Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An interview on the doctrine of Scripture with Greg Beale (1)

The following interview with Professor Greg Beale is taken from Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church

In February 2011 Greg Beale will be one of the speakers at the Affinity Theological Study Conference on the doctrine of Scripture. Other speakers include Carl Trueman, Daniel Strange, Martin Downes and Hywel Jones. For details on the last conference "The End of the Law?" go here.

Part 1: The Exegetical Foundations of Inerrancy

Why do you believe the Bible, as originally given, is not only inspired but also inerrant?

It is intriguing that some people don’t like the term ‘inerrancy’ because it sounds too negative. They also say the word cannot be found in Scripture. But you do find the concept. For example in John 10:35 Christ says that Scripture cannot be broken. And of course there are the well-known texts like 2 Timothy 3:16, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ and 2 Peter 1:21 ‘prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

The traditional syllogism of classic orthodox evangelicalism is that since God is true and without error, His oral Word is true and without error, and when His oral Word becomes inscripturated it is therefore true and without error. This syllogism has been challenged most recently by Andrew McGowan in his book The Divine Spiration of Scripture. McGowan argues that this syllogism is not biblical. I’m prepared to argue that it is not only biblical but that it is also exegetical (on which see further below).

What are some of the principal exegetical foundations of inerrancy?

As I mentioned, I believe that the concept of inerrancy is in Scripture. The syllogism that I referred to is found in some parts of the Bible, even though McGowan says that there is no evidence of such an exegetical syllogism but that it is an assumption imposed on the Scriptures.

You can, however, see this syllogism in the book of Revelation. I began to reflect on this when McGowan issued this challenge. Part of what I am now going to summarize can also be found partly in my commentary on Revelation. The key texts are Revelation 3:14 , 21:5, and 22:6.

In Revelation 3:14 Christ introduces Himself and says He is ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’. Now, it is acknowledged by most commentators that the Amen comes from Isaiah 65:16. This is the only place in Scripture where ‘Amen’ is a name. And it is a name for God. He is the ‘Amen’, and He is called the ‘Amen’ twice there in Isaiah 65:16. Christ expands that into ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’. That extension by the way is found in different LXX versions of Isaiah 65:16 and so there is already a precedent for expanding ‘Amen’ in the way Jesus Himself does in Revelation 3:14.

We have here an identification Christology. Christ is Yahweh. It is a wonderful Christological text. He says ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God’ (the latter phrase probably coming out of Isaiah 65:17 which says, ‘Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.’ Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of that new creation).

So now Christ is speaking, and He is ‘faithful and true’. Therefore He can be depended upon in His oral Word. But this oral Word is inscripturated here, and so it too can be depended upon. Especially since it ends with, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ in 3:22. These are the words of Christ and they are the words of the Spirit, which John has been commanded to ‘write’. But at this point let us be satisfied merely to say that Christ’s oral Word here is faithful because He is seen as a faithful witness.

His character is faithful and true, therefore as God was called the ‘Amen, the faithful and true’ (putting the different Septuagintal traditions of Isaiah 65:16 together), Christ identifies Himself as ‘the Amen, the faithful and true witness’. His witness is faithful and true, and what He says is faithful and true. Very intriguingly, in Revelation 21:5 we have this statement: ‘He who sits on the throne says, “Behold, I’m making all things new.”’ Here we have the new creation again, and He says, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’

Here we have a development from 3:14, but it still has in mind Isaiah 65:16. But now, notice, this is not Christ who is faithful and true. What is happening here is that, what was true of Yahweh and Jesus – that their character is faithful and true – is now being taken and applied to written scriptural form in the same way as it was to their oral Word. That is, God (or Christ) is saying that His ‘faithful and true’ oral Word is extended to the written Word. ‘Behold, I’m making all things new’, and He said ‘write this down for these words are faithful and true’.

So we see the extension of God’s character, Christ’s character, to His witness and oral Word in chapter 3. And now John is commanded to write this word down in scriptural form in chapter 21. The faithful and true character of the oral Word is extended to the written form.

In 22:6 we see the same thing. We read, ‘These words are faithful and true.’ He is probably not just referring to the Revelation 21:1–22:5 vision but to the whole book. ‘These words are faithful and true.’ Again the whole book is categorized in this way. This is found in one other place. In 19:9 we read ‘Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”And he added, “These are true words of God.”’He is commanded to write. Why? Because what has been spoken as true has been extended to the written form. Only two verses later, Christ is again referred to as ‘faithful and true’.

Now some might say, as they have in fact said to me, ‘well there is a little room for slippage here. Yes, God is telling John to write these things down because the oral Word is “faithful and true,” but maybe he could have slipped a little bit and just a bit of inaccuracy could have crept in when he tried to record it.’ But, in fact, we know that John was a prophet, and we know that God views the whole book in its written form as prophetic. This is apparent from the well-known verses of Revelation 22:18-19, ‘I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life.’ And, likewise, remember that in chapter three, in the letters, at the end they are seen as the words of the Spirit, yet John was commanded to write.

So with this extension what we have here in Revelation is the syllogism. God and Christ are seen as faithful and true, therefore their oral Word is faithful and true, and because of this their Word is to be put down in written form, and this too is faithful and true. The word ‘inerrant’ is not used but certainly the notion is that God and Christ being ‘faithful and true’ includes that their witness not contain any untruth or error. Thus, the concept of inerrancy is likely expressed here.


Jim said...

I've posted some thoughts on the topic here and would be very keen to hear Professor Beale's thoughts.

Unknown said...

I am impressed with how hard it is for people to accept inerrancy. We know that God made the world, the stars, the orbits of planets, the cosmic dust, the universe and galaxies, and crusts and rocks and cores the ocean depths and all this is in them. He made the cell, the ion exchange, DNA, RNA and chromosomes along with ants and bugs and ecosystems and cultures. People were made by God with lungs and hearts and brains that rival super computers. God knows the speed and position of every car right now driving on the road. He knows the location and trajectory of every raindrop now falling. He knows the location and destiny of ever molecule and electron.

That he would write a true and trustworthy book seems like a smaller feat. That we can't imagine that he would have a true record of himself is stunning given all that he has done. For those who reject inerrancy, God getting some words onto paper is supposedly impossible. But he can do all that other stuff.

Beale, of course, makes the case from scripture for inerrancy. I would say that the doctrine is self-evident -- just as God made the heavens and the Earth. But I really appreciate how Beale easily shows that Revelation clearly testifies to these things. Not only is it obvious when we consider nature, but God has said it.

The Bible is this: "God said..." and it is only Satan who wants to say, "Uhh unn. No he didn't"

Thanks for posting this interview.

--Steve Rives, Eastside Church of the Cross, Kansas