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August 31, 2010

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"Do not suppose that I believe in Jesus because it is said so-and-so in a book. I believe in him because he is himself. The vision of him in that book, and, I trust, his own living power in me, have enabled me to understand him, to look him in the face, as it were, and accept him as my Master and Savior, in following whom I shall come to the rest of the Father's peace. The Bible is to me the most precious thing in the world, because it tells me his story; and what good men thought about him who know him and accepted him. But, the common theory of the inspiration of the words, instead of the breathing of God's truth into the hearts and souls of those who wrote it, and who then did their best with it, is degrading and evil; and they who hold it are in danger of worshipping the letter instead of living in the Spirit, of being idolaters of the Bible instead of disciples of Jesus.... It is Jesus who is the Revelation of God, not the Bible; that is but a means to a mighty eternal end. The book is indeed sent us by God, but it nowhere claims to be His very word. If it were—and it would be no irreverence to say it—it would have been a good deal better written. Yet even it's errors and blunders do not touch the truth, and are the merest trifles—dear as the little spot of earth on the whiteness of the snowdrop. Jesus alone is The Word of God." -George MacDonald

But we don't use the history of the Bible to inform the construction of the "actual" Bible that people buy and read today. Scholars have found that there are different versions spliced together, and have pinned those versions to periods in time when one or another version would serve a particular political agenda. Different groups had their own scriptures, corresponding to what they wanted to believe about themselves and their enemies. A lot of the contradictions we find in scripture today are the result of splicing those versions back together.

So why do we still have multiple flood stories interwoven, and why do we have two creation stories one immediately following the other? Why haven't we used this knowledge you're so proud of to work backwards to the "real" Bible and only study *that one*?

Textual criticism is similar to the process by which the common ancestor of two species can be inferred from DNA analysis of the species. The closer you are to the common source, the fewer errors (mutations) you have. If mutations are random, it is unlikely that a later mutation is going to correct an earlier one, leading to a spurious closer similarity to the original. But in copying, you might get a spurious similarity if a scribe finds an error and corrects it.

Malebranche - your quote is exactly why MacDonald was officially condemned by the Church. If you are not willing to submit yourself to the authority of God's infallible Word, then you set yourself up as Ultimate Judge, in effect taking the place of God Himself. This was the devil's sin.

"The fact that we have multiple copies rather than just one original is far greater help to determine later additions and changes. The many thousands of copies we have to compare is more help than one original that may have been tampered with and we'd never be able to tell."

This seems true. If the choice is either lots of copies that we can compare, contrast, argue and have doubts about, or one autograph that we can argue and have doubts about, we are probably better off with the copies.

But, of course, it would not be a bad thing to have the copies and also have the autograph.

Concerning Scripture, C.S. Lewis writes the following:

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivete, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message...We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best of us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done—especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.

That passage is great. First, and in sharp contrast to the sophistry from fundamentalist apologists, Lewis displays a commendable honesty about the fact that the Scriptures contain errors. He goes to the text and for the life of him it appears errant. He then refuses to engage in all of the shuffling of feet inerrantist apologists spend their time engaging in for the sake of protecting their dogma from disconfirmation. Second, Lewis nails exactly what motivates fundamentalist dogma about Scripture to begin with, namely a priori argumentation, not fidelity to the Bible. It’s hilarious that folks on the fundamentalist side of this dispute cannot see how much confidence they put in their own a priori reason. For of course, only an idiot would claim to find the following argument in the plain sense of Scripture:

(1) Every proposition the human authors of Scripture use the words of Scripture to endorse is also a proposition endorsed by God.
(2) God endorses only true propositions.
(3) Therefore, every proposition the human authors of Scripture use the words of Scripture to endorse is true.

Despite the fact that only the most perverse exegesis would claim to have mined this argument from the Bible, this argument is what motivates many fundamentalists. For many fundamentalists, it is this argument, not the plain sense of Scripture itself or the creeds of the Church, that motivates all of this nervous anxiety about inerrancy. And it is precisely the fundamentalist’s confidence in this argument (i.e., his own reasoning) that folks like Lewis and MacDonald seek to undermine. But fundamentalists are quite slow to admit their own radical confidence in their favorite a priori arguments. They prefer to present themselves simply as people taking the Bible at face value. They, in their pretentious smugness, also seem to think that folks like C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald were just too dull to see what is so plainly obvious to the fundamentalist crowd.

Malebranche

I'll admit that I was a little surprised to see that quote from Lewis (a man I otherwise have a lot of respect for). I guess it just shows that getting some things right doesn't mean you're going to get everything right!

Listen, the bottom line is that we all need to have some ultimate source of authority. In setting yourself up as Judge over God's Word you are appealing to your own authority (or, perhaps more graciously, to the authority of merely human reason). But humans are weak and fallible; we are easily prone to error and to all manner of wrong thinking. It is for this very reason that God saw fit to provide us with His very Words, so that we do not have to rely on our own fallen capacities. By rejecting that authority, you (and perhaps MacDonald and Lewis for that matter!) are rejecting God's own provision for your fallenness.

The ultimate resting place for the Christian in on the solid Rock of God's Word - you are wrong to think that it is in some a priori argument. Scripture itself claims to be God's Word. In taking it to be our ultimate authority, we do not need to back that up with any arguments.

Arnauld,

You say that Scripture claims that it is God’s Word. Now, even you will admit that this is a loose way of speaking. After all, Scripture is not a person, and so does not make claims. It would be silly if I, when speaking face to face with you, talked about what the sounds coming out of your mouth were saying. The sounds coming out of your mouth say nothing, for sounds are not persons. Rather, you, the person, say things by means of your sounds. Similarly, Scripture is not a person. Rather, Scripture is a text that persons used to say things.

