Someone asked me to comment on Gregory Boyd's view of Biblical inerrancy. I've excerpted some relevant statements from his series:
At the outset, I'd note that Boyd's position has several presuppositional layers, so you have to peel back the layers. He derives a conclusion that's premised on an assumption he takes for granted. The conclusion in turn becomes the premise for another conclusion. If, however, you reject one or more of his presuppositions, then the multistoried argument collapses.
Boyd is, of course, a pioneering open theist. Since the God of open theism is fallible, the Bible can't very well be infallible. According to open theism, humans have libertarian freewill, which renders them unpredictable. In that event, God can only make an educated guess about what we will do next. So in that respect it's only logical that an open theist will deny inerrancy. Indeed, open theism is a more consistent version of freewill theism. Consistent to a fault.
In fact, it seems to me that the “Christocentric” label is often close to meaningless inasmuch as it doesn’t meaningfully contrast with anything. If a “Christocentric” perspective doesn’t conflict with the portrait of God commanding his people to murder every last woman and child while threatening to punish anyone who shows mercy, then honestly, what does the label even mean? To remedy this, I proposed that we adopt a cross-centered approach, arguing that this sharper focus is justified inasmuch as the cross is the thematic center of everything Jesus was about.
I’d now like to begin unpacking some of the implications of this cross-centered approach to Scripture. And a good place to begin is with the genocidal portrait of God I just mentioned. While some may imagine that a Christocentric view of God doesn’t rule out God commanding the merciless murder of women and infants, I submit that a cruciform portrait of God certainly does. Jesus reveals a God who chose to refrain from using his power to crush enemies and chose instead to give his life for them. And he reveals a God who taught us, and modeled for us, a completely non-violent, loving, servant way of responding to hostile enemies.
i) God didn't command the Israelites to "murder" the Canaanites. That libels God. Does Boyd think killing a human being, regardless of the circumstances, is murder? If so, his position is contrary to Scripture. Moreover, it reflects a lack of basic ethical discrimination on his part.
ii) God didn't command the execution of the Canaanites because they were his enemies, but because they were Israel's enemies. The Canaanites pose no threat to God. He's invulnerable. But the Canaanites were a clear and present danger to Israel. God was protecting the chosen people from their mortal enemies.
iii) Does Boyd seriously think ancient Israel could unilaterally disarm and still survive?
iv) Boyd fundamentally misunderstands the cross. The purpose of the cross is not to model nonviolence. Rather, the Incarnate Son underwent crucifixion because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22).
The reason Christ didn't fight back is because that would thwart the atonement. Christ provoked his arrest, conviction, and crucifixion. He deliberately played into the hands of his enemies. That was part of the plan. That was predicted. Naturally, Christ is not going to scuttle the plan of salvation by resisting arrest.
v) Blood atonement, penal substitution, and human sacrifice bespeak a far "harsher" view of God than Boyd's pacifist God. And it's quite consistent with the OT view of God.
But this immediately presents us with a problem. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus expresses absolute confidence in the OT as the Word of God. In fact, a number of scholars have argued that this conviction lies at the heart of Jesus’ self-understanding. While I don’t believe Jesus was omniscient while on earth, I find it impossible to confess him as Lord while correcting his theology, especially about such a foundational matter. He once asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ when you don’t do the things that I say?” I think he could have made a similar point by asking, “Why do you call me ‘Lord” when you don’t believe the things I teach?” And one of the things Jesus taught was that the OT is the Word of God!
So I find myself awkwardly caught between two seemingly contradictory yet equally non-negotiable truths. On the one hand, I feel compelled to confess that God looks like Jesus, choosing to die for enemies and at the hands of enemies rather than use his power to crush them. On the other hand, I feel compelled to confess that all Scripture is God-breathed, including its portraits of God that look antithetical to the God who died on a cross for his enemies.
Unless I missed something, in his subsequent posts I don't see where Boyd solves the problem he posed for himself.
Evangelicals typically ground the credibility of their faith on the inspiration of the Bible. If they were to become convinced that the Bible was not inspired, their faith would crumble. I think this posture is as unwise as it is unnecessary.
There are nominal Christians who don't believe Christianity is a revealed religion, yet they still go to church, sing hymns, participate in the church calendar. It's play-acting.
If the reason you believe is anchored in your confidence that Scripture is “God-breathed,” then your faith can’t help but be threatened every time you encounter a discrepancy, an archeological problem, or a persuasive historical-critical argument that a portion of the biblical narrative may not be historically accurate. Your faith may also be threatened every time you encounter material that is hard to accept as “God-breathed” — the genocidal portrait of Yahweh I discussed in my previous blog, for example.
That only follows if you think there's a standing presumption against the inspiration of Scripture which Scripture must constantly overcome.
