The Bible

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On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy

fff-jwm[Theological a]djustment is achieved through “interpretation”–in theological parlance, hermeneutics… [I]f the loss of the term “inerrancy”… is fraught with sufficiently dire consequences, there will be the strongest temptation to retain these expressions while giving the Bible such “adjustive interpretation” that negatively critical approaches to it can be employed anyway. (Montgomery, 217, cited below)

The definition of inerrancy has been hotly disputed as of late. The infamous Geisler-Licona controversy, which continues to boil over at points, serves as a poignant example of this (see here for a Christianity Today article on the controversy; see also links below for a few discussions of the same). What is meant by inerrancy? Are we in a new era of Bible wars? These are the questions being asked right now.

I remember reading an essay from a book–Faith Founded on Fact–by noted Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery entitled “The Fuzzification of Inerrancy.” The quote above comes from the essay, and it has gotten me thinking. Have lines been crossed? Where do we draw the lines anyway?

Montgomery defined “fuzzification” following James Boren. It is the “presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217, cited below). Turning back to the quote above, the term speaks of the need to retain a specific idea essentially at all costs. Thus, when a challenge is raised to that idea, the idea is broadened or changed to incorporate the data raised by the challenge. Montgomery, originally writing in 1978, seems at times prophetic. He spoke of a time when one might see a contradiction, source theory, or even possibly an error in the Bible and simply define it as “a question of hermeneutics, not of inspiration at all!” (218); he worried about a time when “the ‘inerrancy’ with which one  is left is an inerrancy devoid of meaningful content”; and he warned of the dangers of “adjustive interpretation” (227).

I wonder, at times, whether his statements have come to fruition. When I survey various works from evangelicals on interpretation or hermeneutics I find a baffling array of ways we are to understand individual passages or how we are to interpret various passages. Turning to Church Fathers, I find a number of passages in which their readings would be unrecognizable today due to the heavy use of allegory in passages we take to be literal or explicitly historical in genre. Moreover, the question of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy looms large. As with any document, questions are raised about what exactly is meant in each clause or in what way individual denials or affirmations might be meant.

It’s enough to make one wonder whether it is time to go back to a baseline understanding. “I believe the Bible is true in whatever it teaches.”*

The question that will be immediately raised, of course, is “What does the Bible teach?” The overriding desire to restrict exactly what it is the Bible teaches and prevent so-called “liberal” scholarship from finding ground to stand on in evangelicalism has led to an incessant narrowing of the definition of inerrancy, such that clause after clause is piled one atop the other to the point that it is hard to operate within such limits. Moreover, it seems some of these definitions actually prevent development within theology and squelch the impulse to question received traditions in light of new evidence.

The danger that some may think is posed by whittling the definition of inerrancy down to something like “The Bible is true in all that it teaches” may perhaps have some of the concern negated by the fact that it gets the dialogue going. If people return to this question: if someone genuinely, with open heart and mind, asks me “What does the Bible teach?” then I think that’s a glorious thing. Moreover, one may wonder at the purpose of inerrancy: is it a way to declare that the Bible is without error (as it seems to be based on the word itself); or is it a way to define how we go about reading the Bible? After all, if it is simply a declaration that the Bible is without error, should not simply declaring it as such be sufficient?

Perhaps it’s time to de-“fuzzify” inerrancy and get back to the basics. We may ask “What is the thrust of the doctrine of inerrancy?” instead of “What rival theological views may I exclude with the definition of inerrancy?”

Perhaps the danger of “fuzzification” from dehistoricizing texts, critical scholarship, and the like has in fact led to a fuzzification of the definition of inerrancy by making it over-determine the limits within which one may operate. I’m not claiming to offer all the answers, nor should it be thought that I am rejecting inerrancy. Far from it.** What I am instead rejecting is a “fuzzification” of the doctrine: when did declaring the Bible to be God’s Word and Truth become so complex that volumes of books were necessary simply to define what that means?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

*This definition has suggested itself to me from a number of sources, including Nick Peters of Deeper Waters.

**I’m sure some people will take any questioning of current discussion about inerrancy to be denying the doctrine. However, this post is clearly written in order to defend the doctrine. What does inerrancy mean? That’s the thrust of this post, not “Inerrancy is false.” I believe the Bible is true in all it teaches.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Review: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery- I review Montgomery’s well-known book on apologetic methodology.

Inerrancy- Check out my other posts on this topic. (Scroll down for more posts.)

The Geisler/Licona Debate- Nick Peters has a number of posts on this controversy if you want to read up on the topic. This post summarizes the debate and offers a thoughtful critique, in my opinion.

The Geisler/Licona Controversy- A quick, easy read on the reasoning behind the controversy.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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The Bible Is Not One Book

Bibbia_con_rosaI was doing some research recently for a lengthy (book length!) project I am working on and was searching Amazon for some books on Bible prophecy. I came upon a work by John Walvoord called Every Prophecy of the Bible. It looked interesting, so as always, took a look at the high reviews as well as the low reviews. I looked at the one star reviews and came upon one by a user named “gavin.”

I was perplexed by his (a male, judging by the picture) objection to confirming the Bible as true through prophecy. He wrote, “The book basically runs off a list of biblical prophecies that have supposedly been fulfilled. Amazingly pretty much all the evidence for these so called fulfilled prophecies comes from the same book making the prophecies in the first place ie the bible.” He then proceeded to ridicule Christians who do believe this as holding to an “infantile” belief.

The Objection

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have seen an objection like this. Put simply, the objection is that the Bible can’t confirm itself, because that would be a circular argument. In other words, one can’t use material from one part of the Bible to confirm other parts of the Bible because then one is arguing for the truth of the Bible from the Bible.

The Problem

Most people should immediately see what the problem is. Although the Bible as we have it today is a single “book” in the sense that its contents share the same binding, it is really a collection of independent works written across over a thousand years by various authors in different parts of the world. In other words, the Bible is not “one book,” at least in the sense that one needs to maintain for this objection. Thus, if there is a prophecy found in one book which we know to be earlier than a book which is later that records its fulfillment, then there seems to be at least some evidence, prima facie, for the truth of the prophecy. (Of course this would be contingent upon the historical accuracy of the books, etc., etc. but the simple fact of an alleged prophecy’s existing before its fulfillment is an interesting facet to consider.)

A friend, Anthony Weber, made an analogy: think of the Bible as a library of books. Would it not be silly to think you couldn’t pull one book of the shelf and say that it confirmed another book? Suppose each book was about history, and one made a mere mention of a topic, while another featured a more detailed description. Would we not be surprised if someone came along and objected, saying “Well, they’re in the same library, so we can’t trust them!”

Inerrancy?

Christians need to realize that this has implications for doctrine as well. For example, those who maintain inerrancy–and I strongly believe that consistent Christians should do so (see my arguments to this end and defense of the doctrine here)–may be concerned that viewing the Bible in this fashion comes in danger of breaking it up piecemeal and pitting each segment against the others. But this is not what follows at all. Instead, it is simply an acknowledgment that the Bible is a collection of works in different genres written at different times in different places which, when put together, form a coherent whole.