That much even you will concede. Furthermore, you will also concede that more than one person endorsed propositions by means of the sentences in Scripture. For instance, you will agree with me that both Paul and God (two persons) endorse propositions in Romans. So even you will admit that in Scripture we are presented with the voices of many persons, only one (three?) of which is divine.

Already, therefore, we are faced with a possibility that we must decide on one way or the other. That possibility is this: perhaps there are claims that are endorsed in Scripture by the human authors that are not endorsed in Scripture by the divine author. We must decide whether or not the Bible may contain such cases. If you would like an example of a good candidate for this, check out Psalm 137, where the human author asserts that those who smash the heads of Babylonian infants against rocks are blessed. I suspect that God does not endorse this proposition and never did. But it seems that the human author of Psalm 137 endorsed this wicked proposition. But for now I raise this only as a possible example. The bigger point is simply this: we need to decide what we think about whether or not there could be claims that are endorsed in Scripture by the human authors that are not endorsed in Scripture by the divine author.

Now, I suspect that you will be of the opinion that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors is also endorsed by the divine author. I suspect that this is exactly why you believe that every proposition endorsed by the human authors in Scripture is true. But why believe that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors is also endorsed by the divine author? That is the real question.

Well how might we go about answering that question? Will it do any good to quote Scripture itself to settle the issue? Clearly it won’t do any good. For suppose you find a passage in Scripture that says or entails that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors is also endorsed by the divine author (I am confident that you won’t, for two reasons: first, Scripture does not betray sensitivity to such fine grained distinctions as we are concerning ourselves with now; second, Scripture does not refer to the canonized collection of books you call Christian Scripture). That will count as good evidence only if we are confident that this very claim itself is endorsed by God. But might that very passage itself be an instance where a human author endorsed a claim not endorsed by God? How can you rule out this possibility? Perhaps the human authors of Scripture asserted that every proposition they asserted is also asserted by God. But unless we have reason to believe that God also endorses this, we won’t have much confidence that it is true. We will, at best, remain agnostic.

So, though you probably believe that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors of Scripture is also endorsed by God, you will not be able to defend that from Scripture. The human author of Timothy certainly claims that all Scripture is inspired by God, but nowhere do we see a detailed analysis of divine inspiration that betrays familiarity with the distinctions I am making. That just is not there. So, we are not even sure if the human author of Timothy believes that every proposition the human authors endorsed in Scripture was also endorsed by God. But even if we were sure that the human author of Timothy believed this, that would convince us only if we were already convinced that God endorsed that claim too. And we will probably be convinced that God endorsed that claim too only if we are already convinced that God endorses every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors. And now we have come full circle.

Just to be clear on why this is important, suppose for the sake of discussion that some propositions endorsed by the human authors of Scripture are not endorsed by God. Call one such claim P. Now, from the fact that God endorses only true propositions, it will not follow that P is true, since ex hypothesi God has not endorsed P. Appealing to the veracity of God, therefore, will do no good in defending the truth of P. But the veracity of God is precisely what inerrantists wish to appeal to in defending their dogmas. They wish to argue that, because God asserts only truths, everything asserted by God in Scripture is true. But on our hypothesis, this will not show that P is true. What inerrantists need, then, in addition to the veracity of God, is the premise that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors of Scripture is also endorsed by God. Without that premise, their argument collapses. But the belief that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors of Scripture is also endorsed by God is not a proposition capable of being rationally justified by Scripture (since, as I’ve already stated, that claim is not found in Scripture and even if it were it would be circular to argue in that fashion). It follows, therefore, that even the inerrantists’ view of Scripture is founded firmly on the pillar of their own a priori dogmas.

There were some monks who meticulously hand copied ancient church manuscripts for centuries, passing them on for posterity. Their entire world came crashing down one day when they discovered an original copy buried deep in the library. They discovered that it used the word "Celebrate" and not the word they for centuries had copied as, "Celibate".

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Tim. 3:16-17

Doesn't that undercut the idea that the Bible only contains the Word of God. The passage says that it's all breathed out by God. I think you'd have to say that this particular passage is not the Word of God in order to maintain the idea that the Bible only contains the word of God.

WisdomLover,

In honor of the distinctions I made above, I ask you this question:

Why do you believe that God endorses 2 Timothy 3:16-17?

I grant you that everything God endorses in Scripture is true. I even grant you that God endorses many things in Scripture. But the question still stands, why do you believe that God endorses 2 Timothy 3:16-17?

Additionally, I might have asked you why you believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17 entails that everything endorsed by the human authors of Scripture is endorsed also by God.

I don’t know if anyone will respond to the questions I’ve raised. Perhaps the distinctions I’ve made and the questions I’ve posed using these distinctions strikes my interlocutors as mere sophistry designed to pull the wool over the inerrantist’s eyes. I do not intend that in the least. I, in fact, am quite sincere in my question. I, for example, am one that believes that there are propositions which the human authors of Scripture endorse in Scripture but which God does not endorse. The passage about Babylonian infants in Psalm 137 is an example. So, though I have deep respect for the Bible and believe that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, I do not yet believe that everything the human authors of Scripture endorse in Scripture is also endorsed by God. Moreover, I am not alone in this. Origen, Karl Barth, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis seem to share my view in this matter. They too believe that the human authors of Scripture may have endorsed things in Scripture that were not endorsed by God. This is not, therefore, simply a debater’s trick or a cheap trap set for my opponents. I, together with thinkers far wiser and more pious than myself, fail to believe that everything endorsed in Scripture by the human authors of Scripture is also endorsed by God. If the inerrantists hold the true opinion on this matter, then I wish to share their opinion. However, as of now I do not. I therefore genuinely and in all sincerity ask my interlocutors, “What reason do you have to believe that God, by means of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, endorses the proposition that everything endorsed in Scripture by the human authors of Scripture is also endorsed by God?” Are there compelling reasons accessible to folks like myself and C.S. Lewis that will show us that God does make such an endorsement in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Or, alternatively, is the belief that God makes such an endorsement incapable of being defended rationally in a non-question begging fashion to those Christians who don’t share the belief?

