Friday, January 30, 2009
Greg Beale on the Erosion of Inerrancy
Over at the Reformed Forum there is a session with Greg Beale on inerrancy. A few thoughts:
I appreciate Beale's arguments as I confess that I'm also not sure about using the incarnation as an analogy for a doctrine of Scripture, some postmodern views of Scripture are between weird and scary, and I am wary of parallel-o-mania in using ANE and Second Temple texts in biblical study. Concerns that I do have, however, are:
1. That a priori theological deduction about Scripture always trumps the phenomena of Scripture in formulating a doctrine of Scripture. A doctrine of Scripture should take into account Scripture's witness to itself, but also the phenomenon of Scripture's textual history and its relationship to its cultural context (Charles Hodge said: "Our views of inspiration must be determined by the phenomena of the Bible as well as from its didactic statements" [Systematic Theology 1.169]).
2. In my mind, there are undoubtedly antecedents to Warfield-Henry-Chicago from Augustine to John Owen. But I think you have to admit that modern discussions on inerrancy have been influenced by post-enlightenement critiques of revealed religion, philosophical rationalism permeating theological method, and the "Battle for the Bible" in North America. But the assumption, I think intimated by Carl Trueman in the interview, is that 17th century doctrines of Scripture were basically identical to the 20th century left me gobsmacked. I wouldn't deny the similarities, but we shouldn't deny the different contexts either. I get the impression that some think that God gave Calvin and the Westminster divines a private revelation of the works of B.B. Warfield. Yet Calvin was influenced by medieval views of Scripture and not by modernist ones! I would point out that some doctrines of Scripture from the period could define the Bible's truthfulness without using inerrantesque language at all, e.g. the Anglican 39 Articles (and see the recent GAFCON statement of faith - no reference to inerrancy: alas, orthodoxy without inerrancy is possible!!!). In fact, references to the autographa in particular were fairly spasmodic in the 17th century, but only now have become central. That is one clear difference between the 17th century context and the 19th-20th century context.
3. Why has "infallible" become such a pernicious term now? I know Fuller Seminary uses it and Rogers/McKim tried to redefine it somewhat, so it is guilt by association I suppose. But the word occurs in the WCF and 1689 LBC and I don't see why I should somehow be ashamed of my confessional heritage and be forced to use the word "inerrancy". The word "infallible" was good enough in the 17th century and it's jolly well good enough now. I would say, contra Beale, that J.I. Packer was right, the word "inerrancy" was basically absent prior to the 19th century. Who said Warfield is the standard to which the reformers and reformed scholastics must match up to? Admittedly, much of what is included under the aegis of inerrancy is absorbed under the older term infallible - so why not go back to using the word infallible if its in the reformed confessions?
4. That inerrancy requires rejection of certain genres and means holding very particular views of intertextual hermeneutics. The matter of genre should be settled by genre criticism, not by an appeal to inerrancy (e.g. is Matthew 1-2 midrash). On intertextuality (Beale is very good in noting that NT authors have "varying" levels of interest in the original context of the OT) we need to take a case by case approach and be prepared for some creative applications by NT authors of OT texts that was quite meaningful in its own literary context, but does not square up with modern literary criticism (e.g. Paul's allegory in Galatians 4).
5. I would say, with the Chicago Statement, that Scripture is "true and trustworthy" and that trustworthiness is anchored in the faithfulness of God to his Word.