I’m hesitant to put it that way, not because I doubt that the Bible contains anything inerrant, but because I think this is a category error that gets us back to treating the Bible like a math book instead of what it is. Would you agree that there is revelation in the various stories Jesus told, parables and otherwise? Would the revelation only exist based on how well those stories corresponded to actual historical events? Perhaps we agree that the truth – the revelation – in these stories doesn’t reside in what details can be weighed on inerrancy’s scales.
Similarly, truth may be found in the Bible’s poetry, the prophecies that didn’t materialize (since the whole point of some prophecies is to provoke a response that obviates their fulfillment), the emotional outbursts of human characters whether prophet or psalmist or comforter of Job. Inerrancy, since it only really applies to propositional statements about reality, encourages a narrow way of looking at Scripture that moves much of its content to the margins. When I read the historical books, I don’t limit God’s voice to the parts of Kings that correspond with Chronicles or Joshua with archaeology or Matthew with Mark. I also want to listen to where the writer used artistic license, where they allowed their leanings or convictions to overwhelm a just-the-facts-ma’am approach to telling the story. I want to feed on the whole Bible, not just the parts I can judge as inerrant.
If one reduces the Bible to an answer book, it does end up looking like this. To use your example of eternal life, we have multiple “answers”: as far as we can know, humans have no advantage over beasts when it comes to death (Ecclesiastes 3:16–22); some humans might be part of a resurrection with some of those receiving eternal life (Daniel 12:2); those who believe in Jesus get eternal life without dying (John 3:16); our resurrection to eternal life comes after death (1 Corinthians 15).
I don’t think these passages are in conflict, but neither does the Bible function well as an answer book. Each of these passages needs to be read in context, not extracted to answer our question. So my resistance to your logical argument is because I don’t have a gold-letter approach to the Bible as if nuggets of transcendent truth are just waiting in its pages for me to unearth. I want to, as best I can, read it as it was given, and allow it to shape me through the Spirit’s work. It moves us to know God, not simply know more.
I still come to believe “transcendent truths” due to what the Bible says. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times I have to wrestle with various parts of revelation that are not on the same page. Regardless, when I’m at my best, the Bible shapes me through immersion rather than mining.
Well-meaning Christians of various stripes have found contradictory answers to questions like those you posed: what is hell, who gets eternal life, how does God’s forgiveness interact with God’s justice? If the Bible is only revelation if it clearly spells out the answers to such things, then the Bible isn’t revelation. But I think the problem is expecting the wrong thing from the Bible.
Even if we think we can find some of those answers at the back of the book, it remains the case that many people in its pages walked closely with God without the benefit of those answers. I believe the Bible calls us on a similar journey.
So I finished chapter 2, finally. Thanks for your patience. I don’t have too much to add here, but Dr. Enns hit on one of my deepest pet peeves on the topic, so let me hit on that, and discuss why I find it significant… Please forgive me if I sound like I’m on a bit of a high horse on this topic…!
How he handles the claimed contradictions, both here and elsewhere, I find atrocious. In this chapter, referencing proposed solutions to the supposed contradiction in Acts, he claims that “Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb akouō followed by phōnē never means simply to understand what was said but to have heard…the expression in the Bible never means “to understand” as distinct from “to hear”.
So, he desperately wants to maintain that there is a contradiction here in Acts. And to hand wave proposed solutions aside (that suggest that the phrase could reasonably have meant they didn’t “understand” the sound) and insist there is a genuine contradiction here, he claims ‘the expression in the Bible never means “to understand” as distinct from “to hear”.’
He is simply dead wrong. For instance…
Genesis 11: “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Clearly, clearly, this is a case where they could “hear” the words but not “understand” the speech. Using the very words that Dr. Enns says never mean “to understand”…
Jeremiah 5:15: “Behold, I am bringing against you a nation from afar, O house of Israel, declares the LORD. It is an enduring nation; it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say.” Again, clearly, clearly, the words in question here mean “understand” rather than “hear.” And again they use the very words Dr. Enns says never mean “understand.”…
This is just sloppy. And without getting too high on my horse, may I point out that this illustrates one of my biggest peeves in discussions of inerrancy, and I have found Dr. Enns to be one of the worst offenders, matched in my own reading only by Bart Ehrman. I have found similar such egregious errors, made in what appears a desperate attempt to maintain belief in a contradiction, throughout his writings.
When someone argues against inerrancy by pointing out some particular supposed contradiction… and maintains belief that it must be a contradiction even in spite of very reasonable and legitimate alternatives… ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY HAVE TO RESORT TO FALSEHOODS TO MAINTAIN THEIR ARGUMENT…
Then I lose faith that I am interacting with someone who has any objectivity over the question. They come across not as an open minded inquirer, but as someone on a quest, determined to find a contradiction regardless of any actual facts involved.
