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A Thought on Inerrancy

June 17, 2007

coffee.pngReading Chris Tilling’s two recent posts on inerrancy (here and here) piqued my interest in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

I have read and disagreed with it for various reasons over the years. Most of my disagreement stems from the statement’s lack of clarity on how words like “true” and its invocation of mythical orignals autographs. However, rereading the statement today I was struck by Article XVIII:

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

For some reason, it never struck me before just how convoluted this article actually is. I’m sure that someone will correct me if I’m wrong but it seems that the gist of this article is that the signers affirm gramatico-historical exegesis when it confirms their interpretation and deny it when it doesn’t. That is to say, it is a methodological case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too.

For some reason I’m reminded of a proverb:

You can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

By the way, none of this is to detract from Chris Tilling’s posts or his “Tilling Statement of Inerrancy,” which seeks to avoid the methodological pitfalls mentioned above as well as a host of other problems.

  1. June 25, 2007 9:09 am

    Is this the kind of thing you’re getting at? If, for example, “grammatico-historical” exegesis led one to take into account “literary forms,” and one of those forms was “pseudepigraphic epistle,” one would be forced to assert a different result for GH exegesis in order to continue affirming that one doesn’t reject “claims of authorship”?

    On this particular point, Moises Silva had an interesting line in his article in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, written when he was a professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. He said that even the question of authorship, a question which the doctrine of inerrancy seemed to answer a priori was a question that needed to be answered on exegetical grounds rather than those of theological commitment. I don’t think many inerrantists have agreed with that assessment!

  2. jimgetz permalink*
    June 25, 2007 8:50 pm

    In a word, yes. It seems that if you are going to affirm GH methods you have to let them run their course, even if it makes you theologically uncomfortable. “Truth, even unto its innermost parts” and all. Unfortunately Moises Silva had already left Westminster for greener pastures when I spent a year there discovering that I wasn’t a Presbyterian (I transferred to Fuller, a move that vexed them mightily). I would have enjoyed taking classes with him.

    On a side note, I have it on good authority that one prof at Westminster actually said in a faculty meeting “when the Bible disagrees with the Westminster Confession, the Bible is wrong.”

    Later, my source (a former prof at WTS) said he talked with the individual who explained that what he meant was that when our interpretation of the Bible disagrees with the confession, our interpretation is wrong. However, this still bothered my source to the extent that he later left the seminary.


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