Tuesday, August 20, 2019

An ostensive definition of inerrancy

Definitions of inerrancy typically take the form of abstract definitions. While there's a necessary place for abstract definitions of inerrancy, their generality makes them fact-free vacuities. But traditional inerrantists have specific examples in mind, so it's useful to supplement or complement abstract definitions with ostensive definitions to avoid vacuity. For instance:

1. The historical narratives of Scripture (e.g. the Pentateuch; Gospels) are factually accurate. They record real events. Moreover, they describe real events in ways that would be recognizable if you could step into a time machine and go back to the scenes they narrate. 

2. The moral and theological teaching of Scripture is true. Scripture doesn't command evil. Scripture doesn't misrepresent the true nature of God.

3. The prophecies of Scripture are genuinely and accurately predictive. They were delivered prior to the fulfillment, rather than "prophecies" after the fact. In addition, the predictions have been or will be realized.    


  1. From what I've seen, you seem to hold to the position that, say, the gospel writers could have paraphrased Jesus instead of quoting him verbatim. This seems to go against older ideas of inerrancy (I think). Do you think it makes much of a difference?

    1. The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy takes the position that inerrancy is compatible with "free citations".

      There's nothing wrong with a paraphrase so long as it captures/preserves the meaning, conveys the same idea, as the original words. The problem is an idiosyncratic definition of paraphrase where it doesn't recognizably reproduce the original sense.

    2. Actually, I just thought of something: is there any reason to believe that the gospel writers did paraphrase Jesus? Is there any problem with thinking that they quoted him verbatim?

      Thanks for your previous reply, by the way.

    3. The stock argument is that human memory recalls the gist of what someone said, not their verbatim utterance, and that becomes even more unrealistic for long discourses from years before. Mind you, that fails to take inspiration into consideration.

      But even with inspiration, some of the speeches in the Gospels seems like condensations of what he said. He probably spoke at greater length on many occasions.

    4. An excellent modern comparison would be the famous 'George S. Patton's speech to the Third Army' - which is not actually one speech, but an amalgamation of what various listeners could remember from his multiple motivational talks. To cite the Wiki: "Patton delivered the speech without notes, and so though it was substantially the same at each occurrence, the order of some of its parts varied."

      Over the course of three years, it's likely that Jesus repeated some of the same messages to different crowds. Likely the specific wordings or phrases would be different though the gist of the message is the same. In such a case, the Gospel writers would have combined and spliced several separate speaking occasions together - especially if that's what their memory retains.

      Throw in the high possibility that Jesus spoke multiple languages or even mixed the usage of languages while speaking, just like a modern multilingual speaker would when amidst a crowd of his own. Any Greek-only transcript would therefore be a paraphrase.

  2. On the matter historical narratives describing real event...

    I recently uploaded my rapid-fire overview of Biblical archaeology. It's 106 minutes long with 100+ examples, but any feedback or shares are appreciated!