Material errors in Scripture

Thesis: Scriptural inerrancy demands the total absence of formal error. 

So belief in scriptural inerrancy demands either that alleged errors either be (a) not errors at all or (b) errors materially and not formally.

So take this:

MT 1:16 Jacob was Joseph’s father.
LK 3:23 Heli was Joseph’s father.

If “father” in both means the source of Joseph’s Y chromosome then there is an error in Matthew and/or Luke and some error is necessary.

The word “father” has other meanings too, like “the man married to my mother”, and on this meaning the an error is certainly still possible but no longer necessary. This sort of action seems to be as far as the “attempts to resolve the contradictions in scripture” ever go.*

But assume Jacob was in fact Joseph’s biological father and Luke meant to speak of Joseph’s biological father, and failed. Now what? It helps to start with an account of inspiration:

(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

From this the move to inerrancy is immediate:

The text of scripture contains all those things and only those things God means to reveal as true.

God cannot reveal error as truth.

Therefore scripture is inerrant.

Keeping with our assumption that Luke made a mistake about a historical fact requires that an error be materially part of what God meant to express, but we need additional assumptions for the error to be formal, though all assumptions amount to a denial of scriptural inerrancy.

The question of why God uses material error falls under the same inquiry of how God uses any evil, making it a branch of theodicy. One of the open questions in theodicy would be the extent to which we can assign concrete reasons for why God does what he does, and no one thinks our ability to do this is total.


*Another attempt of the same kind would be to attribute the difference to the manuscript tradition, though for the purposes of the taxonomy in this post this would count as an absence of formal error.




Mary, mother of prayer

Luke tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that he “carefully examined everything [about Christ] from the beginning” in keeping with “the testimony handed down from the first eyewitnesses.” Since the only common witness in all the testimony about Christ’s early life is the Blessed Mother, and many of the details could have been known only to her, it makes sense that she was the chief eyewitness alluded to. If this is right, it makes Mary the source of an extraordinary number of prayers.

Mary would be the source of the chief prayer said in her honor, since the words of the Hail Mary were known only to her (Luke 1: 28 and 34). She is the source for her Magnificat that is said every day at Vespers (Luke 1 : 46-55), for Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis said every night at Compline (Luke 2 : 29-32), and for the Benedictus sung every morning at Lauds (Luke 1 : 68-79). She’s the source for the Gloria (Luke 2 : 14) that is sung at all masses outside of the penitential seasons.

If we include that the first revelation of the Trinity is a Marian revelation, then in a certain sense all Christian prayer is Marian, since it continues the tradition that begins with her and was handed down by her:

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1 :35



Response to an objection to the First Way

Objection: The from any given motion, the First Way only proves a mover that is unmoved with respect to that motion, e.g. in the motion of changing color the first mover does not change color, in falling it doesn’t fall, in ripening it doesn’t ripen. A first mover of this type is clearly not what anyone would call “God.”

Response: This is a great example of the fallacy of secundum quid and simpliciter. The First Way starts with motion simpliciter and not as restricted to falling or freezing or ripening. Let motion as such have its typical textbook meaning of change over time and the First Way proves the first mover causes change in time without changing in time. Such a mover is more fundamental than any conserved quantity in the physical science, and causes changes in spacetime without being circumscribed by it; it accounts for a causal history without being a historical actor, and this is what everyone calls divine.

The First Way can be modified to give us the subject of physical sciences. All we have to do is speak about motion as caused not simpliciter but by something in motion, and whatever is/are first in this order will be fundamental to physical science. In virtue of their proximity to the first mover, these physical causes will be more existent in virtue of being more eternal.

The Fourth Way (pt. 2)

The per se and first is that which is what is responsible for what is not per se and first.

But responsibility is formally not in accidents but the substance that acts by the accident or possesses it as an attribute.

So the per se and first is substance.

But there is a substance not good per se and first (I am one, since I can become better and worse. Any horse is another for the same reason.)

So there is some substance that is good per se and first. The substance would be good by definition, in virtue of its substance and not some inherent attribute.

And this is what the Fourth Way calls “God.”


