Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hermeneutics and Inerrancy Are Two Different Issues

I often hear neo-errantists argue that in order for inerrantists to truly exist, they must accept everything in the Bible as authoritative and applicable to their lives today. To say that some things are no longer authoritative is to deny that they are inerrant truths or goods. Thom Stark makes this argument in his book, but I've heard many others use it as though it were somehow a good argument (thus vindicating my claim that biblical scholars need more training in cognitive thinking skills).

This argument is just so poorly thought out, but it is obviously a complete non sequitur to say that if one does not apply a truth, he does not believe it is an inerrant truth.

Here's why this doesn't work out.

Inerrancy has to do with saying that what is said is true and good in the context in which it is said and to the audience to which it is said. In other words, inerrancy simply says that such and such a teaching in Scripture is true and good when it conveys such and such as true and good (i.e., that in particular contexts such is true and such is good when it comes to the situation into which it is spoken).

Authority has to do with whether such and such a truth and good is authoritative to its original audience (i.e., the original audience is to obey that inerrant teaching by believing that truth and/or do that good).

Applicable Authority has to do with whether such and such a truth is also applicable to every audience, either universally or that finds itself within that same situation.

What neo-errantists are talking about is not inerrancy, but something that is authoritatively applicable when they talk about people having to pick and choose what to believe and obey. It has absolutely nothing to do with a denial of inerrancy when one decides that something in the text is for a specific limited purpose and audience.

So the hermeneutics in dealing with passages has nothing to do with one believing in inerrancy. In fact, one can believe in the doctrine of inerrancy without even knowing what teachings are authoritatively applicable in the same way that one can say of a future utterance by God, "I don't know what God is going to say, but whatever God says is going to be true and good."

What neo-errantists are doing with their hermeneutic is to explain the non-applicable authority of a text by denying its original authority and its original truth. In other words, rather than allowing all scriptural teaching to contribute to a positive view of the truth and good, they merely deny that it was ever true or good, was never therefore authoritative, and therefore, is not authoritative now.

For the errantist, this leads to a lopsided view of the truth and the good (i.e., a condition that creates all forms of heresy and apostasy).

For the inerrantist, even though he may not see a text as authoritatively applicable due to time and circumstance of the direct audience, he still incorporates the truths and goods communicated to that audience into the overall picture of truth and good presented by the entire canon and Christian Church.

He does not, therefore, need to shed doubt on God's Word being truthful in all things it proclaims as true. And he further must think more deeply as to why those things were presented as true and good and how they fit into the larger whole. The errantist can just dismiss them, without much thought frankly, as lies and evil--thus making himself the arbiter of truth and good and rather than being changed by the Word of God, he transforms it to his own image, remaining as he is in his warped mind and sinful state.

So does it matter? According to my last paragraph, I believe it does. Approaching Scripture with the posture that it's wrong on many things is an arrogance that lifts one's views, gained from the zeitgeist, over Scripture--thus ensuring that he remains untransformed by the Word, as transformation must begin with the mind and a grappling obedience to that which is true ("Sanctify them in truth, Father. Thy Word is truth"). There can be no learning of the Word that steps outside of our cultural sensibilities, the truths and goods to which our peer groups adhere.

Errantists harp on inerrantists for harmonizing, and in the minutia I would largely agree with that criticism, as I don't think every little detail needs to be harmonized (although I think even that may be a more humble and scholarly approach in the end), but the act of harmonizing truths and goods is vital, simply because it expands the mind to consider how Truth or Good X fits into Truth or Good Y, thus expanding our own concepts of Truth and Good X. That's true whether the inerrantist sees those truths and goods as authoritatively applicable today or not.

I thus view this "everyone is picking and choosing" line of reasoning as invalid, having nothing to do with the subject at hand for those who believe in inerrancy.

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