Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

In response to Neil’s comment a quick run through of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which if nothing else will clarify what we disagree on! My comments are in square brackets.

Article I.
We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.
[I have problems with this straight off. The authoritative Word of God is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity – as Scripture itself testifies (John 1 above all). The authority of Scripture is derivative from the authority of God. Scripture has authority precisely because it is the principal testimony to the Word, not because it IS the Word (in this sense).]

We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.
[Hmmm. Maybe. This gets to the debate: when the church selected and gathered the Scriptures together (which is surely indisputable?), guided by the Spirit etc, were they recognising a pre-existing authority, or were they bestowing the authority? I think more the latter, but I don’t see this as either/or, it wouldn’t trouble me too much to accept the former option.]

Article II.
We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.
[Happy with the first bit, not with the second, not so much because I want to say that the authority of the Church is higher than that of Scripture, but because I reject the division. I don’t think Scripture can be understood without a community of interpretation.]

We deny that church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.
[Same as previous comment. The Nicene creed is non-biblical (homoousios) but it is the determining interpretation of Scripture, I would argue, and inspired.]

Article III.
We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
[OK]

We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.
[Erk. This is what might be called ‘Scriptural Apollinarianism’; it’s profoundly anti-incarnational. It presumes a radical division between God and man which is what I understand Christianity to be all about overcoming. This is where the philosophical problems become most apparent, for this perspective can only make sense with an Enlightenment-era understanding of text and meaning. If you don’t accept that (eg, if you think Wittgenstein’s account of language makes sense, as I do) then this article is literally meaningless.]

Article IV.
We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.
[Yes.]

We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration.
[Yes.]

Article V.
We affirm that God's revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.
[Good.]

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.
[Hmm. Not sure about the first one. It seems to give the written text more authority than the living Word. Needs a bit more unpacking. Happy with the second sentence.]

Article VI.
We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.
[Still has the Modernist understanding of ‘text’ hovering behind it.]

We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.
[All of Scripture is God-breathed (even if that’s a reference to the Septuagint!)]

Article VII.
We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
[No, this is profoundly wrong. The INCARNATION “was the work in which God by His Spirit… gave us His Word”. This sums up everything I disagree with about doctrines of inerrancy – it places the text in the place of the living Christ.]

We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.
[OK, pretty much – the weight is in the word ‘reduced’. I think human insight is precisely the way in which revelation works – that doesn’t stop it from being God-driven. Again, there is a gnostic distinction (anti-incarnational) being presumed here.]

Article VIII.
We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
[Fine.]

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.
[Good.]

Article IX.
We affirm that inspiration, through not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
[Yes – the intentions of the Biblical writers were met.]

We deny that the finitude or falseness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God's Word.
[Hmmm……. What are the criteria being assumed?]

Article X.
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
[Nyaah…. This is just the sort of cul-de-sac which the earlier mistakes lead into. Inspiration works through the relationship (that’s an implication of accepting the doctrine of the Trinity) between text and reader. It doesn’t stand on its own, as if the tablets of the Ten commandments should be discovered by people who didn’t speak Ancient Hebrew, and suddenly they understood the point!]

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
[First sentence is fine, but I suspect the second sentence is true regardless of the questions of authorship!]

Article XI.
We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
[OK, dependent on what ‘all the matters it addresses’ refers to.]

We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished but not separated.
[This is entirely dependent upon what the criteria of error are taken to be. I don’t see a problem with something being spiritually and theologically without error, and also in contradiction to present day scientific knowledge (which is also liable to error and change over time).]

Article XII.
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
[As previous comment.]

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
[Ah. This I disagree with, and this I think is the application of Modernist philosophy to Scripture (an idolatrous undertaking IMHO). I think the only valid inerrancy is ‘spiritual, religious and redemptive’. I don’t think questions of historical and scientific accuracy were a part of the Biblical writers’ worldview and I don’t see it as being at all important. (The viewing of such questions as important indicates the degree of Babylonish captivity held by the person asserting it, I would argue; ie, it shows how far secular values have taken root.)]

Article XIII.
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
[Like homoousios, inerrancy is a non-Scriptural term being used to determine the interpretation of Scripture. The difference is that homoousios was affirmed by the wider Body of Christ, and assented to for centuries. The same cannot be said for inerrancy, which is clearly a recent innovation, and one which is repudiated by the vast majority of the Body.]

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of metrical, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
[As I read that first sentence it seems exactly what I’m criticising the doctrine of inerrancy for doing!! Maybe I’ve missed something crucial here… ]

Article XIV.
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
[OK. The unity and internal consistency of Scripture comes from its pointing to Christ.]

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved violate the truth claims of the Bible.
[OK]

Article XV.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.
[OK (don’t agree, but it’s a reasonable argument).]

We deny that Jesus' teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.
[OK, but His humanity mustn’t be evacuated in gnostic fashion.]

Article XVI.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church's faith throughout its history.
[Rubbish. At least, not in the sense argued for here.]

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.
[That is pretty much what I think it is!!]

Article XVII.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God's written Word.
[Fine.]

We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.
[Huh? John 3.8 anyone? Sure, it doesn’t operate ‘against’ Scripture, or contrary to Scripture, but to deny that it can operate apart from Scripture is (again) to elevate Scripture up into the Godhead.]

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.
[Good.]

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 of authorship.
[Fine. Though I don’t think an understanding of source criticism does (necessarily) lead “to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching”.]

Article XIX.
We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
[Once more, there is a ‘spin’ here which I resist. Acknowledging the authority of Scripture, I’m fine with that (I’m that much of a Protestant) – it’s the inclusion of ‘infallibility and inerrancy’ that I have difficulty with.]

We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
[Wow, that’s a remarkably liberal sentiment to conclude with! What are the grave consequences being referred to?]

~~~

I’m not going to comment on all the ‘exposition’ at the end, except to quote this:
“The result of taking this step is that the Bible that God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one's critical reasoning and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.”
This is exactly what I’m accusing fundamentalism of doing!! Irony upon irony.

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