The falsehood may have been inadvertent, of course. (Though some he’s claimed elsewhere almost come across to me as being intentionally obtuse). But when a supposed Biblical scholar puts into print such a demonstrably false claim in order to buttress their argument that a supposed difficulty is unquestionably a contradiction… their entire objectivity becomes suspect to me. It shouldn’t be hard to fact chrck one’s self, especially if one is an OT scholar and one can’t be bothered to search the OT Septuagint. It took me 6 minutes with my computer Bible to find those three counterexamples.
So, this is a bit of a rabbit trail. But the more significant point I would bring out from this atrocious biblical scholarship is simply this:
I would be the first to acknowledge that there are certainly people on the side of inerrancy who blindly ignore genuine difficulties because of what appears to be a desperate need to believe in Biblical inerrancy.
However, I beg that we have a critical mind in both directions, and recognize that on the other side, there are certainly people who blindly ignore genuine solutions because of what appears to be a desperate need to believe in Biblical errancy!
Perhaps he is referring to the Bible in its original language, as opposed to in translation? In other words, the New Testament rather than the Greek translation of the Old Testament? Since New Testament Koine Greek is not identical to the Greek of the Septuagint, this seems to be a reasonable focus for understanding the word.
I cannot agree more with much of your approach here! Because the discussion is on inerrancy, I may be inadvertently coming across as defending the Bible as the proverbial rule book or (gag!) “ gods little instruction book.“
If I had time, I would love to discuss at great links the way God reveals himself through poetry, through narrative, through all sorts of stories, parables, challenges, through curses (including curses directed at him!) Through laments, confessions of sin, records of sin, through doubts, through desperate prayers, Through songs and Psalms of imprecation, and I could go on and on.
If pressed, I would still concur that all of the above were inerrantly revealed by God, although inerrancy is a singularly inadequate word for such a variety of genres. However, I would still endorse the concept, as I understand the laments, curses, doubts, etc., etc., All to be specifically divinely inspired and an absolutely true reflection and template for how God wants us to wrestle with him. And, contra Professor Enns, not simply a record of human experiences collected, but genuine human experiences specifically orchestrated by God to be an inerrant and authoritative reflection and template for how God invites us to pray,wrestle, doubt, etc.
For instance, my belief in the absolute truth and inerrancy of Scripture allows me to conclude certain parameters and guidance about how to offer deep, heartfelt complaints to God, that I believe to be what he has communicated. For instance, there is a place and manner to express the deepest doubt and despair and anger such as in Psalm 88, or such as in Job, in these cases, I understand God to have endorsed this kind of complaint as good, right, godly, and blessed by him.
Similarly, my embrace of inerrancy also informs me that the rebellious grumbling sort of complaining exhibited by the Israelites in the Pentateuch is not appropriate or godly, Given the displeasure and punishment God exhibited toward it. And walking that line of being as blunt and honest as Job but not fumbling in rebellion is tremendously insightful.
( in fact, this illustrates my other major contention with Dr. Enns. When he sees two theologies that are in tension, he seems to immediately conclude a hopeless contradiction due to irreconcilable conflict between different schools of thought. Whereas these very tensions are exactly what inform me of the various nuances.)
Now, all that said, I hope I have confirmed that I believe the Bible is much, much, much more than simply a collection of revealed nuggets of inerrant truths. But I do not believe it is less…
I see where tou’re foing, and in many aspects I don’t disagree… I think our divergence isn’t that I disagree with you taking the scripture as it was given, or recognizing (as I do) that many, many parts of it were not simply given as the proverbial “nuggets of transcendent truth” given in the simplistic way often suggested.
But I still maintain, that if there are no nuggets of truth whatsoever, we have no basis for believing in a resurrection at all.
More to the point, I think I would maintain that whatever your personal feelings, “nuggets of transcendent truth“ simply do exist in the Bible. I submit that this is indisputable.
Let me take one pretty straightforward example…
”I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Firstly, this is what I mean by a transcendent truth. There is no experiment, no observation, that we can do in this physical world that would be able to determine if that thief was going to end up in paradise or not.
Secondly…, Can we agree so far that with these words, Jesus was in fact communicating a discrete, objective, transcendent truth claim to this man? Dare we say, a “nugget” ofmtranscendent truth? Especially given he started the claim by saying, “I tell you the truth…”??
( yes, yes, even this nugget was in context, communicated for a particular purpose, and even it is open to plenty of discussion and interpretation. But if you follow me, there is still a basic truth claim underlying yet. Whatever Jesus meant, however we understand it, however metaphorical it may be, there was a specific truth Jesus was communicating, that we presume the thief grasped and understood. There is still a basic truth claim… Jesus was clearly not saying, “You are about to die and then you will completely cease to exist.” Or “today you are going to be thrown into hell.”)
And might we also agree, in this instance at least, that the thief may have been perfectly appropriate in “mining” the words Jesus spoke to him in order to embrace a specific nugget of transcendent (and very comforting) truth from his words?
