“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (11): Chris Keith

Today’s “aha” moments post is by Chris Keith, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and Director of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible, St Mary’s University, Twickenham. One of Keith’s interests is the application of social memory theory to the Gospels and historical Jesus. His most recent book is Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict. His other books include Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (edited with Anthony Le Donne) and Jesus’ Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee. He blogs, along with Anthony Le Donne, at The Jesus Blog.

And in case you’re keeping score, this is the fourth “Chris” who has contributed to this series.

********

I grew up in the Bible Belt and was raised in a loving Christian home.  If church was open, we were there—Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights.  I’m a seasoned veteran of the youth group, church plays, VBS, sword drills, and the rest, though to the best of my knowledge, I encountered words like “inerrancy” and “infallibility” only later at Cincinnati Bible College (later named Cincinnati Christian University).

Between my home and church, my youth left me with a view of the Bible as something of a holy answer book that was particularly clear about four things:  you shouldn’t drink; you shouldn’t have sex before you get married (and asking what counts as “sex” is definitely missing the point of the lesson); you don’t wear jeans to church; and you don’t wear a hat indoors.

I suppose a crash was inevitable.

My particular inevitable Scripture crash happened at Cincinnati Christian University and came directly on the heels of a desire to take the Christian faith seriously and as a direct result of actually reading the Bible and studying it.

I suppose I could trot out the traditional fare concerning the realities of Scripture that produced “aha moments”:  the day of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels and John; David’s census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21; Paul’s Hagar allegory in Galatians 4; the sexual violence and erotic language in Judges 19, Ezekiel 23, and Song of Solomon.  Let’s include in that mix the stories of Tamar and Onan, which somehow never made it into youth group talks.

I could also trot out the traditional fare about simply acquiring more knowledge about language and interpretation. Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva, and others made me reconsider entirely what the Bible, as language, was even capable of being and not being.

Others in this series have mentioned similar “aha moments” as these, so there’s not much point in cycling through them again. Also, I don’t remember any one of these texts or issues producing a cataclysm of faith-shattering significance, with the exception of my critical theory stage, which, though short-lived, was pretty rough on my faith.

For me there was another, equally important, “aha moment”—or better, series of moments—that came not at the hands of the text itself but at the hands of the defenders of hard-line views of Scripture like inerrancy, particularly certain fundamentalist systematic theologians.

I have no ill will toward these men (they are all men) but it was nevertheless the case that, as I sat in classes and watched them articulate their views—that is, both how they handled Scripture and how they described those who held alternative views—two things affected me I deeply.

First, I quite simply couldn’t buy their readings of Scripture. I couldn’t help but feel they were not fully honest with me.  They seemed to have predetermined the nature of the text before ever taking the text itself—and all of it—into account.

When one text says God made David take a census and another says Satan did, well, we call that a contradiction in any other realm of communication. I also had a particular situation in a seminary class where one of the systematic theologians was talking about why it’s illegitimate to practice an interpretive stance that appreciates individual biblical authors’ perspectives without insisting that they harmonize with each other (though not all inerrantists insist on harmonizing).

I asked why and he said, pausing dramatically and pointing a figure toward me, “Because that would deny that there is one author.”  An older gentleman in the class liked what he heard and shouted, “Wow! You didn’t have to go that deep on him, Dr.!”

I’ll never forget the precise thought that ran through my head at the time because it took everything in me to suppress it:  “That’s not deep; it’s the exact opposite and a cop-out. This is a deus ex machina in action.”

The Bible might be more than a product of human communication, but it’s certainly not less.

At the time, and still now, I had/have to believe that if there’s any truth in Christianity, it includes the idea that Christians should be honest. Too often, it seems to me that an inerrantist approach to Scripture has difficulty with the Bible we actually have in our hands.

Second, I was astonished at how (some) defenders of inerrancy and the like treated those who held alternative views.

When they went through their lists of heroes and villains in class, almost all their villains were other Christians, and usually other conservative Christians.  Their language for them was sometimes vitriolic, always patronizing, and almost always de-humanizing.

These enemies were not individuals with families, just trying to make the best they can of the human project in theological terms; they were heretics who needed to be attacked, branded, and outed.

William A. Johnson has a great book, Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire: A Study of Elite Communities, about how ancient reading practices were intricately intertwined with the reading communities’ identities.  His point extends into the present.

What a group reads and how it reads it is always hardwired in some ways into the very core identity of that group, and so I cannot adequately describe my changing views of Scripture without including the social realities in which those changes were embedded.

I took a long hard look at the reading community on display in some of my theology classes.  I looked at the way they handled the text and the fruits of their reading strategies—the way they treated others who handled it differently.  I wanted nothing to do with it.

I knew there were Christians who held their views with a dose of humility and recognized the limits of anyone’s understanding, and thus self-consciously created space for ample disagreement within a community of interpretation and engagements with those outside that community.

I placed myself in that group.  I was interested in learning from others, not fighting with them as a primary mode of interaction.

I know many humble, very kind and intelligent people who hold to inerrancy or similar views, and I wouldn’t want to suggest otherwise.  But it’s also true that, for those of us who make a living in this discussion and whose families have been affected by the carnage of prideful and narrow biblical interpretation, it sometimes really does only take one bad apple to spoil the bunch.

It seems that, in their Bibles, Jesus said that we should love our enemies unless they disagree with us theologically or hermeneutically, in which case it’s alright to mistreat them.  It’s a reactionary and defensive stance that I don’t find consistent with 2 Timothy 1:7 (“…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”).

It’s always come across to me as having fear at its base, and I had/have no desire to proceed out of fear.

So my “aha moments” weren’t limited to reading the Bible carefully. They included such reading and, on that basis alone, I would never have been able to sustain the view of the Bible that my youth gave me or the view of “inerrancy” that I encountered among some of my university and seminary professors.

Beyond this, however, my “aha moments” included watching the actions of some of those who patrol the borders of reading communities that affirm concepts like “inerrancy.”  If their actions were what an allegedly “high” view of Scripture looked like in practice, I wasn’t interested.

I continue to think as well that a truly high view of Scripture is a view that allows Scripture to be whatever it is.  In this sense, I was really fortunate to study at Cincinnati Christian University with Bible scholars who modelled an alternative hermeneutic that was still committed to the text, and—from my perspective—even more committed to it.

