Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Biblical inerrancy and the means of inspiration

Upon entering into a discussion regarding the nature of scripture, the topic of the inspiration of the scriptures inevitably comes up. This is, no doubt, an important topic due to the fact that the Bible claims inspiration for itself (or does it?) and because the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is founded upon such a belief. But what exactly does it mean to say that the Biblical writers and, therefore, the Bible were inspired?

To begin, let it be known that the Bible itself does not settle this dispute. For although it appears as if certain verses in the Bible claim inspiration of the whole—as if the writers already had the Bible canonized during their writing—there is little to no explanation of just what the nature of this inspiration was. I want to make it clear that not even many die-hard inerrantists will claim they know the nature of biblical inspiration—Article VII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states, “[t]he mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us”. Even if they do claim to know the method of Biblical inspiration, I don’t see how such an assertion can survive a charge of begging the question. But if we cannot deduce the nature of inspiration, then what warrant do we have in claiming that this inspiration produced an error free Bible?

It is in the face of this question that the inerrantist will break from pure scriptural speculation to engage in, nothing more than, theological speculation. The contention brought forth, in instances similar to this, will be something along the lines of the following: God is truth himself and is incapable of lying; if God inspired scripture, then it follows that he inspired no falsehood into scripture; thus, we should expect scripture to be filled with nothing but the truth and, therefore, to contain no falsehood. Now, while this line of argumentation might seem logical from start to finish, I maintain that it is founded upon many assumptions that beg the question.

First, while I maintain it is true that God would not inspire falsehood, I also maintain that inspiration of truth does not necessitate that the medium that receives that truth will not corrupt it. We seem to forget that there are two mediums involved in the transmission of the Bible and one of them—the fallen human writer—is surely capable of falsehood. Now, it is true that simply because the human medium is capable of falsehood this does not necessitate that it did in fact corrupt the scriptures with said falsehood. Just like the fact that my truck is capable of breaking down does not necessitate that it did so this morning. However, if the medium that transmits the Biblical message is indeed capable of error then this possibility cannot be rejected a priori. So, how then can we deduce if human error actually entered into scripture?

Well surely we cannot simply take the witness of scripture as our reference point since to do so would already be to beg the question in favor of the infallibility of scripture—e.g. I know human error hasn’t entered into scripture because the Bible says it hasn’t, and the Bible is fully trustworthy. So, all anyone can do is to submit scripture to their own reasoning capabilities in order to deduce the nature of its witness. And when I, personally, carry out the aforementioned process I find that it is perfectly reasonable and logical to conclude that human sin must have been allowed to enter into scripture (e.g. Psalm 137, 139: 21-22 etc.) Therefore, I find it logical to conclude that, whatever the nature of inspiration, God must have felt it permissible to let human sin color the pages of the Bible. And should we expect anything more? As Cornelius Van Til says, “all is yellow to the jaundiced eye”. Similarly, if humans are fallen and sinful then it seems quite reasonable to deduce that if humans are the mediums whereby a product is produced, then that product can be expected to have signs of that falleness.

Second, we have no reason to believe that God would have to produce an inerrant text, unless we already assume that this is what he wanted to do. I maintain that it is perfectly valid to assert that if God wanted to produce an errorless text then an errorless text would manifest. But how do we know this is what God desired? We, once again, cannot appeal solely to scripture to settle the issue, since to do so would be to beg the question yet again—e.g. I know God desired to produce an inerrant text since his inerrant text says so. We must, once again, appeal to our own determination of scripture to settle the issue. If we see aspects of scripture that strike us to be irreconcilable with an inerrant text then we are perfectly warranted in claiming that scripture is not error free—and, therefore, completely warranted in claiming that it was obviously not God’s desire to produce an inerrant text.

Alas, we must be careful of this line of argumentation—e.g. God would do XYZ. C.S. Lewis articulated it rather well:
But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what it best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mere mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done—especially when we cannot, for the life  of us, see that He has after all done it.
Notice that the inerrantist position already begins the journey with the conclusion established—e.g. the Bible is inerrant and that’s that—while the non-inerrantist can truly ask “is the Bible inerrant? Let’s look at the evidence and see.” The former is a top-down approach and the latter is a bottom-up approach—which I maintain is the only valid approach.

So, whatever the nature of inspiration (will we ever know?) we can safely infer that God did not see it fit to let his inspiration drown out the voice of the human author. And should we expect anything different from the God who Christian theology states came down to earth in the form of a man? Surely God is not above accommodating himself to his beloved children.

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