Monday, March 2, 2009

Hermeneutics and Inerrancy

I just could not avoid looking at the issue of Inerrancy, there’s so much waffle going on about it these days. A google of the internet will quickly show just how misguided some are on this issue. Fortunately there are still some who have addressed it with care and clarity. You might like to look at Tim Challies 3 blogs on this where there’s some excellent definitions given or look at John Ankerberg’s site and also Jollyblogger’s blog. I promise I will get back to hermeneutics with some examples soon on how important context is. For now do you remember in my blog about hermeneutics I stated that
"The context can make all the difference can’t it? I remember hearing Dr Edwin Orr many years ago talking about Science and the Bible and saying that different explanations are evoked by different contexts. So that if you were at his house and asked him “Dr. Orr why is the kettle boiling?”, he might reply “because of the heat due to the flame under the kettle causing the water molecule to agitate and bump against each other with kinetic energy etc etc”, or he might merely reply “because my wife is making me a cup of tea!” Both are valid explanations, and both can be true, but the required explanation depends on the context."
Now this has a very important implication concerning the issues surrounding the question of the infallibility of the Bible and Biblical inerrancy.

I stated that context has big implications for the meaning of a person’s statement, whether that statement be given in a verbal declaration or in written format such as a book. The context must be considered to come to an understanding of the authors intended meaning. Now I don’t want to glibly ignore the issue of authors intention, but to me it’s a minor issue and easily dealt with and has been well addressed by others. Perhaps one day I will get to it, but there’s more important things for the present.

When you talk about Hermeneutics I think you need at some time to consider the whole issue of infallibility and inerrancy. I am not saying that such things are questionable, but rather given so many are confused on the issue of inerrancy and there’s so much debate about it, then it is worthwhile to associate hermeneutics with the issue of infallibility and inerrancy.

If as I have suggested context is crucial to understanding the meaning of the text then it’s important that we can trust the text. That we can regard the text, the Scriptures as Authoritative, in all times and in all places for all people. And the moment we speak of an Authoritative scripture then we need to consider the questions of Infallibility and inerrancy. What makes the Scripture infallible? Is it the words that are without error or the thoughts and concepts being put forth that are without error?

A long time ago Homer C. Hoeksema wrote a little book, so it’s easy to read, called ‘In the beginning God..’ He wrote this in 1966 and he nicely addresses the confusion then that people had about infallibility and inerrancy.

He points out on page 24 how in 1961 the synod of the Christian Reformed Church { in America } made a report which stated “what is seen as inaccurate from a merely historical point of view is recognised as wholly accurate for the reporting of sacred history.” Pg 25 They were saying that the Bible could be in error as to history but not in regard to scared history. Hoeksema points out that sadly this statement had been largely ignored or unaddressed. What is amazing is that you have the same statements being said today as appeared in that report. And without any idea that maybe an answer has already been given, as it was back in 1966.

How is the apparent inconsistency answered then? Well you must first know where you are standing as a Christian. What is your foundation? Read Hoeksema’s book, it’s well worth it and has more gems than I could summarise.

Hoeksema begins by speaking of Scriptures infallibility, and saying it is infallible because it is God’s word primarily, and that in the most basic sense Scripture is Authored by Him, not by men. As the Bible tells us it is men as moved by the Spirit who said what God wanted said, having been prepared by all their life to say what God wanted said in words, not thoughts but words. That truth expressed in words is what God wanted made clear. Then he draws our attention to the fact that the Church - ie Christians are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets Eph 2:19-20. What he’s saying is that the church, God’s called out people, are built on the apostles and prophets teaching, and that teaching is the Scriptures. Clearly for us, it’s the Scriptures that we are to listen to since the apostles and prophet s are dead.
Then Hoeksema declares “if you chip away at those Scriptures, you are chipping away at the very foundation of the Church.” Pg 23

I would add here to Hoeksema’s words that not only when one chips away at the Scriptures, by calling into question their authority and infallibility, the result is the endangering the foundation, but a further result is that Christ himself is discarded. Notice how in Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul tells us that part of that very foundation is Christ Jesus who is the cornerstone. Once the foundation of a building is undermined then the cornerstone is also dislodged. Is it no wonder that as a consequence of questioning the Scriptures we see many today also questioning Who Jesus is? To eventually deny him by redefining him? This is exactly what we are seeing today by some in the emergent crowd in saying Jesus wasn’t God but just a man who was more enlightened about Who God was. A view which was early in the life of the Church seen as heretical and dealt with as such by God’s people. Christ and His word can not be torn asunder without the Whole foundation of Christianity being made nonsense.

Hoeksema says again “[all the attacks on the foundation ] have one element in common, that they exalt man’s subjective judgment above the Word of God. Man, then, decides what is the Word of God and what is not, what is accurate and what is inaccurate, what is truth and what is error.”

Wise words. We do well to listen to Jesus’ reply to satan in the temptation narratives. “Has God said?” That should settle the matter.

Then he says “Every thought must be in submission to the Scriptures, the only infallible rule.”

What are we doing in regard to this foundation? Are we contending for the faith once for all delivered? Jude 3. That’s my responsibility, and that’s your responsibility.

The autographs:
Let me end by saying here one more gem from Hoeksema about the Scriptures and their being inspired. Some are quick to assert that it is the original autographs which were inspired and then they point out that we no longer have these! So we need to ask what this means for us today? Well Hoeksema says ”while we do not have the autographs, that makes no real difference for us..[ for several reasons ]” which he expounds. Pg 11. Get his book and read them they are thought provoking.

One powerful reason is implied by Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:14-16. Timothy had been faithfully taught the holy Scriptures from childhood. But Timothy had not been privileged to hold the original autographs in his hands from which to learn from, just as neither you nor Paul nor Jesus was privileged to in regard to the Old Testament Scriptures. Yet even in spite of this! Paul could go on to proclaim as he does in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God..” Ask yourself why Paul would bother to say that if the Scriptures that were available, that is all those copies, were not the autographs as he indeed knew. This speaks to the reliability of the copies as God’s Word, carrying with them the full Authoritative force of God himself. That is why the Scriptures he goes on to say are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

I would add some Scriptures from the Lord Jesus that say the same thing. Such as Matthew 22:29-31. Here Jesus say “have you not read what God said to you.” Jesus here says that the Old Testament is God’s Words and we need to understand that though Jesus knows they don’t have the originals, that doesn’t matter. What they do have is just as Authoritative! Just as reliable. The problem Jesus tells them is that they are in error because they do not know the Scriptures. It’s not the Scriptures that are in error but men!

I have just raised a couple of things here today. We do well to think about such things and respond to the Lord as He has spoken in Scripture. To study more on this you might like also to read the volume by James Montgomery called 'God's Inerrant Word'.

In Christ

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