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C Michael Patton

Interesting stuff John. Thanks for the interaction.

You are right that I don't intend to do anything but critique a hyper-critical approach. That is normally where I reside on this issue. Even though I believe in inerrancy, I certainly don't think it is the hinge upon which Christianity (or Evangelicalism) hangs.

C. Stirling Bartholomew

You said: "I self-identify as an evangelical. I affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. My salvation depends on it. I am not agnostic about it - not in the least."

But on the other hand you think the Chicago Statement is bonkers, right?

On a different note,
some of my reformed "friends" read passages like Ezekiel 37-39 using a hermeneutic that completely undermines a number clear straightforward non-figurative propositions about the future of Israel. My response: if it doesn't mean what it says then it is a pack of lies and we should "tear it out of the bible and staple it to the Apocrypha." A quote from my late friend David Hastings in reference to the Apocalypse of John.

Within the prophetic and apocalyptic literature we find lots of metaphorical language, but the nation of Israel and "the land" are not metaphors. Treating them as such is completely irresponsible exegesis.
In this manner genera analysis is used to make an end run around propositions in the text which you find difficult to accept.

JohnFH

Hi C. Stirling,

I agree with you about Ezekiel 37-39 (though I am as baffled as the next person about the intended sense-in-context of much of 38-39).

I don't think the Chicago Statement is bonkers. I would sign it if I had to. But I'm glad I don't have to, because the statement is, on many fronts, a step sideways in the sense of slipping away from classical and Reformation emphases. If I signed it, I would have to hold my nose sideways so as not to be overcome by the odor of rationalism which permeates many of its paragraphs. On the other hand, I cannot subscribe to Dei verbum, because it does not allow Scripture enough room to stand over against the Church, as the norm which norms all other norms. Still, its high view of Scripture (excerpted from a context that undermines that high view) is a breath of fresh air.

Brian LePort

John,

I have often heard people describe the view proposed here as "infallibility" while the view that Patton and Heiser is "inerrancy". Infallibility would affirm what you said: "It is doxology. It is praise-language. Anyone who reads Scripture within the context of a community of faith in which the Holy Spirit is active will be confident that Scripture is God’s flawless Word, full of truth and grace." Inerrancy wouldn't allow for contradictions between gospels and so forth.

Would it be more pragmatic for those who hold a high view of Scripture, but who can't turn a blind eye to the issues you noted, to use the word "infallibility" while leaving inerrancy to those who continue to maintain that every detail must be accurate?

JohnFH

C. Michael,

Thanks for dropping by. I realize that you see yourself first and foremost as an apologist, so that you aim at removing impediments to faith, which you do by pointing out the fallacies of hyper-skepticism.

Perhaps this will surprise you: I disagree with you strongly about the hinge of Christianity. True faith hinges on a lot of things; in my view, it also hinges on a high view of Scripture of the kind one finds (for instance) in Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. My point is another: the definition of error you, Mike Heiser, and Jeremy Pierce work with, leads to uncertainty, agnosticism, and rabbit trails that lead nowhere. Time to connect Scripture with the Holy Spirit and the Church.

In the context of numerous friendships with Chicago Statement-style evangelicals over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the definition of error evangelicals in some traditions work with is a trap and a stumbling block that leads them away from healthy faith.

If so, it is no small matter, a question that apologists if they take their calling seriously would do well to be courageous about.

CMWoodall+

I hope this does not sound trivial in the light of all the issues here. But I have a question that digs deep at the heart of the mystical nature of the Word and Spirit connection.
"How often and how much Scripture is read in your worship gathering?" Do your people get a chance to hear the Word of God read to them? I find that those who claim to uphold inerrancy the most experience it the least. On the contrary, I find that those who experience it the most cannot fathom the descriptions put forward by evangelicals about Scripture. It is like saying, "I believe in moon dust...though I've never touched it."

...from a Word and Sacrament evangelical

JohnFH

Hi Brian,

The problem is not with the word "inerrancy." Christians have been using the word or something like it since forever. I am not going to cede it to a "third party" because they think they've patented it. In the same way, I feel free to use terms like being born again, justification by faith, predestination, and so on, according to biblical coordinates that do not always match the dogmatics of this or that tradition.

