Inerrancy & High Views of Scripture

I’m wondering if one must hold to the doctrine of inerrancy in order to hold a high view of Scripture?  What exactly does a high view of Scripture entail?  Is belief in the inspiration of Scripture enough to place one’s view in the high category?  Does one have to hold a somewhat Docetic view of Scripture (i.e. all God, no man involved) to have a high view of Scripture?  Would a simple belief in the accuracy of Scripture constitute a high view? 

I’m not sure that I know the answers to these questions, but if asked I would affirm holding a high view of Scripture.  I personally do not believe in the doctrine of inerrancy (especially as defined in the Chicago Statement) but I do hold to the truthfulness of Scripture.  I believe that the Biblical writers accurately recorded things to the best of their knowledge and in the context of their culture.  This means that I don’t sweat the small stuff like seeming ignorance concerning modern scientific discoveries — these writers would not have been knowledgable of certain issues (e.g. cosmology) and even if they were I doubt they would have cared much.

Likewise, I don’t believe that God was the only one active in the process of producing Scripture.  I believe that the Bible is a very human book in as much as it is a very divine book (or rather anthology).  Yes the Holy Spirit moved upon the authors and caused them to produce the books we call Scripture, but they produced them in their languages, in light of their cultures, with their words, expressing their emotions, etc.  For the most part I am highly skeptical of any claim that Biblical writers knew what they were writing was inspired by God to begin with (apart from the obvious ‘thus saith the Lord’ passages, but even then the authors were simply recording what prophets said — this doesn’t necessitate that they knew what they were writing was God-breathed). 

I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  I don’t believe that the answers to all of life’s questions are found in the Bible, although I do believe all the answers to life’s most important questions are found therein.  I don’t believe that Scripture is sufficient to interpret Scripture for the modern reader.  I believe that this was true for the ancient reader because they had a sufficient familiarity with the context in which these things were written.  We on the other hand have to engage in historical study, sociological study, linguistic study, etc. in order to properly interpret what the ancients simply took for granted. 

I believe that I can say that I hold a high view of Scripture because I do believe that it is a record of God’s self revelation to mankind but certainly not the only revelation to mankind — ultimately, God revealed himself in the Incarnate Son and Scripture records this glorious truth.

What do you think?  What is necessary to hold a high view of Scripture?

B”H

13 thoughts on “Inerrancy & High Views of Scripture

  1. These are good questions, and I think we hold much the same position. I tried, in an earlier series of posts, to argue for a statment of inerrancy that involved our posture and practices, as a way forward. Here, here and here

    “I don’t believe that Scripture is sufficient to interpret Scripture for the modern reader.” I liked this point very much.

  2. Hey! Welcome to the dark side! j/k.

    I agree with about 99% of what you have said (and you have said it well). Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that’s not good enough. Sadly, many people have made an understanding of inerrancy like the Chicago Statement the litmus test for fellowship. That position, however, creates its own problems and locks people into a very narrow understanding of inspiration, which in turn limits some of the ways the Bible can be studied profitably.

    Critical biblical scholars and evangelicals need one another to keep from getting too wacky, but unfortunately, by and large they have taken separate paths.

    I could babble on forever on this topic so I will stop here. I did recently post some quotes on this very subject over on my blog.

    All the best,

    Sean

  3. Chris,

    Thanks so much for your comments. It’s truly an honor to have you stopping by my blog!

    In your first post you said:

    Stricter formulations of inerrancy do not necessarily facilitate healthy interpretation. It is a hermeneutical stance without facilitating a hermeneutical skill and healthy hermeneutical habit. It may even hinder healthy, responsible interpretation with its harmonisation tendencies.

    I couldn’t agree more! It took me realizing that I had to do some serious twisting and turning to reconcile certain accounts that just didn’t need it, that helped to lead me away from fundamentalism. When I learned that the ancients weren’t nearly as concerned with technical precision as we are I found that Scripture became an even MORE trustworthy document! Armed with this understanding I no longer had to think up fancy ways to explain how many times the rooster actually crowed before Peter’s denial. ;)

    I’m also very moved by your position on how our view of inerrancy should translate into our daily living and practice. You said in your third post:

    The statement of ‘inerrancy’ thus doesn’t attempt to describe scripture alone, but to provide a trajectory of meaning which supports healthy practice and posture. Indeed, put like this I suggest that my statement should encourage a higher view of scripture than the Chicago version, for example.

