SCRIPTURE, TRADITION AND INFALLIBILITY, by Dewey M. Beegle; Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1973; 332 pp., $4.95. (Continued).
In our last article, we began a review of this book and promised to continue it in a further article. We think the book deserves lengthy review because it promotes a view of Scripture’s infallibility and inspiration which is increasingly influential in evangelical and Reformed circles.
The book is an open and unblushing attack on the doctrine of inspiration, inerrancy and authority. It repudiates the traditional view which has been held by the Christian Church, and substitutes a view which makes major concessions to the rationalistic higher critics of more modern times. The book does this, not because it is written from the viewpoint of modern, higher criticism, but because the author is convinced that the time has come for all the Church to abandon what he disparagingly calls a “Maginot-line mentality”; i.e., a position which, in the face of the evidence, can no longer be maintained.
We remarked last time that the author’s basic error is that he approaches his subject and examines the question of the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration from the viewpoint of the inductive method. He specifically repudiates the deductive method as an inadequate tool in his search for a doctrine of Scripture. By the latter (i.e., by a deductive method) is meant that method which inquires what Scripture itself teaches concerning its own inspiration and inerrancy. By the former is meant the scientific approach which takes into account all the available evidence garnered through a study of Scripture, of non-canonical writings, of the styles, habits, characteristics, etc. of the so-called secondary authors; and which, on the basis of this evidence, comes to a conclusion concerning the doctrine of inspiration, inerrancy and authority.
We characterized the deductive method as being the method of faith; while the inductive method is basically rationalistic. These two stand opposed to each other. One can learn the doctrine of Scripture, not by a rationalistic approach to God’s Word, but only by a faith which confesses that this truth is a part of the whole of the faith of the child of God. The battle in the defense of the Scriptures is a battle between faith and unbelief.
What are the views which the author develops in this book? We cannot, of course, treat them all; nor can we even treat the ones we discuss below in any kind of exhaustive fashion. But there are a number of points which ought to be made.
The first question is: Why does the author repudiate the historic view of inspiration? Why does he inveigh against the traditional conception of verbal inspiration, of inerrancy, and of absolute authority of Scripture?
There are several answers to this question. In the first place, proceeding from his starting point (the use of the inductive method) he concludes that the evidence does not warrant this. And that evidence is to be especially found in the fact that there are many discrepancies, self-contradictions, obvious errors in the Scriptures. A rather large number of these he treats — some of them in considerable detail. We shall not enter into this question in this review, chiefly because the author does not come up with any essentially new data; his “errors, discrepancies,” etc., are, for the most part, the same as those which have been brought up dozens of times over the years by others who have attacked Scripture’s inerrancy. And they have been adequately answered time and time again by scholars who have believed in the Scriptures as God’s inspired Word. It is only necessary to point out at this point that here is already an indication of how far apart the views of those who believe in the doctrine of inerrancy are from those who deny this truth. The author mocks those who take the position that any seeming discrepancies and self-contradictions are easily solved with adequate study or are, as of now, not yet capable of solution because all the necessary light has not been shed on the problem. The author claims this is merely refusing to face the issue in honesty. Nevertheless, this is precisely the issue at stake. One who adopts the so-called deductive method, i.e., one who comes to Scripture with the basic assumption of faith that Scripture will give us its own doctrine of inerrancy and inspiration, assumes that there are no discrepancies, errors and self-contradictions in God’s Word. This is an article of faith to him, and he approaches Scripture assuming that any kind of error is impossible. While the author mocks this position, it is nevertheless the position of faith, and we must not be ashamed of it. It is the inductive method which finds all kinds of errors because the approach is not of faith, but of reason. Edward J. Young, in his important book, “Thy Word is Truth” deals with this very matter. He writes: (p. 165)
The proper method of dealing with difficulties is not to dismiss them as positive errors, for if the Bible is indeed God-breathed, it follows that it must be true and infallible. To assume that God could speak a Word that was contrary to fact is to assume that God Himself cannot operate without error. The very nature of God therefore is at stake. If we assert that the autographa of Scripture contain error, we are saying that God is guilty of having told us something that is not true . . .
The approach of faith is the only proper approach to the Scriptures. Only the one who comes with humble faith will be able to hear the Word of God.
But there is one point which the author makes in his vendetta against inerrancy which is worth a bit of discussion. The author’s reasoning goes something like this. During 99% of the Church’s history, the Church has lived without an inerrant Scripture. This is true because of the fact that, if Scripture is inerrant, only the autographa are inerrant. (The autographa are the original manuscripts which Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, Peter, etc., wrote). These autographa have not been in existence for many hundreds of years. Hence, it is obvious that an inerrant Scripture is not necessary for the Church since it has lived without them during most of her history. Or, if it is necessary for the church to have an inerrant Bible, then we must conclude that all the copies made of the autographa, all the translations, all the various transmissions are also infallible. This argument seems, at first glance, to be rather plausible. And the fact of the matter is that everyone knows that we do not have the autographa in our possession any more; nor do we have that inerrant Bible which came, through men of God’s choice, to the Church.
But the author misses here a very important point. We readily grant that a translation of the Bible cannot be inerrant. We also readily grant that through innumerable copyings of the autographa various errors have crept in. But two points must be made. In the first place, every child of God who holds in his hand a reliable and accurate translation of the Bible may be absolutely certain that he has in his possession the Word of God. Though there be perhaps thousands of different “readings” in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of Scripture which are in our possession today, every Bible scholar knows that not more than a minute part of 1% of these various readings has any effect upon the sense of God’s Word or upon a point of doctrine. This is a marvelous display of God’s providential care of Scripture. And every Bible student knows that a translation, reliably made, while not infallible, brings to God’s people God’s very Word. On this there can be no dispute.