Concluding call for intellectual honesty

In light of what I have explored, I want to first issue a call to the atheists out there: I know that you (atheists) do not all hold to objections like this and would find someone else using this objection a bit alarming. I call you to challenge your fellow atheists to a more honest interaction with positions of faith. If you want to criticize someone else’s position, fine. But do it without completely misrepresenting them. Call out your fellow atheists when they try to put forth this kind of drivel as a serious objection to Christianity. I try to call out fellow Christians when they do the same with other views.

To my fellow Christians: be aware that objections like these are not the backbone of atheism. Frankly, I think people like “gavin” are just grasping at anything to maintain unbelief and ridicule others they choose to look down on as “infantile.” Let’s engage with people who make these objections, but if they persist, dismiss the objection as the ridiculous notion it is. Finally, if you catch yourself treating the Bible like one book without any distinction in genre, time, place, etc., stop yourself. It is important to note the Bible is united in message, but God used different people as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It wasn’t delivered all by divine dictation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Inerrancy and Presuppositional Apologetics: A different approach to defending the Bible

question-week2Scripture is inerrant because the personal word of God cannot be anything other than true. -John Frame (The Doctrine of the Word of God, 176 cited below)

One of the most difficult issues facing evangelical Christian apologists is the doctrine of inerrancy. I’m not trying to suggest the doctrine is itself problematic. Indeed, I have defended the doctrine in writing on more than one occasion. Instead, I am saying that defending this doctrine in an apologetics-related discussion is difficult. Here, I will explore one way that I think should be used more frequently when discussing the doctrine.

What is the problem?

There are any number of attacks on inerrancy and Biblical authority, generally speaking. Very often, when I discuss the Bible with others in a discussion over worldviews, I find that the challenge which is most frequently leveled against the notion of inerrancy is a series of alleged contradictions. The second most common objection is some sort of textual criticism which allegedly shows that the Bible could not be without error in its autographs. A third common argument against inerrancy is to quote specific verses and express utter incredulity at their contents.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the definition of inerrancy is often misunderstood. For simplicity’s sake, I will here operate under the definition that “The Bible, in all it teaches, is without error.” I have already written on some misconceptions about the definition of inerrancy, and readers looking for more clarification may wish to read that post.

How do we address the problem?

Most frequently, the way I have seen apologists engage with these challenges is through a series of arguments. First, they’ll argue for the general reliability of the Bible by pointing out the numerous places in which it lines up with archaeological or historical information we have. Second, they’ll argue that these historical reports given in the Bible cannot be divorced from the miraculous content contained therein. Given the accuracy with which these writers reported historical events, what basis is there to deny the miraculous events they also report?

Other apologists may establish inerrancy by rebutting arguments which are leveled against the doctrine. That is, if one puts forth an argument against inerrancy by pointing out alleged contradictions, these apologists seek to rebut those contradictions. Thus, once every single alleged error has been addressed, this approach concludes the Bible is inerrant.

Now, I’m not suggesting that either of these methods are wrong. Instead, I’m saying there is another way to approach the defense of the Bible.

A Presuppositional Defense of Inerrancy

Suppose God exists. Suppose further that this God which exists is indeed the God of classical Christian theism. Now, supposing that this is the case, what basis is there for arguing that the Bible is full of errors? For, given that the God of Christianity exists, it seems to be fairly obvious that such a God is not only capable of but would have the motivation to preserve His Word as reported in the Bible.

Or, consider the first step-by-step argument for inerrancy given in the section above, where one would present archaeological, philosophical, historical, etc. evidence point-by-point to make a case for miracles. Could it not be the case that the only reason for rejecting the miraculous reports as wholly inaccurate fictions while simultaneously acknowledging the careful historical accuracy of the authors is simply due to a worldview which cannot allow for the miraculous at the outset?

What’s the Point?

At this point one might be thinking, So what? Who cares? 

Well, to answer this head on: my point is that one’s overall worldview is almost certainly going to determine how one views inerrancy. The point may seem obvious, but I think it is worth making very explicit. If we already hold to a Christian worldview broadly, then alleged contradictions in the Bible seem to be much less likely–after all, God, who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), has given us this text as His Word. Here it is worth affirming again what John Frame said above: the Bible is inerrant because it is of God, who is true.

Thus, if one is to get just one takeaway from this entire post, my hope would be that it is this: ultimately the issue of Biblical inerrancy does not stand or fall on whether can rebut or explain individual alleged errors in the Bible–it stands or falls on one’s worldview. 

One final objection may be noted: Some Christians do not believe in inerrancy, so it seems to go beyond an issue of worldview after all. Well yes, that is true. I’m not saying a defense of inerrancy is utterly reducible down to whether or not one is a Christian or not–as I said, I think evidential arguments are very powerful in their own right. I am saying that inerrancy is impossible given the prior probabilities assigned by non-Christian worldviews and altogether plausible (not certain) given Christian worldview assumptions. 

A Positive Case for Inerrancy

Too often, defense of inerrancy take the via negativa–it proceeds simply by refuting objections to the doctrine. Here, my goal is to present, in brief, a positive argument for inerrancy. The argument I am proposing here looks something like this (and I admit readily that I have left out a number of steps):

1) Granting that a personal God exists, it seems likely that such a deity would want to interact with sentient beings
2) such a deity would be capable of communicating with creation
3) such a deity would be capable of preserving that communication without error

Therefore, given the desire and capability of giving a communication to people without error, it becomes vastly more plausible, if not altogether certain, that the Bible is inerrant. Of course, if God does not exist–if we deny that there is a person deity–then it seems altogether impossible that an inerrant text could be produced on anything, let alone a faith system.

I  consider this a positive argument because it proceeds from principles which can be established (or denied) as opposed to a simple assertion. It is not a matter of just presupposing inerrancy and challenging anyone who would take it on; instead it is a matter of arguing that God exists, desires communication with His people, and has brought about this communication without error.  Although each premise needs to be expanded and defended on its on right, I ultimately think that each is true or at least more plausible than its denial. Christians who deny inerrancy must, I think, interact with an argument similar to this one. Their denial of inerrancy seems to entail a denial of one of these premises. I would contend that such a denial would be inconsistent within the Christian worldview.

Note that this argument turns on the issue of whether or not God exists. That is, for this argument to be carried, one must first turn to the question of whether God exists. I would note this is intentional: I do think that inerrancy is ultimately an issue which will be dependent upon and perhaps even derivative of one’s view of God.

Other Books

One counter-argument which inevitably comes up in conversations about an argument like this is that of “other books.” That is, could not the Mormon and the Muslim (among others) also make a similar case.

The short answer: Yes, they could.

Here is where I would turn to the evidence for each individual book. Granting a common ground that these claimed revelations–the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Qu’ran, etc.–are each purported to be inerrant and that their inerrancy is more probable on a theistic view, which best matches reality? In other words, I would turn here to investigate the claims found within each book in order to see if they match with what we can discern from the world.