Malebranche, I have been enjoying your posts. I believe (though it has not necessarily been stated in this thread) that many Christians, when they see the word "Scripture" as in 2 Timothy, or the phrase "the Word of God" anywhere in the Bible, have in their minds a picture of a leather-bound Protestant Bible. It is difficult, therefore, for them to think outside of this box they've subconsciously put themselves into. What, exactly then, is "Scripture" and "the Word of God?" Could it be something other than that which is written on papyrus? In this case, I side with MacDonald.

Perry,

Well it's nice to have company!

I find this debate interesting as (although it's only slightly better) when Greg uses the term 'never read a bible verse', he's always used it as meaning, 'read a few verses either side of the verse', in his examples, and not the context of the whole 'drama of scripture'. In fact, the piece seems to imply 'scripture' = NT.

What the Jews meant by 'Word of God' included the Targums and the teachings of Rabbis - or Rabbon - in the case of Gamaliel. But also, what about those papyri?

I often find these sorts of debates slip into a 'compartmentalisation' of scripture or a form of neo-Marcionism, as if the NT scriptures weren't teaching Christ as fulfilment of Torah and Temple, but it's repudiation and destruction, as if, "I came to replace the Law, not fulfil it", was what Jesus taught.

Malebranche-

"why do you believe that God endorses 2 Timothy 3:16-17?"

Yes, that's the key question isn't it? My point was that you were going to have to say that that one isn't endorsed by God in order to maintain the idea that the Bible only contains the Word of God.

"I might have asked you why you believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17 entails that everything endorsed by the human authors of Scripture is endorsed also by God.

I think you just did ask me ;-)

I don't think that everything endorsed by the human authors of Scripture is also endorsed by God.

For starters, most of what was endorsed by the human authors of Scripture was never written in the Bible.

Furthermore, not everything written in Scripture is an endorsement of any claim. Grammar alone reveals this in many cases. When God said "Don't eat the apple" (I'm paraphrasing) that was not the endorsement of any claim. There were claims surrounding it and its utterance presupposes a number of claims, but the sentence itself is not a claim and cannot be endorsed (or rejected) for that reason.

Also, there are sentences in the indicative mood that are metaphorical, hyperbolic, reported indirectly, poetic expressions of emotion and so forth. I see no reason to say that these sentences, though in indicative mood, are claims that God endorses. The most rock-ribbed of inerrantists has no reason to think God endorses them. Articles 13 and 18 of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy cover this.

There are of course, plenty of sentences in Scripture where the author of Scripture did intend that they be treated as claims. And I think God endorses those because that is what He inspired (if you accept 2 Tim.) the human authors to write. I see no reason to suppose that the human authors themselves always endorsed these claims.

BTW-You've been around here longer than I have, if you've read much of what I've said on this sort of subject (not that I expect you to have done so), you probably know that I am one of those inerrantists.

You should also know that I'm quite willing to embrace the idea that the reason for believing in inerrancy is a deductive argument (I'm not sure that you've captured it above in your second comment), rather than induction from the passages. There are plenty of Scriptures that have the initial appearance of error or contradiction, so induction from the passages is probably not going to be terribly persuasive to someone who does not already accept inerrancy. (Though I will say that there are very few of these 'Bible contradictions' that I'm terribly impressed with).

Perry-

Why don't you tell us what "Scripture" refers to in 2 Tim.

I know that a common claim is that it refers to the Old testament and not the New. I'm not saying that that is your view Perry. I'm just saying that it is a common view.

Even so, allow me to poison the well a bit on that view (should it come up here).

It is an odd claim. What do you have to believe in order to believe this?

First, that it refers to the OT. So the Old Testament is entirely the Word of God, inspired by God. None of that "containment" language for the OT.

Second, that God changed the way He revealed Himself after the incarnation.

Third, God changed the way He revealed Himself so as to be less reliable. We might reinterpret that politically correct label B.C.E. for the BC era as "Before the Coming of Error".

Fourth, given that the whole reason for supposing this is to have a 'silver bullet' answer to the charges of error, you must also think that the Old Testament simply does not contain as many places where such a silver bullet would be needed.

On my view, the third and fourth items in this list are pretty damning for the view that "Scripture" in 2 Tim. refers only to the OT.

Yes, I know that Paul did not have the NT. It does not follow from that that God (or even Paul) was not referring to the NT.

Analogy. Suppose that I'm talking to my second child who is thinking that she might like to skip college, and I say "Any child of mine is going to go to college". Suppose that with pronouncements like this I eventually bully her into going to college. Then my wife and I have a third surprise child. My second child would be well within her rights to throw my words back in my face if I did not compel my third child to go to college.

The "Any child" statement expresses a relationship I have with my children, even the ones I haven't yet fathered.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 expresses a relationship that God has with Scripture, even the Scripture that God hasn't inspired yet.

