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
- The Bible is God’s Word
- God cannot err
- 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.