Friday, June 1, 2012

Inerrancy - Where do you start

There is a blogger named Scott H. who reminds me a great deal of my father when he was my age. Same doctrines, same opinions, same denomination, teachings, and recently he's been mulling over Biblical inerrancy. I really want all the people who read his blog to hold the view I do (which seems overly simplistic to them I know, I thought the same of Baptists when I was CoC) so I'm going to take him up on an offer to tackle an apparent textual discrepancy. Compare the earlier account of Matthew 9:18- "While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live" with the later text of Mark 5:23 - "and implored him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live" and the similar Luke 8:42 "for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him."
In the first case it looks like the daughter has just perished, in the second, she's about to. How to resolve this?

The answer is found in another question. Do you believe that every word Jesus said is true and fully trustworthy?  I'm going to assume a "Yes" because otherwise I'm not dealing with someone who knows Jesus can't lie (Heb 6:18) and that calls for an entirely different blog post, attempting to convince someone Jesus is who He says and not only can be trusted, but must be trusted.
So yes, He is true in all His ways. We then come to John 10:35 and read, "Scripture cannot be broken." Now since we have God Himself saying that Scripture is perfect, and cannot be anything other than truth it stands to reason it cannot contradict itself, it cannot be a lie, and it cannot be proven false. It's literally breathed out by God, useful for teaching, rebuking, training in righteousness.

And if that is believed then the different accounts of Jairus daughter can easily be understood, because it doesn't take much effort to reconcile the record if you already believe that they were complementary rather than in opposition.

But you still ask, why are they different? The answer is that the gospel accounts are trying to emphasize different things. Matthew is written to the Jews, it's always using the word 'king' - there was a certain king, the kingdom of heaven is like, etc. It's thrust is to teach the Jews the right doctrine and lessons to show them the root and offspring of King David has come. Luke is written to a Roman Judge by a Gentile doctor, who is consumed with giving a fairly detailed and accurate account of the person and work of Christ. Mark is a call to the Gentiles showing the immediacy of His work as a servant and the story of the gospel stripped down to just the good news. Each author has taken the events and juxtaposed them topically, thus giving each a particular emphasis to the story.
In Matthew the account is preceded by the healing of the paralytic, the feasting with sinners and the instruction of the Pharisees about the newness of the Kingdom. It's followed by the healing of a man with demons and the Pharisees saying Jesus operated by demonic power.
In Luke the account is preceded by Jesus calming the storm and healing the man possessed by legion. It's followed by the first commission of the disciples.
In the Mark account it's preceded by Jesus healing the man possessed by Legion, and followed by Jesus returning to His hometown to teach.
At first glance Matthew appears to be wildly different, but this is because he is trying to make a point: the Pharisees largely rejected Jesus at every turn and sought to discredit Him. He on the other hand proved His divinity by forgiving sin and raising the dead. In Luke we have a closer narrative of the events, with the teaching of the Pharisees immediately before the healing left out entirely because the focus was on the miraculous ability to heal.
The Bible doesn't contradict itself, nor can it. Instead, every time it appears to it's worth investigating why one author is choosing to emphasize a certain truth and what they are trying to tell us, rather than demand Scripture be at fault or imperfect.

Post Script
I left out reconciling the text because it should be obvious that if you want to reconcile it you should have no problem doing so. However, if your faith is weak, and you are not taking my advice of doubting your doubts, I'll provide you the narrative if you mash all the details together. Luke 8:41-51 is in green, Mark 5:21-37 is in blue, and Matthew is in red.

And when Jesus returned [and] had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd [was] waiting for him, gathered about him, welcomed him, and he was beside the sea.  
"Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved." While he was saying these things to them, behold, there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And seeing him, And falling at Jesus' feet, he implored him earnestly to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live." And he went with him. 
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, all that she had, and had suffered much under many physicians, she could not be healed by anyone, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, came up behind him in the crowd and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said, "If I touch even his garments, I will be made well." and immediately her discharge of blood ceased and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd said, "Who was it that touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, 'Who touched me?'" But Jesus said, "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me."And he looked around to see who had done it. And when the woman, knowing what had happened to her, saw that she was not hidden, she came in fear and trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed, the whole truth. And he said to her, "Take heart, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more." But Jesus on overhearing this answered him, "Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well." and [he] knelt before Him "My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."
And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 

Matthew has only condensed the account and picked up the most important element to the Jew: the raising of the dead.


scotthaile said...

