Christological Inerrancy

Source: Apologia Pro Ortho Doxa

May 5, 2016


In order to have a coherent doctrine of Scripture, one needs to root and ground the Bible in a coherent doctrine of Christ. One often hears today that “the Bible is not the Word of God” because “Christ is the Word of God.” Popular as this sentiment is among Orthodox and Catholics, the Fathers taught otherwise. St. Basil the Great, for example, said that “whichever doctrine” was found to “conform to the word of God” is the correct one. St. Maximus the Confessor taught that the Logos was thrice-incarnate: visually in the world, textually in the Bible, and personally in Jesus Christ. In other words, the Bible is the perfect em-book-ment of the second person of the Trinity. Everything that God has to say has been said in Christ, and that has been communicated to us verbally in the Scriptures.

Why do we call Christ the Logos of God? We say that Christ is the Logos because of the doctrine of the divine energies. According to the Holy Fathers, the creation is what it is in virtue of a range of modes of participation in different sets of God’s energies. God’s energies are infinitely various. Just as we express who we are in activities, such as love, kindness, and mercy, so God expresses who He is by His energies. God’s energies interpenetrate each other, but they are not identical with one another. Furthermore, they are infinite. There are energies of love, justice, and mercy, but there are also an infinite amount of loves, justices, and mercies in God. Hence, there is an infinite potential for creativity in God.

This creativity was realized in the creation of the world. There are real distinctions between things in the world- red is not the same as the color blue, and blue is not the same as the color yellow. As with the divine energies, there are an infinite amount of blues, reds, and yellows. Each color has shades.This similarity is not accidental. It reveals something inherent in the structure of the world: objects instantiate different properties because they participate differently in different sets of God’s energies. We call these creative energies “rationalities” or “logoi.” Moreover, the Father always energizes through the Son. Hence, all of the logoi of the creation are summed up in the second person of the Trinity, whom we identify as the Logos of God.

This is what it means for Christ to be the Word of God.

But how does this relate to the Bible? In order to grasp this, we need to grasp the Orthodox understanding of synergy. Orthodox Christianity is vigorously opposed to monergism, the idea that salvation is effected by the activities of God upon a person. Instead, we believe that God energizes in a person. In the incarnation, the Logos of God assumed a human nature and communicated God’s energies to that nature. The incarnate Logos energized in humanity with divine energies. This makes possible the sharing of mankind in God’s energies. St. Paul understands this when he says in his letter to the Colossians that he “energizes with all the energy [God] powerfully energizes within me.” Or as he says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that is in me.” God’s energies become part of who we are. The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and energizes the energy of Christ.

Why the Holy Spirit? Orthodox Christians believe in something called the “energetic procession.” We deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds as regards His person from the Son. Instead, we believe that the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit in virtue of procession from the Father alone. At the same time, we affirm a unique, personal, and eternal relationship between the Spirit and the Son. In the act of proceeding from the Father, the Holy Spirit takes all of the Father’s energies and glorifies the Son by those energies. The Son receives those energies and sends them back to the Father. The love of the Father and the Son is eternally sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Paul refers to the Spirit as the “Spirit of the Son.” This is why it is the Holy Spirit who makes us sons. As the person who expresses the eternal paternal relationship of the first and second persons, the Spirit creates that relationship with us. We enter into the same manner of relation that the Son eternally enjoys with the Father.

Now, consider how this plays out in the eschaton. In the eschaton, all persons freely energize with the energies of God, and they do so perfectly. Their wills are perfectly conformed to the will of God, and their energizings perfectly correspond with the energies of God. Christ is the Truth because He expresses all of God’s truths, another way of speaking about God’s logoi. The logoi are summed up in the Logos, and the truths are summed up in the Truth. Two persons operate together in order to achieve glorification. Both operations are free. God needs to be operative through the Son and in the Spirit, and the human person must be operative as well.

Let’s consider how this applies to the Bible. St. Paul says that all Scripture is “breathed out by God.” It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We recall that the Holy Spirit eternally makes the Son present to the Father, and He makes us present to the Father as sons of God. The Holy Spirit therefore makes the Son, or Logos, present textually in the Scriptures. Yet, we also know that the Scriptures are a product of human authors. Peter Enns has used the analogy of the incarnation to explain what the Bible is. But Enns rejects inerrancy- and the logical consequence of this would be a highly problematic doctrine of the incarnation. Sin is not inherent to human nature. The Bible is a human book- but it is a glorified human book.