New look at Fourth Way

(It’s my fate to find another one every time I teach it, and be convinced I’ve finally seen the solution. Of course, this latest account is the definitively correct one.)

Hypothesis: when St. Thomas talks about things that are more and less good, true, noble (GTN) in the Fourth Way, he first means say, a man that can be more or less virtuous, a car that can be more or less reliable, a patient that is more or less healthy. He’s not comparing diverse subjects, but one subject that can be more or less perfect.

Why does this matter? Because it’s self-evident that when one and the same thing can be (i.e. is potential to) more or less good that there is a form (the act of the GTN) and what is potential to the form (the subject of act and privation.) Therefore, what can be more or less GTN is not such essentially but contingently, either as an accident or substantial form more or less perfectly in matter.

What is not such by essence is caused by what is. Whenever A is B, this is either per se and first, or the reason A is B is because some X is B per se and first. If being a falcon is not first of all what it is to fly, there is something that flight is per se and first, and falcons fly in virtue of this. If being fire is not what it is to be hot, there is something that is heat per se and first, and fire is hot in virtue of this.

Therefore, there is something GTN per se and first. This is a non-composite being that is supremely GTN, and this is what all call God.

The per se and first of “flies” and “hot” enter into composites, but the per se and first of GTN cannot since it is precisely as composite that they are not per se and first.


Merit vs. penal substitution

-In one sense it is undeniable that Christ died as a punishment, namely that he didn’t die of cancer or a vendetta but by execution at the hands of civil authorities.

-This same sense of punishment can also be spoke of as willed by God as even evils fall under God’s permissive will. The saints accept all their sufferings as God’s will in this sense, and so Christ too will accept punishment as willingly as he would accept dying of cancer or an accident.

-Christ’s death taking away a punishment upon the human race that did not simply reduce to God’s permissive will.

-But the theory of penal substitution adds to this that God’s willing Christ’s death was not an act of permission but of commission, meaning that God did not just allow it to happen but deliberately intended it. This changes things utterly, since allowing evils is not necessarily evil but committing evils is.

-It makes no difference if one stipulates that Christ was declared guilty as a legally constructed person or a stand-in for guilty humanity, not just because this action would not require Christ to be innocent or even human (why not declare a ship, cow, or criminal as such a person?) but because this legal fiction is itself obviously unjust, even if Christ were willing to play along with it.

-Christ was not punished by God as penal substitution demands, and in fact God did exactly the opposite. It is one and the same justice that demands that the guilty have something done to them against their will that demands the innocent who suffer willingly and for God’s sake merit even more of what they will. It is one and the same divine justice that contradicts the will of those who trespass against the divine law (by a punishment causing suffering) and superabundantly fulfils the will of those who suffer willingly for God’s sake (giving them merit that extend to all that their will extends to for God’s sake).

-Christ’s will extended to all human beings by perfect charity, and it is only this charity in his will that saves us. Christ’s offering of his sufferings out of love for us who are his Church while in the state of grace and union with God is precisely what saves us.

-Christ merited salvation for his Church, and merit is the contrary of punishment. Punishment is imposing something contrary to the will of an offender since the offender extended his will too far; but Christ’s merit was his loving acceptance of what was contrary to his will. Divine justice contradicts the will of sinners for the same reason he gives merit to those who lovingly accept what is unjustly imposed on them against their will. He who humbles himself will be exalted, and he humbled himself… accepting even death on a cross, and for this reason God exalted him and gave him the name above all other names, etc.

-So Christ meriting salvation is the contrary of him taking our punishment in the mode of penal substitution, so we’d expect an a priori denial of merit, even of Christ, as disposing us toward a penal substitution theory.

How is an unmoved mover unmoved?

An unmoved mover is unmoved (an act without potential) in all these ways:

1a.) It is not acted upon by what it acts on. It is not like a fist that get injured by the wall it punches. This sort of interactive motion, which is the heart of Newton’s third law, is motion per accidens. 

1b.) Because it this it cannot be part of a system.

1c.) Because of this it cannot move relatively, that is, it cannot be taken as a fixed point from which other things recede.

1d.) Because of this it is the only mover in its own order, since multiple things in one order ipso facto relate to each other.

