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The Bible, Human Reason, and their Limits: The Poverty of “Deductive Approaches to Scripture”

...She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well."...

By his own admission, Jesus didn’t know everything.  After warning the disciples about the great, apocalyptic trials that were soon to fall upon Jerusalem and about his own parousia, Jesus says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt 24:36)  And, as C.S. Lewis once pointed out, the most likely explanation as to why Jesus asked “Who touched my clothes?” when the woman with the issue of blood, reaching out from the crowd, desperately snatched at his garment, is that he genuinely didn’t know.

Jesus certainly had a sort of prophetic prescience and, at times, displayed a sort of supernatural insight into things, but he was not, apparently, omniscient.  There were limits to even his knowledge.  This is the mystery of the Incarnation.  How could it be that the God of the universe could be so many inches tall and no taller?  Weigh so many stone, and no more?  Grow hungry and thirsty?  Suffer?  Die?  And know some things but not others?  How could the Infinite take on limitations?

You could never deduce from the classical schedule of divine attributes–omnipotence, omniscience, necessary existence, and so on–that the God of the universe would be the first cousin of John the Baptist, or that his first language would be Aramaic.  One could never come up with the details of the Incarnation, the story of Jesus’s career, execution, and resurrection by way of a priori reasoning.  And, if Jesus is the ultimate revelation, indeed, the very embodiment of God, then the divine is in the details.

The Incarnation necessarily casts us onto an a posteriori approach to God.  You see, if God can enter the world through a virgin’s vaginal canal, all bets are off.  There is no surefire theological calculus whereby we can dictate or predict what this God will be or say or do or value.  If we would know the God revealed in Jesus we have no choice but follow the terrifying calls of Nathanael and the Samaritan woman: “Come and see.”  (John 1:26; 4:29)

So it is with the Bible.  As in the Incarnation, in the Bible God takes on and reveals himself through the limitations of human cognitive capacities.  The Biblical authors, inspired though they were, were no more omniscient than their Savior and they all, like Paul, saw “in a mirror dimly.” (1 Cor 13:12)

But there is more.  As many recognize today, the Inspiration of the Scriptures is in many ways analogous to the Incarnation of the Son.  What is less often recognized is that this analogy undercuts attempts to decide a priori what the Scriptures can and cannot be, say, and do.  In other words, if the God who gave us the Bible is one and the same with the feral God who deigned to spend months floating in amniotic fluid and years as a wild-eyed, homeless, field preacher, then, again, all bets are off.  If you would know what sort of book God has actually given you, you cannot deduce it a priori from some preconceived account of his attributes.  You must come and see.

You cannot predict at the outset what genres will or will not be in the Bible.  You must come and see what is actually there.  You cannot say a priori whether all of its narratives will be “historical”.  You must come and see whether they are.  You cannot decide beforehand whether the books had one or many “authors,” whether they depended upon and edited sources, whether they took artistic license with the stories at their disposal, or whether the books were written by this or that person in this or that place and time.  You must come and see where the evidence leads.  You cannot take a “deductive approach” to the Bible.  You must come and see, lest you presumptuously allow your finite, fallible reason, to dictate to the God of the universe what he can and cannot do with his Word.

It is not simply that deductive approaches to the Bible are spurious, it is that they are bound to be idolatrous.  The fundamental argument of Norm Geisler and other inerrantists is as follows

  1. The Bible is God’s Word
  2. God cannot err
  3. Therefore, the Bible cannot err

From this deceptively simple (or simplistic?) argument they somehow deduce a preset range of possible answers to critical questions about the contents, character, transmission, and formation of the Bible.  They deduce, in short, an entire interpretive paradigm which has not been worked out from a careful, patient study of the Bible itself, but which is deduced from some oversimple premises.

Take premise 1.  What does it mean for the Bible to be “God’s Word”?  Is that not precisely the question?  Or take premise 2.  What constitutes “error,” here, and who gets to decide what is error and what isn’t?  Once we start picking at the premises of “the deductive approach to Scripture,” we find that a lot of questions have been begged here.  It begins to look as though those who take this approach are trying to squeeze an ENFP God into an ISTJ box.  Or, better, are making a god and a bible in their own image.

Woe betide us if we do that.  Both the Scriptures and the Savior to whom they attest took up human limitations, but it is not up to us to set limits upon what they can be and do.  Let us therefore take up the difficult task of a posteriori discipleship; of answering the calls to “lay down our Procrustean beds and walk,” to come and see just what sort of Savior and what sort of Scriptures have actually been given us, trusting that, whatever we find, however counter-intuitive they might turn out to be, they are the good gifts of God.



