Saturday, February 02, 2008

Thoughts on inerrancy

I don’t want controversial theological issues to surface when I am with the students who ordinarily, I thought, would not have to wrestle with those issues. Partly, I blame us, teacher, because we think as part of their learning experience to try to challenge them to think about some issues that they need to settle in their minds. Surprisingly though, sometimes in spite of the lack of standardized teaching from the outside world, these students are able to formulate their own view about many theological issues that results from their personal reading and study of the Bible.

I am not surprised when they ask questions about factual errors in the Bible. However, most of those “errors” though are apparently because of the difficulties in translation of the Scripture to their own language. But what can we do about it? It is the only Bible that they have and understand, the Bible in their tribal language. So even though we might argue that the “autographs” which are the original manuscripts of the Scripture are free from errors, the reality is that what we have now is the Bible with seemingly “errors”. That simply argument will not hold water.

There are people who largely rest their Christian faith on the inerrancy of the Bible. I have no problem when people use the term “inerrancy” to emphasize its authority, except that, I think that it is not the precise word to describe it, for obvious reasons that the Bible we have now is not perfect. Like many theologians, i agree that the term should be buried in the ground and use more positive and potent terms to describe the Bible. It is more appropriate to describe the Bible as truthful and trustworthy.

Donald Bloesch says:
The paramount question is whether the Bible itself teaches its own inerrancy. A second critical question is whether those who employ this terminology always mean the same thing. The truthfulness of Scripture is indeed espoused by the prophets and apostles, but it must be kept in mind that they were using “truth” and “truthfulness” in the Hebraic sense of faithfulness and veracity rather than precision and absolute factual accuracy, as in our modern empirical milieu. (Psalm 119:169; Ecclesiastes 12:10; Romans 1:9; 1 John 3:12)
He argues for the reinterpretation of the term inerrancy.
The biblical writings are a powerful testimony not only of people’s faith but also of God’s truth. They reflect not only the belief of the authors but also the very mind of God. They not only serve to inspire faith in God but also are inspired by God so that our faith can be informed by divine revelation. My sentiments concur with Barth’s: “We know what we say when we call the Bible the Word of God only when we recognize its human imperfection in face of its divine perfection and its divine perfection in spite of its human imperfection.”

The object of our faith is not the church or the Scriptures, not even our experience of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ himself, but Christ testified to in Scripture and proclaimed by the Church. He is one whom we meet concretely in the historical witness to his saving deeds. We commit ourselves not to the Jesus of history nor simply to the Christ of faith but to the Jesus Christ of eternity who entered into a particular history and is apprehended only in faith.
Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation, 37, 39.

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