Well-Versed Inerrancy

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 2.54.11 PMIn a book where the biggest terms are the last two, Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy, the problem is the word “biblical.” If this adjective means “inerrancy of the Bible” we haven’t much of a problem. But even this raises a problem I have with the book: a biblical view of inerrancy ought to be about the Bible’s view of inerrancy but this book — all five views — are much more theological and philosophical and historical studies of inerrancy instead of a serious attempt to show from the Bible what the Bible says about the topic of “inerrancy.”

The criticism applies less to Kevin Vanhoozer’s fine chapter, “Augustinian Inerrancy: Literary Meaning, Literal Truth, and Literature Interpretation in the Economy of Biblical Discourse,” than to the other essays. Still, we are a long way from a truly biblical approach, because that approach leads at least in part to Matthew’s or Paul’s midrashic, allegorical exegeses that at times have nothing to do with the author’s intent. Vanhoozer’s remains very theoretical and the categories are more or less set up before we get to the test cases but his section “God and Truth” is an exceptional example of a more biblically-framed approach to inerrancy. His approach is Augustinian, but the more important expression is that he’s about a “well-versed” inerrancy, one that is well versed in hermeneutics enough to know the following:

God’s authoritative Word is wholly true and trustworthy in everything it claims about what was, what is, and what will be (202).

Or,

… the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly) (207).

Yes, hermeneutics is at the core of this issue, but determining what is “affirmed” is more than a little challenge.

So both semantics and poetics are at work in reading Scripture. So the quest is the “speech act content” not just the content. That is, find the literal sense to know truth and falsehood of the Bible.

I’ll say it again: The problem for inerrancy is the Bible itself so we need far more attention on what the Bible says about truth and how it speaks before we can have anything approaching a “biblical” inerrancy.

On the problem passages, I have one big comment: inerrantists tip toe and tap dance around the fall of Jericho’s walls and end up denying the overwhelming conclusions of the archaeologists. Pete Enns is right here to challenge dust-in-the-eyes proposals of resolution to these sorts of problems. So, what we really need is an inerrantist to explain their view of inerrancy if the account of Joshua 6 really does not correspond to the archaeological evidence. Vanhoozer shifts to “extreme caution” about the archaeological evidence. But then he provides, at least in my view, a way out: he asks what the author means to do with the text of Joshua 6. God is faithful to his word by granting the Israelites the Land. Jericho 6 communicates that promise of God. But does this just shift the content from the historical to the theological? Is this dodging or offering an alternative reading that can accommodate a non-historical reading of Joshua 6?

His approach to these difficulties is to discern the larger rhetorical intent of the author as a generalization whose truth outdoes the historical tension. Vanhoozer rightfully wonders this: since Jesus never distanced himself from the God of the Old Testament, maybe we should use his version of God. Well, isn’t this about what Jesus affirms more than what he doesn’t deny? Is affirmation of Israel’s God an affirmation of everything found in the OT?

Jesus, Vanhoozer says, reads the Bible with an over arching salvation historical drama driving his vision. The herem instructions then are about God clearing space for his own dwelling in the Land. I am unconvinced of this over arching narratival solution: the problem is the actual propositions of the text about what God wants for his people — the tension between Deut 20:16-17 and Jesus’ eschewing of the same in Matthew 5:44. By permitting that act to be God’s way in that time one finds tension with God’s way in Jesus’ time. (Right?)

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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