The authors of Scripture were fully present in the books they composed. It reflects their own literary style and selective choices. God is likewise fully present in the books of Scripture. The human operations of the biblical authors perfectly express the divine operations of the Holy Spirit. This is why it is perfectly correct to say that the Bible is inerrant- since Christ is the Truth, the Bible is completely true in all respects. This also means that authorial intent is relevant. The idea of authorial intent is sometimes understood as a Protestant evangelical idea, but it’s not. Since the operations of God operate in human persons, and those human persons act freely for a particular intention, the intent of the biblical authors reflects the intent of the Divine Author.

This is not to say that the human author was directly aware of every intention present in the book he wrote. God does not contradict the intent of the human author, but He can transcend it. For example, when Moses composed the book of Genesis and recorded the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, he did so with the intent to create a literary relationship between this story, the story of Noah offering sacrifice on a mountain, and the story of Adam falling into sin on a mountain. He thus reveals the typological relation of these stories. But the Divine Author transcends Moses’ intent in seeing that these types would be ultimately fulfilled in the self-offering of Jesus Christ on a mountain later in history. Hence, we thus affirm that the Scriptures conform to the intent of the original author but are not limited to that intent. When we see the whole tree in the book of Revelation, we can better understand the seeds present in Genesis.

Finally, we need to consider whether this means the Scriptures are perfectly historically accurate, as I believe they are. Some have argued that because moral evil in history does not conform to the energizing of God (which is the foundation for ethical truths), then events that really happened are not necessarily “true” in an ultimate sense. Hence, even when a person intends to compose history, that text can be true while not perfectly historically accurate. In the eschaton, all things will be made true, in that they conform with God’s energies.

I believe that this argument has two important flaws. First, it does not fully grapple with the biblical doctrine of God’s comprehensive providence. In Romans 9-11, St. Paul asks the question of how God accomplished His divine purpose for Israel, even though the majority of Israel has failed to believe. His answer is to draw on Jeremiah 18. In Jeremiah 18, God as potter is working at His wheel on clay, symbolizing Israel. The product of this clay is referred to as a “vessel.” This is not merely a work of art, a vessel is a tool. It is a tool through which something is performed. However, the clay resists the working of the potter and “spoils in the potter’s hand.” But this does not mean that the clay is useless to God- instead, God accomplishes His purpose through that same clay, but in a different way.

Paul therefore sees that every single Israelite has been the means of God’s fulfillment of His purpose, namely, to bless all the nations of the world. There are two portions of Israel. The portion that did not resist is the “remnant.” In Romans 11:16, they are the “root” onto which the Gentile “branches” are grafted, so that they might share in the nourishment of the olive tree. Likewise, they are the “dough offered as firstfruits” that sanctifies the “whole lump.” The Jewish remnant is a means through which God blesses the nations because the Gentiles are grafted onto historical Israel only by their presence. On the other hand, there is a mass of Jews which Paul calls the “rest.” They have “stumbled.” But, the Apostle says, their “trespass” means “riches for the nations.” According to Romans 7, as N.T. Wright has argued, Paul sees the trespass of Israel as recapitulating and focusing the trespass of Adam. All of the impurities and sins of the world become concentrated and intensified in Israel, so that Paul says the Torah was given to “increase the trespass.” With all the evil of the world being heaped up in one spot, Jesus Christ becomes the personal embodiment of the people of Israel, so that the Sin which is present there is “condemned in the flesh” of the crucified Messiah.

Hence, God accomplished His purpose through the free choices of every individual Israelite, but did so in different ways depending on their choice.

This can be applied much more broadly to develop a comprehensive doctrine of God’s providence. Solomon says that “even the wicked are for the day of judgment.” That is, God’s purpose of filling all things with Himself is fulfilled even in the wicked, but in a way which is unpleasant for them. In the incarnation, the Son communicated His energies to human nature, a nature shared in common by all persons. In the eschaton, those energies will fill all persons. For the wicked, however, they will energize against those energies. They will be eternally torn in two. This is why the Scriptures identify the curse of the covenant as being torn in two and left that way. Death in the Bible is separation, and hell is eternal self-division.

This is why the argument about the relationship of truth to evil is flawed. The whole of history is logosified, because God energizes through every human energy without exception. A historical event inevitably expresses the Logos, even if the human persons are energizing against God.