If Scripture is infallible (Isa 55), it must also be inerrant, that is, it cannot lead us astray in anything it is meant to teach us. Down to the last jot and tittle (Matthew 5:18).

The problem is that so many people bring false expectations to the text. They want to find in it a reply or alternative to this or that modern science. They want it to record history in the same way a tape-recorder and a cellphone camera might. That's not what we are given. If you think the text is truth in the above (pseudo-)senses, the message of the text may still come through, but it will be in spite of, rather than because of, the genre (mis)identification.

JohnFH

Hi CMWoodall,

Great blog you have there, and blessings on your ministry. The evangelicals who raised me in the faith, beginning with my godparents, had a lively experience of God and lived out their faith through acts of piety and acts of mercy.

But I don't deny that there are evangelicals whose faith is a form of intellectual assent alone, and a falsely constructed one at that.

Mike Heiser

I'm a bit nonplussed about your "response" John. Go back and read my post more carefully. *I didn't posit a definition of inerrancy*. Looks like you were looking for one. Not sure why you'd interject an item into the post and then criticize it for not covering what it didn't intend to cover. The whole point of my post is that people will disagree about what to do with such examples. Frankly, there's nothing unclear about that in the post. I don't disown inerrancy. I don't think it is a useless construct. I think it's important. I think the problem is how it gets discussed. I'm not satisfied with the "positions" that are presently available. I think we can do better. I wonder about the explanatory power of definitions (Can we come up with an approach that is workable in all cases - a paradigm). If asking the question (read: being honest that there is a question) means you brand me an agnostic when it comes to inerrancy, so be it. Agnostics have basically surrendered the notion that there *is* a solution; I haven't - I'm asking for thought to be put into the topic for that very purpose. If I was an agnostic, I'd dismiss the topic. Put another way, what should we call someone who doesn't want to ask the question? Dogmatic? Self-Assured? He-Who-Is-Above-the-Fray? The present paradigm (Chicago) does not adequately address all the things that need to be addressed. Appeals to the Spirit are pretty much useless in pursuing an answer for the simple (factual) reason that godly scholars have not reached a consensus. Sure, you can pick a position and assume those who haven't picked it are out if step with the Spirit, or resistant to the Spirit, but I'm not going to do that. I've lived in that world before, and it isn't very ... spiritual.

JohnFH

Hi Mike,

I am happy to be corrected if that is in order. Given a reading and now a re-reading of your argument, I was confident that you are working with a definition of error such that, if one and the same individual did not both buy a plot of land in Shechem and take it by sword and bow, the Bible is not inerrant.

If that is not the definition of error you are working with, I would be obliged if you explain what definition underlies your discussion.

It's an important point because, as you well know, there are some or even many Chicago inerrantists who work with precisely the definition of error I assumed was yours.

The genres that Gen 34 and 48 instantiate lead me not to expect to be able to reconstruct history of the kind you talk about in your post.

There is far *more* history packed into these texts than would be the case if they were narrating one-off events as would have been observed by eyewitnesses.

Gen 34 and 48 recount aspects of the ethnogenesis of the tribes of Israel in terms of conflicts between the storied ancestors of the selfsame tribes and the ancestors of their neighbors.

It is natural to read both accounts as true to processes of ethnogenesis but at a high level of abstraction such that the kind of problem you pose - how could one and the same person have followed a script inclusive of both episodes - does not fit the genres in the first place.

I might be wrong about what definition of error you were working with in your post, but that is where I thought we had a disagreement.

I think we are using the term "agnostic" in different ways. I meant it in a non-technical sense: simply, that you said you did not know if there was an error or not in Genesis 48:22.

I did not mean to imply that you were an agnostic in any other sense. I'm aware too that you affirm inerrancy, though I find that hard to square with your "I don't know" statement in the post.

Put another way, I want to ask questions of biblical texts that are commensurate to them. I am claiming that in your post you are doing what you rightly criticize in others with respect to Hebrew cosmology. There are those who are convinced that if the biblical writers conceived of the world in a non-realistic way, then the Bible is not inerrant. But of course they did conceive of the world in terms that are realistic in part but in part depend on speculation that we cannot affirm.