The argument I am making here is not intended to be a one step argument for Christian theism. Instead, it is an argument about the possibility of an inerrant work.

iw-poythressAppendix 1: Poythress and Inerrancy

Vern Poythress provides an example of how this approach works. In his work, Inerrancy and Worldview (my review of this work can be found here), he continually focuses on how worldviews color one’s approach to challenges presented against inerrancy such as historical criticism, certain sociological theories, and philosophy of language. One example can be found in his discussion of historical criticism:

The difference between the two interpretations of the principle [of criticism] goes back to a difference in worldview. Does God govern the universe, including its history, or do impersonal laws govern it? If we assume the latter, it should not be surprising that the resulting principle undermines the Bible… It undermines the Bible because it assumes at the beginning that the God of the Bible does not exist. (Poythress,  Inerrancy and Worldview , 53, cited below)

Yet it is important to see that my approach here is different from that of Poythress. His approach seems to be largely negative. That is, he utilizes presuppositionalism in order to counter various challenges to the Bible. When a challenge is brought up to inerrancy, he argues that it of course stems from an issue of worldview. Although this is similar to my approach, Poythress never makes a positive argument for inerrancy, which I consider to be a vital part of the overall defense of the doctrine.

Appendix 2: Standard Presuppositionalism and Inerrancy

I would like to note that I am not attempting to claim that my defense of inerrancy here is the standard presuppositional approach. The standard presuppositional approach is much simpler: the apologist simply assumes the absolute truth and authority of God’s word as the starting point for all knowledge.

It should not surprise readers that, given this approach, most (if not all) presuppositionalists embrace the via negativa for defense of inerrancy. That is, the standard presuppositional defense of the Bible usually is reducible to merely pointing out how the attacks on Scripture stem largely from one’s worldview, not from the facts.

Thus, one of the foremost presuppositional apologists to have lived, Greg Bahnsen, writes:

[I]f the believer and unbeliever have different starting points [that is, different presuppositions from which all authority comes for the realm of knowledge] how can apologetic debate ever be resolved? [In answer to this,] the Christian carries his argument beyond “the facts…” to the level of self-evidencing presuppositions–the ultimate assumptions which select and interpret the facts. (Bahnsen, Always Ready, 72 cited below).

It should be clear that this standard presuppositional defense is therefore very different from what I have offered here. The standard presuppositional defense simply reduces the debate to “starting points” and attempts to show contradictions in other “starting points” in method, exposition, or the like. My defense has noted the vast importance of worldviews in a denial of inerrancy, but has also offered a positive defense of inerrancy. Yes, this defense turns on whether God exists, but that can hardly be seen as a defect or circularity in the argument.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til- I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein- I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

Sources

Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996).

John Frame The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010).

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Inerrancy and Worldview” by Vern Sheridan Poythress

iw-poythressVern Sheridan Poythress approaches the defense of the truth of the Bible in a unique way in his recently-released duo of books, Inerrancy and Worldview and Inerrancy and the Gospels. In these works, he has applied the presuppositional approach to apologetics to the doctrine of inerrancy. Here, we’ll explore the former and analyze Poythress’ approach to the defense of Biblical authority.

Overview

Poythress has set Inerrancy and Worldview out not so much as a treatise presenting a broad-based presuppositional approach to defending inerrancy, but rather the book is laid out in stages with sections focusing on various challenges which are raised against the Bible. Each stage ends with a focus on worldview and how one’s worldview shapes one’s perception of the challenge to the Bible.

That is the central thesis of the book: our preconceived notions shape how we will view the Bible. Poythress writes:

Part of the challenge in searching for the truth is that we all do so against the background of assumptions about truth. (21)

Thus, it is critical to recognize that one’s presuppositions will in some ways guide how they view the Bible.

Poythress then introduces the materialistic worldview as the primary presupposition for the Western world which sets itself up against a Biblical worldview. The essential point here is that the world is a very different place if primary causes are personal or impersonal.

From here, Poythress dives into the various challenges which are set up against the Bible. First, he looks at modern science. The major challenges here are the Genesis account of creation, which he argues is explained by God making a “mature creation” where the world appears aged (41) and other alleged scientific discrepancies, which he argues are due to God’s condescending to use human expressions to explain the concepts in the Bible (38-39).

What of historical criticism? Again, worldview is at the center. If God exists, then history inevitably leads where God wills it. If, however, one assumes the Bible is merely human, then it is unsurprising to see the conclusions which historical critics allege about the text.

Challenges from religious language are dealt with in the same fashion. On a theistic worldview, God is present “everywhere” including in “the structures of language that he gives us.” Thus, we should expect language to refer to God in meaningful ways (101). Only if one assumes this is false at the outset does one come to the conclusion that language cannot possibly refer to God (ibid).

Sociology, psychology, and ordinary life receive similar treatments. The point which continues to be pressed is that ideologies which reject God at the outset will, of course, reject God in the conclusions.

Analysis

Inerrancy and Worldview was a mixed read for me. Poythress at times does an excellent job explaining points of presuppositional apologetics, but at others he seems to be floundering in the vastness of the topics he has chosen to discuss.

There are many good points Poythress makes. Most importantly is his focus on the concept of one’s worldview as the primary challenge to Biblical authority. It seems to me that this is the most important thing to consider in any discussion of inerrancy. If theism is true, inerrancy is at least broadly possible. If theism is false, then inerrancy seems to be prima facie impossible.

The continued focus upon the fact that worldview largely determines what one thinks about various challenges to the Bible is notable and important. In particular, Poythress’ conclusion about challenges from religious language is poignant. The notion that we can’t speak meaningfully about God is ludicrous if the God of Christianity exists.

While there are numerous good points found in the book, but they all seem to be buried in a series of seemingly random examples, objections, and response to those objections. For example, an inordinate amount of space is dedicated to the OT discussing “gods” (including sections on p. 63-65; 66-70; 71-78; 79-81; 111-112; 116-117). His discussion of the Genesis creation account also left much to be desired. The “appearance of age” argument is, I believe, the weakest way to defend a Biblical view of creation.

Poythress’ discussion of feminism is also problematic. The reason is not so much because his critique of feminist theology is off-base, but rather because his definition is far too broad for the view he is critiquing. He writes, “feminism may be used quite broadly as a label for any kind of thinking that is sympathetic with gender equality. For simplicity we concentrate on the more popular, militant, secular forms” (121). But from the text it seems clear that Poythress is focused upon feminist theology more broadly speaking then secular feminism specifically. Where he does seem to express secular feminism, he still mentions the Bible in context (124). Not only that, but his definition of feminism seems to express a view which should be entirely unproblematic (“sympathy with gender equality”) yet he then spends the rest of the section as though there is some huge negative connotation with gender equality. One must wonder: is Poythress suggesting we should advocate for “gender inequality”? And what does he mean by “equality” to begin with? Sure, this section is a minor part of the book, but there are major problems here.

