Inspiration Unhindered By Errancy
Correcting Misconceptions & Fundamentalists on Biblical Inerrancy
Literal/Textual vs Adaptive/Mystical Inerrancy
The biggest issue with Fundamentalists is their insistence on scriptural inerrancy. They attempt to use the church fathers to argue for belief in biblical inerrancy like citing Augustine, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, etc. Although, it’s true that they held to some idea of inerrancy but not this idea of literal or textual inerrancy. So then, their favorite quotes of the Church Fathers are misleading. They held to a view that I label as adaptive or mystical inerrancy; it’s a kind of reading where the literal interpretation of an obscure or contradictory passage is rejected to teach/disclose a mystical truth. St. Augustine perceived the account of Genesis having contradictory narratives like the first day and fourth day concerning light. Augustine perceived the first day of light to be a represented spiritual truth, and fathomed the fourth day as real and physical light. Origen fathomed Genesis 1:7 allegorically instead of presuming its literal sense. Though Augustine held to a view of inerrancy similar to Christian modernists, he admits the narratives in Genesis to be textual contradictions. He reconciles them by utilizing allegorical methods. As for Origen (a great exegete and respecter of scripture), he downright admits that the scriptures don’t depend on textual or literal inerrancy to validate the testimonies of the scriptures, he utters, “Let these four [Gospels] agree with each other concerning certain things revealed to them by the Spirit and let them disagree a little concerning other things” (Commentary on John 10.4). John Chrysostom (another church father) readily admits, “But if there be anything touching time or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said … [but those things] which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little” (Homily on Matthew 1.6). Minor contradictions in the Gospels don’t falsify the historical events; fundamental distinctions might call them into question but in spite of it, it wouldn’t destroy the historicity of Jesus due to external sources.
There are those that profess that Irenaeus taught the inerrancy of scripture by citing his work: “We should leave things [of an unknowable] nature to God who creates us, being most assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit” (Against Heresies, 2.28.2). The term ‘perfect’ used in Against Heresies doesn’t mean “without error” in Latin. This term in Latin is ‘perfectae’, which conveys completion, wholeness, or finished but not inerrancy. Also, Irenaeus wrote in Koine Greek, and the Latin version of his work is somewhat misleading due to its wooden translation. Nevertheless, the Latin doesn’t suggest that Irenaeus is affirming inerrancy of scripture, but rather its completion in composition.
Another portion misused to favor inerrancy: “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them” (First Epistle to the Corinthians: 45:2, 3a). Although I agree that the writings of the Prophets and Apostles retain truth value, Clement makes no assertion of only true or without error. Clement is simply asserting that the scriptures weren’t written by authors with impure motives to only deceive; he actually asserts in Koine Greek, ‘Search into the scriptures, which are true [and] which are holy’. Clement doesn’t claim that everything written in them are the utterances of the Holy Spirit which implies a view of verbal dictation. The verbal inspiration view is falsely imposed to the translation of the text; in other words, it’s a dishonest and bias translation. The Holy Spirit didn’t impose every word onto the literal sense of the biblical texts. Clement didn’t believe that inspiration was of an inerrant kind and that inspiration was limited to the holy scriptures; in addition, he writes, “For ye will give us great joy and gladness, if ye render obedience unto the things written by us through the Holy Spirit, and root out the unrighteous anger of your jealousy, according to the entreaty which we have made for peace and concord in this letter” (1st Clement 63:2). Protestants and everyone else will agree with me that none of the church fathers were inerrant in their writings; also, since Clement (a disciple of Paul and Peter) considered his letter to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, we must agree that his view of inspiration wasn’t exclusive to the holy scriptures, and that inerrancy wasn’t fundamental to the nature of divine inspiration. God inspires men to write in truth and virtue, but doesn’t guarantee that such writings by our efforts will be without error since He doesn’t impose His infallibility. 2nd Timothy 3:16 asserts that all the God-breathed writings are useful, not inerrant. Inerrancy is argued as an obvious quality but so is usefulness; on the contrary to inerrancy, Paul only mentions ‘usefulness’ as a standard for a God-breathed writing. If Paul insisted on inerrant inspiration, he would have most likely said, “All statements proclaimed by the scriptures are God-breathed.” Except this is not the apostolic claim. It is also possible that Paul’s perception of the scriptures were in reference to each book, but not the overall content of those books. Either way, naming the Bible “the word of God” is a misleading presupposition, and perhaps a dangerous understanding of the Bible.