When biblical inspiration is made this important, people are forced to go to extreme and sometimes even silly lengths to explain each and every one of the “encyclopedia” of “difficulties” one finds in Scripture (I’m alluding Gleason Archer’s apologetic book, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties).
i) To begin with, I don't that's fair to Archer. His book is uneven. He was an OT scholar, so he's better on the OT than the NT. And some of his explanations are flat-footed. But there's a lot of good material in his book. It's a useful resource.
ii) There are, moreover, more hermeneutically sophisticated defenders of inerrancy than Archer, viz. Beale, Bock, Blomberg, Carson, Stein.
iii) It isn't necessary to explain every difficulty in Scripture. Given the historical distance between the modern reader and Scripture, we'd expect difficulties to crop up. But that's consistent with the inerrancy of Scripture.
iv) Finally, denying the inspiration of Scripture leads to superficial exegesis. Every time you run into a problem, you conclude the Bible is wrong, and move on. Your first impression carries the day. You already know it must be a mistake. You've prejudged the interpretation before you even read the text.
As has happened to so many others, throughout my seminary training this foundation became increasingly shaky and eventually collapsed. I know a number of former-evangelicals who completely lost their faith when they experienced this. One is Bart Ehrman, who I’m sure many of you recognize as one of Christianity’s most well-known contemporary critics. He and I were in the doctoral program at Princeton Seminary at the same time, and we fell through our crumbling Scriptural foundation at roughly the same time and for many of the same reasons.
It's a useful winnowing process. It weeds out nominal Christians. Better to have a tested faith than an untested faith.
I have a lot of reasons for believing in Christ, but the inspiration of Scripture is not one of them. I don’t deny that there are a handful of fulfilled prophecies about the coming Messiah that are rather compelling (e.g. the suffering servant of Isa. 53 and the pierced Lord of Zech. 12:10). But I also think evangelical apologists are misguided when they try to use this as the rational foundation for the Christian faith. When Gospel authors say Jesus “fulfilled” an OT verse, they don’t mean that the OT verse predicted something that Jesus did or that happened to Jesus. If you check out the OT verses Jesus is said to have “fulfilled,” you’ll find there is absolutely nothing predictive about them. The Gospel authors are rather using a version of an ancient Jewish interpretive strategy called “midrash” to simply communicate that something in the life of Jesus parallels and illustrates a point made in an OT verse.
In any event, if the intellectual credibility of your faith is leveraged on the prophecies that Jesus is said to have “fulfilled,” I’m afraid your faith will be literally incredible.
That's a common allegation. It says a lot about Boyd, and little about Scripture. There are several fine monographs on Bible prophecy. How the OT is fulfilled in the NT. Many good commentaries address these.
As a conservative evangelical who accepted the “inerrancy” of Scripture, I used to be profoundly disturbed whenever I confronted contradictions in Scripture, or read books that made strong cases that certain aspects of the biblical narrative conflict with archeological findings. Throughout my college and graduate school career, I spent untold hours and no small amount of anxious energy trying to figure out ways to reconcile Scripture’s many contradictions, harmonize problematic narratives with archeological data, and refute a host of other “liberal” views of Scripture (e.g. the documentary hypothesis, the late dating of Daniel, etc.).
If you begin with the presumption of guilt, a "hermeneutic of suspicions," then your faith will be insecure. If you think the onus is always on Scripture to prove its innocence, then your faith will be insecure. But why think that's where the burden of proof ought to lie?
At least twice during this period I came dangerously close to abandoning my faith because, despite my best efforts, I could not with intellectual honesty find my way around certain problems.
I'd say he left his faith behind long ago. He just doesn't know what he lost.
In my previous blog, I expressed one of the reasons why these things do not bother me anymore. The ultimate foundation for my faith is no longer Scripture, but Christ. I feel I have very good historical, philosophical, and personal reasons for believing that the historical Jesus was pretty much as he’s described in the Gospels. I also feel I have very good reasons for accepting the NT’s view that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, the definitive revelation of God, and the Savior of the world. I, of course, can’t be certain of this, but I’m confident enough to make the decision to put my trust in Christ, and live my life as his disciple. I continue to believe in the inspiration of Scripture primarily because Jesus did, and his Church has done so throughout history. But because the intellectual feasibility of my faith no longer hangs in the balance, I simply don’t need to get bent out of shape if I conclude that it contains contradictions, historical inaccuracies, or other human imperfections.
One of the problems with that position is that it fails to appreciate the significance of inspiration. Inspiration is a major instance of God's activity in the world. The God of Scripture is a God who speaks and acts. A God who speaks to and through others.
When you deny the inspiration of Scripture, that drastically subtracts from God's activity in the world. Put another way, if you deny the inspiration of Scripture, then it's unclear if there is a God who speaks and acts. Is there a God who speaks to and through others? Or is God just a projection of the Bible writer's overwrought religious imagination?
I find that if you accept that God is real, and accept the possibility of miracles, the arguments for highly skeptical views of Scripture tend to be surprisingly weak.
He's right about that.
But the more important point is that I no longer feel I need to end up on the conservative side of things (for on certain matters, such as the dating of the book of Daniel, I actually don’t). I don’t any longer feel that anything of great consequence hangs in the balance on where these debates end up, for my faith is anchored in something much more solid than what either side of these debates can offer.
