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.


Tony Stiff said...

I can't help but think a lot of the posturing in the debate regarding inerrancy rests in how each person understands post-critical hermeneutics and wether a doctrine of scripture should be shaped in part (or full) by it.

gummie said...

About the usage of the word "infallible" -
I guess that one concern is that the understanding of the word "infallible" has changed over time. Sometimes it has been reconfigured to mean something akin to "limited inerrancy", limiting the truthfulness of scripture to only matters of faith and conduct. So perhaps while proponents of "inerrancy" realizes that it comes with certain unfortunate baggages, it is a lesser evil to live with since it safeguards the truthfulness and trustworthiness of scripture in all things.

Gerschi said...

Hi there,

thank you very much for your well thought comments. I really appreciate your carefull and nuanced thinking about this topic.

Please allow me to add some thoughts about the view of scripture in premodern times:
You can easily point to Luther to show that he was certainly not an adherent of a Chicago like teaching even though he certainly had a very high view of scripture (e.g. cf. WA 18,723,3-8; 50,657,25-30). But he was only rejecting so-called errores in fide; these are impossible because God's spirit doesn't contradict himself. In his Commentary on Zechariah from 1527, he admitted freely that Matthew (27,9) had made a mistake by attributing Zech. 11,12f. to Jeremiah. Then he adds: “Solche und derlei Fragen bekümmern mich nicht, weil sie wenig zur Sache dienen... .” And if I remember rightly, he was quite relaxed admitting that the numbers in the Exodus narrative are too high; because as a matter of logistics it would have been impossible lead them all in just one night through the sea. So they must me symbolic in nature, he thought. Further examples are Johann Albrecht Bengel and Augustinus (if I'm not wrong; I should probably re-check the original sometime. Here and now I can only point you to a secondary reference: Gerhard Maier, Biblische Hermeneutik, Wuppertal 42003, S. 108-109; 119-120). Bengel said that the evangelists were “ohne Fehl und Irrtum” but allowed for lapsus memoriae. The same is true for Augustinus, the often quoted model for modern proponents of inerrancy: On the one hand he could say that there can be no errors in the gospels/ scripture , on the other hand he had no problem to admit lapsus memoriae. Both, Bengel and Augustinus thought that theses lapsus memoriae were allowed to happen by God to our benefit.

Keep up the good work!
God bless


PaulSceptic said...

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 mangled in Romans 10:6-9

Samuel Garcia said...

"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..."

I like to say (from a philosophical point of view) that the doctrine of the inerrancy that based on the character of God is prima facie justified, but is nonetheless defeasible by the phenomena of Scripture. That it's defeasible does not mean it's wrong, but just that we must allow Scripture itself to transform our concepts.

That was a great post, thanks!

Rod said...

Interesting post, but I believe that the Bible is inerrant or infallible as it relates to matters of faith. However, I believe that the real controversy boils down to whether or not Holy Scripture is trustworthy (esp. with today's use of the ever popular Hermeneutic of Suspicion), I say personally, that the Bible is fully trustworthy. Inerrancy for me, being an African American evangelical in a white liberal seminary context, means someone's calvinist or wesleyan or dispensationalist hermeneutic imposed on the text. So, for me, the Christian faith being all about trusting Jesus as the Messiah, refer to the Bible as fully trustworthy.

andrewbourne said...

I wonder why you do not see Inter-Testamental writings and ANE useful in attempting to understand the world view of 1 C.E. to have the writings of others surely is helpful and gives us insights into the milieu of the period. I am sure you would accept Josephus and Philo
Why not 1 Enoch for example which explains much in the NT. If however it is because the Scriptures are different how so, in using the word `inerrant` there is much misunderstanding. I believe a more accurate understanding is that there is truth contained. A good introduction to understanding was made by the International Theological Commission at the Vatican. It is balanced and fair, in that it sees God as the author but that the writers of the texts are instruments but in being human there humanity is not discarded.

Anonymous said...

"Yet Calvin was influenced by medieval views of Scripture and not by modernist ones!"

This makes the problem all the more sharp when viewing understanding the reformers. I think Calvin would most certainly hold to Aquinas' idea on the Unity of Truth. Scripture does not give us one truth, and reason another, but when rightly understood they agree. For anyone to say that this is not the back ground of "medieval" thought is fudging the issue. The Medievals were aware of the "errancy" issue because of the likes of the two truth theory put forward by thinkers like Siger of Bribant and the muslim philosopher Averroes.

Also, if one looks at Calvin's understanding of the cosmology of Genesis 1 he dispenses with the solid firmanent understanding of the text, but at the same time he notes that scripture is written for the common mand to understand. There is balance, and people like Enns take it to far in the other direction.