Wednesday, February 11, 2009

R.T. France - Inerrancy and NT Exegesis

There is a top rate article by R.T. France in Themelios 1.1 (1975) that dialogues with J.I. Packer on inerrancy from a NT stand point. I thought of Peter Enns and Greg Beale when I read France's thoughts on 1 Cor. 10.4:

"Take Paul's reference to the 'rock that followed them' (1 Cor. 10:4). A study of this theme in Jewish literature will soon uncover a fascinating body of tradition about this rock, or rather 'rock-shaped well, like a kind of beehive', which rolled along with the Israelites as they wandered through the desert, providing them with water to drink, irrigating the ground, and on one occasion taking the offensive against their enemies by flooding the Arnon canyon to drown them, and coming rolling up out of the valley carrying 'skulls, arms and legs innumerable', until eventually it rolled into the Lake of Galilee, where it may still be seen under the water, 'the size of an oven'. Clearly Paul was familiar at least with the idea of a mobile rock/well, even if not with the bizarre details of the later midrash, and found in this ever-present source of supply and help an apt illustration of Christ. Whether he regarded the tradition as historical fact is debatable, but he cited it not for its historical value, but for its spiritual significance: pneumatikës here probably indicates that he interpreted the tradition typologically. To try to confine Paul's thought to the traditional material from which he drew his illustration would be to do violence to his expressed intention in making the allusion. It is referred to not for itself, but for its illustrative value; the focus of his thought is Christ."

France wisely concludes:

"To return, then, to our original question: does the evangelical's commitment to a high view of Scripture, which entails inerrancy, automatically exclude him from the use of the critical methods which are the rules of the game of academic biblical study? In fact just the opposite is the case: he has, if anything, a stronger incentive than any one else to work hard and critically at his exegesis, for he believes that what he is interpreting is the word of God, and therefore should spare no pains in discovering what it really means. If anyone is obliged to practise the most rigorous grammatico-historical exegesis, without taking short cuts or fudging the issue, it is the evangelical. His doctrinal position obliges him to do the very thing the pundits demand, to study the text of Scripture critically in the light of all available knowledge relevant to it. He can, and should, have a real positive contribution to make to responsible exegesis, which is what academic biblical study is, or should be, all about."


Andy Rowell said...

Amen. My only comment is that I don't think that Packer would disagree with any of this but I haven't read his article. I took Systematic Theology A with him at Regent College in 2000 or 2001 and he is happy with New Testament criticism. I also wouldn't be able to comment on Enns and Beale in detail.

jdc said...

I'm wondering what it was that made you think of Peter Enns and Greg Beale when you read France's thoughts on 1 Cor. 10.4?

Mark Stevens said...

I do wonder if one has to subscribe to inerrancy if they have a high view of scripture.

dopderbeck said...

I echo Mark Stevens' comment. I don't think a "high view" of scripture "entails inerrancy" -- and certainly not the rationalistic kind of inerrancy so popular in North America (ala Geisler and the Chicago Statement). That is really the rub between Enns and Beale. France here seems to think Paul's use of the moveable well tradition is just fine under rationalistic inerrancy because a hermeneutical move concerning Pauls' "intention" can save inerrancy. Beale would probably agree.

Enns, however, would probably say Paul himself intended to make a historical allusion the moveable well tradition, but that "inerrancy" does not consist in Paul being "wihout error" in what he as a human being "intended" to convey. Inerrancy for Enns is simply a presupposition that God did not err even when using errant human beings and imperfect human communication to convey whatever message God wanted to convey (which may not be exactly the same message as what the human "author" intended).

If I'm reading Enns correctly here, this seems to me a more satisfying account of what it may mean for God to communicate through and to human beings. It also seems like the only sort of approach one can take with respect to both OT and NT criticism and still retain one's sanity.

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks for posting this, Mike - have you been following some of the discussion around Kenton Sparks' book "God's Word in Human Words"? Reading this I wondered what you'd make of it!