affirming inerrancy

Following up on my earlier post on the topic of inerrancy, Darrell Pursiful has recently posted on the topic and I, since I largely agree with his position, I encourage you to read it.

To expand briefly on my thinking on the topic, some formulations of the doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture state that everything that the Bible affirms is true. Now it might surprise you to learn that I don’t have any major problems with this idea.

Of course, it must be properly qualified. By that I mean, if I say “everything the Bible affirms is true,” the necessary question that assertion raises is “what exactly does the Bible affirm?

For example, I would argue that the Bible does not affirm that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Rather, Jesus uses the language of his contemporaries in order to communicate with them. Here “language” encompasses an entire system of communication consisting not merely of words but of phrases, ideas, metaphors, images, and so forth. All these form part of the common world within which meaning is communicated in any particular context (which is part of the reason why translation cannot ignore culture). Jesus employed shared information to ensure that his meaning was correctly transmitted to his audience. In doing this, his comment about the mustard seed was no more an affirmation of a scientific truth than was his use of Aramaic (or whatever language) was an indication of some sort of divine preference for that language. Had Jesus opted to use different ideas because they were “scientifically correct” by modern standards the effect would have been similar to using a different language — the efficacy of his communication would have been compromised.

Differentiating that which is affirmed from that which is employed in order to make an affirmation allows for a doctrine of Scripture more in keeping with that reflected in the Bible itself. The focus is on the authority of the message, not the inerrancy of details used in order to communicate that message. Translations and copies of the autographs remain Scripture just as they were treated as Scripture by the NT writers and by Jesus himself.

2 thoughts on “affirming inerrancy

  1. Hello Fr Robert. I understand aNE cosmology as the background against which much of the Hebrew Bible was framed. As such it is reflected in the text in much the same way as the Hebrew language is employed by the text in order to effectively communicate with its audience. So, for example, when Genesis 1 refers to the רקיע ‘firmament’ I don’t see that as an affirmation of the existence of a solid barrier over the land, but instead a aspect of the cosmology of the ancient world employed to communicate the text’s primary theological and cosmogonical points. Hence I would argue that the text does not affirm the existence of a solid barrier, it reflects its contemporaries’ belief in it in order to effectively communicate with them.

    In other words, Gen 1 is not about instructing us in a correct cosmology since it simply states what its original audience would already have known.

    Consequently it is important for modern readers to understand something of the ancient cosmology in order to distinguish in the text that which is reflected and that which is affirmed, and further to understand how that which is reflected is used by the author to communicate his meaning.

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