I think a far more promising route, if you want to defend the idea that the Bible only contains the word of God is to say that 2 Tim. is an example of a place where the words of Scripture are not part of the Word of God that Scripture contains. This, I think, is what Malebranche was hinting at above.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 reads as follows:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In the immediate context Pseudo-Paul (the author of 2 Timothy) reminds his reader of the Scriptures with which he was familiar from his infancy. That would not have included the New Testament. The context suggests, therefore, that ‘Scripture’ is being used in a more truncated sense than we use it today.

More later.

Malebranche has some very eloquent prose, but I would caution everyone to judge his position by its fruit. Consider where we are left off, after having gone down the path Malebranche suggests. Once you have distinguished different authors in Scripture, what principle do you appeal to in order to locate the words of God? What reasons might you have to prefer one such principle to another? Ultimately, what we are going to have to do is appeal to what seems right in our own eyes. You end up with a "scripture" devoid of any substantial content, and impotent to make any real changes in your life. Something in the Bible troubles you, or doesn't seem to sit well with your own preferences and desires? No problem - that part was endorsed by a mistaken human author but is not endorsed by God.

Malebranche, I think you are on a dangerously slippery slope and I, for one, refuse to join you even at the first step. You claim that the Bible obviously contains the voices of many authors, only one of which is God. I don't see that this is at all obvious. You've given me no reason to deny that God alone is the author of all of Scripture. Of course, it did not come direct from His finger, but through the medium of human writers. You are wrong, however, to conclude from this that the human writers count as "authors" in addition to God. God used these writers as his implements to convey His own message. God didn't merely use their hands to inscribe letters, but used their personalities and writing styles as well. It does not follow that they count as authors, in the same way that God is the author. God, and God alone, is the author of Scripture.

You are not going to like this view. You are not going to like it because it entails that you accept things you do not want to accept; that you believe things not supported by merely human reason; that you recognize the falsity and perversion of some of your own desires and preferences. Accepting, believing, and recognizing such things, however, is just what it is to submit oneself to the authority of God. I've noticed that you have not explicitly responded to my main charge in previous posts. I take this to be tacit acceptance of my point. You do not recognize scripture as a final authority. When it conflicts with your own desires, preferences, and reason, you appeal to the latter in order to make divisions within scripture and accept only what seems right on your own eyes.

At the risk of sounding belligerent, allow me to remind you of our Lord's parable about the house built on sand (assuming that this is one of the parts of the Bible which we don't merely attribute to a mistaken human author). It seems to me that your "house" is not founded on the solid rock of the Word of God, but on the sand of human reason, or more generally on your own fallen forms of cognition.

"how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

This suggests that the apostolic writings are supposed to be included as Scripture. Job may have something to say about being wise for salvation through faith in Chirst. (I think has quite a lot to say about it in fact.) But Christ Jesus? The Christ was not revealed to be Jesus in the OT. The NT did that.

I'll wait for your additions though Malebranche.

Malebranche, Arnauld. Wow, this thread is peopled by second-string Early Modern philosophers. I love that!

I couldn't agree with you more, Arnauld, on the dangers of a position like Malebranche's. You adopt it to make it easier to live with the 'bible errors' but it's all too easy for you to use it to turn the Bible into a 'living breathing document' (which is just code for "a mirror for my prejudices").

WisdomLover,

It’s still not clear to me what reason you have to believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is endorsed by God. Perhaps it’s because you believe everything the human authors of Scripture endorse in Scripture is also endorsed by God. But that is also something I (with C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald) fail to see any good reason to believe.

You point out that there are things that the human authors of Scripture endorse that God does not endorse. Of course there are. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not there are propositions that the human authors of Scripture endorse in or by means of the sentences of Scripture that are not endorsed by God. For instance, could it be the case that by means of the sentences of Scripture the human author asserts that P is the case but God does not endorse the truth of P? What do you think and why? This is most fundamentally what separates you from folks like me, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald.

In regards to Arnauld’s pastoralizing, I have no regard for arguments of the form, “If we believe such and such is true, then it will be easier to do bad things to the Bible or abuse the Bible.” That is no objection to the distinctions I drew above or to the truth of my view. Believing in justification by faith alone may be abused by certain folks, but that is no objection to the truth of justification by faith alone.

A somewhat unrelated remark. Isn't it odd how adoringly conservative evangelicals flock to C.S. Lewis, a person who believed in evolution, rejected inerrancy, had sympathies for inclusivism, deeply admired the thought of a universalist who rejected penal substitution (George MacDonald), and entertained non-orthodox ideas about the afterlife?

Malebranche-

"The issue is whether or not there are propositions that the human authors of Scripture endorse in or by means of the sentences of Scripture that are not endorsed by God."

Well, I think it is entirely possible that the human authors of Scripture don't understand any number of things that God intends to express in Scripture. This includes the propositional truth that God intends to express in Scripture. This does not imply any error in the autograph

Not to belabor this point too much, I agree with you that there is some way of asking a crucial question like "Could propositions expressed in Scripture not be endorsed by God?" And the answer will separate errantists from inerrantists. The answer I'll give is "No" I think 2 Timothy 3:16-17 rules that out...all such propositions would be propositions expressed by God.

Or are you asking whether there are propositions which God expresses in Scripture but which He actually does not endorse?

Now, you've been asking me why I should believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17. That's a perfectly fair question. But I'm not sure that it's fruitful to get into that discussion until we first establish the impact of the claims made in that passage under the assumption that God does endorse it.

