Monday, February 24, 2014

Who are we to judge the Word of God?

As a Christian who does not hold to inerrancy, I come across a fair amount of negativity from fellow believers concerning my theological convictions. Some have even gone so far as to label me a heretic, or deny that I am indeed a fellow brother in Christ. However, despite some of the fierce attacks wielded towards my beliefs, I do, in fact, many times see where my fellow Christian interlocutor is coming from; and no more so than when they bring forward the present charge: if you are a non-inerrantist then you, by definition, find some error in the bible; therefore you discard what you find to be falsehood in scripture. By doing so you are putting yourself “over” scripture, and therefore God himself. Hence, you are raising your autonomous authority above God’s!

Now, let me admit that I do in fact understand what the inerrantist’s concern is here; and it is, indeed, a very serious accusation—one that should not be taken trivially. Who has the right to raise their authority above that of God? Is God one such that his truth is contingent on the whims of fallen humanity? Surely such a position would be the epitome of a sin against our creator!

Yet I maintain that to submit such a charge is only a wild mischaracterization on the part of the inerrantist.

First, the inerrantist seems to be forgetting a crucial aspect of the non-inerrantist position: we don’t believe the bible is authored by God in any direct sense. That is to say, we don’t believe that the human authors were only puppets or instrumental mediums that perfectly transmitted the “word” of God. This is, obviously, what constitutes the very rejection of inerrancy. So, since we don’t view the bible as authored by God then the whole charge losses tenability. How are we putting ourselves above God if God didn’t author the text to begin with? It would surely be foolish to think our authority supersedes God’s; yet if the bible is not inerrant then no such thought need cross our minds.

Second, I claim that even if the bible were inerrant, the above argument would still constitute a non-sequitur. The reason for this is that no one can avoid putting themselves “over” the text. Written mediums are of the very nature that the reader must exercise his authority over the text in order to interpret and decipher it; and the bible being a written medium necessitates that we do the same regarding it. So even if the bible were inerrant, God would have known that the transmission of his message was being filtered through a channel that necessitates using our own judgment.

However, this isn’t exactly what the inerranist is getting at. It’s not the act of interpreting that troubles him; rather, it’s the act of deciding, using our own arbitrary authority, which parts are valid and which parts contain falsehood.

This point is well received, but I still believe the inerrantist is accusing the non-inerrantist of something he himself cannot escape. While it might seem as if only the non-inerrantist is utilizing his arbitrary judgment –by deciding what he will or won’t accept in scripture as valid—I maintain that the inerrantists (and everyone for that matter) do the same. For a judgment is both positive and negative—that is to say, the inerrantist is still utilizing his own arbitrary judgment by affirming the whole of scripture—especially since the determination of what constitutes scripture is itself a judgment--as valid. It is not only the one who denies aspects of scripture that is putting his authority in place to judge said scripture. For the proposition “scripture is wholly true” is still a conclusion reached through an individual’s logical inference; and as such it constitutes a judgment predicated on the authority of what the inerrantist views as valid or reasonable.

Thus, it seems that, inerrantist or not, we are in the same boat here and the argument above loses weight unless the inerrantist is prepared to predicate it of himself. We were all meant to judge scripture; without the judgment of scripture there would, consequently, be no scripture.

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