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  • scott caulley

    Eloquently stated,
    Chris. It’s hard to escape the sense
    that fear is at the heart of much inerrantist apologetics, and the “all or
    nothing”/slippery slope/my way or the highway attitude toward those who
    hold other views of the Bible. To start a
    priori with a narrow, rationalist doctrine/confession of faith which
    automatically (and intentionally) disallows any new insights from history or
    exegesis that might challenge the status quo is not just obscurantist,
    but destructive. Far from being a
    “high view of scripture,” this is actually an idolatrous refusal to
    hear scripture. The Bible is worshiped
    as an object, but not allowed to speak. Clearly scripture is no longer the
    source of faith and practice; a narrowly interpreted doctrine of scripture has
    replaced it.

    • Brian P.

      There’s fear sure, but there’s also her stepsister control.

      The interplay between the fear and control has to do with how individuals are accepted within groups, especially groups that define themselves mostly ideologically in their shared identity. In Evangelical Christianity, these groups include families, small groups, networks of friends, churches, seminaries, networks of colleagues, and more.

      The “all or nothing” and “my way or the highway,” is individualistic in its truth-believing but social in its consequence.

      The patterns are: You believe all of this, or you’re not one of us. You believe our way, or you take the highway of separation. Dealing with anathema isn’t anything new to the church.

      The fear isn’t fear of God. It’s fear of being accepted or rejected by what is one’s social context. This is how control is manifest.

      There are different ways to control. Tools include ones such as silencing, shaming, and shunning.

      Often when these techniques are taken up in less mainstream groups who use the carrots and sticks of controlled conformity in ways lacking nuance, we refer to these groups as cults.

      Regardless, when the foundations include such fear and control as means to its ends, an environment is created. Certain kinds of abusive behaviors find opportunity to go unchecked. As Chris states, “…families have been affected by the carnage of prideful and narrow biblical interpretation, it sometimes really does only take one bad apple to spoil the bunch.”

      Bigger than the exegetical is the teleological. What is the end? What is the group’s vision of what the Kingdom of God is? What is the group’s vision how it will come about?

      The exegetical can not be separated from the eschatological. There are only two possible ends. In one, we see that the Kingdom is within and that the the cruciform way will win in the end. In the other, we see ourselves needing to be rescued, not by that which is living within, but by escapist intervention from the outside. A central point of the story is that the Messiah did not come as expected the first time around; in many profound ways, God’s chosen people did not get the rescuer they longed for.

      It often feels uncommon to find Christians who believe that the way of the Beatitudes and the simple summation of the Law and the Prophets is the timelessly unconquerable means to, and end of, the Lamb’s eternal reign.

      May fear- and control-based religion die.

      Soon.

      • scott caulley

        well put. To that I would only add that the question is not just teliological, but theological. What kind of God does one require to oversee a system which operates through fear and control? Evangelical text critic Dan Wallace objects to Preservationism, because it is “telling God what he must have done.” But this is precisely what a narrow doctrine of inerrancy seeks to accomplish (which Wallace ostensibly defends). It is another way of stating what John Bassett said, above–God is a really bad author in need of a really good editor…us!

        • Brian P.

          What kind of God would operate through fear and control?

          One answer is this: The kind that is often popularly taught and caught in many churches; the kind that many contemporary atheists reject.

          Might many readers here have friends and family going to see the movie Persecuted? Fear seems quite intermixed with faith these days.

          Anyhow, all of these aha stories seem to start with a white boy with a good heart exposed to dysfunctional religion. A very interesting piece of fan fiction would be to make up a contemporary infancy Gospel of a Jesus of Nazareth going through a voyage of discovery not too different from what these scholars describe. Much could be envisaged with Luke 2:41-52.

  • John Bassett

    The people who want God to be the author of Scripture seem to want him to have written a different book. As much as the believe that the words of the Bible are without error they treat the volume in front of them as a big jigsaw puzzle that has to be assembled in the correct order. And this always raises the issue for me – if what God really wanted us to have was the Westminster Confession or the Canons of Dort, why didn’t he just write those instead? Why all these stories? And so many versions of the stories? And all the repetitive poetry? For the inerrancy crowd, God seems to be really bad author in need of a really good editor – and they are happy to fulfill that function.

    • Brian P.

      Consider the whole notion of the study Bible.

    • Rick

      I think the honest ones, who hold that position, see themselves faulty people trying to interpret an inerrant text. Of course others, such as NT Wright, warn people about trying to cram their preferred systematic theology into the text.

      • Brian P.

        I now find the whole notion of needing to systematize the Bible’s texts into one theology fascinating. One thought experiment I’ve had is this:

        – Name any one thing that all the authors of Scripture believed. –

        While I haven’t spent any real time researching the texts to see if I could find anything evidenced as universally held belief, nothing immediately comes to mind.

        • Rick

          Of course part of that challenge, some would say, is that more things were revealed throughout history, with the pinnacle being the revelation/incarnation of Jesus Christ. As some like to point out, Christians should start with Jesus, then work out their theology from there, seeing the grand narrative of Scripture.

          • Brian P.

            Some of my Orthodox and Anglican friends think more so this way. And I believe Chris mentioned villains with alternative views.

        • Daniel Fisher

          Why would we assume that any doctrine would have to be taught by every single author of Scripture in order to be able to be systematized, or believed to be a “universally held belief”?

          I could look at my old textbooks in physics, organic chemistry, biology, mathematics, and astronomy, and find very few particular items that they all taught in common…. but why would I conclude from this that they couldn’t be harmonized/systematized, or that these differences suggested that none of the scientists that wrote them held certain “universally held beliefs” about any of these topics?

          • Brian P.

            A great question. For me, it’s a curiosity and thought experiment. I think it initially came about when I’ve heard people loosely yet neatly say this or that is or isn’t “Biblical.” I’ve heard people say such about moral ideals, human institutions, doctrinal statements, historical propositions, proposed legislation, etc. Often, I’ve just kind of scratched my head when I can think of another Biblical text and author and context that has a significantly different perspective, where someone could as legitimately refer to that as “Biblical” too.

            And I really like your analogy. Made me wonder a bit about what little I know about philosophy of science. Universally held beliefs among some of the sciences might include stuff about the world really existing, that information can be gained through observation, that observations can be measured, that math works consistently, that truth statements about the world can’t really be made about things that are unobservable and unmeasurable. I think there are some underlying universally held beliefs (or maybe really just practical working assumptions) there.

            I think a primary breakdown of the analogy though is more how beliefs change over time. Science seeks to harmonize or systematize within a current body of knowledge. For instance, how can general relativity and quantum field theory be reconciled? I have no idea. Sometimes it seems existing theories can’t be harmonized and new ones need created.

            In at least some contrast, revelation seems to need to more so harmonize and systematize with its past. Specifically additive revelation seems a whole lot easier to process than replacement or destructive revelation. Revelation also seems a bit tougher because it’s wide open to he said vs. he said disagreements. Whether Paul and Apollos or the four Evangelists or this or that denomination, it’s not like there’s authority of testability or evidence or much outside authority of person or people and other intangibles of the yielding of trust. Over the years, I’ve heard the adjective “Biblical” affixed to stuff that no one really prior to the last 150 years would have professed.

