Father Matthew on Biblical Inerrancy

I'm pretty sure I've shared this before, but in case some of you may not have seen it, here it is again.


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  • Herro

    He says that inerrancy/infallibility was “solifidied” in the past 200 years and in America, and then says “So it is rather new.”

    I call bs: you can find lots of older statements about the bible being without error and so on. It might have “solidified” recently, but it’s old.

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

      Can you give some references? I’m sure they exist.

      • Herro

        I’ve often seen this letter from Augustine being given as an example:

        “..the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either themanuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.” (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102082.htm)

        I’m sure one can debate to what extent Augustine was an inerrantist in the same way as modern fundies, but the idea that the bible is a collection of “magical book that can’t be wrong” surely is not a modern phenomenon.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

          Thanks for that. I think a key difference is that the earlier interpreters were willing and at times eager to approach the text in a non-literal/spiritual/allegorical manner. And so the text might be “without error” but it was not then insisted that its meaning was historical or scientific in character.

          • Herro

            Then we’re dealing with two groups of “inerrantists”, but they differ on how much of the bible should be interpreted literally/allegorically.

            Matthew’s assertion is still wrong.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

            Well, “inerrancy” is a technical term in modern conservative Evangelicalism, and so he is correct inasmuch as he is referring to that phenomenon. Saying that the Bible is “inerrant” while approaching it in a manner that lets reason be used to figure out what is an error and then avoid any interpretation that would involve such error is rather different than what you find among modern fundamentalists.

          • Herro

            Well, it’s very debatable to what extent this has changed.

            But the difference here seems to be very minimal. Many or most pre-modern Christians still thought that if the bible *correctly interpreted* said that X is true, then X can’t be wrong. That’s so close to the modern “technical term” that claiming that inerrancy is new feels just like propaganda from liberal Christians: they want to say that the fundies are the innovators, that the liberals are the real deal.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

            Well, it is often the case that what seem like major changes from the perspective of insiders seem like minor tweaks to those outside of that broad tradition.

  • spinkham

    Did you declare today “stir the pot” day or something? 😉

    You’ve seem to have (very suspiciously) left out liberal Christians from your targets, so I’ll tweak their nose for you:

    Liberal Christianity is primarily a way of feeling better about yourself and ultimately has very little of value to offer the world. It mostly consists of a cycle of causing guilt and then providing guilt relief mechanisms that are usually either totally unrelated to the problem or impotent to challenge the underlying power structures.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      That should totally be an official day! :-)

      What you describe is certainly a potential pitfall for Liberal Christianity. I think Martin Luther King Jr. provides a great illustration of both the potential for Liberal Christianity to be something far greater and more powerful, but also to be something impotent, when one listens to his criticisms of other Liberal Christians in his own time and context.

      Thanks for stirring the pot!