WisdomLover,

I asked you whether you thought it could be the case that there are propositions endorsed as true by the human authors by means of Scripture that are not endorsed as true by God. You seem to say “No,” though it still is not perfectly clear to me what your direct answer is.

Why do you answer in the negative? You cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17. But why do you believe that God endorses as true 2 Timothy 3:16-17? The exchange is starting to resemble the following:

A: I believe that every time the human authors of Scripture endorse a proposition as true in Scripture, God also endorses as true that proposition. Since God never errs, it follows that every proposition endorsed in Scripture by the human authors of Scripture is true.

B: But why do you believe that every time the human authors of Scripture endorse a proposition as true in Scripture, God also endorses as true that proposition?

A: Well, because 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells me that every time the human authors of Scripture endorse a proposition as true in Scripture, God also endorses as true that proposition.

B: That strikes me as a bit much. I grant you that the human author of that passage believes that all of Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching and training in righteousness, but I fail to see what evidence we have that the human author of that passage equated divine inspiration with your particular theory of divine inspiration, namely plenary verbal inerrancy. In fact, I see no theory of inspiration at all, but simply the doctrine of inspiration. But putting that aside for the moment, there is something more worrisome about your response. It does not yet seem true to me that every time the human authors of Scripture endorse a proposition as true in Scripture, God also endorses as true that proposition. So, for all I know, there are cases in Scripture when the human author endorses a proposition as true in Scripture but God does not endorse that proposition. 1 Corinthians 7:12 is an interesting example. It will not be persuasive to those not already of your opinion, therefore, to cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and simply assume both that this passage endorses plenary verbal inerrancy and that it is endorsed by God. The very issue at hand is whether there may be cases in Scripture when the human author endorses a proposition as true in Scripture but God does not endorse that proposition. If there may be such cases, then 2 Timothy 3:16-17 itself may be such a case. It is entirely unpersuasive, therefore, to merely quote a passage of Scripture when the veracity of Scripture itself is at issue. Now perhaps you are not trying to persuade folks like Lewis and myself. But if you are trying to persuade us, I think what you’ve offered thus far simply cannot persuade a rational agent not already convinced of your position.

Malebranche

I've read through your posts again and I think I see the problem you are getting at. I think I missed it, or at least didn't think hard enough about it, on the first read. I think you are right that one cannot legitimately appeal to 1 Tim 3:16-17 for the purpose of establishing that everything endorsed by the human authors in Scripture is also endorsed by God. , at least not for the purposes of convincing someone who already doubts it.

Honestly, I am more troubled than I let on about the passage you mention in Psalm 137. My initial reaction was to plead ignorance about why God would proclaim a blessing on the Babylonians, but to insist that He did. For the obvious reasons, that is not a very satisfying position. I need to think more about this. More later

Arnauld,

Why are you troubled? As the Scriptures tell us, "Do not be troubled or afraid, little flock, for I am with you." Jesus also said, "When you are tired and afraid, I give you my peace".

As for the Psalm from holy writ that you are pondering (and that Malebranche is doubting), I would say, What is it to you, oh man of the world, if God sees fit to place the words of vengeance in the mouth of his servant David?

Don't be a lone baby about the plight of the Babylonians. Once one sees the atrocities that the nation of Israel endured at the hands of the Babylonians they will have a better appreciation of why it was fair and just that the Lord's servant pronounce such a thing!

I suggest you both stop trusting in your own understanding and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this.

Further, it might benefit you both to actually READ the history of the atrocities the Babylonions committed and THEN you will begin to understand the rightness of David's words.

"I fail to see what evidence we have that the human author of that passage equated divine inspiration with your particular theory of divine inspiration, namely plenary verbal inerrancy. In fact, I see no theory of inspiration at all, but simply the doctrine of inspiration."

I don't think I'm committed to verbal plenary inspiration or any other theory of inspiration. As a typical monotheist, I am committed to the idea that, by whatever means inspiration occurred, God knew in advance how it would get verbalized by the person He inspired to write. I'm also committed to the idea that there is nothing that any individual (except God) could do to correct an error in that got into that initial verbalization. These, I think, imply the following disjunction: EITHER there is no error in the initial verbalization OR there are errors in the initial verbalization, and God alone is responsible for them. Inerrantists find it hard to believe that the second disjunct could be true, so they are forced to the first disjunct. And that is where I find myself.

Arnauld,

Well I deeply appreciate the fact that you are willing to think these things over. Such things as these have been the source of a lot of intellectual turmoil in my own life, but I think the willingness to be troubled by such things is a sign of intellectual courage and honesty.

Either God keeps His word or he doesn't. There is nothing in His character or nature that would lead me to believe that He does not. I am firmly convinced that He is able and in fact has kept, as in preserved, His word throughout the ages. We have His words, which have been sovereignty protected from distortion in meaning in its original intent this very day. The authorship continues to belong to God, and the writing to man as His instrument.

Malebranche-
Psalm 137:8-9

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.
Is it your opinion that Psalm 137:8-9 represents an endorsement of the claim that it is sometimes good to smash the heads of infants against rocks?

Because that's not how I read it.

I read it as saying that there is going to be a nation that defeats the Babylonians, in the process of defeating the Babylonians, this nation will do to the Babylonians what the Babylonians did to the Israelites, namely, smash the heads of their infants against rocks. And God will bless this nation (just as He has blessed all sorts of nations in this fallen world, who have done all sorts of horrific things).

It is true that there was such a nation: Persia.

In other words, the bit about dashing the heads of infants against rocks is part of the description of the nation that God will bless--they will engage in that sinful activity, just as the Babylonians did against the Israelites--but it is not an endorsement of the act of smashing the heads of infants against rocks.

