Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity (Synchroblog)


 This is part of a synchroblog.

 

Fighting over the bible is stupid. But it happens all the time. and It seems to invoke a certain pride among those who love to beat others up with “God’s truth.” But what if we loved each other despite how we viewed scripture? What if we worked together?

Inerrancy is the umbrella term used to discuss the truth content of the Sacred Writ. Yet the meanings surrounding the notion have been debated furiously over the past years. When the word “inerrancy” drops into dialogue at the local coffee house, eyes roll, throats are cleared, and mental defenses run to their battle stations. Unfortunately, the word elicits a strange emotional mixture of horror and rebellion to pop-theologians. Posters displaying hate speech, men who think women are mere baby makers, oppressive regimes using God’s word wrongly are only a few of the negative concepts associated with the subject of inerrancy. These images were unleashed from fundamentalism’s reactions to modernity. In some liberal circles, inerrancy conveys a polemic truth from fundamentalism. In this line of reasoning, miracles are myth, and the Bible is not divine but merely another good book. The arguments have caused anger and hurt in Christian communities and vast confusion in the world. What is the truth?
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

I. THE THREE MAJOR THOUGHT STREAMS OF INERRANCY

The complex positions revolving around inerrancy debates vastly differ; just like art movements- merging and morphing with each new generation. The three major thought streams, though not concise, are generally considered by present day theologians to be absolute inerrancy, full inerrancy, and limited inerrancy. Church goers argue about the views just as much as theologians. Unfortunately, this discord has sewn its seeds of doubt into the world. Many seekers suggest that their agnosticism lay in the fact that Christians do not agree themselves on matters while making loud arguments. The whole idea of loving one another gets misplaced as the rhetoric, intellect, and heresy hunting begins. It seems that the church completely disregards Jesus’ commandment to love each other and walk in unity. What ever happened to John 17? Many Christians are caught in the quagmire and quicksand of the issues surrounding inerrancy.

“Even (with) in the most traditionally conservative of the church bodies…the younger clergymen…do not believe the Bible is totally veracious.” Is the Bible absolute truth? is it fiction? This point of argumentation is in no way imperative to salvation. In light of this thought, why does the Church argue so much? The confusion surrounding the matter is at best chaotic noise and clanging symbols.

 

The first version of which one should be aware is absolute inerrancy. Absolute inerrancy is not unlike medieval Islam in its thought structures. Muslim theology of the middle ages believed that everything was created except the Koran and Allah. Absolute inerrancy supposes that God dictated everything directly to man. It suggests that every aspect of the bible is to be taken literally and contains no errors. For example, eschatology is not symbolic, but a historical moment when a sea creature will arise and eat a woman pregnant with a child according to the subscribers of this concept. It supposes that the bible is factual in its scientific and historical pursuits, although the bible never claims to be a book of scientific methodology or historical-chronological anthology. The bible writers simply reported what was seen by the naked eye. Absolute inerrancy seems ludicrous to a modern scholar and requires “blind fideism” on the part of its adherents. The movement holds the Bible almost to a position of idolatry.

Full inerrancy differs from absolute inerrancy in its approach. It does maintain that all of Scripture is without error in its original autographs, but it explores what this means. The Bible is true in its literary expressions, symbolism, historicity and doctrinal aspects. Full Inerrancy rightly relates the human involvement in scripture writing. David Dockery defines Inerrancy as the “idea that when all the facts are known, the original writings properly interpreted in light of culture and the means of communication that had developed by the time of its composition, is completely true in all that it affirms to the degree of the precision intended by the author’s purpose, in all matters relating to God and his creation.” The Bible presents a relative account of time according to a phenomenological sense, or as experienced. The bible is true is all aspects of knowledge available to the people who wrote the Bible when they wrote it.
Limited inerrancy suggestions may include a positive assertion of the truth of salvific doctrine, but a rejection of the authenticity of miracles, science, history or recorded sayings. Another contention of limited inerrancy is the popular phrase “To err is human;” the logic suggests that because scriptures came through the hands of  humans, the Bible is not trust worthy or without mal-intent. Limited inerrancy leads way to thoughts of fallibility, throwing out everything that is not visibly observable.

One argument stemming from this view is that the original autographs are missing. Yet, full inerrancy argues providence has allowed the transmission of truth to be intact in translations. Appealing to empirical and “chemical standards,” many argue that not one autograph has survived history, proving to liberals that scripture can not be authentic other than conveying a message of spirituality. The same textual critiques are not made regarding secular literature such as Plato’s writings or that of Shakespeare.
Limited inerrancy holds that historical and scientific parts of the bible may not be factual. Yet, histories and genealogies are not always a complete record or wrote in a chronological sense. Perhaps, a better explanation is a placement not of chronology or history in genealogies but on matters of importance to the author, such as pedigree. History itself does not play that big of a role, but a true historicity does. Truth is based upon the author’s culture, the modes of communication available to the ancient writer, and his perceptions. The biblical authors use language synonymous with phenomenology and not technical lingo. He may have perceived the sun standing still, although, it may have not- then again a miraculous God can work outside of the natural laws, but limited inerrancy would say that this section of the bible is errant. Limited inerrancy usually is quick to dismiss the parts of the Bible that are not easily proved by systems of measurement.

