Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy 3

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2

link to full text of statement

Article 5 then holds together the ideas that revelation is progressive, but that later revelation doesn't contradict earlier revelation. Articles 6-10 are about the doctrine of inspiration.

At this stage, it becomes clear that actually the authors are using "inerrancy" as a catch-all term for their doctrine of Scripture, even though many of the features they describe are not directly connected to inerrancy and although "inerrancy" is not the best term for it (IMO). Hence they're using the term in two different senses in the same document:

  • as theological jargon to carry a lot of baggage about the understanding of inspiration, communication, etc.
  • in it's normal English sense - i.e. "the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake" (definition of "inerrant" from the Exposition - odd since "inerrant" is an adjective and the definition describes a noun, which should be "inerrancy")

I think this distinction is an important one. In the past, certainly, my dislike of the term "inerrancy" has been because I do not think the normal English sense does sufficient work to cover all the bases it needs to. But its use as jargon means that more can be put into the word, which gives it that potential. It's still bad communication though.

As regards comments on Articles 6-10, I'm generally in agreement. They are holding together the idea that the Bible is both fully God's words and fully human words. Article 2 of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics makes the connection with the doctrine of Christ explicit.

However, I think 6-10 do contain a few potentially misleading generalisations.

WE AFFIRM that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
WE DENY that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

WE AFFIRM that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

I think to say that there is only one "mode of divine inspiration" is misleading. It is clear in Scripture that there are multiple modes, including visions (Revelation 1:9-11) and research by the author (Luke 1:1-4) as well as direct dictation by God (e.g. Revelation 2-3).

While there are certainly examples where it is clear God has used the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers (e.g. the differences between the gospels), there are other cases where he does seem to have overridden their personalities.

Here is Jeremiah (clearly with his personality not overridden at this point), seemingly complaining to God about God doing just that at other points.

O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the LORD has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, "I will not mention him
or speak any more in his name,"
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:7-9, NIV

So, in general, I agree. But I think that in assuming that there is only one mode for Biblical inspiration, and then generalising from some parts where it is clear (e.g. the gospels) to the whole Bible is unwise, as there are other parts where it is clearly different.

Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Summary


Daniel Hill said...

I think you're too harsh. When the writers of the Statement say 'The mode of divine inspiration' they are referring only to the way in which the written Bible is God's word as well as human words. They aren't denying that there were many ways for the human authors to have got the ideas that they then wrote down.

And they say 'WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities'. In other words, they aren't saying that God never overrides personalities; they are saying merely that his inspiration of them doesn't thereby override their personalities.

John said...

It depends what they mean by "the mode of divine inspiration". If they mean "the mode which is divine inspiration" rather than "the mode by which divine inspiration takes place", then you have a point. But I don't think that's the natural reading - that use of "of" is fairly archaic.

I think in Jeremiah's case, divine inspiration sometimes did override his personality. Hence my quotation.

Daniel Hill said...

I took them to mean "the mode by which divine inspiration takes place", but my point was that it's only the divine inspiration of the writing of Scripture that they are talking about, not inspiration generally. I don't think Jeremiah was referring to the writing of Scripture in the bit you quote.

John said...

No - he was talking about the preaching of the prophetic message. But a large proportion of the Prophets in the Bible is simply a (sometimes reworked and edited) record of their preaching.

It gets blurry.

Daniel Hill said...

'a large proportion of the Prophets in the Bible is simply a (sometimes reworked and edited) record of their preaching'.

This is what the Statement is denying. It's never simply a record of revelation (see Article 3). It is itself an inspired revelation.

John said...

Good call. I was unclear to the point of being wrong in my use of the word "simply".

Better to say that we know that large parts of the Bible were written without God overriding the personalities of the writers. We do not know of any parts which were clearly written with God overriding the personalities of the writers. However, it seems highly likely that some parts of the Bible are written inspired recountings of prophetic speech in which God did override the personality of the speaker.

It still doesn't justify the general nature of the Statement, which is what I was getting at.

Daniel Hill said...

This is how I interpret the framers of the statement when they say:
'WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities'.
I think that they are saying that inspiration as such doesn't override the personality. Of course, God can and sometimes does override the personality, but it's not part and parcel of inspiration that he do so. In other words, the framers are here rejecting the understanding of 'inspiration' that equates it with God's 'taking the person over'.

John said...

I agree with that understanding, but I think that it is far from clear as the meaning of what is written.

Daniel Hill said...

Perhaps I can help defend the Statement by quoting some words from Colin Gunton, whose views the Statement is clearly trying to reject:
'whatever inspiration the Bible has, it does not take away the capacity for error in the writers. They do not claim infallibility . . . we don't believe that the universe is precisely as the writer of Genesis pictured it'.

Gunton denies that 'the writers of Scripture were simply the mechanical secretaries of God the Spirit, celestial word processors', saying that they 'did not have their humanity taken away'.

Gunton seems to assume that inerrantists believe that the writers of Scriptures had their humanity taken away and were mere machines. I think it's this kind of misunderstanding that the Statement is trying to reject.

John said...

We agree that Gunton is wrong; we agree that the statement successfully excludes his view.

Daniel Hill said...

And do you agree that the exclusion of Gunton's views justifies the general nature of the Statement?

John said...

I think Article 9 neatly excludes Gunton's views:

WE AFFIRM that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

WE DENY that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God's Word.

I do not see the need for the denial in Article 8.

Daniel Hill said...

The denial in Article 8 is needed to show Gunton etc. that he is wrong to think that inerrancy implies that one thinks that God takes over the personalities of the penmen.

John said...

I think that is not the key mistake in what Gunton wrote. Indeed, I suspect that in Revelation 2 and 3, John was just taking dictation from God, without his personality being involved especially.

Yes, it is helpful to be clear that in much of the Bible that is not the case. But that does not mean it is helpful to claim it is never the case.

Daniel Hill said...

I don't think the Statement says that it is never the case that God takes over the personality of a Bible writer. What the Statement says is:
'WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities'.
The key word here is 'in'; the framers are saying merely that his inspiration of them doesn't thereby override their personalities. Gunton appears to think it's part and parcel of the concept of inspiration that the personality be overridden. As I read it, the Statement is denying this and denying no more.

John said...

It's ambiguous. If they put the word "thereby" in before "overrode", I'd be fine with it.

As it stands, it could also mean

"WE DENY that God overrode their personalities when he caused these writers to use the very words that He chose,."