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“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” -Isaiah 40:81
At the beginning of his book, A Hill on Which to Die, the honorable Paul Pressler asked, “Why would a person give up personal comfort and ease to become involved in a distasteful and bitter conflict that would impact his entire life?”2 He answered, “Some people have difficulty accepting the fact that a person might simply have convictions which are so strong that he must stand for them.”3 For Pressler, these convictions are “the complete, absolute, total accuracy and integrity of the revelation that God has given us in His Book—the Bible.”4 “Believing this, I had no option but to stand for what I know to be the truth,”5 concludes Pressler. Pressler’s book, and therefore these statements, are the result of a battle that took place within the Southern Baptist Convention. The battle, according to Pressler, was over the authority of Scripture. He writes,
All Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted. Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), ix. Ibid. Ibid., 160. Ibid.
The issue was Scripture, not an interpretation of Scripture but rather the nature of Scripture. Is all Scripture given by inspiration of God, or is Scripture the work of humanity reaching up to conceive the idea of God? If Scripture represents the very words of God, then we are bound by all that Scripture says. If Scripture is the opinion of people who lived many years ago, we should weigh it as other opinions of people are weighed.6 Moreover, Pressler writes, “the issue [again] was not an interpretation of Scripture, but the nature of Scripture—the complete, absolute reliability of Scripture: the complete truthfulness of Scripture and—may I dare say—the complete infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.”7 This is what Pressler means by “nature of Scripture;” it is inherently true. According to Pressler, the “liberals”8 had a problem with the word inerrancy. “Inerrancy is a word that the liberals do not like because they have not yet been able to redefine it to give it a less than exact meaning.”9 One of these liberals, according to Pressler, is Russell Dilday. Pressler writes, Russell Dilday, former president of Southwestern Seminary, has tried to use inerrancy in a different way. He has talked about “inerrancy of purpose” rather than “inerrancy of the text.” This use of the phrase “inerrancy of purpose” implies that the purpose for which Scripture was written was true, but it does not necessarily mean that the entirety of the text is true.10 Dilday’s attempt at redefining inerrancy seems to rest in the hands of the individual’s interpretation of the text. If Scripture is experienced in its purpose, then inerrancy is exerted. This is why Pressler twice wrote, “the issue was not an interpretation of Scripture, but the nature
Ibid., 159. Emphasis added. Ibid.
A word used by Pressler in his book, A Hill on Which to Die, to describe those who did not see Scripture as being inerrant by nature. Today, the word is attributed by many SBC conservatives towards members of the BGCT.
Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), 159. Ibid.
of Scripture.”11 This is the issue that this paper seeks to examine, that is, the difference between “inerrancy of purpose” and “inerrancy of the text.” The word “liberals” here is used, generally, to describe current advocates of the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ view of Scripture (BGCT hereafter).12 This paper will define the BGCT, explain their beliefs regarding Scripture, and examine them in comparison to the philosophical theory of meaning known as Verificationism. Moreover, notable objections against Verificationism will be listed, and also illustrated, to show why the BGCT’s understanding of Scripture is unsound; especially when compared to the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention’s13 Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas on Scripture In their book, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write, “whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter.”14 Fee and Stuart continue, “That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent.”15 These statements encompass the critical issue embedded in the interpretation of any literature, but more importantly, within the interpretation of Holy Scripture. It is this issue that coerced the BGCT into developing a work entitled, Beliefs Important to Baptists, which includes information regarding the interpretation of Scripture. Beliefs
Ibid. Emphasis added.
When Pressler writes “liberals” here, he was not specifically referring to only the BGCT, only individuals within the BGCT who tried to manipulate the truthfulness of Scripture. The BGCT was still the most conservative of all the sub-conventions within the SBC at this time. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention did not yet exist. The Baptist Faith & Message is a statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. I used SBTC here purposely, because the convention specifically adopted the 2000 edition as their articles of faith.
