Review of “The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority”

There are all sorts of good books: ones that are thought-provoking, ones with polished writing that flows smoothly, and ones that are enjoyable too. Then there are books that go further: they include all these aspects, as well as being game changers. This book has the potential to be in that final category. For evangelicals and conservative Christians, the topic of inerrancy has historically been highly important. Discussions on the topic often generate more heat than light, and some wonder if the term is worth retaining or wonder what it really signifies.

4032Enter John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy’s book, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority, published by IVP Academic this fall (2013). Walton and Sandy offer a series of propositions that culminate with a more refined understanding of biblical authority (both oral and written texts) and a revised definition of inerrancy. One major goal of theirs is to describe and more fully comprehend the hearing-dominant world in which the biblical message was composed and passed along. Exploring the mindset of oral cultures, the authors identify specific ways in which biblical oral cultures understood authority and texts: for example, texts were primarily oral, and passed along with the understanding that variations were, to some extent, permissible and in no way damaging the story’s trustworthiness or the speaker’s credibility. A focus on traditions and tradents (those who pass along and shape it) is very different from our modern focus on a single author of a written text, which must be reproduced word for word to satisfy the reader that it is ‘without error.’
          Examining oral cultures of the biblical world, the authors draw upon speech-act theory, describe the process of OT and NT composition, and contrast that with understandings of book, author, and text in the current Western context. They argue that accounting for the oral nature of Scripture is essential in properly understanding it, and in understanding where its authority resides: in its divine source and illocutions. Thus, inerrancy re-defined has a place in discussions on biblical authority, but also has limitations. Further, belief in Scripture’s authority requires certain responses from its readers: careful, competent study, faithful obedience to its illocutions, and virtue with regard to its perlocutions. The authors flatly deny that inerrancy or any other term can fully describe or comprehend biblical inspiration.
          The book discusses what inerrancy affirms, rather than taking a defensive stance, so I would recommend it for those who are unsure about the term’s value, those who want to affirm it but are uneasy with how it is sometimes used, and those curious about its importance in certain circles. This is definitely a book worth buying, reading, and using for years to come; without question it is one of the top three books I’ve read this year. Thank you to IVP for the review copy!
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About Stephanie Lowery

I studied systematic theology at Wheaton College Graduate School, studying under Daniel Treier and writing my dissertation on ecclesiological models in Africa. I grew up in East Africa, and am happy to have returned at long last!
This entry was posted in ANE, Book reviews, Doctrine of Scripture, Hermeneutics, New Testament, Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Review of “The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority”

  1. olieweller says:

    You write great stuff!

  2. olieweller says:

    Congrads o the new position! Praying for u! See u in heaven!

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