Another issue with ‘God-breathed’ or theopneustos is that some fundamentalists presume that this coined term conveys the notion of divine dictation, but this would be fundamentally false. If the apostle Paul intended to convey a kind of “inspired” dictation or possession, then likely he should have wrote theophorētos (θεοφόρητος), or hypo katokhes enthou (ηψπο κατοκηες εντηου) to convey that concept which the Greeks embraced. But because Paul knew inspiration wasn’t a possessive or compulsive force, he decided to invent a new term to avoid this metaphysical confusion. It is logically plausible that Paul invented a new term for divine inspiration in order to avoid the Greeks’ view of inspiration. Therefore, Paul’s idea of inspiration wasn’t a dictation, or verbal inspiration of the sort.
As for Justin Martyr, he said in his letter, “But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired men themselves but by the divine Word who moves them” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, XXXVI). Alissa Childers assumes this quote proves her version of inerrancy except it doesn’t. It only proves that whatever the Prophets prophesied orally concerning Jesus was inspired and perhaps inerrant, but every statement made by them is still questionable. The apostle Peter also asserts that the prophetic writings, or the prophecies of the Scriptures were divinely inspired and not humanly conceived. Yet this assertion doesn’t extend to writings like Ecclesiastes, Esther, Judges, Job, or Samuel contradicting Chronicles, and this would still not assert that everything written in the scriptures are God-breathed. Tertullian is of little-to-no importance to teach Orthodoxy due to his linguistic disadvantage of Scriptures and his lack of apostolic succession. Clement of Rome would surpass him in these two matters, especially in relevance.
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Inerrancy and Church History: The Early Fathers
Since 1978 and the release of Rogers and McKim's massive The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, it has been a…
The Doctrine of Passive Inspiration
The notion of passive inspiration is simply where God intentionally allows error into the biblical text for valid reasons. The doctrine of passive inspiration doesn’t negate the authority of the sacred scriptures, because believers also bestow trust to ecclesiastical leaders while knowing that they aren’t infallible. We bestow trust to scientists and doctors as a means to acknowledge their authority while knowing they are prone to error. We also should be wise not to confuse God with the Bible since the Bible is a record of every competing view whether theologically true or false. “Passive inspiration” might be an oxymoron to some, but arguably, if God intended the human authors to make mistakes due to their cultural presuppositions, biases, and fallibility, it suggests that the intention itself is active. The intention for being passive is still an active choice. What are the reasons for His intent in permitting such human errors?
Firstly, the Spirit allowed error into the biblical text, because the fact or detail was irrelevant and minor, or such an error can be corrected (not reconciled) by an alternative and factual account. The main reason for such an error is due to its lack of value or importance pertaining to the person’s faith. A scientific error in the biblical text should be expected since God spoke to them through their cultural presuppositions. A historical error should be expected due to fallible memory or national bias; nevertheless, such a claim is not detrimental to essential ethics or Christology. The fact God allowed them to keep their primitive views of creation, or their minor mistakes only shows God is more tolerant in partnering with fallible humans.
Secondly, the Spirit allowed error to offer the opportunity to discover the hidden meaning behind the obscurity or self-contradictory text of the scriptures. To be honest, this view is held by the Church Fathers, which would be adaptive and mystical inerrancy, but not textual inerrancy as stated prior. Honestly, it’s an interesting theory and method to develop a position on the use of allegory. The allegorical use of interpretation is not only used by the Church Fathers but also St. Paul, Peter, and John. Although it’s possible that the Spirit created such an interpretive model, I commend such theological creativity of the Fathers and Apostles.
