Friday, March 13, 2009

Inerrancy and textual criticism

At some point I intend to comment on some of the contradictions that Bart Ehrman imputes to Scripture in his new book, Jesus, Interrupted. For now I want to draw attention to a dilemma generated by his own position.

A contradiction involves a discrepancy between two or more passages. You can’t allege a contradiction unless the text is reliable. If the text is unreliable, then you’re in no position to say that these passages are ultimately discrepant. For all you know, the discrepancy might well be a scribal gloss.

So a necessary precondition for imputing contradictions to scripture is the essential integrity of the text. If the transmission of the text is unreliable, then any contradiction you allege is vitiated by an unreliable witness to the original text.

Therefore, the liberal has to choose between two mutually exclusive lines of attack. If he attacks the integrity of the text, then he forfeits the right to attack the inerrancy of the text–but if he attacks the inerrancy of the text, then he forfeits the right to attack the integrity of the text. One line of attack cancels out the other, and vice versa. You can pay on the way in, or you can pay on the way out, but either way, you have to pay up.

Incidentally, a parallel conundrum is generated by critics who claim the meaning of Scripture is hopelessly uncertain since Christians disagree over the correct interpretation of Scripture. If you press this issue, then you disqualify yourself from imputing error to Scripture–for the imputation of error is only as good as your interpretation. So the unbeliever is in a quandary. He likes to attack the Bible from every conceivable angle, but in the process he is forming a circular firing squad. He makes himself the target of his own incoherent stratagems.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent observations Steve! This is the first place that I have ever seen or read of the Bible critic being cut by his own double-edged sword.