Sunday, February 6, 2011

Piepkorn, Inerrancy, and Historic Christianity

I have not read much by Piepkorn but have intended to for some time. Recently I helped out with a project to type out some of his writings for volume three of his works. There was nothing particularly wonderful or horrible about the article that I typed out and still plan to read more by him. I've also been studying the Seminex controversy and have been reading a book by James Burkee. Burkee references an article by Piepkorn on inerrancy. I found the article online and so I thought I would read it.

Piepkorn does make some valid points but also makes some serious blunders. Piepkorn is correct that the doctrine of "inerrancy" is a relatively new doctrine and accurately traces the historic use of the word as a scientific (non-theological) term for fixed stars. But then he goes on to talk about passages of Scripture which use figures of speech in regards to things such as a man's heart to prove that the Bible is not a scientific textbook. I would certainly agree that the Bible is not a scientific textbook but the use of different types of speech does not equal error and it does not follow that we need to read the Scriptures through the lens of scientific theory (which seems to be a related but different topic). Then Piepkorn goes on to list a number of discrepancies in the Biblical text. To be honest, the list reminded me of the types of arguments that I've heard Muslims use to discredit the Scriptures. Some of the passages seem very easy to harmonize with just a little common sense. It seems like it would have made more sense if Piepkorn chose a few of what he considered to be the hardest passages to harmonize rather than just providing a random list.

Piepkorn does make one point that is worth listening to. Piepkorn points out that the doctrine of inerrancy really only has reference to the original autographs which nobody has and therefore the doctrine of inerrancy is meaningless. Since the time B.B. Warfield popularized the doctrine of inerrancy in reaction to liberalism, discrepancies in the Scriptures have been explained as copyist errors that are not found in the original autographs (which conveniently nobody has). All authority is shifted to something nobody has even if by the blessing of inconsistency we manage to place authority in the Scriptures we actually have. For further reading on this I highly recommend The Ecclesiastical Text by Dr. Theodore Letis. Letis was an absolute jerk of a human being and had some liberal tendencies of his own which are also evident in this book but he does an excellent job on this topic.

I am certainly in favor of evangelical catholicity but the liberal doubt of Piepkorn is neither evangelical nor catholic. But neither is the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy is not the historic position of the church but a modern reaction to liberalism. When all authority is placed in something nobody has, you end up in approximately the same place as liberalism if you take things to their logical conclusions. You both end up at the Jesus seminar with some colored balls voting on who the historical Jesus really is.

What is the evangelical catholic answer? (I am going to depart a bit from Letis here. Letis would have us all using the KJV and regarding "Textus Receptus" and Masoretic texts as the infallible standard.) The evangelical catholic answer is to stop speaking of inerrant original autographs and instead speak of infallible apographa (manuscripts we actually have). The texts that have lived and breathed in the church, that have been preserved in the church--these ought to be considered authoritative. When Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Scriptures they were not concerned about the original autographs. They regarded the manuscripts that they had, the manuscripts that were actually being used in the synagogues, as being the Word of God. They quoted freely from the Septuagint. As Piepkorn points out, when Paul told Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed he most likely had the Septuagint in mind. The 1904 Antoniades edition of the Greek New Testament is probably the best representation of the text that has lived and breathed in the church. The Jerusalem Crown edition of the Hebrew Old Testament is probably the best representation of the Hebrew Old Testament text. However, I think a case can be made that we should follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles and the vast majority of the early church and place authority in the Septuagint used by the Eastern Orthodox.

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