            Maybe my silly thought experiment has also lead me to question questions such as your question and thus produce parallel questions:

            Why would we assume that any doctrine would have to be taught by any author of Scripture in order to be able to be systematized, or believed to be a “universally held belief”?

            Or:

            Why would we assume that any doctrine would have to be taught by the latest author of Scripture in order to be able to be systematized, or believed to be a “universally held belief”?

            Or:

            Why would we assume that the Bible’s texts’ authors’ beliefs can be systematized?

            Or:

            Why do we want to systematize it?

            For me, the only answer for that last question is because I want to be over it. I want to control it. I want it on my own terms.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I agree with how terribly the “biblical” adjective gets thrown around. Appreciate your thoughts.
            As for “Why do we want to systematize it….”? Can I suggest that, unless the Bible remains nothing but marks on a page, our brains “systematize” everything we read, we can’t help it.

            We read various passages that remind us about “love,” and “compassion.” Unless these items remain completely objective observations (i.e., “John told his readers to love one another,”) they must be systematized in some way in our own minds and hearts.

            e.g., “The Bible said ___ and ___ and ___ about loving one another. ” Therefore, I should extrapolate from those particular commands to original readers 2000 years ago, and change my own life now so as to start loving these people in this way.

            If so, we have just systematized a few of the Bible’s commands about love, developed them into a more overarching system, taken the various, disparate commands and unified them into a concept that helps us know how to live those out… etc.
            Unless we want to only read the Bible strictly “objectively” (in the bad sense of not allowing it to affect us, keeping it at arms length and only examining it as under a microscope), then we will be systematizing its various commands, observations, instructions, into some form or fashion that we can embrace, understand, and live, no?

          • peteenns

            Systematizing or objective distance are not our only two options. Reading narratively, i.e. respecting the historical/literary contextual particularity of the Bible, is another option, and one that does not require us to systematize, which routinely slips into harmonizing. The truth is, the Bible does not give consistent moral direction, nor consistent theological information.

        • Wonder

          That they, they author, had something worthwhile to say about God.

          :)

    • scott caulley

      good points

    • Daniel Fisher

      Confessions are written for a specific purpose – to systemize theology. But I think it safe to say that even the authors of those historic documents would quickly point out that the Bible is given for so much, much more (even if not less) than giving us various theological truths. The diversity, tensions, wrestlings, poetry, arguing with God, laments against God’s actions, doubts, fear, trembling, contrasting views, etc.

      So the Bible does far, far, far more than just give us true theological doctrines. Every inerrantist (that I know) would very quickly agree. But how exactly does it follow from this that it doesn’t contain theological doctrines that we can (and perhaps should) try to understand from it?

  • macd50

    I’m really enjoying this series. Words matter. The words of Scripture matter. When it comes to difficult and challenging passages it’s hard to say they aren’t when they are, it doesn’t say that when it does, or it didn’t mean that when it did.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    You said: “Derrida…and others made me reconsider entirely what the Bible, as language, was even capable of being and not being.”

    Can you share one or two Derrida tiles that helped you in this regard? Thanks!

  • Daniel Fisher

    “When one text says God made David take a census and another says Satan did, well, we call that a contradiction in any other realm of communication.”

    I will never understand why this is held up as an example of a contradiction. Job credits his sufferings to God (“The Lord gave, and the Lord took away), even though Satan was stated as directly responsible – and even though the Sabeans, etc., even more directly responsible. But I don’t see people suggesting that the author of Job “contradicted himself.” Why not simply assume the author of Chronicles was utilizing the same theological concept as Job?

    And, respectfully, we in fact don’t “call that a contradiction in any other realm of communication.” My Commanding Officer in the military makes me exercise at least 3 times a week. The Secretary of the Navy makes me exercise at least 3 times a week. Congress makes me pay so much in taxes. The IRS makes me pay so much in taxes. The state government makes me register my vehicle. The police make me register my vehicle (they have, in fact, in the past). When I was a child, my mother made me go to school. When I was a child, the state government made me go to school…

    I think the better question is – in what realm of communication do we NOT talk like this?

    • Brian P.

      I think it’s because Satan is ontologically offset from God in common dualistic constructs.

      That your Commanding Officer is under the Authority of the Navy and that the IRS is under the authority of Congress and that the local police enforces the laws and regulations of the state legislature and agencies doesn’t nearly seem as discomforting as a statement such as this:

      Satan is an agent of God.

      That said though, we can’t help but be reminded that the theology of Job’s author and audience may have been much more so aligned with an ancient pantheon than a dualistic monotheism. Alas, YHWH said to ha-Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” To your analogy, the character in an unharmonized Job’s story has a role much like a state’s prosecutor.

      So to answer your question, in what realm of communication do we NOT talk like this?

      We do not talk like this in the realm of as-conceived ultimate reality’s Good contrasted with ultimate reality’s Evil.

      • Daniel Fisher

        OK, well, I’m sorry some people find it discomforting… but isn’t that what we inerrantists are usually accused of? Shaping the text so that it fits with our traditional, comfortable theology?

        In this case, I’d like to think I’m approaching this eyes wide open, acknowledging what Job and Chronicles (and for that matter Genesis 50, Exodus 9, Isaiah 10, Acts 2, 2 Corinthians 12, etc.) all point out whether I find it comforting or not — that when individuals (whether human or supernatural) carry out evil or harmful acts, they are nonetheless acting as agents of God’s surpreme will… and acknowledging that is what the texts say, whether I find it comforting or not?

        So maybe “we” don’t talk like this in the realm of ultimate reality/ultimate good/ultimate evil…. but could we agree that the Bible certainly does, in Job, Chronicles, and 2 Corinthians at least?

        • peteenns

          I’m finding this sort of reasoning process a bit convoluted. Chronicles is a midrashic reinterpretation of Israel’s older stories (DTR) in light of much later cultural/theological concerns and questions. Replacing God with Satan in the census is not that mysterious when seen in that light. The Chronicler here, as he does throughout (see the Chronicler’s David, Solomon, Manasseh, Asa, etc., etc.), is freely adapting the story for his concerns. He is not saying to us “please see how my use of Satan is really fully in line with God in the parallel text, and note how other biblical authors do the same” but recasting these past texts so people will think differently. If anyone wants that to be inerrant, i won’t lose sleep, but I’m fairly confident the ancient authors were not driven by that concern. CHR wasn’t lightly touching up some rough edges of DTR. He rewrote it.

