Thursday, January 29, 2009

'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 5

McGowan accuses inerrantists of a form of rationalism. One part of his charge is that he says that, whatever authors such as Warfield may say (and we have already seen that the KinG James Only and Textus Receptus Only crowds are out of this discussion as they place the locus of inerrancy in either one stream of textual transmission or in an English translation), to affirm that the autographa (the original manuscripts) of the Bible are inerrant is to make the human authors mere ciphers (see P. 118). We 'limit God', he says, by affirming what God can and cannot do. But do we? If what we affirm about what God can and cannot do is founded on the Scriptures, then we do not limit God at all, but affirm his righteous character. "He cannot deny Himself", the Scripture says, and He "cannot lie". Now if I affirm what God has explicitly revealed about Himself, am i limiting God? I can see how liberal who believes that the Bible is not God's self-revelation, but is instead the record of human religious experience, could make this accusation, but not a self-described evangelical who taught at a Reformed and Evangelical institution. What is more, it is notorious that one of the main objections to inerrancy used by the liberals of the 19th century was the rationalist assumption that God could not produce an inerrant book by means of human writers.

Again, if we were affirming that God so over-rode the personalities of the authors of Scripture that the words are merely dictated by God, that would be a rationalistic assumption that God must have worked in a particular way, but we do not. Instead we affirm that in a mysterious way, beyond our human understanding, the authors of the Inspired Word were 'carried along by the Holy Spirit', so that what they wrote may properly be called 'the Word of God'. But we affirm that it is inerrant, that is without errors in fact or teaching, because it is the Word of God, who cannot lie.

One possible misconception must be cleared out of the way, and that is the meaning of the word 'error'. I do not mean by that a modern scientific standard of accuracy. That is to say, the standard of accuracy that we apply to the Scriptures must be that of the world in which they were written, and that of the men who wrote it. Now this is NOT to say that in the ancient world things that were in fact false were affirmed to be true, rather it is to say that the standard of accuracy was necessarily less than in a world of digital recorders and laser measuring tools. Distances and other measurements are routinely rounded off, just as we do in everyday life today, and many events are described in a phenomenological, rather than a strictly scientific, way. The sun is said to rise and set - just as we speak today, even though we know that in fact the earth is rotating! The idea of exact quotations, such as we expect today, is also something that was not expected in the ancient world. Rather a historian sought to give a reasonably accurate summary of what was said. Remember that there are no quotation marks in the originals! It would be unreasonable to demand of the Bible a standard of accuracy that would have been unthinkable at the time it was written, and this has on the one hand been the source of some claims of error in the Bible, and on the other hand the source of some of the more farcical attempts to defend inerrancy. It is important to realise that to demand or expect such a standard in Scripture is essentially rationalistic and modernistic - and yes, I do mean to use those two 'boo words'.

Having cleared this out of the way, it is important to affirm that we can speak of God being in some sense 'limited', not by anything outside of Himself, but by His character. God is good, He is holy and He is faithful, and He cannot be anything other than what He is, because he does not change, and he is faithful. 'He cannot deny Himself'. Thus is is perfectly right to affirm that the Bible, if it is the Word of God, must be without error according to its own standards (and not some artificially imposed standard).

God willing, next time we shall consider McGowan's first historical example, James Orr.

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