« The Bible as the Christian Faith's 'Constitution' | Main | Another Hiker Lost in the Superstitions »

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Surely the acceptance of the doctrine of purgatory is not contingent upon the mere acceptance of the apocryphal books. There is also the matter of interpreting the books. Take the verses cited by Pastor Orsak. Tobit 12:8-9 in my Septuagint reads "It is better to give alms than to lay up gold: for alms doth deliver from death and shall purge away all sin (apokathariei pasan hamartian)." It is at least legitimate to ask, Alms to whom? Whose sin is purged? Similar and different questions surround Ecclesiasticus 3:30-31. II Maccabees 12:43-45 is relating the thoughts and actions of a man, noble Judas, and therefore, the potentially inspired author is arguably not himself espousing the doctrine.

I should note that I am no expert, and surely there are many good and defensible interpretations in favor of purgatory. My point is only that the scriptural evidence in the apocrypha seems scanty and requires interpretation, and therefore, its acceptance requires more than just a position on the canonicity of the apocrypha. I wish the evidence was better, since the doctrine of purgatory in my mind is so attractive and connects so many eschatological dots. But, with Dante, we have perhaps been given freedom to conjecture...

Thanks for the invitation to respond, Bill. A couple of quick comments:

Yes, Catholics appeal to the deuterocanonical books in support of the doctrine of purgatory. But these books weren't officially declared to be divinely inspired until the Council of Trent in the 16th century, at the very time the Reformers were challenging that doctrine (along with other questionable doctrines). Suspicious minds wonder whether this was mere coincidence.

I'm surprised that your correspondent is so eager to reject biblical inerrancy, since it's the traditional Catholic position and seems to be clearly affirmed by article 11 of Dei Verbum:

"Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation."

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

I understand that some Catholics have tried to argue that "for the sake of salvation" limits the scope of "without error" to a subset of biblical teachings. But the first part of the statement won't permit this reading, unless one is willing to allow the Holy Spirit to assert falsehoods.

Hello all,

I'm a first time commenter at this blog so please be kind! :)

BV said: "Scripture is a product of divine-human interaction. It exists contingently and does convey divine revelation. But it is not inerrant. It contains errors and defects that reflect the fact that it is a product of divine-human interaction. God may be an impeccable transmitter, but we are surely not impeccable receivers. There will be plenty of human 'noise' mixed in with the divine 'signal.' God is not the author of the Bible, various human beings are the authors, but some of these at some times are writing under inspiration and thus are drawing truths from a transcendent source. Although the Book contains divine revelation, it is not the Last Word.”

I agree that Scripture is a product of divine-human interaction, that it exists contingently and conveys divine revelation. I also agree that God is an impeccable transmitter and that we are surely not impeccable receivers. However, you draw some inferences from these facts that I’m uncomfortable with. You seem to be suggesting that because humans are rather more peccable than God than the Scriptures *must*, or it is at least highly probable, that it contains errors in the human reception and communication of the revelation from God. But why think that? I see no reason to believe that God couldn’t accommodate himself to his creatures so as to reveal himself in a way that they could understand and communicate properly. This is especially true if, like Dr. Anderson and myself, you are a Calvinist committed to theological determinism. (This solution has the added benefit of explaining how the Bible can legitimately be said to be the product of human authors while also being the produce of divine authorship.) But even if you reject compatibilism I see no reason to believe that God could not override a person’s libertarian free-will for a time so as to guarantee that the proper words to communicate his revelation are written. For these reasons I don’t think that human ‘noise’ would be a problem if God has decided to provide us with an inerrant revelation of himself. God can, as it were, draw a straight line even with a crooked stick.

BV said: “Nor is it impossible that divine revelation is to be found in such writings as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Dhammapada, not to mention 'inspired' philosophers such as Plato and Plotinus."

All truth is God’s truth so if there is any truth in any of these writings then, yes, it has some claim to being of divine origin. Reformed theology has a category for this, “natural revelation”, which covers all that has been revealed through the creation itself and is able to be grasped even by non-Christians, as opposed to “special revelation” which is, for lack of a better word, given “supernaturally” in the form of, say, the Holy Scriptures.

