Thursday, November 13, 2008

Job as Literature 3: Inerrancy and Poetic Language

I just thought I would raise an interesting issue with the book of Job that should help us think a little about how we read the Bible. I'll start by affirming up front that I believe strongly in Biblical Inerrancy. Now the problem with such a term is that it has to be understood and people who like to use Straw Men characterizations of Christianity love to take a book like Job and attempt to make the idea of Inerrancy look stupid. 
For example, in the book of Job we have speeches and conversation that take place and I think we should think of them as true, accurate representations of what actually happened. But interestingly, all of the conversation take place in the form of poetry. Now, the last time I checked, five guys sitting around talking about suffering and evil do not do so in Iambic Pentameter off the cuff. So, some would suggest, then we must give up the idea of Inerrancy because the book represents the speakers in a way that did not actually take place. I would argue that we imply must define what we mean by inerrancy, because it is only a word meant to capture what we actually believe about the Bible. 
So what do we believe about the nature of the Bible? The question we are dealing with in regards to inerrancy can help us clarify what we believe about scripture and help us in interpreting and understanding the scriptures. The idea of the incarnation of Jesus provides what I think is the best rubric for also thinking about scripture. In the person of Jesus we believe that the very nature/word of God took on human form and became flesh. God who is transcendent stooped himself to human forms and revealed himself in the clearest way possible, Jesus. The person of Jesus did most completely, what the scriptures also serve to do. They bring the divine word and truth into human forms. Therefore, words that find their ultimate source in the nature of God, take on human forms to reveal God in the midst of human, experiences and issues. The book of Job has a very human form of dramatic poetry, which is used as a vehicle to unleash God's wisdom in our heart. Now when we read dramatic poetry of the biographical sort that Job is, we would expect the poet to represent the conversations in a truthful manner, but we most certainly would not expect the writer to pass along word-by-word journalistic reporting of the type we might see on FoxNews or in a court report.  Language exists in context and form, and discovering the context and form is part of our task in studying and understanding the scriptures. Doing this will help us avoid the error of quoting a statement one of Job's friends makes about God as though it is meant to be understood as a true statement about God, rather than understanding that what is true abut the statement is that it represents what the friend actually said. In the next post I will show an example of what happens when we ignore the work of understanding the human form that God has placed his words into.


beckers said...

colby, is it possible that the book of Job could be nothing but a story? kinda like the parables that Jesus told?

and i know that this probably makes no sense, and you may have answered this... any who, you know how we sometimes misconstrue what others say, i wonder if it is possible for the writer to have miss-represented what the friends said or how they said it. like how if i was ever telling you a story of my day and i over exaggerate the details of what happened, could that have been possible for this author if it is a true story.

if i make no sense, then ignore...

beckers said...

now that i am reading the comment i just left i see that it doesnt realate at all, except for that first ignore the big paragraph

beckers said...

ignore all together, i just read the comments on your job 2 b