Monday, January 21, 2008

A High View of Scripture Part 5: Inspiration and Inerrancy

We come now to the end of my review of Allert's book A High View of Scripture and find the juicest and most controversial part of the entire book.

Allert contests the widely held conclusion that inspoiration was the only criterion for the inclusion of books in the New Testament. Inspiration was not the criteria used and what was regarded as inspired referred to more than the New Testament and also included the offices and ministries of the church.

He devotes a significant amount of time to discussion of theopneustos in 2 Tim. 3.15-17 where he notes: (1) the passage is more concerned about the function than the origin of Scripture; (2) the passage emphasizes soundness of life and doctrine which one may learn through Scripture and tradition; (3) Allert understands 'sacred writings' not as all Scripture but as all relevant passages in that body of religious authoritative writings known as Scripture, not necessarily the OT and NT; and (4) He warns against etymological errors in that take 'God-breathed' as a mechanically literal description of how Scripture was produced. Allert emphasizes that this phrase could be a pauline neologism and it indicates that the authority of Scripture is from God and it contributes to the plan of salvation; thus, the main point is the usefulness of Scripture. I would accept most of this with a few qualifications and a slight objection. Most pressing of all is that Allert never really tells us what 'God-breathed' actually means. Surely it has connotations of origin, source, authority, and spirit-givenness-by-God-givenness or something like that!

In the next major section, Allert covers, "Inerrancy - A Necessary Evangelical Definition". He takes issue with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and he objects specifically to articles # 4 and # 5 on the grounds that they appear to be denying that a critical examination of the phenomenon of Scripture can inform a doctrine of Scripture. Here I would slightly disagree. The Chicago Statement does not actually deny this as much as it fails to incorporate the phenomena of Scripture in the early church. Allert further points out that the problem with this definition of inerrancy (i.e. Chicago) is that it assumes modern standards of precision for truth and error.

Allert then has a juicy section on the case of R.H. Gundry, ETS, and the Gospel of Matthew. In sum, Gundry argues that elements of Matthew 1-2 were midrash and were fictitious stories based on patterns from OT narratives. Midrash itself is a slippery term and I think Matthew 1-2 is perhaps midrashic given the constant flow of OT quotes (so too D.A. Hagner) but not actually midrash! Allert contends that when Gundry's approach is measured against the Chicago Statement it is clear that he has tried to understand Matthew in terms of the literary conventions of his day just as the Chicago Statement advocates. This is why Gundry said that he could in good faith affirm inerrancy. What is the problem then? The problem is, Gundry regards the genre of Matthew 1-2 as making it unhistorical whereas most of his peers regarded it as historical. Allert notes correctly: "If the logic of Gundry's critics is followed, then a failure to agree with a group's interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture may leave one open to the charge of failing to hold inerrancy because one does not see what the Bible says, that is, does not a agree with that group's interpretation of the Bible". The problem here is that one's view of genre can be regarded as a litmus test of inerrancy which I take to be problematic. Let me give two examples:

1) Luke 16.19-31 is a story about the rich man and Lazarus. Now I take this to be a parable and not a literal description of the afterlife. Nonetheless, some interpreters have argued (including a former Professor of mine) that the word 'parable' is not used in the story and thus it is a literal description of the intermediate state! If I regard this as a parable, would I be denying inerrancy?

2) Tremper Longman's NICOT Ecclesiastes commentary argues that much of Ecclesiastes is written in a genre similar to the speeches of Job's friends. In other words, it is indicative of the perspective that one should not have about God and hard times. I think Tremper is wrong on this (and several other persons I'm told think the same), but is this a denial of inerrancy by getting the genre wrong.

Now some might object that these two examples do not refer to historical events in the life of Jesus. But why priviledge history in this way? (For what it's worthy Gundry's Mark commentary is one of the best defences of the historical material in Mark available). History matters and the Gospels are undoubtedly rooted in testimony and history, but how does history have to be told and can multiple genres be used? Does the Chicago Statement allow for this? If not why not?

In sum, Allert's book argues sucessfully for taking into account the phenomenon of Scripture for developing a doctrine of Scripture and not relying on theological inferences about what Scripture should look like. Though many details are contestable, it is worth reading. Next week I'll start a series on reading Markus Bockmuehl's Seeing the Word.


Ben said...

I look forward to your series on Bockmeuhl's book. I read it, but largely it is one of those books that I felt like I almost understood, but not quite. It will be helpful to see someone smarter than myself tackle the book.

Ben said...

Also, since what you write about should be dictated by a total stranger like myself, maybe you could help us understand Bockmuehl's discussion or 'effective history' :-).