    This was truly revolutionary for me — I had never even considered the implications that practice would have on our view of Scripture. I’m very persuaded by your remark that this should encourage a higher view than the one presented in the Chicago Statement! Awesome stuff — thank you for that!

  4. Sean,

    I couldn’t agree more. Just two days ago I had a sister in the Lord tell me that I amazed her and when I thanked her she responded by telling me that it WASN’T a complement!

    What led up to these comments was my questioning her about a comment she made in regard to God’s inability to ‘look upon sin’. I simply asked what that meant and if God couldn’t look upon sin then how does he judge it? Her response was basically, ‘the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!’ For me to even question a particular interpretation of the Bible (let alone its inerrancy) caused her to view me as if I was some sort of heretic.

    Truth be told, if I shared my belief with many of the members of my own church I’d probably be thrown into the middle of a circle only to become the object of an exorcism.

    I’ll be checking those quotes now… always a pleasure!

  5. I am pretty much right in line with you in our views on Scripture. I would say that I have a very high view of scripture and yet I do not hold to inerrancy in the way it is usually defined. But to answer one of your questions, I think that all who believe in inerrancy have a high view of scripture by definition, but that not all who have a high view of scripture believe in inerrancy. I’ve had a couple of posts pretty recently about this on my blog. Your final question is the fundamental one. I believe that a high view for me means that I believe it is the primary record by man of the most important events in the history of mankind: the interaction of God with man. Thanks for the post!

  6. By the way, I have noticed that all of us are posting about this issue on our blogs. At the same time, I am having these kinds of discussion with many of my friends who like me grew up in conservative Christian churches. I live in “The Bible Belt” of the US, by the way. Because of all this discussion, I wonder if there is a pretty large generational shift going on where inerrancy will be a minority view in 40 years or so. The hope is that the “high view” of scripture doesn’t go minority right along with it.

  7. Alex,

    Thanks for stopping by! That’s a good question concerning the generational shift. I would like to think that the younger generation is able to deal with the issues honestly and arrive at the truth regardless of traditional ideas that older generations have held to (sometimes blindly). As I see it, knowledge is increasing daily and this gives us all an advantage. I believe that we will see more people denying idiosyncratic statements concerning inerrancy like the Chicago Statement in favor of something a little less detailed and concrete. If you haven’t already then check out the links that Chris posted above. He’s definitely on to something there.

    I am also in agreement with you in hoping that a high view of Scripture doesn’t disappear even if a mass belief in inerrancy does. Regardless of whether or not we hold a strict view of inerrancy I still believe that Scripture is the ultimate authority for the believer in matters of faith and conduct. It is God’s revelation to us and as such we must revere it in the highest way possible — but this also means being absolutely honest with the text as well, even if that means dropping some heavily qualified views of inerrancy.

    P.S.

    I deleted your comment from the Stuff Worth Studying page only because that is really just a resource page, not a post. But I will reproduce it and answer it here.

    You said:

    Thanks for the resources. Question: What is the Babylonian Talmud and why is it worth studying?

    In a nut shell the Bablyonian Talmud is Jewish oral tradition that was written down and commented on by certain rabbis. It consists of the Mishnah and Gemara, the Mishnah being the portion of the oral law and the Gemara being the portion of the rabbis commentary.

    To answer the second part of your question, it is worth studying because it gives us insight into early periods of Rabbinic Judaism. These ideas were really just continuations of the Pharisaic movement that existed in Jesus’ day. It is also worth studying because it helps us to understand some of the ways in which Orthodox Jews interpret Scripture and history.

    And for me it is worth studying because I attend church in a town that has more Orthodox Jews than any other racial/religious group and it is home to the country’s most prestigious Yeshiva. So knowing something about their oral tradition helps me in dialogue with them.

    Hope this answers your question. :)

  8. Thank you for this refreshing discussion. I believe there is a shift happening referred to by Alex. And it is essential for us to guard our high view of Scripture as we deal with its contents in a more intellectually honest way. We mustn’t let the baby go with the dirty bath-water. I have confidence that young thinkers like yourself will take care to preserve the Scriptures through this sea-change.

