Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’m going to start a new look at the doctrine of inerrancy. To begin with, I will state that I do hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. There are some ways I believe inerrancy is not understood however.
In our modern western culture, it’s easy to think that the Bible was written for people in our place and time. We have found a way to center the world around us. We seek to do that which will promote us and further our good. There is hardly any interest in doing something for the sake of another.
It is odd that we take this approach with the Bible that we do not with Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Augustine, Aquinas, Shakespeare, or many other works. One can read the works of Flannery O’Connor and think she was racist when really, she was just writing using the terminology of her time. We often accuse atheists of chronological snobbery with their assumption that modern times are automatically the best times and our moral beliefs are the standard, when we are often guilty of literary snobbery, thinking that our style of studying literature should be the way all literature was written.
Much of our writing today is not as colorful as it could be, and I do not mean profanity by that. It is slow prose with no vivid imagery to it. This is because we are not familiar with other works of literature in part and because we live in an image-saturated culture where we tend to pre-think in images due to TV and other related media.
Thus, we live in a world where metaphors and such are highly absent. The only way we often understand things is in a straight-forward manner. The beauty of such great language is lost. Does this affect the way that we read our Bibles? The sad reality is that it does.
When I affirm inerrancy then, I am at the start affirming that the Bible does not contain errors and contradictions. However, there is no doubt that our interpretations of Scripture can involve errors and contradictions. We must always be open to the possibility that our interpretations can be wrong.
A problem with not realizing metaphor can be taking a text such as Numbers 23:19.
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
But what about Exodus 32:14?
Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
So at this point the atheist jumps up and down with glee realizing that a contradiction has occurred.
Or has it?
Could it be that one of these is a metaphor and one is not?
Now if we take both without considering the idea of metaphor, I think we would have a contradiction, but the Bible is a much richer text than that full of several literary techniques and flourishes. It is not a simple piece of literature despite what some may think and to study it, we need to be cognizant of the time and culture it was written in instead of assuming that people were just like us.
Why do I think Exodus 32 is the metaphor? The reason is that Numbers 23 is making a direct statement about the nature of God. He is saying “This is the way God is.” We see however in narrative often that there are literary devices used, such as God saying He will extend His arm or God walking through the Garden of Eden.
Not only that, I have several philosophical problems with God changing His mind. Am I to believe that God is ignorant? Is He no longer the God of all-truth? Yes. I know several open theists could complain at this one and if they want to, I’m more than happy to engage them on those issues. It will not be enough to say to me “Greek philosophy!” I need to be shown why my thinking and the thinking of the church throughout history has been wrong.
If it’s a metaphor, does that mean there is no truth to it? Not at all. The point of the narrative is in this case to show that Moses was being a mediator for Israel as Christ would be in the future. Our prayers don’t change God. God knows what we are to pray, although I would say He would not do what we would do had our prayers not been known. God knows in advance what we will pray and has in advance acted accordingly. Yes. I suspect there are many headaches coming about right now.
The literal truth then is that a mediator before God does hold back His wrath so that those of us on the other side of the mediator may be saved. Did God literally change His mind? No. Did God hold back his wrath after hearing from Moses? Yes. (All the while knowing Moses would do that however)
The same is true of passages that say God covers us with His wings or in talking about the might of God’s arm or the smoke coming from His nostrils. These are literary devices that contain great truth. What we need is a richer appreciation of literature and a deeper look at the text.
We shall continue next time.