Archive | Case Studies in Inerrancy

Case Studies in Inerrancy: Can Doctrine Develop within the Canon?

There would certainly be little quibble from someone who suggested that doctrine develops. There would also be no problems when someone suggests that earlier writers of the Old Testament knew less than later writers. The idea here is doctrinal development within the canon, often referred to as the doctrine of progressive revelation.

For example, we understand that Abraham did not have access to any of the Old Testament. His sources for theological inquiry had to come from other places. David, on the other hand, had much of the Old Testament to draw from, including the story of Abraham. We would assume that David’s understanding of the Gospel was more fully developed than Abraham’s. Abraham’s was most certainly more developed than Adam. Isaiah’s was more developed than any of these. Why? Because he had a fuller complement of understanding, both from time and the fuller complement of God’s revealed word. Yet Daniel had even more than Isaiah! You see where I am going.

So far so good?

Now let us move to the New Testament. I am sure that you would not have any problems with assertions that the Apostles in training while under the tutelage of Christ were less theologically astute and aware than the post-resurrection Apostles. No one would dare immortalize Peter’s rebuke of Christ’s revelation of his impending crucifixion (Matt. 16:21-23), believing it to be correct and Christ in error. We understand that the Apostle Peter was wrong and, with regard to the theology of the Gospel, a novice. We give him grace. We understand that Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 presents a bold and corrective advancement in his theology. We allow for this kind of development.

Normally, people would assume that after the resurrection and the receiving of the Holy Spirit early in Acts that everything the Apostles said and believed was not only correct, but representative of the fullness of the truth. We often assume that, at this time, there was no further need for any development in their understanding.

However, I am not completely convinced of this. In fact, I believe that, like with the authors of the Old Testament, the New Testament authors developed in their theology. In fact, I don’t necessarily believe that any of them, even Paul, had it all figured out the way we often suppose. I think that we sometimes read into their thoughts and writings a theology that, while correct, is not fully representative of the way they would have understood it, much less expressed it.

Why would we start with such an assumption? What need is there? We don’t do so with the Old Testament, why do we with the New Testament?

What kind of doctrine develops?

Let us start with something easy. I think that all of us would be willing to admit that, in Acts, there is a belief that Christ is coming in the lifetime of the Apostles. In Acts 1 the Apostles ask if it is now that Christ is restoring his kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Christ tells them, essentially, that they are not going to know the timing of his kingdom. Therefore, should we not expect them to speak with some degree of ignorance about this throughout the book of Acts and in other letters? In Acts 3:19, it seems that Peter had an expectation of immediate eschatological fulfillment of the coming of the Lord. Paul often seems to express the same expectation. For example in Romans 13:11-12, Paul exhorts the Romans to righteous living based upon this expectation: ” Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (NAU). As well, notice in 1 Cor. 7:29 that Paul exhorts virgins not to get married because, in his opinion (? see 1 Cor. 7:25), “the time has been shortened” (v. 29). Peter, in 1 Pet. 4:7, says “the end of all things is at hand.” However, we don’t notice much development beyond this. Obviously, at the time of the Apostles death, they developed to the point that they knew the coming of Christ was not going to be in their lifetime! Continue Reading →

Case Studies in Inerrancy: 1 Sam. 26:5-16

My first case study in inerrancy comes from the story of David when he was on the run from King Saul.

1 Sam. 26:5-16:
5 David then arose and came to the place where Saul had camped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army; and Saul was lying in the circle of the camp, and the people were camped around him.
6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, saying, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.”
7 So David and Abishai came to the people by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the people were lying around him.
8 Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.”
9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?”
10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish.
11 “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”
12 So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul’s head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the LORD had fallen on them.
13 Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them.
14 David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?”
15 So David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came to destroy the king your lord.
16 “This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the LORD’S anointed. And now, see where the king’s spear is and the jug of water that was at his head.”
(NASU)

I wonder if you notice the issue. It is not easy to find, but it is very interesting (at least to me). Here we have David, the heroic and God fearing protagonist, being in error. I will explain the error in just a moment.

Let me give you some background to my hermeneutics (method of interpretation): Generally, I follow a rule in narrative portions of Scripture. I allow for error in the “bad guys” but don’t expect it from the “good guys.” In other words, when the Bible has put someone in a positive or authoritative light (such as Peter in Acts 2), most of the time what they say can be trusted. For example, when Daniel (who is a very flat yet godly character) speaks, there is not any reason to think that what he says contains error. Therefore, we can build doctrine from it. With “bad guys,” such as Satan, Nebuchadnezzar, and Job’s friends, it is hard to know whether to believe what they are saying.

Now, back to our current passage. David here is at the height of his heroic ventures. It is not possible for him to be in a more Godly light. He is the one who trusts the Lord. He is the one who will not usurp authority from “God’s anointed.” He, as we follow the narrative, is the one who acts on behalf of God. So there is no question as to his status at this point in the narrative. However, David makes a false accusation against Abner and calls for his execution based on this false accusation. Abner had fallen asleep and failed to protect King Saul when David took the spear from where he slept. David goes a distance away and brings an indictment against Abner for not protecting the King implying that it was his negligence. But the text tells us that it was not Abner’s fault. Verse 12 says that the Lord was responsible for Abner’s inability to protect the King: “So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul’s head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the LORD had fallen on them” (Emphasis mine). David, in verse 16, says wrongly to Abner: “This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the LORD’S anointed.” Continue Reading →

Case Studies in Inerrancy: A New P&P Series

I believe in a doctrine called inerrancy. More particularly, I call it “reasoned inerrancy” to distinguish it from other more “technically precise” models. In short: I believe that the Bible, when interpreted correctly, is true in everything that it intends to teaches. Those are some important qualifiers: “in everything it intends to teach” and “when interpreted rightly.” This assumes that some of the that which the Bible records is not necessarily its teaching. It also assumes that the truth is only found when the Bible is understood the way it was meant to be understood and that it can be understood wrongly. A wrong interpretation is not inerrant.

One of the first questions that I asked at seminary was how do we know when a passage in the Bible is supposed to be believed? In other words, the Bible records falsehoods, lies, and wrong actions. When David committed adultery, this was a record of a wrong action. When Peter said he did not know who Christ was, this was a lie. Then there is Samson, Jonah, and Lot. And don’t even get me started on Solomon. All of whom are presented in a shady light in the narrative yet are, generally speaking, heroes of Scripture and of our faith. How are we to know what examples to follow? With Job and his “friends”: when are we supposed to trust what they say and when do we assume that they got it wrong. Who creates the rules? I have seen a number of teachers quote Job’s friends when teaching theology. Wait…I thought they were bad. So they are bad and can be trusted at times? As well, Job himself seems to say some good things that we like to quote and other things that we write off to his distress. Oh the the difficulties in interpretation. Sometimes it is hard to know what the Scripture is actually teaching.

That is why I am starting this new series called “Case Studies in Inerrancy.” I am going to attempt to open up the discussion a bit concerning the doctrine of inerrancy to demonstrate that things get a little messy sometimes. Most importantly, I want to illustrate how the doctrine of inerrancy does not assume one particular hermeneutic (method of interpretation). In other words, often when people approach the Scripture with an assumption of inerrancy it causes them to nuance their hermeneutic. This then produces a sort of “hermeneutic of inerrancy” where the preservation of inerrancy becomes the goal rather than the correct interpretation of Scripture. Continue Reading →