And finally, Can you see where I’m going when I say, if your position (if I understand it) is essentially correct, and Jesus’ words cannot be understood as inerrant, nor in revealing transcendent truth in some objective way, then we have no idea, really, if Jesus was in fact “telling him the truth” or not. Perhaps Jesus may have spoken the truth, Or perhaps he was relaying a fabricated and erroneous belief in life after death that he had inherited from his culture, being as he was a first century Jew and limited in his ideas the same way we are?
Are you willing to go so far as to acknowledge that Jesus may have simply made a completely false promise to the thief on the cross, as he didn’t really know if the thief would be in paradise?
If so, I admire your consistency at least.
If not, then I submit that you are acknowledging at least in principle that real “nuggets” of transcendent truth can in fact be communicated by God, and received by the hearers.
I appreciate you are being very generous to Professor Enns. But I still find the scholarship atrocious. yes, the Septuagint is some years earlier, but given how familiar the authors of the New Testament, Paul in particular, were with the Septuagint, I find it unconvincing to argue that a phrase commonly used in the Septuagint could not inform us how the phrase could be understood or utilized in the New Testament.
More significantly, I find Dr. Enns specific phraseology very questionable. He specifies “the verb akouōfollowed by phōnē.” Why such a particularly specific formulation? Why not simply say the verb “akouō” never means “understand” in the New Testament?
Perhaps because there is a clear example right in the New Testament where the verb akouō does undeniably mean “understand”? And the only way to make his argument for a contradiction stick is to overcomplicate the comparison?
“Well, sure, akouō may occasionally mean “understand” in the New Testament… but not, um, let’s see…, akouō followed by phōnē! (Yeah, that’ll stick…) is never used that way in the the New Testament…”
I could similarly be overly and unnecessarily specific and get away with all sorts of accurate statements that are just as meaningless… for instance, I could quite accurately say, “ Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb akouō when immediately preceded by the negation word “not” (ouk) never means simply to understand.” And this would be accurate and correct. And meaningless.
Or I could say, “Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb akouō when in the aorist tense, never means simply to understand.” This would also be correct. And equally meaningless. Adding unnecessary qualifiers because it is necessary to maintain one’s argument I find terribly atrocious scholarship. At best, Dr. Enns seems unaware that the word akouō does in fact mean “understand” right in the New Testament. At worst, he is engaging in intentional grammatical sleight-of-hand to prove a point that is otherwise unsustainable.
I’m afraid the argument remains simply ludicrous to me, however it is sliced.
Daniel, I think I’m getting repetitive in our inerrancy discussion, so I won’t try to go through it all again. I’m happy to see we agree on Scripture’s diversity and that “inerrancy is a singularly inadequate word for such a variety of genres.”
You seemed unsure whether I believe God can communicate truth through Scripture, so let me clearly say that I believe God can and God has. If you’ll allow one sentence more of repetition, “I still come to believe ‘transcendent truths’ due to what the Bible says.” For me (and perhaps for that thief as well), Jesus’ words and Scripture can do this without winning any philosophical games about what really revelatory revelation must look like.
But moving on.
I don’t think I was. I just wasn’t so desperate to reveal an error that I would hand-wave away very reasonable and legitimate alternatives.
I’m not an expert in any language, much less biblical Greek. If only we had a Wycliffe translator around… @Christy
But to approach the question generally, I don’t think it that unusual for a companion word to limit the likely meaning of another word. The many possible meanings for “stars” are cut down somewhat when it’s followed by “sky.” While the Greek angelos may mean angel or messenger, when followed by kyrios it’s almost certainly going to be an angel.
Now whether something similar is going on with akouō and phōnē, I don’t know. But since these are common words (each with multiple meanings) that appear hundreds of times in the New Testament and over a hundred times together, the suggestion doesn’t seem unreasonable or overly specific.
Except when Hagaii is referred to as “the messenger of the Lord…”, or the priest in Malachi 2:7…
But yes, your observation is quite true in general, but exceptions even to such specialized phrases as “ἄγγελος κυρίου” above should give pause to thinking that these are ever hard and fast rules. But in general, yes, a very good observation, and in general you are correct. Even in English the context of the words surrounding can nuance the precise meaning of the word being considered.
Now I might also observe that in my own study, there are numerous words that mean “mentally comprehend”
Or “grasp”, I.e., understand the concept of an idea (as in, “I do not understand what I do.”). But so far as I can tell, if one wants to communicate the idea of “understand” as in comprehend the meaning of a language, akouō is the only word used for that particular implication or nuance, whether in LXX or NT. Point being, unless I am missing something (someone correct me if I am mistaken), if Luke had in fact intended to say that “they did not understand” what was said, “οὐκ ἤκουσαν” is precisely the phrase he would have used.
