Defining and Appreciating Inerrancy by Coming to Grips with The Complexities of the Interpreter’s Task (Chapter 4 Can We Beleive the Bible?- Don’t These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy)
Craig Blomberg’s fourth chapter in Can We Still Believe the Bible, examines some objections to inerrancy from both the right and the left. Yes, there is a position to the right of holding to inerrancy. It is holding it in a way that is slow to recognize solutions that fit within the view by undervaluing the complexities of interpretation. People are far more familiar with those who challenge inspiration and doubt what Scripture declares on the left, but others attempt to build a fence around the Bible by being slow to see where legitimate discussion exists about how inerrancy is affirmed. To make the Bible do too much can be a problem, just as making it do too little.
So Blomberg looks at the spectrum. He discusses Paul Feinberg’s definition of inerrancy in the context of contrasting the inductive and deductive approaches. The inductive approach to doctrine works with the phenomena of Scripture to formulate its definition, while the deductive approach reasons more top down from a philosophical starting point. He also contrasts the evidentialist approach to the presuppositionalist approach as he considers these views.
Feinberg’s definition gives use four key elements to recognize: (1) when all the facts are known, (2) in their original autographs, (3) properly interpreted, and (4) in everything that they affirm, whether it has to do with doctrine, morality or with social, physical or life sciences. This means views of inerrancy do not guarantee a particular reading as there are still questions of what the text actually affirms that are left to be sorted out. Most discussion of inerrancy lack these nuances, as do many real objections to it, risking making a straw man out of the category as it is being rejected
Blomberg responds to the “too many caveats” charge by noting four areas of attention do not exactly qualify as 1000 qualifications. Most teaching he notes have such elements, whether one thinks of the Trinity, Calvinist-Arminian debates, or millennial views. He also argues that we need to be careful not to use modern standards for assessing what makes for an error, while ignoring how ancients saw their work as valid. The right to express and summarize does not an error make. Another issue is when to read a text as intended literally or not. There is also what certain genre do, when they have a non-historical intention. Another important distinction is determining when a text is timeless or situation specific. All of this is part and parcel of discussion that fits within a view that says the Bible is inspired and accurate in what it affirms, because it addresses what exactly is being affirmed. Differences exist in how people make these choices. They should not become qualifications for deciding if one is in or out of the Bible believing camp. In my view, this is all very level-headed stuff one must pay attention to in assessing debates about whether the text is saying what someone claims.
Blomberg next takes on the idea that inerrancy is a late idea in the history of the church. He correctly distinguishes between the use of the phrase inerrancy and a view that says the Bible is true. His point here, surely correct, is that the idea of a deeply flawed or errant Bible is “a virtual oxymoron and largely an invention of recent times.” Where the term was not used, the idea was surely present, widespread, and old.
Accommodation comes up for attention. The question here is not whether God did accommodate but whether he did it in a way that yields an errant text.
As to the problem of a plurality of readings within the camp, Blomberg makes several points. Differences may not mean the text is not clear but that the reader does not read clearly, since we are pulled by many influences in our reading. Sometimes differences emerge because we are asking a question the Scripture does not give a lot of attention to or is not central to it. Third, this charge ignores the many core agreements that do exist across these conversations on the Trinity, the attributes of God. The authority of Scripture, the work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit as a person, man in God’s image, the sinfulness of humanity, not meriting righteousness, the reality of resurrection, the judgment to come. Yes, there is discussion on how to nuance these ideas, but the big points of Scripture yield vast agreement. Blomberg’s claim is that evangelicalism is far more monolithic than many critics of interpretive pluralism claim. This is one section where the conversation is complex, and there is more to the discussion with more twists and turns than the space Blomberg has to deal with it here.
Another key topic Blomberg takes on is defending harmonization in dealing with differences between texts. He argues that this kind of thing is done in classical study all the time. He uses Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar as examples. It is fun to see world rulers and emperors brought to bear in defending what we do with Scripture! He calls this kind of reading additive harmonization, making the case that difference need not equal contradiction. Some readings that challenge Scripture seem to take difference equals contradiction as an axiom, the equivalent of a very flawed, first law of scripture reading. We need to be aware Jesus repeated certain teaching in distinct contexts, writers have the right to summarize of select distinct details, writers have the right to choice of details and emphases, and that themes can be driving texts versus chronology. All of this opens up much for discussion. On the other hand, it is important to avoid strained harmonizations. They are counterproductive.
Blomberg’s goal in going through these categories is to show how complex and nuanced interpretation of a trustworthy Bible has to be. There are many balls to juggle as one reads. The danger of those on the right is that they risk forgetting all these factors and lose nuance as they work with the text, oversimplifying both the doctrine and the reading of the text for what it affirms. The result can be charges are made that are less than fair. Such charges are less than an accurate reflection of what dealing with a trustworthy Bible means.
Many scholars today hold to a high view of Scripture, even if the media does not give them attention, and even if others inaccurately claim their views are a denial of a trustworthy Scripture.
This is a solid chapter, flying as it does at about 10,000 feet in surveying these issues. The angels are found in the details of each case. For that a recent work like the new series, The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible goes through examples one at a time (One volume on the gospels is out with more to come). With this chapter as an orientation and those volumes giving you the details, one can come to appreciate what inerrancy means and what it does not entail, enhancing one’s appreciation for why inerrancy is so important for the church.