Biblical Inerrancy

Christian faith has appeared to many an easy thing; nay, not a few even reckon it among the social virtues, as it were; and this they do because they have not made proof of it experimentally, and have never tasted of what efficacy it is. For it is not possible for any man to write well about it, or to understand well what is rightly written, who has not at some time tasted of its spirit, under the pressure of tribulation; while he who has tasted of it, even to a very small extent, can never write, speak, think, or hear about it sufficiently.[1]

It is not my current desire to formulate a comprehensive framework of understanding concerning biblical inerrancy. But in encountering some on the Internet who have likewise suffered under the tyranny of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) creedal understanding, I feel it incumbent to make some interim comments.We must first define terms. Biblical inerrancy claims that all the canonical writers speak truth in all that they affirm (“it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses”). In Biblical infallibility, on the other hand, the claim is circumscribed to that of speaking truth on any matter of faith and practice.

The problem lies less in the verity of the doctrine. Rather, except to inscribe upon a creedal plaque, with the inevitable by-product, if not animating motivation, to use as an institutional gavel by which its formulators and signers can denigrate and eradicate their theological adversaries;[2] the doctrine is of little practicable worth and use, is spiritually and psychologically dangerous, and is pastorally and missionally counterproductive.

But creedal affirmation is not faith. And unlike these “scholastic” authors, scrupulous and conscientious persons who actually have faith; that is, who actually operate upon the premises of their held opinions; that is, [make] proof of it experimentally under the pressure of tribulation; will tend to succumb to a perpetual state of doubt and vacillating double-mindedness precisely due to this doctrine of scriptural inerrancy.

The questions came and kept on coming. Is the Bible true, trustworthy, and authoritative, or is it just another human and fallible expression of man’s religiosity . . . The swirl of questions sent me into a tailspin: extreme anxiety, panic attacks, desperate tears followed by emotional numbness, an extended spiritual depression. In that context David’s question about destroyed foundations proved to be so meaningful to me. If the Scriptures are destroyed as my foundation, what am I supposed to do?[3]

Yesterday, TGC posted an article called, “Questioning Within the Borders of Faith.” The author told the story of his journey to college—a story not so different from my own . . . If a single sentence in it is discovered to be historically inaccurate or inconsistent with another passage, then our entire faith comes to a crashing, burning, bloody end . . . My faith began to crumble because it was in the B-I-B-L-E alone.[4]

I know exactly from where these chaps are coming; the issue being one of the many ducks I needed to rightly align in order to overcome a decades-long spiritual gauntlet and psychosis. Although my odyssey was not directly due to this CSBI statement, the underlying spirit of modern Evangelicalism lent to this personal understanding and its naturally ensuing spiritual perils.

Of Little Practicable Worth and Use

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant. [Article X]

The Bible, which the modern Christian reads, is one of many translations, which are at various degrees of semantic variance from the original text. Those variances, especially of the New Testament Greek text, are often significant, if subtle. Furthermore, there are over 25 textual passages, two of which are major (Mark 16:9–20 and John 7:53—8:11) which are under dispute as to their validity of their inclusion. Therefore, paeans to the inerrancy of the “autographic text of the original documents” are superfluous assertions which carry little practicable relevance except as creedal affirmations.

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See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

One of those significant translation corruptions concerns the total hatchet job performed on Colossians 2:8; significant in the manner by which this corruption came into existence; more significant in the consequences to the Christian faith.

The phrase elemental spirits is an utter perversion of the Greek term stoicheia (στοιχεῖα). There exists not one extant pagan writing in which stoicheia emits of even an odor of spirits or spiritual forces. Paul and other NT writers wrote into a pre-existing language, in which stoicheia was a well-defined concept, and which did not substantively change before or after the New Testament was written.