18 thoughts on “The Bible, Human Reason, and their Limits: The Poverty of “Deductive Approaches to Scripture”

  1. Brilliant–and superbly written! I love this blog.

    Posted by nanbush | April 3, 2012, 7:12 pm
  2. This will be my only response, since I’m traveling for Easter and typically do not engage in blogs. For all other interaction please see my work: Defending Inerrancy. There are sections of my interaction with Andrew McGowan on this topic. I could also include interactions with Kenton Sparks, but have refrained from doing so here. For more on the notion of the nature of God, deduction, the incarnational analogy, etc. please see my above work.

    For a definitiion of error in the Scriptures see chap. 9 of Inerrancy by John Feinburg in Inerrancy by Norm Geisler.

    The Doctrine of Inerrancy is not Explicitly Taught in the Bible.

    Neither is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the Bible. But inerrancy is taught implicitly and logically, as is the Trinity. Both premises from which inerrancy is the necessary logical conclusions are taught in the Bible. For example, the Bible teaches that: (1) It is the Word of God (Jn. 10:35; 2 Tim. 3:16), and (2) The Word of God cannot err (Jn. 17:17; Heb. 6:18). Hence, it follows logically that (3) The Bible cannot err.

    The same is true of the Trinity. The Bible teaches that: (1) There is only one God (Deut 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4), and (2) there are three distinct person who are God; The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:16; 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 13:14). Hence, the only logical conclusion is that (3) There are three distinct person in one and only one God (namely, the Trinity). A doctrine should not be rejected because it is only implicitly and logically taught in the Bible. This is true of other orthodox doctrines which have a solid biblical basis.

    The same is true of other essential doctrines like the hypostatic union of two natures, one divine and one human, in the one and only person of Jesus, the Second Person of the Godhead. All the truths that make up this doctrine are in the Bible, such as: 1) Jesus is one person; 2) Jesus is fully God; 3) Jesus is fully human. But, whereas all the pieces are there, the Bible nowhere explicitly teaches the hypostatic union. Nonetheless, it is a biblically based teaching, being there implicitly.

    Inerranacy is Derived Purely Deductive and is not Based in a Inductive Study of Scripture

    This objection is similar to the last one, and the response is also similar. Several points should be made. First of all, Inerrancy does have a strong inductive basis in Scripture. For both premises from which the conclusion is derived are the result of a complete (perfect) induction of Scripture, namely: (1) God cannot err, and (2) The Bible is the Word of God. Both of these truths result from a complete study of all the Scripture. This is called a “perfect induction” in logic since it involves an exhaustive study of the data in a limited areas. And perfect induction can come to knowledge that is certain. For example, one can be certain about the truth of the statement: “All the coins in my pocket are pennies.” Likewise, the Bible is a larger but also finite (limited) area which one can study exhaustively on given doctrines and come to a certain conclusion. This being the case, both premises on which inerrancy is based are completely inductive and we can be certain about them.

    Second, unless the objectors to inerrancy are going to deny the laws of thought (which is a self-defeating denial), then they must agree that the only logical conclusion from those premises (#1 and #2 above), is: (3) The Bible cannot error. So, the conclusion is a logically necessarily inference from two certain premises. In order to deny this conclusion, someone must deny one or more of the premises. But it is simply untrue to argue that the only two premises from which we derive inerrancy are completely inductively based.

    Third, to deny logically necessary conclusions from exegetically (inductively) derived truths is also to deny other orthodox doctrines. As shown in the previous point, the orthodox teachings about the Trinity and the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ in one Person are also logically necessary deductions. So too, is much of orthodox Christian theology. So, to deny the procedure by which we derive the inerrancy of Scripture is to deny the basis of much of orthodox theology.

    Fourth, indeed, the fact of the matter is that much of contemporary biblical theology is a repudiation of systematic theology. They believe that exegisis is the begin-all and end-all of theological study. They think that what one cannot derive from “pure” exegesis’” of Scripture is not a proper conclusion. Besides being philosophically naïve (since even exegesis involves the use of logical thinking and inferences), this view badly mistaken and misdirected. If applied to nature, it would involve the repudiation of all of the science which attempt to systematically categorize and draw logical inferences from the data of nature. This is also what systematic theology attempts to do with the data derived from exegesis of Scripture.

    Fifth, it is strang indeed for scholars from a Reformed tradition to hold this “pure” exegesis position. For The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks clearly (in Chapter 1, Sect. VI) of “The whole counsel of God… either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” So, it is important to remember that using logic to deduce truths from Scripture is not basing these truths on logic. Logic is only the rational instrument (coming from a rational God and inherent in rational creatures made in His image) that enables us to discover certain truths that are implied in Scripture.

    Finally, as for the objection that one cannot come to any sophisticated or nuanced understanding of what the Bible means “truth” or “error” by the simple deductive procedures used above, one can readily agree. But then we must quickly point out that such a nuanced view can be achieved by another complete induction of the data (phenomena) of Scripture in conjunction with what is know from God’s general revelation. Since we develop this elsewhere (see Geisler , Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Chap. 12) in a complete “theological method,” We simply point out here that even in this more refined understanding at to what truth and error are, we are still using a combination of both inductive study of God’s revelation (both in Scripture and in Nature), as well a drawing logical inferences from it.