Finally, the Spirit allowed error to motivate believers to use spiritual and moral discernment in cooperation with God. Interestingly, Isaiah 1:18 is an invitation to reasoning together with God’s wisdom, and Jeremiah 33:3 is another invitation to seek the Lord in communion for insight. The apostle Paul encourages the Corinthians to commune with the Holy Spirit in 2nd Corinthians 13:14, and the apostle Peter encourages infants to crave for “the milk of pure rationality” in 1st Peter 2:2. The Greek term used in 1st Peter is logikon, which doesn’t convey a written word, instead it conveys the idea of being rational in mind. Even Romans 12:1 proves that logiken [a slight variation but both similar to logikos] implies being reasonable in mind, or translated as “reasonable [logiken] service [latreian]” in the Romans verse. Spiritual reasoning is affirmed by the apostle Peter, instead of a mindless submission to the apostles. The errors in the biblical text should motivate us to utilize spiritual reasoning, or as Paul says, “Abide in the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5 paraphrased).
However, one might object that we need total inerrancy to grow in discernment yet this is a false argument. Discernment doesn’t require mindless submission to biblical inerrancy to grow functionally; for instance, it requires scrutiny, intellectual humility, truth, and an opportunity of falsehood to practice. Assuming textual inerrancy, God appeals to an alternative objective towards Moses, but Moses questions against such an objective based on his conscience, rationality, and past experience of God (Exodus 32:9–14). God couldn’t annihilate the Israelites since He would be violating His promise to Abraham (Hebrews 6:13). If not, then why did Moses make that as an argument for hindering His destruction, and if he was wrong, then why does God relent? If God fully lied to Moses, then He would be ceasing to be God, or if He was sincere, He would be a promise breaker; thus, a liar to begin with. The Exodus account portrays God as a lesser being ethically and rationally, which is a philosophical issue for fundamentalists since God cannot be less merciful and rational than Moses. In Matthew 15:24–28, Jesus appeals to a partial truth so as to draw out discernment and faith from the women; otherwise, if Jesus was stating an absolute truth in a covenant rule, then He wouldn’t have made any exception for her. You could argue that this was an abrogation, but this renders the story problematic since you are claiming that Jesus was being unreasonable and cruel to the woman, yet suddenly changes His mind. Also, Naaman the commander, who was a Gentile and excluded from the covenant, was healed of his leprosy without any restriction that Jesus gave to the woman (2nd Kings 5:1–14). So the argument of “you can’t be healed because you’re outside the covenant” cannot be justified since Naaman wasn’t met with a restriction or excuse from Elisha. This kind of faulty logic also implies that God’s absolute and exclusive rule to the lost sheep of Israel is morally unreasonable, until the women exposes its moral flaw. Based on the assumption of inerrancy, these stories should prove to inerrantists that God would intentionally allow some kind of misinformation, or an alternative outlook into the biblical text to encourage us to train our moral discernment as a means to mature completely. So then, moral discernment doesn’t depend on biblical inerrancy, but the allowance for mistakes or alternative views in the text offers opportunities for training our moral and spiritual discernment (Hebrews 5:14). If the human authors were always right about God, would we actually need Jesus to reveal the Father to us? Not really. Their mistakes only prove that Christ is a superior testimony to God instead of human agents. Christ is the standard of divine truth, and none can speak or act in like manner to His level.
The Apostolic Lens of Scripture
The best manner in interpreting the Old Testament scriptures would be the use of allegory. The apostles didn’t always share the Jewish the views of God, because Christ, the perfect and pure revelation of God, shattered their human misconceptions of God. Fundamentalists assume allegory to be a cheap attempt to reconcile the Jewish scriptures and an arbitrary tool, except this is based on nonsense. Allegory is only applied when the literal sense of the Scripture contradicts the nature of Christ, offers a valid contradictory narrative, or when the text is too obscure to make use of in a practical sense.
The first proponents of this kind of method of interpretation were Paul, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews (i.e. perhaps Priscilla). Paul allegorically mentions two kinds of people through the life of Sarah and the bond-servant as well as affirming the rock as being Christ (Galatians 4:21–5:1; 1st Corinthians 10:4). There is no reason to believe that the rock struck by Moses was Jesus Himself unless you appeal to stubbornness. Peter also uses the same method as Paul by mentioning the Flood as the baptism of water (1st Peter 3:21). John the Revelator alludes the Satan as being the serpent from the beginning, whom tempted Eve (Revelation 12:9). Finally, the author of Hebrews takes the words of David as being Christ Himself, which he/she takes as a typology of Christ (Hebrews 10:5–9, 15–17). We all know biblically that Christ didn’t utter any of these words but David the psalmist. We could argue the Spirit through him uttered it, but we could say that David understood the true will of God by having the mind of Christ.
