Use vs. Mention

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I majored in Philosophy in college. Its always a little bit exciting when I get a chance to use rather than just mention that fact.

In analytic philosophy there has been a lot written about the use vs. mention distinction. Most of it is irrelevant to this Blog … but not all of it.

Basically, here’s the distinction. Suppose you’re in 3rd grade and your teacher asks you to spell the word, ‘horse,’ and then use it in a sentence.

So, being a good student, you spell out, “H-O-R-S-E,” and then write one of two sentences:

  • “A horse is an animal with 4 legs and a tail.” Or…
  • “The teacher said to use the word ‘horse’ in a sentence.”

Both of those sentences are true. But the first actually uses the word, ‘horse’ in the sentence, and the second merely mentions rather than uses the word, ‘horse.’ The second is talking about the word itself rather than the thing that the word refers to.

Other sentences which would count as a use rather than a mention:

  • “I don’t know what a horse is.”
  • “Been to the desert on a horse with no name.”
  • “A foal is a baby horse.”

Other sentences that would not count as a use (but would count as a mention):

  • “Hoarse and horse sound the same.”

What does this have to do with this Blog? It’s related to reading the Bible.

I want to know what we mean when we say the Bible is inerrant. In particular, I’m wondering about the many chapters of the New Testament written by the apostle Paul.

I absolutely believe, without even the slightest doubt, that the books of the New Testament that are letters from Paul to the churches 100% accurately record what Paul wrote to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephasus, Galatia, etc. That would be like saying I believe the ‘mention’ of Paul’s teachings is inerrant.

But the more I read, the more I come to wonder whether everything that Paul wrote is true in the same sense that everything Jesus said was true. I mean – was Paul infallible, i.e., incapable of error in his understanding of God’s Truth? Or could he have sometimes been mistaken?

I do believe the entire Bible is God-breathed, i.e., the things in the Bible are there because God wants them there. And I know God doesn’t lie.

But are the Epistles there because God is saying they reflect His Truth 100% accurately? Or are they there because God is saying they reflect 100% accurately what Paul taught, errors and all? Use/Mention.

When I decided to major in Philosophy in college it was because I felt like I had finally found the academic discipline where other people cared about the same arcane things that I did.

Is this one of those?

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