PHILISOPHICAL INFLUENCES
Inerrancy and its conceptual nuances have all been molded by social movements: political, economic, artistic, scientific and philosophical. Philosophy plays a major role in describing how we conceptualize, think, and reason. It plays a role on religious understanding, also. For the sake of time, this blog will skip classic philosophy.
As the Holy Church began to wane in power, the critical voices arose. These voices were not always “sniggering philosophers,” but perhaps good hearts with intentions of discovering truth. Francis Bacon introduced the world to empiricism. He rationalized that all truth was discovered through inductive reason and experience. All truth had to be experienced. Biblical truth was questioned since it could not be empirically proven. Hobbes suggested that the Bible could only be viewed truthful by pure faith. He expounded that the demoniac encountered by Jesus was really a madman or a fable. Philosophies originated with Bacon, Hobbes, and Spinoza unconsciously influenced Church leaders thereby leading to inductive thought and existentialism. This especially influenced Richard Simon, the father of biblical criticism.
These experience based thoughts bled over into the Enlightenment which questioned all authority, Church and government. Reismarus purposed that “true religion rests on the basis of human reason.” Reason was then based on the experience. Kierkegaard’s existentialism made religion subjective. This methodology began to separate scripture by that which could be measured or verified and that which was purely higher in reason, thereby paving the way for textual criticism. Moving into modernity, existentialism morphed into deconstructionism, or the belief that “scripture has no objective truth only the means that the interpreter brings” to it. Science and rationale seemed to be separate from God’s Word. Liberal thoughts about the Bible ran rampant in the academies and secular realms.
Just as philosophy played a role in determining viewpoints so did all facets of history. Perhaps the largest historical events that influenced biblical inerrancy were the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening, the Scopes-Monkey trial, Civil Rights, Liberation Theologies of the 1960’s and Vatican II. These events are all very crucial to the understanding of the development of inerrancy theories and doctrines.

FROM THE FATHERS OF FAITH
Just as important to the debate surrounding inerrancy as philosophies, are the thoughts and opinions of the saints and Christians throughout history. The holy church’s view of scripture was always a hot topic. Yet the church seemed to be in some unity believing that either Jesus or the Holy Spirit had dictated the words to the writers of scripture.
Augustine thought that “dangerous consequences” lay ahead for anyone who suggested a falsehood lay in scripture. In his Summa Theologia, Aquinas affirmed that Christians should believe the entirety of sacred scripture.
During the reformation when the Bible was quickly being printed, Luther held a view that the Bible contained historical truth, even suggesting that astronomers were foolish. Luther said that “scripture and scripture alone are the only true source of theology. Calvin seemed to exist in a paradox of thinking as he believed that scripture held all truth, but that truth was not accessible to man always. His views were often founded in complexio oppositorium, or rather, tensions between two diametrically opposed thoughts. His writings over thirty years wavered little in his view points, although some say that several of his opinions are not consistent: a minor detail for having written over fifty-nine volumes of theological premises. Another Reformation writer, Francis Turretin, believed that writers of the scripture could indeed err, but would not do so under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He suggested that even in matters absurd, the pious would see the added significance of truth.
Fast forward through history to modernity and we see arguments that echo past opinions of the faith and faith-less. C.S. Lewis was a modern mystic and literary genius. In his attempts to make apologies for Christianity, his writings highlight some of his views on scripture. Lewis’s critics “charged him with being a friend of higher criticism.” However, Lewis spoke much about allegory, myth and stories. We know Christ used parables and stories. They were hyperbole, not lie, but stories meant to convey truth. C.S. Lewis fantastical works based on Aslan, the Lion show the kind of myth and hyperbole used to express truth.
Liberation Theology, Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements also color the views of inerrancy. These movements were and continue to be prophetic voices to a sleeping church. In reacting to fundamentalism, the movements may have gone too far in their treatment of scripture. This of course is a broad brush stroke encompassing the majority and not detailed, but a generalization. In the light of these historical and academic concepts, the Vatican changed positions on inerrancy to a more vague definition that affirmed only the veracity of the portion of scripture pertinent to salvation

Final Thoughts:
A new generation studies to enter into the dialogue of inerrancy. Sick of their roots of playing church and not being the church, they look to scripture for truth. No longer will they sheepishly listen to the loudest voices, but with a reflective humility and an informed hermeneutic will they will seek to re-imagine inerrancy. In a time when truth seems relevant, Postmodern Christ followers, soon to be post-denominational, must decide what the Bible means. The matter of course truly does not affect salvation, never the less, it is important. During the course of this study, the author sought to re-imagine inerrancy not as a fundamentalist means of oppression or a liberal’s lack of mystery, but as a message of liberty- that one can see how the story informs each life- and then walk in UNITY with the whole church instead of beat each other up over disagreements.

Bibliography
Braaten, Carl E., and Robert W. Jensen. Reclaiming the Bible for the Church. Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Christensen, Michael J. C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His thoughts on the Nature of Biblical
Inspiration, the Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1979.

Demarest, Bruce, and Gordon Lewis, eds. Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Response. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.

Dockery, David S. Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority, and Interpretation. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. 1983. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker
Books, 2000.

Geisler, Norman L. Biblical Errancy: Analysis of Philosophical Roots. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Geisler, Norman L. Decide for Yourself: How History Views the Bible. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1982.

Geisler, Norman L. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.

Montgomery, John Warwick, ed. God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1979.

Schaeffer, Francis A. No Final Conflict: The Bible Without Error in All That It Affirms. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1975.

Turrentin, Francis. The Doctrine of Scripture: Locus 2 of Theologiae Eclencticae. Translated by John W. Beardslee IV. Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1981.

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15 thoughts on “Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity (Synchroblog)

  1. Bec, Thanks for joining the synchroblog. The links are available now to add to the end of your post.

    The whole inerrancy became such a distraction for me that I have completely changed the way I read scripture and seek knowledge … these days I seek truth but not necessarily facts. It works for me.

  2. The whole idea of the Bible being an inerrant repository of Truth flies in the face of Jesus claiming “I am the Truth”. To me, the Bible is not an endpoint. It is a signpost pointing to something much greater than itself. And Truth comes as a whisper of the Spirit in the expansive white spaces in which the black (and red) letters of the Bible are immersed.

well, what do you think?

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