Kierkegaard on the Bible’s “Carefully Contrived Discrepancies”

Here’s a little reflection, from Kierkegaard, for those of you interested in the issue of biblical inerrancy:

Like a good, theologically orthodox Lutheran, Kierkegaard accepted the Bible’s authority as the divinely inspired “Word of God.” But he refused to ground the Bible’s authority, the legitimacy of Christian faith, and the epistemological truth of Christianity, in the Bible’s historical veracity, textual perfection, scientific truth, etc.. Contrary to modernist understandings of the Bible, for Kierkegaard the Bible cannot be a secure epistemic foundation for Christian faith. The only foundation for faith, in Kierkegaard’s view, is faith itself.

He described his view of the Bible to that of (modernist) orthodoxy this way:

“They assume Scripture is inspired divine revelation,” thus “there must be perfect harmony between all the reports down to the least detail; it must be the most perfect Greek, etc.”  But “God surely knows what it means ‘to believe,’ what it means to require faith, that it means the rejection of direct communication, the positing of an ambiguity.”[1]

This led Kierkegaard to suggest that “because God wants Holy Scripture to be the object of faith and an offense to any other point of view, for this reason there are carefully contrived discrepancies (which, after all, in eternity will readily be dissolved into harmonies); therefore it is written in bad Greek, etc.”[2]

The reason God intended minor discrepancies in matters of history or genealogy and employed “bad Greek,” he suggested, was that God wants us to put our faith in him, not in the Bible. The Bible, reflecting the “ambiguity” of the real world, points us away from itself as the ground for faith and to God and, more specifically, to Christ. As he says elsewhere, “Scripture is the highways signs, Christ is the way.” Our faith is in God and Christ (the “Absolute Paradox”), not in the Bible.

So what do you think of that? If God intended “errors” in the Bible, are they still errors? Or put another way, if there were “carefully contrived discrepancies” in the Bible, would that somehow make it less trustworthy or authoritative?

[1] Journals and Papers, 3:2877.

[2] Journals and Papers, 3:2877. It seems odd to speak of God “intending” imperfections in Scripture; Kierkegaard’s point really is that when God provided revelation he did not actively circumvent the ambiguities of finitude to do so.

About Kyle Roberts
  • Kullervo

    I’m not so sure I buy that God put discrepancies in there on purpose to test our faith. That’s what I call “Fossil-Hiding God.”

  • Mark Roberts

    When it comes to the problems associated with the biblical manuscripts, God knew that one day Bart Ehrman would come along and clear everything up.

  • Kyle Roberts

    Good point, Mark!

    Kullervo: It does feel like a bit of a stretch, for one thing to assume to know the strategies of divine providence, but yes, as you suggest, that God would be up to such an intricately mischievous task of intentional deception is also hard to accept. However, think of it another way: perhaps God providentially, knowingly, “allowed” the discrepancies, because he wasn’t concerned with inspiring a “perfect” book, for the very sort of reason K suggests here.

  • Leece

    God was inspiring men (and perhaps women?) to write scripture and humans are not perfect. There was no direct dictation involved.

    • Kyle Roberts

      Leece, I agree. And I don’t think Kierkegaard has dictation in mind either–though I can see why it could be interpreted that way. He talking more about a kind of “supervenience” via providence, or what he calls “governance.”

  • rvs

    I take Kierkegaard to be criticizing the problem of systematic theology. And systematic philosophy. The desire to eliminate “contradictions” (in Aristotle’s meaning of the term) and make everything fit into the system is an impulse certainly not born out of Scripture, and Kierkegaard knew this better than most. All of the banter about biblical inerrancy has an additional problem, too, and this is the very use of the term “inerrant.” It leads to a puny view of the Bible. Gymnasts are inerrant when they get a 10 on the uneven bars. Skaters… same thing. “Inerrant” as a word lacks vision and ambition. And now, of course, it carries other undesirable connotations, given the tone of the fundamentalists who have advanced the word as a shibboleth of a sort.

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