Friday, May 19, 2006

Inerrancy & autographa

Zeteo Eurisko said:

“Thus, back to my honest query for you. Adequacy is not the question.”

Adequacy is the question when it’s a question of copies. Inerrant copies don’t figure in the traditional definition of inerrancy.

“Inerrancy is.”

Once again, you were originally asking for a definition. The definition of inerrancy doesn’t extend to the copies.

I don’t mind if you want to ask a different question, but that’s an accurate answer to the first part of you question.

“The question remains unanswered: why would God bother to directly inspire authors and not take an intervening role in preserving the text?”

Several issues here:

i) The source of Protestant theology is revealed theology. We don’t do theology by positing what we think would be an ideal state of affairs, and then positing the conditions to realize that ideal.

One basic reason we ascribe inerrancy to the autographa and not to the copies is that Scripture ascribes inerrancy to the autographa and not to the copies.

ii) We do believe that God had a providential role in the preservation of the text. But he did not will to preserve a textual tradition identical to the autographa.

iii) Since your question is speculative, the answer will be speculative.

There is certainly a difference between having errant copies of errant originals, and having errant copies of inerrant originals.

This is especially the case if it’s possible to recover the original with a high degree of certainty from errant copies.

And this is the more so if (a), due to the redundancy of Biblical teaching, as well as (b) the trivial nature of most textual variants, no article of the faith was lost as a consequence of a fallible transmission process.

It is simply unnecessary to have inerrant copies if you can retrieve the original to a sufficient degree of accuracy using ordinary methods of transcription and critical reconstruction.

iv) Indeed, for God to inspire every scribe would blur the distinction between special revelation and ordinary providence, divine speech and human speech.

This would defeat the purpose of having revelation in the first place, since it would become impossible to demarcate the line between inspired and uninspired speech, to know when one took up where the other left off.

Are we to suppose that if Bertrand Russell were quoting Scripture to disprove Scripture, God would have to inspire Russell’s citation, so that Russell would be divinely inspired every time he quoted the Bible?

What about a paraphrase or summary? Would that also have to be inspired?

Even before the Fall there was a difference between God speaking and Adam speaking, where one ended while the other began.

“Asking the question from another angle: if the preservation of scripture is clearly the work of fallible men, could not the authorship be as well?”

This question is ambiguous. Are you asking if the ascription of authorship could be fallible, or are you asking if the Scriptural authors could be fallible?

“Most importantly, how do we tell the difference?”

i) If you’re posing the first version of the question (authorial attribution), then that’s a matter of internal and external evidence regarding authorship.

ii) If you’re posing the second version of the question (inspired authorship), then that goes to the various lines of evidence for the inspiration of Scripture.

4 comments:

  1. Or, as a believing Christian who isn't intellectually ashamed to profess truth that goes against human notions of logic or notions of correctness (and who isn't afraid of being mocked by the world -- including vain scholars) you can just say the Word of God is preserved and shepherded by the Holy Spirit Himself and the trail can be found in the great Reformation translations based on the Traditional Text. James White says: "You can't bring that to a debate with a Muslim!" Just bring the Word of God. The Muslim won't see or hear anything without the Spirit anyway... That goes for liberals and atheists as well.

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  2. Thank you for addressing my points.

    One basic reason we ascribe inerrancy to the autographa and not to the copies is that Scripture ascribes inerrancy to the autographa and not to the copies.

    This is circular on two levels. First, this is the classic argument that the Bible is God’s Word because the Bible says it is God’s word. Second, with more detail, you are saying that the error-prone versions of the Bible we have now are descendants of divinely inspired autographs because those inspired autographs (which we don’t have) say they are divinely inspired.

    I will take the point, however, that your statement fits with the traditional definition of inerrancy, and, according to that tradition and as an answer to my question, you are correct.

    We don’t do theology by positing what we think would be an ideal state of affairs, and then positing the conditions to realize that ideal. … We do believe that God had a providential role in the preservation of the text. But he did not will to preserve a textual tradition identical to the autographa.

    This strikes me as a remarkably safe position. Anything that can be observed and tested, such as errors in our extant texts, can be attributed to errors in transmission. The actual autographs, which can never be observed, are glorified as perfect and inspired. The part of the process we see today – the transmission – is clearly controlled by men. Rather than extrapolating backwards and concluding the whole development of the text (including the authorship) could reasonably be explained by the same process, once we are beyond our ability to observe, the supernatural is invoked as the explanation. It is a faith-based position against which argumentation is likely useless. Such safe answers would put an end to questions if only I could put my faith in them.

    your question [why God inspires but does not preserve] is speculative

    Granted, but I am not claiming to have knowledge of the mind of God. Protestant theology does claim to know how God has worked.

    It is simply unnecessary to have inerrant copies if you can retrieve the original to a sufficient degree of accuracy using ordinary methods of transcription and critical reconstruction.

    What do you do, then, when our best methods of recovering the original still result in 800,000 = 1.1 million? I still have not had an answer to that question.

    Indeed, for God to inspire every scribe would blur the distinction between special revelation and ordinary providence, divine speech and human speech.

