A Defense of a “Well-Versed” Doctrine of Inerrancy

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/a-defense-of-a-well-versed-doctrine-of-inerrancy

A well-versed approach to inerrancy is Augustinian (“faith seeking understanding”) and sapiential in orientation, for it sees truth not simply as information to be processed but as life-giving wisdom: “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Bro. Vanhoozer uses the term Word of God to refer to the Bible. While this term with the Word capitalized is not necessarily wrong, i find that it often indicates a confusi0on between the written words of God and the incarnate Word (Logos.) I think that the final sentence of the essay verifies this.

Jesus says to His disciples, “You shall know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” Jesus called Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” I believe that it is clear from the full text of this passage that he is referring to Himself (the Word) as the Truth, and not to the Bible, the words of God.

Jesus is perfect, that is without sin because He is God. The Bible is not perfect, meaning without error because it is not God. If the Bible were without error then it would be the Judge of Jesus, but Jesus is the Judge of the Bible.

Only Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not the Bible. Humans are saved by faith by grace through faith in Jesus, not the Bible.

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There is much assumed in this. I would seek answers to these issues, important to me, and, I think foundational.

  1. 2 Tim 3 16 does not claim inerracy. But it states, “God-breathed”. How do we unpack that, free from historical ideas, which it seems important to note, are second-hand and often agenda-driven, not the revealed truth.
  2. Jesus is the visible likeness of the invisible God. So, When it comes to a clash between him and the OT (eye for eye, turn the other cheek; stone adulterers, whoever is with out sin cast the first stone) how do we sort it, and what impact does that have on inerracy?
  3. (or 2a) Much about God in the OT does not look like Jesus. So is it just people’s ideas, as they struggled from paganism towards what Jesus ultimately revealed of God?

I know you directed this to Roger, but I hope you don’t mind if I butt in here as I’m passing through this morning with a few responses of my own.

That is like asking: "I’d like to understand what my brother is saying to me without any recourse to family history/relationship/cultural commonalities we share. In other words, to wrest yourself “free” from all that (even if you could) would only mean that you would cease to understand your brother’s speech at all. God’s written words are embedded into our messy cultural histories. To try to tease it out of that into some non-existent vacuum would be the equivalent of trying to take the humanity side away from the incarnation. It just doesn’t work. So when anybody claims: “I just read the Bible, free of any baggage or historical ideas,” then you know they’ve already gone off the deep end and have no truth about the matter whatsoever.

By looking at the entire enterprise in the light of Christ. If you read anything in the old testament and come away with a conclusion that does not align itself with Christ’s light, then you have erred. That doesn’t have to mean that you see the old Testament as being full of errors (if “inerrancy” in whatever form is important to you). But it does mean that you are willing to heed Christ’s corrective admonitions: “You have heard it said … but I say to you …”.

I like the way you put that. And I think it pretty much nails it. God reveals as much of himself in each age as the culture can bear, pulling them and others around them closer to himself in fits and starts. Not because God himself is fitful or unfaithful, but because we are.

Mervin; thanks for butting in. I would like to challenge this idea of family, on the grounds that my brothers have made ever possible distortion, and erected every agenda that fits their preconceptions. The need is to free myself as far as possible (I concede that that is near-impossible) in order to get to the uncontaminated, original thoughts. Later authorities are an insecure guide. The brothers I would like to rely on are those who were God-breathed-on as they wrote the text. Medieval overlays have to be examined, sifted and rejected, for the most part.

Now about a vacuum - It seems to me that there has to be some sort of stepping into the void, and depending on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There are all the reassurance we could need - you ask for bread - you do not get a stone.

When I see a clash like those I cited, how come I have erred? I really need to understand what the path to that resolution is.

Just a quick response here for now on one or two things…

I think the case can be (has been) made that God has come to us (from that ‘objective void’ if you will) into his populated and very “non-void” creation precisely so that we can meet him here where we are. I argue that we understand his incarnational presence (Christ) by walking toward his enculturated light, (i.e. by better perceiving all our culture for what it is, and indwelling it as best we faithfully can), not by trying to walk away from it. That said, I certainly hear you that we think some things about various sub-cultures may be closer to objective truth than others. But when we make those necessary discernments, we are choosing to embrace some aspect of some culture that we deem to be “truer” than another. We aren’t walking away from all cultural context entirely which would be impossible.

Would love to respond more and perhaps will as time allows. You have some good thoughts here, and maybe somebody else will weigh in on your last good question. I hope to give that the attention it deserves more tonight if nobody else picks it up.