    The Bible Cannot be Inerrant Because it was Written by Humans Who Do Err

    This argument does not follow logically for several reasons. First of all, humans do not always err. Even without any special Divine aid, human can and do write books without errors—usual short ones. There are, for example, inerrant phone books where every phone number is right. There are inerrant math books where every formula is worked out correctly.

    Second, there is no contradiction with a perfect God using imperfect writers as the means to produce a perfect book. Why? Because even imperfect humans can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. How much more can God.

    Third, according to the biblical doctrine of inspiration, God was the Primary cause of the Bible and human writers were only secondary causes. “For no prophecy of Scripture was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 cf. 2 Sam. 23:2). So the overall process of inspiration is where one where God superintends the process of revelations so as to preserve it from all error (cf. John 14:26; 16:13).

    The Bible Can’t be Infallible (i.e., Can’t err) Because It is a Human book and Human Can Err

    The logic of this objection is as follows: (a) The Bible was written by human beings. (b) Human beings can err. (c) Therefore, the Bible can err. (d) But an infallible book cannot err s(ince that is what infallible means. (e) Hence, the Bible cannot be infallible. However, as strong as this objection may seem, it had a subtle fallacy within it. 1) First of all, it is admitted that insofar as the Bible is a human book, it can err. But this does not mean that it does err. In fact, it is an error to think so.

    However, insofar as the Bible is the Word of God it cannot err. Since, the Bible is in effect a co-authored book (God being the Primary author and humans the secondary authors), one must distinguish in what senses it is without error: (a) as God’s Word it cannot error and did not err; (b) as man’s words it can error but did not err. The Incarantion is a good example, having both a divine and a human dimension involved. As God, Jesus could not make an error in what he taught. As man he could have erred in what he taught (but he didn’t). But the one and the same person Jesus did not err in what he taught. No contradiction is involved.

    The Claim That Inerrancy Does not Follow From God’s Nature

    Typical of strong Calvinists, McGowan embraces a form of divine voluntarism. Ethical voluntarism declares that something is good because God wills it; God does not will it because it is good. However, this would make all the moral commands of God in Scripture arbitrary. For example, according to voluntarism, God could will that love is wrong and hate is right. But this is not only counter-intuitive, it is morally repugnant, to say nothing of being unbiblical since God is by nature Love (1 Jn. 4:16). Further, voluntarism would undermine unconditional election, a doctrine dear to the heart of a Reformed theologian. For if voluntarism were true, then God could change his mind about who the elect are or even whether the elect will ultimately be saved.

    This same kind of voluntarism is evident in McGowan’s argument against inerrancy. In one of the most important sections in the book, he writes: “inerrantists make an unwarranted assumption about God. The assumption is that, given the nature and character of God, the only kind of Scripture he could ‘breathe out’ was Scripture that is textually inerrant. If there was even one mistake in the autographa, then God cannot have been the author, because he is incapable of error” (DSS, 113). Thus, McGowan says inerrancy is not a legitimate inference from the Bible (115) but is merely an “a priori” argument (DSS, 131). But this is precisely what both The Evangelical theological Society (ETS) and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) have affirmed (see Chap. 12).

    McGowan goes on to say that “the argument of the inerrantists is that God is unable to produce anything other than an inerrant autographic text . . . I agree with the inerrantists that God could have brought into being inerrant autographic texts, had he chosen to do so, but I reject their argument that he must have acted in this way” (DDS, 113-114). He concludes, “I think it is wrong to prejudge the nature of Scripture through some deductivist approach, based on what we believe inspiration must mean, given God’s character” (DDS, 136). We cannot “assume that they must be inerrant because God cannot lie” (DDS, 137). This could hardly be more clear and, in my view, more faulty. Indeed, McGowan affirmed that “having chosen, however to use human beings…, God did not overrule their humanity (DDS, 118). And this humanity involved “discrepancies and apparent contradictions, because that is what God intended” (DDS, 119). Several observations are in order in this regard.

    First, McGowan is a voluntarist on what God could or could not do in producing a God-breathed book. That is, he affirmed that God was free to make an original Bible with or without errors in it. He was under no necessity imposed upon him by his own nature to produce an errorless original. As incredible as this may sound, McGowan’s biblical voluntarism entails the claim that speaking the truth is optional, not necessary, for God! If ever there was a misdirected and over-stated view of God’s sovereignty, this is it.

    Indeed, this is precisely where inerrantists sharply disagree with non-inerrantists like McGowan. This disagreement is reflected in the basic statement on Scripture of the Evangelical Theological Society to which McGowan refers. It reads, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).” The word “therefore” logically connects the word of “God” and “inerrant” to make it clear that neither God nor the Bible errs. This meaning of the word “therefore” has been confirmed by a living framer of the statement, namely, Reformed theologian Roger Nicole.

