In All Things Necessary To Our Salvation

Old_Bibles-1b&w(picture found here)

This is a follow up to a post I wrote recently about biblical inerrancy. It’s a clarification of sorts, or at least an elaboration on what I do and do not believe about the Bible and why.

 

I am an ordained elder in and lifetime member of the Church of the Nazarene.

We are a denomination in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition that grew out of the American Holiness Movement. Bringing together several like-minded groups who all shared a passion for holiness, the Church of the Nazarene officially formed on the dusty plains of Pilot Point, TX in 1908.

Not long after the denomination formed my great-grandfather became a member and my family members have all been Nazarenes ever since.

Our little denomination is not without its flaws, but one thing I am quite proud of is our statement of faith on the Bible.

The Church of the Nazarene was born right about the same time the fundamentalist movement was beginning to grow and take hold in the broader church. Begun as a response to fears over scientific breakthroughs, in particular evolution, and the rise of modernity, several groups of American Christians decided they needed to take a stand against what they perceived to be an attack on Christianity in general and the Bible in particular by affirmed what they believed were the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith.

At the 1910 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, a document was formulated and ratified entitled “The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910.” That document, or more specifically the doctrines affirmed therein, came to be known colloquially as “the 5 fundamentals.” Appearing on that list of fundamentals, and codified by a church council of any kind for the first time in the history of the Christian faith, was the doctrine of biblical inerrancy which stated that “the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of the Holy Scriptures as to keep them from error.”

This declaration that the Bible is perfect in everything it says – not just theology, but every claim about science, history, geography, and every other type of claim – was the culmination of a movement that had begun to coalesce 34 years earlier at the Niagara Bible Conference where the idea of, at least the phrase, Christian fundamentalism itself got its start.

(Note: The importance of total inerrancy not being affirmed by any creed or church council before this point cannot be overstated. The argument that total inerrancy was simply assumed by the church to be orthodoxy and therefore did not need to be affirmed by creed or council holds absolutely no water. There are no more assumed doctrines in the Christian faith than our belief in Jesus as God and his resurrection from the dead and yet these most basic, core, assumed doctrines have been affirmed by creeds and councils since the dawn of Christianity. Why? Because orthodoxy doesn’t operate on assumptions.)

Despite the tsunami of support for fundamentalism and biblical inerrancy during the early part of the 20th century, the Church of the Nazarene decided to take a slightly different path, rejecting the idea that the Bible was totally inerrant, and choosing instead a much less reactionary approach to the changing cultural climate. In the first Nazarene Manual (and every manual since, with only slight variations) we affirmed what is sometimes called “limited inerrancy,”

“By the Holy Scriptures we understand the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, given by Divine inspiration, revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.”

What does that mean?

It means that we as Nazarenes (along with many other evangelicals) believe that the Bible perfectly reveals the good news of the gospel and God’s plan for our salvation, but we don’t believe the Bible itself is perfect in every scientific, historical, and geographical detail.

In other words,the Church of the Nazarene, like many other denominations, rejects the notion that as Christians we either have to affirm total inerrancy or abandon all claims to truth.

Why?

Because total inerrancy or rejecting truth is a false dichotomy.

Affirming the truth of the Bible does not require us to require that the Bible be perfect because truth, as I said in a post the other day, can and often is delivered through imperfect vehicles. Such is the case with the Bible. It did not drop magically from heaven. It was written by human beings, human beings inspired by God to be sure, but that inspiration did not supersede their humanity. That is why Paul calls it “God-breathed Scripture” not “God-written scripture.”

So how do we determine which parts of the Bible are “true”?

Believe it or not, answering that question is not nearly as problematic as it’s made out to be. However, the question itself is rather problematic.

Unfortunately, since it was first affirmed in 1910, inerrancy has, for many in the church, come to be synonymous with truth. It is not. Inerrancy is about a means of communication and truth is not solely contingent on the way in which is it communicated. So, when the critics of those of us who do not affirm the full inerrancy of the Bible ask this question, as they always do, they make a categorical error in doing so by equating inerrancy with truth as if by rejecting inerrancy we are necessarily rejecting truth along with it. We are not because, once again, the messenger does not have be perfect for their message to be true.

For example, if you were to ask 10 different eye witnesses to a bank robbery what they saw, you would get slightly different stories from each, including some factual errors. However, those discrepancies would not change the reality that a bank had been robbed.

