The Bible We Actually Have

The Bible We Actually Have July 24, 2014

The quote from Chris Keith is taken from his contribution to Pete Enns’ series about Biblical scholars’ “aha” moments.

In almost but not entirely unrelated news, see Hemant Mehta’s post about a Kickstarter project to make a literally indestructible Bible.

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  • Argument by meme. Gotta love it–a great strategy when real arguments for a position won’t do.

    • I think that you may have missed that I linked to the longer piece from which the quote was taken. I can only presume that your complaint that there are no real arguments for a view when those were in fact provided, while you yourself provided no arguments for your own viewpoint, was an attempt at ironic humor which I have failed to find funny…

      • No, I’ve read and already commented on the longer piece. You didn’t provide arguments here, only a worthless meme with links to a narrative elsewhere. Saying people are dishonest is not really a valid argument nor is it a reason to avoid believing that the Bible is without error.

        • And so apparently you are also ignoring the past decade of my blogging on this topic, too? You are obviously free to disagree, but your repeating your view over and over doesn’t address the problems with inerrancy, the biggest of which is that it doesn’t fit the evidence of the Bible itself. Insisting that the Bible must be inerrant, and that no evidence of contradictions within the Bible can provide counter-evidence, certainly constitutes dishonesty in my book. But inerrantists are so happy to play fast and loose with the Bible and the meaning of words, that perhaps you also have a different definition of dishonesty than I and others are using?

          • Perhaps I am ignoring ten years of blogging. So sorry, I did not know it was required reading in order to properly understand and deal with the importance of this meme!!!

            You can state that dishonesty exists but you certainly have yet to demonstrate that such is the case. In any event, it still does not prove that the biblical text contains error. Even the purported failure of scholars and others you oppose in being apparently unable to rebut your (or others’) concerns does not de facto prove that the Bible contains errors. The burden of proof is on the one claiming the Bible has errors in it, and not on those who have simply abided by the received orthodoxy of the historical church on this question. I don’t think you or others have adequately made your case. Of course, you’re free to disagree but having large parts of academia on your side in doing so still doesn’t establish the legitimacy of your arguments. It merely means you have a bandwagon you’d like me to jump on as you continue to maintain your opinion.

            But, you might be more successful with a strategy that doesn’t involve attacking the integrity of your opponents on these issues. I don’t think that’s particularly scholarly in the first place and it certainly impedes or dampens any real dialog or problem-solving between parties that do disagree.

          • You seem not to grasp what is involved in basic conversation, and so it is no surprise that you also struggle with the Bible, which involves matters of textual and historical criticism, translation, context, and so on. You simply appear on this blog complaining that a meme was offered without argument. When I point out that (1) the meme was taken from a post which provides further detail, and (2) I have been blogging about these matters for many years, you then complain that I think that you ought to read what someone has written before complaining that they have not addressed a topic. Do you realize that you are not only failing to actually address the poor fit of the term inerrancy to the evidence of the Bible, but also making a very bad impression of yourself and of whether you are interested in a serious discussion of this subject?

            Perhaps you should start over, indicating whether you hold a view of inerrancy that doesn’t die the death of a thousand qualifications the way that the infamous Chicago Declaration does? There’s no point in pointing out counter-evidence to inerrancy – whether the depiction of the sky as a dome, or the incompatible dates and geographical movements in the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke – if I don’t know whether your own brand of inerrancy approaches such things through dishonesty, dismissal, convoluted harmonization, or some other means.

          • Why the personal attack here? I struggle with the Bible??? Excuse me? You conclude such simply because of the conversation we’ve had to this point? Do you do this with everyone you disagree with? I’m quite acquainted with these issues, have a Master’s degree in Theology from Fuller, and am more than familiar enough with the requisite issues to converse further. But, I just don’t understand the need to make things so personal.

            A meme was offered without argument. A link to other blog posts does not constitute an argument. That’s what you’ve provided here and what I’ve noted.

            I’m not going to provide you with some shibboleth like an affirmation of the Chicago Statement in order for you to take a view apart simply because you advocate error in the Bible. Besides, I’ve already stated that the burden of proof remains on you to demonstrate that the text contains error. Your viewpoint is one that already dismisses much of what the historical church brings to the table so it’s not as if the bias and so-called convolution of the “facts” only works one way.