    I think this statement – and your argument from incredulity that follows it – regarding the ridiculous results of God constantly intervening into the lives of men is more in your problem domain to answer than mine. I do not believe that God has ever intervened. If he has, the results you describe apply as much to your claim of inspired scripture as they do to your example of how ridiculous it would be for God to constantly inspire our speech. One is not more or less unbelievable than the other.

    If you’re posing the second version of the question (inspired authorship), then that goes to the various lines of evidence for the inspiration of Scripture.

    Now this cuts to the chase. I am beginning to realize that a large component of my disbelief has stemmed from my fading belief in the supernatural. I explained this from a philosophical perspective on my blog here, but that discussion is ancillary to this one (and it needs re-writing!). As a Christian music leader, I would sing in one of my favorite songs, "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you." I would really like to see and know God, but He’s frankly not there for the observing. (Again, see the blog article if you want a fuller opinion.)

    Revealed knowledge – the Bible – should provide observable evidence of its unified divine origin. In most of the studies that I have done on my own, I have not found (or, perhaps, not understood) this evidence. But I won’t do you the disservice of assuming your argument. To what lines of evidence would you point me that demonstrate scriptural inspiration?

    I recognize that this is a very broad question, and I will be satisfied with resources (books, websites) rather than an in-depth response.

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  3. Zeteo Eurisko,

    You're misunderstanding what Steve said about accepting inerrancy because of what scripture teaches. He was referring to the fact that Christians hold their view of inerrancy because scripture teaches that view. He wasn't denying that we have evidence for what scripture claims about itself. To the contrary, the closing line of his post refers to such evidence.

    Keep in mind that, for a Christian making a full case for the Christian faith, an appeal to something like a copyist error would come after arguing for a larger Christian worldview. A Christian will address specific charges of error in specific Biblical passages without first arguing for larger Christian concepts every time a charge of error is made. We don't have to reinvent the wheel every time we comment on an alleged Biblical error, as I'm sure you'd agree.

    Given the evidence we have for the Divine inspiration of the Bible, the relatively small number of appeals Christians make to copyist errors is reasonable. Something has to give way, and the evidence we have for Biblical inspiration weighs more. Copyist errors are common in document transmission. But the sort of mass hallucinations, widespread memory losses, unusual coincidences, etc. that people appeal to in an attempt to dismiss Biblical inspiration aren't so common. Neither side of this dispute has an easy answer, but the Christian answer is less difficult.

    You asked for recommendations for resources to consult. Steve has already mentioned some books, and this blog has a lot of material. You can search the archives.

    Regarding the numbers in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, I recommend J.P. Holding's article on the subject:

    http://www.tektonics.org/lp/otmilitarynumbers.html

    There are many good web sites you could consult on apologetic issues in general, such as:

    http://www.christian-thinktank.com

    http://www.tektonics.org

    http://www.answeringinfidels.com

    http://christiancadre.org

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  4. This is circular on two levels. First, this is the classic argument that the Bible is God’s Word because the Bible says it is God’s word. Second, with more detail, you are saying that the error-prone versions of the Bible we have now are descendants of divinely inspired autographs because those inspired autographs (which we don’t have) say they are divinely inspired.

    I will take the point, however, that your statement fits with the traditional definition of inerrancy, and, according to that tradition and as an answer to my question, you are correct.


    Zeteo Eurisko,

    This is the way things work out in this case. Steve and Jason have already described it but I wish to simplify the statements being made:

    We MUST take Scripture upon its own authority. It is imperative that we assume it to be final and authoritative because of its claims to be the very Word of God Himself, reflective of His thoughts and descriptive of His nature.

    One of the most basic presuppositions of Biblical Inerrancy is that Scripture stands on its own two legs as an absolute authority from God. To that end we may point to internal and external evidences for its inspiration, such as its consistency (despite millennia of having been transcribed and transmitted by scribe after scribe) as well as archaeological discoveries, etc.

    But there is a problem. The moment we dismiss this presupposition--the moment we DEMAND that something outside of Scripture must rise up to prove its authenticity (and thus its authoritativeness) is to undermine its authority in the first place.

    I imagine that you, as an agnostic who denies (at least) that God has revealed His knowledge with clarity to men in the past automatically dismisses this claim as false, but as far as I can see here it is only upon your own grounds. In this particular aspect of Christianity it seems to be some form of empiricism. But what makes empricism true? What makes our senses reliable and trustworthy?

    In fact the subtitle to your blog reads that you are searching for truth in a world where many claim to hold it. But it is clear that from here on out you have rejected the supernatural, and so you have automatically skewed your search for truth in a naturalistic direction.

    Why did I take that detour? You say you want us to defend our position on Biblical Inerrancy. But instead, based on disbelief in the supernatural, you reject the infallibility of Scripture a priori and so is left seeking for extrabiblical authorities that would somehow (in your understanding) prove the tuth of the Bible. But that is undermining Biblical authority in the first place (as was mentioned). To add to the problems, why must we accept said extrabiblical authorities as true and authoritative?

    Finally (and in the same vein), if you are indeed searching for truth then how can you come to the conclusion Scripture has regarding its own nature and origin (i.e. a supernatural one) if you are already applying an a priori naturalistic assumption to the whole equation, as you yourself have admitted to doing? What justifies your anti-supernatural bias?

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