          • Brian P.

            One possible message of the Bible: “Freely adapt the stories we’ve given you. Write your own. That’s what we’ve done.”

            This is what the ancients were commended for. After all, God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would those who have gone before us be made perfect.

          • peteenns

            As Brueggemann puts it–as far as you can take the analogy–the Bible is a compost pile out of which our theology grows.

            This process of (midrashic) adaptation you call our attention to, Brian P., is difficult to reconcile with common evangelical notions of biblical authority. And with that I will step back down from my soapbox.

          • Brian P.

            Things difficult to reconcile with common Evangelical notions of Biblical authority often not only include the Bible as we know it, but also history as we know it and the natural world as we know it.

            However, I’d suggest the biggest risk is not these. The big risk is when Evangelical notions of Biblical authority drift from our consciences. Often, with the full force of claimed Godly and Biblical authority, I’ve seen people and things not treated with the gentlest of compassion.

            That’s the way that will die. Watch.

          • peteenns

            Quite true, Brian P.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            Wow. Just Wow. I don’t think this fits with the view of Jesus–quoting Deuteronomy, ““‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

            Last time I checked, we don’t eat from the compost pile. Talk about a low view of Scripture.

            The truth here is that these so-called contradictory reads are conditioned by a certain way of approaching the text as the conversation here has already shown. Others here have already demonstrated reasonable scholarly approaches that do not require seeing errors under every conundrum presented to those who have heavily drunk from the dregs of modernity, post or otherwise. Therefore, the charge of dishonesty remains empty and unconvincing.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Others here have already demonstrated reasonable scholarly approaches”

            LOL . . .or taking convolution to new heights.

            And you are completely misinterpreting Pete’s compost pile comment . . he did a whole blog post on it; look it up.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            I remain unconvinced about Pete’s compost pile analogy even after looking at the original post. I don’t think I’ve missed the point at all. Are you really going to claim his view has anything at all to do with the one presented by the gospels concerning how Jesus spoke of Scripture?

          • Jim

            I’m lost re your statement “… presented by the gospels concerning how Jesus spoke of scriptures”. A reasonable number of NT scholars agree that none of the gospel writers were actual eyewitnesses. I guess for me then, the difficulty might be sifting through what Jesus actually said and what words the gospel authors might have placed his lips. Considering that the gospel writers were looking for OT precedent, is it possible that they were the ones that placed some of Jesus’ words regarding scripture on his lips?

          • Daniel Fisher

            Sure, but conversely, a reasonable number of NT scholars believe that some of the gospel writers were actual eyewitnesses, and even more that see them as one step removed from an eyewitness. Plus, I could testify to numerous verbatim things I heard my pastor say 20 years ago when I was in college… largely because he repeated himself often. In that largely oral culture, it really isn’t so farfetched to think we genuinely have a record of Jesus’ words.

            Plus may I caution – the endeavor to determine which are Jesus “real” words, and what was attributed to him, is very shaky and rather subjective ground – many attempts to do so end up creating a Jesus that looks remarkably similar in values and perspective to the investigator. Or the criteria are so absurd (rule out anything that might sound either Jewish or Christian) that you’re left with a Jesus that was in no way influenced by the Judaism around him, and who made absolutely zero influence on the church that followed him.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            Indeed, the effort to determine the “real words” of Jesus already starts with assumptions about the text that will help predetermine the outcome. And, haven’t we seen a mountain of literature accomplish just that over the last century?

          • Jim

            Innerancy likewise starts with an assumption that predetermines outcome – that the text in the earliest currently available manuscripts (from late second century) is identical to the autographs. Classical examples of additions to the text include Mark 16.9-20 and John 8.1-11.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Jim, respectfully, this is erroneous. No inerrantist scholar I’ve ever heard of (and I’ve read a ton of them) even remotely suggests that the earliest extant copies is or in any way must be identical to the autographs. The only claim made is that, given the number and diversity of early manuscripts, with the science of textual criticism, we can get a pretty darn good approximation of the autographs, which are the only thing claimed as inerrant. If you’ve no kidding actually heard that specific claim, I would be interested to see who made it.

            Additionally, these same scholars (and pastors) are perfectly willing to identify and acknowledge the dubious textual problems – I recently watched a sermon by John Piper (would anyone doubt his “inerrantist” credentials?) on John 8 – and he was unquestionably clear that this account was not in the original Bible. And during this sermon I recall he quoted from numerous other inerrantist type scholars all in total agreement on that point.

          • Jim

            I apologize for using “is identical”, and you have correctly pointed out that many inerrantist scholars allow for some wiggle room. But you may go with Dan Wallace and others re “with the number and diversity … we can get a pretty darn good approximation”, but I’ll go with Bart Ehrman that this is an assumption. I could possibly buy that the bulk of the NT documents may turn out to reasonably similar to the originals, but there certainly could be places where even apparently minor alterations can lead to significant theological differences. I respect your position (I was once an inerrantist), but it will be difficult for me to buy the idea that “we can get a pretty darn good approximation” is slam dunk, unless unequivocally proven. But hey that’s just me.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Ehrman is an interesting read – but infuriating to me as he writes more for shock value than for clarity. (And don’t get me started on his incoherent arguments for pseudopigraphy in his “Forged” book). If I may offer an opinion, he takes all the same data that everyone else is already well aware of and sensationalizes it to make it sound far, far, far worse than it is in order to sell books. Every evangelical/inerrantist biblical new testament scholar is aware of the exact same textual problems – my own Greek New Testament has footnote after footnote of the more significant problems.

            But he makes such a major claim as “there are more changes than there are words in the New Testament,” and then notes barely in passing that the majority of them are changing “Jesus Christ” to “Christ Jesus” or alternative spellings, things that have practically no bearing on anything whatsoever. He then sensationalizes and emphasizes those texts that we already know and agree aren’t in the Bible. (I would be curious which particular potentially questionable texts you see where variant readings can lead to significant theological differences.)

