10.02.2006

biblical inerrancy and stuff

Janelle has not had the baby yet. We're still waiting, I'll be sure to keep this space and probably my myspace updated when we go to the hospital, or at the very least when we get home. I can actually post from my Treo so I might even take a picture of the baby and put it up to share with the world after she's been cleaned up a little, who knows. But anyway, Belle is still in utero.

This morning I took a test for my Old Testament Intro class, and it was mostly good. The first few parts of the test were matching stuff that we've learned. Tests where you can match the definitions with the terms are high on my list of tests that I enjoy because they're typically pretty easy, and you can use the process of elimination to help you out. There was an essay portion to the test, which ended up taking a fair amount of time and I used every bit of space available to answer it. The question was something along the lines of: "Take into account the issues of inspiration, revelation, inerrancy, and authority as they relate to the Old Testament and scripture. Discuss how any claims to the authority of the OT are legitimate in view of the things we have discussed in class." Something like that - it was a pretty open-seeming question and fairly difficult to go about answering.

In that class up to this point we've discussed very little actual content of the OT but we have discussed the various views on inerrancy (the idea that the bible is free from error), inspiration (the idea that the bible is inspired by God), infallibility (the idea that the bible accomplishes what it is meant to accomplish without error), etc. I won't get into all of it here, but basically there were a number of differing views with regard to teach of these topics.

For example, on the question of inspiration there was a range of approaches. The "Illumination View" holds that the bible contains the noble thoughts of great people of faith, and is on par with any other piece of literature. The Dynamic view of inspiration says that God inspired the authors of the bible but there is some non-inspired stuff in there that you need to sort out. Mechanical Dictation states that humans were little more than stenographers, writing down exactly the words God wanted them to and serving only as hands and pens for God, who essentially did the writing himself. Then there's the Plenary Verbal view of inspiration which states that everything in the bible is as God intended it - that he inspired the authors and he kept his "hand" on the whole development of the scriptures. I am of the opinion that this last view best interacts with the available evidence, at least if you're going to believe that some sort of God exists and does stuff to reveal himself to humanity.

My basic idea was that if a god exists and he (I use that out of convention) does not want to reveal himself to humanity, then we can't know about him. We may have some sense that there is a god or gods if we look at the world around us, but we can't know much of anything about said god(s). Is he/are they calm and serene like a placid lake, or violent and angry like whitewater? Nature itself does very little to inform us of the nature of god, if in fact there is a god. As many believe it could just be a testament to natural processes.

But if a god did exist and chose to reveal himself to humanity it would make sense that, unless he were some sort of capricious and fickle god interested only in tormenting humanity and not in actually disclosing himself, he would reveal himself in a consistent manner. That is, god would not tell someone in China he was one way, and then tell someone in Israel he was another way, and then tell someone in South America he was something else. One might say God was disclosing various parts of his nature to humanity, but so much of what the various holy books and religions say about the supernatural and how the universe came to be is incompatible. One could also say that perhaps god is playing a joke on everyone and telling everyone these differing stories to see what we do - but if that's the case we have no way of knowing and can only go by what we see. There's no good reason to make such an assertion. You can't prove we're not all brains in jars, either.

So as I was saying, if God did reveal himself to humanity in a specific way it would make sense that he'd reveal himself in a consistent and meaningful way. If we were intended to get anything out of his revelation it probably would not line up with the idea of the Illumination View or the Dynamic View as listed above. Such views on inspiration relegate revelation to something rather arbitrary. "Good thoughts" about faith and life are not in need of inspiration and revelation to exist. And a view where we have to sift through revelation and strip away the "uninspired" portions to get to the "inspired" portions seems a rather untoward way for a deity to reveal himself to humanity. It also makes it rather difficult to say which is inspired and which is not, especially if you're making judgment calls based on nothing other than your own thoughts about the text in question. If the bible is where you learn about God and the bible is partly inspired and partly uninspired then how can you determine which is which? So it is my contention that if the bible is inspired, then it must be wholly inspired - if God can inspire part of the scripture to say something when one person is writing it down, he can make sure that the bible as it went through its processes of editing and compilation says what he wanted it to say.

A view like the Mechanical Dictation view which says God just wrote it down through people doesn't really stand up well when you look at the bible and see pretty clear evidence of later editing, inexact quotations, round numbers, and apparent contradictions. As much as Christians would like to believe that the bible is completely free from any sort of blemish, it simply isn't so. Holding to a view that says "God wrote it down exactly like this" when it is demonstrably questionable at some certain points (not even taking into account translation) makes one appear rather foolish. And in reality if you hold to a view like that you either (1) don't believe it yourself and are fooling yourself or (2) are putting your head in the sand. If humans were simply God's writing instruments, couldn't he have done a better job? I'd like to think so.

