Inerrancy & the Language of Accommodation

My oldest daughter is working through Calvin’s Institutes as part of a multi-year homeschool course. I have the joy of (re)reading along with her. While reading something on providence (last part of book 1), I stopped at a comment by Calvin concerning the language of accommodation in the Bible. This got me thinking about this whole topic in relation to the discussion here.

Enns’ (et.al.) suggest that the use of error in the Bible (at least some) is an accommodation by God to the pre-scientific understanding of the original readers. E.g., God used ANE cosmogonies in Gen 1-11, not because they were historically factual, but because this was how Moses’ exodus generation had learned to think about such topics. The argument goes that in order to help his people understand the (underlying) spiritual truth of the text God accommodated his communication to their own erroneous scientific understanding.

I’d like to challenge this via the issue of God’s accommodating language.

First, it seems apparent that God does accommodate some of his communication in the Bible to the limits of human readers. The use of anthropomorphic descriptions of God fits this principle. E.g., God’s “hand” is such a use, ascribing physical qualities to a spiritual being for the sake of our understanding. I.e., such texts are not really saying God as Spirit has a real physical hand, but merely using that to describe an otherwise incomprehensible attribute in terms we recognize.

Second this is accommodation is not the same as what Enns (et.al.) is talking about. I think the critical difference, the distinguishing characteristic is seen the distinction between the transcendent nature of God’s being, and the immanent nature of the Cosmos. Usually this is described as the difference between God’s infiniteness and our finiteness.

Here’s the contrast:

> God uses language of accommodation for any subject that falls under the heading of transcendence. He does so because our finiteness limits our ability to understand his infiniteness.
> Contrarily, God does not use accommodating language for any subject within the realm of our finiteness, literally the created cosmos. This is because all such subjects are within our created abilities to understand.

Look at this from another angle. Enns (et.al.) posit God’s accommodating our fallenness in his communication. I.e., it is not because we are finite that we cannot understand the nature of creation, historical fact, etc. Rather (according to Enns) because the fall makes us prone to error, God willingly accommodates his communication of truth to our error-proneness.

Hopefully y’all will see that this goes completely contrary to the whole intention of God’s communication in the Bible:

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

– Reed DePace

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