Christ authorized the apostles. The criterion for inclusion in the NT canon is apostolicity. If a book was written by an apostle or under the supervision of an apostle, then it's in. If not, not. If we find Zeroth Corinthians (which is alluded to in First Corinthians), it goes in, not because it was authorized by Christ by name, but because Christ authorized the eleven and they authorized Paul.

Luther's opinion about James changed over time. He also often wrote and spoke intemperately. (BTW, I'm a Lutheran.) If his argument to reject 'the epistle of straw' were to succeed, it would have to be based on something other than his distaste for the theology it seems to teach. He'd have to mount an effective argument that the book was not written under the supervision of an Apostle. And there were some, at the time of the setting of the canon, who thought it wasn't, but most did. That's why James is categorized as antilegomena.

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