Sunday, January 27, 2008

On two common arguments for inerrancy

A case for inerrancy is made in Stephen L. Andrew, "Biblical Inerrancy," Chafer Theological School Journal 8 (2002): 2-21, by marshalling an epistemological and a biblical argument.

"[I]f inerrantists argue deductively...(and, unfortunately, many have), then the argument is
indeed circular and fallacious.

What follows is a tricky and involved philosophical discussion, but we will try to be concise. We believe the philosophical problem can ultimately be solved on the basis of primary inductive historical investigation and subsequent deductive argumentation. That is to say, we first determine the likelihood that the historical Jesus of Nazareth made such statements as are recorded in Matthew 5:18 and John 10:35. This is a fundamentally inductive exercise.
The next step is to prove (once again, inductively, on the basis of historical investigation) the likelihood that Jesus of Nazareth both predicted His own death and resurrection, and that
He then in fact died and rose from the dead. On this inductively derived basis it is logical to conclude that He is who He claimed to be. For our purposes in this article, it is enough that He claimed to be authoritative in His teaching, and His teaching included the idea that the Hebrew Scriptures are inerrant and that the future ministry of the Holy Spirit would include the authoritative teaching of “all things” to Christ’s hand-picked apostles, who in turn wrote the
New Testament. Once these facts are established inductively, one can move to deductive arguments and ultimately prove that all of Scripture is inerrant." (p. 16)

This inerrantist argument forces inerrantists to insist upon apostolic connections to each book in scripture. This really paints inerrantists into a corner: they must continually fight evidence to the contrary with all their gusto, else the faith is lost. Hebrews, Revelation and Luke-Acts are not apostolic. 1-3 John are disputable. Several Pauline letters had co-authors; some are decidedly pseudonymous. There is also the matter that Christ was probably not in a cultural position to begin teaching limited inerrancy or some comparable position. Science was not yet developed enough, nor were people historically conscious. Another matter to consider is that Christ seems to have thought that the end of the world would happen within a generation. Without doubting that God the Son is omniscient, I think inerrantists are making too many presumptions regarding what Christ knew and how he knew what he knew.

How do inerrantists know that Christ had one person and two natures? Did scripture teach them that? I think not. How do they know that he knew everything there is to know? How does this knowing take place in the first place? All Christians should freely admit that when it comes down to it there's an awful lot of speculation when it comes to the incarnation, and also when we contemplate how God can know at all. I think inerrantists definitely go too far when filling in the blanks. It's not that they shouldn't try to fill in blanks, it's just that they so often do so with far more "certainty" than is reasonable given the amount of mystery that surrounds the incarnation.

"...[B]ecause inerrantists argue that Scripture will be found errorless when all the data is in, opponents have charged them with making an unfalsifiable claim. This is a false charge of fallacy, however. Inerrantists do not claim that inerrancy is unfalsifiable in principle—only that certain facts are missing in particular cases. In such cases, to argue (as some limited inerrantists do) that inerrancy has been proved false is an argument from silence. Third, opponents have zlaimed that inerrantists do not do justice to the human element of Scripture. Humans make mistakes, and since Scripture is co-authored by God and man, should we not expect minor human errors? To the contrary: a product of God ipso facto cannot contain error." (p. 18)

I argue in my book that there is no ipso facto reason that a product of God cannot contain error. In this case, I think, inerrantists presume too much. Consider the following possibilities: 1) A tact I take might be called theodicy (at least from a vantage that pays such a premium on "errors" in the Bible). God may have allowed "errors" in the Bible knowing that the good achieved by them (written witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ) outweighs the bad (false beliefs about the beginning of the universe, readers mistaking midrash for objective historical reports). 2) God might not view "errors" as an imperfection, maybe certain knowledge of historical and scientific truths do not rank high on his list of things to communicate to humans. 3) "True" accounts would not have been understood by thousands of years worth of human civilization, until modern science and other more modern academic developments. Even if these three don't sway inerrantists, they illustrate for present purposes that there's nothing ipso facto about errors in God's "product." Just because these three considerations don't convince inerrantists does not mean that they are not real possibilities.

(On the "inerrancy is falsifiable" argument, see yesterday's post.)