    Further, and more importantly, the Bible makes it clear that God cannot choose, even if He desires to do so, to produce an imperfect original. Why? “Because it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Paul speaks about “the God who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). He adds, “God cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Numerous other Scriptures speak of God’s unchanging nature (Num. 23:19;1 Sam. 15:29; Psa.102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17. No serious examination of all these Scriptures in context can support a voluntarist interpretation that God can change his essential nature, even if He wanted to do so. If this is so, then McGowan’s central thesis fails, and the inerrantist’s argument stands firm: 1.God cannot error. 2.The original Bible is God’s Word. 3. Therefore, the original Bible cannot error.

    To deny this conclusion, as McGowan knows, one must deny at least one or the other of the two premises. His attempt to deny the first premise failed. It goes against the grain of God’s very nature as truth to presume that such an unchangeably true Being can error, if He wishes to do so. God is truth (Deut. 32:4; Psa. 31:5) by His very unchangeable nature and, as such, He “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2); “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). To do so, would be to deny Himself, and “he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

    Further, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn. 15:26). And the Word of God is the utterances of the Spirit of Truth. Jesus said, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). Peter added, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). David confessed, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Now by simple logical inference,

    1.The original Bible is the utterance of the Spirit of Truth.
    2.The Spirit of truth cannot utter error.
    3. Therefore, the original Bible cannot utter err.

    Here again, to deny inerrancy one must deny at least one or more of the two premises. McGowan’s attempt to deny the first premise fails. Truth is not an option with God. It is a necessity.

    McGowan also believes that the copies of the Bible are inspired (159). Given that inspiration means “spirated” or “breathed out” (Gk. theopneustos) of God and given that he recognizes errors in the copies, McGowan is left with explaining just how God can breathe out these errors. Indeed, according to this analysis, it is not only possible for there to be errors in what God breathes out, but it may be actual as well. But this is contrary to the very nature of God as truth to breathe out error. He cannot overrule his unchangeable nature by his sovereignty any more than He can will Himself out of existence!
    An Implied Accommodation Theory

    Upon closer analysis, McGowan also seems to reject the second premise of the argument for inerrancy as well, namely, that “The Bible is the Word of God.” According to this view, God accommodates Himself, not only to human finitude, but to human error in the production of Scripture. For he declared that even “The autographs (if we could view them) might very well look just like our existing manuscripts, including all the difficulties, synoptic issues, discrepancies and apparent contradictions . . . ” (119).

    However, nowhere does Scripture support the view that God accommodates Himself to human error rather than merely adapts Himself to human finitude. In short, a truly human book, such as the Bible is, can still avoid errors. Were this not so, then by the same logic, one must conclude that the divine accommodation in the Incarnation means that Christ sinned. This is the way McGowan attacks the so-called incarnational model often used by evangelicals to illustrate their view (see Chap. 16 below).

    The err at the root of this view appears to be based on a Barthian and neo-Gnostic view of human fallenness in which any contact with this fallen human world makes sin unavoidable. It is to argue that since the Bible was written by fallen human beings in fallen human language, it too must inevitably partake of errors as well.

    There is another serious problem with this radical view of divine accommodation. If contact with a fallen world makes error inevitable, then not only does this mean there can be (and probably are) errors in the original Bible, it also means that the Incarnate Christ too must partake of both the same proneness to error and to sin. But the New Testament makes it very clear that Jesus did not sin (Heb. 4:15: 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 3:2). Likewise, it would mean that the very teachings which came from Jesus lips would have been tainted with error since he too was speaking in a fallen human language. But this belief would precipitate a Christological crisis unacceptable to orthodoxy. Surely, no one who believes in the union of two natures in the one Person of Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, thereby affirms error in his human words. Hence, McGowan’s view of divine accommodation to err in the production of Scripture must be rejected. The fact is, however, that finitude does not necessitate fallenness. If it did, then not only would the Son Himself have partaken in sin and error, but the beatified saints in heaven would not be free from sin and error, as the Scriptures teach they will be (1 Cor. 13:10;1 Jn. 3:2; Rev.21:4).

    Rejecting the “Incarnational” Analogy

    According to the orthodox inerrantists reasoning, just as God in His Living Word (the Savior) has united with the human nature of Christ without sin, even so God is united with His written Word (the Scripture) yet without error. McGowan objects to this analogy with two basic arguments (DDS. 118-121).

