Responding to Non-Inerrancy Challenges

settingitstraightI noted in a previous post that when I began blogging back 2005, one of the first blog duels I had was with a Unitarian heretic who was challenging the doctrine of inerrancy.

Come to find out the fellow had some friends who rushed to his side during our debate, I mean, dialog. I took a number of their challenges and responded to them in a couple of follow up posts for my blog.

I thought I would re-edit and remaster the material and combine them into this one post.

If God had so desired the Bible to be inerrant, there would be no flaws in the copies. Why would there be?

My detractor apparently does not understand the nature of the “errors” in question. He is making the assumption copyist errors have a detrimental impact on the message of Scripture. That they either cause God’s revelation to be clouded or lost altogether. That has never been the case. Copying errors happen in all handwritten documents. That includes extra-biblical ones as well. However, the vast amount of textual evidence we have for Scripture testifies to the consistency and continuity of God’s written revelation.

For example, after the Babylonian exile, three independent textual families grew from the Hebrew Scriptures: One in Babylon, another in Egypt (remember, a group of Jews left by the Babylonians migrated to Egypt – Jeremiah 41-43), and still another in Palestine. After the return from exile some 70 years later, all of the available copies of the Hebrew Bible were gathered up and compiled into a standard text. Even between three separate textual streams, after diligent comparison, the OT text was found to be still intact and God’s Word had not been lost.

We see the same thing with the NT documents, too. Textual scholars speak of the tenacity of those copying errors. In other words, once a copying error comes into the text, it never drops out. A copyist will note the discrepancies in the margin of his copy, and it becomes part of the transmission process. But, like I wrote, careful textual criticism can weed out those slight discrepancy to almost pure accuracy. Though we don’t have the original autograph, we have a close enough facsimile of it that we can be confident in God’s preservation.

You cannot prove that the Bible is inerrant by quoting the Bible itself!

My challenger raises the circularity fallacy. That if anyone appeals to the Bible as an authority to demonstrate the Bible’s authority, he is arguing in a circle. But what other source of authority would he recommend I quote? If God’s Word is what it claims to be, a divine revelation from God Himself, and it testifies to God’s nature, which He has established as trustworthy during His dealings with His redeemed people, why then can I not quote the Bible to demonstrate inerrancy?

The charge of circularity is misapplied. I would have been engaged in circularity if I had stated something like: The Bible is God’s Word, because The Bible says it is God’s Word; but, I didn’t do that. I specifically wrote that God’s Word is bound to God’s character and nature which He has personally revealed in space and time to eye witnesses. The Bible contains the testimony of those eye witnesses who saw God reveal Himself. For instance in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

Furthermore, God has also consistently proven His faithfulness to His people. Psalm 78, for example, is a Psalm calling Israel back to remembering what God had done. God has proven His character by witnessing Himself to His own character – a character He has put on display by the acts He has performed. Thus, I can rightly conclude the Bible is God’s Word, because God has personally stated that it is. That is what 2 Timothy 3:16 means.

But, if my Unitarian challenger still insists I am arguing in a circle, then I would also call upon Jesus Himself who testified to the authenticity of God’s Word in His various sermons and discussions during His teaching ministry, as well as the testimony of God’s prophets and apostles, both of which bore the marks of being God’s messengers, see for example Paul’s own testimony concerning himself in 2 Corinthians 12:12.

I have no doubt that large portions of the Bible were edited by the Catholic Church for obvious reasons. Kings have kingdoms to protect, and only when you begin to view Scripture in the light of the politics of the day do the facts begin to speak for themselves.

Ah yes, the old conspiracy theory angle. How does one even justify such a conspiracy theory? Here in fact is a genuine example of exaggerated circularity. What proof exists to affirm his conviction that the Catholic Church intentionally altered the biblical texts? Who was involved with it? When did it take place? I am only guessing he means the ROMAN Catholic Church and not the little “c” catholic Church. If that is the case, the text of Scripture was affirmed and in circulation among God’s people several hundred years before the ROMAN Catholic Church named their first pope.

Additionally, here is another example where the KJV Only apologists and liberals merge in their philosophy of Scripture: both groups adhere to speculative conspiracy theories about how the Bible came into being. The KJV onlyist believes a cabal of nefarious heretics snuck false doctrine into the text. The liberals believe powerful political figures manipulated the text. But, the tinfoil hat view of textual criticism just does not stand up under the crushing weight of the historical evidence.

The want of original autographs is only one factor that invalidates the inerrantist position. The most damaging factor is the phenomena of the text itself, which is inconsistent with the high claims made on its behalf. (Note the thickness of Haley’s “Alleged Discrepancies.”)

First off, Haley’s work has been reprinted, and the newer edition is not nearly as thick as the commenter would have us believe. Also, Haley deals more with discrepancies between two historical accounts as recorded in the Bible, like harmonizing the four Gospel narratives or the similar accounts between the books of Samuel and Chronicles.

