Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Inerrancy and Scripturalism

A stock objection to the inerrancy of Scripture alleges contradictions in the Gospels. For instance, Bart Ehrman has a list of canned objections. Ehrman seems to operate with a crude, Harold Lindsell concept of what inerrancy entails.

A standard way of harmonizing the Gospels is to make allowance for the fact that the authors often omit details, foreshorten events, paraphrase sayings, and rearrange the order of events. Seeing an event is different than writing about it. Seeing an event is an immersive experience. In writing about it, you must adapt to a different medium. You can't directly reproduce the experience in writing. 

In addition, we use our imagination to visualize what might have happened. In our mind's eye, we consider different ways of ordering incidents and dialogues in time and space. That's a way of demonstrating how variant accounts could be harmonious. Who said what when and where? In principle, there's more than one way that could take place. That creates room for harmonizing variant accounts. 

It isn't clear to me that Scripturalism can defend the Gospels against allegations of inconsistency. For Scripturalism, truth is reducible to Biblical propositions. All you've got to work with are the verbalized propositions in the four Gospels. That's it. Yet that is what is alleged to generate the contradictions in the first place.

Scripturalists can't go outside Scripture to create conceptual space between Biblical propositions, to demonstrate how alleged contradictions are reconcilable. They lack that flexibility, because their only source of knowledge begins and ends with Scripture itself. They can't use their imagination to visualize a scene that's reported in two or more Gospels, to fill in the gaps. They can't explore different ways in which to place narrative descriptions in a larger spacial or temporal framework, to consider alternative sequences that successfully combine what two or more Gospels describe, when there are apparent discrepancies in parallel accounts.

In other words, when you read the four Gospels horizontally, differences become conspicuous. Yet differences are all the Scripturalist has to go on. There's no play, no give, because there's nothing over and above the Gospels to work with. He can't use his extrascriptural imagination to put people, places, incidents, and dialogues in a broader timeline. He can't explore different alternative arrangements. When someone like Ehrman attacks the mutual consistency of the four Gospels, I don't think Scripturalists can show how those might fit together. 

Perhaps it's a waste of time for me to comment on Scripturalism. I don't know how many Scripturalists there are, world wide. Especially in the age of the Internet, it's a way some people are introduced to philosophy and Calvinism. 


  1. I argued for something similar in previous blog comments (links below).

    Clarkians seem to assume that God wouldn't have intentionally placed 1. apparent contradictions and 2. paradoxes in Scripture. But why not? I argued for why God might have done so in the comments of the following Triablogue blogposts:



    As I said in those comments, I can think of various reasons why God would do so. To name just three, 1. it requires faith/trust on part of the believer, 2. to sometimes sift the elect and the non-elect, 3. to make it such that salvation is ultimately a matter of grace rather than brute intellect. I gave a further argument in the comments of the two blogposts linked above. There's no need to argue for it all again or to copy and paste.

    1. I'll copy and paste one passage I wrote in the 2nd of those blogposts:

      Maybe Clarkians need not resolve apparent contradictions/paradoxes that haven't yet been brought up, but if one is brought up (it would seem to me) they would have to be able to resolve it [[I argued for this necessity in the original comments]]. It's my understanding that some Clarkians (or those influenced by Clark like Vincent Cheung) claim that you cannot consistently affirm two apparently contradictory propositions (even if they aren't actually contradictory). If that's true, then Clarkians really do need to resolve all contradictions/paradoxes whenever (and once) they are actually proposed.

      I don't know if this is representative of Clarkians, but Vincent Cheung wrote the following:

      Whether or not there is an actual contradiction, as long as a person perceives an apparent contradiction between two propositions, he cannot affirm both propositions. This is because when there is a contradiction between two propositions, whether it is an apparent or actual contradiction, it always means that to affirm one is to deny the other at the same time. Therefore, to affirm two propositions that contradict each other is in fact to deny both propositions in reverse order.

      If X and Y contradict each other, then X = not-Y and Y = not-X. Then, to affirm both X and Y is the same as affirming not-Y and not-X, which is to deny both X and Y, only in reverse order. Of course, since not-Y = X and not-X = Y, then this means to deny both X and Y is really to affirm both in reverse order. But again, to affirm both is to deny both in reverse order, and this continues without end. To affirm both is to deny both, and to deny both is to affirm both. Therefore, to affirm two contradictory propositions is to say nothing, or worse than nothing, because it shows that the person is stupid.

      He's written similar things through the years. The problem is that he admits that sometimes it requires extra information to resolve a contradiction. He wrote: "Perhaps he has made a mistake in reasoning, or perhaps he lacks some information that he needs to correctly understand the propositions." Why assume that in every instance of an apparent contradiction/paradox the Bible also provides that key datum (or data) that can resolve it? Cheung doesn't address that possibility. Rather, he rules it out a priori. I could say more in critiquing Cheung, but my purpose here is to address Clarkianism in general or Sean's recent comments in particular. Maybe Sean doesn't agree with Cheung on the impossibility of affirming apparent contradictions.

    2. I wrote, "Why assume that in every instance of an apparent contradiction/paradox the Bible also provides that key datum (or data) that can resolve it? Cheung doesn't address that possibility. Rather, he rules it out a priori."

      Considering it further, I'm not sure Cheung does claim that all the necessary data is in Scripture. Maybe sometimes a key datum is outside of Scripture and can only be found inductively through archaeology (contrary to their insistence on Scripturalism and deduction).

  2. Some things I've been pondering that I want to put on here because I'm reminded of them after reading your argument or explanation of the ways of a Scripturalist.

    First some verses from the Scriptures:

    Act 15:13 After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me.
    Act 15:14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.

    Notice what James repeats in his own way what God did and still does:


    And then:

    Act 15:24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,
    Act 15:25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
    Act 15:26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    It would be fair to say ALL the Apostles used to write the Gospels and Epistles were present at this meeting and look what it says:


    You'd think if there were going to issues within this group of Biblical writers that conference would have been as good a place for taking issue with how those letters were going to written?

    2Pe 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
    2Pe 3:16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

    I just reviewed 21 translations of those verses from 2 Peter and especially 3:16 Everyone of those translations translates Paul's writings in the plural and to boot, we should be able to conclude from that that Peter has read ALL of Paul's "letters" before writing that epistle himself? It's not the writings that Peter takes issue with is it? No, his issue is with those who are ignorant and unstable who are finding Paul's letters difficult to understand "... AS THEY DO THE OTHER SCRIPTURES. ...".

    Letter writing was still is normal and as for the Scriptures they have been directly inspired by God to write them so that over time they too are considered the Scriptures. We see the Scriptures show us this idea from the beginning of Moses' writings sometime back in the 1400's B.C.. And even before he started jotting down the Word of God there are other writings we can look to that date before that, the cuneiform writings of Sumer and Ur in the valley of Mesopotamia, "between the two rivers" of that era and the hieroglyphics of Egypt and the culture of that era.

    I wouldn't and don't expect people who are Scripturalists who have not been "taken" from them a people for his name to have the ability to understand the way the Holy Spirit inspires men to write God's messages out for us to consider upon whom the ends of the earth have come.

    1Co 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

    We who have been taken from "them" to be His people have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who is parenthetically the inspiration behind all Scripture so that there really isn't an issue for us as some non-believers make of it.