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
Important to Baptist is published by an organization called Baptistway Press (BP hereafter). BP is an organization that is “made possible by gifts through the BGCT Cooperative Program.”16 This is to say that BP is dependent on the BGCT for its existence. It exists because of, and for, the BGCT. In a lesson entitled, The Authority of Scripture, the BP authors17 list the following points to define their beliefs about Scripture: • When that Christian comes to a personal experience with Christ through the Scriptures • When that believer understands the nature of the Bible and accepts its divine origin and authority • When that believer’s understanding of the Bible flows from accurate interpretation of the Word • When the believer understands and avails himself or herself of the living usefulness of Scripture18 The outline closes with the statement, “Allow the Spirit to make the Bible authoritative in your life!”19 When observing these beliefs, it is clear that each bullet presents an experiential reference for authority to exist. Some key terms include, “experience, understand, interpretation, and avail.” Moreover, the authors write, “Jesus, whose will is revealed in the Scriptures, constitutes authority. The Bible becomes authoritative when the Holy Spirit through Scripture makes Christ known in experience. The Bible will become more authoritative for you as you experience Christ through the Bible’s message.”20 In this description, the BP authors are again suggesting that the Bible is not authoritative apart from human experience. It only achieves supremacy “as you experience” Christ.
www.BGCT.org/Baptistwaypress (Mentioned on the runner of the website.) The authors are: Rosalie Beck, Bill Pinson, James Semple, and Ebbie Smith
Rosalie Beck, Bill Penson, James Semple, and Ebbie Smith, Beliefs Important to Baptists (Texas: Baptistway, 2001), 28.
These statements circumscribe the BGCT’s beliefs on Scripture. They follow well from Dilday’s statement; the “inerrancy of purpose.”21 For Dilday, Scripture only has meaning in its purpose, not in its immediate text. Purpose is defined as, “something (as a result) aimed at.”22 Another way of defining purpose is to say that it has “an intended or desired result, end, or goal.”23 Both definitions show the truth behind Dilday’s, and moreover, the BGCT’s, argument.24 Scripture can only be true when it is lived out. This is indicated well in the statement, “The Bible becomes authoritative when the Holy Spirit through Scripture makes Christ known in experience.”25
Theory of Meaning It is safe to argue, now, that the BGCT’s interpretation of Scripture depends on experience for meaning. There are, at the least, two ideas that are birthed from this proposition. First, the BGCT has suggested what philosophers call a “theory of meaning.” Secondly, this theory of meaning happens to mirror the philosophy of language known as Verificationism. In his book, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction, William Lycan writes, “That certain kinds of marks and noises have meanings, and that we human beings grasp
Ibid., 24. Emphasis added.
Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), 159. Further, this is compared to the conservative approach, which is “inerrancy of text.” Merriam-Webster, Webster’s New Dictionary of the English Language (New York: The Popular Group, 2002), 272.
Russell Dilday is considered by many as the leader of the “liberals” in the aforementioned Southern Baptist Convention Battle. Rosalie Beck, Bill Penson, James Semple, and Ebbie Smith, Beliefs Important to Baptists (Texas: Baptistway, 2001), 24. Emphasis added.
those meanings without even thinking about it, are very striking facts.”26 This statement is Lycan’s way of introducing theories of meaning. For Lycan, a philosophical theory of meaning “should explain what it is for a string of marks or noises to be meaningful and, more particularly, what it is in virtue of which the string has the distinctive meaning it does. The theory should also explain how it is possible for human beings to produce and understand meaningful utterances.”27 This is to say that in the act of interpretation, there exists a standard of rules for proper communication. In language, everyone interprets communication through the venue of at least one theory of meaning. Many times, this is done innocently, or, “without any knowledge of doing so.”28 As explained in the BP’s Beliefs Important to Baptists, the BGCT’s theory of meaning is that Scripture achieves meaning only when experienced. Of the many theories of meaning existent today, this interpretation identifies best with the theory of Verificationism.
Verificationism In his book, Language, Truth, and Logic, A.J. Ayer introduced this theory of Verificationism. Ayer proposed that a sentence is true “if and only if the proposition it expressed
was either analytic or empirically verifiable;”29 the key word being “empirical.” In the Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion, C. Stephen Evans defines empiricism as a, “Type of epistemological theory that, in contrast with epistemological rationalism, gives primacy
William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008), 1. Ibid.