But the fact that akouō and phōnē appear together repeatedly to mean “understand” throughout the LXX should give pause to the idea that somehow in the NT all of a sudden the one word limits the meaning of the other in the way required by Professor Enns’ claim. Specifically, in the LXX, the phrase akouō with phōnē appears to be the exact formation used when needing to communicate that we don’t understand the language of another people (akouō appears without phōnē in 2Ki 18 to mean “understand”, but in that case the precise language (Aramaic) is referenced instead of the less specific “voice” (phōnē).)
Regardless, my observation still stands, that Professor Enns still strikes me as resorting to the kind of “this absolutely must mean only this” grammatical acrobatics that I usually only find in fundamentalists when desperately trying to prove a point that may or may not be there. But in this case to bolster his insistence that this is an unquestioned contradiction, and to delegitimize other quite reasonable solutions. Not to mention, we’re not talking about two authors contradicting each other, but the very same author… even questions of inerrancy aside, why not just give Luke the benefit of the doubt, and see it as a quite reasonable alternative that he wouldn’t make such an inept error… especially given the common use of the exact phrase in the LXX to mean “understand,” and the continued use in the NT of akouō to mean understand? At the very least, given all the complications, I cannot help but think any fair-minded observer, even if he is not convinced of the alternate explanation or proposed solutions, would stop short of insisting there must be a contradiction. I would not be so insistent of such a case being a bona fide contradiction in any ancient text, I would give the ancient author the benefit of the doubt and assume, especially if there is a reasonable solution, that maybe he was just nuancing something with his words.
As mentioned, my perspective may be tainted somewhat by my other reading of Dr. Enns, but this kind of “fundamentalist” reading (“there is only one possible interpretation, people!”) of the text in order to insist on an error, problem, or contradiction I have found to be very common with him. I consistently find him inexplicably ignoring very obvious alternative explanations in order to maintain his insistence on errors, such as classifying simple and obvious omissions of material as “contradictions”. In this case, I simply can’t see how any fair minded observer could not notice that the very phrase under consideration is the very one used throughout the LXX when one wants to say “understand the voice,” that the word “akouō” is still used in the NT to mean “understand,” but in Acts 22, “No, no! Here the word akouō must mean hear! It must! Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a contradiction!” I find it terribly ironic, but I only find the more extreme fundamentalists to be similarly insistent of their linguistic interpretations in order to insist on their particular theological dogma.
Daniel, I don’t really understand why it’s important for Enns to be wrong on this. Say he’s right, so what? How does that challenge inerrancy?
The plasticity of the term in its CSBI form allows a whole grab-bag of ways to still see the passages as inerrant in spite of differing on this point:
“standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose”: it’s not the purpose of the accounts to tell us details about the men around Paul, but to tell us about what happened to Paul!
“lack of modern technical precision”: there’s no need for such small details to exactly match.
“observational descriptions of nature”: one of these accounts gives the way it appeared to Paul, not the way it actually was.
“reporting of falsehoods”: Acts inerrantly states the truth in 9:7 and inerrantly reports Paul’s errant words in 22:9.
“literary styles of the writers” and “literary forms and devices”: perhaps one account is using a bit more creativity in the telling than the other.
“applies only to the autographic text of Scripture”: perhaps there’s an error in transmission in one or the other text.
With so much wiggle room, why press for a rigid harmonization? Maybe it’s because while the CSBI definition allows all these things, they’re mainly brought out as last resorts. Only when rigid harmonizations completely and obviously fail does one fall back.
But in the process, we end up focused on minutia and miss the intent of Scripture. Defenses of inerrancy, as well as claims of errancy, tend to lead to such minutia. I truly think we gut the Bible of its power to shape us when we use it this way.
Randy, sorry about my previous rant, that one item just triggered one of my deepest peeves, and had me getting on a soapbox of a sort, but hopefully I’ve calmed down a little bit!
Let me address what I think is a far more substantial and a significant concern I have with Professor Enns overall position. This did not come out so much in the inerrancy book, but is the larger consequence of his philosophy that he described therein… so if you will permit me to draw on other sources to make this observation. And this also may address the divergence of thought between myself and Marshall that He and I have been discussing.
Back on Dr. Enns blog some years ago, he once posted what I found a brilliant and very meaningful list of top 10 OT passages. The same passages resonate deeply with me. They might not be the same top 10 I would pick, but they are all in a similar vein, and reflect similar ideas, that are very near to my heart, as they show that God invites us to question, wrestle, not look for simplistic answers, lament, etc.
You can find the list here, I’d encourage you to read through it:
Now, as much as I resonate with the spirit and message of the passages themslves, I am troubled because Dr. Enns overall approach to (or “against”?) inerrancy actually undermines our ability to embrace these ideas as something we could have confidence in, or as something God himself has revealed he wants us to do. If Dr. Enns position is right, these ideas are not God’s perspective on how we should approach him, rather, they are a collection of how various humans, bound by their culture, chose to reinvent God in ways that were useful to them at their times. No more or less than the views of the violent tribal conquering God Dr. Enns wants to reject. They are not true, they are a record of human opinion.