    First, he argues that unlike Christ whose two natures are united in one person, there is no such union of the divine and human in Scripture. But McGowan misses the point, even on his own grounds. For elsewhere he speaks of a co-authorship of Scripture (DDS, 118, 148). He cites with approval the following: “This enables Bavink faithfully and clearly to emphasize both sides of any orthodox doctrine of Scripture, namely that God is the author but yet the human beings are the authors” (DDS,148). This would mean that both the human and divine aspects of Scripture are united in one set of propositions (better, sentences) or verbal expression in like manner to the divine and human being united in one person in Christ. This conclusion is borne out also by the fact that McGowan holds to “verbal” inspiration by affirming that “I disagree with him [James Orr] on [his denying] verbal inspiration. It seems to me that there is no good reason for arguing that the content but not the form of the Scriptures have come to us from God” (DDS, 136). But if the verbal form of Scripture is “breathed-out” from God, as McGowan claims it is, then there is a propositional (better, sentential) unity that combines both the divine and human elements of Scripture in one and the same verbal structure.

    Even McGowan’s own definition of Scripture supports this orthodox Incarnational model for he says “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (DDS, 43). Again, there is a unity between the human and divine in God’s written Word (the Scripture) that is analogous with the union of the divine and human in His Living Word (the Savior).

    Further, McGowan argues wrongly that the word “divine” does not apply to Scripture, as it does to the divine nature of Christ in the Incarnation. He wrote: “Only God is divine and therefore only God can have a divine nature” (DDS, 120). But in a very important sense this is not so. Even Peter affirmed that in some real sense “we are partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Surely, this is not in a metaphysical sense (e.g., we can’t be infinite, uncreated, and immutible) but in a moral sense (we can be true, good, and holy). McGowan seems to unwittingly answer his own question when he admits that “I am not denying that the Scriptures (like human beings) can share some of the divine attributes” (DDS,120). But that is all that is necessary for the analogy to be a good one, namely to have strong similarities which it has.

    As for the Bible not being God, of course it is not. That is why the Incarnational model is an analogy (similar but not identical). No informed evangelical ever held that the Bible was God and should be worshiped. The Bible is like God in his moral attributes (like the need to be true and holy), not in his non-moral (metaphysical) attributes (like infinite and eternal). In view of this, the Incarnational reasoning can be stated as follows:

    1.God’s Living Word (Christ) and His Written Word (the Savior) are similar in that:
    a.They have a divine and human dimension;
    b.These two dimensions are combined in one unity.
    c.Thus, both are without flaw.
    2.Hence, both God’s Living Word and His Written Word are without flaw morally in that:
    a.God’s Living Word is without sin:
    b. His Written Word is without error.

    The remaining question is: How can the effect (an inerrant Bible) be greater than the cause (errant humans)? Of course, it cannot, but the ultimate (primary) Cause is God; the human writers are only the secondary causes. Their imperfection and tendency to err does not bleed through to the effect because God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick! Or, in biblical terms: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21). In theological terms, to cite McGowan himself, “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (DDS, 43). Since the Scriptures did not originate from “the will of man,” but of God, and since the superintending Spirit of truth “cannot lie,” then what He uttered in these human words cannot err.

    Posted by William C. Roach | April 3, 2012, 8:57 pm
    • Wow, thanks for the interaction, Bill. It’s not every day that a blogger gets a comment roughly four times as long as his original post!

      It’s hard to know what to say since you’ve already said that your above comment will be your only one. I take it that your aim is not to persuade me of anything, but rather to just say your piece, put your stake in the ground and move on. Feels a bit like a hit-and-run job, but that’s OK. In any case, thanks for taking the time and energy to refer me to your published writings and to cut-and-paste your review of another person’s book. I wish you safe travels, and I hope you have a blessed Easter.

      Here’s what I’ll say by way of response: It just isn’t as simple as you make it out to be. If I dispute your account of what it means for the Bible to be “God’s Word,” or your definitions of what constitutes “error,” that pretty significantly saps the persuasive force of your syllogism. I dispute both.

      I think proof-texting as you do is both Biblically and historically tone-deaf. If you read those texts in context and with first-century eyes to see and first-century ears to hear, as the early Church did, you will get a very different picture. For Matthew, for instance, the Law and the Prophets, as embodied in Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:1-8), are the penultimate revelation of God, God’s will, God’s wisdom, and God’s Kingdom. Jesus, however, is ultimate. (cp. Matt 5:17-18 w/ 24:35) Thus we see Jesus brazenly and on his own authority transcending not just the standard interpretations of his day, but the ethical injunctions of Israel’s Scriptures themselves (5:21-48). Why? Because Israel’s Torah was not God’s perfect and final moral will for his people, but had in many ways been accommodated to Israel’s “hardness of heart.” (Matt 19:8) Now Jesus brings the long awaited Reign of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the time when stony hearts would be replaced with hearts of flesh and God’s own Spirit would be imparted to his people. (Ezek 36:24-32; cf. Matt 3:16-17) The time of the Law and Prophets, though not over, is drawing to a close. (For another point of view, see Paul)

      Jesus, moreover, is the “fulfillment” of Israel’s Scriptures in various and sundry ways. (If you can tell me how Jesus fulfills Hosea 11:1, I’ll give you a dollar.) What Matthew actually does with Israel’s Scriptures is at least as telling as what he says about them. Israel’s Scriptures are the shadow, Jesus the object; they the type, Jesus the antitype.