I believe that the BGCT did not comprehensively choose Verificationism as a method of interpreting Scripture. When studying theories of meaning, it becomes obvious, however, that this is indeed the theory of language to which they interpret. 29 A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (New York: Dover, 1952), 5. Emphasis added.
to sense experience in the acquisition of knowledge.”30 This means that the thrust of Ayer’s theory is that meaning is derived from experience. Since Ayer is the founder of Verificationism, his definition serves the theory well, and can be considered acceptable. Lycan, in his text, elucidates Verificationism: According to the Verification Theory, a sentence is meaningful if and only if its being true would make some difference to the course of our future experience; an experientially unverifiable sentence or “sentence” is meaningless. More specifically, a sentence’s particular meaning is its verification condition, the set of possible experiences on someone’s part that would tend to show that the sentence was true (98). What Lycan means here is that a sentence only has meaning if its truth-value can make a difference in the future experience.31 Any sentence that cannot be verified by a future experience does not hold meaning. Every sentence’s meaning hinges on its verification condition,32 which is its potential of being experienced. It can be argued that Verificationism and the BGCT’s interpretation of Scripture both contain the same explanations for meaning. Both are founded on the idea that a proposition cannot be true unless it has an empirical potential to be made true. To reiterate, the BGCT defined Scripture as having meaning only, “when a Christian comes to a personal experience with Christ…When that believer understands the nature of the Bible…When that believer’s understanding flows from accurate interpretation…[and] when the believer understands and
C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 39. The motivation for Verificationism is meaning that makes a difference. For example, the sentence, “Could you tell if, one day, everything in the universe suddenly doubled in size?” has no meaning, because it is a “Difference that doesn’t make a difference.” Robert Martin, There Are Two Errors In The The Title Of This Book (Canada: Broadview Press, 1992), 4. (To avoid confusion, there are two “thes” in the title of this book.) A term used by Lycan in his construal of Verificationism. A verification principle is the proposition statement included in a sentence that determines if it can indeed by experienced, and therefore made meaningful.
avails himself to the living usefulness of Scripture.”33 Verificationism defines a sentence as true “if and only if the proposition it expressed was either analytic or empirically verifiable.”34 In both descriptions, meaning relies on experience, or potential experience, and therefore, it is safe to argue that the BGCT’s philosophy for interpreting Scripture coincides with the theory of Verificationism.
Objections It is important to note that some significant objections have been raised against the theory of Verificationism.35 In the following text, only the objections that best illustrate the discrepancy in the BGCT’s interpretation of Scripture will be listed. Each objection will be defined, and then explained in lieu of the BGCT’s interpretation of Scripture. The first, and most basic, objection was by the twentieth century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. “Wittgenstein would and did complain that the Verification Theory is yet another monolithic attempt to get at the ‘essence’ of language, and all such attempts are doomed to failure.”36 We will call Wittgenstein’s objection, (O1).
Rosalie Beck, Bill Penson, James Semple, and Ebbie Smith, Beliefs Important to Baptists (Texas: Baptistway, 2001), 28. Emphasis added.
A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (New York: Dover, 1952), 5.
35 Many objections have been raised against Verificationism. Since the purpose of this paper is to discuss the BGCT’s interpretation of Scripture, and not necessarily Verificationism, many important objections against Verificationism will not be mentioned in the body of the paper, but are still wothwhile to mention here. One major objection is that Verificationism entails preconceived notions, of which it does not claim. Lycan wrote, “Suppose we look at a given string of words, and ask whether or not it is verifiable, and if so what would verify it. In order to do that, we already have to know what the sentence says; how could we know whether it was verifiable unless we knew what it says?” (101). This is to say that every person has preconceived ideas about a sentence, even before the sentence “becomes meaningful.” Lycan illustrates, “To determine how to verify the presence of a virus, say, we must know what viruses are and where, in general, they are to be found; thus it seems we must understand talk of viruses in order to verify statements about viruses, rather than vice versa” (ibid.). To summarize, “if we already know what our sentence says, then there is something that it says” (ibid.). Furthermore, the question has been asked, “How does the Verification Principle apply to itself?” The conclusion to this question is that Verificationism is selfrefuting. These are two major objections against Verificationism as a theory of meaning. 36 William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008), 100.