Furthermore, one is almost forced to wonder how this work is a defense of inerrancy. For example, the lengthy discussion of gods referenced above has little if anything to do with inerrancy. Instead, Poythress spends the bulk of this space attempting to show how the gods referenced are really idols which people worship instead of God. Well, of course! But what relevance does this have for inerrancy specifically? Perhaps it helps solve some issues of alleged errors, but solving individual errors does little to defend the specific doctrine of inerrancy.

And that, I think, is one of the major issues with the book. Poythress seems to equate rebutting specific errors with a defense of inerrancy. While this obviously has relevance for inerrancy–if there were errors, the Bible is not inerrant–it does little to provide a positive case for inerrancy.

Perhaps more frustratingly, Poythress never spends the time to develop or explain a robust doctrine of inerrancy. It seems to me that this is part of the reason the defense seems so imbalanced. Rather than clearly defining the doctrine and then defending it, he spends all his time defending the Bible against numerous and varied errors. This is important; but it does not establish inerrancy specifically. There are plenty of Christians who are not inerrantists who would nevertheless defend against particular alleged errors in the Bible.

Conclusion

Inerrancy and Worldview was largely disappointing for me. That isn’t because it is poorly written, but because I think Poythress could have done so much more. He never makes the connection between the actual doctrine of inerrancy and worldview. Instead, the connection is between specific errors and worldview. It seems to me presuppositional apologetics has perhaps the most resources available to defend the doctrine of inerrancy. Unfortunately, Poythress did not seem to utilize all of these resources to their fullest in the book. Interested readers: keep an eye out for my own post on a presuppositional defense of inerrancy.

Addendum

I must make it clear that I am an inerrantist. The reason I do this is because I have seen other critical reviews of this work where comments are left that the author of the review must not believe inerrancy. Such an accusation is disingenuous. It is perfectly acceptable to say that a specific defense of inerrancy is insufficient while still believing the doctrine itself.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”.

Inerrancy, Scripture, and the “Easy Way Out”- I analyze inerrancy and why so many Christians reject it. I believe this is largely due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine.

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til- I analyze the apologetic approach of Cornelius Van Til, largely recognized as the founder of the presuppositional school of apologetics.

The Unbeliever Knows God: Presuppositional Apologetics and Atheism- I discuss how presuppositional apologetics has explained and interacted with atheism.

Source

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Guest Post: Rev. Kent Wartick on “The Virgin Birth”

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). Matthew 1:28 ESV.

Familiar words to most Christians, aren’t they? Along with His Death and Resurrection, the virgin birth of Jesus is among the most celebrated and unifying events in all of Christianity. Nativity scenes can be found in front of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and all sorts of churches of all denominations. The virgin birth is counted as among the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and was important enough to be counted as one of the twelve articles of the Apostolic Creed. For centuries, the account that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin woman, Mary of Nazareth, was undisputed, at least as far as any known challenges can be documented.

But, then, along came the Enlightenment. With it came the idea that science and reason were the test of Scripture and all truth, and not the reverse. Therefore, if Scripture says that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that is not logical nor scientifically provable, then it must be rejected. Thus, the Jefferson “Bible” excludes any reference to the virgin birth as well as Jesus’ miracles, Deity, resurrection, etc.  As time went on, through the historical critical method and other destructive methods of using reason not to teach but to judge Scripture, the Enlightenment principle of reason and science over Scripture slowly infiltrated the thinking of many churches. Surveys confirm this infiltration.

1998: A poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. showed a wide variation in belief. The following ministers did not believe in the virgin birth:

  • American Lutherans- 19%
  • American Baptists- 34%
  • Episcopalians- 44%
  • Presbyterians- 49%
  • Methodists- 60%

2007-DEC: The Barna Group sampled 1,005 adults and found that 75% believed that Jesus was born to a virgin. 53% of the unchurched, and 15% of Agnostics and Atheists believe as well. Even among those who describe themselves as mostly liberal on political and social issues, 60% believe in the virgin birth. (Source for surveys.)

It is a great travesty in the Church today that many clergy find themselves looking at their positions only as a job, and will say what they must to preserve their positions. From the source of the polls previously cited comes this quote:

“…one Hampshire vicar was typical: ‘There was nothing special about his birth or his childhood – it was his adult life that was extraordinary….I have a very traditional bishop and this is one of those topics I do not go public on. I need to keep the job I have got.’

Such hypocrisy and blatant deceit is unworthy of anyone, let alone one who claims to proclaim the Word of God and represent Him to the people. yet such is the state of much of the clergy, as indicated by the above polling figures. No wonder the Church is in such disarray, and seems so powerless in the world today!

If Christianity is only a “nice” way of life that is only about love and compassion, then I suppose the virgin birth is not so essential, But if Christianity is an intimate and personal relationship by faith with the Creator of the Universe, then Who that Creator is makes all the difference. And if being born of a virgin is something He says about himself, even once, in His Book, then it might be best if we believe it. After all, wouldn’t you like to know a bit about, say, the pedigree of a dog or horse that you were to buy, or even more so, wouldn’t you like to know all about a future spouse that you profess to love before marriage?  (Please forgive the analogy, which is not meant to cheapen God, spouses, dogs, or horses).

The virgin birth of Christ—and I would say, the historical fact that Jesus was conceived by a miracle like unto creation itself—does not travel alone. It ties intimately into other doctrines-the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture, and more. “Scripture cannot be broken”, Jesus said in John 10:35. Even so, the most basic teachings of the Christian faith cannot be broken off and accepted like items on a buffet table. They are all one. Accept all of them-or none of them. That is the challenge that the catechumen, the seeker, the growing disciple of Christ is faced with. Finally, you see, the importance of the virgin birth is found, like all things, bound in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

As far as the prophecy quoted by Matthew, namely Isaiah 7:14, much ink has been spilled on this by scholars with more degrees than I have. Some modern Bible translations, notably the NRSV, CEB, TEV and others use “young woman” to translate the Hebrew word almah.   Others, such as the NASB, ESV, NKJB, TNIV  (=NIV 2011), use the more traditional “virgin.” The LXX also translates the word “virgin.” While the matter is not as simple as some might make it, certainly I would think that the Septuagint scholars would have known Hebrew and Greek well enough to have chosen a different word besides the Greek word for “virgin” if “young woman” would have been indicated. They had no agenda to support a virgin birth or not. The same cannot be said of some modern translators. The sainted Dr. William Beck  wrote a study on this subject, available at www.wlsessays.net/.

Human reason helps us put all of these things together systematically from Scripture; but human reason cannot accept and believe them itself. That, too, is a special creative work of the Holy Spirit. What a delight to know that God wants everyone to know Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture. It is through the very words of Scripture that God creates faith. Through those Holy Spirit given and empowered words He keeps one in the faith.  As I stand in awe that God chose this supernatural way to join our human race, so I stand in awe that He created faith in my heart, and has kept that faith to this day. All glory and praise to Him forever!

Finally, though, the virgin birth is a matter of faith. For the individual, it is a matter of personal faith whether one accepts what Scripture says about the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus or not. But the virgin birth is also a matter of THE Faith; that is to say, it is an article of Christian doctrine that is beyond dispute. To accept it is to accept a fundamental, essential doctrine of all Christianity. To reject it is to put one outside the bounds of the Christian faith. I pray that this Advent and Christmas season you will join with me, and with all the Christian world, in celebrating the supernatural way that God chose to enter our human race to bear our sin and be our savior.

