Please forgive the play on the title of Mark Dever’s well respected book. About a month ago I posted a reply to Tim Challies’ three posts on inerrancy. A fairly lively discussion ensued both on this blog and on Challies’ blog (1 & 2). In the midst of discussion on one of his threads I decided to answer a call for examples within the Bible that pose problems for a more traditional American-Evangelical understanding of inerrancy. I quickly typed out nine examples from off the top of my head.
Now, about a month removed from the inerrancy discussion both here and on Challies’ blog, I thought it might be fitting to re-visit some of the issues in question. Discussions about inerrancy, what it means, why it is so important to us, what the implications of the doctrine are for how to read the Bible, and what we are really trying to defend through the doctrine, etc—these questions occupy a prominent place our American Evangelical and Reformed consciousness right now. If this is news to you, feel free to ask what I am talking about.
As I pondered how to re-visit inerrancy and how to spark some discussion of it and the many related issues, the idea of posting the examples I gave on Challies’ blog about a month ago seemed fitting. So, below I have posted those nine examples…
There are many questions or thoughts I would like to leave in your minds as you set out to read these examples—too many to mention here. I hope they come up in discussion in the comments. Most of these questions and thoughts appear in my lengthy original response to Challies. I hope we can have an edifying discussion of these examples and how they might be windows in on ways we might nuance our understanding of what it means that the Bible is God’s Word.
Just to get it out there, I believe the Bible is fully inspired by God and that everything in it is inspiredly doing exactly what God wants it to be doing. This still leaves us with the question, what did God actually do when he gave us the Bible; what are the writings and details of the Bible actually doing? If our impulse is “to explain” these and other such examples away—“to explain” them in ways that make us more comfortable—why do we have this impulse? Is it possible that the Bible actually does things that do not square with a more traditional conception of inerrancy? If so, is it not a “high view” of Scripture to seek to allow God to challenge us even through such parts of the Bible—to wrestle with how we come to know God and Christ more richly (and missionally?) through what is going on?
(1) Mark 12.9 attributes words to Jesus that Matthew’s version of the pericope attributes to the crowd (Matt 21.41). For another fun synoptic who said what instance compare Matt 19.16-17 with Mk 10.17-18. In Mark the man said to Jesus “Good teacher.” In Matthew the man says uses good with reference to the deed in question. What is going on here? We could multiply examples such as these from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) almost endlessly.
The Matt 19 and Mk 10 example has an interesting history of discussion in Westminster circles. Both E.J. Young and Ned Stonehouse treated it at some length. Young essentially harmonizes while Stonehouse refuses to do so, looking at how the differences reflect the freedom and creativity of the author and, as such, serving as windows in on the theology of the writings in question.
(2) The Synoptics portray Jesus as eating his last supper with the disciples as a Passover meal (Thursday night), being arrested that night, and being crucified Passover day, Friday (c.f. Mk 14.12 / Lk 22.15; then follow the narratives). John, on the other hand, portrays Jesus as eating supper sometime prior to Passover and then being crucified on the eve of Passover precisely when the Lambs are being slaughtered for the Passover meals for the Jews (see John 13.1-5; 19.14-16). It seems that John has a rich theological reason for what he is doing—Jesus being killed with the Passover lambs fits in nicely with his emphasis of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29; cf. 1.36). Or, perhaps the Synoptics were motivated in their chronological presentation to cast the last supper (eucharist?) as a new Passover meal? It seems we have the authors of the Gospels (or at least one/some of them) modifying the “facts” for their theology.
(3) Does Jesus tell the disciples to take a staff (Mk 6.8) or not (Matt 10.10)? I have heard it suggested that the only way to “deal with” this is positing autographs that did not have this problem—therefore this issue arises from corruption in the transmission history of either Mark or Matthew. This would seem like an extreme case of special pleading. What do you all think?
(4) Do you mind if I mention a canon “issue”? Jude quotes the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36; a Jewish apocalypse of the 3rd century BCE) as Scripture, Jude 14-15. The way he introduces it corresponds to ways other parts of our Bible (and contemporary Jewish literature) cite what the authors in question would consider Scripture. Such a view of the Book of the Watchers for Jude makes sense since the Book of the Watchers—along with many of the other writings making up 1 Enoch—were viewed as Scripture by Jews in many (most?) strands of Early Judaism in the centuries prior to Jesus and around his time. In fact, the view of 1 Enoch as Scripture continues in the early church as early church writers cite 1 Enoch as Scripture (see, for example, the Epistle of Barnabus with its 3 citations of 1 Enoch with scripture citation formulas!). I am not claiming 1 Enoch or some of the writings in it should be in our canon—but rather that this material makes the Bible messier than we would like.
(5) What did Jesus say on the Cross? You could put all the Gospels on this together and have our “7 last words of Jesus” sermon series. But, that distorts the different theologies of the death of Jesus that each Gospel has. This is especially true if you conflate Mark and Luke on the death of Jesus. They have different views on the death of Jesus and his approach to it—which can be very theologically enriching (after all, it is the Bible) if we do not flatten them out.
(6) Deuteronomy (10.1-5) has a different understanding of where the ark came from than Exodus.
(7) Who failed to dislodge the Jebusites from Jerusalem, Judah (Josh 15.63) or Benjamin (Judg 1.21)? Note, it is exactly the same verse, except that Judges has modified the material from Joshua to fit in with its, basically, anti-Benjamin ideology/theology seen throughout the book. If you delve into this further, you find this to be a window into some rich theology in Judges. But, if you flatten this out, you start to miss something God was saying through Judges.
(8 ) Was Hiram/Huram-abi’s descent from the tribe of Naphtali (1 Kgs 7.14) or Dan (2 Chr 2.13-14)? Perhaps one could harmonize this, but then you are missing out on the Chronicler’s rich theology of Solomon and Hiram/Huram (in the building of the Temple) as the new Bezalel and Oholiab (who built the Tabernacle). As the Chronicler draws on his sacred scripture and traditions, he brings out this parallel between Huram and Oholiab by, among other things, giving Huram the same tribal affiliation as Oholiab (see Exod 31.6, 35.34, 38.23). All this has a very important function in the Chronicler’s overall message and theology. But, again, to harmonize this is to get in the way of understanding what God is saying and doing through Chronicles.
(9) Is it ok for a Moabite to enter the assembly of the Lord and be part of Israel (the book of Ruth) or not (Deut 23.3-6)? See also the general theology of Ezra-Nehemiah on foreigners, Israel, and marriage.
As I have mentioned above, some of these may seem to be harmonizable. But, in such cases we are losing the theology and message God is speaking through the text(s) in question. I often hear that to deny or to question inerrancy—or to read the Bible in a way that might lead to a challenge for inerrancy—is to have “a low view of Scripture.” To put another question out there, is it a low view of Scripture for people such as myself to hold up such examples (and endless others in the Bible) and see them as somehow challenging a traditional conception of inerrancy? Can (is?) it not be a “high view of Scripture” to follow God in the Bible wherever he might lead us?
I hope this is ultimately edifying and helpful for all of us. What does everyone think? Can such examples nuance what we understand inerrancy to mean?
Sadly the many comments were lost in the “lost posts” mishap.