September 17, 2017

Middle Knowledge and Scriptural Inspiration Once More

Dear Dr. Craig: Your reply to last week's QOTW regarding the inspiration of the Epistles raised a very interesting metaphysical/modality question that I would love to hear you address.

In your reply you share your Molinist account of the inspiration of the holy documents of your religion. By His counterfactual knowledge God knew precisely what certain actualized essences would do (or write) in certain situations. God knew, for example, that in certain situations a particular actualized essence (let's call this one Paul) would freely write Ephesians exactly (almost exactly?) as God wanted it written. So God actualized "Paul" into those particular situations. Paul was, therefore, acting freely but also delivering us Word of God.

Two questions immediately come to mind for me.

First, I grant that you have successfully offered a model that theoretically reconciles inspiration of the documents with human freedom. I just don't think that gets you very far. Your questioner wanted to know why we should believe Ephesians is the Word of God. Your model only shows that Ephesians (and the other holy documents) might have been the Word of God, not that it was.

In fact, I don't see your model as raising the "Ephesians-as-Word of God" possibility much above zero. There are countless documents written by countless people, each existing because God chose to actualize those people in those particular circumstances. Why should believe one of those documents (Ephesians) is Word of God when almost all the others are not?

I realize that you have elsewhere described Canon as a theological question and one that you don't discuss with unbelievers. Fair enough. But would you admit that your Molinist model of the inspiration of the holy documents does not speak to the issue of whether they actually are inspired?

Secondly, you seem to accept that there were infinite possible combinations of essences and circumstances for God to juggle around so that he could find an individual to freely write the book of Ephesians exactly (almost exactly? This seems important) as He wanted it written.

But if that's the case, why didn't He juggle the infinite possibilities so as to only populate the world with people who would freely accept the Gospel? This would get rid of the awful and intractable problem of Hell, and, frankly, make your religion less unpalatable to many atheists like me.

I get that you and Plantinga have suggested that maybe it wasn't "feasible" for God to actualize certain circumstances that were otherwise logically possible.

But why not? If God had infinite possibilities available to Him, why not just actualize essences that, while they may do bad things, nevertheless freely accept the Gospel before they die?

This is precisely Josh Rasmussen's point in his article "On Creating Worlds Without Evil." (Josh is actually talking about God making a world free from evil. I am offering God a much simpler task; allow as much evil as He needs for His purposes [insert favorite theodicy, soul building or whatever] but only actualize persons who will freely make the correct decision regarding salvation.)

With infinite possible persons and a finite number of decisions about salvation to be made on this earth, God should've been able to pull this one off. No?



United States

You’re certainly correct that a Molinist perspective on biblical inspiration raises fascinating modal and metaphysical questions, Steve! Let me try to address yours.

To begin with, I read QoW #541 differently than you do. The questioner Mark was trying to draw a distinction between the epistles and other canonical writings because of the occasional nature of the epistles. His argument was that the occasional nature of the epistles ought to lead us to think that they are not inspired. My answer to Mark was intended to show that this difference between the epistles and other New Testament documents is not a good reason to think that they are not equally inspired. Given a middle knowledge point of view, God can inspire the writing of occasional letters so that they are both verbally inspired and yet freely written, reflecting all the personal and historical peculiarities of their human authors.

But, of course, you’re free to ask whatever question you want, so let’s consider your two questions on their own merits.

First, you grant that I have successfully articulated a model which reconciles verbal inspiration with human freedom, which was my intended goal. You express dissatisfaction because such a model doesn’t give us any reason to think that the New Testament documents are, in fact, inspired.

The problem with this complaint is that you’re indicting the model for failing to do something which it was never intended to do. That’s like complaining that the kitchen refrigerator makes a lousy oven!

The fact of the matter is that I just don’t have much interest in providing evidence for the inspiration of Scripture, since it plays no role in my apologetic case. I’m content to show that the New Testament documents are historically reliable with respect to the life of Jesus, including his radical personal claims, whereby he put himself in God’s place, and the facts of his death, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection, which go to ground the inference to his resurrection from the dead. So I’ve not studied in any depth arguments for the inspiration of Scripture and so have nothing to contribute to that question which other theologians have not already said. So, yes, I agree that my Molinist model “does not speak to the issue of whether they actually are inspired.”

You do raise one point, however, which I have addressed, in your comment: “There are countless documents written by countless people, each existing because God chose to actualize those people in those particular circumstances. Why should believe one of those documents (Ephesians) is Word of God when almost all the others are not?” Given God’s universal superintendence of the world, it seems that He has supervised the free composition of every document in the world. So what makes the documents of the New Testament God’s Word to us and not these other documents? As I explain in my article, the difference lies in God’s intention: He intends for Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to be His Word for us, whereas He does not so intend for, say, this Question of the Week.

Now this does not answer your question as to why we ought to think that Ephesians is one of these special documents; but that is, as I said, not a question in which I have been interested. Many theologians would say that the Holy Spirit bears special witness to God’s Word, so that regenerate believers recognize therein God’s speaking to us. I’m content with this answer.

As an atheist, Steve, that ought to be enough for you. You don’t need to believe in the inspiration of Scripture in order to become a Christian. The evidence I’ve laid out is ample for your embracing Christian theism. Don’t get hung up on secondary issues.

Your second question was also addressed in the original article I referenced and, ironically, in last week’s QoW #543: “why didn't He juggle the infinite possibilities so as to only populate the world with people who would freely accept the Gospel?” The assumption behind your question is that if God can juggle the possibilities to achieve the inspiration of a book, then He can juggle the possibilities to achieve universal salvation without any overriding deficiencies. Just stating the assumption ought to make it clear how conjectural it is. We have no idea of whether the requisite counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true that would make it feasible for God to actualize a world of universal salvation without overriding deficiencies, even if it were feasible for Him to inspire the Bible. This is especially evident when we realize that for each person God creates there will be a future of potentially infinite free choices that God must take into account. So an infinity of possibilities to juggle just doesn’t guarantee that a world of universal, free salvation without overriding deficiencies is feasible for God.