Rev. Kent Wartick is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kent, Ohio. He has been preaching for over 26 years in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He’s my dad, and an inspiration for the faithful.

Book Review: “Cold Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace

ccc-wallaceI’ll forego the preliminaries here and just say it: this is the best introductory apologetics book in regards to the historicity of the Gospels I have ever read. If you are looking for a book in that area, get it now. If you are not looking for a book in that area, get it anyway because it is that good. Now, on to the details.

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace maps out an investigative journey through Christian history. How did we get the Gospels? Can we trust them? Who was Jesus? Do we know anything about Him? Yet the way that Wallace approaches this question will draw even those who do not care about these topics into the mystery. As a cold-case homicide detective, Wallace approaches these questions with a detective’s eye, utilizing his extensive knowledge of the gathering and evaluation of evidence to investigate Christianity forensically.

He begins the work with a section on method. He argues that we must learn to acknowledge our presuppositions and be aware of them when we begin an investigation. Like the detective who walks into a crime scene with a preconceived notion of how the murder played out, we can easily fall into the trap of using our expectations about a truth claim to color our investigation of the evidence for that claim. Learning to infer is another vastly important piece of the investigation. People must learn to distinguish between the “possible” and the “reasonable” (34ff). This introduction to “abductive reasoning” is presented in such a way as to make it understandable for those unfamiliar with even the term, while also serving as great training on how to teach others to reason for those involved in apologetics.

Chapter 3, “Think Circumstantially” is perhaps the central chapter for the whole book. Wallace notes that what is necessary in order to provide evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not necessarily “direct evidence.” That is, direct evidence–the type of evidence which can prove something all by itself (i.e. seeing it rain outside as proof for it actually raining)–is often thought of to be the standard for truth. Yet if this were the standard for truth, then we would hardly be able to believe anything. The key is to notice that a number of indirect evidences can add up to make the case. For example, if a suspected murderer is known to have had the victim’s key, spot cleaned pants (suspected blood stains), matches the height and weight a witness saw leaving the scene of the crime, has boots that matched the description, was nervous during the interview and changed his story, has a baseball bat (a bat was the murder weapon) which has also been bleached and is dented, and the like, these can add up to a very compelling case (57ff). Any one of these evidences would not lead one to say they could reasonably conclude the man was the murderer, but added together they provide a case which pushes the case beyond a reasonable doubt–the man was the murderer.

In a similar way, the evidences for the existence of God can add up to a compelling case for the God of classical theism. Wallace then turns to examining a number of these arguments, including the moral, cosmological, fine-tuning, and design arguments. These are each touched on briefly, as a kind of preliminary to consider when turning to the case for the Gospels. Furthermore, the notion of “circumstantial” or cumulative case arguments hints towards the capacity to examine the Bible and the Gospels to see if they are true.

Wallace then turns to examining the Gospels–Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John–in light of what he has learned as a detective. He utilizes forensic statement analysis as well as a number of other means by which to investigate witnesses and eyewitness reports to determine whether the Gospels can be trusted. He first turns to Mark and makes an argument that Mark had firsthand contact with Peter, one of the Disciples and an Apostle. He shows how we can search for and find “artifacts”–textual additions that were late into the accounts of the Gospels. None of these are surprises, because we know about them by investigating the evidence we have from the manuscript tradition. By piecing together the puzzle of the evidences for the Gospels, we form a complete picture of Christ (106ff).

It is easy to get caught up in “conspiracy theory” types of explanations for the events in the Bible. People argue that all kinds of alternative explanations are possible. Yet Wallace notes again that there is a difference between possible and reasonable. Simply throwing out possible scenarios does nothing to undermine the truth claims of the Gospels if the Gospels’ own account is more reasonable. Furthermore, drawing on his own knowledge from investigating conspiracy theories, Wallace notes that the Gospels and their authors do not display signs of a conspiracy.

A very important part of Cold-Case Christianity is the notion that we can trace back the “chain of custody” for the Gospels. By arguing that we are able to see how the New Testament was passed authoritatively from one eyewitness to disciple to disciple and so on, Wallace argues that conspiracy theories which argue the Gospel stories were made up have a much less reasonable explanation than that they are firsthand accounts of what happened. Much of the information in these chapters is compelling and draws on knowledge of the Apostles’ and their disciples. It therefore provides a great introduction to church history. Furthermore, Wallace notes that a number of things that we learn from the Gospels are corroborated not just by other Christians, but also by hostile witnesses (182ff). He also argues that we can know that the people who wrote the Gospels were contemporaries of the events they purported to report by noting the difficulties with placing the authors at a later date (159ff). This case is extremely compelling and this reviewer hasn’t seen a better presentation of this type of argument anywhere.

There are many other evidences that Wallace provides for the historicity of the Gospels. These include undesigned coincidences which interlink the Gospel accounts through incidental cross-confirmations in their accounts. I have written on this argument from undesigned coincidences before. Archaeology also provides confirmation of a number of the details noted in the Gospel accounts. The use of names in the Gospels place them within their first century Semitic context.

Again, the individual evidences for these claims may each be challenged individually, but such a case is built upon missing the forest for the trees. On its own, any individual piece of evidence may not prove that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, but the force of the evidence must be viewed as a complete whole–pieces of a puzzle which fit together in such a way that the best explanation for them is a total-picture view of the Gospels as history (129ff).

All of these examples are highlighted by real-world stories from Wallace’s work as a detective. These stories highlight the importance of the various features of an investigator’s toolkit that Wallace outlined above. They play out from various viewpoints as well: some show the perspective of a juror, while others are from the detectives stance. Every one of them is used masterfully by Wallace to illustrate how certain principles play out in practice. Not only that, but they are all riveting. Readers–even those who are hostile to Christianity–will be drawn in by these examples. It makes reading the book similar to reading a suspense novel, such that readers will not want to put it down. For example, when looking at distinguishing between possible/reasonable, he uses a lengthy illustration of finding a dead body and eliminating various explanations for the cause of death through observations like “having a knife in the back” as making it much less probable that accidental death is a reasonable explanation, despite being possible.

Throughout the book there are also sidebars with extremely pertinent information. These include quotations from legal handbooks which describe how evidence is to be viewed, explanations of key points within the text, and definitions of terms with which people may be unfamiliar. Again, these add to the usefulness of the book for both a beginner and for the expert in apologetics because it can serve either as a way to introduce the material or as helpful guides for using the book to teach others.

Overall, Cold-Case Christianity is the best introduction to the historicity of the Gospels I have ever read. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. Wallace covers the evidence in a winsome manner and utilizes a unique approach that will cause even disinterested readers to continue reading, just to see what he says next. I pre-ordered two copies to give to friends immediately. I am not exaggerating when I say that this book is a must read for everyone.

Links

View J. Warner Wallace’s site, Please Convince Me, for a number of free and excellent resources. I highly recommend the blog and podcast.