Stoichiea does not signify any palpable entity, but is a conceptual abstraction to signify the most (logically) basic, irreducible, and indivisible unit of any semantic grouping. To give examples, stoichea could reference the basic elements of the alphabet,[5] notes as the basic elements of music,[6] basic grammatical elements of speech (noun, verb, etc),[7] basic elements of a rhetorical argument,[8] the basic rudiments of the ethical Good,[9] or the perceived four basic material elements of the cosmos (earth, wind, fire and water); “of which [all] things are composed.”[10] An alternative and less popular naturalist theory, developed by Leucippus and Democritus, and popularized by Epicurus, was philosophical atomism, in which all matter could be reduced to a singular class of very small, even invisible components. (“These elements are indivisible and unchangeable.[11]) Euclid wrote the treatise Stoichiea (ca. 300 BC), which became the textbook on geometry and mathematics for centuries, which from five basic First Principle axioms, Euclid would develop, through corollaries, a full-fledged set of theorems.

Even the seven Biblical uses of stoichiea (Galatians 4:3, 9; Colossians 2:8, 20; Hebrews 5:12, 2 Peter 3:10, 12) are more often transcribed as elements, especially in translations prior to the 19th century (e.g. KJV, Douay–Rheims). But since the 19th century, a series of seminarians have speculated about a comprehensive heresy in the Colossian church, with many of the 40+ whimsical theories suggesting the inclusion of “spiritual forces” in that heresy. It is from the influence of these seminarian speculations that many of the English translations have incorporated elemental spirits of the world into the text.

  • See to it that no one takes you captive through [the] love/pursuit of wisdom and empty deception
  • [proceeding] down from the tradition of men,
  • [proceeding] down from the elements of the world,
  • and not down from Christ. (Colossians 2:8)[12]

Having taken the audacious liberty of furnishing a more literal if inelegant personal translation, the semantic sense of the verse is not that Paul was opposed to philosophy, which the standard modern English translations give impression. Paul’s critique was against the foundations upon which a philosophical framework is premised.

There are cultural archetypes denoted in Paul’s phrasing, although these approaches are universal and ahistorical and can be detected even in the current age. Both Second Temple Judaism and Roman culture were inclined to tradition, the passing down of teachings from generation to generation or through precedents. The Greeks were prone to build their philosophical framework from First Principles rationalism and naturalism, much like Euclid built his geometric system. But the New Testament text suggests that a systematic philosophical framework of sorts can be legitimately constructed upon the personal nature of Christ Jesus and His revelation.

Herein, we do not need to choose between “Philosophy or Christ.”[13] Whether recognized as such, there are many philosophical concerns and considerations in our day-to-day existence. If we repudiate the existence of these philosophical concerns and considerations because of wrong-headed prejudice against philosophy; if we set aside philosophical reasoning as an approach to Biblical hermeneutics in undue idolatry of nose-to-the-ground exegesis, which can also be subject to interpretative mendacity and incompetence, we create a void of understanding. That void will need to be filled. And if that void is not filled with hidden philosophical concepts in the Scriptures, they will be filled with philosophical concepts apart from Scriptures, and usually from the Hellenists.

I suspect we need to work on developing a Christian philosophy, world picture, including metaphysics, for the sake of avoiding syncretism and for the sake of having a holistic, integrated Christian mind.[14]

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If these incidents of scholar- and seminarian-derived corruptions of the English translations were a rarity, I should not protest so much. However, this is not the case. And the nature of the Greek terms in dispute and the logical ramifications are not insignificant.

Contrary to seminarian corruption (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (1960); Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (1930/6)), agape was an all-purpose word for love in the Greek New Testament, not merely unconditional love by God towards humanity, superior to all other forms of love. The latter definition is a seminarian innovation which is hard to reconcile in light of: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved (ēgapēsan) the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

As already noted elsewhere; contrary to virtually all English translations, wherever one encounters righteousness, one should replace the term in one’s mind with justice, which is how the Greeks defined the term dikaiosynē. The Greeks had no notion of righteousness in the full Hebraic New Testament sense. Their ethical frameworks were somewhat different. The closest Greek term might be hosiotēti (Luke 1:75, Ephesians 4:24), which is defined as conformity to a (divine) standard.

The list of translation errors goes on and on. And I suspect that many of those “errors” are due to Biblical scholars and their patrons who massage the translations to fit within their pre-existing theological commitments. Therefore, if all this be so, of what practicable and pastoral worth are paeans sung to the inerrancy of the “autographic text of the original documents?”

