This morning Aaron Armstrong at Blogging Theologically responded to my question about Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.
Specifically, he asked if it matters if Paul didn’t write them, and answered with a resounding, yes!
In his words,
“if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, is that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.”
Now I appreciate Aaron’s response, and he may be entirely right in arguing for Pauline authorship [in his post he points to some important evidence], but this is what worries me about the whole inerrancy discussion – it works in the wrong direction.
By that I mean too often inerrancy starts with an assumption about what a text without error must look like, and then insists we find the Bible to be that sort of book: so that an inerrant text must not include pseudonymous writings (The Pastoral Epistles), or multiple authors over a span of many years (Isaiah), or science that is reliant on the cosmology of the Ancient Near East (Genesis).
This seems like an inherently problematic approach, because if one day we find the Bible is not the sort of book we have insisted it must be, we are forced to, in Aaron’s words, “throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.”
If we are going to speak of the Scriptures in terms of inerrancy, better to start with the text, ask the difficult questions, and then define inerrancy around the Bible we actually have instead of the hypothetical Bible our system demands.