            So for all the parts of the NT where every manuscript completely agrees, we can probably be 99.9% certain that reflects what was original. And for us inerrantists, it means simply that we better not base any belief/doctrine/practice *exclusively* on a text if its originaly is questionable, or hold an idea only tentatively if it is only found in a questionable reading.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “If I may offer an opinion, he takes all the same data that everyone else
            is already well aware of and sensationalizes it to make it sound far,
            far, far worse than it is in order to sell books.”

            i) Erhman clearly states the wide majority of alterations are nonsubstantial. Yes his publisher embellishes their significance on the back cover but in “Misquoting Jesus” he says most did not alter the meaning of the text but does cite instances, and there are more than a few, of when slight alterations do alter the text to fit a certain theological viewpoint (or diminish another).

            ii) Non-evangelical scholarship has been pretty much in agreement that 5 of 13 Pauline epistles were not written by Paul for 100+ years (Colossians is really the only one where you still see wide disagreement, which makes sense because both sides have fair arguments). Ditto with the Petrine epistles (II Peter being as close to unanimous as you can get), Jude, Hebrews etc. being pseudepigraphs. Ehrman in “Forged” is just articulating the scholarly consensus to a lay audience . . nothing he says is new or groundbreaking.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’m well aware of the critical arguments about the Pauline pseudopigraphy, but some of the arguments Ehrman uses in the book are atrocious and downright embarrassing. If he did simply articulate what he’d read from other scholars, then he completely laid aside any “critical” eye and thoughtlessly regurgitated some very fallacious arguments. Among his claims:

            –1Tim/Titus can’t be early or by Paul, because it mentions the “overseers and deacons,” a late development only after Paul’s time. Ehrman doesn’t seem to have noticed that Philippians (which he claims is authentic) is addressed to the “overseers and deacons.”

            –The real Paul understood a person to be saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, in contrast to Pastorals (saved by childbirth). Ehrman didn’t seem to notice 1Tim about being saved by the one mediator “who gave himself as a ransom for all men” or Titus “…Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us…”

            –In Paul’s authentic writings, faith “describes a relationship…trust ‘in Christ,'” while in the Pastorals, it “is not about a relationship with Christ, faith now means the body of teaching that makes up the Christian religion. That is, ‘the faith.'” Here Ehrman doesn’t seem to have noticed Galatians, where Paul was “preaching *the* faith” [τὴν πίστιν] he once tried to destroy” (or for that matter, 1Tim’s language about those who would have faith *in him* [πιστεύειν ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ]).

            –Based on Paul’s language in 1Thes of “we who are alive” means without question that Paul himself “expects to be one of the ones who will still be alive when [the end times] happen.” Ehrman might have noticed something from Paul’s use of language from reading the next chapter about “whether we are awake or asleep…”

            –the real Paul was “‘blameless’ with respect to the ‘righteousness of the law'”, but the forger of Ephesians claimed he (along with all mankind) was “carried away by the ‘passions of our flesh.'” Ehrman seems to have missed Paul’s whole discussion in Romans about how “we were living in the flesh [and] our sinful passions were at work…”

            –He argues “the verb ‘saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future.” He might have read Romans (“in this hope we were saved [ἐσώθημεν]” – past/aorist indicitive) or I Corinthians, (“by which you are [being] saved [σῴζεσθε]” – present indicitive).

            And plenty of others. Sure, some of the arguments he presents seem potentially legitimate investigations (if unconvincing to me), but so many of these are inexcusably fallacious. Respectfully to him, one has to be either seriously blinded by an agenda, or seriously lazy in one’s research ethic, to make such mistakes – and it completely undermines any credibility I would give to any other arguments in his book. I trust this can’t really be the case, but these mistakes are so egregious as to make me question if he has ever read the New Testament.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Daniel, the arguments for pseudopigraphy go well beyond your cherry-picking of cited verses and taking arguments out of context (I almost suspect you are taking these from someone’s critique of the book online and not the book itself.)

          • Daniel Fisher

            Then look them up if you think they’re out of context – his bishop/deacon argument is pg. 101; the bizarre claim about salvation in pastorals being limited to childbirth is pg. 99; false claim about “faith in” v. “the faith” pg. 98-99; his “we who are alive” claim is pg. 106; Paul viewed self as blameless claim is pg. 110, and his “the verb ‘saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future” claim is also pg. 110. And yes, these are simply my own relatively amateur (MDiv level) observations from reading the book – and just the more egregious ones. With such a constant barrage of ridiculously false claims, for me to point out a selection of them is not cherry picking, it is more of a turkey shoot….

            As mentioned, I’m well aware of the critical arguments for pseudopigraphy – most scholars I’ve heard or read are far more circumspect and studied in their arguments (even if they remain unconvincing to me). But Ehrman’s argumentation is simply atrocious. One cannot be expected to be taken seriously as a scholar and make such egregious errors, this simply advertises his lack of any study or research to make such baseless and demonstrably false claims. And I find the same in every book of his I’ve read – for instance, in his “Jesus Interrupted” book he makes the most bizarre attempt to force a contradiction between Mark and John by arguing that “day of preparation” in John must refer to the day of prep for the passover – blatantly false to anyone who wants to bother reading John. I can at least give him credit that he doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good argument.

          • peteenns

            Any non-evangelical or non-inerrantist scholars in that group? The problem, too, Daniel is that one can find a “reasonable” number of scholars who peddle all sorts of nonsense that gets pushed aside in due time. I’d also add that scholars are quite aware of the need to critique/be aware of their own methods, etc. Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus is a great, and very sober, exposition of some of these dynamics.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            You can get “a reasonable number of NT scholars” to agree on practically anything. I don’t see how that’s significant in the slightest. I see no reason to doubt the accounts as we have them in the canonical texts.

          • peteenns

            Of course you can. And OT scholars, too.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Kevin, the point of Peter and most other serious scholars about the nature of Heb. Scripture and its construction is not about “error” vs. “non-error” (or inerrancy). I’m among those for whom it makes no sense to assume complete harmony, or look for it, between accounts.

            However, in certain cases where a historical reconstruction may be important to understand key things about how things developed, what was believed by whom at a given time and such, comparison of related accounts can be vital. A leading example would be comparing what Luke claims about Paul’s conversion and activities at key points with what Paul himself says… and there are significant points of conflict!

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            Serious scholars are found on all sides of these issues. I’m sorry, but we don’t get to call some serious because they agree with a certain point of view and others less so simply because stark disagreement remains in place.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Kevin, please note I said “MOST serious scholars”, which I think would stand up to an actual count under some fairly objective standard, such as holding an accredited PhD in a pertinent field. Which, of course, proves nothing in itself. But that’s how I meant “serious”. I well know that positions, and paradigms, vary widely among scholars. And why one needs to look at the arguments, the use of evidence, etc. in weighing their various cases on a given point.

