Thursday, November 10, 2011

Some Brief Comments on the Nature of Inspiration and Inerrancy

My little two year old, Andrew, likes this annoying show called "Dino Dan," which is about this 8 year old dinosaur "expert," Dan, who tells everyone about Dinosaurs. Rest assured, if you're with Dan in a conversation about the weather, the economy, or any other subject matter, he'll be sure to turn it into a discussion about dinosaurs. In fact, if you make a comment about a dinosaur, he'll correct you if you make a statement that is not technically correct, even if the assertion you were making wasn't about the nature of the fact. And this is precisely why he's annoying, as language requires a give and take from both the speaker and the listener to grasp the intended assertion being made by the other participant. When one corrects technicalities that have nothing to do with the intended assertion being made, this participant is no longer cooperating, and is only seeking to prove you wrong and puff himself up. In fact, communication at this point becomes nearly impossible, unless both participants are omniscient, and have no need to make room for communicative accommodation for one another.

In other words, we're not 100% correct about everything we say, nor do we have as our purpose to be absolutely 100% correct in every statement made, since multiple statements are made to communicate a single point, not multiple points. Let me give you an example of this from our beloved Dan.

There is one episode where a pterosaur is lose in the Attic, and Dan's Mom comes down to tell Dan by saying, "There's a flying dinosaur lose in the attic." Now, Dan's Mom has just committed the unpardonable sin for Dan and those like him who need omniscience displayed in every assertion made in order to feel right with themselves, so he corrects his Mom by pointing out to her that such an animal is not a dinosaur, but a pterosaur. Forget the fact that Dan's Mom's assertion had nothing to do with classifying the animal. It's almost a shame that it wasn't a T-Rex about to eat Dan, and his Mom had called it a giant lizard.. Dan could then begin to correct his Mom that many paleontologists believe dinosaurs actually are closer to birds than reptiles right before the animal devoured him (I know that's a bit grim, but you need to watch the show to get the full flavor of my disgust).

What Dan is engaging in is a disruption of communication, not a clarification of it. That's why it's so ridiculously annoying. He's setting up rabbit trails that will take more time in the end, and lead people away from the originally intended message of the speaker than if he were to just accommodate the speaker and cooperate with her. Does his mom really need to be corrected about the correct classification of the animal when the intent of her message is to convey that a prehistoric animal is in their attic? Especially so, since Dan knows exactly what she means, and her communication is clear to him, even though it does not display omniscience.

I find this same attitude in discussions of the Bible's inerrancy. When most errantists want to argue that the Bible is errant, they pick up technicalities of language, as though the omniscience of God must be displayed in every statement made by the human author, thus transferring omniscience to the author himself. But this is not what the doctrine of inerrancy requires at all to be true. It has nothing to do with every statement made, but with every truth asserted. That's an important point. Don't miss it. Inerrancy is in the message(s) the Bible teaches, not everything a human author believes about the world, history, lexicographical methodology, authorship, etc. All of these are simply apart of the presentation of the message(s) of Scripture, not the message(s) itself/themselves. In other words, God accommodates to the understanding of the human author and his audience as non-omniscient humans, and participates in cooperation with us in order to convey/assert what is true. What is being asserted as true is the message. Let me give you an example of this from Scripture that some errantists often bring up:

In First Corinthians 10:4, Paul refers to a Second Temple tradition that the Israelites were followed by the rock that produced water in the wilderness. Hence, a rock that Moses strikes to get water appears twice in the journey, even though it is in different places, precisely, because it is following them around. He states:

and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

Now, is the allusion to the tradition the assertion that is being made here? In other words, is that what Paul's point is, or is it something else that is simply presented with the tradition as a point of connection with his audience. In other words, we must find Paul's point first and then ask if what he's purposing to teach the Corinthians in this passage is a history lesson about this rock. The answer is obviously, No. Yet, if that is not his purpose, why would anyone say that the text here is in error? How does one make an error in what he does not seek to communicate, other than a technical error that is irrelevant in terms of what he is communicating? If we look at the whole passage, it clearly is using the tradition to make a point about being in the presence of Christ, and yet not being saved (see vv. 1-12). That's his message. That's the divine message. Not the details he uses to present it. They exist only to communicate the message accurately to the audience that fully understands the point with the language used. And that is the point. Language/communication is filled with technical inaccuracies, mythological allusions, half-truths, simply because we're not omniscient, nor do we all share the same level of knowledge even with each other. Hence, in order to actually communicate with one another, we need to speak each other's language. If we fail to do so, we fail to communicate, and if that communication is important, a matter of life or death, then Dan is, and we are, going to be a snack for Big Bird.