            Appropriate dialog would recognize that both sides view the same set of data in regard to the topic differently and for different reasons. Thinking your view is the one which best accords with the facts is certainly allowable, but thinking integrity is breached simply because we have a difference of opinion as to the nature of the data in question is not the best way to proceed nor is it the most scientific.

            So, in large part, I don’t understand the lack of graciousness you attach to your presentation here. What gives?

          • You are perhaps projecting your own lack of graciousness and unwillingness to provide evidence onto others. Perhaps you would do well to imagine that you had no prior contact with a person before, and then they all at once began by posting the things you have here. What impression would you get of them? Would you find their complaints about alleged lack of argument, coupled with a refusal themselves to provide evidence for their own views, persuasive? There has been no personal attack on my part, simply an attempt to respond to you and make sense of your unwillingness to either provide justification for your own views or accept what the Bible actually says when that is at odds with modern formulations of inerrancy.

          • James,

            You started the whole post by claiming that people who view the Bible as infallible are dishonest. What, honestly, do you expect from people? Did you expect that people would receive this prejudicial meme without any sort of criticism at all? Really?

            I’m happy to admit that I reacted to it quite strongly, but you’ve provided a response that isn’t exactly conducive to the two of us conversing further on this. According to you, I don’t understand the Bible, I’m now “perhaps” projecting my own lack of graciousness, I don’t grasp the basics of conversation, and yet you claim you’ve made no remarks against me which are personal in nature. OK. I guess I don’t understand English either.

          • Dan

            I don’t see what the problem is. Memes work best as quotes. Of course the whole text is preferable but that misses the point of quoting.

          • No. Memes work best as propaganda. That’s really what they accomplish.

          • Jim

            A meme is just a meme.

            What I would do if I were you is that I would re-read Professor Chis Keith’s aha moment post that Professor McGrath has linked in his OP (noticed that you provided a comment on that post). Then I would go say to the paragraph that starts with “I suppose I could trot out the traditional fare concerning the realities of Scripture …” This paragraph lists by way of example, a few representative inconsistencies and/or potential errors in the Bible that contributed to “aha” for Dr. Keith. I would then provide unequivocal evidence to prove that these four examples in fact do not contain errors, but are actually examples that contradictions still prove inerrancy. 🙂

            But hey that’s just me and how I would try to build my case for biblical inerrancy relevant to Dr. McGrath’s and Dr. Enns’ posts.

            Btw, I’ve read Keith’s “Jesus Against the Scribal Elite” and though it was excellent.

          • Heh. I would submit that a meme is much more than a simple quote or message. You might take a look at the Wiki.

          • Mike

            Meme or not, I’m more interested in the content of what Keith has to say in the quote (and subsequent post linked).

            Kevin, I’m interested. How do you define “inerrancy” when it comes to the text we have in our possession? Also, where do you see Keith as being in “error” in his thoughts?

          • I typically stick to the confessional term “infallible” when I’m guiding the discussion, but the word “inerrancy” in and of itself is not particularly bad on its own. It’s just had a lot of controversy attached to it. Briefly, the Bible is without error wherever it speaks. That doesn’t make it a scientific textbook or a book that speaks with what we would call precision in modern scientific terms. The Bible has to be accepted for the book and literature that it is and here I think advocates of error in the Bible tend to produce reads of the text(s) that are often quite wooden–at least as wooden as any corresponding inerrantist read. In fact, aside from the difference in how the text is approached it seems that there often isn’t much difference between inerrantists and their opponents in their hermeneutic.

            As an example, the difference in material between the Kings and Chronicles accounts. The person who assumes that this material contains contradictions because there are (at least) two different views presented in the respective texts is already working with a view that hasn’t considered all the options that might actually exist in terms of seeing the text for what it is. Furthermore, we might also take the time to note that these apparent discrepancies haven’t really bothered the church and her scholars until only very late in the game.