In the same way, Gen 34 and 48 reflect highly refracted cultural memories to which elements of social history from various times and places may have adhered. That such texts resist facile reconciliation is to be expected; to talk of error in the sense you do in your post is out of place.

You raise a good point about the Holy Spirit, but I wasn't assuming any identification between what godly scholars teach and what the Holy Spirit teaches. Sorry to be so grim, but I sometimes wonder if the two overlap very much.

It is my conviction that the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 continues to be fulfilled in every generation, so the lack of a strong overlap of the kind we would all hope for, but rarely see, is not the same thing as saying that the Holy Spirit is not active in making the inerrancy of scripture a reality in the life of believers and the church.

I am not interested in appealing to the Spirit in order to rule my interpretation of scripture in and yours out. On the contrary, 1 Cor 14:32 applies, if only in a transferred sense; hence this post and my attempt at re-opening debate.

Like you and perhaps more than you, I believe the Chicago Statement could be improved.

Koert van Bekkum

Dear John,

Although I doubt whether I share your view on the Book of Genesis, your point comes close to the Dutch neocalvinist approach: confessing that the Bible is 'onfeilbaar' does not mean it is 'foutloos'. The first word refers to the classical meaning of 'infallible', namely that the Bible always reaches its goal; the second phrase describes a wrong interpretation of this as it occurred after the Enlightment.

In addition, you could also have quoted the Chicago Inerrancy Statement in favour of your position, for in fact it leaves much room for a discussion about genre and the tradition of memories by stating that 'In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of the penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise. (…) So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth.’

JohnFH

You are right that the Chicago Statement can be read to accommodate the understanding of genres I find convincing for the book of Genesis.

It's a stretch but it is within reason.

I do wish to be allowed to call the Bible flawless and impeccable. I say that about my wife - we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary - even though I might have some apparent counter-evidence on hand. I don't want to even touch the question from her point of view.

But praise and love language is like that. It needs to be understood on its own terms.

I realize we are on the same page: the Bible is not flawless in the Enlightenment sense of the term - a point in its favor, of course.

Gary Simmons

Thank you for this, John. Amidst the tides of the Euphrates, it's good to hear the gentle bubbling of the Shiloah.

wm tanksley

JohnFH, you posted a sentence that I suspect might clarify my ignorance in a way to allow me to comprehend your original post. May I ask what you mean when you say "the Bible is not flawless in the Enlightenment sense of the term - a point in its favor, of course." An explanation of "flawless" would be pleasant, especially if it would then make the rest of the sentence make sense to me.

Gary Simmons

Addendum: John, on this topic I have a habit of explaining the invention of impressionism in painting.

When photography was developed, painting was no longer needed as an art form to capture the exact features of life. So, what were painters to do? Make paintings that exaggerate certain details in order to illuminate truths that are more readily apparent than a straightforward painting/photograph would be.

In essence, an impressionist painting and the ancient historical genres are alike in that they are larger than life. God said that He would make David's house great, isn't that right? Every occurrence in another book of mizmor lidavid proves that God is faithful to His promises, regardless of how one understands the lamed preposition there.

JohnFH

Hi Wm Tanksley,

Plenty of examples come to mind. The Enlightenment has no use for concept after concept that permeate the pages of the Bible. The Bible is fundamentally in error on this view.

As Carl Becker noted in his classic lectures:

The essential articles of the religion of the Enlightenment may be stated thus: (1) man is not natively depraved; (2) the end of life is life itself, the good life on earth instead of the beatific life after death; (3) man is capable, guided solely by the light of reason and experience, of perfecting the good life on earth; and (4) the first and essential conditions of the good life on earth is the freeing of men’s minds from the bonds of ignorance and superstition, and of their bodies from the arbitrary oppression of the constituted social authorities.

[Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932) 102. The place of Becker in the history of ideas has been illuminated by Steven D. Smith, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010) 151-186; the above passage is quoted and discussed on pp. 161-162.]

To be sure, it is possible, within the bounds of Judaism or Christianity to accommodate Enlightenment values to a certain degree. However, except in "progressive" contexts, it is typical of faith communities to reel in individuals who go too far in that direction. The example of Maimonides comes to mind. For all the world it appeared as if he wanted to deny the substance of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But the consensus was that that was going too far. To the extent that modern Judaism has no use for the teaching of the resurrection of the dead, it could be argued that it has turned its back on a core component of historical Judaism. Jon Levenson is an example of a Jewish scholar who seeks to reclaim the doctrine of the resurrection for our time and place. Perhaps I am over-reading Levenson, but that would seem to put him in the anti-Enlightenment camp.

