I was recently reading through a relatively older work by David Hall, The Seven Pillories of Wisdom. Essentially he offers a critique of seven common arguments used in NT scholarship. In the sixth chapter, he examines the ‘argument from consistency’. The question he raises is one which I, too, have asked: “How far should we expect a preacher or an author to be consistent?” (84). While I don’t think he argues his case superbly in the remaining part of the chapter, I think the initial question is significant. Too often, I think we expect biblical writers to be far more consistent than necessary.
A common example has to do with issues of Pauline authorship. Scholars will approach a certain epistle ascribed to Paul and conclude that it must not have been written by Paul himself because of divergent vocabulary or concepts as compared to some canon of writings which are more likely to have been written by Paul. While I recognize the difficulties of the pastoral epistles (for example), I also don’t want to put Paul in some sort of literacy box by implying that he had a vocabulary of (let’s say) 10,000 or 20,000 words. Granted, there are a variety of other factors to be considered for each of Paul’s writings, but the argument from consistency seems to be consistently overdrawn.
My own writing style has evolved a great bit over the last 5 years. I use words a bit differently than I have before. Sometimes I’ll put a spin on words in rhetorical style. Yes, I am inconsistent in the strict sense, but I am not schizophrenic. Thus the question returns: How consistent should we expect an author to be?