Monday, January 31, 2011

Inerrancy and Interpretation, Part 3

We continue our series now having discovered a 1984 article from Christianity Today which discusses the very issue of Robert Gundry and how his thesis of midrash in Matthew was reacted to by leaders in the inerrancy issue. Here we find something of a paradox, as despite Moo’s indication (see Part 2) that Gundry’s position doesn’t contradict a doctrine of inerrancy, several people apparently think that it does. I’m on the side that doesn’t.

For the record, let me note again that I don’t think Gundry’s thesis is solid. While I don’t back him on particulars, I am with him on concept.

Where we begin to engage the CT article is with this comment:

Writing in the current issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Norman Geisler, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and the chief organizer of the effort to expel Gundry from ETS membership, rejects midrash in the Bible. "Any hermeneutical or theological method the logically necessary consequences of which are contrary to or undermine confidence in the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture is unorthodox," Geisler argues.

I have a certain amount of respect for Geisler, but I have to say that this just doesn’t add up. The main problem is (again) that it doesn’t regard anything but literal historical narrative as “truthful” reportage. But this is precisely the premise that is being questioned. The social and cultural values of the Biblical world were such that a literary production could act as a sort of coded message to report an entirely different truth than what one would get if a text were read as historical narrative.

The implied threat of undermined confidence is one I’d also dispute. On the contrary, what is undermining confidence is our refusal to face and discuss interpretation of the Bible as though it were anything but the product of modern, Western literalism. If this sort of thing is not heard from us, it will be heard from someone like Crossan or Borg, who will deliver this message in a way that will do a great deal more to undermine confidence in Scripture than if we presented it ourselves.

What’s rather interesting as well from this article is who is named on each side of the issue. On Gundry’s side we have people like Richard Longenecker and Alan Johnson, who are also Biblical scholars. On Geisler’s side we have people like James Boice (a pastor), Harold Lindsell (whose primary job in life had been as editor of Christianity Today), Roger Nicole (who was primarily a theologian) and Merrill Tenney (a professor of Old Testament). It seems interesting that the opposition is headed by persons whose interests and specialties are – unlike Gundry and Longenecker – not in the critical topics of the New Testament, and that some are not even serious Biblical scholars.

I also find this curious:

Geisler had clearly done his homework carefully. The evening before, he circulated a document, "Why We Must Vote Now on Gundry's Membership, and Why We Must Vote No on Gundry's Membership." He hinted that if the ETS did not remove Gundry, a new "International Theological Society" would be formed to "take the doctrine of inerrancy seriously."

Here again, the same assumption emerges: Only those who understand inerrancy in modern, Western terms are taking the doctrine “seriously” – which is again the very point at issue. In contrast, I would say that if we fail to define inerrancy in a way that Biblical writers would have understood the concept, it is we who are not taking it seriously, but are rather creating problems that will eventually come home to roost as it is realized that certain answers to apologetics questions simply aren’t satisfactory.

The article from CT was written in 1984 and I have purposely not looked for anything further on this issue so that I can address further developments from an objective and historical perspective. My sense is that many evangelicals have moved on from this restrictive position, while fewer and fewer have stuck by the “stricter” Western approach – perhaps because many of the luminaries who promoted it (like Lindsell and Boice) have since that time passed away. We’ll have a special post tomorrow, then return to this series on Wednesday.

CT article here

No comments:

Post a Comment