This apostolic or sophia “exegesis” of the literal sense of the Old Testament is proven through the works of the apostles (and Hebrews). However, some will argue that they didn’t argue against the historical sense of the Jewish scriptures but accepted them as literal events. But despite this, they are other people who interpreted the Jewish scriptures through an allegorical view. Firstly, the author of Barnabas’ epistle (a Christian during or shortly after the apostles) took the customary laws of the Jews to be merely allegorical commanded and not literally. He believed that “But forasmuch as Moses said; Ye shall not eat seine nor eagle nor falcon nor crow nor any fish which hath no scale upon it, he received in his understanding three ordinances. Yea and further He saith unto them in Deuteronomy; And I will lay as a covenant upon this people My ordinances. So then it is not a commandment of God that they should not bite with their teeth, but Moses spake it in spirit. Accordingly he mentioned the swine with this intent. Thou shall not cleave, saith he, to such men who are like unto swine; that is, when they are in luxury they forget the Lord, but when they are in want they recognize the Lord, just as the swine when it eats, it knows not his lord, but when it is hungry, it cries out, and when it has received food again, it is silent” (Barnabas 10:1–3). Though his view of Moses is still historical, he didn’t believe that God actually expected the Jews to follow His commands literally. Though I would suggest that God had a spiritual motive in the allowance of such practices as Barnabas states, I don’t believe God rigidly expected or even desired animal sacrifices for Himself. Simply because God doesn’t benefit from any of these actions, but rather it was for the people’s need. Even Paul makes this conception of God clear in Acts 17:24, 25. One could argue that this was a fact after God’s departure from the Temple or when Jesus died on the Cross, except the old covenant was still in effect till the Temple was destroyed as Hebrews stated in Chapter 8, verse 13. The reality is God never desired any sacrifices, but really sought the purity of the heart. The animal sacrifices served as a therapeutic remedy to avoid child sacrifice, and to remind them of the detrimental problem of our sins. Interestingly, many Christians wanted this book within scriptural canon, but if the normative belief in the Early Church was that God desired both sacrifice and mercy, then “so-called” Barnabas would have been labeled as a heretic, except he wasn’t since his teaching was normative to other Christians familiar with apostolic tradition. Perhaps it was not known to new converts or beginners but most likely the bishops or elders of the Church.
Another proponent against the view that God actually desired sacrifices from the Jews was Mathetes (a disciple of the apostles). He writes to Diognetus, “For whereas the Greeks, by offering these things to senseless and deaf images, make an exhibition of stupidity, the Jews considering that they are presenting them to God, as if He were in need of them, ought in all reason to count it folly and not religious worship. 3:4 For He that made the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, and furnisheth us all with what we need, cannot Himself need any of these
things which He Himself supplieth to them that imagine
they are giving them to Him. 3:5 But those who think to perform sacrifices to Him with blood and fat and whole burnt offerings, and to
honour Him with such honours, seem to me in no way
different from those who show the same respect towards
deaf images; for the one class think fit to make offerings to things unable to participate in the honour, the other class to One Who is in need of nothing” (Mathetes 3:3–5; compare to Acts 17:25). One might suggest that this is after the old covenant ended, except if Mathetes believed that God desired it according to the Jewish scriptures, then he would have mentioned that God desired such trivial matters prior. It was common for the Early Church to view the Jewish scriptures from a different manner; they read the Old Testament through apostolic or sophia lens. In fact, Mathetes embraced wise philosophy as the guide of any Christian rather than fideism coupled with fundamentalism, he says, “I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles” (11:1a). He, the author of this letter, affirms both apostolic teaching and sapient philosophy derived from the Logos and Sophia of God — Christ Himself (John 1:1; 1st Corinthians 1:24).