If Daniel was written after the fact, if it's pious fiction, then God was not in fact active in the lives of the exilic community, as Daniel narrates. On that view, Daniel testifies to the miraculous intercession of a God who, in reality, did not intercede. And why draw the line with Daniel? Boyd's position is the thin edge of a secular wedge.
In any event, there’s a second and more recently discovered reason why these flaws no longer bother me. I simply no longer see any reason why God’s infallible Word should exclude human flaws. In another blog, I shared why I believe the cross expresses the thematic center of everything Jesus was about. God was most perfectly revealed when, having become a human in Christ, he bore our sin and our curse on the cross. On this basis, I argued that our theology must not only be Christ-centered; it should be, from beginning to end, cross-centered.
If we accept this perspective, it fundamentally changes the way we think about the nature of biblical inspiration (as well as a host of other things). If the ultimate revelation of the perfect God took place by God making our imperfections his own – that is by, in some sense, becoming our sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and our curse (Gal 3:13) – on what grounds could anyone assume that the process by which this perfect God reveals himself in his written Word must exclude all human imperfections? I would think a cross-centered approach to biblical inspiration would lead us to the exact opposite conclusion. Think about it. If the cross reveals what God is truly like, it reveals what God has always been like, in all of his activities.
i) That's arbitrary. The cross does not express "everything" that Jesus is about. The cross doesn't reveal what God is truly like in contrast to the Exodus, Final Judgment. The cross isn't more fundamental than the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension and Session, or return of Christ.
ii) Moreover, Boyd is trying to create a loose analogy between the weakness of Scripture and the weakness of God on the cross. But that fails on two accounts:
a) Jesus isn't modeling divine weakness on the cross. Rather, he'd practicing vicarious atonement. Of course, in order to be sacrificed, he must permit himself to be sacrificed. But assuming a defenseless posture is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
b) His voluntary weakness is not analogous to errors in Scripture. Indeed, it's not a mistake that Jesus refused to defend himself. That's deliberate. By parity of argument, Scripture is inerrant.
Does this mean that we must reject biblical infallibility? It all depends on what you mean by “infallible.” “Infallible” means “unfailing,” and for something to “fail” or “not fail” depends on the standard you are measuring it up against.
That's an idiosyncratic definition of infallibility. "Infallibiity" means without possibility of error.
So when you confess Scripture is “infallible,” what standard are you presupposing? If your standard is modern science, for example, I’m afraid you’re going to have a very hard time holding onto your confidence in Scripture, because last I heard, scientists were pretty sure the sky wasn’t a dome that was “hard as a molten mirror” (Job 37:18) as it held up water (Gen.1:7) with windows that could be opened so it could rain (Gen. 7:11).
i) Examples like that no doubt explain why Boyd rejects inspiration. He comes down on the side of the critics. Naturally, if you think Scripture is mistaken, you will reject the inerrancy of Scripture. But that merely shows us how Boyd interprets Scripture.
ii) It's funny how liberals like Boyd impute selective rationality to Bible writers. On the one hand, this is how they think the ancients reasoned about rain:
Water comes down from the sky. So there must be a source of water up there. Indeed, the sky is blue–like water! But there must be something to restrain it from coming down all at once. So the sky must be solid. But how can water get through a solid barrier? There must be windows in the sky.
But if the sky is solid, how can we see the blue water? It must be made of something transparent or translucent, like crystal.
So they think the ancients did give serious consideration to the logistics of rain. On the other hand, they don't think the ancients asked elementary questions like:
If the source of rain is a reservoir above the sky, why do we see rain coming from clouds below the sky? Likewise, why don't we ever see it rain on a clear day? After all, if clouds are not the source of rain, if it's really that cosmic ocean above the firmament, why does it only rain on cloudy days?
Liberals like Boyd think the ancients were smart enough to draw logical inferences as long as they were constructing a false view of precipitation, but their rationality and powers of observation abandoned them when it came to scrutinizing common sense problems with a false view of precipitation. He also ignores evidence that the ancients were aware of the water cycle (Eccl 1:7).
Back to Boyd:
So too, if your standard is perfect historical accuracy, or perfect consistency, you’re going to sooner or later run into trouble as well for similar reasons. In fact, I would argue that you’re going to run into problems if your standard is even uniformly perfect theology. For example, we instinctively interpret references to Yahweh riding on clouds and throwing down lightning bolts to be metaphorical (e.g. Ps. 18:14; 68:4; 104:3). But ancient biblical authors, along with everybody else in the Ancient Near East, viewed God and/or the gods as literally doing things like this. They were simply mistaken.
i) That anthropomorphic image is literally inconsistent with the invisibility of God. Yet OT piety stresses the essential invisibility of God.
ii) It's a poetic depiction of the Sinai theophany. But the Israelites didn't literally see God riding on a cloud.
iii) In addition, it's polemicizing against Baal, who was a pagan storm god. Baal is vanquished by Yahweh.
For detailed exegesis, cf. A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: 1-41 (Kregel 2011), 1:466.