Spiritually and Psychologically Dangerous

Those persons who actually practice faith; that is, who actually operate upon the premises of their held opinions, rather than these “scholastics” who “load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46), will be prone to take seriously and practicably this ecclesiastical doctrine.

If a single sentence in it is discovered to be historically inaccurate or inconsistent with another passage, then our entire faith comes to a crashing, burning, bloody end.

And being of Western mind, imbued with an impossible Cartesian standard of proof for conscious beings who, endemically, can only “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9), such will feel compelled to placate those inner doubts and anxieties which are perpetually aroused by real and apparent rational and empirical contradictions. This is a problem for Western society in general (if not globally), all of which tends to lead to fashionable skepticism in non-theist society.

Those Christians so compelled, and naïve to the ways of the world, will encounter assertions made by intentionally dishonest scholarship. In my youth, I was confronted by these Higher Criticism advocates, who would late date both the Old and New Testament writings, which by implication suggest that the Jews and Christians proclaimed post facto prophecies and performed other acts of noetic mendacity and fraud. One way to overcome this game was to find and cite prophecies whose fulfillment occurred past the latest date of their late-dating and was evidenced by extant artifacts from various external sources. This is certainly a useful exercise to buttress one’s faith. There is, nowadays, abundant and increasing evidence that these canonical books were written much earlier than these “scholars” had asserted upon flimsy speculations.

But apparent contradictions between Biblical assertions and archeological/historical evidence can also occur honestly, and which defy any currently credible reconciliation. Often, much later scholarship will disprove the original empirical evidence, or there will be genuinely found a credible way to reconcile the apparent contradiction. These are the types of situations, which I am certain that God allows, in order to test one’s faith as to whom is one’s ultimate authority and arbiter of reliable truth.

The ultimate problem here is one of epistemology, and our human limits and competence. The failure to develop a Biblical philosophy in regards to epistemology (“Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” – 2 Corinthians 13:1 NIV) leads to the adoption of an external, extra-biblical epistemological standard; one which is impossible for less-than-omniscient beings to attain; and one which is not practiced even by those who exalt that standard. In the sensitive and conscientious Christian, this is a formula for fearful anxiety, even psychosis.

Considering the potential cost of discipleship, the testimony of two or three witnesses may not suffice, especially for those who desire almost perfect assurance of their salvation. My own standards of proof are somewhat higher, using multiple epistemological approaches to confirm. However, this is not the same as requiring perfect proof, by which a single jot and tittle of inconsistency can shatter one’s faith and peace. I shall not stop believing, especially if the core and substantive assertions prove true and sound, on the basis of a technicality. Even Darwinian evolutionists don’t do that against even more substantive disproof and inconsistencies.

Pastorally and Missionally Counterproductive

In fashioning such an esoteric thesis upon documents which are twice removed from common grasp, without acknowledging the limits on its practicable validity and value; the commons, and even church leaders, who are ignorant of the minutiae of qualifications, are seduced into playing a perpetual game of whack-a-mole in defense of the veracity of the Bible in its very errant and fallible translations.

The popular understanding of Biblical inerrancy invites the adversaries of Christianity to glean the Bible for every real and apparent inconsistency, however trifling, under a paradigm of falsification. If one can incontrovertibly demonstrate that if even one detail of translated Scriptures is in error, the whole kit and caboodle must be deemed unreliable and untrue. Consequently, zealous amateur and professional apologists feel duty-bound to reconcile and explain away the vast array of petty quibbles which are flung against the Bible in its various vernacular translations.

Without discerning that which is pivotal to the Faith from the trifling, it becomes a considerable waste of time and effort in bazooking down every wayward gnat of contention. Furthermore, it invites often ridiculous convolutions of explanation, which in of themselves, discredit the ambassadors if not the God of Scriptures and His Gospel. If the apologist performs a Greek word study, the adversarial interlocutor understandably accuses him/her of playing Jesuitical games, hiding behind dead languages, which few feel qualified to challenge. And if, at the end of the day, it is admitted that this inerrancy only applies to original autographa, the adversary condemns the orthodoxy for constructing a hypothesis which cannot be falsified.

