A discussion about "inerrancy," inspiration, and creation

The following is an excerpt from a discussion I had with a friend about the concept of inerrancy, inspiration, and creation stories in Genesis. It is intended to spurn your thinking about these issues and to draw attention to the various ways Christians can read and interpret the Bible (and still be Christians).

My friend believes the Earth is several thousand years old. He had gotten into several debates with other ministers about inerrancy, inspiration, and creation. My friend sent me a whole lot of what these other ministers had said. My friend then asked me what I thought about it all. 

His email is in black, my responses are in blue. I'll begin with my first response to my Friend:

Hey Friend,
Wow. That's a lot. To answer your question, I agree with some things he said.
(1) Concerning "inerrancy," I don't use the word because (a) the Bible never uses the word, especially because it's not written in Latin, the source language of "inerrant," and (b) it has such a bad history in church politics, especially among Southern Baptists. Since the term is not biblical and used only within certain contexts, it can be used in many ways: free from theological error, scientific error, language errors, etc. Therefore, the problem is, "exactly what is the text error-free from?" That is up to the person to decide since this term is foreign to the text anyway.
My personal view is that (at least) the Bible is theologically error free. God did not reveal to ancient people modern cosmology, nuclear physics, biology, etc. Because of this, I must deduce that God had no problem with ancient people being ignorant of scientific discoveries. And, by the way, in a hundred years, they'll say the same thing about us today! The point is, every generation learns more and at no time does God reveal to us then or now more facts about our universe. He was chiefly concerned with making sure theological truths were passed on.
(2) So, while it is certainly possible that "yom" only meant a day (24-25 hours) to the person who wrote Genesis 1, it does not follow that we now have to believe that it took that long to create something. To do so is to ignore the genre of the text. All ancient people had cosmogonies - stories of how the world began. They told (1) who was in charge; (2) why humans were created; and (3) the function of creation. When read in that genre, Genesis really stands out. I agree closely with http://www.amazon.com/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology-ebook/dp/B003VM8QK0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1399124410&sr=8-3&keywords=john+walton I encourage you to read that text. It's accessible.
You might not find his arguments compelling, but I sure do. Most scholars in the field do, too. Determining the genre of the text is the first, most vital step in understanding how to interpret it. And, I'm convinced that Genesis 1 should not be read as a science textbook.
Finally, for me, it's not a slippery slope to doomsville. It's a topic way too big for Facebook, but to say is succinctly: scholars determine the genre, place the text in socio-historical contexts, and interpret it the best we can.
Is the Bible authoritative for me personally? Absolutely! It is the primary source of all Christian doctrine and revelation concerning the gospel.

Cosmic Temple Theory?
You are right this is too big for Facebook. What is your email. I want to trade ideas. 

(Then he emailed me and then I responded) ---

Thanks Friend. I appreciate your view and agree with several things you said; on some things, we part ways. Here are a few reflections. I don’t prefer to do too much in email because it takes so long :) and because I can’t control “tone.” I’ll do my best.

I believe in the inerrant word of God even if the word inerrant is foreign to the text or to broad a term for many to accept. I understand you: “you believe.” That’s cool. I’m not suggesting you can’t believe something. It does seem that you’re trying to tell me what to believe in that you assume/argue that your view is “truth.” I guess this means mine is not. I’m not sure. In any case, you are free to believe whatever you want on this issue, because at no time in the history of the early church was this term an issue of orthodoxy. This is a PhD in Historical Theology speaking here, but you don’t have to trust me. Go read the primary sources yourself. Finally, again, a chief reason I don’t use the term is because of the very volatile way it’s been used in the previous couple decades among Southern Baptists. The word Theology would have been foreign to the text as would the word Trinity, but you find these concepts in Genesis in Day 6.  I disagree, but I think I understand your point.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26, 27 NIV) I think you’re using these first person plural pronouns to argue for the Trinity. I’m not convinced at all. This plural usage is used throughout the ancient world to refer to either “God and His armies (hosts)” or “God and His divine council” - i.e., spiritual beings. You might be right; it is possible. I just don’t think so whatsoever. Jews are not, and have never been throughout history,Trinitarian. This is uniquely Christian (with clear Jewish roots) and wasn’t revealed to humans until thousands of years after Genesis was written.

