|Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 11:58:31 -0600
From: "William J. Hamblin" <email@example.com>
Subject: SKINNY: Infallible?
To: James White <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: skinny <email@example.com>
While you are away and busy, here are a few comments on the issue of the nature of
scripture. I don't expect an answer now. This is in response to one of your
earlier posts, letter #24 on the SHIELDS register
My purpose here is not to prove you are wrong. Rather, I am
attempting to see if you can accurately understand my position.
I accept the text [of the Bible] as a body of revelation, not disparate, disjointed,
self-contradictory pericopes that can be rearranged in any form or fashion we may find
Notice the false dichotomy here. For you, it seems, the text must be either a
"body of revelation" or "disparate, disjointed, self-contradictory
pericopes." Of course, those are not the only options, are they? I, too,
accept the Bible as revelation. One of our many disputes is over what is the nature
of this revelation, and what is the meaning of what is revealed, and whether revelation is
still possible today. But we are agreed that the Bible is revelation. I simply
believe you are conflating the concept of revelation with theories of infallible
inerrancy. It is possible for something to be revealed, and yet not be inerrant.
While many modern "theologians" in liberal Protestantism obtain tenure by
engaging in such playful re-arrangement of the divine text, I find many reasons not to do
so, the most important being that I believe in Jesus Christ.
Although I will admit that I do have tenure, none of your other characteristics apply to
me. I am not a "theologian" (thank God). I am not a liberal. I
am not a Protestant. I do not engage in playful re-arrangement of the divine text.
I, too, believe in Jesus Christ. So what has any of this to do with our
discussion? Please stick to the issues, evidence, and analysis.
Since I believe Him to be my risen Lord, I find it necessary to follow in His footsteps
regarding His view of the Sacred Text.
I, too, believe Jesus to be my risen Lord. I, too, try to follow His view of the
Sacred Text. (Which is one reason why I so strongly reject your eisigesis of John
10:22-39. You claim that you believe that Christ "was not merely playing
rhetorical games," but your interpretation of John 10 reduces his teachings to
Having done a fairly thorough examination of His usage of Scripture and His statements
concerning it, I am convinced that He was not merely playing rhetorical games when He said
the following to the Sadducees: "But regarding the resurrection of the dead,
have you not read what was spoken to you by God:" [Mt. 22:31] Jesus
considered the written word to embody the very speaking of God, holding men accountable to
the Scriptures as though God had personally spoken those words directly to them (which,
through the written word, He did).
You claim to have "done a fairly thorough examination of His usage of Scripture and
His statements concerning it." And all you can come up with is Mt. 22:31?
Could you please provide me a few other references? I'd like to see them.
I hope, for your sake, that they are better than this one. The main issue here
is that you have very conveniently wrenched this passage from its context. Note the
next line (Mt. 22:32) reads "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and
the God of Jacob." Where does that come from? Ex. 3:6. And who is
speaking? God himself. So when Christ says that this passage was "spoken
to you by God," he is simply stating the obvious: that this particular passage
was a first person statement by God in a conversation with Moses. It hardly
demonstrates that "Jesus considered the written word to embody the very speaking of
God." Rather, all it demonstrates is that when the text says God himself is
speaking, Jesus believed that God himself was speaking. It does not show that Jesus
thought that God himself is speaking in every single passage of the Bible. This is a
very sandy foundation on which to build your house of fundamentalistic inerrancy. I
further note your subtle selection of which version of this account to quote. You
claim that, since Mt 22:31 says that Ex. 3:6 was "spoken to you by God," that
therefore Christ is "holding men accountable to the Scriptures as though God had
personally spoken those words directly to them." Really? All of this
implied from this one phrase? What about the parallel passages in Mark and Luke?
According to Mark 12:26 Christ said that "God said to *him* [Moses]," not
that it was "spoken to *you* by God." While Luke 20:37 says that "he
[Moses] calls the Lord the God of Abraham" etc. This leads to several
1- What did Christ really say?
A- "spoken to you by God"
B- "God said to him [Moses]"
C- "he [Moses] calls the Lord the God of Abraham" etc.
2- How do we determine which phrase Jesus actually used?
3- If this is such a fundamental example of Christ's understanding of the nature of
scripture and revelation, why did God inerrantly inspire Matthew, Mark, and Luke to write
three different things here, so that we cannot know for sure which Christ said? And
notice that Luke's version explicitly contradicts your claims about Mt 22:31. Luke
says that *Moses* wrote those words, not God.
You'll simply have to do better than this if you want your argument to be taken seriously.
This is substantially the same view as that of Paul, who describes the inspired Scriptures
as theopneustos, God-breathed [2 Tim 3:16], and that of Peter, who said holy men spoke
*from* God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit [2 Pet 1:21].
(It would, of course, be helpful to quote the passages with citations. Some of the
readers of this debate on SHIELDS might not know
them.) Frankly, I'm surprised that you would resurrect these hackneyed old
anti-Mormon chestnuts. Surely you know that they do not say what you claim they say.
2 Tim 3:16
pasa graphe theo-pneustos
all writing god-breathed
You maintain that this passage means that all scripture is the inerrant word of God.
(Or, perhaps I've misunderstood; perhaps you do not believe scripture to be inerrant and
infallible.) Unfortunately for your position, the text doesn't say that.
theo-pneustos means "God inspired." LDS Christians,
of course, agree. All scripture is inspired by God. This does not demonstrate
that scripture is infallible and inerrant. Now it might be that inspiration =
inerrancy, but that is something to be demonstrated from scripture, not assumed and then
read into this passage based on your assumption. It is your *assumption* about the
nature of revelation and scripture which causes you to equate inspiration with
infallibility and inerrancy. Where, in scripture, do you find the words infallible
or inerrant? If they are not there, why do you insist on using non-scriptural
terminology to define the nature of inspiration and scripture?
2 Pet 1:21
alla hupo pneumatos hagiou feromenoi elalesan apo theou anthropoi
but under spirit holy
to speak from god men
but men, led by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God.
(The word apo/from, in this context, could mean: from, for, on behalf of, because
of, or with the help of)
LDS Christians certainly agree that prophecy/scripture does not come by human volition,
but when "men, led by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God." Again, this does
not demonstrate that your presuppositions about the nature of inspiration, revelation,
prophecy and scripture are correct. There is no dispute between LDS Christians and
evangelicals over whether or not scripture is inspired. The dispute is over the
characteristics and nature of inspiration, and over the nature and interpretation of
Thus, while both of these passages affirm the inspired nature of scripture (which LDS
Christians accept), neither passage defines the nature of scripture, as you assume in your
The nature of Scripture gives rise to its consistency. God does not contradict
Himself. Hence, one can actually study the text of Scripture profitably---that is,
since it is a consistent whole, one can determine its message, and apply what one learns.
But this is all circular reasoning. If scripture is as you claim it is (consistent
infallible word of God), then it must be consistent. From the my perspective, there
are several problems which cast doubt on the very possibility of infallible scripture:
1- God does not necessarily always reveal the fullness to a prophet (e.g. no
Trinitarianism in OT), "line upon line" (Is 28:9-13).
2- What God reveals may not be fully understood by the prophet.
3- What the prophet understands may not be fully expressible to others.
4- Whatever a prophet expresses is necessarily in human language.
5- All human language is linked to a specific cultural background; it is defined by time
and space. There is a grammar and vocabulary, but also a complex system of
presuppositions and metaphorical and cosmological symbolism in any given language.
6- All words have a range of meaning, a semantic domain. All human language is
7- Any translation, either semantic or metaphorical, is always inexact
8- The semantic domain of words changes through time.
9- All human language requires interpretation.
10- The texts which preserve the revelations contain variants and scribal/editorial
errors, both intentional and unintentional.
At any one of these levels ambiguities and fallibility can enter into the text.
Thus, even if one were to establish that God could consistently and infallibly reveal his
will to prophets, there are a wide range of factors which would guarantee that such
infallible revelation would always come to an individual human mind in a very fallible
form. God must always speak through fallible men, and be heard and interpreted by
fallible men. Furthermore, one could argue that an infallible God might
intentionally reveal his words and will in different ways to different people at different
times and places. This is because of the inherent limitations of the human mind,
thought and language. All of us are prisoners of our own assumptions, limitations,
ignorance, language, culture, etc. The way in which God reveals a particular truth
(and the specific truths which God decides to reveal at any given time and place) are both
linguistically and culturally limited and determined. If he is to speak to men in
ways that will be comprehensible to them, he must do so based on the language and culture
of the prophet to whom he is speaking.
Liberal theology has inevitably led to the death of the denominations in which it has
found a home---they have become religious social clubs, many no longer believing God is
active in this world, no longer believing in the resurrection, miracles, or anything else,
for that matter.
All quite true. But what has this got to do with me? And what has it got to do
with our discussion? This type of rhetorical posturing is irrelevant.
Now, I'd be willing to revise my view of the nature of Scripture if you could demonstrate
to me that Jesus taught that the Bible is, in fact, nothing more than a heavily redacted
collection of ancient Middle Eastern myths. Having been exposed to a healthy dose of
such scholarship in the past, I doubt there is too much "new" out there in
defense of such an idea, but feel free to suggest whatever you'd like.
What makes you think that I believe that the Bible is "nothing more than a heavily
redacted collection of ancient Middle Eastern myths?" Why is this, or your
infallible inerrant text the only options? I've never said nor implied that, nor can
it be presumed from any argument I've made.
William J. Hamblin
Associate Professor of History
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602-4446