Amen to that!

I don’t. O do not base theology on a phrase where the context is far from clear.

The OT helps us to understand the NT, but Jesus is then Logos of God, the Father. No one can come to the Father except through Jesus the Messiah.

We need to understand that Judaism is based on the Old Mosaic Covenant, while Christianity is based on the New Covenant in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, not the words of the Bible. Our relationship to Jesus is not based on the Law, but on the preaching of Jesus as found for instance in the Sermon on the Mount and on His Example,

That is music to my ears, water in a dry place. I have been arguing elsewhere for just these points, so I suppose I was seeking reassurance from a new source.

But I would want to raise a related point. It seems to me from my little knowledge, that the accepted interpretation of much of the NT is down to medieval sources, notably Jerome, to whom some of the text offered unthinkable ideas. Rather than dwell too much in the company of these family members it seems that some distance and revision is called for. That would enable some of the medieval impositions to be eased out, thus freeing the translation from the imposed misogynistic and legalistic distortions which bring it into disrepute. If I am right, many Christians struggle with a cognitive dissonance between what the English text says and the witness of the Spirit. I have in mind a general revision, but more specifically 1 Cor 11: 2-16, Luke 18: 1-8, Matthew 5: 17-20.

I think most people here would acknowledge that medieval interpreters brought their own cultural baggage and lenses to the text and did not always understand the context the original audience would have immediately grasped.

Good exegesis tries to reconstruct the cognitive environment that the biblical authors were writing in (what were the prevalent beliefs, assumptions, conventional metaphors, accepted explanations) and tries to understand what was implicitly communicated, not just what was explicitly communicated. Much of communication is inferences people make that depend on a shared cognitive environment. When we make wrong assumptions about what we as modern (or medieval) readers share with the original audience, we come up with interpretations that miss the intended mark.

I really do not think we have to blame medieval sources for bad theological understandings of the Bible. Let us look at these three passages.

1 Corinthians 11:7-12 (NIV2011)
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;
9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

This is a mistake made by Paul, which contradicts Gen 1:27
Genesis 1:27 (NIV2011)
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God created all humans, male, and female in God’s own Image.

Luke 18:1-8 (NIV2011)**
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.
3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,
5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.
7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

What is the problem here? Faith requires persistence.

Matthew 5:17-20 (YLT)
17 Do not suppose that I came to throw down the law or the prophets--I did not come to throw down, but to fulfil;_ _18 for, verily I say to you, till that the heaven and the earth may pass away, one iota or one tittle may not pass away from the law, till that all may come to pass._ _19 Whoever therefore may loose one of these commands–the least–and may teach men so, least he shall be called in the reign of the heavens, but whoever may do and may teach them , he shall be called great in the reign of the heavens.
20 `For I say to you, that if your righteousness may not abound above that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye may not enter to the reign of the heavens.

The righteousness of Christians is not based on obedience to the Law, it is based on being washed clean by the New Covenant in Jesus Christ and being in right relationship with God, others, and oneself, in other words, loving God, loving others, and loving oneself in the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 11 2-16. The initial issue is that the Greek of verse 16 is “we have no such custom” which is clearly a contradiction of something. The NIV and others solve this by the extraordinary expedient of reversing its meaning. Dissatisfied with this, we should look for evidence of disputation in the passage. And there is a clear indication of contradiction in the use of plēn in verse 11, (obscured by its translation as the weak English, “however”), followed by the assertion that “IN THE LORD we do not treat men and women differently”. This suggests that the preceding is a good candidate for Paul’s rebuttal. When we look at the arguments, they are between wobbly and weird. (“Because of the angels?!!!”) And Paul specifically refutes the one about woman coming from man by stating the opposite and then adding “But everyone comes form God.”

So where did these ideas come from? Well that is not difficult: 7 verse 1 “About what you wrote,” suggests that they, with the intervening chapters, were Paul’s response to the Corinthians’ lost letter.

That resolves the many issues in the interpretation of the text, exonerates Paul from getting his ideas from Genesis wrong, and also, no mean issue, from misogyny! Of course, this is the concern I have expressed over the medieval interpreters, Paul is putting forward ideas that were unthinkable to them. Anyway, do we think the Faith is about this sort of dress code matters and these sorts of arguments?

There is a coda to this. Verses 34-36 in chapter 14 apparently have no clear fixed abode. They represent an awkward interjection of extreme constraints put on women, in the middle of a passage about prophecy, suggesting that they originate elsewhere. They would fit very neatly into chapter 11, allowing Paul to finish off his “we have no such custom” theme, with his ironic “or did God speak to you first”?