I would strongly endorse reading this book alongside On Guard by William Lane Craig–which thoroughly investigates the arguments for the existence of God. With these two works, there is a perfect set of a case for Christianity.

Source

J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013).

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Jephthah, Human Sacrifice, and God: What should we make of Judges 11:29-40?

The story of Jephthah is one of the most difficult stories in the Bible. For those who don’t know it, Jephthah, an Israelite, is about to go to war against Israel’s enemies. He vows that if God grants him victory, he will sacrifice whatever comes from his door to greet him first. He wins the battle, and when he returns, his daughter runs out to meet him. She asks one last wish–that she may mourn her lack of marriage for two months. The story ends explaining that this is the reason Israelites (at the time of the writing of Judges) commemorate Jephthah’s daughter.

Understandably, the narrative raises many questions. I view the image  here, a gorgeous painting by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, and it wrenches at my heart. Think of Jephthah’s anguish! The language in the Bible stirs the emotions:

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.” (Judges 11:34-35)

The questions, as I noted, are many. Foremost of those which come to mind: “Why would God let this happen?” Another common question about this passage are “Does God allow human sacrifice?”

I’ve written on the passage before, but I think my responses were inadequate. Therefore, I have decided to reexamine this story and see what we can glean from it. Part of these thoughts are due to a conversation I had with an old friend.

Human Sacrifice

First, the question of human sacrifice. Throughout the Bible, God specifically condemns human sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Lev. 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10). One point some make is to try to draw the near-sacrifice of Isaac into the mix, but it is contextually clear that God did not intend for Isaac to be sacrificed (see Paul Copan’s excellent work on this story in his Is God a Moral Monster?). Furthermore, it is important to note that the book of Judges is a historical book, and it therefore is not prescribing the actions described therein, any more than other historical texts are prescribing the historical accounts depicted in them (see my “Description is not Prescription”). Yet those passages which are prescriptive all expressly forbid human sacrifice (again, see Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5, Dt. 18:10). Therefore, God forbade human sacrifice, He did not condone it.

Why Not Prevent It?- Context

It is therefore clear that God does not condone human sacrifice. Why, then, does God not intervene in the case of Jepthah and prevent this horrific event from occurring? As a friend noted, it would be quite simple for God to cause one of Jephtah’s servants or, indeed, anything else alive to have come from the door first. Why, then, does God not do this?

There is no simple response to this question. Instead, it is important to note several important points before I offer a possible answer. First, God has given humans free will. The nature of libertarian free will is such that it cannot be undone. Think of it this way: If God were to give us free will only until we tried to do something wrong, and in such cases God intervened and overcame our freedom to cause us to do good, we would not have genuine freedom. We’d really have a kind of pseudo-freedom. As long as we only chose what is good, we would be free, but we could not choose otherwise.

Second, think of what Jepthah had done to begin with. When he vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing to come out to meet him, it seems quite apparent that he had in mind human sacrifice, for a few reasons. It doesn’t seem likely that, for example, a cow walking through his doorway would count as coming to meet him. He specified that his sacrifice would be the first to come meet him. In fact, one might surmise he could have guessed it might be his own daughter–who is more likely to go running out to see him after a battle than his beloved child? There was no shortage of local cultures in the area who offered their children as sacrifices, and indeed the practice had corrupted Israel itself at a few points in history, so Jephthah may have been thinking of such a practice in order to bring about victory.

Third, Jephthah was an outcast. He had been driven from the land before because of his questionable parentage (Judges 11:1-3). The Israelites turned to him only in the time of their dire need, and Jephthah was clearly tempted by their offer to be their leader (Judges 11:4-11). Even given the small amount of context we have for this narrative, we can see that Jephthah desired greatly to be given headship over Israel. It is possible that, in his lust for power, foolishly made a vow to offer one of his household in exchange for the victory.

Fourth, we’ve already seen that it is expressly forbidden to offer human sacrifices. Yet Jephthah makes his vow with full knowledge of the likely consequences.

Finally, Jephthah’s vow offers a dilemma of sorts to a God who acts in history. If God wishes to prevent the human sacrifice, he must cause the defeat of Israel. This would not be just the destruction of Israel, but it would force God to go back on His promise to bring salvation through Israel, which it is impossible for God to do (Numbers 23:19). Not only that, but it would prevent God’s plan of redemption to take place. Yet if God does grant the Israelites victory, He knows that Jephthah will offer a sacrifice of whoever first steps from his house.

Why not prevent it? -Solutions

From these quick thoughts we can see a number of possible answers. First, Jephthah made a vow which he would choose to fulfill in full knowledge that it would almost certainly be a human member of his household whom he would sacrifice. His vow was contingent upon the victory of Israel, whose defeat would have prevented God’s plan of salvation for all humankind. Therefore, Jephthah, by freely making this sinful vow, forced its conclusion. God did not prevent it from occurring because to do so would either destroy free will or prevent the Redemption.

Furthermore, some have argued that Jephthah’s vow to God superseded all else. (I myself made this argument in the original post.) I think this is wrong. God’s eternal moral commands would have superseded the vow. In fact, Jesus Himself commands His followers not to make vows, but rather to let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:33-37). Jesus actually says that those who believe that a vow to God would supersede all else are wrong–they should not be making the vow in the first place! Thus, Jephthah’s vow was doubly sinful, because it essentially guaranteed a heinous act (human sacrifice) and because he should not have made such a vow to begin with. In fact, it should be noted that if Jephthah had acted in accordance with the Bible, he should have broken the vow! God expressly forbade human sacrifice, and when Jephthah saw that it was his daughter–or had it been any other human–who came to meet him, he should have realized his vow was made foolishly. One could even argue that God did indeed act in such a way as to try to get Jephthah to realize his error. The fact that it was Jephthah’s daughter who greeted him should not have only horrified him but made him realize that his vow was sinful to begin with, and so should not be upheld. Upon the realization that keeping his vow would cause him to break God’s Law, Jephthah should not have said “I must keep this vow” and therefore increase his sin–rather he should have said “I will break this vow, and prevent a horrific sin.” But again, with his freedom, he chose not to.

Jephthah’s story is, in fact, just the kind of story typified throughout Judges, and indeed throughout human history–that of God using sinful people to bring about His ends. Samson, another judge, was a violent and lustful man, yet God used him to save the Israelites on a number of occasions. In the Joseph narrative (Genesis 37ff), God used the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring about a great good (Gen. 50:20). Similarly, Jephthah’s greed lead him to make a vow which he should not have kept which condemned at least one human to death.

Jephthah’s free decisions brought about the death of his daughter. That is why the Bible reports this stirring story–it teaches us that our free will has consequences. That is why the painting of Jephthah is so striking–we can relate to the horror of Jephthah’s realization of his own sinfulness. We’ve each committed our own sins and had to deal with the consequences. God is not a divine vending machine who will intervene when we make mistakes, or when we choose horrifying acts. He has already provided us with an objective reality–the discernment to tell what is right from wrong. Not only that, but He has also provided a Savior, His Son Jesus, to rescue us from all evil–even death itself. God has provided an infinite good to all human persons by providing a means for their salvation. Whosoever will be saved shall be saved.