            That said, it is also pertinent and important to look at a given scholar’s various writings and identify stated or implied biases, why they exist, etc. In my own case, I was exposed (and chose to be, after a certain age) for many years to mostly conservative/orthodox scholarship and was past M.Div. work, studying and using apologetics, etc., myself. But eventually their interpretations and my own orthodox-based reading of the Bible no longer continued to cohere as a credible system. I took on a different perspective toward the writing and understanding of the Bible and things have made a lot more sense since then (with ongoing deeper study), and with no “loss of faith” in the broader and important sense. Rather, a lot more sense of consistency and following the core message of Jesus.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            That’s fine. Everyone has their own set of experiences. I didn’t ask for testimonials–and I would dispute the notion that a serious scholar necessarily has to have an accredited PhD. Devotion to the academy’s general understanding of who is and is not allowed to speak as a peer to these issues is frankly part and parcel of the problem. I’ve had a different set of experiences and frankly don’t track with the notion that historic confessional views of the Bible and the faith are lacking in any real concrete sense.

            I see lots of differences of opinion regarding these issues and whether there are more serious scholars on your side or elsewhere really isn’t my concern. What I was concerned to point out is that it’s simply prejudicial to pretend that serious scholarship automatically tends toward a particular viewpoint and that anything to the contrary is somehow dishonest and not really scholarly. That’s simply not demonstrable in my view and remains a disappointing feature of the debate between the major sides of this discussion and the sort of baseless assertions provided in the original post.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “That’s simply not demonstrable in my view”

            Coming to a scholarly analysis with the presumption that the text is inerrant/discrepancies must be harmonized . . yes, is not scholarship by an practically definition. That’s not being prejudiced against apologetics . .its recognizing apologetics is simply not scholarship because it begins with presuppositions that demand certain conclusions before any work is even begun!

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            I guess I’m at a loss to understand how scholarly endeavor occurs at all without any presuppositions in mind. Can you explain that to me?

          • Andrew Dowling

            There’s a clear different between trying to minimize presuppositions and subjective biases and thoroughly embracing them.

          • peteenns

            Also, a common misunderstanding is that presuppositions are just “there” and need to be taken as givens. They can and should be tested. For example, I won’t grant someone the “presupposition” that Gen 1 is to be read as “literal history” or that Jesus said out loud everything that everything in the Gospels. In fact, these are not actually presuppositions in the philosophical sense, but simply assertions, and they have been looked at from many angles for several hundred years.

            An example, in the 2012 book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith, the opening essay makes clear that (1) inerrancy is “the” doctrine of Scripture throughout the history of the church, and (2) evangelical biblical scholarship needs to arrive at conclusions that support #1. These “presuppositions” can be tested. The result of the book is a brand of scholarship that is virtually a foreign language to non-inerrantist.

            “We all have presuppositions” is not a get out of jail free card for patently biased scholarship.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            Who said we can’t review our assumptions? It’s just silly to claim one side only is dealing with assumptions or presuppositions in the text or that only one side has bothered to examine them. That’s simply not thinking in a gracious manner. Bias is something that works on both sides of these issues, clearly.

          • http://www.brooklynreformed.com/ Kevin D. Johnson

            That sounds an awful lot like a preexisting bias to me.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Depends on exactly what you mean by “freely” adapt…

            i.e., I fear I don’t share Peter’s presupposition (if I understand it right- please correct me if I err) that if the Chronicler intentionally changed the historical accounts in Sam/Kings to align with his own theological purposes, it must *for that reason alone* therefore be nonfactual, unhistorical, untrue, inaccurate, contradictory, untrustworthy, or otherwise errant.

            There are many historical events the author of Sam/Kings could have selected to write about, and he chose what furthered his agenda. (this is even repeatedly directly acknowledged. “As for the other events…”). The author of Chronicles did the same, obviously using Sam/Kings as a primary source and template.

            But why does recognition of these agendas require either account to be non-historical or otherwise errant? The Bible writers obviously weren’t writing to be objective – neither the Sam/Kings author nor the Chronicler. in that sense they both “freely” adapted their source material. But I see no reason to conclude from this observation that they “freely” lied, utilized falsehoods, or otherwise just “made stuff up.”

            N.B. – “different” is not synonymous with “contradictory.”

          • peteenns

            Oh my, Daniel. I am not presupposing. Nor am I winging it. I have drawn conclusions. This isn’t a presuppositional matter, and staying that rarified air will only keep you from addressing real particulars in CHR. Perhaps by comparing the reigns of David and the transition of power to Solomon you too will have reason to conclude that CHR is a deliberate adjustment of an earlier history that presents a very different take, not just a nip and tuck or choosing some events that DTR doesn’t.

            In other words, and I hesitate using a scare word, but CHR’s presentation of large segments of Israel’s history contradicts DTR. If you ask “show me examples,” I’ll just respond “read the books with some critical commentaries near you.”

            Another problem I see here is your drawing of lines from “freely adapt” to lie, falsehood, making stuff up. That may be your main impediment: importing inerrantist categories to these texts without realizing it rather than ancient ones. What CHR does in fact with DTR is no doubt troubling to inerrantists, and but that parameter is a “lie” etc., but as an ancient handling of older traditions in postexilic Israel, CHR’s hermeneutic is par for the course.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I fear we may be talking past each other – I completely agree (and often teach any chance I get) that the Chronicles account is a “deliberate adjustment of an earlier history that presents a very different take, not just a nip and tuck or choosing some events that DTR doesn’t.” I wouldn’t hesitate to say it as strongly if not far more so.

            But I don’t conclude from that the contradiction(s) that you see – that is what I meant, my impression is that you are supposing that if they are really that different, that radically different in intent, in focus, in analysis, in evaluation, then that must mean contradictory – that is what I see as the presupposition that I don’t share – again, correct me if I misunderstand. The accounts of Manassah in Sam/Kings and Chronicles is my favorite example – they could hardly be more different – one paints the picture of vile evil incarnate who was practically the main reason God got fed up with his people – the other presents him (eventually) as the absolute model of saintly repentance, beloved by and pleasing to God.

            But what Chronicles does is not troubling to this inerrantist, if for the simple observation two people could similarly make extremely different observations about my life. One could make an absolutely true and accurate account that would communicate – “don’t be anything like this person, committing sins wantonly and unrepentantly,” and another person could choose other details, and make an absolutely true and accurate depiction that would communicate – “Be like this person, here is a very model of repentance and commitment to Christ” And while they would be completely different, with completely different lessons and evaluations and takes on my life, they would both be true. Who couldn’t relate to that?

            I may complain of one or the other that it is not the “whole picture.” Fine, objection noted. But if this was not the author’s intent, so what? Neither need be unhistorical or in any way contradictory – and just like any history, the details were chosen such to fulfill the author’s purpose.

            I still humbly suggest that “different”, and even “extremely totally and in the very deepest sense of what the author wants you to conclude from the accounts they are practically opposites kind of different” is not synonymous with “contradictory.”

