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apologetics of the Bible

This tag is associated with 2 posts

Problems with the “Slippery Slope” argument for Inerrancy

question-week2I believe the Bible is true in all that it teaches, and that this is what is meant by inerrancy. The Bible teaches no error. There is much debate over the meaning of inerrancy, and I’m not going to enter into that debate now (though I have written on it, if you’d like to see my opinion). What is important is that I want to start by saying that I affirm inerrancy, but I think one common argument in favor of the doctrine is mistaken.

The Slippery Slope Argument for Inerrancy

The argument I’m referring to is what I shall dub the “Slippery Slope” argument. Basically, it asserts that if someone doubts that one part of the Bible is true, doubt about the rest of the Bible unerringly follows [see what I did there?]. One example of this can be found in a recent webcomic from Adam Ford. We might write out the argument in syllogistic form as something like:

1. If one part of the Bible is in thought to be an error, other parts are thrown into doubt
2. Person A believes the Bible has an error.
3. Therefore, person A has reason to believe other parts are thrown into doubt.

The syllogism as I have written it is surely not the only way to put this argument. I am providing it largely as an illustration of how the argument might be stated. The core of the argument, however, is that if one thinks part of the Bible is an error, the rest of it is made at least possibly dubious.

Analyzing the Argument

There are several difficulties that immediately come up, ranging from concrete to obscure. On the obscure end, we might question what is meant by “an error” and whether that error is said to be theological, scientific, medical, or something else. We could then debate whether an alleged scientific error in the Bible is grounds for stating that there is “an error” in the Bible to begin with, by debating different views Christians hold about the Bible’s relationship with science (or medicine, or whatever). I’m not going to delve into obscurities here, however interesting they may be (and, in my opinion, they are very interesting).

Instead, I want to focus on some major difficulties with the argument. For one, it assumes that the interlocutor, person A, views the entirety of the Bible as on the same evidential plain. That is, for the argument to hold any weight, person A would have to believe that the Bible is linked together so intricately that a belief that Genesis 34:17 [I arbitrarily chose this verse] is an error (however defined) would entail that John 3:16 is possibly an error as well. Clearly, for the argument to be sound, Premise 1 must be correct, and it seems to be obviously false.

The reason I say this is because the possible errancy of John 3:16 does not follow from belief that there is an error in Genesis 34:17. Suppose you are reading a history textbook and you see that it states the date of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox to be April 9, 1864. You, being a proud history buff, know that the date was actually April 9, 1865. However, the year is only off by one. You may proceed more carefully through the rest of the book, but you would not have any reason to think that the book was mistaken when it said that General Patton was a United States general in World War II.

The argument therefore assumes a unity of the text such that the entire Bible stands or falls together. Now, that might be a perfectly correct position to hold–and I do hold to the unity of Scripture myself–but that is not an obligatory or necessary view. That is, someone might deny that the Bible is a unified text and therefore need not ascribe to the view that if one part is in error, another must be.

But this is not the only difficulty with the argument. Another problem is that it assumes person A has no more reason to believe the portions of the Bible they believe are true than they do for the portions they believe might be errors. Yet this is mistaken, and demonstrably so. Person A may believe there is overwhelming evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, such that they affirm that without question, while also thinking that the evidence against Israel having been in Egypt is quite weighty as well. Thus, they believe the Bible is perhaps mistaken on the status of Israel in relation to Egypt in Exodus, but they also affirm that it is clearly correct on Jesus’ resurrection. But the slippery slope argument presumes that they cannot hold these beliefs together without at least significant tension. But why? Again, the reason appears to be because the slippery slope argument relies on the assumption that the evidence for one part of the Bible must be exactly on par with the evidence for another. However, that in itself is clearly wrong.

 

Conclusion

Again, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I just think we should not rely on this as one of our arguments. I have used the slippery slope argument myself in the past, but I believe the above analysis shows I was mistaken to do so. I think that others should avoid the argument as well so that we can present the best possible arguments for the truth of the Bible without error.

I suspect many will take issue with the analysis above. I’m not saying that I believe any portion of the Bible is an error. Nor am I denying the unity of Scripture. What I am saying is that it is not logically fallacious to deny that unity. I’m saying that I believe it is logically consistent to believe that the Bible may have an error while still affirming, for example, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that something I would recommend? No, but neither is it something I would say is necessarily contradictory. Those who do want to take issue with my analysis must demonstrate how it is mistaken, and thus provide reason to think that the assumptions the slippery slope argument is based upon are sound.

Again, a final note is that I have taken the place of the interlocutor in several instances in this post. My point is simply that someone who did deny these things could come up with effective counters to the slippery-slope argument for inerrancy. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument is ineffective at best and faulty or fallacious at worst. It relies on presupposing that the opponent operates in the same sphere of presuppositions as the one offering the argument, but they need not do so.

Links

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On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy– I argue that we have qualified the term “inerrancy” unnecessarily and to the extent that it has become difficult to pin down its actual meaning. I advocate a return to a simple definition of the term.

