“Poorly-versed accounts of inerrancy- accounts that fail to understand the nature of language and literature- harm the cause of biblical authority and truth.” As most objections against biblical inerrancy arise from the impoverished state of its contour, “a well-versed Augustinian inerrancy is the way forward for evangelical biblical scholars and theologians,” argues Kevin J. Vanhoozer on the occasion of 2013 Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting.
Vanhoozer agrees with J. I. Packer: inerrancy ought always to be held as an article of faith « not capable of demonstrative proof but entailed by dominical and apostolic teaching about the nature of Scripture. » Perhaps, in order to be at peace with as many evangelicals as possible, we could agree that inerrancy, if not essential, is nevertheless expedient.
To be well-versed is to have a literate understanding of the literal sense. Whereas the early Christians had « an addiction to literacy », Vanzooer’s primary concern about inerrancy today is that too many contemporary readers lack the literacy needed for understanding the way the words go, or for rightly handling (2 Tim. 2:15: Orthotomeo) the word of truth. Biblical inerrancy in the context of biblical illiteracy makes for a dangerous proposition.
In asking whether the Chicago statement is well-versed, Vanhoozer has four major concerns:
whether its definition of inerrancy is clear;
whether it gives primacy to a biblical-theological rather than a philosophical understanding of truth;
whether it is sufficiently attentive to the nature and function of language and literature;
whether it produced a theological novelty.
In contrast, Vanhoozer is much more willing to speak about Augustine as the patron saint of well-versed inerrancy, because
his thinking was thoroughly theological and he judged Scripture to be entirely true and trustworthy, and
he was not only familiar with but also proficient in the liberal arts, writing on the nature and interpretation of language, concerned for what he called the literal meaning of Genesis,
but also alert and attentive to biblical figures of speech.
Vanhoozer is adamant that Augustine would agree with the judgment expressed by his definition of inerrancy: the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).
By corollary, a well-versed Augustinian inerrancy pays special care
first to speech-act content but also to form
to the plurality of genres and various types of discourses in the Scripture
more to the Speaker (the Author of the text) than to « sentence meaning »
and inevitably to the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the part of the reader
However, given the propensity of scribes to smooth-en textual wrinkles, our insistence on textual inerrancy can be called a well-versed one only if we are willing to bear the textual problems preserved in what we [scientifically] deem the most reliable text, by typically preferring of the more difficult readings, rather than by using inerrancy as a cheap device to oppress the communicative integrity of God’s Word and circumvent hard sayings.
Now I have a question.
On the hermeneutic ethics of the discipline of textual criticism, Vanhoozer seems ambitious but becomes a bit ambivalent. What is implied yet remains unspecified here is an ethical evaluation of the scribal work:
In what way can Vanhoozer say the scribes/copyists are working along God’s communicative business in their interpretation/ »dynamic » preservation of the Scripture they receive? It seems their labors are excluded from our positive hermeneutic considerations because, on the one hand, by flattening textual problems they point to us an « easy hermeneutic road » uncharacteristic of the nature of the Cross of Jesus we are asked to bear.
On the other hand, they give our enemies a stock to hold against us that our Scripture is corrupted and unreliable (while without their works, we would never have had the chance to stand here as the people of the Word, either).
A pneumatology of textual transmission and textual criticism is thus wanted in our dealings with the doctrine of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, in my view.
Questions aside, Vanhoozer’s conclusion is a robust and ethically holistic one: that right-minded interpreters of the Scripture are necessarily its truthful witnesses that are willing to endure textual difficulties (on the intellectual/Sophia level), as well as truth-seekers capable of responding to, loving, and participating in the calling of the Scripture (on the practical/Phronesis level)- they listen to God’s Word, comprehend it, and do it.
Now available for viewing, the video features Dr. Vanhoozer outlining and explaining his position, presented more fully in Five Views. A transcript of the video is also available for Download.
I endorse Enns’ call to conform our doctrine of Scripture to the Bible that we actually have rather than the one we think God ought to have written. My own essay contrasts an “inerrancy of glory” (aka “perfect book inerrancy,” a cultural construct) with an “inerrancy of the cross.” I draw this distinction in order to urge an inerrancy of the cross that recognizes the wisdom of God in the surprising textual form he has given it rather than the form we may think it ought to have had. Enns simply identifies inerrancy with perfect book theology, however, and then devotes most of his essay to exposing its nakedness. I agree that perfect book inerrancy, “by placing on it expectations it is not designed to bear”, fails to do justice to Scripture. However, in my own chapter, I explore a constructive alternative. I wish Enns had tried to do this too.
Instead, Enns spends most of his chapter reacting to what I judge to be a caricature of inerrancy— what David Dockery, whom I discuss in my own chapter, calls “naive” rather than “critical” inerrancy. Enns would have been better off discussing the original drawing— namely, the definitions offered by John Frame or Paul Feinberg— rather than demeaning the assumptions and interpretive practice of anonymous inerrantists. Who are these faceless villains (“ is it I, Peter”)? Enns nevertheless makes a valid point: the doctrine of inerrancy has been hijacked by various bands of exegetical pirates who insist that the gold of true Bible knowledge is secure only in their own interpretive treasure chests.
