This morning I posted a tweet on inerrancy which prompted a reply from the philosopher Paul Franks. I thought it was an interesting Twitter exchange and worth repeating here. After compiling our tweets, I’m a bit surprised at how long it is too. I have not bothered to flag or correct the typos that appear in both our tweets. (Such is the nature of a Twitter exchange.)
And so, without further ado, my exchange with Paul Franks on inerrancy.
RR: If the Bible is inerrant, as I believe, it is inerrant qua the divine meaning behind the statements of the biblical texts and that meaning may differ significantly from the meaning of the original human author and/or redactor(s).
PF: So it’s inerrant, but we have way of knowing what ‘it’ is?
RR: Did you mean to say that “we have no way of knowing…?” If so, why would you think that follows?
PF: If you divorce divine intent from passages’ authorial intent, how would we ever know when the two align (or not)? Pick any passage, how do we know what the author wrote is what God meant?
RR: You think that if we are agostic on the question of whether the human author of Isaiah 53 was intending to refer to the messiah we cannot thereby have any reason to believe that the divine author of Isaiah 53 was intending to refer to the messiah?
PF: In that case, no because there are other passages supporting it. I just worry that driving a wedge between divine/author intent undercuts confidence that what we take the latter to have meant is also what the former meant.
RR: Okay, so your premise was false: hermeneutical chaos does not follow if we distinguish between human and divine authorial intent.
PF: Dual intent doesn’t concern me, saying inerrancy only applies to one of them does.
RR: Why? A few examples of human authorial belief:
- Gen. 1:6-8: God created a hard firmament in the sky to hold up the waters above.
- Ps. 137:9: the person who kills Babylonian babies is blessed.
- Prov. 26:3: Poorly behaved animals/slaves should be beaten.
Without error qua human author?
PF: My view of inerrancy doesn’t require every statement to be without error, only what is being taught as true.
RR: How would you discern when something is being taught as true? And do you dispute that one or more of the examples I gave consists of something the human author is teaching as true?
PF: This is the role of hermeneutics. There will be some passages where some think P is being taught (Gen 1) and others disagree, but I don’t take that to be problematic.
RR: But you deny that the human author could’ve sought to teach p (e.g. there is a hard firmament in the sky, those who bash Babylonian babies really are blessed, that poorly behaved animals/slaves should be beaten) and been wrong? Why?
PF: Yes, I deny that. Why? Because I believe inerrancy of what is taught is true. I gather my take on it is just the standard understanding of the term. It’s, at least, how it’s understood in Tyndale’s statement of faith.
RR: The fact that this is (allegedly) the standard definition of the term is not a very good reason to think it is correct. What do you think these 3 passages are doing qua the human author, if not commending as true the sentiments expressed therein?
PF: Right. But my reasons aren’t just that it’s the standard account. I mention that so you can read my statements in light of the reasons for accepting the standard account provided in (seemingly) hundreds of books on the topic.
We exchanged a few more tweets but I can’t find them at the moment. Regardless, the exchange thus far illumined some important issues in inerrancy, hermeneutics, and epistemology.