Critics of Scripture insist that differing historical records of the same event must all read the same, even if they are written by – as in the case of the Gospels – four different individuals. Hence, any apparent conflict between the narratives is automatically assumed to represent contradictory information, rather than complementary information. I have never understood that viewpoint. Do those individuals assume, let’s say, four different historians writing about the life of President Truman, must all read the same? It is a ridiculous criticism.

The Unitarian critic is doing what many non-inerrantists do and that is to confuse the inerrancy of the autographic text (the words of the document) with the inerrancy of the autographic codex (the physical document). The loss of the latter does not entail loss of the former. In other words, just because a document wears out, becomes soiled, damaged, and unreadable, does not mean the message of that document has been lost. If it has been faithfully copied, the autographic words still remain with us. There are very few of Geoffery Chaucer’s original, autographic writings available; but is there anyone who does not believe the printed edition I can purchase off Amazon represents what he originally wrote?

Both the OT and NT have been faithfully copied. Textual criticism has restored the original autographic words to near pristine fullness. Scholars may vigorously debate the authenticity of some of the key textual variants, but nothing has been lost because the full text, even with variants, is still in our possession, and the variants do nothing to harm or corrupt the true word of God. Propositional revelation still exists for God’s people to hear the voice of God.

It is possible to quote a source (such as the Bible) as authoritative without requiring that it be infallible. 

Non-inerrantists like to say how we quote from authoritative sources like an encyclopedia or even Wikipedia without them necessarily being “inerrant” or “infallible.”  But an encyclopedia never claims infallibility. Wikipedia even lets people change it in real time.

The Bible, however, is bound to the character of God. The comment suggests God could either be negligent in revealing correctly and truthfully what He wanted revealed, or his spirit-anointed people were mistaken in their reception of revelation, or God intentionally deceived, or God doesn’t care about the accuracy and truthfulness of his revelation. Moreover, if the Bible is like an encyclopedia that can be revised as more information comes to light to correct it, then the implication is the previous revelation was insufficient and God is still in the process of revealing Himself.

The oft-repeated quote from 2 Peter about how “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” really does not have much bearing on this whole process that was supposed to have occurred when the authors penned their documents. The 2 Peter text is talking about speech, not writing.

I am not sure if the person has read the passage carefully. Peter specifically says, knowing this first, no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). The revelation spoken by those holy men of God was written down in Scripture. That is Peter’s main point here. There is something more sure than just spiritual experience: It is the written Word of God.

It is my contention, as I draw this post to a close, that the non-inerrantist arguments with inerrantists like myself, is not so much over the certainty of whether the autograph’s are truly represented in the texts we use today. Rather, his disagreement is with the authority the inerrantist draws from the text itself. Inerrantists (read Bible-believing Christian, here) believe God’s Word is authoritative. With it, we have a standard of truth claims by which we can make judgments and evaluate our world. Most free thinkers, whether they have “faith” or not, don’t like truth claims meddling in their personal affairs.

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12 thoughts on “Responding to Non-Inerrancy Challenges

  1. And if the four gospels all perfectly agreed as the critics demand, then the critics would accuse the authors of some sort of conspiracy. :\

    “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” Luke 7:31-35

  2. Whilst waiting to see if you are interested in a conversation on the previous post, I will just raise a question or two here, in the same vein, if that is okay. You state here…

    then I would also call upon Jesus Himself who testified to the authenticity of God’s Word in His various sermons and discussions during His teaching ministry

    Respectfully, from this poor student’s perspective, it seems as if you are doing some question-begging. Would you please clarify?

    1. Can we agree that Jesus not one time spoke specifically of the 66 books of the Bible? That, indeed, the Bible not one time speaks of the 66?

    2. To what texts are your appeals of “authenticity” since Jesus never used that term?

    3. Would you agree that one can cite a source without saying, “and by citing that source, I mean to say that I think it is a literally historic document – or not? Or that it is intended to be interpreted a certain way?”

    That is, I and the good folk at my church will cite the story of Jonah or Eve or other stories found in the Bible. We will often do so without issuing a caveat, “Now, by citing this story, I do not intend to convey a belief that the story literally happened just as portrayed in this text and is factually historically accurate…” We do not, for instance, believe that the Creation story is a literally factual re-telling of history, as done in the more modern style, but we will cite it sometimes, nonetheless. Why? Because it is an important story, because it is meaningful and has truths to convey. The point being, that one can cite a story without endorsing a specific genre or belief about that story, can we agree on that much?

    If so, on what basis does Jesus citing an OT story be a testimony to the “authenticity of God’s Word…” and in what sense is that rationally certain?

    Thank you for the consideration.