Why is it ok to use the word Trinity or Theology, but not Inerrant.  Of course it’s “OK.” I’ve never said it wasn’t “OK.” I told you why don’t use it. And, by the way, I feel much more comfortable using “theology” and “Trinity” because these terms were used for centuries in the early church and were held in broad agreement. If you can show me where inerrancy or any other such view made it into the Creeds of the early church and you will make this a big issue for me right away. Again I believe that God who inspired man in writing the Bible and preserved it for us and who cannot lie and who knows everything is inerrant in science, literature, theology, any subject or category you choose. Your pronoun antecedent is unclear here. I assume you mean “God” when you say “who” twice. That is, you think God cannot lie and knows everything, not “man.” If I’m right, then of course I concur with you! Though, I would say God does not lie because of His perfect character, not that He cannot lie (though this is a philosophical distinction that is beyond the scope of this email). My only point of contention here is what you assume in this sentence and in the next one. . . “God who inspired man. . .” I wish I knew exactly what that meant.

If I thought that fallible man wrote the bible then I would agree with you that it is not infallible and not scientifically accurate.   Because I believe in God breathed scripture and a God that cannot lie I cannot compromise by trying to add Man's fallible wisdom to what God clearly wrote.  So, this is where we might really disagree. I do not know what you mean at all when you believe simultaneously that “fallible man” did not write the Bible, but do “believe God breathed scripture.” So, I don’t know how that process/event worked to you. Clearly the Bible never explains the process. Do you believe the Bible fell from Heaven? Did angels bring it to Jesus? Did Jesus write it? I’m really asking; I really am interested. Did God take over humans (or one human?) into a trance and they lost consciousness and became God’s stenographers? It sounds like you believe like the Muslims do, viz., that Allah forced Mohammed to write down the exact words Allah wanted. So, if God didn’t “add to Man’s fallible wisdom,” it means you believe God speaks in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin? These must be God’s languages since God cannot use man in the process. If so, do you only think the original languages of the Bible are “God’s Word”? Does the English translation count at all? Do you not read from the English translation? (Again, my tone here is sincere.)

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14 NIV) I’m uncertain what this has to do at all with our discussion. What Paul is addressing in his context at Corinth around 55 AD is certainly not related to how the Bible is written nor how we should interpret it.

And my favorite

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21 NIV) I have the same struggle with this text as with the passage above. The one distinction here is that 2 Peter speaks of prophets having words straight from God (and of course, as you know, the Bible is not a collection of prophecies; it includes some, and the Bible is really full of other things too). I’m guessing that you think 2 Peter 20-21 applies to everything written in the Bible. If you do, OK. I don’t. But, I’m not interesting in attempting to dissuade you. I see no reason to apply these two verses to the entire Bible.

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses about supernatural events that fulfilled specific prophecies and they claim their origin to be of supernatural rather than of human origin. I concur to a large extent, though I don’t find this compelling concerning a significant portion of narratives in the Bible (which human was the eyewitness to Genesis 1? You think all the parables are historical events? There are thousands and thousands of verses in the Bible that have nothing to do at all with fulfilling prophecies. Etc.)

Got this from Voddie Baucham's sermon entitled "Why I believe the Bible is true" based on II Peter

while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:13-17 NIV)

This speaks to God's Expired Word.  Like Exhaling.  We know from 2 Timothy where the Bible comes from, God Breathed it out.  I hear you brother. It’s just that as I said above, you’re filling in some huge gaps here in your explanation of the process. Saying “God breathed it out” most certainly does not tell me (1) how the process worked; (2) when it happened; (3) where it happened; (4) to whom it happened; (5) or how to interpret the Bible. Instead, it merely speaks of the ultimate source. And not to mention, this text in 2 Timothy says nothing at all about the New Testament! When Paul wrote this, (most of) the gospels didn’t exist, several of his letters weren’t written, none of his letters were collected into groups, and none of gospels (whichever ones existed) or any other document written at the time had made it to the level of “scripture” in early Christianity. So, again, this verse is always used to apply to all the Bible. If that’s what you believe, cool. If you’re suggesting that Paul thought that a thing called “New Testament” existed and that it was at the same level of authority as the “Old Testament” when he wrote these verses, then I’m not compelled whatsoever. That is patently false.

