On the Authoritativeness of Scripture
A CONTRIBUTION TO CATHOLIC-EVANGELICAL DIALOGUE
Author’s Note: The following was recently presented as an informal lecture to the Theology Forum at the University of Colorado. The Forum, “A Center for Theological/Philosophical Discussion,” is an open seminar led by Prof. Ed Miller under the auspices of the University’s Department of Philosophy. The Forum was in the process of discussing Craig Blomberg’s book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (InterVarsity Press). Blomberg is an evangelical Protestant who teaches New Testament at Denver Seminary, and he had earlier joined members of the Forum in Boulder for dinner and conversation.
I wish to focus on three themes. First, I will summarize Craig Blomberg’s defense of his book the other evening. Second, I will outline what I consider to be problems with how Scripture is utilized by the evangelical community. Third, I will present what I believe is a viable resolution to those problems, based on a Roman Catholic understanding of the proper use of Scripture. Despite the Catholic orientation of my remarks, my proposed resolution is one from which all Christians can benefit.
The most important point Blomberg made the other evening was that there is a big difference between intramural quibbling and ideological warfare. Our seminar discussions have generally focused on the degree of reliability the gospels possess; very few of us have challenged the fundamental historical content of Christian faith. In other words, those of us here who claim the label “Christian” all affirm the basic historical events on which our faith depends. Chief among these, of course, is the life, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord. Blomberg said his book is meant to challenge the assumptions of the type of liberal scholarship that would deny any historical content to Christian tradition. So, problems such as John’s paraphrasing of Jesus’ discourses and the “thatched roof versus tile roof” controversy (cf. Mark 2:4 and Luke 5:19) are not truly divisive, nor are they dangerous to our faith. We agree that the gospels provide us with a generally reliable idea of who Christ was, what he did, and what he said.
Based on a definition of Christianity, then, which presupposes the basic historical events underlying orthodox Christian faith, Blomberg defined what he meant by historical “reliability”: that the gospels are historically accurate according to the standards of the ancient world, and that they should not be held to modern standards of precision, but should be taken on their own terms.
So, how does Blomberg define scriptural inerrancy? When asked, he replied that the Bible is without error, and true in everything it affirms, according to the literary forms of the literature, and according to the methodology employed by the original writers. According to Blomberg, we must not only distinguish between the types of literary genre, but also must refer to the intellectual context in which any particular passage of Scripture was written. This is a qualified and limited definition of inerrancy.
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