SDG.

——

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.

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Book Review: “From God to Us” by Norman Geisler and William Nix

From God To Us (hereafter FGU) by Norman Geisler and William Nix provides a general introduction to a number of topics regarding the origins of the Bible. The book explores the inspiration, canonization, transmission, and translation of the Bible from the earliest roots until the modern era.

Inspiration

FGU outlines the nature of inspiration. It is important to note that “it is only the product that is inspired, not the persons” (17). Another misconception is that inerrancy/inspiration applies to copies. The sense in which it does must be limited: “Only the autographic [original] texts themselves (or perfect copies of them) are inerrant… Every other copy is inspired only insofar as it is an accurate reproduction of the original” (18).

The authors then turn to a defense of inspiration through the Biblical teaching of inspiration. By outlining the way the text is treated as inspired in both the Old and New Testaments, the authors make a case for the general inerrancy of the autographic texts. Finally, the authors provide an argument for the Bible as the word of God (68ff). The argument is 12 steps and they provide a basic defense of each premise.

Canonization

One of the most frequent objections brought up offhand to those who hold to a high view of the inspiration of the Bible is that of the canon. Some say that the canon was just arbitrarily chosen by a church council somewhere, and that there is no way to determine how books got into the Bible.

FGU provides a more historically accurate look at the canon. The authors first outline a number of factors that are faulty for determining canonicity. For example, age alone cannot determine canonicty because some books of the Bible drew from contemporary sources.

In direct opposition to the notion that a council alone could determine the canon, FGU underscores the notion that: “the role of the Christian church… is not to determine which books are in the canon but to discover which books God determined should be in the canon, namely, those that He had inspired” (91). The authors then explore a number of factors which play into discovering the canon.

Historically, FGU explores the extent and formation of the Old Testament and New Testament canons. The arguments are concise and direct readers to further areas of exploration, while providing enough information to refute most basic arguments.

Transmission

The Bible had to be transmitted: namely, God’s word had to be communicated to human persons. How was this done? Largely in the form of written languages. FGU explores the importance of written language as a means of communication and provides a brief background in the development thereof (164ff).

Of great importance to the reader is the extensive material on the manuscripts of the Bible. The details of the manuscript tradition are outlined and even several forms of extrabiblical manuscript evidence is brought into the picture. Such evidence is an important part of a believers’ background of Bible knowledge. FGU also does a fantastic job outlining the foundations of textual criticism and the valuable role it can play in determining the accurate reading of the text (221ff).

One of the most enlightening parts of FGU outlines the nature of finding “errors” in the transmission of Scripture. Often, one will hear the claim that there are 100s of thousands of errors in the Bible. Bart Ehrman has, in particular, focused upon this in order to cause some unrest in the notion of the accuracy of the Bible (243). But these are actually variants in manuscripts which are sometimes counted numerous times:

If a single word were misspelled in 3,000 different manuscripts, they are counted as 3,000 variants… Ironically, the way Ehrman counts ‘errors’ (variants), there were 1.6 million errors in the first printing of his book. For there were 16 errors, and the book printed an alleged 100,000 copies… Ehrman himself admits the biblical variants do not affect the central message of the Bible. (243)

The authors then turn to an analysis of variant readings and how they occur, from misspellings and unintentional changes to corrections to try to bring texts into concord (246ff).

Translation

FGU provides an intense look at a number of ways the Bible has been translated and the way that translations happen. The traditions of translation are outlined and traced through history (280ff) and the importance of individual translations are analyzed.

Another extremely valuable part of the book is the analysis of how translations come about as far as the emphasis placed upon form-driven versions, meaning-driven versions, and paraphrases. Readers interested in modern Bible translations will find a wealth of resources for analyzing the varied translations. There are nearly 70 pages of information on these translations, so readers will have a number of points to discuss with those asking questions about translations.

Analysis

FGU is a huge resource for those interested in not just defending but learning about the Bible and how it has arrived in its current state in our pews. The book covers a number of issues and it will have appeal to both lay readers and interested professionals. Christian apologists will find a treasure trove of information about the background of the Bible which is often glossed or ignored in a number of apologetics resources.

The authors come from a decidedly conservative background, but this does not prevent them from a generally fair analysis of a number of topics. For example, though they seem critical of the so-called “gender accurate” language of TNIV, the analysis of the translation is objective and simply outlines how the translation comes to its current form (350-353).

Conclusion

Norman Geisler and William Nix have provided a solid resource with From God to Us. It will appeal to those who want to get a lengthy introduction to a number of relevant apologetical issues related to the Bible. Furthermore, it provides a significant amount of background on various translations of the Bible. What is most surprising about the book is how it manages to provide so much information without becoming too dense or thin. It covers so many issues that the danger would seem to be either to err on the side of being too long or too brief on each issue. The authors admirably do not stray to either side, and in doing so, have provided an invaluable resource for both the interested lay reader and professional.

SDG.

——

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.

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