I wrote a comment on his blog regarding that concern at the time, and thought I was being respectful, but he ended up deleting my comment. Perhaps he thought I was just being a being a troll, or perhaps he felt I’d shared too much personal information. Either way, no harm. But the basic theological concern I expressed at the time I still hold. Below is the comment I wrote at the time in response to his article…
It is not, really. It is just one of my absolutely biggest pet peeves in the entire world and I had to vent when I found that. Sorry.
Only real point being, that if the Bible is so full of problems and contradictions that we can safely reject the idea of inerrancy, there is no good reason to jump on a supposed problem passage that has an obvious, reasonable, and organic solution, and resort, whether consciously or unwittingly, to doing exegetical contortion, selective reading, or wild manipulations to insist there really is a contradiction there. It is about “presuppositional question begging,” of a sort. Someone who approaches evidence with a genuinely open mind, and concludes the Bible is too erroneous at core to be called inerrant… I can discuss that with someone all day long.
But when someone goes down this exegetical road, it tells me they want to conclude contradictions, they want to see them whether they’re really there or no. Such a person would not recognize an inerrant Bible if it in fact were so inerrant.
Here I go on my soapbox again, please forgive me… but perhaps this can illustrate my issue, as it is perhaps the worst example I’ve ever seen… and to make matters worse, Ehrman explicitly calls it his “textbook case” of an irreconcilable contradiction. From Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted…
Right. And what Ehrman failed to notice is that 16 verses later, John also tells us what he means by the phrase: “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day).” (John 19:31).
So Mark has Jesus dying on the day of preparation before the Sabbath, and John has Jesus dying on the day of preparation before the sabbath. Nicely done with this “textbook” contradiction.
This not from some neophyte undergrad student with an axe to grind… this in a published book from the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies. There just isn’t an excuse for this. Much as I’d like to, I simply can’t find a way to be generous: I’m forced to conclude this is either the height of ineptitude, or downright academic dishonesty. But either way, it betrays an unwillingness to see what he absolutely should have been able to see, if he was interested whatsoever in what is true. It gives me the impression of someone so desperate to find a contradiction at all costs, it blinds them to being able to read even the most obvious parts of the text.
To borrow from C. S. Lewis… “After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? … The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read…Through what strange process has this learned [scholar] gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a [harmonious account] if it were there? … These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight. ”
So it is significant to me because when someone makes this kind of error. it calls into question, to me, whether or not I can trust anything in their entire approach. I start to feel like I’m not talking to someone who wants to know what is true, but a person with an agenda intent on arriving at a predetermined conclusion.
And this applies to either liberal scholars or fundamentalists like me. I simply don’t have patience with anyone on whatever side of the theological spectrum, who manipulates data, handwaves evidence, ignores counter-examples, or engages in convoluted logic in order to maintain their desired position.
(As I earlier accused Al Mohler of doing, after all… )
By the way, not sure if I mentioned it above, but I completely agree with Enns critique of Mohler’s section: “Mohler’s essay is on one level difficult to respond to because it is largely devoid of argumentation, resting rather on a collation of unexamined assertions.”
Let it not be said that my critiques are not equal opportunity, at least?
To your other points, and I apologize in advance, brevity has never been my strength…
For what it’s worth… The idea of those clarifications aren’t to give us crazy fundamentalists more fudge room to gloss over difficulties, but simply means to use the standard rules and conventions of basic, natural, “normal” communication that we use in every day life. I don’t accuse someone of being a liar if they accurately report a falsehood, use a figure of speech, describe a sunrise, or say that pi is 3.14. These standards are simply to defend scriptural inerrancy from pedantic, sophomoric, or banal critiques, not to give us fundamentalists more room to fudge over obvious fallacies.
If Luke has said, and meant in the very same manner, in Ch 7 that the men heard a sound, and said and meant meant in Ch 22 that they actually heard no sound… this is a bona fide contradiction, and thus an error. (I.e., B cannot be both A an ~A at the same time and in the same sense).
I don’t categorically disagree, and I have seen plenty of churches that show no love, no kindness, no passion for God, no understanding of how to wrestle with him, how to show mercy or compassion to others, how to exhibit the fruits of the spirit…
But they’ll tell you at the drop of a hat that they know their King James Bible is inerrant!! They might not have a clue what is in it, granted…
I personally don’t care much if Jesus did or didn’t tell his disciples to take a staff (I tend to think that bears the hallmarks of an early copyist error in any case). However, I do care about whether God has, or has not, actually and in fact invited us to pray in the manner of psalm 88, or lay our complaints to him in the manner of Lamentations 3. I care about whether or not Gods pronouncement about Job, “He has spoken about me what is right”, is or is not a true assessment from God’s point of view. I care about whether it is in fact true that “he will wipe every tear from our eyes.”
