What is the Bible? And What Does It Do?

theoWhenever we talk about inerrancy, we must begin by defining what the Bible is.

In philosophical parlance, this discussion relates to the nature or ontology of the Bible. Defining the Bible rightly matters because Scripture is more than a functional handbook for religious followers of Jesus. The Bible it is the very Word of God.

Yet, even this lofty claim requires clarity, and so here are five considerations about the Bible’s ontology from Kevin Vanhoozer (Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom80):

1. Scripture is not a word from outer space or a time capsule from the past, but a living and active Word of God for the church today.

2. The Bible is both like and unlike every other book: it is both a human, contextualized discourse and a holy discourse ultimately authored by God and intended to be read in canonical context.

3. The Bible is not a dictionary of holy words but a written discourse: something someone says to someone about something in some way for some purpose.

4. God does a variety of things with the human discourse that makes up Scripture, but above all he prepares the way for Jesus Christ, the climax of a long, covenantal story.

5. God uses the Bible both to present Christ and to form Christ in us.

Getting the Bible right does not secure good interpretation or practice, but getting the Bible wrong does. So we should aim to rightly understand what Scripture is and what it is intended to do—namely, lead us to Christ and make us like him.

Yesterday’s post considered the matter of interpretation, but that discussion depends on getting the Bible right, which these five points help us see. To the end of reading the Bible and becoming conformed to Christ, may we continue to labor and pray.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Inerrancy and Interpretation: Kevin Vanhoozer on Map-Making and the Meaning of God’s Word

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What is inerrancy? And what does it mean for a picture to be true? And what does it mean for the Bible, which is filled with pictures (similes, metaphors, parables, etc.) to be inerrant?

For those who affirm biblical inerrancy, as I do, questions like these enter into a wide-ranging debate about Scripture and hermeneutics. This is especially true when we appreciate how the truth of the Bible is not grounded in logical abstractions or mathematical proofs; it is grounded in the triune God who has spoken of himself in a book that comes together as a progressively revealed story. In other words, truth in the Bible is unlike any other book. It is not only God’s truth, but in a book composed of various genres, its truth is also conveyed through forms of speech whose truth is not easily ascertained or readily appreciated.

Again, what does it mean for a picture to be true? (For an interesting look at this problem from a wholly different angle, see Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Picture Problem“).

In Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomKevin Vanhoozer has an illuminating chapter on the nature and function of Scripture with special attention to the doctrine of inerrancy. Moving the conversation about inerrancy beyond claims of veracity, he rightly documents what Scripture is (its ontology) and what Scripture does (its function).

In what follows, I want to share his nine qualifications about inerrancy and give a short summary of each point. For clarity sake, all the enumerated points below are his; the expansions are mine with multiple quotations from his chapter. Continue reading

For Your Edification (3.15.13)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Church, and Culture.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.

Walking Wisely WHEN and WHERE You Work. Phillip Bethancourt, a friend of mine and the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at Southern Seminary, posts some wise words on making job decisions and orienting your vocation around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the way that Jesus has made you.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy Kevin Vanhoozer has provided a helpful defense and explanation of an important theological concept–the doctrine of inerrancy.  This is the belief that “Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.”  Vanhoozer’s piece nicely outlines what inerrancy is and is not.

Bonhoeffer Question & Answer. Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and social media lobbyist for religious liberty, converses with Jason Meyer and John Piper on the person, ministry, and influence of German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For Your Edification, dss

Albert Mohler on Education and Inerrancy

As a Financial Aid director, who gets to speak regularly with people who are thinking about how to pay for school, I urge you to hear R. Albert Mohler’s sober reflections on the cost of education and the bondage that comes when taking out loans to pay for school.

And as a theological student who loves the Bible and believes that every word is God-breathed and inerrant in its original autographs, I commend to you Dr. Mohler’s discussion with New Testament scholar and biblical theologian, Dr. Gregory K. Beale

You can listen to both on The Albert Mohler Program from September 4, 2009.  The cost of education comes before the ten minute mark; the cost of discounting the Bible comes after the 10 minute mark.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Reformed Forum: An Interview with G.K. Beale

The guys at the Reformed Forum (including Carl Truman) recently interviewed Gregory Beale about his book, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism   Here is how they describe the conversation:

Dr. Beale discusses the significance of Biblical inerrancy, its Scriptural basis, and the problems with jettisoning the doctrine.  In addition to a proper concern for inerrancy, Beale explains how scholars can rightly approach the use of Ancient Near Eastern and 2nd Temple Jewish literature without undermining the authority and perspicuity of Scripture.  Along the way the panel considers the influence of postmodernism on Biblical studies.  

This interview with Beale is the 54th in a series of interviews with some of today’s foremost “Reformed” scholars, pastors, and church leaders.  Other interviewees include Russell Moore, JV Fesko, Vern Poythress, and Phil Ryken, to name a few.  I only stumbled upon this site today, but it looks full of great resources.  I encourage you to check it out, especially the Beale interview, in light of its current relevance.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Derek Thomas at Reformation21)

Book Review: Inspiration and Incarnation

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005).

Peter Enns, Old Testament scholar, author, and blogger, has stirred up the evangelical community with his book, Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker, 2005)Challenging evangelicals with a bevy of interpretive problems that he finds in the Bible, Enns proffers a new approach to reading the Bible that attempts to move past the fundamentalist-modernist impasse (14-15).  He suggests an incarnational analogy for understanding the Bible (17-18), and he explains how this model, which mirrors Christ’s humanity and divinity, better articulates Scripture’s concurrent inscripturation. 

