Archive for May, 2011

And the Ass Spoke: The Quasi-theological Musings of Strafe

The notion of biblical in-errancy is a croc of sh*t (or, a turd-gator, if you will). Opponents of scriptural infallibility will speak the inherent logical problems of claiming a work to be true based on the assertion of the work itself that it is true (e.g. the bible is true because it claims to be; classic “begging the question.”) I hate that people do this, because like any good mud-slinging campaign, it distracts from the real issue… namely, that the bible makes no such claim.

In my past, people have immediately jumped to 2 Timothy 3:16 (what’s with these 3-16’s?), where Paul declares that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” But check everything else Paul wrote. When he says “Scripture,” it is clear that he is referring to what Christians call the Old Testament… which at the time included a few books that Protestants do not acknowledge. Read a few verses before and after the phrase, and it looks to me like Paul is reminding Timothy not to throw out the Old Testament, because it guides one to wisdom and has valuable lessons to teach. One could debate the true significance of the word/phrase “God-breathed,” but in context it seems trumped by the overall, more straightforward meaning of the entire sentence. No self-referential assurance of the infallibility of then-contemporary works (e.g. Paul’s own letters). If you think it does say that, you are drawing that conclusion from an extra-biblical source.

Regarding Paul in general… there is no implication in his works that he knew he was writing Scripture when he sent all those letters. So, it is possible he may have used a style of language, made certain references, etc when writing to friends that he would not have used in a sermon, or something meant to be authoritative. One may conclude that the Spirit imparted unto him infallibility in his writings… but the bible doesn’t say that. It also makes the spot where he says “And I say (I, not the Lord)” rather awkward.

A man who no longer attends my church once mentioned in a class he was teaching that we “know” the Mormons are wrong because they “add” to the book (referring to the book of Mormon), disregarding the warning at the end of Revelation. I hope that opinion is not wide-spread among us evangelicals, given that the warning clearly applies only to the writings of Revelation itself.

(*TANGENT* I’ve always liked the theory that John used the heavy symbolism in Revelation as a means of effectively encoding the letter, that is, making it unreadable to those who would persecute the faith. At the time, it was common practice to abridge, expand, sign, tag, correct, etc relevant writings, since they all had to be copied by hand anyway. I wonder if John’s dire warning may have just been a signal not to alter anything/be mindful to present the work in its entirety, or else the “code” would be even more indecipherable. Just an idea… no scholarly backing *END TANGENT*)

A particular disadvantage us monolinguals have when reading the bible is that we are not reading anything straight from the authors. Everything has been translated. More than once. And here’s what the translators have to say for themselves: “Like all translations of the Bible, made as they are by imperfect man, this one undoubtedly falls short of its goals.” That’s from the preface of my NIV. Check the footnotes in the scriptures themselves. Job 29 has a whole clause that cannot be translated beyond a certain degree of uncertainty. I pick on Job because one of the most reassuring quotes I’ve ever come across, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in Him” (13:15) can also be translated “He will surely slay me; I have no hope.” That’s a bit of a downer. But if you understand how Ancient Hebrew works, you’ll know you can’t blame the translators. If you don’t, here’s a crude example, made from that last sentence:


Even when you add spaces it doesn’t help much:


Ultimately, one’s attitude towards the bible, and the lessons one takes away from it, are largely contingent on the personal experiences one brings to it. The bible itself gives examples of this… read the part in Acts with the Eunich; he seems to be most impressed by the Savior’s lack of descendants. In order for us to get any meaning from it, on some level we need to match it up with things that lie outside of it. That’s not a problem if you believe in a God willing to reveal himself in multiple mediums (the whole Holy Spirit thing kind of implies this). If, however, you are one of those “sole authoritative word of God” types, we encounter problems… not the least of which being the fact that the bible makes no claims of infallibility.