      Anyways, that’s just Matthew. We still need to look at Paul, John, Hebrews, Jude (whose Canon is different from ours) and the rest to get a full picture of how the early Christians thought about the Scriptures they’d inherited from Israel. But in any case, the categories they use to describe the Bible are those of life-giving or not, death-dealing, type and antitype, prophecy and fulfillment, being “over” us or not, inspired, and so on—not so much errancy versus inerrancy.

      My sense is that inerrantists import a cluster of non-biblical concepts into the discussion in order to make their case. Granted, the doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union are not explicit Biblical doctrines. But I think they’re implicit in the texts of Scripture. I just don’t think inerrancy (as ICBI defines it) is. The notion of “the autographs,” a vital component of a half-way viable articulation of the doctrine of inerrancy, is simply foreign to the Bible itself.

      I have other concerns, but that should do it for now. If you ever do want to talk about these things, it’d be fun to grab coffee. I know that debates on the internetz aren’t your thing.

      Posted by dmwilliams83 | April 4, 2012, 3:18 am
      • Well, maybe one time I’ll briefly respond. Mainly for clarity.

        1. The reason I don’t typically respond is because I typically don’t find arguments in most peoples writings. Outside of an ad hominem against my exegetical skills by calling me “tone-deaf” and an earlier ad hominem of committing “idolatry”, I hardly wonder why I would want to engage. So it’s not a hit and run. I’ve worked in public policy long enough to know that if I responded to every blog every person wrote against me I’d never get anything done!

        2. The cut and paste were from my book. It was an evaluation of McGowan because you both gave the same essential arguments.

        3. I think the discussion about Christ and fulfillment is a good topic, but really a red herring to the discussion (aka., whether or not a deductive argument is a valid approach or not).

        4. As for my definitions of truth and error, show me that the biblical concept of truth (correspondence) and the laws of logic are invalid. These are my definitions. They aren’t foreign to the biblical text, but the basic categories in which all of us think and lives our lives. In order to disprove them you must use them, and when you either use them or attempt to disprove them you ultimately believe your view corresponds to reality.

        5. The real crux of your blog post I dealt with, namely, that the deductive approach to Scripture is invalidate. I showed that my argument isn’t purely deductive, instead that it is a perfect induction that can also be deductive. It’s not purely a priori, but an a posteriori argument. So, on that note, the reason I didn’t want to respond, and don’t see a need to in any real sense even now, is because you didn’t respond to my argument. Where as I dealt with your premises at length.

        The deductive argument for inspiration and inerrancy I was getting at can be summarized by what RC Sproul once said: “[T]he confession [of biblical inerrancy] rests its confidence on the integrity of God. On numerous occasions I have queried several Biblical and theological scholars in the following manner. –“Do you maintain the inerrancy of Scripture?” –“No”–“Do you believe the Bible to be inspired of God?”–“Yes”–“Do you think God inspires error?”–“No”–“Is all of the Bible inspired by God?”–“Yes”–“Is the Bible errant?”–“No”–“Is it inerrant?”–“No!”– At that point I usually acquire an Excedrin headache.” See: John Warwick Montgomery, God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1974), 257.

        6. One of the basic elements of logic is that one must call a premise into question and offer counter evidence. My premises are valid, no if and’s or butts. You are calling into question their soundness. Don’t attempt to slip through by saying you simply disagree with my understandings and definitions. That’s not an argument but a claim. Of course you disagree, we both know that. But, simply stating claims is not an argument. So, please, make the claim and put it into the form of an argument, and give evidence. Sorry, but that’s just the way it works. Remember, my primary training is in philosophy, so I look for those issues first and foremost.

        7. Now you did give one half argument about how to read the Scriptures, which is a fine topic. I would have to put your arguments together, but they are implicitly there. Nevertheless, they aren’t dealing with the topic of a deductive verses inductive approach…. So, sorry to be a stickler, but that’s the topic of your post.

        What that I’m heading out of town. After my school semester in a matter of weeks getting together would be fine. Until then, have a blessed Easter.