Thus, if the author intended to write history, then the text, inspired by the Holy Spirit to reveal the Son, is historical.

The second flaw of this argument is that it would imply that in the eschaton, no person is damned. According to the argument, if a person is energizing against the divine energies summed up in Christ, that is not “true” in the strict sense, because they are not manifesting the Truth who is Jesus. But we know that in the eschaton, all things are filled with God as He intended from the beginning of creation. If we accept this argument’s definition of truth, however, it is impossible that any person be saved, because they would be energizing against God and not realizing truth in that sense. Since universalism is false, as is taught in the Fifth Ecumenical Council, this argument must be false.

We therefore see that situating the doctrine of Scripture Christologically leads us to the doctrine of comprehensive inspiration. That is, the Bible is not merely inerrant. I can write an inerrant letter as long as I avoid mistakes. The Bible is more than that: the Holy Spirit operates perfectly in the human authors in order to express the Eternal Son, and that perfect operation is realized in the importance of all the details in pointing towards Jesus Christ. This is what some have called “interpretive maximalism.” All the details of the text are theologically significant, and this is because of what it means for the Bible to be a textual incarnation of the Logos. Understanding the way in which God’s energizing in the Son relates to human free choice allows us to see why the authorial intent must be significant, and why that which is intended as history must be recognized as historical. Comprehensive inspiration, thus, is more than inerrancy, but it necessarily implies inerrancy.

As a final note, though it is not the subject of this article, inerrancy is not a modern belief developed by Protestant fundamentalists. St. Augustine is very clear about the inerrancy of Scripture and what he means by inerrancy. He says that if he finds an apparent contradiction between two portions of the Scripture, he either assumes that he has A) misunderstood the intent of the author in one or both places or B) has read a mistaken manuscript. That latter point is especially interesting, because it has become popular to claim that the whole process of textual transmission is inspired in the same way that the original manuscripts were. In reality, though, the perfect co-operation of the Divine and human authors occurred in the production of the original manuscript, and not in its transmission. To be sure, God providentially oversaw the whole process of transmission in order to ensure that we retained the original text, but the providential oversight of transmission is not identical to its original inspiration.

I hope this article has helped you see how the doctrine of inerrancy is situated in Orthodox Christianity. Christology and inerrancy do not stand against each other, but naturally complement one another.

Thomas Hamilton3/10/2019 9:16 pm
Hi Mitch- in Acts 10 the Holy Spirit is poured on the Gentiles immediately prior to their baptism because it is a sign from God that Gentiles are to be fully included in the family. Nobody thinks that the sacraments of the Church actually limit God. God is free to do as He likes. The sacraments are the covenantally promised means by which God accomplishes what He does.
Mitch V Stasiuk11/4/2018 5:12 pm

I am trying to the Orthodox understanding of synergy.

My thought is as follows: there is no salvation for any human, without the indwelling Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul; he makes this very clear and simple in Romans 8:9 "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his".
Paul is essentially dividing humans into two categories: with the Spirit, and without the Spirit. So we agree that scriptures states that one does not belong to Christ without the Spirit of Christ.
Acts 10:47 Gentiles received the Spirit before water baptism or Lord's Supper.
Thank you.
Seraphim Hamilton8/8/2016 5:52 am
Dear Michael,

Christ's identity as the "Logos of God" is because all of God's energies are summed up in Him, as the Father always energizes in the Son. The best treatment of this is Lossky's "Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church." Myself, I have issues with the one-source model of revelation, where Scripture is one form of tradition among many. I don't think it accounts for the clear precedence of the Scripture, for example, and a major difficulty is that many of the Fathers simply do not speak in those terms. Instead, they speak of Scripture interpreted in and through tradition. St. Philaret of Moscow, in his Orthodox catechism, adopts the two-source model, as does Fr. Dumitru Staniloae in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. I have attempted to develop his insights into a fuller model of Scripture and tradition here:

The most substantial issue in saying that Scripture is "not the word of God" is that the Fathers of the Church regularly refer to it as precisely that.
Michael Scott Pennington5/27/2016 9:29 pm

I'm not sure I understand you. We call Christ the "Word of God" because He is God in Essence, as is the Holy Spirit. It is through Him that the energies manifest. This cannot be said of Holy Scripture, which is a form of Holy Tradition.
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