God bless,

David

Thanks for your comments, David.

>>You seem to be suggesting that because humans are rather more peccable than God than the Scriptures *must*, or it is at least highly probable, that it contains errors in the human reception and communication of the revelation from God. But why think that?<<

The Bible is highly uneven in quality and there are errors in it. That is easily explainable on my way of thinking. But if you insist that there are no errors, are you not committed to saying that there were miraculous divine interventions whenever anything was written down?

Here is a little question for you. There is a place in the OT where it is written that the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference is 1:3, i.e., 3D = C. Now we know that is false. Why didn't God cause the writer to get it right, or offer a better approximation such as 3. 15 or 3. 1?

What interests me is not the question whether the Bible is wholly inerrant since I cannot take seriously the notion that it is; what interests me is why anyone would feel it important to maintain that it is wholly inerrant. I suspect it is because many people have overwhelmingly strong doxastic security needs, and they simply cannot tolerate any openendedness in their theological views.

BV said: “The Bible is highly uneven in quality and there are errors in it. That is easily explainable on my way of thinking. But if you insist that there are no errors, are you not committed to saying that there were miraculous divine interventions whenever anything was written down?”
I was actually aiming at a far easier target – namely, that there is no good reason to believe that it is impossible for God to provide an inerrant revelation through human beings. The question of whether he did in fact provide such a revelation is another matter.
If I held to LFW and reconciled this with the inerrancy of Scripture using the possible solution I offered above then, yes, I suppose I would. There might be other ways of reconciling inerrancy with LFW but I’ll leave that for others to explore. However, as a Calvinist I’m not committed to the view that miraculous divine intervention took place every time that a Biblical writer put pen to paper. It could be brought about as naturally as God determines any other part of our lives.
BV: “Here is a little question for you. There is a place in the OT where it is written that the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference is 1:3, i.e., 3D = C. Now we know that is false. Why didn't God cause the writer to get it right, or offer a better approximation such as 3. 15 or 3. 1?”
I’m not sure of the passage so I can’t answer your question but if you can find it I might give it a try.
BV: “What interests me is not the question whether the Bible is wholly inerrant since I cannot take seriously the notion that it is; what interests me is why anyone would feel it important to maintain that it is wholly inerrant. I suspect it is because many people have overwhelmingly strong doxastic security needs, and they simply cannot tolerate any openendedness in their theological views.”
I’m sure that for many this *is* this is an important reason for holding to the inerrancy of their holy book of choice but I don’t think it needs to be. Most Christians that I’m aware of who have defended the inerrancy of Scripture are motivated by their understanding of theology proper. What does it say about God if he can’t communicate to his creatures so that they understand him? Why would God, who is truth, allow his revelation to contain falsity?
Also, I find it ironic that Christians, who are known for their belief in such mysteries as the Trinity, the hypostatic union, and the like are being accused of being unable to tolerate any ‘openendedness in their theological views!

I checked out the circumference objection you brought up. The passages in question are 1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2. But I don't think this is problematic to biblical inerrancy. The context seems to support that this is an approximation which is compatible with the view of inerrancy expressed in such documents as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1.pdf). I also discovered from a quick Google search that Maimonides tackles this very question. He writes: "You ought to know that the ratio of the diameter of the circle to its circumference is unknown, nor will it ever be possible to express it precisely."

A few quick notes:
1) One can interpret scripture however one wants. But it seems to me that at least in the 2 Maccabees 12 passage, the author lauds Judas' reasoning and actions, and it is reasonable for Catholics to claim this as Biblical support for their doctrine of purgatory. But I'll leave it up to whoever wants to read this to do so and decide for themselves.

2) I am not a Roman Catholic. I'm a protestant. I am not an inerrantist, either, obviously.

3) When the RC canonized the Apocrypha is irrelevant in my view, especially considering #2. What matters to me is simply this: without understanding the inter-testamental period in detail, much of what is going on in the New Testament remains hidden or murky. I mean it looks like the Romans, the Herodians, the sectarian nature of Judaism and countless other conditions just pop into existence. A full understanding of scripture isn't possible without a grasp of the events that are covered in, say, the Maccabbees. And much of Jesus' views on Heaven, apocalytpicism and the like seem to just have popped into existence, they look like a complete break with what came before, unless you have access to books like the Wisdom of Solomon.