          • peteenns

            Just so I am sure I understand your theory, are you saying that both DTR and CHR are “historically accurate” in that they both record things that actually happened, though from different perspectives? Manasseh actually did repent and was vindicated (CHR) AND not (DTR)? The transition of power to Solomon was both peaceful, including David fully preparing the temple and temple worship (CHR) AND fraught with political intrigue with David wholly distant from the temple (DTR)?

            The details of CHR when taken in isolation can be explained as you say (Manasseh), but what is missing here is how accounting for isolated incidents fit in with the CHR’s overall ideology (e.g., Japhet, Willimason, even Dillard). It’s analogous to Mosaic theories of pentateuchal authorship that claim to poke holes in some form of lengthy development/evolution over time (“this verse could still be consistent with mosaic authorship”) without accounting for the tremendous explanatory power of the larger theory as a whole.

            Remember too that CHR isn’t “observing” history and choosing to write it differently (neither is DTR for the most part), but writing hundreds of years later, probably in the 4th c. BC. I think most would agree that it is stretching credulity to think that CHR had a cache of alternate but still historically accurate and therefore fundamentally non-contradictory information that he chose to highlight.

          • Daniel Fisher

            “both DTR and CHR are “historically accurate” in that they both record things that actually happened, though from different perspectives?”

            More or less – though their differences are far more significant than can be explained by just “different perspectives.” More that they selected their material in accordance with their very divergent purposes.

            “Manasseh actually did repent and was vindicated (CHR) AND not (DTR)?”

            No, THAT would be a bona fide contradiction. rather, Manassah actually did repent; the author of Chronicles saw fit to record it, Sam/Kings did not record this as it was irrelevant to, did not further, or even distracted from his purose/agenda.

            “The transition of power to Solomon was both peaceful, including David fully preparing the temple and temple worship (CHR) AND fraught with political intrigue with David wholly distant from the temple (DTR)?”

            No, again, that would be a bona fide contradiction. Rather, the political intrigue happened but was utterly irrelevant if not distracting to the Chronicler’s purpose, so got skipped in his account. Similarly, that David’s involvement in the Temple may well have been irrelevant to the former writer, but being useful/relevant to the latter and was included.

            I suppose many would think it stretches credulity to suspect that the Chronicler had any historical records whatsoever (whether written or oral) at his disposal besides the book of Sam/Kings. I tend to think that since he referenced the “other events of so and so’s reign written in such and such anthology…”, and especially since he referenced a particular historical anthology (or sub-anthology) that, to my knowledge, Sam/Kings doesn’t mention (the annals of Jehu son of Hanani), that it doesn’t seem so far fetched to think that he really had some of those historical records accessible to him. Granted, I guess I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t just make up the name of that anthology just to make himself sound more historical.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Daniel, if two people came to court describing this same event and under oath explained the event as the biblical authors do; do you honestly think any judge would not conclude either both were lying or one was simply unreliable?

            And with that said I concur with Peter I don’t think the authors are “lying” as midrashic adaptations were not meant to be objective history but perfectly legitimate ways to retell stories to fulfill other objectives.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Perhaps, but in a law court the “intent” (provide all facts germane to determining the guilt or innocence in this particular case) is dictated for us. In such cases, even prosecutors (as I understand it) are required to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence if they have it.

            But, if a prosecutor in said court system decided to write a book called, “My method for winning my cases…” No one would similarly accuse him of “lying” in the book if he didn’t give the “full truth”, each and every detail of the defense’s argument in these cases, and list every bit of exculpatory evidence in each case he describes. For that matter, no one would accuse him of “lying” if he only described cases he’d won, completely neglecting any mention of cases he’d lost.

            I think it not unlike the “Courtroom” scene in “The Fugitive” (with Harrison Ford) – watch the courtroom scene – and it shows nothing but his prosecution. absolutely no glimpse, no hint, whatsoever of Dr. Kimble’s defense. We should conclude not that Dr. Kimble did not make a defense, only that whatever defense he made was completely irrelevant to the story as told.

            As strictly objective, fully complete, intricately detailed, and entirely unbiased “history”, Chronicles fails miserably. And if that had been the author’s intent, then we could criticize him for such. But even he repeatedly acknowledges, “If you want the full historical account, go to the library and look up ‘The annals of such and such….’ However, as someone selecting which details to include, which to neglect, as germane to his theological purpose, I think his work utterly brilliant and completely successful, and dare I say, “absolutely true in all it affirms…”

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            @ Brian P., “Freely adapt the stories we’ve given you. Write your own. That’s what we’ve done.” Wonderful, succinct statement… love it. This fits both the Bible and its implied picture of God: One who is truly “with us” (not “unmoved mover”)… in process, as we are, and probably quite “happy” that we are evolving our understanding of him/her.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Well, of course the Chronicler rewrote the earlier history, in order to align with his agenda – I would think this is self-evident. (the accounts of Manassah are probably the clearest example). And sure, for whatever particular reason he replaced “God” with “Satan” in this particular instance in accordance with his purpose and agenda.

            Point remains, this particular rewrite is completely in line with biblical precedent. Whatever his particular concern – the idea that God uses persons (both human and supernatural) as his (often unwitting) agents to inflict harm had significant precedent throughout the Bible (most critical scholarship I’m familiar with dates Genesis 50, 1 Kings 22, Isaiah 10, and Job as likely earlier than Chronicles). Would we really think that these theological concepts in no way informed him as he made this particular change? Of course he isn’t explicitly saying, “my use of Satan is really fully in line….”, but why would he need to? If he is aware of the theology, it informs him as he makes this change. And this change is a completely legitimate and accurate (and consistent with precedent) observation about the means he perceived God using to incite David.

        • John

          Perhaps I am misunderstanding you. You seem to be saying that the two passages are not contradictory because we can understand them as two different perspectives on a single act which had multiple causitive agents. Of course, such a scenario could exist. The problem, and what I think Chris is highlighting here, is that the text doesn’t tell us that. Frankly, the text doesn’t even hint at it or give us any reason at all to think that the authors thought that way. The only way we could come come up with such a theory is if we believe a priori that the text must be a certain way. I was under the impression that such a position is precisely what concerned the author.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Why does the text need to tell us that? Is the Chronicler assuming that his readers are that dull? 😉

            As for any hint that the author thought that way? Let’s consider: I think we can all agree that the Chronicler had read 1Kings 22 – where this very same perspective is quite explicit – was it God, or a “lying Spirit” that incited Ahab? Both, obviously, depending on the perspective. And the Chronicler copied this very incident in 2Chr 18.

            So, can we all agree that the Chronicler was quite well acquainted with the basic conception of God using spirits as agents to incite people to do things? He read about God using the lying spirit in Kings and copied it into his own work. Any discussion?