If these things are actually true, this is very significant. Are they true, because they are what God wants us to believe and examples from him of how he invites us to experience him? Of course they are clearly the result of human experience. But is that all they are? If they are they simply the erroneous inventions of human religious speculation… then I find no comfort in them. They are just wishful, speculative thinking.
But if, beyond being the result of human experience, they are also the God-breathed and absolutely true word from him that shows us absolutely truly (I.e., without mistake, and dare I say, inerrantly) how he invites us to relate to him, cry with him, yell at him, trust him, etc… then I can find comfort and guidance, because this is actually guidance from God, not simply the opinions of long dead men and women.
One reason is simple courtesy. I would not claim that Luke contradicted himself between chapter 7 and 22 for the same reason I would not so quickly claim a similar contradiction in Josephus or Thucydides, if obvious alternatives were available. It is just impolite.
Not to mention, the moment I conclude a contradiction, I am also claiming I have nothing more to learn, and my knowledge of the situation, language, idioms, and historical details so sufficiently surpasses that of the original author, that I know myself to be right and him to be wrong. On the other hand, with a bit of humility, it is possible, just possible, that I might be missing something, and if I continue to pursue various possibilities without concluding a contradiction, I might actually learn something before I’m done! (Hey, hey, hey!)
Scholars of past generations had conclusively determined and concluded that the book of Daniel had simply invented this fictional Belshazzer character. In that case at least, we now know that these scholars were the ones that had something to learn from the book of Daniel. This has nothing to do with inerrancy, but simple humility.
For the reasons above, I am very hesitant to simply conclude contradictions in any source unless there are clearly no alternatives. But that being said, I am also hesitant to force any sort of artificial harmonizations either, especially in biblical text. I for one would not “press for rigid harmonization.”
All that being said, I personally find the Acts 22 situation rather straightforward… given the common use of language, added to the unlikelihood of so generally careful a historian as Luke making so inept an error, and the simplicity of the option, that acts 22 very likely means simply “did not understand“. however, even there, I am not asserting a final conclusion, I would hardly claim to know that with any kind of absolute certainty, dare I commit the same fallacy I am accusing others of making!
Put another way, I would be just as peeved and ready to critique Professor Enns if he were giving similar treatment to a supposed contradiction in the Quran. If he were ignoring or arguing against a very reasonable alternative, using similarly spurious linguistic arguments, I would be just as peeved. Maybe I wouldn’t take it quite so personally as I do with My Bible, and might not be as interested, granted, but I would object just as strenuously and find myself just as peeved with that kind of argumentation.
At least in some cases, I think this can work the other way around. Take the two proverbs with contradicting advice on how to answer a fool. When I conclude these proverbs are truly different pieces of advice that should not be harmonized, I need to wrestle with the tension between them, discern what truth each one reveals, and how and when each should be applied.
If, instead, I’m committed to the idea that they cannot contradict, I have halved the revelation within them. I get to choose which one has the truth. All that remains is to pick a technique to bend the other proverb into the shape of the one I prefer.
Many will not do this with proverbs, but they will with narratives. And by so doing, they blind themselves to why the inspired authors may have chosen to frame things differently. They take control of what the real story actually is and how the inspired words will be made to serve that story. Once complete, they now have two (or more) places where the Bible confirms that what they believed all along is right.
Not all inerrantists do this. But it is a severe temptation, especially when inerrancy moves from a belief about the Bible they love to the reason they love the Bible.
My point isn’t that inerrancy necessarily leads to this, but that it can be as fertile ground for a condescending approach to Scripture as the other hermeneutics that spawned it. Can Enns’ approach or my approach lead to this same danger? Absolutely. But inerrancy is no guard rail for this danger. If anything, inerrancy makes it harder to see the danger because, after all, one’s view of Scripture is obviously so much higher than those others over there. Enns knows his readings are subjective and to some degree he picks and chooses. His critics often see it in him but can’t see it in themselves.
I think we essentially agree here, though it sounds like we have a semantic disagreement. If you recognize (as I do) that those two proverbs each have a different truth and should be applied in different ways, etc., that there is a tension between them, but each contains a different nuance, and both can and ought be applied at different times in different situations, ways, etc…
The way I use language, I would say you just have harmonized them. Similarly, if they were a bona fide “contradiction” in the classic sense of the word, then by definition, at least one of those statements must be false. Since you and I both seem to agree that they are both true in different ways, the way I use language, I would say that we both seem to agree that they are not, in fact, contradictory. But I never want to argue over mere semantics, just clarifying that I think we essentially agree here, even if we’re using different language.
addition: also, the way I’m using the language… if they did in fact contradict, then by definition I would have to choose one over the other, as I would conclude by definition that they couldn’t both be true. But, if I’m committed to the idea that they cannot contradict, then by definition I must rather be committed to the idea that they both must be true, albeit in different senses. But I still think this sounds like a semantic difference at core, yes?
