In this series I’m featuring an old argument by English theologian Lily Dougal that belief in the inerrancy of their canonical scriptures caused the Jewish apocalyptic schools from Daniel to John the Baptist to be dead wrong about the plan of God and his imminent action in Christ. (The Lord of Thought, 1922, p. 18ff).
Dougal sees the adverse influence of belief in inerrant scriptures to be threefold: moral, intellectual, and spiritual. My first post introduced the moral dilemma created by a principle which tends to equalize diverse texts of unequal moral value. The apocalyptic writers beheld the God of blessings and woes who had been written into the scriptures by the Deuteronomist, and turned around and ‘predicted’ a very predictable day of blessings and woes for the whole world. These would-be seers were unable to see the imminent revelation of a new truth – that God and the Christ of God were beings dominated by self-giving love for both saint and sinner.
The second part of Dougal’s argument moves from the moral to the intellectual realm and shows how the belief that the Jewish canonical scriptures were all-truth played its part in making a ruin of the efforts of these would-be prophets to correctly see and ‘call’ the Incarnation.
“The paradox created by contradictory statements, to all of which equal value must be assigned, creates mental confusion… The sacred scripture taught God’s love, but its history of the past was self-contradictory; the laws laid down in it were not consistent with each other” (p.18,19)
The idea is that the principle of inerrancy does not enhance but disqualifies and disables a believer’s god-given power of discrimination between fact and fiction, truth and error, good and evil. It disallows the right of faith to go out on a limb with a teaching that might change everything. Instead it magnifies the need to pay lip service to infallibility with energetic rationalizations and harmonies of the discrepancies and contradictions which inevitably arise among texts originating at different times in the history of Israel.
The eschatological schools might have benefited from an insightful cherry-picking of superior texts but were prevented by that fatal corollary to inerrancy which disallows intelligent eclecticism. And so they completely missed the singular truth that the coming kingdom was opposed to the majority viewpoint of the canon.
“Reason never quails before the realization that knowledge is inadequate, that there is more to know about the object of research than is, or apparently can be, known. It is only before contradiction that reason quails, and thus has always quailed and been unable to accept the God of an ancient and final revelation.” (p.39)
Great verb, ‘quail’ – perfect for depicting stunned inaction, human reason gone to hiding in the bush. In my third post I will say more about the flight from reason which so often belittles the religious mind unnecessarily, putting it in thrall to its own idols of infallibility.