Monday, May 07, 2018

Inspiration in eclipse

i) There are theologically moderate Bible scholars and Christian apologists who regard inerrancy as dispensable. However, to deny inerrancy is to deny the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. 

When people demote or dismiss inerrancy, I always wonder what they believe about inspiration. Do they limit inspiration to episodes of direct revelation, like an audible voice or God beaming visions into the mind of a seer like Ezekiel? 

Even in visionary revelation like the Apocalypse, there's lots of spoken material. What would be the point of God disclosing that to the seer if the seer had to rely on his fallible memory to recollect what was said in the vision? 

ii) Do they think inspiration doesn't figure in the composition of historical narratives? If the Gospels are uninspired, what about the NT letters? 

iii) A problem with uninspired memory is that it's better at remembering events than speeches. But if the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels is an uninspired translation of uninspired recollections, how dependable is that? At best, we have a reasonably trustworthy record of what Jesus did but not what he said. We have the deeds but not the words. We lose the words. Yet the teaching of Jesus is central to Christian faith. 

It's sometimes said that Jesus taught the same things over and over again, which drilled his teaching into the minds of the disciples. True up to a point, but a lot of Christ's teaching is contained in one-time debates and dialogues. The disciples only heard those exchanges once.

iv) Or take the parables. Those are very memorable, but what's memorable is the characters and plot, not the actual wording. 

v) Jesus has lots of quotable one-liners. However, those aren't necessarily memorable when embedded in a longer discourse. If you heard that speech, dialogue, or debate one time, would uninspired memory pick out the catchy statements, or would they tend to be lost in everything else that was said?

vi) The only access we have to the teaching of Jesus is the text. How it's verbalized. And exegesis is concerned with the actual wording of a text. Syntax and semantics. Consider how many exegetical and theological debates turn on the exact wording of a Biblical passage. 

If the actual wording is just an uninspired summary or paraphrase of fallible memory, how can that be authoritative? How can we rely on that?

vii) Moreover, how the description of an event is worded will greatly affect our understanding of the event. Uninspired speakers often express themselves poorly. So to some extent the events become hazy too. 

viii) For that matter, there are many incidents in the life of Christ which are only reported in one Gospel. A lot is hanging on uncorroborated reports. Without the safety net of inspiration, we have a composite life of Christ that's multiply-attested in some respects but thinly attested in other respects. If we confined ourselves to the multiply-attested incidents, how much would be left?  

So there's actually quite a lot at stake on the inspiration of Scripture. If inspiration is expendable, so is the teaching of Jesus. If inspiration goes down, it takes a lot with it. 


  1. What do they do with Jesus' statements that He has to die because Scripture has predicted it? It seems to go beyond infallibility. It's saying things are forced to occur because Scripture (and by proxy the Lord) has spoken about them.

  2. Yeah, if we deny the foundational doctrine of biblical inerrancy, then that would most certainly give us reason to doubt the veracity of other fundamental articles of the Christian faith. That would also make the apostles liars when they affirmed Scripture as being inspired by God (i.e. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:17-21).