The Incredible, Annoyingly Wide Spectrum of Inspiration

30353297Inspiration means a lot of things to a lot of different people.  No Christian is going to disagree with you that the Bible is inspired, or that it is the word of God.  For the most part (probably with a few exceptions), this is a pretty settled argument.  Where the argument comes into play is when we try to determine just HOW inspired the Bible is, and the spectrum is pretty wide, though people do seem to tend toward the extremes, with very little folks falling in the middle. Things get even weirder when we begin to introduce words like infallible, meaning incapable of error (and even THAT word has its own variations in degree).  Here’s some examples:

1) The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler, though for whatever reason lacking a specific article on inerrancy itself, works hard through logical argument and evidence from Scripture to demonstrate Scripture’s inerrancy.  The argument is summed up in this logical form:

God cannot err.

The Bible is the Word of God.

Therefore, the Bible cannot err.

When considering matters of science and history (as distinct from matters of faith, morals and theology), Geisler makes the claim that, because matters of science and history are inextricably interwoven with matters of faith, the Bible must be right in terms of history and science as well. 

2) A term that has been used interchangeably (and it is up for debate whether it is correct to do so) is infallibility. An infallibilist is someone who argues that the Bible is entirely incapable of error. Though for a long time I was under the impression that infallibility was more of a matter of faith and morals (as in the Bible is incapable of error on its theology and morals), it apparently has the capacity to extend far beyond that.  The Chicago Statement of Faith affirms infallibility with this definition.

Infallible signifies the quality of neither misleading
nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical
terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe, and
reliable rule and guide in all matters.

3)  Peter Enns still sticks to the inspiration of God’s word and to utilizing the term inerrancy to describe Scripture, but .  For Enns,The Bible is not “an abstract, otherworldly book, dropped out of heaven. It was connected to and therefore spoke to those ancient cultures….precisely because Christianity is a historical religion, God’s word reflects the various historical moments in which Scripture was written.”  For Enns, his book Inspiration and Incarnation ” ‘denies’ an inerrancy that says, for example, historical background information should play a marginal role, if any role, in coming to grips with what Scripture is; or that says that theological tension and diversity are unbecoming a text authored by God; or that the NT authors would never have used the OT in such oddly Jewish ways, since God is the author.”  Enns tries to understand Scripture in a dual relational way that molds the human and divine voices together, showing that, as God speaks to mankind, God must adjust Godself to speak to mankind.

4) Eric Seibert runs things similarly to Enns, using what he calls a “Christocentric hermeneutic” to interpret Scripture.  Enns and Seibert are colleagues; Enns even recently featured him in a few guests posts on his blog at Patheos. While I’ve  only just dived into Seibert’s book, I did have the opportunity to interview him for a paper I was doing while at VFCC.  Seibert’s hermeneutic pushes for Christians to understand everything in light of Jesus’ teachings and actions.   This leads to a reframing of many other portions of Scripture, particularly the OT, where Seibert feels there’s a conflict between the portrayed God of the OT and the God portrayed in Jesus.  While Seibert still adheres to what he calls a “general inspiration,” he doesn’t feel at home using the term inerrancy really.

Those are just a few snippets of how diverse the understanding of biblical inspiration is amongst Christians, and I’ve hardly covered half of it. This is just the tip of the iceberg that I’ve scratched with my pinky when coming to this debate.   However, once my brain is a little less tired of this subject, I’ll happily return to it.  Have a good one, folks!


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