Thank you for pointing these things out. I see your points, which make if quite important to have a not inerrant, covenantal understanding of the4 Bible.

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I would ask you for your view on the issues raised by 1 Cor 11 1-16. The subjection of women to the specified dress code has been dropped by many churches, a move I have sympathy with as the Faith is not about such things. The result is that some people feel unease that they are in disobedience to the scripture; others have their confidence in the authority of scripture challenged. What I have discovered is a way to read this passage which puts Paul firmly against such gender discrepancy, in harmony with his “In the Lord we do not treat men and women differently”.

I think the merits of this approach are considerable. It offers people a way out of their difficulties. It also resolves the textual problem in v 16 which is serious enough for the translators of the NIV to feel it necessary to go to the extreme expedient of reversing the meaning of the text.
I would also appreciate a reply along one of the following lines:

  1. This is a fallacious interpretation for these reasons…
  2. You may have something, but it is too trivial for any real attention.
  3. There is a lot to be thought about in this. It challenges accepted ideas on this passage, so I am not going to explore this further.
  4. There is a lot to be thought about in this. I admit it challenges accepted ideas on this passage, but I am going to explore this further.

Thank you for spending the time to read this.
John King

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Did you hear what I said about the old and the new covenants? Christians need to take seriously the fact that IF THEY ARE IN CHRIST, they are no longer under the Law. Did you read all the discussion that Paul wrote concerning whether Christians should eat meat from animals sacrificed to pagan gods? The answer is not a legalistic yes or no.

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Yes. I subscribe very precisely to your comments. I rejoice in the Gospel that in Christ the Mosaic Law is at an end.I believe that a reinterpretation of Matthew 5 17-20 shows how it can be read to make that message much clearer. As it is usually rendered, it is the first resort of those who maintain a continuing role for the Law for Christians.

But, for the moment, I was trying to draw attention to the problems in 1 Cor 11. A similar reinterpretation can show that Paul was arguing against the Corinthian church’s introduction of a Judaeo-pagan mixture of gender discrimination, drawn from the social conventions of the secular world of the day.

It seems that that would offer help to those Christians who would like to follow the teaching of the NT but find the practice of what they have been told it says, is unacceptable.

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The problem is Legalism. Way too many people are more concerned about the form of Christianity than the substance of Christianity.

I do not know if the people that you are talking about are part of this, but I do know that when people ask What are the rules of faith, rather than how do I have the proper relationship with Jesus, then something is wrong.

The message of the NT is, Follow ME. t


I agree wholeheartedly. And I rejoice that there a green shoots indicating some movement towards this true freedom in Christ.
But I ask where they get this mistaken idea from. Well there are may teachers out there telling them so. But our Bible versions have a slanted interpretation which promotes these ideas. I am thinking among many others, of Matt 5 17, which misses the point that Jesus is saying he has come to bring the Law to closure. There are many other distortions of the message which support this kind of misreading. That is why I am trying to advocate a new approach to the interpretation of the NT. It would stem the flow at the source.
John King

I like the idea proposed by recent Bible scholarship (taking into account the Jewish context) that the Law was never about salvation. Salvation has always been about God’s grace. Before Christ, membership in God’s covenant community and access to God’s grace was attained by observing the Torah. Jesus is saying that he is now the way to membership in God’s covenant community. (Interestingly, the way, the truth, and the life were all metaphors attributed to God’s law in the OT). This theme is repeated in Paul’s letters which hash out the details that the new mark of membership in the community of God’s chosen people (those who have access to grace) is not circumcision and keeping kosher and celebrating the festivals, it’s the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is made available to people from every group through the work of Jesus. I don’t think poor translation is the problem, it’s ignoring the cultural context and implicit information that would have been accessible to the original audience when doing interpretation.

I find myself here in a community with which I am in full agreement. But on other Forums it is a battleground, trying to persuade established Christians that our guide now is the principle of love in the power and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you are fortunate in having had access to this great truth. Many out there are legalists without knowing it. I am convinced that they read the Bible versions which hinder them from getting hold of the truth. As another example. 1 Co 11 2-16 is read as affirming rules that are inimical to the Gospel. Generally not adhered to, even so, many hold them as God’s truth, when actually Paul was refuting them.

Aw, that’s no fun. I’m sure we can find something to fight with you about. :nerd_face:

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