Posts Tagged ‘inerrancy’

Ehrman, the Bible, and authority

March 28, 2011

I’m sure Bart Ehrman is an accomplished New Testament scholar, but as he surely knows by now, writing for a mass audience that knows little about the Bible pays much better. A few years ago, he became an honorary New Atheist, known to many as that New Testament scholar who has studied the stuff and knows it’s all bunk. I heard Christopher Hitchens say something to that effect on more than one occasion. Ehrman writes books dealing with issues in Bible criticism that any first-year seminarian knows about, but packages them as if he’s discovered something new and shocking. His tone is if only people knew the truth, then they wouldn’t bother being Christian.

This time, he’s taking on those letters in the New Testament whose authorship is in dispute. He writes, for example,

Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere — except for our friends among the fundamentalists — will tell you that there is no way on God’s green earth that Peter wrote the book… Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong.

From Ehrman’s point of view, if one of Paul’s companions or students wrote the so-called disputed letters of Paul (which are: 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) in Paul’s name, they were not simply honoring their friend and carrying forward Pauline ideas in a way that Paul himself would endorse or authorize, they were instead a bunch of lying liars.  Read the rest of this entry »

Letter to an inerrantist

February 7, 2011

This little post on atheism a while back inspired a lengthy and interesting discussion on a friend’s blog. In the course of that discussion, I offered this very brief defense of Jesus’ bodily resurrection (with the understanding that while Jesus’ resurrection was at least physical, it was more than we can explain or comprehend). Later, someone chimed in his support for my argument and wondered if I—like him—believed that the resurrection of Jesus proved that the Bible is “inerrant” (a loaded word if ever there was one).

Here’s what I wrote in reply:

Thanks for the kind words. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I can’t go with you down this path. As to what I believe, I think the Nicene Creed captures it nicely—and this is part of the problem. The Nicene Creed is a statement of Christian faith that predates your view of the authority of scripture by about 1,600 years. When it comes to Christian faith, I’m automatically biased towards things that are older. In other words, your view of the authority of scripture is way too modern. The Church fathers (and mothers) knew nothing of inerrancy.

In my view, scripture has authority inasmuch as it bears witness to the Word of God, who is (I hate this word, but I’ll use it anyway) literally Jesus. I believe that God’s perfect revelation of God’s self is not words on paper (even in their original “autographs”) but a person. God is absolute; everything else, including scripture, is relative. By all means, we understand the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in light of scripture—the overarching story of God’s plan to put the world to rights through Israel, of which Jesus’ passion/death/resurrection is the climax. The resurrection, contrary to what you argue, doesn’t vindicate the Bible, it vindicates God.

This might make our footing seem a bit slippery as we grope with the challenges of our lives and our world, but our faith is in God, not the Bible—which is not to say that the Bible isn’t inspired by God or isn’t essential for forming as Christians. I believe that we encounter God through scripture by the power of the Spirit. Isn’t that enough? Do I need scripture to do anything more?

Logically, your argument about how the resurrection “proves” the other miracles in scripture doesn’t hold up. For one thing, all of Jesus’ words about Adam, Noah, or Jonah are true whether or not these people were historical people. To say that Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days is true: in the ironic and funny story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah is, among other things, a great work of comic literature. In my view, you flatten the story if you insist on its being historical.

The good Samaritan or the father of the prodigal son aren’t historical people, yet who would argue that their stories are impoverished because of it?

Also, given my view of the Word of God, I don’t share your burden of believing that the historical Jesus corresponds in every detail to the Jesus that emerges in the words of the gospels. The gospel writers are themselves “reading” Jesus through the lens of resurrection, and that necessarily affects how they tell the story of Jesus. I don’t believe that Jesus was walking around with a self-understanding that he was God incarnate. I certainly don’t believe that Jesus shared God’s knowledge. I take the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 quite literally (ha!) when it talks about Christ’s emptying himself. To be human is necessarily to be limited in knowledge.

I believe Jesus understood himself in the context of a first century Jewish worldview. I believe that Jesus saw himself as Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Even words about “son of God” has a more nuanced meaning in the context of Israel and Davidic kingship than simply “son of God=Second Person of the Trinity.” One of the great benefits of Jewish-Christian dialogue over the past 50 years or so is that we are better able to read Jesus’ life in the context of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish thought.

But I hope you see that how Jesus understood himself is less important than what God communicated about Jesus through the events of the cross and resurrection. The Church arrives at its christological formulations about Jesus Christ only after reflecting and elaborating on the implications of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection over time.

O.K., I’m now officially boring myself. Sorry. Anyway, thanks for your input.