Thanks for responding with a post. I have a few different comments in mind, but I’ll go with a couple of the most direct ones.

I think your reconstructed paragraph does a really nice job of illustrating where we disagree. First of all, I don’t think that just because a writer relates events that all happened, that that means he’s telling the story accurately. If your reconstruction were right, I don’t think Matthew would be telling the story accurately––even if there weren’t the problem of ordering that I discuss below.

But more to the point is the issue of order: Matthew says that Jairus comes and kneels and tells Jesus that his daughter is dead (Matt 9:18). Then it says that Jesus went along and healed the bleeding woman (9:20f). You reconstruct that in actuality Jairus came, then Jesus healed the bleeding woman, and then Jairus told Jesus that his daughter was dead.

In other words, your reconstruction puts the events in a different order than Matthew does. Personally, I don’t find this problematic for the word of God to do, because I think God’s intention was proclaim the gospel, not to give us the facts exactly as they happened. But if you’re saying that the Gospels are accurate to the facts as they happened, then I don’t think your reconstruction helps your case much.

Phil said...

Of course Matthew is telling the story rightly. If not, then you are willing to conclude that because Matthew didn't tell us all the other details in the intervening time, like Jairus servants reporting the bad news, the weather conditions, Jesus hair color, the Bible is not trustworthy.

Let's do a real life parallel.
I go to the store and get bread and as I'm walking out my wife calls me and says "Also get milk." On the way back in I run into a friend and talk to him for awhile, then I get the milk and go home. Later I blog about the event and I say: I got milk and bread and ran into my friend at the store today.
Only someone hostile to me would charge me of lying, bending the facts, or telling an inaccurate story "YOU BUNGLED THE CHRONOLOGY, THEREFORE THIS EVENT MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRUSTWORTHY." Matthew really is telling the truth, Jairus really did kneel down and beg Him to heal his baby girl who died. That he is importing a later relationship to juxtapose the severity of it is a mere figure of speech to set up the seriousness of it and the later tension.

Otherwise you might as well say all the gospel writers got it wrong when they hung up Jesus' sign because all four read differently.

scotthaile said...


I see two serious problems with the analogy you’re making.

First, I agree that only someone hostile toward you would expect you to blog the exact facts of what happened in your day. We tell stories all the time where we change facts so that the story makes. We even invent words that other people said, because they reflect the gist of their attitude or how they reacted to something. That’s actually what I’m saying Matthew did. But if you want to insist that everything in Matthew really happened exactly that way––i.e., Jairus really bowed down and said that his daughter was dead––then it seems to me that you’re already rejecting the idea that Matthew should be judged by the standards we use when we tell one another stories.

Second, to compare your hypothetical story with Matthew, you’d have to tell a story in a similar form––not a one-sentence first-person summary, but a multi-stage, third person narrative account including direct speech. I’d suggest this one:

As Philip was leaving the house to go to the store, his wife told him to get bread. Then she said, “Also get milk.” He went to the store and made the purchases, and on the way out he ran into a friend and talked to him for awhile. Then he went home.

I would say that story is not accurate to what happened. The order implies that your wife told you about the milk before you bought the bread. I’m not saying the person who wrote it was doing something immoral, or should be called a liar, or anything like that. But if someone cared to take up the question of whether the story accurately tells what happened, the word “inerrant” would not be the right word to apply to it.

scoots said...

Should have said: “so that the story makes sense.”

scotthaile said...

I should add one more point, just for the sake of full disclosure: I don’t think Matthew was limited to adding dialogue simply to be true to the gist of what actually happened. I think he was free to totally change events in the story if it helped proclaim the Gospel.

I assume you would totally disagree with that point, but I do think my previous comment stands as an argument regardless.

Phil said...

I don't see the point at which I would disagree without simply re-asserting what I have said earlier. I think your modification of my made up example states it just as I have, and I find no problem with it since you have grouped the events topically just as Matthew has, and within that framework given a chronology.
I also do think that it's helpful to be reminded of your stance on it (Matthew was free to make up whatever he liked or thought made the most sense in terms for story telling.)
I however do disagree very strongly, as you suspect, and I think that's a good stopping point for the discussion. Any future reader can see our stances very clearly and make up their own mind for this thread, I think we've left it in a good spot.

scoots said...


Sorry to be slow, it’s been a busy summer. It does seem we’re at a point that I’ve heard called an “intractable dispute.” Thanks for your time and attention. I do wish you blessings as you continue to study and write.