Let's frame our discussion on creation in Genesis as this is the foundation of the rest of the bible and what I am really into now. Glad “you’re into it!” :) I don’t think it’s the foundation of the rest of the Bible, even though I don’t know what “foundation” means here in this sentence to you. Especially creation versus millions if years of death, disease, and evolution before man hits the scene. I have much to say about this but I won’t.  

If you hold to the cosmic temple view then I know that you are attempting to consolidate what the Bible plainly says with what you have been taught and believe about "science" mainly an ancient earth and evolution.  Brother, let’s not assume anything at all about each other’s views. Feel free to ask me what I believe and I’ll do my best to explain it to you. You have no idea what I believe about evolution, “science,” or an ancient earth because you haven’t asked me. You will not be able to piece these together. Assertions are not arguments. I’m willing to be convinced that what I believe will not ever be put together. But, I need evidence/arguments, not assertions. It boils down to us not trusting God's word and trying to add our current wisdom to help it along. Brother, this is the part where talking to people who hold your view gets me so sad and frustrated. And I feel it here too. It is so offensive and unchristian to accuse me of “not trusting God’s word” just because I might not agree with your interpretation of the Bible. This infers that you think St. Augustine and Origen didn’t trust in “God’s Word” because they held to different views than you. In that case, you’ve just accused billions of other Christians that exist and who have died because they disagreed with you. Is this really necessary? I’m really asking. Really? Are you really assuming that (1) I either see it your way and trust the Bible or (b) see it any other way and don’t trust the Bible? I’m forced into these alternatives? This, in my view, is the definition of fundamentalism.  So, the most important question to me for you is: “Is it possible in your view to trust in the Bible (whatever that means) while at the same time not agree completely with how you interpret Genesis (or some other text)? Are these mutually exclusive? If so, why? As you taught me, eisegesis instead of exegesis. I taught you that?! Yeah!!! :)

I hope I am putting words in your mouth and you hold the Bible as more than a source of good Theology.   I have struck out three times thus far in finding a common belief in the Bible with two pastors and a one year seminary student. You are definitely right, the prevailing belief is in shying away from Biblical absolutes. “struck out”? Could it be that you have simply disagreed with three other fellow Christians who hold to a particular view of interpreting Scripture that you don’t find compelling? Personally, I really hope our correspondence isn’t just your attempt to see if you can get “four” strike-outs and lose more hope in us! :)

I know that arguing semantics and personal beliefs is senseless. I just want to uncover truth.  I don’t think it’s senseless at all. I think it’s great to learn. What I do think is senseless, if you’re tempted to do this, is dismiss another Christian’s view as false/bad/evil/whatever just because you don’t hold the same view. Like you, I want to “uncover truth.” :) Simultaneously, I personally certainly believe that there are a whole gambit of things about which Christians can disagree and still not accuse the others of not believing in the Bible or any other such thing. I accepted Jesus at a young age and grew up in a family where the Bible represented the absolute truth.  Aside from God there is no truth.   Truth becomes irrelevant and becomes the possession of the strongest or last man standing without God making the rules.  Cool. I concur. At no time is anything we’ve discussed about “Truth” or “God making the rules.” That, again, is my chief concern for you. It seems to me that you have equated “how to interpret the Bible” with “whether or not Truth exists, or whether or not a person trusts in the Bible.” I just don’t share that view.

Jesus is Truth. My interpretation of the Bible is not.

Thanks for letting me dive into apologetics with you even if I am in over my head.   You will have to swim for the both of us for a while.

In Him,

I knew I’d take too long to type this!! :) Thanks brother!