The same is true with the Bible. The gospels each have slightly different records of Easter Sunday, noting different amounts of people at the tomb in each gospel account. However, those discrepancies do not change the reality of an empty tomb.

In other words, a lack of perfection does not suddenly render it impossible to find the truth in the Bible.

Which is why it’s critical to remember that it is the Spirit that guides us to truth, we don’t begin there as total inerrancy claims.

It is this Spirit that, along with the church, has also shaped our tradition, guided our experience, and informed our reason for 2,000 years enabling us to understand the perfect truth of the Bible in spite of whatever flaws might be present. That is to say, we have 2,000 years of Spirit-led people working through, testing, and embodying the truth of the Bible to serve as our guide for understanding the Bible and affirming the truth therein.

To be clear, I am not advocating for a return to pre-Reformation days when church authorities were the sole interpreters of scripture. I think we need to be able to read the Bible ourselves and we need the church’s guidance. But the problem with an exclusively sola scriptura approach to scripture is that it often leads to an unhealthy individualization of the faith that is divorced from the rest of the Body of Christ and which can radically contort the meaning of scripture around our own personal beliefs and desires. When this happens and we reject the guidance and authority of the church God Himself established, inerrancy becomes our foundation for remaking the faith in our own image because if the Bible is completely perfect then we are free to rip individual passages out of their Biblical context as isolated perfect truths. When that happens our reading of scripture ceases to be what it is, our interpretation, and instead becomes the truth.

We have to remember, or come to recognize, that even the claim to inerrancy is an interpretation of scripture as the Bible makes no such claim of itself. Which means even in claiming the Bible is inerrant (or vice versa) we demonstrate the critical role that the church plays in our understanding of the Bible as it has been churches that have affirmed or rejected inerrancy for the past 100 years, not the Bible.

The very fact that such interpretation takes place and is necessary, speaks at least in part to the reality that not only is scripture not always clear, but it has all sorts of internal issues that raise questions which needs answers the Bible does not clearly provide such as the account of an ark which by the very dimensions listed in scripture could not physically carry two of every creature on earth.

But this imperfection is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of the early church fathers even saw it is a good thing because, as they claimed, those stumbling blocks were actually put there by the Holy Spirit to guide us beyond the literal and into the deeper spiritual meaning of scripture.

In other words, every detail of scripture isn’t perfect and not only is that ok, but in some sense its supposed to be that way so that we can be challenged to grow in our faith.

Like countless other Christians throughout the past 2,000 years, I believe that the Bible is a beautiful gift from God that perfectly reveals the good news of the gospel and God’s plan for our salvation and that we don’t have to make claims of it that it doesn’t make of itself in order for its message to transform us and the world we live in – which it does each and every day no matter how many people were actually at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.

This is why I am a Nazarene and why I believe the Bible is inerrant in all things necessary to our salvation, but not in all things.

It may seem like theological hair splitting, but it’s an important hair to split.

For one path leads us to a doctrine of the Bible that bestows upon it divine perfection that should only be accorded to God Himself.

While the other acknowledges the role humanity plays as God’s messengers and proclaims faith in God’s ability to work through those flawed vessels, all the while allowing the Spirit the room the Spirit needs to guide us to the truth.

I know we do not all agree on this issue and probably never will. But at the very least, we need to come to recognize that rejecting the total inerrancy of the Bible is a theological disagreement, not an act of heresy.

It is the rejection of the truth of the Bible that is an act of heresy

And rejecting truth and rejecting total inerrancy are two very different things.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

  • Jon

    “I think we need to be able to read the Bible ourselves and we need the church’s guidance. But the problem with an exclusively sola scriptura approach to scripture is that it often leads to an unhealthy individualization of the faith that is divorced from the rest of the Body of Christ and which can radically contort the meaning of scripture around our own personal beliefs and desires. ”

    I am curious based on this statement, how one determines which church has the correct interpretation? I imagine you would say the Nazarene’s, but why should it be them and not the Baptist, or the Pentecostals, or dare I say, the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses??

    If we claim the church has some authority in guiding our interpretation then what do we base that authority on?

    We would have to base that authority on Christ himself which means that our church must have a line of succession to Christ himself.

    I suppose you may say the Holy Spirit guides the church, to which I ask which church? All churches? If the Holy Spirit is guiding every church I am curious why the doctrines are so blatantly different.

    • Justin Mitchell

      I assume when he says “the church” he’s referring to the collective, Jesus-worshipping “bride of Christ” church, as a whole. Not necessarily a single denomination.

      • Jon

        I am sure he was too, but that doesn’t answer the question. You can’t say everyone is right. There is one truth revealed by God through Christ and the Apostles. What I mean is Paul meant 1 thing when he wrote. Should we baptize infants or adults, saved by belief or faith? Can you lose salvation? Gay marriage ok or not? Do we just pick our favorite flavor of Christianity or do we try and find the truth that was revealed by God?

        • Herm

          Luke 10:25-37 literally, “Do this and you will live.” Figuratively you and I are the “you”. My neighbor showing me mercy just might be gay and I don’t care except, of course, for that he/she was merciful. God opens the door of the church we need to reciprocally grow from into the body of Christ’s eternal and truly spiritual church. I trust that baptism by Spirit and water can be fully administered by God. How? It’s up to the God I trust to know what I need when I need it and supply it, inerrantly.

          • Jon

            A whole lot of I statements in there. I am sorry but I do not accept your authority or your interpretation.

          • Herm

            Luke 22:24-30

            Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was
            considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise
            authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the
            one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the
            table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as myFather conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

            Matt 28:18-20

            Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in
            heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
            name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

          • Jon

            Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
            name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

            I hope you hold such a position in your evangelization.

            You know, share the importance and necessity for baptism, and that Christians must obey everything Jesus taught.

          • Herm

            Thank you, Jon, for your love. “All” any of us have to do to inherit eternal life is written in Luke 10:25-37 and in that scripture Jesus made just two commands; “Do this and you will live.” And “Go and do likewise.”

            The following seems to fit, also, in your “Christians must
            obey everything Jesus taught” and I do not see all of my beloved Christian
            brethren obeying.

            Luke 14:26-27
            “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and
            mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

            Matt 5:43-45
            “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor
            and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

            Matt 6:5-8
            “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for
            they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

            Then there is baptism:

            Luke 3:16
            John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But
            one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

            Matt 28:20
            … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

            If (as I believe, live and testify to) Jesus has “all” authority
            in Heaven and on Earth, baptizes with the Holy Spirit and is with you and I always to the end of the age what are you trying to tell me and by whose authority? You need not be “sorry” for you need never accept my “authority” or “interpretation” and you were not asked to. The Holy Spirit, into whom you were baptized by Jesus Christ, will connect you, in your heart and mind, directly to the heart and mind of the Word and the Truth who is Jesus Christ.

            Jesus never taught, in the Gospels, anything regarding homosexuality except in a possible interpretation of … “for one of the least of these brothers of mine” … . amen

  • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

    “(Note: The importance of total inerrancy not being affirmed by any creed or church council before this point cannot be overstated. The argument that total inerrancy was simply assumed by the church to be orthodoxy and therefore did not need to be affirmed by creed or council holds absolutely no water. There are no more assumed doctrines in the Christian faith than our belief in Jesus as God and his resurrection from the dead and yet these most basic, core, assumed doctrines have been affirmed by creeds and councils since the dawn of Christianity. Why? Because orthodoxy doesn’t operate on assumptions.)”

    Along with that, inerrancy is ultimately a modern-era question. The kind of hairsplitting that fundamentalists consider necessary to the faith just would not have been questions for most of the church because they realized that it just doesn’t matter all that much. For example, I believe that Adam and Eve are representative of what happens to all of humanity: the fall through eating of the tree of judgement, the shame that follows and leads us to separate ourselves from God, God chases after but instead of repenting we continue to play the blame game, consequences follow for our choices, etc. If that also happened to a literal person named Adam and Eve 6,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago, the conclusions for our lives are the exact same.

    So why do we need to dwell on the historical question if it is so unimportant? Because the modern era tells us to; it is purely reactionary, choosing to act on the same ways of thinking as the modern era but just being antagonistic about it, just as nailing down “the Fundamentals” was as you described here.

    Those questions can be interesting and I do often enjoy the conversations around evolution or the literal/allegorical nature of Noah’s Ark, for example, but when having those conversations they need to be kept firmly in the category of opinion, not fundamental dogma.

    • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

      I have this same question too… what difference does it make if it’s literal or metaphorical or mythical? It doesn’t change my perception of God or Jesus – and that’s the main point of the Bible. The fundamentalists often respond with a slippery slope warning: “If you don’t believe Adam and Eve were real, what’s to keep you from denying that the Resurrection was real?” Eh, I’m not scared.

      • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

        So far I haven’t stumbled down that supposed slippery slope that happens when we read the Bible as it was written – the story of God and his people, culminating in Jesus – instead of through modernist lenses of science and history.

        • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

          Yeah, I haven’t either. I think that the main assumption that informs this fear is the idea that people who do not read the Bible literally are attempting to justify their sin or ignore the parts of the Bible that they don’t like.

          • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

            The last part I can sort of understand the reasoning. But how would a non-literal reading of the “historical” sections lead to justifying sin?

          • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

            Because, the thinking goes, if you can argue that Adam and Eve are not “literal”, you can try to argue that the Ten Commandments aren’t “literal”, and then that any Biblical prohibitions are outdated and meant only to be understood metaphorically. That’s the argument, anyway. I don’t buy it.

          • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

            Can’t say it makes a whole lot of sense to me, but sure.

          • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

            Yup. I don’t buy it either.

  • Trent DeJong

    I just looked up my denominations position on Biblical inerrancy and it turns out they use the terms “inspired” and “infallible” rather than inerrent. Words are very important, aren’t they?

  • rmcrob

    Good stuff, Zack.

    I didn’t realize you are a Nazarene, as am I. Third generation on all sides.

    Where I live, Nazarenes who think like you and I are quite scarce.

  • jwhawthorne

    I was visiting a historian friend this weekend who is part of the Church of the Nazarene as I am. He recently wrote the centennial history of Northwest Nazarene, where H. Orton Wiley was president.

    Wiley wrote the early theology including the framing of the “all things necessary” phrase. It’s interesting to reflect how that simply move kept the denomination from being completely engulfed in the modernist-fundamentalist controversies.

    The denomination had its own issues with legalism and political alignment but those were based on elements of the “holiness lifestyle” (as understood at the time — avoiding worldliness) and not on presumptions of inerrancy. It’s allowed a faithfulness to understanding the leading of the Spirit without getting caught up in Gordian knots over semantics.

  • Justin Mitchell

    I love this. I don’t know why so many have concluded that the authors of the BIble (who were imperfect just like us – some of them murderers, adulterers, liars, etc..) were imbued with some kind of supernatural ability to write down exactly what God wanted them to say, word-for-word, when they wrote the books.

    If I share the gospel with somebody, it’s going to be skewed, and a little warped, and a little bit bent towards my own personal biases. In other words, it’s not going to be perfect. God doesn’t whisper in my ear exactly what words to say. As far as I can tell, He leaves it mostly up to me, to choose how to do it. But that’s ok. I believe God still wants me to share it anyway. Jesus commanded it himself. God seems to enjoy using flawed human beings to fulfill his perfect will.

    I’m often reminded of this in nature. Whenever I go out into the forest, away from any human influence like buildings and roads and paths, I see a lot of chaos. I see plants growing on top of each other, all competing for space and sunlight. There’s no order to it. It’s all just sort of piled together. Everything is messy and haphazard. There are no real patterns, it’s just visual noise, and things just happen where they happen.

    But when you step back, and take in the thing as a whole, it’s an incredible, beautiful, elegant, creative work, similar to an oil painting. I believe that is a decent metaphor for the history (and presumably the future) of the church. It’s messy and competitive sometimes, and those aren’t necessarily good things in themselves, but overall God has still created something truly extraordinary and beautiful.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    You could have just written, “I hate the Bible” and saved yourself a lot of time, Zack. Sheesh. ;)

  • daryl carpenter

    “But this imperfection is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some of the early church fathers even saw it is a good thing because, as they claimed, those stumbling blocks were actually put there by the Holy Spirit to guide us beyond the literal and into the deeper spiritual meaning of scripture.”

    This again is simply turning necessity into a virtue. But if it helps save the credibility of the bible in the eyes of liberal leaning evangelicals, then I guess the argument works.

  • StorminJN

    If the central thesis of your argument is true, then how do we know the Biblical passages dealing with salvation itself, with God offering us hope at all, aren’t the ‘bits’ that are badly translated by the writers? In fact, how do we know that the scientific, historical, geographical sections are the only ones which may be flawed (important to remember that the Bible contains all these elements but was never intended as a detailed scientific textbook). Isn’t it then the case that the bits which deal with God offering humanity hope could also be mistranslations? Seems to me that if there is any flaw in the Bible due to the ‘human’ element in it being God breathed, then it is entirely down to our own whims which bits we accept or reject. I cannot then be sure that passages dealing with my own salvation are actually true or accurate. I would have thought that the whole point of the Scriptures being “God breathed” is that God enables the writers to record His Word without flaw. It’s very strange to me that God would direct people to write what He wanted to convey to humanity in the full knowledge that the translation would be faulty and therefore it would be difficult to trust anything the Bible says. Thought provoking article though. Thanks.

    • Jay

      How do we know the earth revolves around the sun? Do science textbooks have to be inerrant in order for us to believe their basic ideas? Why must the Bible be inerrant then for us to accept its basic teachings?

  • Common Christian Ground

    I politely disagree with your point that the Bible does not claim it is infallible. It does not use the word infallible but there are passages that imply it is- such as Exodus 34:27, Jeremiah 30:2, 1 Corinthians 14:37, 2 Timothy 3:16, Revelation 19:9; 22:18-19. I realize that some may believe that these verses only apply to the particular verses that share the same context (except the verse in 2 Timothy 3:16- which applies to the whole of Scripture). (I agree that context is important and truth
    cannot be expressed accurately without context.) I find it noteworthy as well that none of the authors who wrote the words of God were careful to add in disclaimers- except for Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:25- that what they wrote was not to be considered the Word of God.

    2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All scripture is theopneustos (greek) God- breathed”. It is inspired by God as some translations render it. If we say that the Bible- in its original languages- has errors, we either imply that God breathed erroneously or that he allowed errors to be made when the words he breathed were recorded. If we follow that logic we immediately put the burden of proof on our interpretation, which makes the Bible even less credible. It’s either all or nothing for me. Zack mentions that a “Bible alone” approach leads to the individualization of our faith. I would say that If we have a uniting factor in the clear truth of the Bible that is much more healty than an individualized interpretation of what it means. Those clear truths do not need interpretation.

    It is a remarkable thing to consider that God used sinful people to record His words and His-tory, but is it really that much of a stretch when we consider the miracles He performed in Creation and in God the Son? Zack mentions specifically the ark
    that Noah built. I don’t find the account of the Ark difficult to believe. Consider how rich the gene pool was at that time and how the number of kinds (species) of animals God led to the ark were quite possibly fewer in number and variation than they are today. It is also noteworthy to realize that God may have led baby animals to the ark which are quite smaller and would require much less room. I say all this to make the point that we should not discount anything written in the Bible on the basis of our mere understanding or scientific plausibility. If you believe God is a supernatural being capable of creating the universe, He is certainly capable of reliable communication to Man and making sure Man communicates reliably with other people.

    You may have the faith to believe that God shared his plan of salvation in the Bible without error- and that much faith in Jesus who was both God and Man is certainly needed, along with God’s gift of repentance, to be reconciled to God and justified before Him- but if you lack the faith to believe the rest of the Bible is without error, then you may not have as much faith as you think you do. Ask God to strengthen your faith if you recognize your need of it.

    http://www.blog.commonchristianground.org

    • Herm

      Genesis 2:7 I believe clearly says we are God breathed. Would we dare conclude then we are inerrant? Genesis 1:26 I believe clearly says we are in the image of God (plural “our”). Would we dare to believe we are now ready to portray and share a perfect rendition of God’s image?

  • Kate

    “The importance of total inerrancy not being
    affirmed by any creed or church council before this point cannot be overstated.”

    The position of Augustine of Hippo, seen as one of the greatest of the Western
    church fathers, is instructive here. He lived from 354–430, which is clearly before the fundamentalists ratified their doctrine. In his “Reply to Faustus the
    Manichaean” (XI.5), St. Augustine wrote: “If we are perplexed by an
    apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, the author of
    this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation
    is wrong, or you have not understood.”

    • Karen

      Kate,

      This is indeed instructive, but if you understand it in its full context, you will realize that Augustine is here affirming a view of the nature of the truth and coherence of the Scriptures that is quite resonant with the Nazarene understanding and very much flies in the face of the 19th century Fundamentalist literalism that many modern American Christians have inherited. For instance, Augustine did not believe that Genesis 1 and 2 were intended to teach that God created the world in six literal 24-hour periods, but he does understand the biblical creation accounts to teach (in contrast to the prevailing views of his time that the material universe was eternal and coexistent in some sense with “God”) that the world and everything in it had a beginning and is created, shaped, and sustained by the personal God revealed in Jesus Christ.

  • Herm

    Forgive me if I’m wrong but was not Jesus Christ crucified solely by the inerrant judgment of the reigning high priest for the crime of heresy? Zack, you are in some mighty fine company.

  • Andrew Morrison

    Interesting piece, Zack. Thanks for explaining the Nazarene view on infallibility. I’m not convinced by your argument about the novelty of the doctrine of inerrancy.
    R.P.C Hanson writes about the Arian controversy, “There was not as yet any orthodox doctrine [of the Trinity], for if there had been, the controversy could hardly have lasted sixty years before resolution.” It seems to me that your argument (or something like it) could well have been used against “very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but at that time those words had not been around “since the dawn of Christianity”. They were more precise affirmations of what Scripture taught about Christ, brought in to defend the truth against new (or more forceful) expressions of error.

    It seems you are building your entire bibliogy on your understanding of 2 Tim 3:16: on a creative and thought-provoking (but unconvincing) analogy based on it in your previous post, and here by contrasting it with “God-written” and drawing an unnecessary conclusion from that contrast. I think your piece would be more convincing if you dealt with more of what Scripture claims for itself, and more of what inerrantists claim for themselves and for Scripture.

    • ZackHunt

      Thank you for feedback Andrew.

      I did deal with what Scripture claims for itself in my previous post. The Bible makes no claim of inerrancy whatsoever. And while you certainly don’t have to accept my exegesis, inerrancy does not have to follow from “God-breathed.”

      You are correct that the Nicene formulation that you reference appears some 3 centuries after the founding of the faith. While I would still consider that the dawn of Christianity, as I made no mention of it that is not what I was referring to in my post. I was alluding to the Apostle’s Creed (or possibly even the Didache) which does date to the founding of the faith (or at least far as we can tell and at least as close as any part of the New Testament, if not earlier)

      • Andrew Morrison

        Thanks for your reply, Zack. I hope the dialogue is as beneficial for you as it is for me.

        I read your previous post, and all I saw you deal with was 2 Tim 3:16 and a comparison of Scripture to your mother. I’d trust your mother and you could trust mine, but Scripture claims to be more than reliable and helpful advice. And you overstate the case when you say Scripture makes no claim of inerrancy whatsoever. I’ll grant that it doesn’t claim such explicitly (as on many points of orthodoxy), nor use the word, but it does claim of itself to be the word of God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21; cf 2 Pet 3:16), and it does say that it is impossible for God to lie (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18), and therefore it is impossible for Scripture to lie or mislead us, or to err (Ps 12:6; Prov 30:5). This is the crux of the Scriptural basis for inerrancy, and I don’t see you addressing it here.

        It seems to me that you’re taking one point of contact between 2 Tim 3:16 and Genesis 2:7 and using it to deny other things that Scripture either says explicitly or implies about itself. The point of the “God breathed” language in 2 Tim 3 is to affirm the divine origin of Scripture, just as its point in Gen 2 is to affirm the divine origin of the life of the first man. To read the “imperfection” of man back through the fall, through the metaphor, and into 2 Tim 3, is pretty shaky to say the least. In addition, Scripture affirms that God man made upright (Ecc. 7:29). Perhaps worth considering in connection with the breath of the Lord is that it was also the means of His creating the heavens, along with his word, which in the same context is described as “upright” (Ps 33:4, 6).

        Sorry I wasn’t clear in my point about the Nicene creed. You mentioned the core tenet that Jesus is God, and I assumed by that you meant the councils of Nicea and Constantinople where that issue was (I think) settled. I was under the impression that the Apostles’ Creed came later, and am not familiar with what the Didache says regarding the deity of Christ. In any case, the point I was trying to make is that in A.D. 381, the Nicene formulation was an innovation, just as some of the categories of inerrancy are now. That is, in A.D. 381, the year 381 was not the dawn of Christianity, it was 350 years in. If the deity of Christ was debated for much of that time, how could Athanasius and his followers be so bold as to insist on the novel language of Nicea? And who knows but that in 40,000 years, if Jesus doesn’t return, B.B. Warfield and modernism and post-modernism will be regarded as “the dawn of Christianity”? Ultimately, the issue isn’t how new or old the doctrine is, but is it true and is it faithful to Scripture?

        • Jay

          I think the most appropriate place to begin when asking if scripture is inerrant is scripture itself. When you look at scripture and see that there are historic, scientific and internal imperfections, you must then seriously reconsider if it is truly “inerrant.” Then, if you admit, as many have come to do that there are many “errors” in scripture, you then are forced to reconsider how we describe scripture as a whole. Then, when you realize that the Bible itself makes absolutely no claim to its own perfection, the cards begin to fall. Then you become a “liberal” or what I would like to call “attempting to be honest.” Liberal is just a word used by conservative Christians to categorize and systematically dismiss an entire group of people who disagree with ones own “conservative” views.

          • Andrew Morrison

            I agree with you about starting with Scripture, Jay. Where we go separate ways is in the process of reconsidering. I have not yet come to realize that “the Bible itself makes absolutely no claim to its own perfection.” I would say Jesus’ words are at least in some sense a claim of perfection for Scripture: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)
            The reasons the cards haven’t begun to fall for me is that I find myself forced to consider the alleged imperfections of Scripture in light of what Scripture claims for itself, that it is the word of God and that it is true and reliable. I think that’s a more faithful reading of it than to bring our preconceptions and systems of thought to the text and to sit in judgment on it.

        • Karen

          You are quite correct that Nicea wasn’t an innovation in the sense that it introduced teaching that was counter to the Scriptures. Rather it clarified the real meaning and intent of the Scriptures, as they had been understood within the Church, in the face of heretical teachings that had sprung up. Its language was novel, but it’s teaching was most definitely not.

          Since that time, there have been many true doctrinal innovations that, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, represent departures from the real meaning, application and intent of the Scriptures, which makes the landscape all the more confusing for modern Christians. For the first Millennium, departures from the apostolic teaching and understanding of Scripture were refuted and the apostolic teaching (mostly revolving around issues of Christology) clarified and reaffirmed through official creeds and anathemas by universal Councils of bishops. This was often a contentious, messy, and long drawn out process of discernment where many an orthodox bishop suffered greatly for his refusal to recant confession of the truth once delivered to all the saints. It is said that most, if not all, of the bishops who sat around the table at the Council of Nicea were maimed–scarred, and missing body parts–bearing in their bodies, as did the Apostles, the marks of the cost for their refusal to deny the faith they had received and vowed to defend at their ordinations in the face of the authorities, governmental and religious, in their regions. The Eastern Orthodox Church still holds all of these “Ecumenical Councils” of the first Millennium and their pronouncements as authoritative (trusting that their decisions represented a fulfillment of Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit to lead in the process of discernment within Christ’s Body, the Church). The EO still uses the Nicene Creed in its original form as its official statement of faith. Nothing substantial in her Liturgy, and nothing in her understanding of the nature of “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” in which the Nicene Creed requires orthodox Christians to place faith, nor in the nature of her sacraments has changed since the apostolic period. (This makes it quite clear to modern EO Christians, if they care to source themselves in the foundations of their own faith, what are the parameters of Scriptures’ real meaning and proper interpretation.)

          Then came the Great Schism, after which the Roman Church unilaterally changed what is the only universal Creed ever used within the Church both in its form and content by introducing the infamous “filioque clause” into the Nicene Creed. The Roman Church also introduced such doctrinal innovations as its teachings on Purgatory with its system of “merits” and “indulgences” that became so problematic for many of her members that it provoked the Reformation. (Meanwhile under the remaining four major “popes/patriarchs/head bishops” in the Eastern Church, there were no such changes, nor ever a Reformation. On the other hand, martyrdom was common as a result of Muslim conquest of historically Christian lands.) In attempting to divest themselves of the Papal yoke, the Reformers and their successors introduced still more novel teachings that were departures from how the Church had always understood herself and the nature of the truth of the Scriptures and its preservation.

          American Fundamentalism (and modern Liberalism which is just the flip side of the rationalistic coin) is about as far along the road as you can go away from a true biblical apostolic Christianity and its approach to the truth of the Scriptures and the process of spiritual discernment that preserves their proper meaning within the Church. Fundamentalism superficially retains some orthodox Christian teaching and interpretation of Scriptures and most of the Scriptures themselves, while ignoring or denying the authority that preserved and bequeathed that teaching and those Scriptures to us. Having tossed out that authority, Fundamentalists have to fight tooth and nail to defend rationalistic and pseudo-scientific theories like their19th century doctrine of Scripture’s “inerrancy” to defend their faith. When those theories fail (which they inevitably do in the face of honest intellectual scrutiny and inquiry), the faith of many in what orthodoxy Fundamentalists hold buckles and folds, while the few remaining in the fold hold on with a death grip to their theories and rules about Scripture and the Christian life, and all too often in so doing fail to encounter the real Christ and make Him known to a needy surrounding culture. I think it would be fair to say that modern American Fundamentalism, while certainly admirable in its origins and intent to preserve Christian orthodoxy among Protestants in this country, has likely wound up being responsible for the production of more atheists than faithful martyrs, while the reverse is still true of Eastern Orthodoxy where it has been most faithfully lived out. Because of that, I couldn’t disagree more with your suggestion that “B.B. Warfield, modernism and post-modernism” might be “regarded as ‘the dawn of Christianity’” at some future date. Though I understand this is likely completely unintentional on your part, that suggestion is simply ludicrous as well as insulting to the millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians who have lost their lives over the centuries (and more in the 20th century than all the preceding ones, thanks to Communism) and who continue to do so under the Muslim yoke defending a fully orthodox apostolic Christian faith. And though I’m quite certain in this case it was unintentional, this also seems to be a statement dishonoring to Christ who promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church He founded upon His apostles. The only real “dawn of Christianity” can be the one recorded for us in the pages of the New Testament.

          • Andrew Morrison

            Wow, Karen, that was educational. So sorry to offend with my comment about now being regarded as the dawn of Christianity. In saying that I was responding to Zack’s point in his reply to me that he regards the fourth century as part of the dawn of Christianity. My point was simply that time is relative, and that what is regarded as the “dawn of Christianity” has changed as we’ve moved farther away from its beginning. Even within the New Testament, there is a sense that by the time of apostolic mission among the Gentiles, they were no longer at “the beginning”, which was used to refer to the time of John the Baptist or the ministry of Jesus, or of the believers’ first hearing of the gospel:

            “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2)

            “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” (1 John 2:24)

            Again, very sorry to offend. Hope this clarifies.

          • Karen

            No offense taken, Andrew. I just wanted to point out what is often a perspective Christians raised in western traditions are ignorant of. Those are great Scriptures you have cited and reflect in their language the “traditioning” approach to the preservation of apostolic faith taken by Christians since the beginning (other relevant Scriptures where this language is seen are 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 1 Corinthians 15:3). This is the approach to the preservation of Christian orthodoxy retained to this day in the Orthodox Church and why we don’t need theories of the “inerrancy” of the texts (taken in an of themselves) of our Scriptures, which we understand as the written expression of the true apostolic Christian tradition as it has been experienced and lived within the Church down through the ages. If an interpretation of Scripture hasn’t been believed “always, everywhere, and by all” orthodox Christians throughout all ages (as St. Vincent of Lerins famously articulated in the 5th century) or isn’t compatible with those interpretations that have been, then we don’t embrace it. It’s that simple–simple, but, of course, not easy in this age of rationalism, progressivism and relativism! :-)

          • Andrew Morrison

            Indeed. Thanks for that and for expressing your perspective so eloquently.

            I realized the more I thought about it just how offensive it must’ve sounded for me to say the 20th century was the dawn of Christianity, when what I meant was not that at all, but that if 38 more millennia pass, the first two millennia (of which the 20th century was part) will seem like the dawn, relatively speaking. I should’ve said something more to that effect.

            Your charges against 20th century American fundamentalism are thought-provoking, and while I disagree (at least depending on what you mean by fundamentalism), you make me want to learn more about how the truth of Scripture was explained and defended before the 19th century, and whether the categories and terms introduced by the Princeton theologians were really unfaithful to what came before, or simply an expansion of the terms of faithfulness because of new forms of challenges.

  • karlkroger

    Wonderful piece…so very helpful. I’m just curious, why does it seem as though most Church of the Nazarene folk still embrace a fairly conservative and un-holistic gospel when you’ve got such great foundations to work with?

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