The next section in Chapter 7 of Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible criticizes the deductive theory of inspiration. Deductive reasoning starts with a theory, and then moves on to the observed object, which is the Bible in this case.
Smith argues that evangelicals get into trouble when starting with the theory of inspiration, and describes the common logic:
(1) all scripture is in the biblical canon because it is inspired by God (per 2 Tim. 3:16–17);
(2) “inspiration” definitely means “plenary verbal” inspiration (every word and grammatical form is divinely inspired);
(3) since God does not err, tell falsehoods, or say useless things, everything in the Bible is not only inerrant but also meant to communicate divine truth, which readers must learn; and, therefore,
(4) in every statement the Bible, most often read in its “plainest” sense, communicates binding theological and moral truth.
Nowhere in Scripture is this model used to describe Scripture itself; inspiration is an external theory biblicists impose on the text. And the point of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 was to describe Scripture's pastoral usefulness, not its factual correctness.
Similar to Timothy Beal's argument in The Rise and Fall of the Bible, which I discussed here, simply looking at the early church's concept of "the Bible" causes the doctrine of inspiration to collapse. Early Christians had no concept of a closed canon, and passed around different versions of the authoritative version of Scripture until the final canon was determined in the late fourth century.
While most of what ended up in the New Testament canon had been written by the end of the first century, few communities had copies of all of these texts. And, some texts many Christians considered scriptural weren't even included in the later official canon, while some texts considered non-scriptural ended up in the final canon. Smith points out:
This means that the early Christian church lived without “the Bible” as we know it canonically for nearly four hundred years, even if many churches possessed copies of many of the documents that eventually went into the New Testament. That has big implications for the role of the church, the Holy Spirit, and the “rule of faith” in the function of scriptural authority for Christians.
Noting how the church has interpreted the Bible for the past 2,000 years is another aspect that pokes holes in the theory of inspiration. Evangelicals have a tendency to be anti-traditionalist and to not lend as much credence to those who are not American (or, I would add, Western European). Smith calls this tendency "foolish and arrogant." We miss out on the benefit and insight of our predecessors.
We have no reason to pretend to be "biblically or ecclesially self-sufficient" or feel superior to our predecessors and to non-Western believers. Smith writes:
American evangelicals should pay much greater attention to how Christian believers read and interpret scripture in other parts of the world, across space, particularly perhaps in the Global South. “The church today must be open to listening to how other Christians from other cultures read Scripture and live it out in their daily lives” [quoting Peter Enns]. American evangelicals have already learned and can still learn a great deal from Christian believers outside their subculture and normal social networks.
Non-present-day and non-American interpretations won't always necessarily be better, but at least bucking this anti-traditionalist and ethnocentric trend will "reveal blind spots, challenge parochial views, offer insightful perspectives...and suggest helpful ways to resolve differences of understanding within the American evangelical world."
Not surprisingly, this is one of my favorite points of the book, because I believe the theory of inspiration aggrandizes the perspective of those who have the loudest voices when interpreting Scripture within North American evangelicalism. When the Bible is read in its “plainest” sense, and thus communicates binding theological and moral truth, this truth often ends up reflecting the viewpoint of the most influential and loud interpreters, who are usually middle- to upper-class, white, straight males. And a purportedly "plain" reading of Scripture disregards the cultures in which both the text and the reader are rooted.
My intent is not to marginalize middle- to upper-class, white, straight males, but rather to recognize that the logic that undergirds the theory of inspiration may keep helpful alternative views from informing how we look at Scripture.