Specifically, Wittgenstein saw Verificationism as only applying to “descriptive, factstating language.”37 The problem is, “descriptive or fact-stating language is only one kind of language; we also ask questions, give orders, write poems, tell jokes, perform ceremonies of various kinds, and so on.”38 This is to say that Verificationism fails to adequately suffice in giving meaning to a huge portion of language. Lycan correctly objects, “Presumably an adequate theory of meaning should apply to all uses of language. It is hard to see how the Verification Theory could be extended to cover [the rest of language].39 When applied to Scripture, (O1) is sound. Like language, Scripture contains more than just “descriptive, fact-stating language.” Many hermeneutical textbooks will separate “descriptive, fact-stating” Scripture, such as laws, from other categories of Scripture, such as parables, types, and prophecy. This is to say that most books regarding biblical interpretation tend to separate the historical books, parables, prophecy, types, and even allegories into separate chapters, because each one contains different interpretive challenges.40 The issue is, each verse of Scripture is not “descriptive” or “fact-stating” in the sense that Verificationism needs it to be in order for the verse to contain meaning. Fee and Stuart illustrate this objection well in their chapter regarding the interpretation of the Psalms. They write,
Ibid. Ibid., 100-101. Emphasis added. Ibid., 101
Bernard Ramm’s Protestant Biblical Interpretation, for example, a major book regarding interpretation, separates Types, Prophecy, and Parables into three distinct chapters, viewing each one as containing individual interpretive challenges. Furthermore, John O’Keefe and R.R. Reno’s work, Sanctified Vision, separates Typological and Allegorical interpretation into two distinct chapters. A third work, regarding biblical interpretation, that separates topics is the aforementioned How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. Their entire book separates Scriptural contexts such as Parables, Psalms, and Prophecy.
The problem with interpreting the Psalms arises primarily from their nature – what they are. Because the Bible is God’s Word, most Christians automatically assume that all it contains are words from God to people (descriptive, fact-stating language). Thus many fail to recognize that the Bible also contains words spoken to God or about God, and that these words, too, are God’s Word41 (parenthesis added). Fee and Stuart’s text illustrates the difficultly that the BGCT would have on giving meaning to the Psalms, and moreover, to any Scripture that is not a direct proposition (such as a law). Fee and Stuart write, [The Psalms] present us with a unique problem of hermeneutics in Scripture. How do these words spoken to God function as a Word from God to us? They are not propositions, or imperatives, or stories that illustrate doctrines, they do not function primarily for the teaching of doctrine or moral behavior.42 For Fee and Stuart, the Psalms “are profitable when used for the purposes intended by God who inspired them,”43 but how can this be the case for the BGCT? How can one experience something that is not about him, or directed towards him? I will give the BGCT the benefit of the doubt, and assume that there is an answer to this. Perhaps one can experience “in purpose” what David declared in Psalm 109 when he wrote, “O God of my praise, do not be silent!” (Psalm 109:1). Perhaps it is conceivable for someone to experience the same prayer, or the same claim, in order for Psalm 109 to obtain meaning. There arises, from this type of hermeneutic, some very questionable ethics in interpretation. These are included in the further objections.44 A second objection raised against Verificationism is what Lycan describes as, “[ruling] clearly meaningful sentences meaningless.”45 This objection is closely related to (O1), but is more specific. We will call this (O2). Lycan writes,
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 187.
Ibid. Ibid. Much more can be said here, but (O2) and (O3) will further the issues that could be argued here.
The Verification Theory leads to bad or at least highly controversial metaphysics. Recall that a verification condition is a set of experiences. The positivists meant such verifying experiences to be described in a uniform kind of language called an “observation language.”46 This “observation language” that Lycan mentions is the venue by which Verificationism interprets meaning. Since the individual must observe the experience,47 it becomes possible that “clearly meaningful sentences [can be] ruled as meaningless.”48 “For example, we are driven to a grotesquely revisionist view about scientific objects—the instrumentalist view that scientific statements about electrons, memory traces, other galaxies, and the like are merely abbreviations of complex sets of statements about our own laboratory data.”49 This is to say, that things that we cannot necessarily observe, become somewhat trivial. When paralleled with Scripture, (O2) is striking. Again, the objection is that Verificationism, as a theory of meaning and a theory of interpretation, can “rule clearly meaningful sentences (Scriptures) meaningless.”50 This is to say that, according to the BGCT’s beliefs on Scripture, it is possible that certain passages can be considered meaningless because they have not been experienced, or cannot be experienced. An example of (O2) can biblically be illustrated by the following example:
William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008),
There are many objections that can be raised against Verificationism on the notion of objection language alone. I do not go in to depth about these here, because they do not benefit the purpose of the discussion, which is to show how the BGCT’s hermeneutic fails, not Verificationism. Verificationism is the venue by which this is presented. (Some objections that can be raised include, subjective sense impressions, and directly observable characteristics, both of which present more problems within the theory of Verificationism.) Furthermore, “observe the experience” is to say, “experience the experience.”
