Inerrancy and Worldview: Modern Challenges to Inerrancy (Part 20)

inerrancyCan language adequately and accurately communicate God to humanity? That’s an important question. Many philosophers, linguists, sociologists, Biblical scholars, and even Christians say “no”. But in answering that question they are often making assumptions about the nature of language. But we must ask, does their philosophy of language reflect what the Bible itself teaches us about language? If we assume that language has infinite meaning then we will indeed find it incompatible with the Scriptures.

Assumptions matter. That has really been the whole point of this series. The worldview we approach the Scriptures with will either make the claims of the Scriptures impossible or submit to God’s authoritative Word. Many students of the Bible and of language today have imposed a foreign worldview and an unbiblical concept of language onto the text of Scripture. In so doing they have made a preliminary determination that God cannot communicate to humanity. So Ludwig Wittgenstein has said that “the mystical” cannot be put into words. In the final section of his work Tractus Logico-philosophicus, which aimed at exploring the mystical, he writes a single sentence asserting that nothing can be said. Martin Heidegger also denies the possibility for attaining absolute truth via language. Language communicates “being” but every disclosure also brings concealment. In fact he goes so far as to say that if God were to reveal himself to us, if he were to give us absolute truth, he would rob man of his very existence. For the philosopher, to be human means essential to know that you do not know (see Being and Time and What is Metaphysik?) This philosophy of language, however, is full of holes.

For one it strikes me as rather absurd to suggest that language offers us ever infinite meaning. After all, what point is there in writing and arguing if your words can never actually be received, accepted, and understood? I remember reading Heidegger and Derrida in my undergraduate classes and being struck by their absurdity. My professor explained the impossibility of truth based on our ever-changing reality. By the time some means of communication reaches me the author has changed so significantly that those words no longer have meaning, and I have changed too. Add to that the reality that my context has changed and you have an insurmountable instability, making communication impossible. But in order to make this point, in order to develop this philosophy of language, these people have to use language. They are using language to make truth claims about language’s inability to communicate truth. It’s self-defeating absurdity.

Furthermore, the God who creates language gives us an entirely different understanding of it. There are some Christians or post-evangelicals who suggest that to say anything about God is to defame God. If you say anything with certainty about God you have diminished his worth and value. God cannot be contained, confined, or limited by your words and in attempting to say concrete things about him you are doing just that. God is bigger than your language about him. Of course, I readily concede God is bigger than my ideas and my words about him. But what about God’s ideas and words about himself, don’t those matter? The claim of the Scriptures is not that man has concocted an idea of God and written him into a box, but rather that God has revealed himself to man in language. A foreign philosophy imposed on the Scriptures will find the claims of its text unbelievable, but that’s because the Bible does not adhere to its assumptions.

If we are going to read and treat the Bible fairly we must judge it within its own worldview. The Bible claims that God is the author of language, the creator, the first speaker, and that he has made man with linguistic competency in order to communicate with Him and with others. The idea that meaning is infinite or relative is simply not consistent with the picture the Bible presents. God speaks to us of himself, makes claims about himself, and gives us language to do the same. Ultimately, we have said, that language images God. In that regard, it is communicates real truth to us. After all, Jesus says in words “I am the truth”.

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