Augustine on Scripture image

Augustine on Scripture

One of the things that really cheeses me off is the claim, widespread in some circles today, that believing in the complete truthfulness of the Bible is a modern development, prompted by Enlightenment rationalism, pedantic Princetonians and an obsession with trivial detail. It smacks of Bulverism - C. S. Lewis's word for responding to an argument not by refuting it, but by explaining why the speaker might believe it - and it is also palpably false. Here's Augustine writing to Jerome (Letter 82):

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error ... (82.3)

But you will say it is better to believe that the Apostle Paul wrote what was not true, than to believe that the Apostle Peter did what was not right. On this principle, we must say (which far be it from us to say), that it is better to believe that the gospel history is false, than to believe that Christ was denied by Peter; and better to charge the book of Kings with false statements, than believe that so great a prophet, and one so signally chosen by the Lord God as David was, committed adultery in lusting after and taking away the wife of another, and committed such detestable homicide in procuring the death of her husband. Better far that I should read with certainty and persuasion of its truth the Holy Scripture, placed on the highest (even the heavenly) pinnacle of authority, and should, without questioning the trustworthiness of its statements, learn from it that men have been either commended, or corrected, or condemned, than that, through fear of believing that by men, who, though of most praiseworthy excellence, were no more than men, actions deserving rebuke might sometimes be done, I should admit suspicions affecting the trustworthiness of the whole oracles of God. (82.5)

Now: this doesn’t make Augustine a modernist, and I’d be the first to point out that his interpretation of many texts would baffle many inerrantists. But he was pretty emphatic that the scriptures never made mistakes. He who has ears, let him hear.

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