William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008),
Ibid., 102. Ibid., 98. Parenthesis added.
Let’s suppose that many years ago, in the formation of the canon, the book of Revelation was an undiscovered document. Moreover, let us imagine that the book is still, to this day, undiscovered. The book does exist; it is just buried under mounds and mounds of dirt, and will most likely never be discovered. In the meantime, churches are built, sermons are preached, Bibles are studied, but the book of Revelation does not exist in the mind of any individual, because it has not been discovered. Forgetting for a moment the belief that God sovereignly guided the formation of the canon, and considering that the book of Revelation is still indeed the Word of God, the conclusion would be that the book has no meaning. Moreover, when the eschatological events began to transpire, there would be no way to measure whether or not they are meaningful, because the book had never been discovered, and the propositions had never been initially made.51 It is safe to argue that this is indeed the conclusion that a good BGCT advocate would promote. Moreover it seems philosophically logical.52 However, when stated propositionally, the problem becomes evident, at least in the realm of Christianity.53 For the sake of clarity, let us substitute the word truth in place of Scripture:54 P1: Truth exists P2: Truth is undiscovered Conclusion: Truth has no meaning55 The conclusion of this proposition is that “truth can fail to have meaning.” Still, I do not see any BGCT advocate having a problem with this statement. One would argue that it couldn’t have meaning unless it is experienced in some capacity, however, if this is the case, then theoretically, God Himself could fail to have meaning. Let’s state this propositionally, P1: God exists P2: God is undiscovered Conclusion: God has no meaning (or is not authoritative).56
At least to the current population. But, as we shall see, not necessarily logical within Christianity. Because this is the realm in which the BGCT claims faith.
Because even the BGCT would claim Scripture as God’s truth. This proposition is to be viewed only in light of Christianity. The Bible speaks truth, and purports truth. To suggest that truth exists, and at the same time to suggest that it has no meaning, is to argue against the very message of Scripture.
It is clear that from this proposition, God could exist, but lack meaning. Furthermore, God could exist, and His authority could lack meaning. In other words, if a man hasn’t experienced God, then he is free to do whatever he wants, however he wants, and nothing bad can be said of him. Furthermore, he could not be reprimanded for those actions. One could further argue that the Gospel itself could fail to have meaning. According to this theory, if no one has “experienced Christ,” then His death would be meaningless. In other words, God’s love for the world wouldn’t mean anything and He might as well have never sent His Son to atone for sin. When drawn out to its logical conclusion, it is evident that important biblical concepts begin to lose worth. This is a deadly foundation for any Christian to stand, and gives new meaning to the phrase, “a hill on which to die.” A third, and final, objection against Verificationism is that the theory causes sentences to become trivialized. Lycan described this objection when he wrote, “[Verificationism has the
potential of] assigning the wrong meanings to sentences that it does count as meaningful.”57 Following the numerical progression of the forenamed objections, this will be referred to as (O3). E. Erwin offered an argument to illustrate this objection. It was to show that every statement is potentially verifiable. Lycan writes, Suppose we are presented with a funny-looking machine that turns out to be a marvelous predictor. Namely, when one codes a declarative sentence onto a punch card and inserts it into a slot in the machine, the machine whirrs and clunks and lights up either “TRUE” or
The BP text uses the word “authoritative” to explain Scripture’s potential in one’s life. William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008), 98. Emphasis added.
“FALSE”; moreover, so far as we are able to check, the machine is miraculously always right.58 The illustration beckons the reader to consider an arbitrarily chosen string of words, S. “The following set of experiences would suffice to raise S’s probability to a drastic degree: 1 We code S onto a punch card. 2 We feed the card into our machine 3 The machine lights up “TRUE.”59 The objection continues, (And remember that the machine has never once been wrong.) Thus, there exists a possible set of experiences that would confirm S, even if S is intuitively gibberish. And S’s own particular verification condition would be that, when it is coded and put to the machine, the machine lights up “TRUE.” Thus the Verification Theory is trivialized, since every string of words is verifiable, and it assigns the wrong meanings to particular sentences (because very few sentences mean anything about punch cards being fed into infernal machines).60 All of this is to affirm Lycan’s objection that Verificationism holds the potential “to assign the wrong meanings to sentences that it counts a meaningful.” He, however, ends this objection with doubt: “Something is wrong with [this] argument. But I have found it very hard to say exactly what.”61 I am not so sure that there is much wrong with Erwin’s argument, I just think that there may be a better way to illustrate it. I will attempt to do so with the following illustration. Noah Lemos is the author of, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge. In this book, Lemos describes a brief two and a half-page essay written some years ago by Edmund Gettier. The description was included to illustrate the wrong meaning (or conclusion) to a true statement,62 particularly in the branch of knowledge.63 Lemos writes,
Ibid., 104. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.