        Posted by William C. Roach | April 4, 2012, 4:19 am
      • To make sure we’re tracking with each other I will try to respond to your points as you’ve enumerated them:
        1. Fair enough. I would say that I did not mean those comments as personal slights but as descriptions of your methodology. I’m not saying that you are exegetically tone deaf. But I am saying that proof-texting in the way that you do is. Sorry if that was not clear.
        2. Fair enough. Not sure about that. I guess I’ll need to read McGowan’s book and yours at some point.
        3. I don’t think it’s a red herring at all. Isn’t it important for careful exegesis to serve, at a minimum, as a check upon our theological inferences? The point of my original post was that the actual contours of the Christian faith could never be deduced from self-evident propositions. They are given to us and must be taken in inductively (e.g., by actually studying the biblical texts) and made sense of abductively. To grossly oversimplify the (or, at any rate, my) theological process: we study the text, we draw our inferences, we write up our theological formulae, and then we test them against the text again, repeat. My sense is that you have gone through three of those steps and then stopped. Here’s a way to show me I’m wrong on that: I’ll still give you a dollar if you can tell me how Jesus fulfills Hosea 11:1.
        4. I’m a big fan of the laws of logic. I majored in philosophy in college and spent a good bit of that time taking classes on logic: informal, symbolic, predicate, modal, etc. I was an analytic philosophy junkie (now in recovery) for years. So I have no quarrel with the laws of logic per se. There is always, however, the question of how those “laws” are to be applied to reality, and that’s a stickier subject.
        As to your definition of truth as correspondence, for the sake of argument, I’ll grant that. The question is: What counts as correspondence? Does a narrative have to be historical to so correspond to reality as to “tell the truth”? What about Jesus’s parables, then? Do we need to go on a quest for the historical good Samaritan lest we make Jesus out to be a liar? Of course not. Parables, as a genre, can tell their truths not by describing historical events but by illustratively narrating non-empirical theological realities. We trust that Jesus’s parables correspond to the reality of the Kingdom even if we don’t think there was a historical good Samaritan or a particular historical woman who lost her coins or whatever. The point here is that myths, legends, fables, histories, psalms, proverbs, bioi/vitas, and so on all “correspond” to reality in different ways. So I can grant you that the Bible is true in the sense that it “corresponds” to reality. The question is: HOW does it do so? And that’s fundamentally a hermeneutical, exegetical, and historical question.
        (And as a side note, when the Bible talks about “truth” [Hebrew, emeth; Greek, aletheia] it usually does not mean “correspondence to reality,” but rather that which is “faithful” or “permanent” or “secure.” So, for instance, reading John 1:17, “For the Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth [aletheia] came about [egeneto] through Jesus Christ” as saying that “correspondence to reality came about through Jesus Christ” doesn’t make a ton of sense. I’ll refer you to Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, pp. 355ff.)
        5. Here’s the trick about your R.C. Sproul illustration: there’s an equivocation on the term “inerrancy.” I only use the term “inerrancy” to refer to the specific position outlined in the Chicago Statement. I don’t get into this business of using the term and meaning something else by it because that just creates confusion. So I can understand why Sproul’s interlocutors would not want to say that the Bible is “errant” but would also not want to say it is “inerrant.” In these discussions “inerrant” is not simply the opposite of “errant,” but is a technical term with a lot of baggage that I and many others don’t want to take on. Because I disagree with a number of the specific affirmations and denials in the Chicago Statement, because I don’t think it would be helpful to the discussion for me to try to invest the term “inerrancy” with my own private meaning, and because I think there is better language available to us (not least the language the Bible itself actually uses), I just don’t use that term to describe what I think of the Bible.
        6. My philosophy’s a little rusty, so bear with me if I’m remembering this incorrectly, I but I thought that whereas inferences can be valid or invalid, premises can be true or false, as well as well-formed or not. An argument is cogent if it is formally valid and also has true, well-formed premises. I disputed whether your premises were true, and, if they’re not, then your argument is not cogent even if it is formally valid. I disputed the truth of your premises because, well, there are actually a lot of hidden premises in your argument that I just don’t buy.
        I am not trying to show myself to be more logically rigorous than thou, but let’s think about what a more formal statement of your argument would look like: Premise 1, “The Bible is the Word of God.” Define “the Bible” for me. What is it we’re talking about? Which canon are we talking about? Athanasius’s? Calvin’s? And what is it to be “the Word of God”? Plenary verbal inspiration? Or something else? For your premise to have any bite, your definitions here need to be good.
        Premise 2, “God cannot err.” Again, what constitutes “error”? Is speaking in parabolic or legendary or apocalyptic or mythological terms necessarily to lapse into “error”? If so, why? If I say that it’s not an “error” to speak in such terms, I could say that the Bible does not “err” and still also say that it contains mythical, legendary, and non-historical elements. My sense is that your ideas of what constitutes “truth” and “error” are informed by a sort of literalism mixed with Comtean positivism, neither of which, I think, are any good.
        So your premises need work in order for your argument to be cogent. But it should be noted that even if your argument, so stated, were cogent, it would take a lot more further argumentation to establish the “inerrancy of the autographs” position outlined in the Chicago Statement.
        7. I hope that the above makes my argument more explicit and clear.
        Drive safe and have a great weekend! Wish you could be at the symposium next week. Blessings!

