Monday, April 02, 2018

Recommend-a-blog (26)

The Stand to Reason blog, a Christian online resource I’ve recommended here once or twice previously, has moved to a new domain. You can find a link to it here, midway across the banner atop the main page.

Always useful to be bookmarking the right thing!

Of the more recent posts I’d missed before discovering they’d moved, this one on inerrancy was most intriguing: Aaron Brake asks Does the Lack of Original Autographs Make Biblical Inerrancy Irrelevant?

Misquoting Jesus

Good question. Brake notes Bart Ehrman’s objection from his book Misquoting Jesus:
“How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes — sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies ...”
I’ve come across something like this before, and Brake deals with it well, without being unreasonably harsh on Ehrman’s not-so-subtle straw-manning. Anyone who has read Daniel Wallace (who Brake quotes to rebut Ehrman) knows the “many times!” bit is a red herring, as is the false characterization “error-ridden”. In fact, the text of our Bibles is uniquely preserved. The copyist-error category of complaint is a non-starter where inerrancy is concerned, and no young believer capable of performing a rudimentary Google search should be stumbled by it in view of the solid scholarship on the subject available to us today.

But while Brake deals with Ehrman’s critique effectively, his analysis scoots by what seems to me be an obvious rejoinder to Ehrman and an even more obvious question for him.

But … But … But …

The rejoinder: Agreed, saying that the Bible is the inerrant word of God when we can’t produce the inerrant autographs may not help us all that much in convincing others. People will respond the way they respond, which is where lines of arguments like Aaron Brake’s “chain of evidence” explanation for the absence of the autographs are useful. Brake’s hypothesis seems to me considerably more plausible than the customary evangelical hand-waving about how the originals might have become objects of veneration had they been preserved (undoubtedly they would, but so have lots of other things which have endured the passage of centuries).

On the other hand, the doctrine of inerrancy is definitely significant to me personally and to anyone who accepts the Bible’s view of itself. The claim that the originals had mistakes in them is vastly different from the claim that the originals were perfect, but the potential existed in all subsequent copies for the introduction of minuscule, variant scribal errors — the latter being the situation we actually encounter.

The Science of Textual Criticism

Textual criticism (comparison of the variant copies aimed at deducing the original wording) has enabled us to get a very solid sense of what the autographs looked like. While we now have a few alternate readings that were not floating around the margins of the text in the first century, as Brake points out, the abundant manuscript evidence extant makes it very difficult to argue that any information has been lost to us, even twenty centuries down the road. If the originals were indeed God-given, we are ridiculously close to them; close in a way that no other historical document can touch with a ten foot pole.

However, if even the originals were riddled with inaccuracies, we would have great difficulty reasonably concluding that God has spoken intelligibly to mankind. And it is hard to see how a God who cannot or will not communicate clearly is preferable to a God who doesn’t communicate at all.

Thus, even if we limit it to the autographs, the doctrine of inerrancy should not be dismissed with a cavalier How does it help us? It is actually very helpful indeed.

Why Only the Bible?

The more obvious question is this: How is it only the Bible we hold to a pristine standard of 100% accuracy in transmission? We unhesitatingly order our personal lives, our political choices, our economy, our school systems and every other aspect of our societies around the pronouncements of secular historians, scientists, archaeologists, newsmen, doctors, psychiatrists, analysts and other quasi-experts of every possible stripe, many of whom deal regularly with much less accurately-transmitted information, often at multiple removes from the original source, with every single link in the chain of information transmission observably subject to all the usual foibles of humanity: susceptibility to political and peer pressure, greed, desire for fame, blind spots, confirmation bias, false assumptions, wish-fulfillment and so on. Ironically, it is only because we uncritically worship expertise that it occurs to us to fuss about whether our copies of scripture are error-ridden in the first place!

How is such a position remotely reasonable?

Given the rather shaky foundation atop which all human knowledge rests, it is unconscionably binary thinking to insist that either we have 100% inerrancy in both the originals and in transmission, or we have nothing useful at all. The truth is somewhere on the spectrum between the two, but way, WAY closer to the former than the latter (somewhere well into the ninety-ninth percentile, if Wallace and other scholars are correct).

Truth and Probability

All truth is apprehended probabilistically. That may be uncomfortable, but it’s the way it is. I’m good with being 99% sure about almost anything. So is everyone, even those reluctant to admit it.

Further, our understanding of any given truth in any given moment is affected to a vastly greater extent by other factors than by the pristine accuracy of the original Greek and Hebrew: vagaries of translation, the assumptions we bring to the text, our intelligence, our experience, the hermeneutics we use, the state of our digestion, the limitations of our understanding of the culture of the day or of other scriptures, the extent to which we have been unconsciously prejudiced by those responsible for our education, our stubbornness, our sin and half a zillion other factors, the most important of which is divine guidance provided by the Holy Spirit and consistently available only to those who know and love Jesus Christ.

Folks, the text is the LEAST of your problems!

Post-Rational Limbo

Ehrman’s question may only have been hypothetical, and he may even have answered it in his book; I haven’t read him to know. But he certainly speaks for a segment of the critics. Alas, taken to the extreme, such a position leaves the truth-seeker floating in post-modern, post-rational limbo. If nothing can be known with any degree of certainty, why bother with anything? Certainly, why bother writing about your point of view on inerrancy?

And yet, incongruously, it is the mindset most completely under the influence of post-modernity that today seems most confident in its own positions and most dismissive of the convictions of others.

Does that make any sense to you?

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