Is every word in Scripture literally true?

Posted: February 28, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Biblical Studies, Christianity, Discipleship, Uncategorized

a section from an article by Kevin Vanhoozer:

The problem with this question is its incorrect (and typically unstated) assumption that ‘literal truth’ is always literalistic – a matter of referring to history or to the ‘facts’ of nature. It is just such a faulty assumption – that the Bible always states facts – that leads certain wellmeaning defenders of inerrancy desperately to harmonize what appear to be factual or chronological discrepancies in the Gospels. In the final analysis, what was new about the Princetonians’ view of Scripture was not their understanding of the Bible’s truthfulness but rather their particular view of language and interpretation, in which the meaning of the biblical text was the fact – historical or doctrinal – to which it referred. Their proof-texting was more a product of their view of language and interpretation than of their doctrine of Scripture.

What if the intent of the evangelists was not to narrate history with chronological precision? What if the evangelists sometimes intended to communicate only the content of Jesus’ teaching rather than his very words? Before extending the Bible’s truth to include history or astronomy, or restricting to matters of salvation for that matter, we must first ask, ‘What kind of literature is this?’ The question of meaning should precede the question of truth. We must first determine what kind of claim is being made before we can rule on its truthfulness. The point of biblical apocalyptic is quite distinct from the point of Jesus’ parables, from that of the Gospels themselves, or of Old Testament wisdom. We must, therefore, say that the literal sense of Scripture is its literary sense: the sense the author intended to convey in and through a particular literary form. Inerrancy means that every sentence, when interpreted correctly (i.e. in accordance with its literary genre and its literary sense), is wholly reliable.

The older term to express biblical authority – infallibility – remains useful. Infallibility means that Scripture never fails in its purpose. The Bible makes good on all its claims, including its truth claims. God’s Word never leads astray. It is important to recall that language may be used for many different purposes, and not to state facts only.

read the whole piece here

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