In an article recently posted on Dr. Jim Hamilton Jr’s website he gives his explanation and defense of inerrancy. In this document he responds to the claim that inerrantists exalt the Bible above Jesus as superficial. He claims, “Not a few non-evangelicals have alleged that evangelicals exalt the Bible over Jesus…What is most remarkable to me about this charge is how superficial it is. Apart from the Bible what knowledge of Jesus does anyone have? If Jesus has priority over the Bible, how does one arrive at a knowledge of Jesus that puts one in position to criticize the Bible?” In my opinion this statement has (at least) a couple of problems. 1) The earliest Christians did not
have the Scriptures but apparently knew of and submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. 2) It is a false dilemma to insist that either one must view all Scripture as being equally instructional or that a person must abandon Scripture altogether.
In the following I will attempt to explain my objections:
1) Dr. Hamilton states, through a rhetorical question, that Christians do not have knowledge of Jesus apart from the Bible which seems to conflict with an analogy he
will later use, that this, comparing the doctrine of the Trinity with Inerrancy. Do not Trinitarians have to hold to the ministry of the Spirit? Knowledge of Christ, it seems, to Dr. Hamilton is relegated to what is found in the text of Scripture but the apostle
Paul says he strives “to know him even the power of his resurrection even the fellowship of his suffering.” One of the major areas that inerrancy struggles with is that of the Spirit and its place in the communal life of the Church. It seems clear that a real and powerful knowledge of Christ comes through the ministry of the Spirit as it indwells God’s temple, that is, the Church. So, Dr. Hamilton’s claims seem to be closer to superficial than his
2) This problem needs to be taken in two steps in
order to understand it better:
A) As far as the false dilemma goes I believe that Jesus himself has witness in the Gospel of Matthew as understanding that there were “weightier” (and thus “lighter”) parts of the Torah (Matthew 12 & 23). So, if there is Scriptural witness that Jesus understood that Scripture was to be read in a sophisticated manner why can’t anyone else? This is, of course, a process in which we continually are critical of our decisions in Scripture reading with the effect that we are continually reforming our understanding through intellectual growth and moral perfection. B) The effect of his second claim is that all the non-inerrantist are painted with the same brush. In his statement it appears that the non-inerrantists (non-evangelicals) are all attempting to “criticize” the Bible which is false. Of course, “criticizing” the Bible is not the same as attempting to read the Bible “critically.”
Here is an example of reading the Bible “critically” without “criticizing” it: At SBL this year in a Historical Jesus scholar asked the question which hits home at the inerrancy debate. (This was reported to me I did not hear it first hand.) She essentially asked did Jesus insist the knowledge of his Messiahship be kept a secret or did he go around making I AM statements? Inerrancy strains at its edges to answer this honestly without denying itself. The critical reader though, asks questions like, “Do the synoptics have more a historical link to Jesus and John more of an apologetic purpose? Do all of the Gospels have the same historical purpose? Can some of the stories be true “in sense” but not in precise historical record?” These sorts of questions are not criticizing but are an attempt to understand the individual documents of the Bible as they present themselves.
It seems to me that Dr. Hamilton is too hasty in his judgment on the individuals involved in the inerrancy debate (war?). To be sure, there are some who are ruled by a hermeneutic of doubt and therefore exclude themselves from Scriptures authority but, it does not follow that this is the case for all questioning inerrancy’s truthfulness. My point in questioning inerrancy is not that I believe that the Scriptures are inventions of men, wrong or hopelessly ancient. Instead my point, as one who comes under the authority of Scripture, is to properly understand the directives that are given to us through varies forms of literature. Can a Christian believe in evolution? What is my rightful attitude toward sex? How about my role in society? Women in the Church? I desire to be cautious in shutting people out unless I am absolutely sure that is the desire of the Spirit and the directive of Scripture. Inerrancy may not be a the right battle…