From a post by Blue Raja on the Boar’s Head Tavern. This is great stuff:
I’m sort of a Vanhoozer-ian sort of guy when it comes to the nature of language (i.e. his theological version of speech-act theory) and I think the most basic observation it contributes to an understanding of inerrancy is that stating the truth/falsity of some proposition is only ONE speech-act in the Bible.
The Bible has many more sorts of speech-acts for which “error” is simply a category mistake (i.e. promises can be faithful or faithless, but not “in error”; poetry can cause you to feel certain things, but it can’t be “false”; commands can be reliable or unreliable, but they’re not “true or false” in the same way factual statements are).
So at best “inerrancy” could ever only apply to those portions of scripture that are actually making some propositional truth claim – but of course Scripture does much more than this in all of it’s promising, commanding, inspiring, encouraging, etc.
The implications of that are somewhat common-sense – if mustard seeds aren’t actually the smallest seeds known to man, Jesus is only “in error” if he’s making a claim about mustard seeds. But if he’s engaging in an entirely different speech-act than propositional speech (i.e. making a truth claim about mustard seeds) – say urging or admonishing faith – he can’t be accused of error.
Being married to an English graduate, I’m a sucker for speech-act theory ;-). Raja’s point also fits with my own view that, by and large, the Bible was written to confront us rather than to inform us. It’s a proclamation, not an encyclopaedia.