Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy 2

Intro | Part 1

link to full text of statement

After the "short statement", come a series of 19 Articles, which draw out consequences of the statement. The first two are basic "Authority of Scripture trumps and is not derived from authority of Church, etc." statements.

In keeping with the traditions of the Church, the Articles then move into specific heresy spotting. But I'm not sure they do their job quite well enough

WE AFFIRM that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
WE DENY that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

I can see the point of affirming that the Bible is in itself revelation rather than being a witness to revelation, as if the Bible were just a witness to revelation it would open the door to it being an imperfect witness to revelation. I also strongly agree that it does not depend on the response of men (or indeed women) for its validity.

I think I can also see the point of denying that the Bible becomes revelation in encounter, as that would make the response on the reader authoritative rather than the written word. However, I think that in doing so, the statement risks becoming internally inconsistent. If someone "reveals" that they are gay by writing it in their diary and never showing anyone, it is not revelation. Revelation needs to have an indirect object - it needs to be revealed to someone. Hence, while the Bible is truth about God when written and unread, it only becomes revelation when it is read. I think this is one area where Chicago seems vulnerable to postmodern critique - in this case the postmodern questions about the meaningfulness of communication.

Roughly speaking, the postmodern argument goes like this:

If I write someone a letter, the letter in itself is not communication. It does not have any inherent meaning. It is just a bunch of squiggles on a page. One person could pick it up and understand one thing by those squiggles; another person could understand something completely different by them.

The solution to the postmodern argument is in most situations to have predefined a meaningful and agreed system of communication - for example written English. In order to set up such a system (like to learn English), it is necessary to use spiral hermeneutics, where the meaning gradually becomes clearer, and commonly shared truth systems, such as the scientifically investigable physical universe.

The Bible can then be valid communication, because it was written in the well-understood languages of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, and so can have inherent meaning, given a knowledge of the languages, which can be taught (or translated, though there are difficulties with that). So it can be truth by God, about God without a reader, but I don't think it can be revelation without a reader.

WE AFFIRM that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.
WE DENY that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration.

Yes, it is very important to say that language can and does convey truths about God. But I do not think anyone would say that language can convey the whole truth about God. I'm pretty sure that the Bible denies it too (e.g. Hebrews 1:1-4). Jesus is God's best self-revelation. Language is adequate for partial true revelation, but full revelation requires at least a person.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV

Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Summary

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