Ehrman & Hays: Caricaturing Inerrancy

In a previous post, I made reference to a recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Richard Hays. For all of their disagreements about the origins of Christianity, they were in decided agreement in their caricature of inerrancy. This kind of an attitude does not surprise me coming from Bart Ehrman. I’ve seen him misrepresent the inerrancy position before, and I have written about it on this blog.But I am a bit disappointed in Richard Hays. When Ehrman called differences between Gospel accounts historical errors, Hays simply agreed with him. Moreover, Hays recalled a an incident from a recent panel discussion at Southeastern Seminary of which both he and Ehrman took part along with Andreas Kostenberger and Norman Geisler. After calling Geisler “this very angry guy who was pounding his fist on the table,” Hays simply dismisses inerrantists as those who hold to their position out of fear that if they admit any error in the Bible the whole edifice of Christianity will fall.

Now, even though one may make this charge against Ehrman (who lost his faith as a result of admitting one error in the Bible), it is hardly fair for Hays to lay that charge at the feet of all inerrantists. Most of the inerrantists I know (including myself) are not motivated by fear at all. We just believe the Bible to be without error.

During the Hays-Ehrman debate, Ehrman and Hays got into it about the seven last words of Jesus. Ehrman, of course, denies that there were seven last words. For Ehrman, the last words of Christ were simply the invention of the early church, not words that actually passed the lips of the historical Jesus.

When Hays addressed the issue, he made a note of the differences between Luke’s and Mark’s account of Jesus’ last words. Whereas in Mark 15:34 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, in Luke 23:46 he quotes Psalm 31:5. Hays wonders aloud about this difference between the accounts of Mark and Luke. He says,

“Can both of them be, strictly speaking, historically factual accounts of what you would have if you had a video camera like this one there taping what Jesus had said at the moment? No, of course not. It can’t be both things” (Beyond The DaVinci Code, April 28, 2006).

What is disappointing about this response is that one does not have to become and inerrantist to exhibit a little humility here. As a historical question, would it not be possible that Jesus said both things? Would it not be possible that Jesus might have prayed many Psalms in the hours leading up to his death? Why must one necessarily conclude that Luke’s and Mark’s versions are contradictory? Hays alleges this contradiction but has no historical evidence to back it up. There’s just as much evidence for the apparent contradiction as there is for the harmony. It’s simply a matter of what presupposition one brings to the table.

I would simply suggest to Ehrman and Hays that they reread the 1979 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This document represents how most informed evangelicals would define inerrancy. Its affirmations and denials give a more nuanced picture of what evangelicals believe–a picture that does not match the caricature that they put forth.

This brings me back to something I wrote about in my last post about the “Together for the Gospel” (T4G) affirmations and denials. I have already read on other blogs people alleging that T4G’s opening statement about the inerrancy of scripture is idolatry of the Bible. Rather, they allege, the starting point should be something about God Himself. Yet the debate between Ehrman and Hays shows that “Christians” still do not agree about what should be the normative rule of the church. T4G wants to say right up front that the verbally inspired scriptures should be the final authority on all matters.

As long as the scripture’s substance is being called into question, statements like T4G will be necessary.

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