Friday, February 13, 2009

Verbal Inspiration / Grammatical Interpretation

The previous post on creation and evolution was not on creation and evolution. This is very important. I do not say in that post what my own views are about creation or evolution or whether I have views. Granted, that non-commitment is annoying, but it's kind of how I do things on this blog at least. So, again, I did not actually say one way or another whether I think Christians can or cannot believe in the Bible and in evolution.

The point of the previous post was about how Christians relate to their convictions. Are we committed to our beliefs before having reasons to believe them? Yes. And no.
Are we committed to our beliefs before having reasons to believe them? Yes. And no.
Yes, in that, as Augstine describes, faith is always seeking understanding (fides quarens intellectum). But no, in that, you only believe things that you have at least some reason to believe, whether personal experience, reliable testimony or historical documentation. There is also an element of willingness involved. You have to be willing to admit the possibility of something before you can find any reasons to believe it.

We who claim Christian faith believe it is true. (Otherwise, presumably we would not believe it. I.e. we would not intentionally believe something false. There is also the question of whether it is actually possible to believe something that one knows to be false.) And Christianity claims to be a full statement of truth for creation. Thus all things that are true are Christian in some sense since if there were something true that was not Christian then Christianity would be making a false claim in claiming to fully represent truth for creation. This is popularly summarized by the phrase "All truth is God's truth."
This is popularly summarized by the phrase "All truth is God's truth."
Wayne Grudem says the meaning of the "inerrancy of Scripture" is that "Scripture in its original manuscripts does not affirm anything contrary to fact."

This means that people claiming Christian are not prohibited from believing anything in ipse, in and of itself. "All things are lawful," wrote the Apostle Paul. It of course does not mean that Christians have to accept as true whatever anyone claims to be true, for John wrote "Test the spirits to see if they be from God." Indeed we have tools for discerning God's will or God's truth on all matter to the greatest degree possible. One of these tools is the Bible.

Now, there are different views on how to interpret the Bible's claims. The issue at stake in relation to the question surround the creation/evolution debate is whether Christian faith requires a verbal inspiration view of the Bible or another. If the Bible is verbally inspired by God (i.e. God selected the specific words themselves for the Bible), then the first and most appropriate method for interpreting the Bible is grammatical. Grammatical interpretation would seem to call Christians to maintain a six day creation of the world because that's what the words themselves say.

So the closing question for this post is, Is a verbal inspiration view of the Bible necessary? Why? What is at stake?

Again, you'll notice that, in keeping with such a view, one would have to read my question as an actual question and not as a suggestion that verbal inspiration is not necessary.


  1. Where to start...The Bible does not say exactly HOW God's words spoke the world into being. He very well may have used some evolutionary processes in the act of creation. I refuse to discount anything when it comes to how God works.

    As for the inspiration of Scripture, Scripture itself simply says that it was inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). It doesn't specify how. But what is at stake if we don't believe the Bible to be the words of God is that we have no basis for belief in the Bible itself as God's Word. (Gotta love circular reasoning! Post hoc ergo propter hoc - it is, therefore, because of it. Ha!) And without the Bible, where would be Christian faith?

  2. Hi, Amy, thanks for reading! And I like the logical fallacy reference! (I just made that my most recent tweet in response.) If I understand you correctly, you are giving a short explanation for why some Christians may feel the need to defend verbal inspiration? And so the implication of your summary is that the circular reasoning for believing in the Bible as God's word does not support the Bible's inspiration but undermines it? Just checking to make sure I understand you.

    If I understand you correctly, what we need then is another way of understanding inspiration that does not depend on this reasoning. One way of thinking about the inspiration of the Bible that has wide support in the history of the Christian faith is that the continuing presence of Christ in the form of the Holy Spirit oversaw the formation of the canon, thus making the Bible an inspired presentation of God's will.

    The trouble with the 2 Tim reference, of course, is that it can't be speaking about the NT since at the time the NT was not scripture.

    Thanks again and hope to hear more from you!

  3. Hi Matthew - I'm saying more (in answer to your "what's at stake" question) that without the belief that the Bible contains the words of God it becomes just another book of wise sayings and advice and not something worth giving our lives for (literally or figuratively). I do believe that the Holy Spirit oversaw the formation of the canon as it just doesn't seem like something God would choose to leave up to us.

    As for the little circular reasoning problem, doesn't faith, by definition, often defy reason? :)

  4. Does the assertion that the scriptures were inspired by God also assert that the scriptures are without error? Religious Jews believed/believe that the Torah consists of many layers, each revealing different truths. If an error in one layer reveals a truth in another, is it still an error? If a world full of errors produces good, is it still full of errors? Maybe in the end we'll find that error only exists when our perception is... erronous.

  5. What constitutes an error? Very good question! "Inerrancy" has been a major rallying cry for evangelical Christians over the last 50 years especially to support a particular Biblical hermeneutic. But it is not clear what things are and are not errors. I'm working hard on a theory of inspiration - sort of along the lines of a comment you just made - that involves lots of layer in the formation of scripture. I'm hopeful it will help account for what may appear to be "errors" by making them part of the process of formation.

    Thanks for all your comments a couple days ago! I hope you found the reading interesting.

  6. Love the readings and I'd be very interested in hearing your theory of inspiration. They say don't show a fool a job half done, but I still wouldn't mind taking a peek ;).