The story also teaches us once more that God works through imperfect people. Although Jephthah was a sinful man with greedy intentions, he was still used by God to bring about a great good–the preservation of Israel, which itself paved the way for God’s redemptive act.

A Final, Philosophical Note

Those who may desire to press the objection still should investigate the philosophical basis of their claim. Presumably, they are arguing that:

P1- God is obligated to prevent evil (or some certain types of evil).

What justifies that claim? If God has given us free will, there are evils God cannot prevent–those which we choose to bring about. Further, what justifies the claim that God must intervene in every situation with x amount of evil? More specifically, why is God obligated to prevent Jephthah’s daughter from being the first to leave the house (again, I think that it was a series of free choices which brought Jephthah to this unfortunate event, and I disagree with those who think that God could just supersede free will whenever necessary, but I’ll grant it for a moment)? Is God obligated to prevent every evil?

I’m sure there are arguments that could be made to try to support the premise that “God is morally obligated to prevent all (or certain types of) evils” but I don’t think they would be more plausible than P2: “God has created free creatures” and P3: “Freedom cannot be limited.” I would accept a more restricted sense of:

P1′- God is morally obligated to prevent all evils which He is able to prevent and which do not provide for some greater good and which, if prevented, do not lead to other evils with similar or greater impact, etc.

Those who would seek to continue objecting that God, in the Jephthah narrative, should have intervened, must defend their restricted sense of P1, while rebutting P2 and P3, and showing that P1 is more plausible than P1′. It therefore seems that philosophically, exegetically, and theologically, the Jephthah narrative, while poignant, does not threaten God’s character. God works through human history to bring about the Redemption, using imperfect, sinful people to bring about an infinite good. Furthermore, God has given us the good of freedom, but we choose too often to abuse it. Jephthah illustrates this misuse in a heart-rending fashion which serves as a definitive reminder to those who read it that they should heed God’s word and use their freedom not for greed or gain but for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Inerrancy, Scripture, and the “Easy Way Out”

Inerrancy, defined as simply as possible, is the Christian doctrine that the Bible is divinely inspired and without error.

But it is important to move beyond this simple definition, because people often come away with misconceptions about the doctrine. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy explicates what evangelicals mean when they speak of inerrancy. I highly recommend that anyone interested in Inerrancy read this statement. It clears up a number of misconceptions.

A rejection of inerrancy is frequently due to a misunderstanding of what the doctrine means. Here are some common misreadings of the doctrine:

1) Inerrancy does not mean that there will be no discrepancies between Gospel accounts. These discrepancies, based upon an interpretation given by one who affirms inerrancy, are not seen as errors but as the different authors expressing their biographical accounts in different ways. Unlike modern conceptions that a quoted phrases must be exact, historians in the first century felt at their liberty to rearrange temporal events to better illustrate a common theme. The Gospels can be seen to utilize several methods of ancient biographies as they emphasize certain aspects of Christ’s life.

2) Inerrancy does not mean that there are no cultural or personal aspects to Scripture. An example of this can be seen in the geocentrism in the Bible. That there is geocentrism in the Bible does not undermine inerrancy. Inerrancy is the belief that what the Bible teaches is without error. The Bible does not teach geocentrism, but features it as part of the background beliefs of the cultural context of the authors. The authors have imported their culture into expressing God’s word, but that does not undermine the teachings.

3) Inerrancy does not mean God dictated the Bible word-for-word. This point ties into 2: God used human authors and gave them the leeway to write within their cultural background.

Those who reject inerrancy have taken an easy way out. Rather than investigating the issue of historical grammatical interpretation of Scripture or looking into what inerrancy means, they find what is perceived as an “error” in Scripture and reject the doctrine. The misconceptions outlined above are just a few of the errors made by people who do not investigate the issue seriously enough. Rather than coming upon a difficulty in the text and rejecting inerrancy, I urge readers to explore the difficulty, see what people have to say about it. I’ve found on more than one occasion that something I thought could be an error was explained by a cultural tradition or misreading of the text.

Finally, I’d like to address something that might come up to those reading through this. Often atheists object to the doctrine of inerrancy. I’ve run into this in my own personal discussions with those outside of the faith. They say things like “Do you really think a book written by a bunch of humans is without error?”

Well, if the Christian God exists, then the Bible is not just a book written by a bunch of humans. If God exists, there is no reason to think that God would be incapable of guiding His people to write a book to reveal Himself in a way that allows them to use their historical and cultural contexts without transmitting error in teaching. It would take a very powerful argument to convince me that an omnipotent deity would be unable to do this.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bibbia_con_rosa.jpg

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Description is not Prescription: A tale of interpretation

Imagine someone, let’s call him Jim, reading a chapter from a typical history book written on World War 2. In said chapter, one page says “Hitler was intent upon exterminating the Jews. The Nazis proposed a ‘final solution’ intended to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth.”

Jim stands up, indignant, and reacts to this text, “I can’t believe whoever wrote this book! They actually endorse the ‘final solution’! What evil person would dare to recommend such atrocities!?”

We would obviously be puzzled by Jim’s reaction. We would probably correct him by saying something like “Jim, the author isn’t recommending that course of action, they’re merely reporting what happened. It’s a history book. The author’s intent is not to tell you what to do, but to tell you what happened.”

Now imagine a similar scenario. This time, it’s Jessica reading the Bible. She reads that “Jephthah promised God that if he beat the Ammonites in battle he’d sacrifice the first living thing he saw at his house… He beat the ammonites and the first thing he saw was his daughter, whom he sacrificed after giving her time to grieve.” (A paraphrase of Judges 11. See my discussion of this passage here.)

Jessica immediately stands and shouts “How dare the Bible condone human sacrifice! God Himself told Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter!”

Our answer to Jessica is the same as it was to Jim: “Jessica, the Bible is reporting what happened, the author of Judges reports many horrific incidents and sins that God’s people committed, but that doesn’t mean the author is commending what happened or urging others to do likewise.”

Such reactions are similar to those of many who read the Bible. They read a passage which describes something that happened and jump to the conclusion that the Bible–or the God portrayed therein–is evil. The Bible is a collection of genres and writings from various authors, a point often overlooked by those unable–or unwilling–to fully engage the text. Yet often the Bible is merely describing what happened as opposed to prescribing something for God’s people.

Another problem is that people too often think of the Bible as being exclusively a “rulebook.” I think this really plays into the description/prescription fallacy because if the Bible were just a big rulebook, then everything in it would be taken prescriptively. Such people seem to think that every verse can be taken out of context and genre and used as a command. There isn’t much to say in answer to such people except to point out the obvious: there are different genres in the Bible, not all of it is a rulebook.

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Geneva-bible-picture.jpg

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Book Review: “Revelation” by Richard Swinburne

Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy” by Richard Swinburne is one of those rare books which forces one to think about and analyze every argument it contains, whether one agrees or disagrees with the conclusions. It addresses claims of revelation. Can it be true that a religion’s books or creeds contain truth?