        Posted by dmwilliams83 | April 4, 2012, 2:55 pm
    • Mr. Roach: your “perfect induction” helps me not a wit when I find contradictions or historical errors in the text. The empirical claim of inerrancy (there are zero errors rather than 1, 2, 3, or a thousand) is capable of empirical falsification. I have been convinced of more than a few such falsifiers of the theory, and so your deductions, however based on so called “perfect inductions” have absolutely no force for me.

      Posted by hashavyahu | April 4, 2012, 6:31 pm
  3. Thought provoking Dai – thank you.

    Posted by Lewis | April 3, 2012, 9:20 pm
  4. “As for my definitions of truth and error, show me that the biblical concept of truth (correspondence) and the laws of logic are invalid.”

    This doesn’t help at all. You’ve provided a clear definition of truth but not of error. There’s the rub. Given your definition of truth all the parables are untrue. They do not correspond (fully) to reality. But for any useful discussion we cannot say that the parables are in error. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not meant to convey data on the travel habits of the characters but to convey something about what it means to be someone’s neighbor. It corresponds to reality in the point it makes – the literary function of the parable must become part of what defines its truthfulness.

    Because of this, your definitions solve the problem only for the simplest of cases where the Bible is textbook or instruction-manual clear. However, that’s not most of the Bible and asserting that this is most of the Bible is where inerrancy tends to go from useless (there are no errors but it hardly matters because the argument is about what is meant) to destructive.

    Posted by Eric | April 4, 2012, 2:00 pm
  5. I’m proud of you David! You are utilizing your passions and developed skills to engage a difficult audience (smart, potentially over-educated, folks) on a difficult topic in ways that honor the God you serve and shine light on the beautiful diversity of the world he has given us.
    I have been trying to figure out how to articulate many of these ideas for several years now. Your articulation is encouraging. Here’s to a bright future.

    Posted by Bobby Rhodes | April 5, 2012, 3:23 pm
  6. Thanks for your interaction with William Roach. FWIIW, I detect an arrogance in his statements that I do not detect in yours and I appreciate what you wrote for that. One way I would word it is that he seems to approach the Bible with a very Greek mindset, with axioms and proofs ala Euclid, but I do not agree that is the best way to approach it, since it was written by Hebrews, except perhaps Luke and he was a disciple of Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews. It seems it is very threatening to inerrantists that non-inerrantists should exist and even have the audacity to claim to be believers.

    Posted by Don Johnson | April 10, 2012, 4:16 pm
  7. I’m a little confused…so do you think the bible is God’s Word or not?

    And do you think the Bible is inerrant or not?

    Posted by thebiblereader | April 16, 2012, 2:42 am
    • I gladly affirm that the Bible is God’s written word for us. The question is HOW is it so? The Church has always had numerous theological accounts of what it means to say that “the Bible is God’s word” and each of them has different implications for how one interprets the text, relates one passage to another, handles “Bible difficulties,” and so on. The point of my post was to say that we should not settle into a theory of HOW the Bible is God’s word before we’ve really taken a good long look at the Bible itself.

      As to your second question, I take “inerrancy” as a technical term for the position defined by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and not just as a loose way of referring to Scripture’s reliability or whatever. I have some very basic problems with the Chicago Statement, so I don’t feel comfortable using the term “inerrancy.”

      I’ll give you just one example, the Chicago Statement defines “inerrancy” as the “inerrancy of the autographs” (i.e., the inerrancy of the very first editions of the Biblical books, the “original” manuscripts). I don’t think this definition can work because there are several Biblical books that simply never had anything you could call their “autographs.” So, for instance, there is overwhelming evidence that the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was composed not by a single author in a single moment in history, but by a centuries long process of copying, compiling, editing and adding by several authors, scribes, tradents, and editors. (Ancient people composed books this way all the time.) It is simply impossible to identify a particular phase of these books’ compositions as their “autographs.” We can say much the same thing for Judges (which clearly came out in several editions prior to taking the form it takes in our present Canon), Jeremiah (for which we have strong manuscript evidence that it existed in multiple forms), Isaiah, and Job.

      The complex, lengthy compositional histories of some of the Biblical books are not problematic for some other accounts of what it means for the Bible to be God’s word (e.g., neither C.S. Lewis nor Karl Barth were troubled by such histories), but they sure are problematic for Chicago-style accounts of inerrancy. I hope that helps. Blessings!

      Posted by dmwilliams83 | April 16, 2012, 12:18 pm


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NCSU Graduate Christian Fellowship

Hi! I'm David, the campus minister for InterVarsity's graduate and faculty ministries at NC State and Meredith College. I hope you'll join me as I learn to "practice resurrection" in the City of Oaks, in her universities, and in the wider world. You can contact me at dmwilliams83@gmail.com

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