Monday, October 12, 2009

Inspiration, Incarnation, and Inerrancy

In the last issue (Spring '09) of the Westminster Theological Journal there is an excellent article by James Scott entitled "Inspiration and Interpretation." Scott's immediate concern is to address and critique Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation. In the process however Scott provides a robust defense of the historic doctrine of the Bible's inerrancy with reference to its impact on biblical interpretation.

Scott writes:
Central to the Christian doctrine of Scripture and well articulated in traditional Reformed theology is the teaching that the Scriptures are the written word of God. This is repeatedly taught by Scripture itself, most commonly whenever the NT introduces an OT quotation with such words as "God said" (e.g.; 2 Cor 6:16) or "the Holy Spirit says" (e.g. Heb 3:7), especially when God is not the speaker in the OT passage (e.g. Acts 13:37, quoting Ps 16:10). "The word of God," to which Hebrews 4:12 refers, includes the Scriptures (along with God's spoken words), as is clear from the repeated statements in the previous verses that God has spoken the words of Scripture. Also, the NT's characterization of the OT as "the oracles of God" (e.g., Rom 3:2) "fairly shouts to us," concludes Warfield after thorough study of this expression, "that to its writers the Scriptures of the Old Testament were the very Word of God in the highest and strictest sense that term can bear - the express utterance, in all their parts and each and every of their words, of the Most High." The consistent witness of Scripture to itself is that it consists of verbal communication from God to man. That is, God is the originator, or author, of Scripture. What Scripture says, God says.

Scott also demonstrates effectively the limits of the incarnational model of biblical interpretation.
It would be unfair to accuse Enns of simply looking at the data of Scripture in Inspiration and Incarnation without any theological framework. He does have a framework for his analysis of the biblical evidence, and he lets readers know that up front. That framework is the incarnational analogy between inspiration and the incarnation. However, he makes no attempt to derive that analogy from Scripture. He simply asserts that it is true and will guide his discussion. He quotes no passage of Scripture that sets forth the incarnational analogy, for there is no such passage. One could perhaps build some sort of analogy from a combination of passages, much as the doctrine of the Trinity in constructed, but Enns has not attempted to do so in print. Furthermore, he presents no evidence that Scripture itself ever argues on the basis of the analogy. That is, no biblical writer ever explains some aspect of Scripture (or of any passage of Scripture) by comparing it with Christ. Enns's approach is essentially pragmatic: the analogy works, by answering difficult questions; therefore, we should accept and use it...

Enns asserts that Herman Bavinck's statement of the analogy, which he quotes in its entirety in defense of his own use of it, 'represents my own deep Reformed commitment.' But his view is not that of Bavinck. Bavinck says only that the word of God entered the creaturely world of humanity 'in all the human forms of dream and vision, of investigation and reflection,' that is, in the processes of revelation and human preparation for writing Scripture - which is a far cry from Enns's notion that God entered into and adopted the pagan worldviews and non-Christian views and methodologies of the ancient world, as vehicles to convey his message...

It is one thing to develop a doctrine of Christ and a doctrine of Scripture, both from the didactic passages of Scripture, and then to observe an analogy between them and consider how far it extends. It is something quite different to observe that certain characteristics of Scripture are analogous to certain characteristics of the incarnate Christ and then to argue that Scripture has certain other characteristics because analogous ones can be discerned in the incarnate Christ. Yet that is what Enns sets out to do in Inspiration and Incarnation: to 'build a doctrine of Scripture' by making 'an attempt to flesh out (as it were) the Incarnational Analogy.' There are two related problems with this approach. First, as Irving M. Copi observes, 'No argument by analogy is ever valid, in the sense of having its conclusion follow from its premises with logical necessity.' Such arguments can only be suggestive: the more points there are of established similarity, the greater the probability is that there will be similarities at other points - but it is still only a probability, never a demonstration. Hence, an analogy is inherently a precarious foundation upon which to build a doctrine of Scripture. Christ and Scripture may well correspond at points A and B, but it does not necessarily follow that they correspond at point C. Second, as Enns himself admits, the analogy does not always work. Indeed Warfield comments that 'between such diverse things there can exist only a remote analogy; and, in point of fact, the analogy...amounts to no more than that in both cases Divine and human factors are involved, though very differently.'

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