4)The New Testament's use of scripture is fast and loose. There is, of course, no such thing as 'The Jewish Canon' from which to quote. For instance, the Book of Hebrews arguably misquotes Psalm 8 in Hebrews 3:6, except for the fact that he's not quoting the Hebrew Old Testament, but the Greek translation. The Bible as it is written for most Christians now has Psalm 8 and Hebrews 3:6 in disagreement with one another, because the "Old Testament" uses the Hebrew translation, and the New Testament is relying on the Septuagint. Matthew 2:23 quotes a scripture we don't even have access to. Mark 1:2-3 edits together two different prophecies, one from Isaiah and one from Malachi and attributes the mish-mash to Isaiah alone. Paul vivisects out sections of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26 and makes the quote mean the exact opposite of what it means in context in Hosea. Jude quotes from Enoch which is included in no canon except that of the Ethopian church, and Matthew 27:42-43 is either a reworking or Wisdom of Solomon 2:18-21 or the latter is a prediction of the former (in which case one would have a hard time arguing that they are not on equal footing in terms of authority). And on and on. As I pointed out, even in the Five Book of Moses, which were arguably taken as the most 'hard and fast' parts of the Jewish tradition, we see that Jesus claims that at least SOME of it came not from God, but from Moses himself. Non-messianic passages are made into messianic passages. Prophecies that deal with the return from Persia are changed to mean something about the time and place of Jesus. And Psalms that were never meant to be read as prophecies are turned into prophetic statements. If we are to treat scripture as a 'constitution' that has one inherent meaning for all time and that gives an unbreakable mold to our relationship with God, one has to wonder why the New Testament writers didn't treat the scriptures they had access to this way. And it is hard if not impossible argue that they did.

The idea that there was this set-in-stone scriptures that meant one thing for all time is just alien to most, but not all, of the New Testament writers. The New Testament writers for the most part didn't even THINK that way. It isn't at all clear in one moment to the next what they even mean when they are talking about 'the scriptures'. What can it mean, when they quote from sources we don't even have access to? Scriptures were more imaginative bases which were re-interpreted by the New Testament writers to help express what God was telling them in their own time.

5) Most Christians believe that the Canon was put together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That the construction of that collection of texts is rock solid because the Spirit was guiding those doing the collecting. But if the Holy Spirit can guide a group of men into choosing which books are 'true' and which are 'false', which are 'of God' and which aren't, then why can't that same Spirit guide me to know and do that which God wants me to know and do? If X justifies belief in the Canon, why do I need the Canon at all? Why is Scripture even necessary? Why can't I just have X and leave it at that? Scripture as a whole is only needed if we assume that mankind is fallible in his receipt of God's revelation. But then there is just as much reason to think that scripture itself is also fallible, though reliable, when it comes to said revelation.

David,

The link is bad: "Object not found!"

An approximation? Why such a bad approximation? Couldn't God have done better?

You allude to a good distinction; Could God have provided an inerrant revelation to human beings in a set of writings? Did God provide an inerrant revelation to human beings in a set of writings?

>>What does it say about God if he can’t communicate to his creatures so that they understand him? Why would God, who is truth, allow his revelation to contain falsity?<<

But such communication does not require inerrancy about every sentence (in oratio recta) in the Bible. It seems obvious to me that when Paul says in an epistle that it is an abomination for men to appear in church with heads covered and women with heads uncovered that this is not plausibly taken to be a divine revelation. Paul is merely expressing the prejudices of his time and place.

Joshua,

Thanks for your detailed coments. I find your remarks congenial and take your side over that of Prof Anderson. Of course, I am far, far below you both when it comes to knowldge of texts.

