Emotionally, I’m with Alan on this. I’d rather not talk about it. If you’ve followed any of the comment threads to my posts, you should know that I find the contemporary practice of theology not only tedious, but unhelpful and often utterly misleading.
But, if you are talking into the blogosphere about Bible translation, inerrancy is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It does no good to try and ignore it. Inerrancy underlies the persistent belief that a more “literal” translation is a better translation, most recently found here (but read the post by Suzanne and the comments here).
Several times commenting on various blogs, I’ve leaked pieces of my view on inerrancy, only to have them misunderstood in various ways. So I’d like to take a whack at it in a place where I can have the space (and time) to fully articulate my view.
Most statements about orthodox view on inerrancy center around a notion of truth.
“[T]he view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1987, p. 142).’
So that’s where I’ll start — with the notion of truth in general.
In the 1960’s, after the posthumous publication of John L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, the philosophical and linguistic worlds became aware that the notion truth only applied to a portion of language.
In short, it makes no sense to talk about whether utterances like the following are true or false:
What time is it?
Take out the garbage.
Instead there is a more abstract notion originally called HAPPINESS (now generally referred to as FELICITY) which applies to all language.
At first approximation, if you use language sincerely then it is FELICITOUS.
If you mean please when you say please,
if you mean thank you when you say thank you,
if you do not know what time it is and you honestly think that someone knows (or can easily come to know) what time it is when you ask them what time is it?,
if, when you tell someone take out the garbage, you are in the right kind of social relationship with them and believe that they are physically able to do so,
then the respective utterances are FELICITOUS.
Truth is just a part of the special case of felicity for simple declaratives. If you say
John came in at twelve last night.
you must believe it to be true to be uttering it felicitously.
So part one of my statement of belief about inerrancy is that
Scripture is fully felicitous communication.
Looking at it this way has many interesting implications which I will take up in later posts.