S knows that p=Df. (1) S believes that p. (2) is true, and (3) p is epistemically justified for S. Smith and Jones have applied for a certain job. Smith has strong evidence for the following proposition: (d) Jones is the man who will get the job and Jones has ten coins in his pocket. Let us suppose that Smith’s evidence for (d) is that the company president has assured Smith that Jones will get the job and let us suppose that Smith has only minutes ago counted the coins in Jones’s pocket. Let us suppose that from (d), Smith deduces: (e) The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket. So, Smith is justified in believing (d) and deduces (e) from (d). Smith is therefore justified in believing that (e) is true. But now imagine that unbeknownst to Smith, he, not Jones, will get the job, and also, unbeknownst to Smith, he has ten coins in his pocket. So, (e) is true. In this example, all of the following are true: (i) (e) is true. (ii) Smith believes that (e) is true, and (iii) Smith is justified in believing that (e) is true. But clearly Smith does not know that (e) is true. It is a matter of luck or sheer coincidence that Smith is right about (e).64 The purport of this illustration is to typify the objection raised by E. Erwin, and generalized by Lycan, when he wrote, “[Verificationism has the potential of] assigning the wrong meaning to sentences that it does count as meaningful.”65 In this scenario, Smith had the justified true belief that the man with ten coins in his pocket would receive the promotion, and that this man was Jones. This sentence had meaning to him, and according to Verificationism, it was true. However, as the illustration goes, the man with ten coins in his pocket did receive the promotion, however, it was not Jones, it was Smith. In other words, the wrong meaning was given to a meaningful proposition. I believe that this is the objection that Erwin was trying to communicate.
Or, in this scenario, a statement with verified meaning.
More specifically, this essay was an attempt to show how justified true belief can sometimes lead to a wrong conclusion.
Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 2007), 23. William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: a Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008),
When applied to Scripture, (O3) presents another major concern. The objection states that Scripture can have a multitude of differing, and opposing, interpretations. The heart of the objection is that one individual can claim an experience from Scripture that directly opposes another individuals. This is especially dangerous because the truth of Scripture is taken away from an infallible God and placed into the hands of fallible men. Scripture can mean what we want it to mean, at any time, and in any sense, just as long as we have experienced it in our own way. This is a clear violation of the law of non-contradiction, which states, “A cannot be both B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.”66 (O3) can be illustrated in the Gospel of John, when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Since meaning is in the hands of the interpreter, this Scripture could mean a multitude of things to anyone, at any time, and in any sense. Here is a possible list of meanings, depending on how one experiences it: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. The Bible came from God in the beginning, and is God. The Bible came from God in the beginning, and was God, but no longer is.67 Jesus was in the beginning with God, and was God, but no longer is God. Jesus existed in the beginning, was with God, and is a god. Jesus was in the beginning, was with God, and is God.
There are many more interpretations that could, and have, been suggested by faiths and individuals throughout history. The issue here is clear. Scripture can mean one thing to person A and something entirely different to person B, but as long as persons A and B experience it in their own way, it has meaning in that sense as it relates to them. This is a disturbing exposition,
Ronald Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) 194. The first two propositions are purposefully ridiculous. This is to show the dangerous notion that Verificationism promotes.
