Saturday, April 13, 2013

L: Literalism

 
 I think like Amelia Bedelia: very literally. This sometimes causes misunderstandings. For instance, when someone mentions "wet cement" the first thing that comes to my mind is spraying down a parking lot with a water hose. Much to my chagrin, this also makes me rather gullible. I have a tendency to think anything is possible, so I have to think about it pretty hard sometimes to figure out if someone is pulling my chain!

If I have trouble knowing what to take literally in current conversations, you can imagine what I might think when it comes to the Bible! I grew up in a tradition that believes the Bible is extremely literal; every word in it is inspired, infallible, and inerrant.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was formulated and accepted in 1978 by Evangelical leaders, and officially adopted by the Evangelical Theological Society in 2006 as a statement of what Evangelicals generally believe in regards to biblical inerrancy. The problem some people have with this statement is in its 4th and 5th of 5 main points:

"(4) Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.
"(5) The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church." 

Nineteen brief articles then further clarify the movement's precise idea of the way in which the Bible is completely inerrant. The end of Article XI says, "Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated." And article XII denies

"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."
 
Some people take issue with this because there seems to be evidence that certain parts of the Bible can (or should?) be interpreted differently than they have been traditionally. For instance, some believe the accounts of Creation and beginnings in Genesis (especially chapters 1-11) are largely comprised of Hebrew myths (cultural explanations), rather than a completely literal record of how God created the earth and humanity. There are historical ways of looking at the Jewish Law, too, as it compares to other legal codes we have and can study from the Ancient Near East.

There are also various ways of understanding biblical inerrancy - the Chicago Statement only affirms one. In Christian Theology Millard Erickson discusses five common views: 1) the intuition theory, 2) the illumination theory, 3) the dynamic theory, 4) the verbal theory, and 5) the dictation theory. With the first, inspiration takes the form of an especially high degree of insight – a high-functioning natural ability. “The Scripture writers were religious geniuses.” This view seems to leave a lot of room for relative error – it relegates the Bible to the level of other great religious/philosophical works, such as those by Plato and Buddha, but from the Hebrew perspective. The illumination theory holds that the Holy Spirit gave the authors increased consciousness to spiritual matters, working with them in a heightened degree, but in the same type of way as He works with all believers. As with the intuition theory, inerrancy does not seem to possess a place of particular importance with the illumination theory.

Erickson’s remaining three theories – dynamic, verbal, and dictation – seem to fit more wholly in character with the idea of “infallibility” than the previous two; for, according to all three of these theories, the actual thoughts expressed in Scripture proceed directly from God. The dynamic theory emphasizes a sort of collaboration between the divine direction of concepts and the choice of expression unique to the human writer and his personality. Going a little farther in degree of direct inspiration, the verbal theory insists upon the Holy Spirit’s influence over even the wording used to convey the divinely inspired concepts. This theory differs only slightly more than semantically from the dictation theory, which teaches that God actually dictated the words of Scripture verbatim to the human writers. In all these, Scripture’s inarguably divine origin would be considered as authoritative for guidance in knowing God and His ways.

Finally, those who "separate between the ideas of infallibility and inerrancy" do so in this way: The infallible quality of Scripture is defined by some groups as “reliable and trustworthy,” even despite potential/occasional difficulties or conflicts within the text, while inerrancy means no errors exist at all. According to this definition, one can trust the Bible’s infallibility without believing it is inerrant; but if a person holds the Scriptures to be inerrant, then they also necessarily possess infallibility.

So...I know that was a lot of (boring?) information. But the question that begs to be asked is an important one: Is the Chicago Statement correct that only one view of inerrancy (total inerrancy) can uphold the Scriptures' authority? Why or why not? How do you tend to view the infallibility/inerrancy of the Bible? 

4 comments:

  1. I think many people perceive the Bible into how THEY want to believe it. When as a child I read the Bible and now as an adult I see different views as to what is written.

    Enjoy your week-end.
    Yvonne.

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  2. Some things are literal, others are interpretive, i.e. Jesus' parables, while others still were based on traditions of the past.

    What really blows the mind is that much of what's written in the Bible will not be totally understood until we stand in front of God face-to-face. It baffles me that people think that they're of such intellectual maturity to fully understand it, as if intellectual maturity is all it takes to fully understand the Bible, literally or not.

    There are several times in the Bible that it was told that we could not understand the meaning, because God did not intend for us to understand. And for some things, that non-understanding will last until we see the Lord.

    At that point, I believe, we will truly understand why God is worthy of all our praise. :) Writer’s Mark

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  3. I think the interpretation of the bible will always differ from person to person as none of us think alike, so we all see or read things in a way that someone else might not. All that matters is what you as a person believe, or at least that is what I think. Nice to meet you.

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  4. I always assumed the stories came from an interpretation based on the way we all see information out of thin air: symbolically, within the context of one's own life, and how one understands things. For example, when you dream, you see things symbolically, but they are meaningful to you, within the context of your own life in some way.

    Personally, I don't see how it could be another way. If God were to come down and talk to one of us directly, it would be impossible for Him to convey all the knowledge in the universe in a way that we could understand. There would have to be some means by which we could interpret those things, based on how we live, our current level of knowledge, etc.

    I'm speaking from a more logical place though. I'm more of a scientist type, so there are probably plenty of people who disagree with me when it comes to spirituality, and I totally respect that. :)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog: kristenhead.blogspot.com

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