    This is not just a generational thing. Many of us “over 50” people have struggled with issues of intellectual honesty and borderline bibliolatry most of our lives. The current discussions happening all over the Christian blogs is, I believe, steering the church in a healthier direction. You are right on when you write, I believe that we will see more people denying idiosyncratic statements concerning inerrancy like the Chicago Statement in favor of something a little less detailed and concrete. It is interesting to me to see how even the authors of the Chicago Statement (like Packer) hedge and squirm when forced to deal honestly with their own statements. They qualify and modify them so much that the Statement ends up meaning nothing at all. It should never have been written!

  9. Cliff,

    Good to know that the old folks ;) are headed in the same direction! :)

    I think the Chicago Statement was written in an effort to preserve some sort of ideal regarding Scripture but ultimately it failed in what it set forth to accomplish — in the end I feel that it did more harm than good. It was a belief in a very rigid view of inerrancy that caused me to try and make certain passages compliment each other when in fact such an approach was never necessary in the first place.

    Why assume that one writer must be supplementing another? Why can’t we just accept that each writer recorded the events to the best of their knowledge, relying on the same/similar traditions and weren’t concerned with all the technicalities that us moderns are?

    I agree with you that the Chicago Statement has died the death of 1000 qualifications so as to make it almost meaningless (which makes the ETS adoption of it all the more perplexing). I think it would have just been easier to say that we can trust Scripture and leave it at that.

    In the end I’d rather say that everything in Scripture was truly stated although not everything in Scripture is a true statement — if that makes any sense…

    Thanks for your comments!

  10. Nick,

    You said “Armed with this understanding I no longer had to think up fancy ways to explain how many times the rooster actually crowed before Peter’s denial.”

    I just looked up John Gill’s thoughts on this event, and found he does have two interesting things worthy of our acknowledgment, though I’m not sure how helpful they may turn out to be in the end.

    He says “In Mark it is said, “that this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice”, (Mark 14:30) ; which may be reconciled with the words of Matthew, and the other evangelists, by observing, that the word “twice” is not in Beza’s ancient copy, which he gave to the university of Cambridge, nor is it in the Ethiopic version; which if allowed to be the true reading, the difficulty is removed at once; but whereas it is in other copies, no stress must be laid on this, nor is there any need of it: for whereas the cock crows twice in the night, once at midnight, and again near break of day; and which latter crowing being louder, and more welcome, and most taken notice of, is, by way of eminence, called the cock crowing; and is what Matthew here has respect to, and so designs the same as Mark does; and the sense of both is, that before the cock crow a second time, which is most properly the cock crowing, Peter should three times deny his master, as he did; see (Mark 13:35) , where cock crowing is distinguished from midnight, the first time the cock crows, and means the second time of crowing; and where Mark is to be understood in the same sense as Matthew, and both entirely agree. So cock crowing and midnight are distinguished by the Jews, who say F2,

    “that on all other days they remove the ashes from the altar, (rbgh tayrqb) , “at cock crowing”, or near unto it, whether before or after; but on the day of atonement, (twuhm) , “at midnight”:”

    and who also speak of the cocks crowing a first and second, and even a third time F3.

    “Says R. Shila, he that begins his journey before cock crowing, his blood be upon his head. R. Josiah says, he may not proceed (bwvyv de) , “until he repeats”; that is, until he crows twice: and there are, who say, until he trebles it, or crows a third time: of what do they speak? of a middling one, i.e. which neither crows too soon, nor too late.”

    F2 Misn. Yoma, c. 1. sect. 8.
    F3 T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 21. 1.

  11. Troy,

    But that’s exactly the kind of fancy explanation I was talking about. I don’t see it as necessary to explain away the discrepancy between the Gospels on this one. Rather than sweat the small stuff (which one has to do when they affirm a strict inerrancy) I’m content to just look at all the passages and know that they all affirm Peter’s denial. Why should it matter if the rooster crowed once or twice? What does that add to our understanding of the event?

  12. Nick,

    On a forum I regularly visit, a guy with the screen-name of Paidion said the following yesterday:

    Actually, there are no “ancient” copies of Mark 14:30.

    I possess transcripts of every Greek manuscript prior to the year 300, and none of them contain the verse.

    To the best of my knowledge, none of the Christian writers prior to the year 300 made any reference to the verse.

  13. I’d have to know how he was defining “ancient” to know what he’s talking about. If you could ask him to explain what he means that would be great. Also, if you could ask him exactly which MSS he’s talking about, that would be great too.

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