and contains the potential to claim interpretational heresies such as universalism68 and polytheism.69 (O3) reveals that this kind of hermeneutic eerily reflects the philosophy of postmodernism. Evans defines postmodernism as “an uncertainty of human knowledge.”70 One of the most influential postmodernists to ever live is arguably Jacques Derrida. Derrida developed the postmodern theory of meaning known best as Deconstructionism. In his book, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, John Caputo defines the philosophy as follows: The very meaning and mission of deconstruction is to show that things – texts, institutions, traditions, societies, beliefs, and practices of whatever size and sort you need – do not have definable meanings and determinable missions, that they are always more than any mission would impose, that they exceed the boundaries they currently occupy. What is really going on in things, what is really happening, is always to come. Every time you try to stabilize the meaning of a thing, to fix it in its missionary position, the thing itself, if there is anything at all to it, slips away. A ‘meaning’ or a ‘mission’ is a way to contain and compact things, like a nutshell, gathering them into a unity, whereas deconstruction bends all its efforts to stretch beyond these boundaries, to transgress these confines, to interrupt and disjoin all such gathering.71 This is all to say that the BGCT’s hermeneutic of Scripture gives the interpreter a power that he is ill-equipped to wield. Scripture can be anything anyone wants it to be, at anytime, and in any sense. It can change meaning from day to day, depending on how you experience it. This kind of interpretation destroys the very essence and trustworthiness of Scripture. Each objection, when applied to the BGCT’s hermeneutic of Scripture, reveals that Scripture can mean anything to anyone at anytime. For the BGCT, Scripture has the potential of containing meaning, or being authoritative, however, it needs man to manifest that abeyant.
The belief that all men are under the consideration of Gods love, and that everyone will go to heaven. The belief that there are many gods.
C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 95. 71 John Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell (New York: Fordham, 1997), 31.
The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 There exists, on the other spectrum of interpretation, a Texas convention that, instead of believing in Scripture as inerrant in purpose, believes that Scripture is inerrant in text. This convention is part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC hereafter) and is known as the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC hereafter). Like the BGCT, the SBTC has a statement of faith regarding Scripture. Adopted from the SBC, this statement of faith is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M hereafter). Article I of the BF&M is entitled The Scriptures, and reads, The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.72 Douglas Blount and Joseph Wooddell co-edited a book regarding the BF&M. In this book, every article contained in the BF&M is expounded. Joseph Wooddell represented Article I, which is The Scriptures. He writes, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 rightly refers to Scripture as holy, inspired, perfect, divine, true, trustworthy, the supreme standard; it also strongly implies that Scripture is inerrant (“truth, without any mixture of error”). The Baptist Faith and Message 1963 referred to the Bible as “the record of” God’s self-revelation to man (emphasis added). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 refers to Scripture simply as “God’s revelation.” [Both versions] state that the Bible has “truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter,” but the 2000 version alone concludes from this that “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.”73
Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Article I. The Scriptures.
Douglas Blount and Joseph Wooddell, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2007), 1.
Wooddell does well at outlining the foundational difference between the BGCT and the SBTC.74 While both conventions use the word “inerrant,” only the SBTC sees it as referring to the actual text, rather than its purpose. He further writes, “That the Bible is inerrant simply means that it makes no false—and thus no contradictory—claims. If the Bible makes an affirmation, then that affirmation is true.”75 This is to say that Scripture is truthful, authoritative, and meaningful as it is, and does not require the experience of man to achieve these attributes.
Conclusion To conclude, it is safe to argue that the BGCT’s theory of interpretation reflects the nature of Verificationism. Verificationism experiences many powerful objections. When these objections are applied to Scripture, the result is nothing short of a contradiction of the nature Scripture itself claims. The Psalmist has declared, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). For the BGCT, the question must be asked, “How can God’s word forever be settled if it needs man to manifest its meaning?” The BGCT’s view of Scripture is nothing short of mistrust toward God. Their anthem is that they must, in some capacity, experience its purpose in order for it to have meaning. The SBTC sees Scripture as being inerrant as a text, and therefore, being meaningful, trustworthy, and authoritative regardless if man experiences it or not. Wooddell summarized this idea well when he wrote, “If an inerrantist sees what looks like a false statement in Scripture, he gives the text the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he either does not have all the information necessary to judge the claim at issue or
The BGCT’s articles of faith have remained founded in the 1963 version of the BF&M.
Douglas Blount and Joseph Wooddell, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2007), 3.
has failed to read the text correctly.”76 Furthermore, “Affirming biblical inerrancy thus involves giving Scripture the benefit of the doubt over any would-be competitors.”77 This is an affirmation of Scripture that truly is a “hill on which to die,”78 and is conclusively the best understanding of God’s holy Word.
Paul Pressler, A Hill on Which to Die (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), 160. This is Pressler’s final statement in his chapter entitled, The Heart of the Issue.
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