It was an amazing (inerrantist) Professor I had in seminary that healed me of my “former fundamentalism” in that regard. Coming from my undergrad, I certainly assumed that differences in narratives needed to be reconciled, ironed over, etc. and honestly, I had no idea what to do with the significant differences, like the different order of Jesus’ temptations or the radically different impressions of King Manasseh between Kings and Chron.
My inerrantist professor (a Harvard OT PhD, no less), took great pleasure in rubbing our noses in the hardest of these narratives for our simplistic fundamentalist style of inerrancy to deal with. Hopefully, today, I’ve grown from that and have learned to absolutely love what can be learned from such (inerrant!) divergences, of the different intent of different (divinely inspired!) authors, without the kinds or artificial and forced harmonizations I once felt compelled to seek.
Here, I think we absolutely concur, with one minor exception…
Thank you for your note. Mr Fisher, I am so sorry to hear about your mother’s suicide.
I am all the more deeply certain that you take things in this range very seriously and, indeed, personally.
I do respect your position. I also appreciate the ability to discuss things in a safe place, like Biologos.
I have not been able to read your notes on Enns’ Greek argument. I, too, had wondered, like @Marshall, that it may have been a different Greek or even reference to the Hebrew; he is an OT scholar. Also, the benefit of Counterpoints is that you get to understand the subject better because of others’ rejoinders and critiques; if I’m not mistaken, someone else does address this in the book later (it’s been a year, so I’m not sure my memory serves me right). Unfortunately, I don’t have time to look it up yet; I’ll see what clears up in terms of work this weekend, but I’ve dug out my Inerrancy book from my shelf to review it (I did enjoy that read when I first waded through it)
Very much appreciated. Yes, i do take these things seriously, and love the study (and even diving into original languages tomthe degree that my very limited abilities allow me!) and I love thinking through the topic and the reasoning and logic behind them, so it is a pleasure to discuss with you; with someone who will challenge me as well. I hope to get into the third chapter of the book today.
A few more thoughts if useful to clarify, and again forgive me for the length of the tome… brevity has never been my strength.
And, as I mentioned tom Christy, I hardly claim to be some kind of expert in original languages (so I would certainly encourage anyone to fact check my claims!). But I did study Greek and Hebrew enough to be familiar enough and conversant enough with the study tools to do some basic fact-checking myself, when someone makes certain testable claims.
I will mention first, i think it safe to say that Hebrew has nothing significant to do with the question in Acts 9 & 22. The only possible connection is that we are told Paul gave his testimony in Hebrew in Acts 22, but we have no record whatsoever of what Hebrew words he used, we only have Luke’s record in Greek.
So a quick recap if it helps… . it is absolutely true that “akouō” in the New Testament overwhelmingly means “hear,” as in “hear a noise,” “hear a discussion,” “hear the words someone spoke,” etc. I did a quick word search, and found 428 times “akouō” is used in the NT.
In the vast, vast, vast majority of these cases, akouō obviously means simply “hear.”
There are a few cases (Which Enns also acknowledged in his essay) where it means or implies more of “listen to” or “heed”. E.g…
But there is only one (other) place in the New Testament where the word “akouō” means “understand.” (Which Enns did not acknowledge in his essay). But it is pretty unambiguous that this is what it means…
1Cor 14:2 - “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands [ἀκούει] him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.
Only 1 case out of 428 (leaving aside Acts 22 which is the passage under dispute, of course). But nonetheless, a clear and unambiguous counterexample that akouō most certainly can mean “understand.”
I hardly have the skill or tools to search extrabiblical writings to see how common this usage is in contemporary Greek outside of the New Testament. But I did a quick search of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint/LXX). Here also, the vast majority of Times akouō is used it means simply “hear,” and also, occasionally, “heed” or “obey”. But my word search also confirms that “akouō” is the word used to mean “understand” (as in a language); it is unambiguously used in that manner in numerous places throughout the Septuagint, including…
Gen 11:7 - Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand [ἀκούσωσιν] one another’s speech.
Gen 42:23 - They did not know that Joseph understood [ἀκούει] them, for there was an interpreter between them.
Deut 28:49 - The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand [ἀκούσῃ]
2Ki 18:26 - Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand [ἀκούομεν] it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.
Jer 5:15 - It is an enduring nation; it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand [ἀκούσῃ] what they say.
Ez 3:6 - not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand [ἀκούσῃ].
All that to say, “akouō” most certainly and undeniably can mean “understand,” when it is talking about understanding a language. It unambiguously does, in numerous places through the Septuagint, and in that one place in the NT.