Among Christians, a fine example of an anti-Enlightenment theologian is Ernst Käsemann. I quote an RBL review of a volume of essays by Wayne Coppins:

Developing Luther’s statement that “A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need” (175), he argues that we always live in the threatening or actual subjection to idols or to demons (58) and associates the demonic with what is beyond our control and inhuman (203). The category of the “demonic” or of “possession” is, in fact, central to Käsemann’s vision (esp. chs. 6, 16, 17). ... he stresses the need to demythologize the optimistic Enlightenment faith in human goodness, progress, and self-determination (63, 163), which has “to a large extent become a tool of the white race for subjecting the rest of the world” (185). Theologically, he describes “possession” as “the condition in which the first commandment is no longer heard or taken seriously, thus in which the earth is inevitably handed over to idols” (187), and he critically (re)appropriates the doctrine of “original sin” from this standpoint (63, 204).

The Enlightenment is a project of liberation at serious odds with the project of liberation the Bible proposes. The only way to assimilate the latter to the former is to reduce biblical faith to a shadow of its former self.

JohnFH

An example I use is Picasso's Guernica.

Compared to a photo of Guernica's destruction, Picasso's painting contains an information overload. An evocation of the destruction is made to intersect with symbols of an array of metanarratives such that it is always possible to look at the painting and find more in it.

Traditional exegesis thinks of scripture along the same lines. One might say that scripture is Scripture whenever the following obtains:

Ben Bag Bag said: "Turn it [the Torah] and turn it over again and again [Pirkei Avot 4:1].

wm tanksley

John, thank you. That comment was very easy to read and assimilate; so your sentence means that the Bible and the Enlightenment contradict one another; and thus, you said that the Bible is "not flawless" according to the Enlightenment. That makes perfect sense. An Enlightenment reader would read the Bible and say "these things couldn't happen", and turn away.

The problem is that a reader of any worldview would read the Bible and turn away, apart from the work of God; so I don't see why you'd single out the Enlightenment as being especially vicious in that respect. (Mind you, I agree with your specific critiques of Enlightenment and modernity.)

I guess I was wrong to think that understanding that would help me understand the rest. I'll just keep reading your blog and wait for (heh heh) enlightenment.

-Wm

JohnFH

Good to have you as a commenter, Wm. Feel free to ask questions or propose topics as needed.

Brian Mitchell

"But praise and love language is like that. It needs to be understood on its own terms."

This is exactly how I feel about the Biblical literature. We, know the Massoretes as well as the Talmud acknowledge that there were scribal errors and more deliberate changes to the text of the Tanakh, yet we hold to the assumption that there is a God who ignited the spark in men to write these texts, who mystically guided the writing of these texts, who continues to breath life into these texts, and who is more than able to work through the things that in our finite eyes seem like mistakes, weak things, and foolishness things.

Yes, we need textual criticism, yes people can chose to accept the documentary theory, but rather than disproving the inspiration of God, these things reveal awesomeness and profoundness of the work of God.

G. Kyle Essary

"I realize we are on the same page: the Bible is not flawless in the Enlightenment sense of the term - a point in its favor, of course."

John,
That line brought a smile to my Southern Baptist, inerrantist face. Loved it.

Gary Simmons

This post is made relevant once again due to the words of yet another Michael.

JohnFH

Hi Gary,

Can you be more specific?

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  • PaleoJudaica
    by James Davila, professor of Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland. Judaism and the Bible in the news; tidbits about ancient Judaism and its context
  • Pastoral Epistles
    by Rick Brannan and friends, a conceptually unique Bible blog
  • Pen and Parchment
    Michael Patton and company don't just think outside the box. They are tearing down its walls.
  • Pisteuomen
    by Michael Halcomb, pastor-scholar from the Bluegrass State
  • Pseudo-Polymath
    by Mark Olson, an Orthodox view on things
  • Purging my soul . . . one blog at a time
    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.