I am not so convinced.  Let me summarize and analyze:

In chapter 1, Enns attempts to move past the “Bible Wars” and to provide a better way of reading the Bible.  The model he proposes is one that aims to avoid the strictures of dogma; one that instead reads the Bible in its own culture and presentation.  That sounds great, but just doesn’t work.  By ignoring the lessons learned from the modernist controversy, Enns heads in the same perilous direction–diminishing, if not denying, the uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy of God’s inspired Word. 

In chapter 2, Enns discusses Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) similarities to the OT documents and the impact that recent archaeological discoveries have had on Old Testament research.  While his survey of the extant material is itself helpful, his conclusions blur the uniqueness of God’s Word.  Enns compares Genesis 1-11 to the pagan myths of Israel’s neighbors, without advancing positions that retain God’s unique and direct inspiration of the biblical authors; he equates the OT law with the common laws of the ANE world, discounting their divine authority; and he shows how Israel’s Monarchic history may not contain the full accounting of historical events, which cast a shadow of doubt on the text. 

Taken together and without any opposing voice, Enns chapter leaves the reader with gaping holes in his ability to trust the veracity of Scripture.  Methodologically, he fails to present other evangelical and scholarly explanations for these matters, that have given more faithful, and in my opinion better explanations for the issues at hand.  G.K. Beale exposes this shortfall in his JETS article “Myth, History, and Inspiration” (2006), pointing to  D.J. Wiseman, Alan Millard, Meredith Kline, Daniel Block, and Richard Hess as better Old Testament interpreters.

In chapter 3, Enns highlights many source of diversity in the OT (i.e. Wisdom literature, Chronicles, and the Law).  To Enns diversity is not a commendable expression of God’s complexity in divine revelation, but a human problem that arises from competing truth claims–though “truth claims” may be too dogmatic and propositional for Enns.  These ostensible contradictions are better seen as divinely inspired tensions in Scripture that thicken the unity of Scripture than multi-authored inconsistencies. 

The intentional complexity and tension of the Bible can be seen in passages like Proverbs 26:4-5, which on the surface seems to present two antithetical statements side-by-side.  On further consideration, however, these opposing proverbs are better understood to give a balanced and situational word of counsel for thos handling a fool–sometimes you respond, sometimes you don’t (cf. Ecc. 3:1-8).  So then, Scripture is filled with tensive verses that add texture, clarity, and nuance the metanarrative, but it is an unnecessary conclusion to reject unity at the expense of perceived diversity.

Then in chapter 4, Enns addresses the issues of the New Testament interpretation of the Old.  He argues that NT authors employed the same interpretive methods as their Jewish counterparts in Second Temple Judaism without qualification. “What is true of the Wisdom of Solomon is true of the New Testament” (128).  So it seems that Enns is forcing on the NT writers the precise hermeneutic of their day, leaving no place for any kind of Spiritual leading (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21) or revelation (cf. John’s apocalypse and Paul’s heavenly vision).  Now, his approximation of Second Temple Judaism with the New Testament does not require denial of the Holy Spirit’s involvment, but Enns fails to articulate any kind of divine revelation.  Rather, the New Testament authors, steeped in the culture of their day, are manipulaters of OT texts to speak a fresh word from God.

Consequently for Enns, the method of interpretation used by the apostles entails allegorizing and reinterpreting the OT text without respect to the OT context.  This creative hermeneutic is then endorsed by Enns as the way we ought to read and apply Scripture.  However, Enn’s “apostolic hermeneutic” looks like a train without any brakes.  What of authorial intent?  apostolic authority? and divine inspiration?  The result is more than just a hermeneutical spiral that correlates the biblical text with the reader, it fringes on a postmodern, reader-response method of interpretation that allows contemporary settings and local identity to redefine the passage of Scripture.

In the end, Enns book while attempting to read the Bible “honestly and seriously” (107) results in focusing on incarnation to the exclusion of inspiration–ironically,”inspiration” which is a part of the title, doesn’t even get a reference in the subject index. 

Whereas previous evangelicals have emphasized God’s sovereign inspiration of the Bible, and perhaps at times they have done this too mechanically (i.e. dictation theory of the inspiration), Enns goes too far the other way and ‘humanifies’ the Bible so much that Scripture’s uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy are left undefined and compromised.  Any biblical theology built on this foundation will have insufficient support to build straight;  inevitably the doctrines erected on this foundation will lean, totter, and fall. 

And I am not the only one to see this.  Most notably, G.K. Beale’s evaluation produced a 300-page rejoinder, The Erosion of Inerrancy in EvangelicalismTrevin Wax  also evaluates Enns doctrine of Scripture while providing a host of links that extend the conversation.

Sadly, Enns books stands in a long line of texts that seek to find a middle road between historically orthodox, protestant, and evangelical interpretations and all those competing models that “erode” the Biblical witness (cf. Gnostic, Catholic, Modernist, Postmodernist).  History teaches us that a middle road is not possible.  Only those systems of theology which begin and end with a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture–inspired, infallible, inerrant, authoritative, necessary, and sufficient–can ever produce and sustain over time doctrines that cohere with the content of Scripture.  All other attempts build with wood, hay, and stubble, and the results are disasterous.

May we not grow weary in contending for the faith once for all given to the saints.  The integrity of the Bible deserves our life and our sacrifice.  And as we labor,  may we continue to pray for those who teach us the Word of God and for ourselves that we would not be deceived into following the temptations to minimize God’s inerrant Word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss