08 August 2009


My elder son Drew, read Mad Priest's brilliant post M'Ps Post on the idea of Biblical inerrancy, and made an interesting to me, connection.

  • If we look back at the church as it began, without the Bible which did not emerge until the 4th century, we cannot sustain the idea that God published and the church followed. So something else must be going on here, especially as this (relatively modern) idea is current among Anglican schismatics.
  • In the same paper / post or sermon that the homophobes proclaim inerrancy, they also proclaim that they require the 'Anglican covenant' and a more centralized church.
  • What they seem to be looking for is what Drew dubbed "institutional inerrancy."

Regular readers of these essays will (both :-) recognize that I refer frequently to what I call, 'the sin of institutionalism.' That as I recently defined it for a reader, is putting the welfare of an institution or one's position in an institution ahead of the welfare of people.

I think Drew has found another factor. Consider that we have an, "inerrant" institution in the world. It is the Roman Catholic Church. Now I am not a 'Catholic basher' and I have no interest in putting down Rome. But I certainly have issues with 'infailability' which is essentially the claim of inerrancy.

But why is this suddenly a claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury of all people wants to advance? If we can toss parts of the Anglican family under the train on the outside track, we are clearly claiming one group knows the mind of God and one does not. So we have discovered in the forth section of the covenant, institutional inerrancy.

There are three principal ways to react to conflict.
  • One can seek compromise and conversation.
  • Fight to win regardless of the consequences. This is the path that says we will destroy the community, schism and go our own way before we will tolerate anyone who fails our test for full humanity.
  • Finally there is the attempt to impose a solution. Centralize, grab the power and then make people behave.

In the first instance we have what we progressives keep saying 'stay and talk.' This is to say the least dismissed by the schismatics. One need only read the comments on Stand Firm for a few moments to find this stance. Finally we have the covenant, Dr. Williams's attempt to make everyone behave.

It can be observed that the first two options, while carrying sharply different moral baggage both can work. It may be true that dismissing those who fail the full humanity test is morally repugnant to many (moi) but it can work. Cf. the history of conquest in the Mediterranean basin. The last option however almost always fails. I know of no exceptions.

China and the former Yugoslavia both were founded on this idea. Make the national State predominant, force it to be considered inerrant and make the conflicts go away. One can find an interesting explanation of this evil in Darth Vader's attempt to recruit Luke Skywalker.

Is then, Dr. Williams's covenant evil? Yes. It seeks to replace the creator God with an inerrant institution. It seeks to force Christians to one view of every issue. It is simply wrong.

That way lies Rome.



Rick+ said...

     Excellent thoughts, Jim! As someone raised in a religious tradition that claimed Biblical inerrancy, I had to work through a lot of this.

Leonard said...

It is simply wrong.¨ Jim

Wrong is a basic and unfortunately the ABC appears to not know the difference between right and wrong...very sad when you think about the multitudes persecuted at The Anglican Communion (not a peep from Dr. Williams about the critically important stuff).

JimB said...

Leonardo, were I Fr. Troll I would observe that being wrong is cool if it makes money. I don't think it even passes that test!

Fr. Rick, thanks. I was raised in the LCMS so I can relate to your experience!


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Excellent in a calm, dignified way. Bravo!

JimB said...

Fr. Göran,



Erika Baker said...

What an amazing post. Well said and thank you.

Erika Baker said...

I'm sorry, I don't understand the basis for this.

Who claims that God publishes?
Isn't it rather the case that God has acted in history up until the death of Jesus, when he accomplished his goal, and that the writers of the gospels and Paul then created an inerrant record of this?

It's still nonsense, of course, but it's a different basis for claiming inerrancy.

JimB said...


Fair enough. I have encountered two erroneous in my opinion views of Scripture. One is the idea that the Spirit essentially dictated the text. The other is that even studying the history of the Bible, being aware of its history and how it was edited and formed is itself sinful. That later I think of as the Spirit as Publisher view.

These are people who will become violent if I ask what they think the impact of Imperial politics was on the First Council of Nicea. I have been told I shall burn in hell for asking that, or considering the impact of the Arian conflict on the inclusion of John and exclusion of James. In one case a Lutheran tried to slug me when I pointed out Luther wanted to remove Hebrews and James.

These people often inclined to call God's official translation the St. James Bible, really do seem to me to think God publishes. Or at least that the Spirit inspires publication with which they agree.

Does that help?


Erika Baker said...

I think it helps.

But what these people are doing is conflating authorship and inerrancy, don't they? In theory, even a bible that was not dictated by God but written and later compiled by humans could be inerrant, assuming those humans to have been manipulated by God like puppets on a string.

So people could argue that Luther may have wanted to remove Hebrew and James, but that God prevailed.

It's really the extreme end of the "God inspired Scripture" argument. Or as someone said to me on TA: could you seriously imagine that God would allow his message to be twisted by translators through the ages?

But, actually, we all believe that God comes to us through the Bible.
What we don't all believe is that the literal words themselves are binding for all times, or that they can be understood in the same way people 2000 years understood them.

The real question is whether God's revelation of himself happened once in history, or whether he still reveals himself today and whether, therefore, a changing understanding of what God is and what he wants from us, is possible.


JimB said...

Yes they are conflating authorship and inerrancy. What is key is that they intend this. That is, the Bible is in this view inerrant because it is in fact written by God. Some actually refer to the Bible as "the Word of God written" which I consider idolatry. The Book is not God, the Word is Jesus else we should be Moslems for whom the Holy Q'ran is literally God's words.

The Bible is part of the tradition through which we are led to God. That is the oral tradition and the (earlier) epistles are the good news. Mark, Mathew and Luke were in general agreement with that body of good news (as Origen had it) and therefor worthy.

I am or try to be a pre-biblical Christian to use Fr. Jon's term. While they reach sharply different conclusions, the Orthodox are also of that sort. That is the Bible is part of the Holy Tradition and it is that which in its entirety matters.

If there were no book, if we only had the oral stories and the prayers or if we had only the snyoptics and The Acts, we would still be capable of encountering God through Jesus. It is finally the experience of resurrection, either in person for the Apostles or in persons of the kingdom and Eucharist for us that leads us godward. The Bible is the most important guide book, but it is the encounter that matters.


Brad Evans said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JimB said...


You apparently did not note or understand rule 1 above? Calling me an idiot while it may be true, is certainly ad hominem and your comment was not published.


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