In a recent post at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, John Hobbins argues that conversations about inerrancy must continue. I have a few thoughts of my own on the topic that I wanted to share.
1. I think any conversation is important. I’m not about to say that conversations about inerrancy should stop. Quite the opposite, I think that within evangelical circles this very conversation needs to continue as that particular sect of Christianity figures out its stance on the issue. Still, some conversations are less beneficial than others.
2. John brings up some good thoughts on the history of interpretation and inerrancy’s importance to what interpreters have said about the text. I think this is an area that could do with some more investigation. Perhaps Earl could undertake some preliminary research on the topic. I think it would prove fascinating.
3. Alas, in the end I think that John may be mixing (confusing?) terms. Consider the following quote:
There is simply no chance that Judaism and Christianity, for example, will ever stop taking the Torah (a concept, it should be noted, that includes but extends beyond the Pentateuch) and the Bible, respectively, as anything less than the text to be read in worship and studied at home and other venues of religious instruction.
The Torah/Hebrew Bible/Bible/Scriptures being the text to be read in worship is not directly related to inerrancy. Rather, I think it has a great deal to do with the idea that the text is inspired. However, inspiration != inerrancy. To be sure, inerrancy has influenced interpreters. It has been, and in some sects still is, a major doctrine. However, inerrancy is concerned with slightly different issues than inspiration. Inspiration says that the text is somehow from God. Inerrancy says that since that text is from God it has no errors (as Hobbins rightly points out, this is variously defined). To many, inerrancy is a requirement for inspiration, though by no means does everyone agree on that.
Another relevant quote:
The vast majority of American political scientists treat the Constitution, for all practical purposes, as inerrant. There is little or no talk of downgrading either its iconic or practical importance in American political life.
I think the better word to use here would be “inspired.” The idea that the Constitution is “errant” is simply not something that comes up in political science. It says what the Founding Fathers desired it to say. Errancy or inerrancy does not enter into the conversation and is rather superfluous to said conversation. Inspiration, on the other hand, is quite relevant. That is to say, the Constitution is viewed as the standard to which all other laws are compared.
I think if conversations about inerrancy are going to continue in a fruitful way there needs to be some attempt to define what exactly it is, and how it differs from inspiration.