Differences in biblical interpretation do not affect biblical inerrancy

I recently wrote a post on biblical inerrancy. The conversation that came out of that ended up being in reference to how Genesis 1 should be interpreted. Please see the comments for at least two understandings of the text.

I think its safe to say, based upon previous discussions with the people involved that each person involved in the discussion trust God has transmitted the exact message He wanted to say – both to the original audience and to us today. The discussion was never about the source of the material, or whether it could be trusted. The discussion was about how to best interpret a particular passage in the Bible (Genesis 1).

Differing understandings of a specific text does not mean the text was not written exactly as intended. It is possible to understand text as only poetry. It is possible to understand a given passage as a literal historical text. It is possible to understand a given passage as a narrative which speaks only of theological, spiritual, truths, with the details not being considered factual, or only some of the details being considered factual.

It is also possible to consider a given passage as poetry. The word ‘yom’ in Hebrew can be understood in different ways, and sometimes something is merely a poetic way of saying that something occured. Sometimes a story is poetry only with no details being important (only the ideas expressed being important) and sometimes poetry is exact in its details with both the details and the ideas being important. There are different ways to understand various parts of scripture.

Differences in opinion of these sorts of things is what is being discussed in the comments of the previous post, not whether the text is inerrant. Even if we disagree with the interpretation of the text (or even how to interpret it), this does change whether said text is free from deceit. The text in the Bible is exactly what God wanted written, free from falsehood.

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14 Responses

  1. W,
    I am going to go with the idea of the Ancient Hebrew Cosmology. They simply did not share the same scientific view that we have. In theirs the biblical cosmos consisted of three basic regions: the heavens, the land, and the underworld. See even Phil. 2: 10 here. The ancient picture of the universe protrayed a world in which the Earth is a disc surrounded by water not only on sides, but underneath and above as well. A firm bowl (the firmament) keeps the upper waters back but has gates to let the rain and snow thru. The Sun, Moon, and stars move in fixed tracks along the underside of this bowl. From below the disc, the waters break thru as wells, rivers and the ocean, but the Earth stands firm on pillars sunk into the waters like pillings of a pier. Deep below the Earth is Sheol, the abode of the dead, which can be entered only from the grave. Thus the people of Israel had no advantage over their neighbors when it came to science (so-called). This erroneous view and concept of the cosmos was quite common in that era. This was simply the “genre” of the Ancient Hebrew Cosmology. No modern science here, it was written in a pre-scientific time and era and its main purpose was to teach and communicate moral and spiritual truth.

    • Fr. Robert,

      It may be you are right. Maybe its just a story to try to say that God created everything, with no bearing in the details or timing of what and when it actually occurred. And if that is how it turns out to have been, I’ll be OK with that.

      But it may also be that the description fits what actually happened, using language common to the day. Since GOD is the primary author, with Moses having been the human author, it may be that God did it exactly as He had Moses write it. But that the words used by Moses were common to the day and understandable by the audience.

      As I’ve said, I think Genesis 1 is history, that it happened exactly as written. I happen to believe it will be shown to fit science at some time in the future. However, even if it does not, there is nothing to have stopped God from creating the universe exactly as He had Moses write.

      I agree there are a ton of theological truths to be gleaned from what is written in Genesis 1 – I recently spoke with someone who told of personal holiness, fidelity in marriage, and other truths being gleaned from Genesis 1. I have no problem with those applications. I think there is even more to be gleaned from that single chapter. But for me, its important to understand that God wrote it (I think we agree here), that God did it (I think we agree here), and that God did it as God wrote it (I dont think we agree here), and that there are theological/spiritual truths to be found in the text (I think we agree here).

      • Oh, its also of critical importance to me that we find practical applications of the text to our lives.

      • One of the reasons I think God provided Moses with the first five books of the Bible is to teach Israel truth as opposed to what the nations around them were believing – truths about God, creation, faith, and life (this idea is drawn from scripture; I am not sure it explicitly states this). Thus we have Genesis telling us how things were from the beginning (for the universe, the planet, the human race, and for the tribe of Israel); we have Exodus, telling us how things were as during the Exodus; we have Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy to tell us how God expected people to act so as to become more righteous in this world and to show love to God and others and to govern them and to differentiate them from those whom God had not chosen.

        These books have tons of theological and practical truths to apply to our lives, but they are historical.

        Unless we have good cause to not treat scripture as fact, then I think we should treat it as fact. If scripture interprets other scripture in ways that show its not fact, then we can treat it as not fact.

  2. W,
    Same for me, I could be wrong on my Old Earth view, so I would like to think given further light and study, I could change if I felt the Young Earth was a better understanding. But certainly always, the spiritual and moral applications. I need God’s Word and Truth, from Genesis to Revelation!

    • Someone recently said that some believe that anyone who does not believe the interpretation of Genesis 1 should be literal is not saved.

      I disagree with that thought.

      The idea that one needs to believe anything other than what is stated in John 3:16 to be saved is adding to the Gospel. Jesus said what we need to do to be saved – believe in the Son of God.
      John 3:16

      16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      We might or might not agree with what is scripture, or even whether it is to be interpreted as literal or allegory, or any number of things. Some of those things we do not agree on might make us be considered heterdox or even heretical by some. But to my understanding, that does not mean we are not saved.

      Belief in Christ having been sent by God is all that is needed to have eternal life.

      Scripture is supposed to prepare us to for good works – part of that is leading us to faith in Christ.

  3. W,
    If there is one thing I have learned over the years on certain subjects anyway, that is God can make this a very humble search, especially the study of Creation and how we attain to this truth and subject. For as in Gen. 1: 2, it is God “hovering” over the primordial earth, not only was the earth at this stage without form and empty/void, it was uninhabited but also uninhabitable…darkness and deep. Is this the reality literal, or the language of the spiritual sense and reality? Whatever it is, it is indeed here “inerrant”, for God is “hovering” over it!

    • Fr. Robert,

      I think God is both transcendant (outside/above/not-part-of His creation) and immanent (interacts with and enters into His creation).

      Because of that, I think God hovering in Genesis 1:2 could be both literal and spiritual, if God is truly outside His creation.

  4. W,
    For me at least, I expect to see many Christians in glory that believe and have believed in theistic evolution. Though I am myself a creationist. This is only a salvation issue when both Christ and Christ the Word are somehow denigrated. One can defame Christ in His Word without a frontal attack. Christ must be seen as Incarnate, the One to lived and died, then is Risen and Ascended into glory and sits on the Fathers throne. And Who will finally come again in His eschatological end. For me at least, this would include the Virgin Birth also. But least I degress… back to the subject.

  5. W,
    Nice thought there on Gen. 1: 2, certainly God is also Immutable also, as well as transcendent and immanent to His creation!

  6. Well said, in your post, Wb.

  7. […] wbmoore As my consistent reads are undoubtedly aware, The comments in my last two posts (here and here) have turned away from the topic of the post and onto the subject of the interpretation of Genesis […]

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