Why not a better approximation? I’m not sure what it would accomplish! So long as the writer is offering an approximation the critic will always be able to say “Well, why wasn’t the approximation a little closer?” which I don’t think is fair considering how no matter what approximation is given it could always have been that little bit closer. The question actually boils down to an assertion: if the writing is divine then it must be absolutely precise but I don’t think that this is defensible. God accommodates his creatures when he speaks to them so he does not speak with absolute precision in every case. It would be hopelessly unbearable for us humans in most cases and impossible in others, as this example demonstrates.

BV said: “But such communication does not require inerrancy about every sentence (in oratio recta) in the Bible.”

That’s true. However, I think it makes sense that Christians hold to the highest view of Scripture possible (especially when one takes into consideration the claims that Scripture makes concerning itself) until they are given defeaters for their view and are forced into accepting a lower view. This is supposed to be a divine book, after all!

Speaking from personal experience, whenever I’ve been shown what appears to be a contradiction I’ve been able to find a satisfying solution. Every time that this happens my warrant for believing in inerrancy rises and even insulates me from any prima facie contradictions I might encounter. It’s quite possible that should it be the case that I can’t find a harmonization of certain biblical statements that I’m simply not in an epistemic position to do so at that moment but it does not mean that I will never be able to find a harmonization or that no such harmonization exists. So my prior belief in inerrancy based on the Scriptures testimony to themselves, my belief that a Christian should hold to the highest view of Scripture possible unless his view is defeated, and my defeater insulator based on my experience of having discovered no errors in Scripture and being able to resolve every prima facie contradiction I’ve ever encountered provide ample justification for my belief in inerrancy. I can imagine that this belief could be defeated but it would require strong evidence.

BV: “It seems obvious to me that when Paul says in an epistle that it is an abomination for men to appear in church with heads covered and women with heads uncovered that this is not plausibly taken to be a divine revelation. Paul is merely expressing the prejudices of his time and place.”

I’m sympathetic to your view. It certainly does appear that way but, like so many other passages of Scripture, a little historical and cultural background goes a long way toward properly interpreting the text. Here’s a link to the infamous Triablogue where Steve Hays speaks to the issue of the universality of Paul’s teachings concerning head coverings (http://triablogue.blogspot.ca/2012/04/is-long-hair-shameful.html). Especially applicable are points (iii) and (iv). Paul’s concern is not with heads being covered or uncovered when they have an absolute moral duty to be otherwise. His concern was that the Corinthian church was creating a false impression of Christianity by their manner of dress.

Sorry about the link! I’m not sure what happened to the link but hopefully this one will work: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/chicago.htm

Dr William-a caveat if I may;
YOu say
"But such communication does not require inerrancy about every sentence (in oratio recta) in the Bible.
It seems obvious to me that when Paul says in an epistle that it is an abomination for men to appear in church with heads
covered and women with heads uncovered that this is not plausibly taken to be a divine revelation.
Paul is merely expressing the prejudices of his time and place."

The above paragraph seeks to distinguish Divine Precepts (DP) from mere Paulinistic Precepts(PP) founded on cultural/historical background.
Let's list 3 possible precepts that stand under evaluation as to whether they should be classified as DP's or PP's(p.s. if DP"S then they are divinely inspired,
if PP's then they are not but simply stem from cultural/historical factors).


p1. woman speaking from the pulpit
p2. woman with head covered
p3. man with long hair

You would categorize p1,p2,p3 as being PP's. However!here's the chaos that ensues if that's the case:
A.why were there additional books written besides the main Gospels if they have no Divine merit whatsoever? (is it a mere wordgame?)
B.Indeed, if that’s the case, why did PAUL find it so ESSENTIAL to require such precepts to be implemented then?
C.WHat sort of moral value did he see in it?
D.Did he write for the sake of writing?
E.Did he have a tyrranical need to control?
F.DId he want to copy Plato? Questions are endless..

I've just noticed that the link to the Triablogue post is broken because the closing parentheses has been included as part of the hyperlink. The link should work now: http://triablogue.blogspot.ca/2012/04/is-long-hair-shameful.html

Thanks for your patience. I'll get the hang of this eventually!

All this talk of Biblical inerrancy, errancy, and PRIMA FACIA readings reminds me of something Bill Craig said about the Hebrew text.