Ok so I thought of a response to Malebranche, but I'm not very satisfied with it. I thought I'd share it anyway, as well as the reason for my dissatisfaction, for the sake of like-minded folks who might be thinking along similar lines.

As stated, I don't think one can legitimately defend the claim that everything the human authors assert in scripture is also asserted by God by appealing to something IN the Bible. But what about this: We all agree, I hope, that the Bible is reliable in a way that nothing else is. This just means that the collection of things that human authors assert in scripture is more reliable than any other collection of things that human authors assert. If we all agree with this, we need to explain it one way or another - in virtue of what is the collection of writings in the Bible more reliable than any other collection? Well, it may well be that the best explanation is that these writings are not merely human, but also divine. This is an inductive, or more accurately, an abductive, argument for the full inspiration of Scripture.

Let me first say that I am still hoping for a convincing a priori argument. Perhaps WisdomLover will be able to help us out here. However, my dissatisfaction with this abductive argument (and, for that matter, with any a priori argument we might find) is that it ultimately depends on human reason. Essentially, relying on such arguments depends on abandoning the claim that the Word of God is itself the final authority and instead admitting that we can do no better than human reason. If we are willing to make that move in defense of our doctrine of Inspiration, however, then Malebranche will surely want a principled reason why we may not do it in any number of other areas. Why not rely on human reason to determine whether or not God pronounced a blessing on those who dash the Babylonian babies against the rocks?

I don't know. Perhaps the pious move at this point is to follow TruthWarrior (great name, BTW) in simply accepting that there really was a good reason for God to pronounce the blessing. They did live in a very different culture than ours, and God's ways are certainly higher than our ways. I might not understand it, but this doesn't give me a good reason to deny it.

Malebranche says "Either God keeps His word or he doesn't. There is nothing in His character or nature that would lead me to believe that He does not."

The first statement sounds like it expresses a true proposition: either God keeps His word or He doesn't. That is a reasonable disjunction, and by the laws of logic any reasonable disjunction demands one choose either P or Q. You choose P. BUT ON THE BASIS OF WHAT?????

The second statement, you put down appeals to your own subjective authority. Consequently it merely begs the question at hand. What is it that INFORMS you about God's nature and his word?

Answer: Holy Writ!

But you are questioning that very basis. The same basis that is informing you is the one that you seek to undermine. That is a self-defeating position and should not be entertained by any rational agent.

I don't that's gonna do it, WisdomLover (though I applaud your efforts). Jesus pronounced blessings upon the meek, the peacekeepers, those who hunger for righteousness; but those are not descriptions of the life these people lead. They are affirmation of those kinds of character traits. Or, if they are descriptions of the life to come, they look for all the world like rewards for the kinds of character traits mentioned. The meek will be blessed in the life to come ON ACCOUNT OF their meekness. It isn't merely an accidental relationship. Analogously, then, it would seem that Psalm 137 claims that the Persians will be blessed ON ACCOUNT OF their dashing Babylonian baby heads against rocks. Maybe that's right, but it is at least unsettling.

Yes, I think the author of Psalm 137 was furious about the Babylonians destroying the Jewish Temple in 586 B.C. and hated the Babylonians because of it. I think the author of Psalm 137 enjoyed the thought of murdering Babylonian infants before the eyes of the Babylonians. The author of this Psalm is not unique in his seething hatred of others. The author of Psalm 109, for instance, has the following to say about his enemies:

Appoint a wicked man over him, And let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him come forth guilty, And let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; Let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless And his wife a widow. Let his children wander about and beg; And let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes. Let the creditor seize all that he has, And let strangers plunder the product of his labor. Let there be none to extend lovingkindness to him, Nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off; In a following generation let their name be blotted out. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, And do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the LORD continually, That He may cut off their memory from the earth; Because he did not remember to show lovingkindness, But persecuted the afflicted and needy man, And the despondent in heart, to put them to death.

You might point out that in this particular passage we don’t have assertions of truth, but rather merely have cursing. That is fine. I am not here to argue that we have the human author endorsing the truth of propositions in this passage. But what this passage does show, however, is that the human authors of many of the Psalms were hateful, vindictive, and furious sinners who betrayed sentiments which are radically sinful and non-Christian.

So yes, I believe that the author of Psalm 137 was asserting that the man that slaughtered Babylonian infants is blessed.

You take another interpretation. But here is the rub. Is it not the case they my interpretation is a completely natural way of reading the text? Am I subjecting the text to bizarre hermeneutical measures? No. In fact, I am permitted to take these texts in the natural sense that I take them because I don’t have dogmas the prevent me from doing so. If they turn out to be inconsistent with the revelation of Christ, then so much the worse for them. They are still the revelation of God, but we must gain instruction from them in a different way than simply reading off what the human author was trying to assert by means of these claims. They require a different use. What is odd is that sometimes folks who pretend to take the Bible at face value often go to great and unnatural lengths to make the Bible fit their dogma of inerrancy. For instance, what will the average inerrantist tell us that God is claiming in the following passage (Exodus 21):

If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.
My interpretation is fairly straightforward. The human author of this passage believed that it was permissible to not punish those who beat slaves so badly that they were immobile for a few days. The reason this is permissible is because slaves are merely property. That’s what the human author believed. And God does not agree with that. I suspect, however, that inerrantists will not take the text at face value. Instead, in order to protect their dogmas, they will opt for anything expect this very natural reading of the text. And why is that? The explanation is that inerrantists actually are not interested in taking Scripture at face value. Instead, they are interesting in taking Scripture at face value only insofar as they can do so without admitting discrepancy. Once the natural sense admits a discrepancy, the natural sense must go and something else must take its place. So, I simply do not believe that inerrantists take the natural sense of Scripture seriously at all. Instead, they first and foremost take inerrancy seriously, and then go to Scripture to make it fit, even if this means sacrificing the plain sense of the text.

