When I was younger I figured that the Bible must be without error because it was inspired by God, and why would God let the writer he was inspiring to error? And if there was error, then God must not have inspired it, and if God did not inspire it, then our faith has no ground to stand on, and if our faith has no ground to stand on then it all sounds pretty silly. ...
Eventually I had to step back and admit that both sides in the public debate had created a false dichotomy. The Bible could be both inspired by God as a ground for our faith and contain metaphor, allegory, discrepencies and even some mistakes (which I would later learn was the opinion of most conservative scholars: too bad they have no voice in the public debate). The problem is that when we conceive of inspiration as being a process when God feeds words into zombie writers, we do so because we want scripture to be God's direct word to us, instead of a revelation of God that requires reflection. This is a sort of folk religion that proscirbes [ascribes?] a magical power to the Bible and distracts us from the one it points us to. Thus, we have the Bible studies where verses are taken out of context as "God's word to you specifically."
There is certainly some charismatic experience described in the New Testament: visions, dreams, speaking in tongues. But from very early days, the whole church was assumed to be guided by the Spirit, in mundane life as much as in showy spiritual events. So Catholics have, for instance, taken the decisions of the canonical councils to be Spirit-guided and therefore as authoritative as the Bible, even though nobody at these meetings goes into a trance and starts automatic-writing or anything. The Spirit, it is assumed, can work through ordinary thought processes.
Of course, that's Catholicism, and not everybody is going to agree with that. But it's clear that the entire Bible could not have been written in some charismatic state, if for no other reason than that Paul specifically states at certain points that such-and-such is a teaching he has "received," whereas other pieces of advice are his own opinion.
On the other hand, this fact does not have to mean that the writers of the Bible were no more inspired when they wrote about God than, say, me. One of the more charming themes in the Bible is the way God keeps choosing people who become his instruments at the same time that they remain their own familiar screwed-up selves. So to say the writers were flawed human beings does not preclude them from having been chosen.
This leaves, of course, a lot of room for argument over just how long a leash the Spirit gives people. The Mennonite I talked to believes that the Spirit let the Church drift really far afield -- so far that is was necessary for the Anabaptists to found new churches. And I suppose some liberal Christians might say that the writers were inspired because they managed to get down anything about Jesus, even if they were egregiously wrong about big questions like, say, his divinity. (Though worshipping a human being seems so inherently bad to me I don't see it really making up for it; but that's another subject.) Anyway, I do think this shows again why you can't divide hermeneutics into these two neat opposites.Posted by Camassia at December 13, 2004 07:09 PM | TrackBack