Hence, my basic difficulty with Dr. Enns’ treatment on the topic. why not simply acknowledge this? when someone neglects to acknowledge such a basic fact in a discussion like that, it raises doubts about the method and motives. If you and I were formally debating a topic, and I knew of some evidence that might seem to support your position. I would not hide it. I would bring it up, acknowledge it, and then deal with it, explain why it in fact cannot support your position, etc. but if I just sweep it under the rug… it gives the impression that I am more interested in winning the argument, or in maintaining my position, than in seeking truth in the case we are discussing.
But not only does he not acknowledge the indisputable fact that “akouō” very well can, in certain cases, mean “understand.” But worse, he obfuscates the case by bringing in a very carefully crafted claim: “akouō + phōnē, in the New Testament, never mean “understand.”
Technically, his exact formulation is correct. But this is the equivalent of linguistic gerrymandering, he has to craft the conditions just right to rule out all the counterexamples that would disprove his point.
…For instance, If he had said, “akouō never means ‘understand’ in the New Testament,” this would be incorrect, as 1Co14:2 would prove.
…And he could not have said, “akouō + phōnē never means ‘understand’”, as this is also disproven by Gen 11, Jer 5, and Deut 28.
The only way for his statement to be technically true is for him to have used that very specific, convoluted formulation, “akouō+phōnē in the New Testament.”
If you’ll pardon the awful pun, this is simply a phōnē argument…
So to summarize, He doesn’t acknowledge that akouō+phōnē can mean “understand,” nor acknowledge that akouō can be found to mean “understand” in the NT… rather than acknowledge either of these two facts, he resorts to a convoluted and potentially misleading argument to prove his point while not acknowledging what would have been useful information if we were simply interested in what was true. This seems far more polemical than truth-seeking, to me.
And another observation, hopefully this is not too technical… What is especially disingenuous about this argument is that, as mentioned,
akouō only means “understand” in one (other) case in the New Testament.
Therefore, to try to win the argument on a technicality , all one has to do is find something… anything, in fact… about the way that the word is used in Acts 22 that is not shared by 1Cor14, and poof! I have “proof” that this particular formation “doesn’t mean “understand” anywhere else in the New Testament!” But his isn’t that hard, because akouō only means “understand” in only one (other) place. As such, I could easily make any of the following arguments, and they would all be technically accurate…
Akouō is aorist tense in Ac22, and present tense in 1Co14. Therefore I can accurately state… “Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb akouō in the aorist tense never means simply to understand what was said!”
Akouō is 3rd person plural in Ac22, and 3rd person singular in 1Co14. Therefore I can accurately state…“Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb akouō in the 3rd person plural never means simply to understand what was said!”
Akouō in Ac22 is negated (has the word “not” (οὐκ) preceding it), but in 1Co14, the word is not negated (it instead uses the word for “none” or “no one” as its subject). Therefore I can accurately state…“Elsewhere in the New Testament, the verb akouō preceded by “ouk” never means simply to understand what was said!”
All those arguments would, technically speaking, be absolutely true and accurate, but I trust you could see, they would also be rather disingenuous and misleading.
I hope that is not all too complicated, I am simply trying to show how disingenuous it is to find a particular formation in one verse, and because that very specific formulation does not also appear the one other time akouō is used to mean “understand” in the New Testament (although it is used like that in the Old Testament!)… that this somehow proves anything interesting.
Now, I try to avoid imputing motive… but his specific formation seems a bit too convenient, and it at least gives me the impression that he intentionally crafted his words very carefully so as to gerrymander the conditions in order to make his argument.
But being as generous as I can, if it was not intentionally misleading, it is still an embarrassing error for a biblical scholar. Perhaps he simply missed akouō meaning “understand” in 1Co14 and/or akouō+phōnē throughout the OT, and his specific formulation of akouō+phōnē in the NT was just coincidental… even so, the fact remains that he did not give the alternate proposals a fair hearing, which led to his error. It still looks like a predetermined conclusion seeking an argument that might support it. He did not stop to entertain the harmonious possibility, and search out the data necessary, to open mindedly see if the alternate proposals for acts 22 to mean “understand” are legitimate. At worst, he disingenuously crafted an convoluted argument to brush that possibility aside, but at best he simply did not do his due diligence and assumed too quickly that these words could not possibly mean “understand” when in fact they clearly can. In either case, my basic criticism of his method remains. He seems all too quick in his desire to conclude a contradiction , And seems unwilling to give a fair hearing to the possibility that there may not have been a contradiction at all.
And I don’t mean to focus on Dr. Enns in particular, but I find this basic habit common among those who critique inerrancy (such as Ehrman’s atrocious claim I referenced above). There are genuine difficulties that don’t have very obvious solutions, I will of course grant. But when someone insists in reading a contradiction into a passage where very obvious, supported, and natural alternatives exist, and needs to resort to faulty or spurious reasoning to do so… it gives me the impression of someone who desperately wants to believe in Biblical errancy. (In much the same way as I perceive Mohler and others as desperately wanting to believe in Biblical in-errancy!)