"The very issue at hand is whether there may be cases in Scripture when the human author endorses a proposition as true in Scripture but God does not endorse that proposition. If there may be such cases, then 2 Timothy 3:16-17 itself may be such a case."

Yes, yes I get that. What I am trying to establish, before getting to the question of whether 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is endorsed by God is whether it would, if true, imply that the rest of Scripture is endorsed by God (where Divine endorsement is relevant).

Here's the case in relief. Let's forget about the non-propositional content of the Bible for the moment. I have a book of labeled sentences. The sentence with label 2 Tim 3:16,17 seems to me to say that all the rest of the sentences are believed by God. So I think that that sentence refers to a proposition, call it U, that implies that all the rest of the sentences in the book are believed by God. If U is true, then I can safely call this book "The Book of God's Beliefs".

You disagree with me on all points (I think).

1. You do not believe that the book can be called "The Book of God's Beliefs". It should be called "A Book Containing Many of God's Beliefs Along with Some Beliefs that Belong Only to Men"

2. You do not believe that U is true.

3. You do not believe that the sentence labeled 2 Tim 3:16,17 actually refers to U.

The disagreement I have been focusing on in this thread is not whether I can safely call my book of sentences "The Book of God's Beliefs". Nor is it even whether proposition U is true. As I see it, I have been focusing on the most fundamental point of disagreement between us. Namely, whether 2 Tim 3:16,17 actually refers to U. Does it actually say that the rest of the sentences are believed by God?

Oops. Meant to write, "except" instead of "expect" above.

Malebranche,

You appeal to the "natural reading" and "the plain sense of the text", but you don't finish these phrases.

What you mean to say is, "The natural reading AS I SEE FIT TO INTERPRET IT ACCORDING TO MY NATURALLY MINDED WAYS..."

And, by the phrase "The plain sense of the text" you clearly mean, "INSOFAR AS IT FITS MY LIBERAL INTERPRETATION AND FITS WITH MY PRECONCEIVED LIBERAL VIEWS THE TEXT READS AS FOLLOWS".

Once again you are merely begging the question. (Sigh...)

Malebranche-

You said this:

"I believe that the author of Psalm 137 was asserting that the man that slaughtered Babylonian infants is blessed."

I believe exactly the same thing. But I believe not one bit more. In particular, I do not believe that the the nation that slaughtered the Babylonian infants is blessed because they slaughtered the infants. That is reading into the text something that is not there.

"Is it not the case they my interpretation is a completely natural way of reading the text? Am I subjecting the text to bizarre hermeneutical measures? No. In fact, I am permitted to take these texts in the natural sense that I take them because I don’t have dogmas the prevent me from doing so."

There are probably a hundred completely natural readings of the text (mine, btw, is one of them). For the reason just given I also think mine is the plainest reading of the text in that it interprets the text as saying no more than what it says.

Arnauld-

I think it is safe to say that when Jesus makes a generic connection between blessedness and meekness, for example, He is suggesting a connection between the two that goes beyond a merely descriptive connection. It does not follow from this that when the psalmist makes a specific connection between a particular nation and blessedness that he is doing anything more than describing the nation by its actions.

The psalmist obviously believes that dashing the heads of children against the rocks is evil. Believing an action to be evil is the opposite of endorsing it. As such, the psalmist does not endorse the act of dashing the heads of infants against the rocks.

"The psalmist obviously believes that dashing the heads of children against the rocks is evil."

I see no justification for this claim--neither in your argument nor in the Psalm.

Truth Warrior,

O for heaven's sake.

WisdomLover,

What I am trying to establish, before getting to the question of whether 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is endorsed by God is whether it would, if true, imply that the rest of Scripture is endorsed by God (where Divine endorsement is relevant).

I don't see that entailment relation at all. All I see in 2 Timothy is the doctrine that all Scripture is inspired. I don't see this doctrine spelled out in terms of plenary verbal inerrancy. Nor do I see it hooked up with the view that every proposition endorsed by the human authors of Scripture in Scripture is also endorsed by God. I suppose if one simply assumes that by divine inspiration Pseudo-Paul means verbal plenary inerrancy of the sort you believe in, then on that assumption your entailment will hold. But why grant that assumption? Might there not be other theories of divine inspiration that don't have the consequence that the human authors of Scripture assert only truths in Scripture? If so (and there are such theories), what reason do we have to believe Pseudo-Paul was rejecting these theories in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Can we really get that much detail out of this passage? It seems unlikely to me.

So I do not see the entailment you are claiming to see. What I see is Pseudo-Paul claiming all Scripture is inspired. Fine. Lets grant that all of it is inspired. How does one get from that premise to the conclusion you are after, namely that everything endorsed by the human authors of Scripture in Scripture is also endorsed by God? On the basis of something like 1 Cor 7:12, I would have thought that there are things in the Bible that the human authors endorse as true that God fails to endorse as true. Add to that the moral failures we see in Exodus 21 as well as other apparent errors in the Bible (e.g., Stephen's inspired account of the chronology of Abraham and the death of his father does not jive with Genesis) and that is enough (for me at least) to think there probably are things in the Bible endorsed by the human authors of Scripture that aren't endorsed by God.

Suppose, then, that I grant you the truth of the following claim:

Inspiration: All of Scripture is inspired by God.