            Conversely, the inerrantist who must resolve every purported contradiction in my view works with an equally burdensome job when carried to the extreme. I don’t see the need to explain away purported contradictions and the notion of tension in the text between different perspectives doesn’t for me automatically signal either a contradiction or something to resolve. Such a difference in the text also doesn’t automatically signal for me an error between the two. We can certainly handle views that insist that there are contradictions, but I’m less inclined to do so given that I’m typically working with people in this debate on a different and more fundamental level. I reject the notion, therefore, that we can’t understand the text as without error in accordance with the faith of the historical church while properly treating the passages that are before us. I believe we just need to work harder at understanding what the texts are saying rather than have either side use them as a club for the other.

            A lot of things bothered me about Keith’s post linked above, but the main thing would be the assertion that people are dishonest in advocating reads of Scripture that are inerrant. Perhaps some people are, but I have yet to see that demonstrated. Simply “feeling” (as Keith puts it) that such is the case or because Keith can’t find a way to see how such views are legitimate does not at all make him right or substantiate his claim that inerrantists are inherently dishonest in what they put forward.

            The fact that some people might rule out a conclusion because of working assumptions in addressing the text also doesn’t make a person dishonest–if we did that, almost every Bible scholar of the last hundred years would have to be excused for dishonesty.

            I mean, as an example, higher criticism is an entire study of assumptions made about the internal nature of the text(s) in question. No one calls a scholar dishonest because they assume that a Jahwist wrote certain parts of the Torah and therefore considers the relevant sections of the text in a certain way. Why do inerrantists get slammed for doing much the same? It seems to me that Keith is simply in error here in assuming that someone is dishonest because they have a working set of assumptions about the text of Scripture.

          • Mike

            Thanks for the reply–and the clarification. Often it feels like people talk past each other due to differing understandings of the scope and nature of what people call “inerrancy.” Some inerrantist do in fact call for the biblical text to be without error in matters of faith, history, and science. Others see it as without error in some “original autographs.” Both of those positions seem quite untenable.

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by the Bible being “without error in whatever it speaks.” This seems very broad–even including matters of science and history. What is your thought there?

            I agree withy you that genre and the nature of the literature does need to come into play here when discussing potential tensions and contradictions. The Bible does not approach “history” in the same manner and category that we often approach it in the modern mindset. The problem seems that many inerrantists do in fact hold to the historical veracity of the text–those hemming themselves into hermeneutical contortions in order to rectify tensions–and even contradictions–in the text itself. (As a side note, this is what I believe Keith to be saying in “being honest with the text we have.” I’m not seeing him taking a position of purposeful dishonesty and disingenuousness. I think he has in mind the “protection of inerrancy” at all costs, even to the degree that we force a certain reading rather than letting the text be–tensions and all.)

            I think it;s pretty clear that Genesis 1-2 are not meant to be taken as a literal vision of creation–as they are more concerned with the why of creation, rather than the how of creation. Many inerrantists that I speak with struggle with this as they cannot allow the account to be poetic in form and content–let alone it being in polemical dialogue with other ANE writings.

            I see your distinction with Kings and Samuel census stories–as it most likely deals with a growing theological trajectory (dualism being quite late in the textual tradition). But there are other tensions to be resolved–like the location from which David secures the bodies of Saul and his sons, the final burial location of Saul’s body, the differing days of Jesus crucifixion (Synoptic vs. John), the conflicting historical accounts between Numbers and the re-interpretion of those events in Deut. This not to mention the divergent opinions of what actually was accomplished in conquest narratives of Joshua and Judges–where they posit very different realities. Inerrantists, in my experience, have a difficult hermeneutic task here–and I think this may be the central issue for Keith (but I’m not sure). While sense of compulsion to address the issues is noble, the resulting contortions in service to inerrancy as a driving hermeneutic can be problematic.

            I agree with you wholeheartedly that these issues did not bother scholars until late in the game, but that is because the classic assertion of inerrancy in quite new–arising from the clash with modernity and the Enlightenment. The text quite simply was called inerrant, because even ancient communities (scribes and interpreters) never envisioned it according to the modern definition and category.

            Thanks again for taking the time to clarify! Blessings.