    Respectfully, Dan Trabue

  3. Dan,
    I do appreciate the challenges and will love to possibly take them up in a few weeks when I have a moment to write. Right now, however, I am getting ready for a major theological conference being hosted at my church on, providentially, the inerrancy of Scripture. If you are so inclined, the conference will be live streamed and the audio available almost immediately. See here for details, http://www.shepherdsconference.org/

    If you are serious about engaging me on this issue, I would certainly encourage you to listen in as much as possible and avail yourself of the material that will be offered.

    So let me leave it there and revisit all of this after the conference in a few weeks.

  4. By the way, WordPress confounds me as far as logging in. It appears I’m logging in now with my facebook account, where I go by the pseudonym, Gus Ravenwheel. But that’s me, Dan Trabue in the real world.

  5. While I’m waiting for you to return, if I may, I’ll offer another point/question or two. Where you say…

    Inerrantists (read Bible-believing Christian, here) believe God’s Word is authoritative. With it, we have a standard of truth claims by which we can make judgments and evaluate our world.

    There are those of us who would decline the title “inerrantists” who would still claim “Bible-believing Christians…” and yet, who would decline to agree with the notion that the Bible is “authoritative,” depending on how you define that.

    Consider:

    1. I certainly believe the bible. I love it, I value it, I love its teachings, I strive to take those teachings in consideration as I seek to follow God and place a high value on the teachings therein, to that end.

    2. Because I am a Bible-believing Christian, then, and because I place a high value on its teachings, I do not hold to the notion of “inerrancy” or “authority” as those ideas are usually defined because
    A. They have rational inconsistencies in them and
    B. they are simply not biblical – that is, the Bible makes not one single claim as to the Bible being “authoritative” or “inerrant” – not one. These are ideas that humans have reasoned out, extrapolating out these ideas from the words of the Bible, but not that are insisted upon by the Bible.

    At least in this poor student’s humble opinion.

    Thus, I hope you can see that it is fair, at least in some cases, to not define “inerrantists” as the only Bible-believing Christians, but as a subset of Bible-believers. That is, probably all inerrantists are Bible-believers but not all Bible-believers are inerrantists.

    Just as a point of clarity.

    Respectfully,

    Dan Trabue

  6. Pingback: Late February 2015 Presuppositional Apologetics’ Links | The Domain for Truth

  7. Like Dan, I am a Bible-believing christian that doesn’t believe the Bible is inerrant as that term is commonly used. For example, I believe that the creation story is what’s sometimes called a “divine accomodation” – God explaining things in a way that the original readers could understand, in order to teach a truth. Inerrancy is in the message, not the literal words of the text. God could have chosen to dictate a theology book, but He didn’t.

  8. Ian…

    I believe that the creation story is what’s sometimes called a “divine accomodation” – God explaining things in a way that the original readers could understand

    Exactly. COULD an almighty God have inspired writers/storytellers to pass on a Creation story using modern scientific jargon in a way that is scientifically correct, by modern standards? Sure, an almighty God can do anything. But why would God inspire stories in a manner that means nothing to the people hearing them? It’s a modern chauvinism to expect ancient writers to write in a way that is pleasing to us, rather than appropriate for the time and people to whom the original stories were passed on.

    Does noting that Creation and other early stories were probably more mythic than literal indicate a disdain of Scripture, a “dismissing” of sacred text? Or is it simply an attempt to honor the text and interpret it aright and reasonably? Obviously, I think the latter.

    I am fine with someone disagreeing with my opinion when I disagree with their opinion on how to best interpret a text. I just hope we can all disagree agreeably, nothing and respecting the Other’s desire to understand and respect the text. Amen?

    ~Dan Trabue

  9. Another thought whilst waiting. You said…

    Most free thinkers, whether they have “faith” or not, don’t like truth claims meddling in their personal affairs.

    I would posit that this is almost certainly a guess on your part, is that fair? If so, the most reasonable point you could make on this line of thinking is something like, “there are many free-thinkers, I would guess, who don’t like truth claims meddling in their personal affairs…”

    Of the free thinkers I know (admittedly anecdotal and local, but I’m glad to admit that and be clear), the motive is absolutely not to keep “truth claims from meddling in our personal affairs…” It is, instead, to most rationally and morally honor the notion of freedom of conscience.. the idea that we are all blessed and bound to seek God and/or the Right the best we can and that it is not incumbent upon one group of people to decide for others what is and isn’t moral, at least on matters where no harm is being done to others.

    That is, I’m fine with stating, “Hey, don’t harm, oppress, kill or rape that other person…” to stop actual harm, regardless of whether the assailant agrees with us… but on matters of personal morality (where NO harm is being done), I believe in the notion of freedom of conscience and that it is everyone’s duty to seek the Right for themselves.

    I rather doubt that “most free thinkers” have motives of selfishness, any more than I believe that most conservative types have negative motives for their actions/beliefs.

    Fair enough?

    Respectfully,

    Dan Trabue

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