He writes:

“In Hebrew thought they have this extraordinarily strong sense of divine sovereignty in which everything that happens in a sense can be attributed to God, but they don’t see this as antithetical or exclusive of human freedom by any means. A beautiful illustration of this is the story of Saul’s suicide in 1 Samuel 31:4, 5 and 1 Chronicles 10:14. In Samuel it describes Saul as he sees the Philistines about to take him and so in order to avoid capture by the Philistines Saul falls on his own sword and commits suicide. In the Chronicles account we have the same story with Saul committing suicide but the Chronicler adds this commentary, “thus the Lord slew Saul” (1 Chronicles 10:14).”

If Craig is right then we should distinguish God’s directive will (a will in which He is the effective cause of an event) from His permissive will (a will in which He permits the acts of His creation). In the illustration above, both Saul and God are responsible for the suicide – Saul more directly of course, right? But would a prima-facia, “means what it says, says what it means” hermeneutic tell you this? Clearly not!

How about this Jewish example: We all remember the Joseph story, but how many of us remember the explicit contradiction buried in one single text? Apparently, God AND Joseph’s brothers are responsible for the same exact thing–Huh?? And I quote, “As for you, YOU MEANT EVIL against me, but GOD MEANT IT for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Really? An explicit contradiction in one single verse!? Was the author that obtuse? OR, perhaps, we need to get used to the way early Jews wrote about these things.

And then, of course, this raises questions about how we’re to think about the language of “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart” – In fact, elsewhere we find that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, remember?

Folks, language has its limitations and not everyone writes with Western precision. We should get used to this.

“It means what it says, says what it means”? No, not necessarily. Unless you’re comfortable with explicit contradictions like the ones noted above. No wonder Bart Ehrman has managed to find so many mistakes – he reads Scripture like an okie!


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”

Yet if someone wants to be westernly pedantic (viz. if someone expects the ancients to write with lawyer-like precision) then this verse entails a contradiction, since “trusting God” entails that one has leaned on his/her own understanding..

Folks, we get in trouble when we expect the ancients to write just like us.

Bill,
As a philosopher, I'm curioius, why would you give this book a special privilege over any other ANE texts or literature?

Learning that Bill sides with Joshua is obviously a bitter blow, but I console myself with the thought that Jesus sides with me. :)

Cheeky, I admit -- but there is a serious point here! As a Christian, I'm committed to following the teachings of Christ, including Christ's view of Scripture. And Christ's view, put simply, was that Scripture is God's Word: what Scripture says, God says. (Note that this point is independent of the question of what counts as Scripture, i.e., the question of canon.) For the full argument, see John Wenham's excellent study, Christ and the Bible (now in its 3rd edition). One of the many important texts here is Matthew 19:4-5, in which Jesus attributes to God the narrator's words in Genesis 2.

All this to say, Christ had a strikingly high view of Scripture and I don't want to have any lower a view of Scripture than Christ. If that makes me guilty of "bibliolatry", I can live with that; I'm in good company. If I'm right about Jesus' view of Scripture, it seems that Joshua is in the awkward position of thinking that his understanding of Scripture is better than Christ's (not to mention his apostles).

Of course, all this assumes certain things about the identity and authority of Jesus that many readers of this blog will not readily grant (although I would hope that Joshua and I have significant common ground here). Moreover, I offer these comments more by way of explanation than argument for my position: a position I believe is rationally defensible, but requires more elaboration than I have space or time for here. (I have addressed some of the issues on my own blog.) I'd also note that it was Joshua who raised the question of biblical inerrancy; it wasn't mentioned or presupposed by the original blog post ("Ecclesial Activism") to which Bill linked.

In any event, I apologize to Joshua for placing him on the wrong side of the Tiber. He raises some interesting and important points about the NT use of the OT, but I regard these as largely tangential to the matters at hand. Interested readers should consult the relevant entries in G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, eds, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament for the other side of the argument. And on the issue of canon I recommend Michael J. Kruger's Canon Revisited. (Full disclosure: Kruger is a friend and colleague of mine.)

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008

Categories

Categories

July 2019

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      
Blog powered by Typepad