Ok. Now, from there I would like to see you get the truth of the following:

Every proposition the human authors of Scripture endorse in Scripture is also endorsed by God.

"O for heaven's sake."

Let me be clear. I wasn't saying I endorse the bashing of infants. Nor was I suggesting that the Holy Scriptures present this as a normative practice. I was merely suggesting that IF we do not think the Holy Scriptures are NOT endorsing this then we should have an argument as for why. It looks like Wisdom Lover wishes to say the Scriptures do not endorse this. That is fine, but it requires a bit of explanation, as it seems that others on the blog might explain the endorsement of the bashing of infants as "the plain sense of the text."

I don't know what to think about whether this verse endorses this practice. All I know is that if it does then I will not think myself so great as to question its authority.

Truth Warrior,

You just keep fighting those liberals and guard the truth from softies and infidels who wish to pervert it in order to satiate their idolatrous appetite for their own reason.

I suppose that one might consider the dashing of infant heads to be most extreme for God to endorse, but leaving some to suffer eternal damnation could be considered a more extreme fate by saner minds.

WisdomLover makes a good point. The actual text in Psalm 137 only claims that those who dash the Babylonian babies against the rocks will in fact be blessed; it doesn't necessarily pronounce a blessing on them. I objected to this because it seems that if we says this about the Psalm we should also say it about the Beatitudes, but I guess that isn't necessary. The point is just that a strict reading of Psalm 137 doesn't get you God's approval, even if a strict reading of Matt 5 does get you God's approval of the meek.

Similarly, look closely at Exodus 21. We clearly get God's disapproval of those who beat their slaves to the point of death, but we do NOT get God's approval of those who beat their slaves just shy of the point of death. It isn't even clear that God is declaring it permissible - all the verse says is that no vengeance should be taken. But Christ would affirm THAT (turn the other cheek...). So again, maybe a careful reading reveals that there is no reason for us not to attribute this passage to the authorship of God.

The other one Malebranche mentions in 1 Cor 7:12 where Paul explicitly declares that the following is NOT a word from the Lord. I'm still a little puzzled by this one, but I guess I'm not terribly uncomfortable saying that this may be the one place in scripture where the human voice and the divine voice do come apart. There is a principled reason to single this one out, however - nowhere else (that I am aware of) do we have an explicit denial that one is speaking from the Lord. So you can't make the same move anywhere else.

"I don't know what to think about whether this verse endorses this practice. All I know is that if it does then I will not think myself so great as to question its authority"
--Truth Warrior

Reasonable and decent Christians should take note of this attitude and should condemn it. Things like this are what make you look bad as a group. You should explicitly distance yourself from such positions. "Truth Warrior" has just confessed to being morally prepared to engage in infanticide if convinced that an author of this ancient poem implied that doing so was a good thing.

If more sensible people do not speak loudly, then it is the "Truth Warriors" of the world who get the attention and who have the major impact on public perception of what your group believes. It is up to you, the reasonable and decent Christian, to prevent the term "Christian" from being equated with "thinks it is good to smash baby's heads on rocks".

If you quietly let these things pass, do not act surprised when Christians are broadly condemned as immoral and dangerous. You have allowed the immoral and dangerous to speak in your name.

WL: The psalmist obviously believes that dashing the heads of children against the rocks is evil.

TW: I see no justification for this claim--neither in your argument nor in the Psalm.

The psalmist is clearly angry at the Babylonians for a reason. In particular, he is angry at the Babylonians for their evildoing toward the Israelites.

Now, the psalmist prophesies that the one will be blessed who "repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us." He then clarifies what that means. The one will be blessed who "seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock". So the psalmist is saying (a) that the Babylonians dashed the infants of the Israelites against the rocks, (b) that someday another nation would do the same to them and (c) God would bless that other nation.

In any case, this prophecy helps us to identify some of the evildoing of the Babylonians that the psalmist is angry about. Namely, the dashing of the Israelite children against the rocks.

The psalmist is, thus, condemning, not endorsing, this activity.

Malebranche-

Your challenge:

Inspiration: All of Scripture is inspired by God.

Ok. Now, from there I would like to see you get the truth of the following:

Every proposition the human authors of Scripture endorse in Scripture is also endorsed by God.

Let me begin by reiterating that I do not endorse any particular mechanism of inspiration. It might occur by god directly inspiring the authors to write particular words. It might occur by God giving the authors visual images which they then translated into words. For all I know, it might occur by god giving the authors olfactory sensations which they then translate into words.

All that I am saying is that however the inspiration occurred, by whatever tortuous and byzantine path it got from initial inspiration and initial verbalization, only God had any control over the errors that might have shown up in the verbalization. So if the initial verbalization says P, but God meant to endorse -P when He initially inspired the author to write, God has only Himself to blame for the confusion. The human author had no pristine transcript of God's thought he could compare his verbalization with. Because God is omnipotent and omniscient, any confusion in the initial verbalization (a.k.a. the autograph) was foreseen and did not happen by accident.

So we get to this disjunction: either there are no misstatements of God's endorsements in the autographs, or there are such misstatements and God intended that they be there. I think that the second disjunct attributes deliberate deception on the part of God, so I assume that it is false. That leaves me with the first disjunct, which is the item under contention.

Eric-

""Truth Warrior" has just confessed to being morally prepared to engage in infanticide if convinced that an author of this ancient poem implied that doing so was a good thing."

He did no such thing. He said that he is unwilling to question the moral judgment of the psalmist (and by extension God) given the context in which the psalm was written.

I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with TW, but you're assessment is off.

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