Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Packer on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics

I was reading an article by J. I. Packer called "Encountering Present-Day Views of Scripture" (originally from a 1978 publication), in the book Honouring the Written Word of God: Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer Volume 3. I thought this quote was good regarding a common malpractice in hermeneutics because of a view of inerrancy. Genesis 1 being a particular flashpoint in relation to the creation-evolution/age-of-the-earth debates, as also OT prophecy as related to millenial views and the prospects of ethnic Israel and Judaism. If you don't read Scripture the same way as someone else, there can be too quick a jump to a charge or suspicion of doubting the trustworthiness, authority, or inerrancy of the Scriptures. Anyhow, here is the quote:
A warning should perhaps be voiced here against the psychological trap (for it is psychological, a matter of falsely associated feelings, rather than logical, a formal mistake in inference) of supposing that the confession of inerrancy involves a commitment to treat all narrative and predictive passages in Scripture as if they were written according to the conventions that would apply to ordinary English prose used today for these purposes, rather than the conventions of their own age and literary genre. Put thus, the mistake sounds too silly for anyone to make, but in fact it is made frequently: hence Pinnock's complaint that not enough care is taken to attach the necessary hermeneutical qualifications to inerrancy as an idea. And one can see how the mistake happens: people feel, sincerely if confusedly, that the only natural, straightforward way to express their certainty that the contents of Scripture are contemporary in their application is to treat Scripture as contemporary in its literary form. So, for example, Genesis 1 is read as if it were answering the same questions as today's scientific textbooks aim to answer, and Genesis 2 and 3 are read as if they were at every point prosaic eyewitness narratives of what we would have seen if we had been there, ignoring the reasons for thinking that in these chapters "real events may be recorded in a highly symbolic manner," and books like Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation are expounded in total disregard of the imaginative conventions of apocalyptic. But it does not follow that be-cause Scripture records matters of fact, therefore it does so in what we should call matter-of-fact language.

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