Concluding Thoughts

In truth, I am an inerrantist of sorts. I loosely presume upon the inerrancy of the Hebrew and Greek text a guiding principle of exegesis. Indeed, I would audaciously claim a scrupulosity in this regard which exceeds these blowhards of orthodoxy.

Let us investigate, for instance, the sole and truncated scripture cited in the The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The full verse goes:

And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)

But there is at least one problem with this and other modern English translations (NIV, ESV, BSB); and that with regard to the preposition for as a translation of the Greek preposition eis (εἰς). The term, in both pagan and Christian sources, has overwhelmingly been transcribed as into, unto, to, towards, as it is in the King James Version (old and newer), Douay-Rheims, and American Standard Version (1901). The Vulgate translated eis to the Latin ad, which grants no semantic option for for.

So what gives? Why the unusual translation? What is the subtle difference between “wise for salvation” and “wise unto salvation” and what is their respective ramifications? I would suggest that the former implies that knowledge/wisdom directly saves, while the latter implies that knowledge/wisdom indirectly saves. It is the same direct/indirect distinction, which differentiates justification by (ek) faith from salvation through (dia) faith. In no place does Scriptures state that salvation is by faith. Out of trusting the amnesty scheme through the blood of Christ, one is directly justified. But through trusting (acting upon the premises of Christ’s person, assertions, counsels, command, and promises), one will navigate “through many dangers toils and snares” and endure to the end, faith intact, even faith in the amnesty scheme.

By abnormally transcribing the Greek eis to the English for, the authors and signers of the CSBI are massaging the Greek text to conform to their pre-existing theological understandings. So much for the practicable value of inerrancy, when the blowhards of orthodoxy do not practice what they preach!

But while I loosely presume upon the inerrancy of Scriptures as a guiding principle of exegesis; because of each of our own epistemological limitations, because of slants in perspective because of being so insidiously and thoroughly imbued in our cultural milieus, and because of the residual effects of Sin, I do not believe that creedal commitment to the esoteric and theoretical principle of inerrancy is of great practicable value. It certainly does not qualify as sufficient basis to oust dissenters of that perspective from institutional positions, especially since there is no explicit biblical warrant to denigrate those who do not concur with this creedal commitment.

 

 

[1] Luther, Concerning Christian Freedom, 114.

[2] International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 1978, Preface: “We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God's own Word which marks true Christian faith.”

[3] Joe Rigney, “Questioning Within the Borders of Faith,” The Gospel Coalition, September 15, 2013, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/questioning-within-the-borders-of-faith/.

[4] Tylor Standley, “Stop Standing on Your Bible,” Tyler Standley, September 17, 2013, https://tylorstandley.com/2013/09/17/stop-standing-on-your-bible/.

[5] Plato, Cratylus, ca. 360 BC, Translated. by Harold N. Fowler, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921, 393d.

[6] Plato, Theaetetus, ca. 360 BC, Translated by R.G. Bury in Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 10 & 11, London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967 & 1968, 206a, b.

[7] Plutarch, Moralia, ca. 100 AD, Translated by William W. Goodwin et al in Plutarch's Morals, Boston. Little, Brown, and Company, 1874, Question 5.

[8] Aristotle, Rhetoric, 4th C. BC, Translated by J. H. Freese, Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press & William Heinemann Ltd., 1926, 2.22.13.

[9] Ibid., 1.6.1;

[10] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 4th C. BC, Translated by Hugh Tredennick, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, 1933 (1989), 1.992b.

[11] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, early 3rd C. AD, Translated by R.D. Hicks, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925, 10.1.41.

[12] The preposition kata is better translated “down from” or from a higher plane to a lower, such as in the Biblical example of the herd of pigs rushing down from (kata) the steep bank into the sea (Mark 5:13).

[13] John MacArthur, “Philosophy or Christ?” Grace to You, July 11, 1976,   http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/2141/philosophy-or-christ.

[14] Roger E. Olson, “Is There (Can There Be) A ‘Christian Philosophy?’” Patheos (Roger E. Olson), May 1, 2015,      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/05/is-there-can-there-be-a-christian-philosophy/.
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