Monday, September 14, 2020

The Errors Of People Finding Errors In Scripture

Often, some of the best material in a book is found in its notes. Martin Hengel has a great line in a note in a book he wrote about the gospel of Mark. He's addressing modern critics who are overly dismissive of the author of the gospel of Mark because of alleged errors he made on matters like geography and Jewish customs:

"As many and as few mistakes are made in the Gospels as in monographs on the New Testament." (Studies In The Gospel Of Mark [Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003], n 51 on p. 148)

In the same note, he gives an example of a fellow New Testament scholar, apparently, who made a geographical error similar to the ones that are supposed to be in Mark:

"When I visited my distinguished colleague A. Kuschke (to whom I had dedicated the above article on his seventieth birthday) in Kusterdingen, south-east of Tübingen, we were able to admire Pfrondorf to the north, beyond the Neckar. A colleague who had lived for many years in Tübingen asked me, 'Is that beyond Wankheim?' 'No,' I had to tell him, 'it's in the opposite direction.'"

The house my mother is currently living in is the one where I spent most of my childhood. I lived there for a double-digit number of years, and I frequently go back there to visit. I can't name some of the streets closest to the house. There are many aspects of the topography, names of certain neighbors, etc. that I wouldn't be able to provide if asked. But critics often expect Mark to have a much higher level of knowledge about regions of Israel, like Galilee, where we have no reason to think he ever lived. As Hengel comments elsewhere in his book, "His 'deficient knowledge' of the geography of Galilee, which contemporary exegetes like to criticize, in fact simply shows up the [latter's] historical incomprehension: without a map it would be difficult even for a man of antiquity like Mark to establish his bearings in a strange area a good seventy miles from his home city" (46).

Hengel wasn't a conservative, and he wasn't an inerrantist, but he often agreed with conservatives and inerrantists on significant issues. And what he says above about the gospels is also relevant to criticisms that are often brought against the church fathers and other ancient sources. The evidence supports the inerrancy of scripture, and the supposed errors in Mark are often not seen as errors even by people who aren't inerrantists. But the points Hengel makes above should be kept in mind. Since inerrantists often argue for inerrancy by appealing to the general trustworthiness of the relevant documents, without yet appealing to their inerrancy, Hengel's points are relevant accordingly even for those wanting to persuade people to accept the inerrancy of scripture.

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