So when asked the street-level question, “Does the Bible contain mistakes?” I always answer, “When interpreted properly, no.” That first clause is important; after all, an awful lot of people in history have thought that the Bible says the earth is at the center of the universe, flat, and built on pillars. There is also a plethora of texts whose literal meaning cannot be their original meaning—ranging from the obviously poetic (“your breasts are clumps of dates”) to the obviously symbolic (“then I saw a beast coming out of the sea”) and the obviously hyperbolic (“cut your eye out and throw it away”)—as well as a group of other texts whose literal meaning may or may not be their original meaning (as anyone who has read Paul Copan on Joshua, Tom Wright on the Olivet Discourse, or Greg Beale on Revelation will know). Consequently, care is needed, particularly in a church context where declaring that “the Bible does not contain mistakes” may be taken as code for “the tribulation will last three-and-a-half calendar years, every single Amalekite was killed by Saul, the moon will literally turn into blood one day, the revelatory gifts have altogether ceased, and evolution is entirely bunk.” When the Bible is interpreted correctly, it is completely true in all that it affirms. When it is interpreted incorrectly, there is no limit to the nonsense we can assume it teaches.
Archive for the ‘theology’ Category
Yes, at least according to Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California. In this excerpt from a round-table discussion posted at the Modern Reformation website, Horton offers a nuanced defense of inerrancy, arguing that the doctrine is still important for evangelicals today.
On the difference between inerrancy and literalism:
Inerrancy is a claim about the truth of the text and literalism is a way of misreading the Bible or any other text, inerrant or not. An audience of sharp, science-minded students should hopefully have had enough literature courses to be able to interpret genres other than science textbooks. Warfield labored the point that the Bible isn’t a science textbook. In fact, he favored theistic evolution! Scope, purpose, and genre have to be considered. Then you have to distinguish views that finite and fallen people might have assumed in their worldview from what they actually teach. To be sure, these are complicated issues, but they aren’t about inerrancy; they’re about interpretation–and with or without inerrancy, everyone has to do that. Yes, there are extreme views of inspiration (such as dictation, which is basically denying the humanity of Scripture), and there are inerrantists who think of the Bible as a catalog of propositional descriptions of astronomy, geology, and math. But, again, those are interpretative flaws that lead people either to deny inerrancy or to develop extreme views of literal accuracy. Calvin spoke of Scripture as without error. Yet he also reminded us that Moses spoke not as an astronomer but that God condescended to accommodate his revelation to the finite capacity of his covenant people. It seems to me that critics of inerrancy sometimes share with fundamentalists a naive and modernistic set of assumptions about the way to read a series of covenantal documents…
On the contextual nature of all theological development:
I’m sure you would agree that confessions are historically conditioned. From the earliest days, the church was implicitly trinitarian in its baptism, prayers, liturgies, and hymns. The heretics pushed the church to formulate the dogma of the Trinity in clearer terms. Same with the christological debates, the Pelagian heresy, and on we could go. Yet even heretics either quoted Scripture as authoritative or (as in the case of the Gnostics) appealed to their own secret texts.
Only with the advent of Socinianism and the Enlightenment did professing Christians begin to question whether divine inspiration preserved the scriptural canon from error. Clement of Rome, who died toward the end of the first century, wrote that in “the Holy Scriptures which are given through the Holy Spirit nothing iniquitous or falsified is written.” Augustine added, “The evangelists are free from all falsehood, both from that which proceeds from deliberate deceit and that which is the result of forgetfulness.” Luther declared, “I am profoundly convinced that none of the writers have erred.” Same with Calvin, although he noted in detail apparent discrepancies, difficulties, and open questions concerning textual criticism. In modern times, papal encyclicals have insisted upon inerrancy, sometimes even falling into the exaggerated position of a dictation theory (which evangelical statements like the Chicago Statement reject), and both Vatican I and Vatican II affirm that the Bible is inerrant. So, further reflection on the nature of Scripture was precipitated by modernist criticism–and by a concern to distinguish the view from fundamentalism. To say, however, that inerrancy arose Phoenix-like from the ooze of modern epistemology is wide of the mark.
While I affirm the Westminster Confession‘s statement on Scripture (viz., that it is “the only infallible rule for faith and life”), I also affirm inerrancy as a tragically necessary “further report.” Infallible used to mean not only inerrant but incapable of erring. It was a stronger word than inerrancy. As we know, however, in the 1970s “infallible” became a weaker alternative to “inerrant.” Sadly, we need to clarify what would in other centuries have been a perfectly obvious confession for believers. I wish we didn’t need inerrancy, but we do. I wish we didn’t need to qualify what we mean and don’t mean by affirming the trustworthiness of Scripture, but we do. Things are a lot more complicated now, but it is not because inerrantists have too much time on their hands. It is because we are more aware than ever both of the challenges to scriptural authority and the necessity of defending it. With Warfield, I don’t believe that denying inerrancy is a heresy, but I don’t see how we can adjudicate truth and error at all when it is up to us to determine what in Scripture we will receive as divinely revealed canon.