The book starts off with a section on “Meaning” which analyzes terminology, presupposition, analogy and metaphor, and genre in turn. This section is fantastic reading for the philosopher of religion as it takes some higher notions found in philosophy of language and applies them to religious studies. The chapter on presupposition was the first part I found particularly striking. It is here that Swinburne first begins to lay the groundwork for his overarching argument about the Christian Revelation and Scripture. He argues that presuppositions are not contained in the message conveyed in spoken or written word. He writes, “In order to separate statement from presupposition, we must ask, whatever the speaker’s actual beliefs, are there any common beliefs of the clture presupposed in the utterance which can be siphoned off, leaving what the culture would naturally suppose to be its message intact?” (30). This “siphoning” of meaning is necessary because “[a]lthough speakers may use declarative sentences for many different purposes… the paradigm job of such sentences is to convey information, to ad to the hearer’s stock of beliefs” (29). Swinburne offers the following example to demonstrate his argument. Suppose a Roman historian wrote that “The divine Augustus traveled to Brindisi.” This sentence is not intended to convey the information that Augustus is divine. That Augustus is divine is presupposed by the author of the sentence. Rather, the sentence is intended to tell the reader that Augustus traveled to Brindisi (29). Swinburne also outlines and describes various genres and how they can relate to a religious revelation.

The next part of the book argues for four possible tests to determine whether a divine revelation has occurred. These tests are 1) whether the content is the “kind of thing which God would have chosen to reveal to humans” 2) “whether the method of expression is one to be expected of God,  3) whether “the church has developed the original revelation in a way which plausibly brings out what was involved in it …”, and 4) “whether the interpretations provide the sort of teaching which God would have chosen to give to humans” (107-108). He argues convincingly for each of these tests applying to the Christian Revelation.

The third part of “Revelation” examines the Christian Revelation specifically. Swinburne argues that Jesus and His message were the “original revelation” provided to believers (145ff). It is in his discussion of the Church and the Bible, however, wherein he forwards his most controversial claims.

The Church, argues Swinburne, is responsible for more than simply establishing the canon of Scripture. He argues that the Church has a central place alongside Scripture in the Christian Revelation, for without the church, interpretation could not happen. The creedal statements central to Christian faith may not have been derived had it not been for the Church (see page 189ff). Further, the Church acts as a method for assessing “rival interpretations” of various Scriptural truths (200). It is undeniable that Swinburne advocates the Church as a high authority–perhaps even on a higher level than Scripture, for he argues that many conflicting interpretations of Scripture can receive almost equal footing on Scripture alone, so the Church is required to determine which of these should be approved (again see p. 200 for an example of this). Swinburne’s view of the Church is one of the most important things in this book, in my opinion, for the Christian to read and digest, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees. For one’s view of the authority of a church body is vastly important with regards to how one views other doctrines. As Swinburne writes, “Which doctrines are to count as central Christian doctrines… depend[s] very much on which ecclesial bodies we judge to be part of the Church. The wider our Church, the fewer such doctrines there will be” (214). This is undoubtedly true, for if one takes only the Roman Catholic Church, for example, as a valid ecclesial body, then one’s net of central Christian doctrines can include everything sanctioned by the Roman Catholics. But let us say that one takes both the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic church to be authoritative, or perhaps they take the Orthodox, Roman, and Reformed churches as authoritative. Well then it seems that only those doctrines which all these bodies agree on can be regarded as central, or essential to, true faith. For if one church contains a doctrine which the others do not, it cannot be regarded as absolutely essential if the other churches are still legitimate. If it were essential and the other bodies disagreed, then those other bodies would not be legitimate, by the criterion of not agreeing on an essential Christian doctrine.

This then provides a valuable springboard for thought about central Christian teaching and what doctrines and ecclesial bodies one regards as valid or central. Swinburne’s discussion on this topic cannot be downplayed. He goes into various criteria which can be used to determine whether a Church body is legitimate. These arguments are incredibly in-depth and interesting. His arguments force the reader to consider his ideas.

The Bible is the final major topic Swinburne addresses in “Revelation.” Here we see all the groundwork laid in Part 1 come into play. What do genre, presuppositions, etc. tell us about the meaning and interpretation of Scripture? This section is another which the Christian would do well to ponder. Swinburne argues that we must take Scripture as being entirely true, but he qualifies this claim by arguing we must also realize what Scripture is–a collection of books written with divine approval but by human hands. Thus, he argues, we should take great care to realize the difference between presupposition and message, history and allegory, etc. While I do not agree with Swinburne on every point, I find his insights particularly interesting. He notes that “[t]he falsity of the presuppositions does not, therefore… affect the truth-value of a sentence which uses them” (244). This kind of argument can be of direct worth to the apologist, for example. He utilizes Genesis 8:2(“The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained” ESV) as an example: “The sky has no windows out of which the rain comes, but the quoted sentence is just the author’s way of saying, within the presuppositions of his culture, that the rain ceased” (244-245). This is a different approach apologetically than the one I would tend to favor, which would argue that the word “window” is used here in a metaphorical or analogous way.

Swinburne’s high view of the church is necessary alongside his view of Scripture. Swinburne writes that “The slogan of Protestant confessions , ‘the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself’, is quite hopeless” (255). For it is the Church which determines acceptable interpretations of Scripture.  He writes that “Scripture belongs to the Church” (256). Reading and interpreting Scripture requires a guide. This guide “…is the Church’s theological definitions and other central teaching, its tradition of the proper way to interpret the Bible, and its tradition of how particular passages should be interpreted” (256).

Swinburne’s final chapter seeks to discuss and interpret moral teaching found in Scripture.

Swinburne’s central argument is strong. God has given us a Revelation and has given us the tools to discover what it means. This Revelation is found in Scripture and historically in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is the nuances of Swinburne’s argument which make the book so wonderfully useful. I found myself at times nodding, agreeing with everything Swinburne wrote. At other times I shook my head, jotting rebuttals alongside his text. But the vast majority of the book found me engaged on a new level with topics I thought I had addressed and laid to rest. While I disagree with details of Swinburne’s argument (i.e. he accepts the JEDP view of Scripture, denies the historicity of the person of Jonah, etc.), I found his core arguments compelling. We do need to remember the genre(s) we read as we read Scripture. We need to realize that the ultimate author of Scripture is God, but that Scripture was written within a set of presuppositions distinct from our own.

Swinburne’s analysis of the authority of the church was equally compelling. While he holds a higher view of church authority than I do, his view intertwines the Church with Scripture in compelling ways which absolutely must be considered.

It has been over a month since I finished this work by Swinburne, yet I have found myself consistently turning back to it, and even while writing this review, I found myself contemplating his arguments and drawing truths from him while still disagreeing with him on other areas. I reiterate that I find this work absolutely essential reading for the Christian philosopher. It will challenge and reward the reader in ways that may be entirely unexpected.

Source:

Swinburne, Richard. Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy. 2nd Edition. Oxford. 2007.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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