The concept of inerrancy - that the bible is free from error - is quite apart from the concept of inspiration. If the bible is inspired - that is, if God inspired the bible to say what it is he wants it to say, and there is some human interaction but the words are what He wants to communicate to humanity - then one might again assume a certain degree of inerrancy. That is, there should not be errors in something God communicates to humankind if he is deserving of the name God. Unless he is playing tricks on people, which is something I mentioned earlier. There are also a number of views on inerrancy. Pietistic Inerrancy is the most common one among Christians these days, which is the idea that everything the bible says is true, with no critical thought applied. This is also the view of inerrancy most ridiculed and rejected by critics of Christianity. This view's primary problem is that it looks more at the what a particular verse says than what the same verse means. There is no regard to authorial intent.

For example, someone holding to the idea of pietistic inerrancy might look at Genesis and see a story about God creating the world in six days. They may then look at the scientific evidence we have to date and see that it appears that things didn't unfold that way. You might add up the numbers and years in the OT and come up with something saying that the earth is 6000ish years old, but the universe appears to be a whole lot older than that. But if you consider whether the author actually meant "24 hour day" or was being poetic then you might come up with a different conclusion. Or you may read the story of a flood that flooded the "world" and assume the bible is hogwash because there's no evidence of such an event. But when you consider that to the people of that time, "the world" was basically Mesopotamia...you may reach a different conclusion regarding the veracity of the passage. So it's important to consider more than just the face value of a passage when you're considering the inerrancy of scripture.

Also of note, the doctrine of inerrancy properly describes the original autographs of scripture rather than the bible you or I can pick up from the store. Properly understood inerrancy allows for things like copyist errors, round numbers, and so forth. It is unfortunate that most Christians are led to believe that the bible is a document akin to Joseph Smith's golden plates, which supposedly descended from heaven with the words of God written on them. The bible is clearly a document with human influence, from evidence of editing and compilation to some apparent inconsistencies. But there are also some qualities to it that suggest divine inspiration, and if the bible is inspired in any meaningful way then God must have preserved his message through it all. Perhaps it is because of these very human elements that we can trust the bible - not because it is the fanciful story of God teleporting his magic words into the hands of people, but because for some reason he chose to use human beings to transmit his word and despite that we still have a consistent record and teaching. Despite human interference we have a collection of scripture that has remained astoundingly consistent, with none of the copying errors affecting any major teaching.

This is not likely to convince anyone that is unconvinced, and in reality I'm writing this more for myself than anyone else and not trying to convince anybody. As I continue to work through the idea of what I mean when I say "I trust the bible" a lot of things go through my mind. It isn't this fairy tale book free from blemish. There is evidence of editing. There are numerical differences. It does raise some difficult questions with regard to many things. But I think looking at inspiration and inerrancy that the bible is either the inspired, authoritative word of God and must be recognized as such, or it is the collected and mangled writings of a nomadic group of people and some misguided Greeks that should be relegated to the heap with the rest of humanity's unfruitful graspings for a greater meaning that doesn't exist. From my perspective it more resembles the former than the latter, but your mileage may vary.

All I know is that it's important for everyone, whether they're a devout Christian or staunch Atheist, to honestly put the thought and effort into working through some of this stuff. Dismissing the bible because it says or teaches something it doesn't is as foolish as trusting blindly in it and believing Satan put fossils here to test our faith. I'm not saying any rational person will believe the bible is inspired and inerrant, but I'm saying there's more to it than most of us ever consider and we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring these things, wherever we stand on the spectrum of faith and belief.

I doubt you read that whole thing - but these are just some of the thoughts running through my head right now. I don't know if that makes sense or not but it does in my head. Kinda. It's a lot of stuff to sift through. Once Belle gets here you will be subjected to pictures of a cute baby and probably my whining and complaining about not much sleep and how stinky diapers are.

Also - Go A's! They face the Twins in the first round. Not a very favorable matchup, but I suppose they never are in the postseason. This team is different than the four-year-consecutive-chokers of the past, so we'll see what happens.

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

The Bible was written by God and later edited by people. The Qur'an confirms and corrects the Bible, and the wording today is the same as when it was revealed 1,400 years ago (even Western scholars admit this). Inside the Qur'an are several dozen familiar stories (Jesus healing lepers, Moses parting the Red Sea, David fighting Goliath, Noah's flood, and Jonah's whale). The prophets are absolved of some of their more appalling sins (like David being an adulterer), and God reveals who He is. I implore you to read the English translation, if only to prove to yourself that it isn't a Holy Book (but hopefully to open your eyes to God's unchanging Truth).

Jackson said...

Well Jennifer I'm not sure how long ago you posted this comment...but thanks for your input. Needless to say I don't agree with your assertions regarding the Qur'an, but appreciate you sharing your point of view.