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Monday, December 12, 2011

Of ancient texts and modern historiographical standards

Getting Inerrancy Wrong | Parchment and Pen
Sadly, though, it is becoming increasingly clear (again) that even some of those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture have different interpretations of what inerrancy means. I believe in inerrancy. But maybe not how others define it. No I am not trying to redefine anything, but the fact is that when it comes to this issue there is a spectrum of belief in those who confess the doctrine. I am sure that there would be those out there who would see my view of inerrancy as a liberal compromise.
Inerrancy: the Biblical doctrine that says that the Scripture, in the autographs (originals), when interpreted correctly, is true in all that it teaches and upon which it touches.
My response (with minor editting and awaiting moderation):
When discussing inerrancy, one of the major pitfalls that people fail to avoid is judging ancient historical texts by modern standards of historicity. For example, Tony Woodman writes that Tacitus’ frequent use of of what Woodman calls "substantive imitation’... may sound scandalous to the majority of his modern readers, who evidently still regard him as a faithful historian[*], but that is because they fail to take account of the way in which ancient writers wrote history.... [A]ncient historians resorted to ‘substantive imitation’ far more regularly than is sometimes supposed" (from his essay in Creative Imitation and Latin Literature, pp. 152-153; emphasis added). Rather than utilizing a "just the facts" approach to recording history, the ancients were more interested in imitating the writings of past worthies and writing dramatic narratives- both which, they hoped, would make their writings more memorable. Thus, they saw nothing wrong with arranging events in achronological order or utilizing such rhetorical devices as mimesis (another word for Woodman’s "substantive imitation"), telescoping events, etc. as long as the basic facts were correct. Applying this to the biblical texts, it would be just as wrong to judge their historicity by modern standards as it would be to similarly judge the writings of other ancient historians.
* I’m not sure whether Woodman is implying that Tacitus wasn’t a "faithful historian" for failing to live up to modern standards of historiography. If so, I would argue that one would first have to show that the modern standards are somehow more accurate in recording history than the ancient standards before doing so.

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