Enns thinks the core issue is “how inerrancy functions in contemporary evangelical theological discourse”. Why should the function rather than the nature of inerrancy be the crux of the matter? We don’t throw away other doctrines, like divine sovereignty or the atonement, just because some people misunderstand or misuse them. No, we try to set them right. Curiously, Enns is not interested in definitions. Even his title focuses on function: “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.” This is strange. Why should inerrancy— the claim that the Bible is without error— describe what the Bible does? Enns’ essay suffers from two confusions: (1) a failure to distinguish the nature of inerrancy from its use and (2) a failure to distinguish inerrancy’s right use from various abuses.
–Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) Zondervan, 2013, 83-4 [Kindle Edition]
Matthew:Hermeneutics is a complex discipline that cannot be performed with an overly reduced concept of the term. Indeed, it draws on many fields for its practice and coherence. Will you, briefly, outline what hermeneutics is and explain its relationship to other disciplines both scientific and artistic?
Thiselton: Although it entails, first, biblical hermeneutics, it is vital that Biblical Studies is not isolated from Systematic Theology. This occurs all too often, to the impoverishment of both. Hence the second discipline is Theology. Third, Linguistics has to be studied for a serious Hermeneutic. Fourth, because modern Hermeneuticssince Schleiermacher is “the art of understanding”, it must involve epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. The fifth essential discipline is sociology of knowledge, since all interpretation is not purely “objective”, but depends on pre-understanding, or what Habermas calls “interest”. Preliminary understandings (English, rather than German!) can be negotiated like “horizons”; they are not fixed like “presuppositions. Nowadays, sixthly, Literary Studies are indispensible, both for an understanding of genre (as in Umberto Eco), but also on “intention” and Reader Response Theory.
We might add, seventh, Reception History or Reception Theory, which has now become a sub-discipline in Biblical Studies, Theology, and Literary Theory. I cannot think of any of these eight which we can easily omit. It is tragic that some relegate Hermeneutics only to a branch of Biblical Studies or oh Church History. I have explored more on the Hermeneutics of Doctrine in my book, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Eerdmans, 2007).
Matthew:Postmodern thought has been preoccupied with the task of hermeneutics and the relationship of readers to texts. Yet, many in Christian circles have had a difficult time recognizing the value it might add to our reading of texts generally or to the Bible specifically. What positive contributions (if any), in your view has postmodernism made to hermeneutics?
Thiselton: I must confess that I suspect all “-isms” as overgeneralizations. I speak to my students only specifically about Lyotard, Derrida, Rorty, Foucault, and others. For the most part, I am grieved that many Evangelicals retreat from robust, rational discussion because many postmodernists say that I can say only how it is with me, i.e. testify to what has worked for me. But there are some positive features: (1) an attack on the standardization of knowledge, especially making everything correspond to technology (especially Lyotard); this applies to what is said above about “science”. (2) I share their dislike of generalities; but we need caution about rejecting all “meta-narratives”, of which the Bible may be one. (3) Roland Barthes’ early work “Mythologies” is fascinating, and assists Ricoeur’s “Hermeneutic of Suspicion”, although this may be too early to call it “Postmodern”. (4) Jean Baudrillardexposes fantasy and simulacra, together the idolization of utility and media-created, and media-centred “celebrities”. But specifically on Hermeneutics I have some sympathy with Vanhoozer’s exposure of Derrida as too near to atheism, and I would add Lyotard on incommensurability and the plurality of “paganism” as negative. In the U.S.A., I find it difficult to find merits in Rorty and Fish.
但是在近代許多人看來，這個把聖經當「百科全書」和「律法書」來貼聖俗標籤的做法是過時的。更正確地說，道成肉身的耶穌基督，既聖也俗。被人類作者用人類文字系統和人類文明記載方式留下來的「聖經」，既聖也俗。如果按照John Milbank的看法，根本就沒有什麼「講道中不能講哲學、心理學、社會學、歷史這些『人學』」，也不會說「John R. Stott 味如嚼蠟、完全排斥後現代解構理論、不偏不倚的宣講才是百分百按照正義分解上帝的道這種說法」。他甚至更大膽地說，只有在教會中才能做出真正的政治學、社會學、經濟學等等。重點是靠神的智慧與聖靈，叫一些的知識—考古學、生物學、數學—都能被用來闡明聖經，引人歸向聖經中所指示的那位耶穌基督。
確實，今日的傳道人在聖經上所下的功夫必不可少。我們從前的華人教會界資源不足、篳路藍縷。前段所提的林道亮前院長也是忠心主僕，告誡我們不可在無法清楚透析上帝旨意之下貪圖人間學問的捷徑，在講壇上引證失敗又類比錯誤，導致上帝的話語受虧損、福音的信息被稀釋、甚至扭曲。甚至，對普世基督教有相當關懷的今日基督教雜誌（Christianity Today）資深主任編輯Mark Galli，也在近日一篇文章中提及：當前天主教講壇的「缺少福音靈魂的泛道德化信息」是他所難以接受的（“moralistic, lift-yourself-up-by-your-willpower motivational speech, combined with a fair bit of guilt”）。
我們的釋經學更勢必要變得堅固嚴謹，不囿於亞歷山大學派（The Alexandrian approach to exegesis）或安提阿學派（Antiochene methods of interpretation）的極端。慢慢我們就會發現「字面與寓意」、「一般與特殊」、「字義和句法」、「信仰的基督—歷史的耶穌」這幾組概念之間，更多時候不是二元辯證的對立關係，而是存在著詮釋螺旋（hermeneutical spiral）這樣交叉解釋的向心性關係，甚至是不可分割的附隨關係（supervenience）。