            So I humbly submit that open minded inquiry here, regardless of one’s view of inerrancy, would recognize that the Chronicler was intimately familiar with the concept of God using a spirit to incite someone to do something destructive. So, is it a stretch whatsoever to acknowledge at least the possibility that he might have seen Satan as the tool for God to incite David, just like he himself wrote about how God used a lying spirit to incite Ahab?

            Add to this his likely familiarity with Job, Genesis 50, Isaiah 10, etc., and it becomes utterly preposterous to me to suppose that he had no concept of God using agents, including supernatural ones, to incite people to do harmful things. But that is what is necessary to conclude that he just fudged and made what he fully believed to be a blatant contradiction.

          • John

            I appreciate your lengthy reply; I feel that I understand your position a bit better now, although to be frank I’m not sure it actually addresses my concerns. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, though.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’m sorry I misunderstood you then… I was mainly trying to respond to the question of whether there was any hint that the author thinks in terms of a single act with multiple causative agents (when seen from multiple perspectives) – and given his familiarity and willingness to use I Kings 22, I think that indisputable.

            If that didn’t address your concerns, I’m always happy to disqus further, but forgive my dullness, but I’m not clear as to your main concerns in this context. Feel free to specify in more detail if you desire and I’ll be happy to write more if you’re interested.

            Now, if the concern is the “a priori” willingness of some inerrantists to find a solution, that is a valid (and quite legitimate) concern – I’ve seen many do that. Completely ignore the challenges in the text – What I see here, though, is an a priori willingness on the part of critical scholars to just as hastily assume or conclude that the author simply erred, or fudged, or lied, or whatever, and not just do a bit more research to see if there is actually a more reasonable explanation – completely independent of any question or presupposition of inerrancy.

    • Dwight Gingrich

      Daniel Fisher, thank you for adding some critical thinking to this comment thread. Sometimes it seems that some (other) people have learned to doubt everything but their own doubts. “It doesn’t make sense to me” does not automatically translate into “it doesn’t make sense.” I appreciate your determination to subject critical conclusions to critical testing. Sometimes something that looks believable to us as a child begins to look very unbelievable as an adolescent… but very believable again once we are in full maturity. I suspect the same is often true of our perception of spiritual matters as we grow in spiritual maturity. If God really is God, then there will of necessity be some things that we will never fully understand about his will and his Word. But that does not prove that his will and Word are self-contradictory. Rather, it simply proves that we are less than God. Again, thanks for providing some thoughtful push-back, rather than simply going along with the accepted flow of perspectives presented here on this blog.

      • Daniel Fisher

        “Submit critical conclusions to critical testing.” Well said. In fact, I find this familiar to the language C. S. Lewis wrote for the New Testament scholars in his day: “I do not wish to reduce the sceptical element in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the creeds. Try doubting something else.” Still very timely advice.

  • Ed

    It is fascinating to hear these discussions. However, and consequently, it is the inability to reach any consensus over what would appear to be straightforward obvious texts that created my first “aha” moment.

  • Katie

    Thank you for running this series. It’s been really helpful for me.

  • JScott

    Thanks for sharing, I’m thoroughly finding community in the voices of this series

  • Ron

    My “aha” moment: So far. none of the eleven “aha” moments have been written by a woman.

  • Joshua Steiner

    I largely agree with this article [and his comments may influence my decision to attend CCU next fall] on many points.

    I began questioning inerrancy rather early in my life [despite the fact that I am only 17]. When I began wanting to know more about the Bible, I came to realize that my presuppositions about the text were wrong. I realized that it wasn’t fair to the Bible to make it say something that it doesn’t. And finally, I realized that divine inspiration and infallibility of the text does not require that everything in the Bible must be harmonized and/or must not be contradictory. Reading the Bible, I don’t think it’s fair to not allow the individual authors and mindsets speak through the text. I reasoned that if God is willing to work through humanity to accomplish His will for the world, it makes sense that God would use the individual voices of each author to convey His revelation. The text can still be divinely inspired and be authoritative on the life of the Church, as well as for the world, and yet still have problems in the text. The text’s authority does not come from it’s “inerrancy” or even it’s “historical accuracy” but rather from the authority of God Himself.

    Secondly, when I began understanding the Bible more as a story, rather than a list of commands, anecdotes and unrelated stories, I realized that the ending of the story had not yet come. The end of the New Testament is not the end of the story that the Bible tells, falsely assumed by Protestants in order to establish the sixty-six canonical books as being absolute. The story continues on in the work of the Church, only to culminate in the consummation of the ages at the return of Jesus.

    And because the ending of the story had not come, it was possible that there could be different views on the ending of the “story”, which would probably explain the differences in the theological views expressed in the New Testament. Not to harmonize them I suppose, nor to suppose that they are necessarily contradictory, but to show that each author had their own viewpoint [making a “systematic theology” a bit more difficult than what people have often supposed].

    Finally, once I realized that I couldn’t accept modern definitions of inerrancy [such as statements that suggest that the Bible is “scientifically” accurate or that the Bible is 100% “historically accurate” (given that there is no such thing as “100% accurate history” I wonder why this is even brought up as an issue in the inerrancy debates), even though there could be numerous examples where the statements might be wrong], I then realized that defining inerrancy is nearly useless when we don’t have the originals. This in itself is not an argument AGAINST inerrancy, but rather an argument that inerrancy should not be held as dogma.

    On that note, I do have a few concerns.. It’s not that “inerrancy scholars” are wrong and “normal” or “mainstream” scholars are right either. It’s a difference in mindsets and presuppositions about the Bible. And I don’t think “mainstream” critical scholars are exempt from presuppositions that are just as wrong, if not grossly inaccurate, as the presuppositions of inerrantists. Other scholars are not exempt from biases against the Biblical text either. Especially when we realize that there is no such thing as a “neutral standpoint” in historical studies; the real issue is between “honest” and “dishonest” scholars. Those who recognize their presuppositions and attempt to work against them and those who claim the “neutral high ground” and won’t admit bias.

    • Daniel Fisher

      Complete agreement here – There are lots of inerrantists I’ve talked with that won’t admit genuine problems in various texts and who I can’t have a serious conversation with about some problem – but also plenty I’ve seen on the other side that won’t acknowledge that there really isn’t an incontrovertible contradiction, seeming absolutely committed to concluding certain contradictions must appear in certain passages, with no discussion of genuine alternatives. Acknowledging our own presuppositions, with a significant dose of humility, would go a long way.

    • peteenns

      Thanks for your thoughts here, Joshua.

    • Richard

      Joshua,

      You’ll likely find the Biblical Studies Department more accommodating, though there have been some faculty changes since my time there.