In the second place however, even though we readily admit that we do not have an inerrant Scripture today, it is of essential importance to maintain that the autographa were inerrant. Perhaps it is true that the Church herself does not need an inerrant Bible in order to know the Word of God. But one thing is true. The whole doctrine of the authority of Scripture stands or falls on the question of inerrant autographa. If the autographa are not inerrant, they are not authoritative. The authority of Scripture rests upon Scripture’s inerrancy. And while the Church does not need an inerrant Scripture, it desperately needs an authoritative Scripture. Thus, God’s Word is authoritative because it is God’s Word in all its parts and down to the very words. Take away the inerrancy of the autographa and you have robbed Scripture of its authority, for to the extent that Scripture is not inerrant, it is not God’s Word and has no authority of God.
We turn now to his view of inspiration. As far as the author’s general view of Scripture is concerned, he writes:
From the objective side of the issue, therefore, the gospel consisted of that collection of books and letters which were written (for various reasons) by the apostles and their associates as witnesses of the incarnate Christ. On the subjective side, the gospel was the experience of the presence of Jesus Christ made possible by the aid of the Holy Spirit at the hearing or reading of the gospel content. p. 112.
The Scriptures themselves were formed by various authors, scribes and editors who gathered traditions, historical data from various records, religious experiences of Christians, etc., and who incorporated them into the Scriptural records or who edited material, rearranging, rewriting, and reworking all the material which occupied their attention. The contents of Scripture are therefore due to all kinds of factors including the insights of the authors. This does not mean that the Spirit was totally inoperative in the work of Scripture, but his work is limited to a certain control of the central contents of Scripture.
In order to understand this, we must understand the author’s view of revelation. He distinguishes between what he calls primary and secondary revelation. He writes:
In summary, the purpose of the designation “primary revelation” is to highlight the fact that God made known to a few gifted people the basic insights concerning his redemptive purposes for his creation and his creatures. In the words, deeds, and death of Jesus, the Living Word, God made the ultimate disclosure of himself. With the interpretation of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension by his disciples and some of their associates the determinative history of God’s redemptive activity came to a close . . .
On the other hand, God worked through the rational capacity of his servants to draw out from the major insights such references and implications as were appropriate for the covenant community. Although secondary in development, some of these insights preserve the permanent quality and relevance of primary revelation . . .
Not all the insights of secondary revelation had permanent relevance, however . . . pp. 73-75.
In other words, primary revelation has to do with that which is “redemptive” in content, while secondary revelation has to do with interpretation, added data, etc. In connection with this, primary revelation ceased with the close of the apostolic age (p. 74), but secondary revelation goes on and continues even today.
In this connection, too, the author also distinguishes between primary and secondary inspiration. The former is connected with primary revelation; the latter with secondary revelation. Also the latter type of inspiration continues beyond the writing of Scripture and is to be found in valuable books which interpret Scripture, hymns and songs which the Church writes, etc.
This view of revelation and inspiration has all sorts of consequences. For one thing, the author argues for the multiple authorship of the Penteteuch and concedes, in certains respects, arguments to the higher critics. (p. 28.) He speaks of the fact that Matthew and Jesus both held different views of the inspiration of Scripture.
It is quite clear, for example, that Matthew is close to the rabbinical concept of inspiration. On the other hand, Jesus and Paul spoke with a unique authority that confounded their opponents and convinced their followers. There is a genuine difference in their understanding of inspiration and in the way they use the Old Testament. p. 131.
He concludes that all the copies, transmissions and translations of the Bible which have appeared over the years are just as inspired as Scripture is. (pp. 174, 175). He writes of Luke:
What distinguishes Luke from Christians today is not inspiration as such, but rather the unique period of revelation that he was privileged to witness . . . p. 258. He goes so far as to deny that God is the Author of Scripture: While Scripture claims unequivocally that God was the source of revelation and inspiration, it is interesting that nowhere does the Bible teach that God was its author. p. 203.
Quite naturally, such a conception has all kinds of serious consequences. There is a tendency in the book to deny some of the miracles. The miracle of the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, e.g., is a tradition inserted in the record by an editor. (p. 202.) There is also the rather natural consequence of raising scientific discoveries to a position of superior authority in relation to Scripture. (pp. 187, 188.) But most seriously, this whole conception leads to erroneous ideas concerning the canon of Scripture. The author argues against the canonicity of such books as Esther. He describes the canon as something flexible (pp. 262, 263), by which he means that there is room for the addition and subtraction of books in Scripture. He states that the apocryphal books have more value in some instances than the Scriptures:
Some portions of the apocryphal books appear to have greater worth than some sections of the canonical books . . . p. 260.
All of this, of course, means that one must separate the truth from error in Scripture by means of human judgment. (p. 282). But this only means that the author sets human judgment above the Scriptures, and ultimately, above God.
We have not treated all the data in this book, but our main concern is to demonstrate that the results of a rationalistic approach to Scripture, in distinction from the approach to faith, leads to the most serious consequences. The fact of the matter is that the inevitable results of such an approach is the loss of Scripture as the Word of God.
Let all this be a warning that we tamper with the truth of Scripture only at the peril of our soul’s salvation. The child of God comes to Scripture in faith and confesses that the Scriptures are God’s Word in all their parts before which he must bow in humble submission.