2a.) It is not in time, since being in time required a real potency to being at that time. A present time with no potency in the past or to a future is a contradiction, like the North Dakota/South Dakota border without either state. So too, temporal beings are of one temporal order.

2b.) It is not spatial, since spatial beings are in one order.

3.) It is non-impedible, since if A can be impeded by B then B’s non-impediment is a necessary but per accidens cause of A working. So if I couldn’t eat cereal while someone was shooting at me then my eating cereal is dependent on someone not shooting. Again, if something becomes impossible by an external circumstance, then the external circumstance is a cause of its real potency. The only thing that is fully non-impedible would have to be able to give rise to the existence of anything acting in the order where causes can be impeded.


In heaven and under the earth

The damned are more perfect than us in certain respects, one being that they have immediate and total certitude that God is final end of human life and that whatever turns us from him gives everlasting regret, sorrow, and torment. Of course the blessed souls know this too – it is only we viatores that wonder and dispute about what makes us happy and whether we need Christ to be so.

The existence of viatores is a burning fuse concluding to when every individual that is, was or will be has immediate and absolute certitude that God is the supreme fulfillment and the sole end of creation. God will indeed be all in all, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, but the confession is made both in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that is, by angels and men, blessed and damned.


Orthodoxy, C. II

The second Chapter of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is an extended critique of the modern postulate that success requires believing in oneself. It’s amazing to notice that we still take this as axiomatic over a century after Orthodoxy was written. Chesterton is seeing something deeply structural, popping up everywhere from action movies and the plot of Dumbo to universally implemented school curricula to promote self esteem.

The justification for self esteem is usually to present it as the only alternative to self-loathing, but it’s pretty clear that believing in oneself involves more than this. The climax of Dumbo, for example, is not when the elephant stops hating himself but when he discovers within his own being a power to do the impossible and achieve his goals. To think that we have this power within ourselves directly contradicts the Gospel: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5, cf. Jn. 9:33) Obviously, it’s not that the person without Christ is suddenly paralyzed or unable to think, but that he “does nothing” because his actions are in vain, like when we drive to the store, find it closed, and realize that our actions were all for nothing. Without Christ, the journey of our life can’t be toward the happiness we were created to have.

The Gospel demands that persons do things every bit as impossible as flying elephants: for men it is impossible, but for God all things are possible (Mt. 19, cf. also Luke c. 1). The difference is that Christianity insists that man draws on a reservoir of power not in himself but God, through acts of prayer and self-denial. The more one does so the more he realizes his happiness consists in this, and all his labors to find happiness elsewhere were for nothing.

Believing in yourself is not therapy or even science – it’s a warmed-over Pelagianism that actually deserves everything Augustine threw at it. Chesterton adds to the critique that Pelagianism contains the seeds of insanity by being fundamentally an expression of pride. To place the power to do be happy within yourself inevitably restricts happiness to something other than God, and so requires it to be found in Hell.



Note on happiness

1.) Verbally, happiness no unfulfilled desires.

2.) Happiness is clearly either partial or total. It can also be true or false, but calling a happiness “false” does not describe a sort of happiness, but a sort of negation of it, just as a fake gun is not a gun and artificial leather is not a kind of leather.

3.) There doesn’t seem to be any reasonable dispute that there is real partial happiness. What about the complete form? What would it mean to satisfy all desire?

4.) There are two sorts of desires that always come with some unfulfillment. (a) desire for limited or finite goods, since part of loving them is hating their limitation. If you love the life of your spouse, you hate when it ends. (b) desire for future goods, since future things by definition are not fulfilled.

5.) So complete happiness is the enjoyment of the infinite good outside of time.

6.) Whether this is possible or not, it still affects our account of true partial happiness. If pure happiness is what Western Christians call the beatific vision – which is exactly what is being described in (5) – then imperfect or partial happiness is what approximates this final union.

7.) We approximate the definitive and trans-temporal union of mind and will to God by our present action of unifying the mind and will to God, i.e. prayer. To place happiness in something else is false.

8.) Happiness is the target at which we aim in all our actions.


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