Thy Word is Truth: Thought on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration, by E.J. Young ★★★★★
This is not a so-called scholarly text. It is a set of 11 short chapters that I presume were originally lectures or sermons that Dr. Young gave regarding the issue of the inspiration of Scripture. In this short book, Young systematically attacks first the old German school of higher Biblical criticism and then segues into an attack on Barth, Brunner, and this school’s newer neo-orthodox position. Scattered throughout, Young constantly reminds us of what the orthodox position was until about 1800.
The fundamental theme is that either the Scriptures are the very words of God or they are not. If they are the words of God, then minor translation errors and minor scribe errors might be present, and translation will yield some differences in the rendering of various passages, especially from the old Testament. Under no circumstance will there be found fatal flaws, though there might be sets of passages that seem to be at odds. These so-called contradicting passages are few, and explanations could be offered that we simply don’t know. The contradicting passages do NOT warrant trashing Scripture or offering an explanation that is anything less than the full inspiration of Scripture.
I’ve always appreciated Dr. Young. I’ve heard a few of his lectures (on audiotape) and read a few of his books. He has stood as a true scholar of Scripture and is unwavering in his defense of the word of God. His arguments against the documentary hypothesis (that the Pentateuch is actually the product of 4-5 authors), as well as the claim that Isaiah is actually the product of 3 authors in differing time periods, still stand as a high point in the defense of the inerrancy of Scripture. You can’t have it two ways. The New Testament attests to the Old Testament. Thus, either Jesus, the apostles, and Paul were wrong, or the higher critics are wrong. It can’t be both ways. I’ll put my vote in for the NT authors as well as the words of God incarnate as found in Jesus Christ.
I had this book on my shelf for about two years before getting around to reading it. It was purchased from Amazon, and the price for a hard-bound edition is now too high to be affordable. It is a gem, and readable by anybody of any educational level. A clear-cut exposition of the inerrancy of Scripture should be read by all mature faithful Christians. Young’s text certainly fills the category of an inerrancy text that could/should be read.
The basic problem with the Tuebingen school was not in what they set out to do – establish the historical basis for scripture – but in WHEN they did it, a couple of decades before the dawn of ancient near-east (ANE) archaeology, and when Enlightenment sentiment was in fashion. What do brilliant minds do when intent upon finding answers to questions for which they lack sufficient data? They go into Rorschach inkblot-reading mode.
I would not go as far as Young in saying that scripture is “the very words of God” because that tends to suggest the dictation theory of inspiration, that God merely gave the biblical writers the text to write without their personal involvement. In that case, there God also then has the personalities of the writers. Paul’s writing style is nothing like that of Peter’s. Another problem is that as time went on, the understanding of the physical world changed. In OT times, it was believed that children inherited traits only from the father, but by NT times, they knew it was from both father and mother, and this difference appears in scripture. Consequently, the scriptures are God speaking through the minds of the writers, not bypassing them.
A more credible doctrine of inspiration – and perhaps Young had this in mind – is to attribute the influence on the writers to the Spirit of God. This is not quite as verbatim as the OT prophets saying “Thus says the Lord …” but it also does not undermine the reliability of the scriptures.
The inerrancy debate is another red herring because it ultimately degenerates into quibbles about epistemology. Good researchers learn to ask the right questions.
A further problem with some inspiration doctrine is the question of which text is inspired. The present Protestant selection of writings is a minimalist list, keeping to those from the core selection. However, against Luther, Revelation and James were included. The Catholic Bible keeps the OT Apocrypha, about a dozen more books that should be included because important hints are given (2 Esdras 13) in answering the question of where the Assyrian-deported Israelites went.
The early church did not seem to think writing selection was a burning issue to be resolved, and it was only a few centuries later that the RCC-dominated faction of the church made some political decisions about it. The early Christians included the Didache and Shepherd of Hermes. On the other end of the spectrum of extreme inclusion is Patrick Cooke of Berkeley, CA, who says that there should be 311 books in the Bible.
There is no simple way to resolve which books should be included, though criteria have been devised in the past for such decision-making. Then you must believe in the correctness of the criteria, which are extra-biblical, as much as the selected writings. Because there is no simple solution, we are forced to investigate and think for ourselves, something few do any more. Perhaps the doctrine of inspiration is not complete unless it includes how Spirit-inhabited minds can go about this activity of discernment.
Dennis; your thoughts are appreciated. The Tübingen School had a worse problem than you make out. It’s called unbelief. Just ask JG Machen or Francis Schaeffer. Young spends several chapters rebutting the dictation theory of inspiration: I’m not sure if that is even a prevalent theory any longer. I’m not sure what anything has to do with the ancient view of the physical world. In view of the infinity of God and the complexity of the world that he has created, we probably are not a lot closer to matters than that of Moses, Job, David, or Jesus. We are just a whole lot more arrogant about things. The canon of Scripture is another topic that wasn’t discussed by Young, and is an issue of its own.
The point about changing views of physical or scientific topics like genetic contribution to descent is that by the dictation theory, one could argue that God contradicts himself. However, if God communicates in whatever the current thinking is to those to whom he is communicating, then scientific or other side-issues are avoided in order to make the main point God is trying to communicate.
In more recent years I have come to realize that the Bible is a minimalist book. God does not set out in it to answer all the questions we would like to have answers for but only tells us what we need to know that gives us hints about what is important to know from and about him. However, the theologian has a “professional occupation” to elaborate – including speculate – on the meaning of scripture, and this leads to the kind of overreach you are referring to; some of it is arrogant. The worst kind of theological arrogance in my experience however comes from those in a sophomoric state, who know a little and insist on much more that they can support in any kind of rigorous way. Our ACC experience can provide multiple examples but are by no means limited to the ACC.