Today as I was scrolling through Aggos.com, a new social media site for members of the church of Christ (check it out!), I noticed a post by Shane Himes sharing his article “Israel’s Journey to Know God: Biblical Inspiration” (find it here). In short, I disagree with his conclusions about biblical inerrancy and want to share why.
In the past authors within churches of Christ who disagreed with each other often wrote to their opponents in journals, blogs, or brotherhood publications to encourage a written debate and sort out the issues at hand. Sometimes, their correspondence was published for the readership of those journals. Unfortunately, and more often than not, these authors resorted to the vilification of those who disagreed with them through twisting the words of an author who would respond and setting up “straw-man” arguments against those who didn’t. These things don’t make for the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). While we may disagree, I have a responsibility in my response to show “humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). In order to do this, and remind myself that I am writing to a brother, not an enemy, I’ve decided to write directly to Shane.
I know we’ve never met, but if you’re ever in the Henderson, TN, area in the next year or so, let me know and let’s grab some lunch. I’ve read your article about inerrancy and appreciate some aspects of it. I agree that adages and oversimplified viewpoints of the Scripture can cause more harm than good. The Bible is sometimes confusing and often difficult to understand. Even Biblical authors have acknowledged that. Acknowledging that fact, the question then is, “Where do we go from here?”
As I read, I noticed that you are a young guy, like myself, who obviously loves Jesus and His people. The topic of your writing, however, was troubling and in my opinion, inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. Though the Bible is difficult to understand in some places, I sincerely disagree that the best way to deal with these issues is to give up on inerrancy, deny the unity of the biblical writings, or overemphasize the human involvement in the word of the Bible to the point of neglecting the divine. This seems to be what your article is attempting to do.
For the sake of some readers of this, inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy that Shane mentions is probably taken from article XI:
We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
It is important to remember that this “statement” that Shane and I are referring to is not a denominational creed, but a definition of what many believe to be a summation of biblical principles on God’s authority and man’s involvement in the writing of the Christian Scriptures.
I think that your definition of inerrancy is a bit misleading. Article VI, that you’ve mentioned reads: “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.” Without reading more of the statement, however, it might seem that they mean that God miraculously took control of the biblical author’s writing hand and mechanically dictated each stroke of the stylus. For clarification, Article VIII reads: “We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.” The Bible is full of the original authors’ personalities: John’s Greek is easier to read than Luke’s, Paul doesn’t necessarily remember who all he baptized in Corinth, and Matthew’s gospel seems inherently “more Jewish” than Mark’s. These marks of authenticity don’t negate God’s inspiration, they actually emphasize God’s power in providing a consistent message through numerous human authors over long periods of human history.
Many have suggested that the Bible is inspired as far as it speaks to spiritual truths, but not necessarily in regard to what you phrase, “science, sociology, theology, morality, or anything else.” CSOI Article XII reads: “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.” In your upcoming articles, could you please inform us how we can trust the spiritual positions expounded in Scripture that come from a God unable (or unwilling) to correctly communicate the physical aspects of history or geography? Are the human authors involved in the process somehow limiting God’s accuracy of inspiration?
I appreciate your unique view of the growing understanding of the Hebrew people throughout the ages, but I believe you’ve created a false dichotomy between inerrancy and progressive revelation as the Israelites experienced it. In fact Article V of the CSOI states: “We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.” It is completely reasonable to assume that God’s purposes and personality were more clear to those who had more of His revelation available to them. Hebrews 1:1-2 make that evident. While those who only had access to the Torah may have been more aware of God’s judgment and less of his grace, it’s an unsubstantiated leap to assume that their writings would contradict what would later be revealed. Is it not possible that the people of Israel were emphasizing different aspects about God as more of His revelation became known through prophecy? Do the supposed discrepancies force us to leap to the conclusion that they often changed their thoughts about God, contradicting themselves previously?
Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that your viewpoint must concede that our ultimate authority as Christians is not Scripture, itself, but our subjective deliberations as to what within the Bible is correct by our own definition of proper morality, history, or science. You make some very concrete assertions about your faith, which is laudable. Let’s look at a few of them and apply your hermeneutic.
“I’m not always the follower of Jesus that I should be, but his grace is enough in the absence of my perfection. ”
Amen, brother. Me too. But if we can’t know with certainty which aspects of Scripture are truly God’s Word and which are just human reflections on God’s revelation (which are prone to error), how can you know that Paul’s description of Christ’s grace was what was intended by God?
“It is in Christ that we find the answer all of humanity, including ancient Israel, has searched for.”
I agree, but once again, I feel like my foundation of scriptural inerrancy upholds this. From your position how can you say this, without allowing for the possibility that the apostles misunderstood certain aspects of God’s revelation in Christ?
“Jesus is the perfect revelation from God and all previous revelation must bow to him.”
Amen again. But, if previous revelation and the human tendency to misrepresent God are any indication of how fallible men have represented Jesus in the books of the New Testament, how can I trust Jesus when I don’t actually know for certain who he is and what he is about? It sounds subjective at best.
If I can venture to guess what strategy you’ll take in regard to the concepts introduced in your upcoming article series, I would say that the “points of error” in the Bible (in your opinion) are actually “according to standards of truth and error that are alien to [the Bible’s] usage or purpose” (CSOI Article XIII). If you are planning to focus on “biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations,” (CSOI Article XIII) these can be explained without throwing out inerrancy in what you’ve termed as the “examining of Scripture on its own terms and in its own context.”
…We… deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
Chicago Statement of Inerrancy- Article XIX
This point is vital. Shane, if your view is correct, what are the rest of us missing out on by holding on to the doctrine of inerrancy? Acceptability in scholarly communities? Relevance in the modern world? An easy “out” when difficult questions (like the “violent depictions of God in the Torah”) arise? Is there actually something significant to our faith and knowledge of Christ that we can gain by letting go of inerrancy?
In my understanding, I don’t think those things are worth the price of cutting off the branch we are sitting on. The trustworthiness of God’s inspired word is a pillar that undergirds our faith. When we become the moral, scientific, historical, and theological authorities instead of trusting in God’s Word for all truth, our faith will eventually become a skeleton of what it once was, after we’ve picked it clean of what society deems as inappropriate or distasteful. We certainly won’t look like the church that Jesus built and our witness for Him will be limited to whatever is palatable to the majority.
Shane, as your series of articles appear, I will attempt to show that God’s Word as we have it, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, is without error in anything that it asserts. The New Testament and Old Testament are in complete agreement with one another and the difficult questions that arise in this discussion can be answered without denying the ability of God to produce an authoritative message to mankind that is free from mistakes.