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Biblical Inerrancy: A Discussion
Comments by Stephen Kaufman - 5 December 1999
First, I want to thank Maynard for his excellent post today. It articulates well the different positions one might take regarding inerrancy, and some of the difficulties posed by these positions.
It seems to me that my position, which doubts Biblical inerrancy, may be compatible with Frank's experience. I take the Bible as reflecting received wisdom, with some of the less-universal material filtered out over the ages. It, like many other "sacred" texts, is "true" in the sense that it reveals great insights into the human condition and humankind's relationship with the cosmos. Consequently, people like Frank (and I) find that it speaks to us. I think that one reason that the Bible seems to fails to speak unequivocally about difficult moral issues is that they become difficult precisely because they exist at human motivational "points of tension." For example, we see the Hebrew notion of a tribal God at odds with the universalist ethos of the later prophets. The tension here is between the desire of people to identify with a smaller group of blood-relatives, and the recognition that we share so much in common with all fellow humans. So, on the one hand, the Hebrews (self-servingly) believed that God wanted them to kill all the Canaanites and other peoples who inhabited lands that God promised to them. At the same time, we see passages that suggest compassion and concern for all people. Similarly, relationships with nonhuman animals is a "tension point." On the one hand, many have recognized nonhuman animals' ability to suffer, prompting compassionate people to encourage mercy. On the other hand, the economics of the day required animal exploitation for farm work. So, the Bible gives us conflicting messages about our duties to nonhumans.
I am also reminded of the story of Job. I see little reason to take this story as historically true. It is a morality tale and, as such, reveals great wisdom. That wisdom deals with the question of why we suffer. Here, at least one point of tension is between the egotistic sense that "I am special" and the recognition that I am fundamentally similar to everyone else. I see many other Biblical narratives as serving a similar function of exploring unanswerable paradoxes of the human condition.
From an animal liberation perspective, it is probably important that animal advocates demonstrate that their position is not incompatible with a Bible taken as inerrant, since so many people take this stance. Ultimately, I wonder whether using the Bible as a framework for a spirituality that embraces nonviolence and rejects victimization has the most potential to liberate animals from human oppression and to liberate the human oppressors from the alienation that invariably accompanies oppression.
In Christ's peace,
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