THE LACK OF PRECISION
The doctrine of inerrancy is sometimes criticized for holding that the Bible always speaks with scientific precision and historical exactness. But since the biblical phenomena do not support this, the doctrine of inerrancy is rejected. However, this is a “straw man” argument. For the CSBI states clearly: “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision…, including ‘round numbers’ and ‘free citations’” (CSBI. Art. 13). Vanhoozer notes that Warfield and Hodge (in Inspiration, 42) helpfully distinguished “accuracy” (which the Bible has) from “exactness of statement” (which the Bible does not always have) (Vanhoozer, 221). This being the case, this argument does not apply to the doctrine of inerrancy as embraced by the CSBI since it leaves room for statements that lack modern “technical precision.” It does, however, raise another issue, namely, the role of biblical and extra-biblical phenomena in refining the biblical concept of truth.
With regard to the reporting of Jesus’ words in the Gospels, there is a distinct difference between the inerrantist and non-inerrantist view, although not all non-inerrantists in the Five Views book hold to everything in the “non-inerrantist” column:
USE OF JESUS’ WORDS AND DEEDS IN THE GOSPELS
|INERRANTIST VIEW||NON-INERRANTIST VIEW|
|REPORTING THEM||CREATING THEM|
|PARAPHRASING THEM||EXPANDING ON THEM|
|CHANGE THEIR FORM||CHANGE THEIR CONTENT|
|GRAMMATICALLY EDITING THEM||THEOLOGICALLY REDACTING THEM|
Inerrantists believe that there is a significant difference between reporting Jesus’ words and creating them. The Gospel writings are based on eye-witness testimony, as they claim (cf. John 21:24; Luke 1:1-4) and as recent scholarship has shown (see Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). Likewise, they did not put words in Jesus’ mouth in a theological attempt to interpret Jesus in a certain way contrary to what He meant by them. Of course, since Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic (cf. Mat. 27:46) and the Gospels are in Greek, we do not have the exact words of Jesus (ipsissima verba) in most cases, but rather an accurate rendering of them in another language (ipsissima vox). But for inerrantists the New Testament is not a re-interpretation of Jesus words; it is an accurate translation of them. Non-inerrantists disagree and do not see the biblical record as an accurate report but as a reinterpreted portrait, a literary creation. This comes out clearly in the statement of Peter Enns that conquest narratives do not merely “report events” (Enns, 108). Rather, “Biblical history shaped creatively in order for the theological purposes” to be seen (Enns, 108).
Vanhoozer offers a modified evangelical version of this error when he speaks of not “reading Joshua to discover ‘what happened’ is to miss the main point of the discourse, which is to communicate a theological interpretation of what happened (that is, God gave Israel the land) and to call for right participation in the covenant” (Vanhoozer, 228). So, the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6), while not being simply a “myth” or “legend,” Vanhoozer sees as an “artful narrative testimony to an event that happened in Israel’s past” (ibid.). A surface reading of Vanhoozer’s view here may appear to be orthodox, until one remembers that he believes that only the “main point” or purpose of a text is really inerrant, not what it affirms. He declares, “I propose that we identify the literal sense with the illocutionary act an author is performing” (Vanhoozer, 220). That is, only the theological purpose of the author is inerrant, not everything that is affirmed in the text (the locutionary acts). He declared elsewhere, “the Bible is the Word of God (in the sense of its illocutionary acts)…” (Vanhoozer, First Theology, 195).
The implications of his view come out more clearly in his handling of another passage, namely, Joshua 10:12: “Sun, stand still….” This locution (affirmation) he claims is an error. But the illocution (purpose of the author) is not in error—namely, what God wanted to say through this statement which was to affirm his redemptive purpose for Israel (Vanhoozer, Lost in Interpretation, 138). This is clearly not what the CSBI and historic inerrancy position affirms. Indeed, it is another example of the fallacious “purpose determines meaning” view discussed above and rejected by CSBI.