John Frame offers 11 principles, 6 of which are reprinted below:
1. This discussion concerns the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. The question is not whether we should abandon the teaching of these chapters to accomodate science. The question is, What does this passage actually say? It is an exegetical issue. …
2. I am not denying that secular science has influenced the debate. The claims of scientists that the universe has existed for billions of years have certainly motivated theologians to go back to the text, in order to see whether these claims are consistent with Scripture. In my view, that is entirely right and proper. …
3. But there are also wrong ways of being influenced by science. In re-examining traditional views, we should not be governed by any principles of reasoning that are inconsistent with Scripture. …
8. There are reasons for taking the days as normal days. …
9. On the other hand, I am not persuaded that figurative views should be considered heretical…
10. In all this discussion, we should remind ourselves that God, speaking through Moses in Genesis 1-2, has a purpose, namely, to display his glory in his creative work and to provide background for the narrative of the Fall. It is not the primary purpose of the narrative to tell us precisely how God made the world, when he did it, how long it took, and how all of this relates to the theories of modern science. …
– John Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 302-306
J. I. Packer:
Paul teaches that the gift of justification (i.e., present acceptance by God as the world’s Judge) brings with it the status of sonship by adoption (i.e., permanent intimacy with God as one’s heavenly Father, Gal. 3:26; 4:4-7). In Paul’s world, adoption was ordinarily of young adult males of good character to become heirs and maintain the family name of the childless rich. Paul, however, proclaims God’s gracious adoption of persons of bad character to become “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
Justification is the basic blessing, on which adoption is founded; adoption is the crowning blessing, to which justification clears the way. Adopted status belongs to all who receive Christ (John 1:12). The adopted status of believers means that in and through Christ God loves them as he loves his only-begotten Son and will share with them all the glory that is Christ’s now (Rom. 8:17, 38-39). Here and now, believers are under God’s fatherly care and discipline (Matt. 6:26; Heb. 12:5-11) and are directed, especially by Jesus, to live their whole lives in light of the knowledge that God is their Father in heaven. They are to pray to him as such (Matt. 6:5-13), imitate him as such (Matt. 5:44-48; 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32-5:2), and trust him as such (Matt. 6:25-34), thus expressing the filial instinct that the Holy Spirit has implanted in them (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:6).
Adoption and regeneration accompany each other as two aspects of the salvation that Christ brings (John 1:12-13), but they are to be distinguished. Adoption is the bestowal of a relationship, while regeneration is the transformation of our moral nature. Yet the link is evident; God wants his children, whom he loves, to bear his character, and takes action accordingly.
—J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 167-168.
HT: Justin Taylor
For more on the importance of adoption in salvation see “Adoption: The Highest Privilege of the Gospel.“
[Augustine believed that] ‘there is nothing that is not subject to the administration of divine providence.’ It appears in his earliest works, and later he devoted much thought to the problem of God’s continuing activity in everything that happens at any time. The vilest and least significant of things as well as the destinies of nations; the crimes of men no less than their finest achievements are in the hands of the Lord of history. In them all he is at work, though his purposes remain inscrutable.
– R. A. Markus, Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 11.
In this excerpt, Augustine reflects on the inherent insufficiency of human language to capture the reality of the triune Godhead. This is a helpful reminder that our feeble attempts to understand and elucidate the Godhead do not exhaust the ineffable reality that is the divine Trinity. Yet we must make the attempt, lest that reality remain “wholly unspoken.”
[With regard to the Trinity, we say] one essence or substance and three persons: as many writers in Latin … have said, in that they could not find any other more suitable way by which to enunciate in words that which they understood without words. For, in truth, as the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, and that Holy Spirit who is also called the gift of God is neither the Father nor the Son, certainly they are three. …Yet, when the question is asked, What three? human language labors altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three “persons,” not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken.
– Augustine, On the Trinity, 5.9
Wily and villainous, seeing that her older sisters have plainly been identified as heresies, the Arian heresy employs the language speech of Scripture, as did her father the devil. … Persuaded by you, I believed it necessary to to tear apart the breastplate [Job 41:13] of this foul heresy and to point out the foul smell of her folly, so that those who are distant from her might flee her, and those deceived by her might repent, and with the eyes of their heart opened might discern that, just as darkness is not light, falsehood is not truth, the Arian heresy is not good.
– Athanasius, “Orations Against the Arians,” 1.1, as quoted in The Trinitarian Controversy, ed. and trans. by William G. Rusch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p. 63