A great teacher of orthodoxy was Gregory of Nyssa; he was responsible for contributing to writing the Nicene Creed, which by the way, lacks mention of the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy. If such a doctrine was fundamental and mandatory in the Christian church, then it would’ve made it in any early creed. Gregory of Nyssa commented on the Life of Moses, and even suggested that the historical account of Yahweh’s punishments on Egypt were in contradiction with sound theology, especially with the book of Ezekiel. He writes, “How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty for his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can history so contradict reason?” (The Life of Moses). Gregory offers four indications in rejecting the literal perception of the biblical text such as: lack of profitability, lack of virtue, logical impossibility, and theological impropriety. This kind of reading of the scriptures is of inspiration, which is held tightly by the mind of Christ.
Finally, the Jew of Alexandria, Philo, deemed the use of allegorical interpretation to be useful. He didn’t see this as blasphemous to God, yet me and other Christians hold onto the high view of God over the “so-called” high view of scripture. Clement of Rome also utilized allegory in his letter to Corinth, professing, “Thus they made it manifest that redemption should flow through the blood of the Lord to all them that believe and hope in God. You see, beloved, that there was not only faith, but prophecy, in this woman” (1st Clement 12:7, 8). Is it possible he took the sacred scriptures to always be historical or literal? Well, he quotes Judith in chapter 55, and I doubt he fathoms that book as a historical account; he considered Judith to be part of the scriptures since they held to the Greek Septuagint collection. As for chapter 40, Clement uses the strict example of the Jewish priests demanded by their laws to persuade his audience to act in accordance to the ways of the Church reverently. Other than that, he compares the priestly laws to the “ordinances of the laymen”, which are both of human origin instead of being strictly divine. It wouldn’t make sense for Clement to compare a supposed divine law with a human ordinance; thus, it must be taken that the priestly laws were also of human origin according to Clement. Besides the Church Fathers, Matthew Korpman explains that the doctrine of inerrancy for the scriptures were held by the early Gnostic Christians. Someone once said, “Many who don’t see inerrancy seem to say things like, “These things can’t possibly be true. There is no way God could have done that, could have said that, could have meant that.” That seems like it could an impulse to control what Scripture can and cannot say.” I would strongly disagree with this person, because the character of Jesus is strongly opposed to the actions of Yahweh in the Old Testament (not always, but oftentimes). By holding to inerrancy, we create this two-faced picture of God that simply cannot be harmonized rationally. I would interject that this doctrine is really an intellectual cope-out from using discernment based in the mind of Christ. This doctrine has been used to brainwash many Christians into accepting ideals like the justification of genocide, slavery, killing of children, forbidding women to teach, eternal conscious torment [both based on bias mis-translations], a flat earth model, and the list continues. To defend inerrancy of the Bible is arguably an impulse from insecurity to keep their faith due to their ignorance of better ways to defend the faith, and their deluded insistence on being misled in doctrine (yet every fundamentalist is, laughably speaking).
Overall, Christians should cease from this doctrine and stop making it the pillar of their faith, because in the long-run, they’ll be genuinely disappointed and might disregard their experiences with the Lord due to the logic of “Either all of it is true or none at all”. This kind of logic comes from a depraved mindset and deluded teaching, honestly. There are other ways to prove the Christian faith — historical records, prudent philosophy, the moral impact of past Christians, interfaith acknowledgement of Jesus, and finally, the most convincing of them all would be mystical communion with God. Christianity wasn’t founded on scriptural fideism, but on the supernatural testimony from their intimacy with God. Christianity wasn’t maintained on scriptural fideism, but on the Sophia and Logos derived from Christ. When we approach the Old Testament by the use of apostolic and sophia exegesis (due to having context within apostolic teaching and philosophical wisdom), we are expressing the mind of Christ above the Jewish claims for God. I recommend reading the scriptures below Christ’s nature instead of above or equivalent to such. The Word of God is Christ, and every literal sense of the scriptures that contradicts the Divine Word must be rejected literally. This reason is to defend the moral dignity of God, so that Christ may be accepted and attract the skeptics of this world.
Matthew Korpman Link: