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J. K. Gayle

John,
Some of us feel your pain. Sticks and stones, they say, . . . but words.
Kurk (aka "J.K. Gayle," the "feminist," the "male," the "postmodernist," the "Christian," the mere "literary translator," the "academic," the "blogger," the "student," the "infamous," the "egalitarian")

Phil Sumpter

The fact convinces me that revelation remains a possibility in my world and yours. If infallible truth and inerrant revelation is able to poke through the errors and mist to which the biblical writers were subject, maybe, just maybe, it is able to make its way to the doorstep of my contradictory, error-filled being.

I feel like this statement is touching onto something profound that I wish I could grasp better. There's an interlocking of heaven and earth in biblical faith which is both shockingly offputting and deeply attractive. I find that Childs, Seitz and NT Wright are helping me best to come to terms with this.

JohnFH

Kurk, I'm betting everyone knows what it's like to be insulted, and to trade insults. Some of us also enjoy the pursuit of truth for its own sake. I am happy to converse with anyone who does, no matter how much we might not see eye to eye.

Phil, you have picked some excellent Bible scholars and theologians to listen to. And don't forget the great tradition on which they build. It's work to read Luther and Calvin's Latin, German, and French, but it's deeply worth it. Beyond them, there's Thomas, and before his synthesis, amazing authors of all kinds. Irenaeus and Augustine, the Cappadocian Fathers. But you know this already, from Childs and Barth.

Iyov

I'm with Doug Chaplin on this one. I do believe that you feel your faith is "Calvinist", "Fundamentalist", "Inerrant", "Pentecostal", and "Communist" but you have redefined those terms in such a way that those adjectives are not particularly useful in understanding your belief system. For example, you have suggested in a previous exchange that you are Calvinist in the sense of the writings of John Calvin (the truth is -- I don't think my life is long enough to ever make it all the way through the Institutio Christianae Religionis (not even in translation, were I to succumb to such a crib) -- and I suspect that if I did, your own understanding of Calvin would show a number of idiosyncrasies that separate it from a consensus reading. (I also don't the juxtaposition of Calvinism vs. Arminianism helpful, since the vast majority of Christendom falls into neither category.)

Now perhaps your membership in the Communist party is more conventional, since that is an actual entity that you joined (with a particular platform) but you also mention you only joined it for a brief period, suggesting that you did not subscribe to at least some of their fundamental tenets.

In short, your use of identifiers here is more of a tease than helpful -- so maybe it would be better to simply explain to us what you do believe, without labels.

I become a bit annoyed when anyone labels me -- partly because my personal views do not affect the validity of my arguments, partly because the terms carry baggage that I may not accept, and partly because my personal beliefs are personal. I note you have held back on describing your Pentecostal beliefs, which suggests to me that you may partly agree that some beliefs are simply personal and there is no obligation for one to enumerate them in public discourse. (An exception perhaps may be made for practices that are illegal and truly dangerous -- e.g. handling poisonous snakes.)

Regarding Jim West: Your remarks are accurate (although they show too much restraint, in my opinion: I am surprised that West has cowed so much of the blogsophere into accepting his intolerance and hateful statements).

JohnFH

I don't particularly like the Calvinist/Arminian binomial pair either, but that has dominated the discussion. It hardly worries me that my Calvinism might not be of the "consensus" variety - and who gets to define that? Theopedia?

Calvinism is a broader tradition than many non-Calvinists - and Calvinists - know. It includes people as varied as Charles Simeon, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann, and Nicholas Wolterstorff (now at Yale). Iyov, I think you have a far too narrow view of what constitutes Calvinism.

If you want to read Calvin, start with his 1545 Genevan catechism in Latin. Believe it or not, Calivin's gift is lucid brevity. Then go on to the 1536 edition of the Institutes. Leave the bulky final edition to Fachleute.

It's a blast to read early Calvin - he was a great humanist. His commentary on Seneca's de Clementia prefigures his later thought, but in a way that will be more palatable to most. He also had a real exegetical gift, which is why his commentaries continue to be read, reprinted, and translated anew in many languages.

In my opinion, the finest short introduction to Calvinist thought was not even written by Calvin. It's the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), a limpid and graceful document, to be read in German or Latin if at all possible, but there are decent English translations. CCEL provides a German-English diglot online, part of Philip Schaff's magnificent "Creeds of Christendom."

So I'm serious about being a Calvinist, just not a "school" Calvinist.

Whether people label me a Communist or a capitalist, a conservative or a liberal, you're right, I don't much care. Like you, I find labels only marginally helpful. On the issue at hand, whether or not inerrancy and infallibility are referable to scripture or not, and in what sense, I trust I have made myself clear.

Drew

Still easier and more intellectually satisfying, not to mention defensible, to say the text is indeed errant, but the God it reveals is not. That seems to be what you want to say, but you seem to have to hold onto the doctrine. I am not sure why the doctrine is all that important here.

If you said that it was in fact not inerrant, what would that do to your faith? To your understanding of the authority of scripture? Just curious.

JohnFH

If the God scripture reveals does not lie, is trustworthy, and is full of grace and truth, and the chief content of scripture is the revelation of that God and that God's will for humankind, it is natural to speak of scripture itself as something that does not lie, as trustworthy, as a unique and irreplaceable source of the truth to which it bears witness.

And that's tantamount to saying that as far as its chief subject matter is concerned, Scripture does not err, and does not lead into error. Right, Drew?

And if, besides all that, scripture is also errant in a weak sense, that is, if its language presupposes ancient rather than modern notions of cosmology, if it is not completely consistent on details, if its authors erred in any number of ways according to the nature of all human authorship, does that undermine the authority of scripture as I understand it?

Not at all. Paradoxically, it strengthens it.

I don't think I'm using language in an odd way. Let me try to exemplify. I don't know what fields of study you enjoy. Let's say physics. What if I were to tell you that Feynman's lectures on physics are a splendid, trustworthy, and irreplaceable introduction to the subject, a solid work that will not lead you astray in all that it affirms, and in all that it is careful not to affirm? Would you reply, Feynman may have understood physics perfectly, but his lectures contain inconsistencies, and are problematic in various ways?

Well fine, we would both be right. But the positive evaluation of the Lectures is of greater importance. The negative evaluation applies to all treatments of physics, and for that reason, need not be highlighted at all.

Stephen (aka Q)

I am reminded of Walt Whitman:

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large — I contain multitudes.)"

A favourite quote of mine. Sometimes it's best not to smooth out the wrinkles. Something is inevitably lost when the wrinkles are smoothed out — that's my opinion.

Which is to say: If you want to affirm the doctrine of inerrancy while also acknowledging that the Bible contains errors, I don't see why that should be grounds for controversy. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" — another worthy quote.

Jim Getz

I have a hard time believing that John McArthur and St. Augustine mean the same thing by inerrancy.

You might try and counter that they're not and when we should get back to what Augustine meant, but languages change and words develop new meanings. I'm pretty sure that Augustine wouldn't have been able to sign the Chicago Statement.

JohnFH

We agree, Jim, except that I'm not willing to let John McArthur types monopolize infallibility and inerrancy language about scripture. He's responsible for his use of the language. I am for mine.

Huge chunks of vocabulary are consistently misused in today's religious culture. Am I to stop referring to Jesus as Lord and Savior because I can't get through the week w/o hearing someone talk about Jesus as 'my personal Lord and Savior' - a borderline oxymoron at best, a total mis-emphasis at worst?

I want to distinguish my position from that of, say, the Theopedists, but I prefer to do it by recovering the language of Augustine, Thomas, Luther, Zwingli, Lausanne, and Dei Verbum with their qualifications intact (hermeneutic of love; inspiration applies to the subject matter of salvation; was Christum treibt; what comes from the Holy Spirit; in all that it affirms).

I also want to differentiate my position from that of those who fail to discern transcendence in the text. From those whose ears are attuned to hear only what they're sure they can dismiss in the text.

Identity Mixed

Saying that something has errors and saying that something leads one into error are two different arguments you not only fail to connect but refuse to connect as well. That's where your argument continues to fail. Simple stuff really.

I at least know that some readers here know what I am talking about. Q makes the same point for one.

Finally, let's look at something else in physics that is more in line with the argument here. Something more specific. Einstein was right about general relativity. He was dead wrong about quantum mechanics. What you are arguing is that because he was right in the first case of general relativity (the bible has errors), he is right in the second case (but it is inerrant on another level of analysis) by virtue of the first case. If you are making that claim, and you clearly are, then you need to justify it rather than just glory in such a useless paradox.

If scripture has errors, it does not necessarily mean that we must err. God does not have to be a liar because scripture is not inerrant. Sounds like you are conflating a lot here without any basis whatsoever.

JohnFH

Identity Mixed,

let's continue your thought experiment a bit further. How does the Bible compare with Einstein in their respective fields of interest?

What I confess as a believer is that the Bible gets things right about both God and humankind, who God is, and who we are in relation to God. At the same time, I have no problem with the fact that the Bible also contains errors of the kind every human artifact is known to contain.

I might be wrong; I might be right, but it is ludicrous to accuse me of using language or of thinking in a way that is out of the ordinary. You don't have to have read Wittgenstein to get this.

Einstein, on the other hand, though he is the greatest student of physics who ever lived, was only half-right. I claim much more, with respect to its chief subject matter, for the Bible. So have Jews and Christians generally, for two millennia.

You are free to chuck all of that in the trash. But it would be foolish of you to dismiss the classical religious stance to scripture based on a misapplication of syllogistic logic.

I appreciate your call for specificity. Theory can be airy-fairy. Apparently you think the Bible gets things all wrong about God, or about human beings, or both. Please explain.

Drew

First, the Einstein case was saying that because something is a certian way on one level of analysis does not therefore mean it is a certain way on another level of analysis. That gap is the issue and you have resisted any means to close it to make your argument for inerrancy ring true.

Second, by saying that the bible contains errors means that it is not inerrant. Period. Why? Because the first argument has yet to be addressed as noted above.

Third, you are not being "accused of anything". You are just making two separate arguments and conflating them. That is what the issue is. Saying that something is inerrant and then admitting that it has errors is not a good position because it is so irrational.

Not sure what the fourth paragraph even means. Not sure you can say Einstein was half right. I mean, with respect to what? Muddle.

Tell me how this is a misapplication of logic:

It is inerrant.
It contains errors.
It is therefore not inerrant.

Hello?

Finally, if a theory is "airy-fairy" it's a bad theory. This is what inerrancy is to me - a bad theory because it does not meet the need for veracity of its foundations. But my penchant is for rationality. Feel free to adhere to irrational ideas if that is what floats your boat.

I have not claimed that the bible gets anything "all wrong about God". That is made up. But the bible has errors. Therefore it is not inerrant. That is the only claim I have made and have offered the rational grounds for that assertion. You have yet to offer rational grounds for the assertion that it is inerrant yet has errors.

JohnFH

Slow down, Drew. Did you read the post I was responding to? If so, it doesn't show.

As far as I can see, you are the one who insists on conflating two levels of analysis.

You continue to address a rich and complex subject matter with childish syllogisms. You said somewhere else that you yourself have a confessional approach to the Bible. Out with it. I doubt you will express it in terms of QEDs.

If Einstein got relativity theory right and quantum mechanics wrong, per the post I was responding to, that makes Einstein half right. What's so hard about that?

Let me ask you a question: does the Bible get anything important right? A God fellow figures pretty prominently in its pages. This God fellow seems to ask questions more than provide answers. Such as (to Adam and Eve, after they run from His presence): "Where are you? "Where is your brother" (to Cain, after he killed Abel) "Who do you say that I am?" (Jesus to his disciples). Do at least the questions make sense to you?

With all due respect, there is something obnoxious about your response to what I say about the Bible. I have not hidden the fact that I am using the language of love and commitment with respect to the Bible. Catholics go so far as to speak of venerating Scripture.

Now, if we were friends, and I fell in love with someone, and I told you, "she's perfect," and "she means everything to me," and you were to respond, "what do you mean, don't you see that zit on her left cheek?" "There are a thousand like her where I come from," you know as well I do the appropriate response to such comments.

A good punch to the gut.

Drew

Let's cut the nonsense out of that reply and focus on the issue - which you continue to avoid.

First you said it was a misapplication of logic. Now you say syllogisms are childish. No matter, this avoids the case completely.

What the Bible gets "right" is not the issue here. The issue, again is this: how is something inerrant that has errors? The text itself. An appeal to the inerrancy of God is a different argument. I really do think that you are creatively avoiding this argument. I am not just looking at the errors here and saying that the bible has not got it "right" about God whatever that might mean. That's a different hermeneutical issue albeit tangentially related.

But it is the presence of errors that makes the text not inerrant. Might want to address the argument rather than distract from it.

But I see rational argument is childish according to what you have written above. You said it yourself with the comment about syllogisms as if that is all the issue I am arguing is about.

BTW - The whole idea of "two levels of analysis" was your idea and I was just debunking that as well. You missed that too.

Jim Getz

I guess I'll take up the language if the fight is creedal in nature (e.g. the three persons but one essence of the Trinity) but have a harder time when it's not.

Also, lumping Augustine in with Luther, Calvin and Zwingli always makes me cringe. But, that could be because I'm not a Protestant....

JohnFH

Drew, I'm not sure where to point you to. Perhaps you would find Wittgenstein of help here. My criticism of your approach boils down to this. You want people to speak in syllogisms, but they don't.

For example, if I listen to a film review by Siskel and Ebert, and they say, "two thumbs up!" and go on to say that even the film's weaknesses contribute to its greatness, are you going to debunk them, too? Be my guest.

Or, are you familiar with other theological formulae, such as Jesus who is said to be fully God and fully man? Sink your syllogistic teeth into that one. Or Luther's simul iustus et peccator. You at least owe it to the readers of this thread to explain why your logical approach to inerrancy language referred to scripture succeeds in showing it holds no water, whereas the language of Chalcedon and Luther works fine.

Still, I wish to thank you for commenting here. There are plenty of people who think they resolve issues like this by applying the sledgehammer of stringent logic. I am still waiting to hear your confessional take on Scripture. If you've posted it elsewhere, let me know. I'd be happy to interact with it.

JohnFH

Jim,

Actually, the commonalities between Augustine and Luther are enormous. After all, Luther was an Augustinian. The historian who has done the most to highlight the continuities between the Reformers' thought and the Great Tradition, is, I think, Heiko Oberman. I highly recommend his scholarhip. Or check out the collection of essays in his honor, Augustine, the Harvest and Theology. It is an eye-opener.

Have you ever read anything by the Catholic theologian, Otto Herman Pesch? His comparative study of Aquinas and Luther is extremely insightful. He is representative of a sympathetic mode of understanding the connection between the Reformation and precedent Catholic tradition - from the Catholic side (Pesch is an O.P.). I read a lot of Pesch in seminary back in the days. If they don't teach Pesch this side of the pond, it's a shame.

As for the language of inerrancy and infallibility referred to Scripture, I don't want to compel people to use it. My purpose is twofold: to show that it has been and still is used (Dei Verbum) in nuanced and acceptable ways, with emphases at odds with those who use it, say, as the Theopedists do, and that the language is compatible with the simultaneous admission that the writers and tradents of scripture were subject to the same limitations we all are.

Drew

Once again you completely avoided the argument John. The application of "sledgehammer of stringent logic" as you call it was a bit more of a simple call for justification of foundations as any analysis would ask.

The appeal again to other formulae such as Chalcedon or the like is what is again, called a logical fallacy. This time it is a red herring.

There is absolutely no need for me to make any argument of my own related to anything of my confessional view for this or that. It is unrelated to the question I asked repeatedly and that you chose not to address.

But thanks anyway :-)

JohnFH

You just don't like the way I chose to address it.

It saddens me that you are more interested in tearing down someone's else confessional views on the Bible than presenting your own. I wanted to hear them out of genuine interest, not to make a forensic point.

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  • 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.