Inspiration, the Scripture as "God-breathed," then, is God directing the words that are used to convey that message accurately, but has nothing to do with conveying it in the same cookie-cutter way, or even in the same place. Since a truth can be communicated in a million different ways, there is no need for absolute conformity in its expression, only success in its communication (which means to not accommodate in one's language is to fail to communicate truth). Likewise, it does not require absolute preservation of the exact wording or placement of the text (as some textual critics who believe in errancy require). Perhaps, the Pericope Adulterae (i.e., the passage about the woman who was caught in adultery) was in John. Maybe it was in Luke. Or maybe it wasn't in the Bible at all. Does that mean that I won't know that Jesus has compassion on sinners, or that He is forgiving, or that He didn't come to condemn the world but to save it? I think you know, if you are even somewhat familiar with the Bible, that all of those things are conveyed all over the place in the Gospels and throughout Scripture, so if the same message is conveyed with the Pericope in John, Luke, or missing, who cares? The point is that the Scripture is fully intact and preserved because it exists in its message(s). Inspiration simply exists to make sure that the ways it is conveyed (and there are many) accurately convey it. Hence, inerrancy is the logical outflow of inspiration.

Now, omniscience is displayed in the message (and we can believe or disbelieve it), as it conveys absolute truth, but it need not be displayed in the process of communication of the message in terms of straightening out every detail, as that would be obstructive to the understanding of both the human author and the reader/hearer, and would lead to an infinitely long book, which is a complete absurdity. God is not a God of confusion and disorder in terms of communication, and hence, He would not be trying to confuse His people with a bunch of (truly) endless rabbit trails/technical corrections. In fact, we must realize that we are not omniscient in everything we believe, and therefore, God's technical corrections have the possibility of being infinite. Try putting that in a book that contains a message necessary for finite beings to grasp in order to be saved by, know, and please God. The mere prospect becomes an absurdity to suggest, and yet, this precisely what many errantists want from the Bible, and if it doesn't produce such a ridiculous thing as an omniscient text, a text that would ultimately damn everyone, since no one would be able to get the necessary message(s) that were hidden in a sea of infinite corrections, then they refuse to give the Bible the status of being inerrant. Bah, Humbug! (I thought that was an appropriate response as we enter the Christmas Season.)

I don't care if Mark cited one author and quoted another. I don't care if Jacob believed painting poles a certain color could change the color of his sheep. I don't care if the biblical authors didn't believe the earth went around the sun instead of vice versa. That has absolutely nothing to do with what these texts are asserting as true in terms of their message. They make up the human package or presentation of the divine message. They are not the divine message in and of themselves, as they are not being asserted as true in context. The divine message(s) are what is inerrant. As long as it is understood within those presentations, whether the presentations are technically correct if we removed them from their purpose and then artificially set them up as individual assertions, is irrelevant to the actual message(s) being conveyed in context. So, no, Dan, I don't care if Jonah was swallowed by a whale or a fish. That's not the point. And btw, a flying dinosaur is swooping down and about to eat you for lunch. Care to correct me on my technical misinformation, or care to participate cooperatively and grasp the intended assertion I'm making in that statement?

It's time for both Dan and errantists to take the GRE exam and learn the difference between the sections on mathematics/analytical thinking and reading comprehension. One is concerned with technicalities and one is concerned with communication. They are not one and the same.

So if Paul actually believes that a rock followed the Israelites around in the desert, or if he's just using that figuratively, so be it. But if we miss the inerrant and authoritative message that he actually intends to convey, then we do so to our own peril (and willful obliviousness to how communication actually works).

As for me, I'd actually like to save myself from being eaten for lunch, so I don't really care if Dan's Mom calls it a dinosaur, pterosaur, or alien-monster with teeth, I choose to participate cooperatively with her and get the message being conveyed, and I'm going to respond accordingly. As for the Dans of this world, who refuse to cooperate and only wish to obstruct communication? Well, animals have to eat, don't they?

In short, when the lifeguard throws me a lifeline, I don't bother correcting him when he says, "Grab the Bobber," rather than "Grab the preserver" by saying, "Well, it's technically not called a 'bobber' per se, so I can't really trust what you've thrown to me will save me." Sounds like a solid argument, Genius, C'est la vie!

It reminds me of a guy who once said that, due to a grammatical error I once made, he couldn't trust that I knew what I was talking about when it came to the Bible. "Really?" I said, "Do you also speed up when the 'p' is missing from the 'Stop' sign?" As we can see, all that is necessary for the Bible to function as the inerrant authority of our lives is the sufficient accessibility of the language used to allow the speaker and listener to cooperate with one another so that what is intended to be communicated actually is. As such, we can easily see why hell is full of grammarians and Dino Dans, who missed the forest because they thought that some of the trees weren't planted as firmly in the ground as they ought to have been.

With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Thy mouth. (Ps 119:13)

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