I had a commenter leave a few challenges against the doctrine of inerrancy under a recent post of mine. He asked in such a way that he comes across pious and reverent of God’s Word, but I believe he is insincere.
Knowing that many readers will encounter similar individuals, I thought I would offer my responses here on the front page of the blog. I won’t respond to everything, but here are some selected comments.
It might be helpful for you to define what you mean by “inerrancy”?
I thought I provided a clear enough definition in my posts, but if a formal definition is required, inerrancy would simply be “The Bible is without error.”
Knowing that my detractor will be far from satisfied with such a simplistic and easy definition, I will expand upon it a bit more by citing Wayne Grudem. He writes at great length on the attributes of Scripture in his systematic theology [chapters 2-8, 47-140], and sums up the doctrine of inerrancy by stating,
We will not at this point repeat the arguments concerning the authority of Scripture that were given in chapter 4. There it was argued that all the words in the Bible are God’s words, and that therefore to disbelieve or disobey any word in Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God. It was argued further that the Bible clearly teaches that God cannot lie or speak falsely (2 Samuel 7:28; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, all words in Scripture are claimed to be completely true and without error in any part (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 12:6; 119:89, 96; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 24:35). God’s words are, in fact, the ultimate standard of truth (John 17:17) [Grudem, 90].
The doctrine of inerrancy is brought into focus as we consider what the whole of Scripture teaches about itself. Inerrancy, then, does not exist as a stand alone doctrine, but is supported by the doctrine of inspiration and infallibility, doctrines affirmed throughout the entirety of the Bible. An inspired, or God breathed revelation, will be both infaillible and inerrant, because it reflects the character of the holy, truthful God who breathed out Scripture.
The Bible makes zero claims to inerrancy. Not one. Not for “the Bible,” not even for “scripture.” The claims to “inerrancy” are a human construct, not a biblical one. Not something “from God…” at least not in any direct manner. It is, at best, a belief reached using human reasoning, extrapolating the idea from (very little in) the Bible.
That is a typical claim by biblio-skeptics. Jack Rogers, who once fought against Harold Lindsell over the authority of Scripture, popularized the urban legend that the concept of inerrancy was an invention by Fundamentalists in the late 1800s and early 1900s when they were battling modernistic creep in the church.
But anyone who is just the wee bit familiar with church history knows that Christians have always believed in inerrancy because the Bible affirms it. The claim made by my detractor, that the Bible “makes zero claims to inerrancy,” causes me to wonder how much of the Bible he has actually read, or at least, paid attention to when he read it.
While it is true that the exact word “inerrancy” is not directly used in the Bible, the Bible presupposes the doctrine of inerrancy throughout its pages, and appeals to it as a final, infallible source of authority. Both Jews and Christians have historically affirmed that presupposition.
Time prevents me from fleshing this out in full, but to highlight a handful of significant truth:
The biblical writers, both in the OT and the NT, refer to the Bible as the “Word of God” or the “Word of the LORD,” and when speaking to the authority of Scripture, use such expressions as “it is written,” and “thus saith the Lord” hundreds of times. Also, the Scriptures are called “the law of the LORD,” “the testimony of the LORD,” “the commandments of the LORD,” and “the judgments of the LORD” throughout the Old Testament. In fact, Psalm 119, the longest Psalm that specifically exalts the authority of Scripture, describes the Bible multiple times by repeatedly using those descriptors and variations.
Coming to the NT, Jesus had an extremely high view of Scripture’s authority, infallibility, and inerrancy. He held the OT to be historically true, completely authoritative, and divinely inspired. He believed that the God of the OT was living, and the OT Scriptures were the teachings of the living God. When Jesus taught, it is clear He believed what Scripture said is what God Almighty had said.
Consider that Jesus treated the OT as genuine historical narrative, not allegory or moral tales. The Bible for Jesus recorded history that really happened in time and space. He refers to Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah (Matthew 24:37), Abraham (John 8:56), Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24), Lot (Luke 17:28-32), Issac and Jacob (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28), the giving of manna (John 6:31, 49, 58), The serpent on the pole (John 3:14), David (Mark 2:25; 12:36; Luke 6:3-4; 20:42), Solomon (Matthew 6:29; Luke 11:31), Elijah (Luke 4:25-26), Elisha (Luke 4:27), Jonah (Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32) and Zechariah (Luke 11:51). In fact, in Luke 11:51, Jesus had a clear sense of the scope and unity of biblical history when He says, “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.”
Moreover, Jesus repeatedly refers to Moses as the law giver, (Matthew 8:4; 19:8; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:5; 12:26; Luke 5:14; 20:37; John 5:46; 7:19) and the historicity of the OT events. Jesus even appeals to Genesis 1 and 2 as the authority on what God has said about marriage and divorce. Additionally, he speaks of Noah and the worldwide flood (Matthew 24:37), the divine destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 11:23-24), and notes the demise of Lot’s wife (Luke 17:26-32).
He also held high the infallible authority of the OT to correct the Pharisees and Sadducees when they attempted to challenge Him, appealed to the OT as a guide to ethics, refuted the devil by appealing to the OT, and when Christ appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke says that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” (Luke 24:25-47), He showed how all the OT Scripture pointed to and were fulfilled in Him. All of those conversations would be questionable, if not entirely in doubt, if Jesus did not believe the Bible was inerrant.
The NT writers also had an equal view of the OT being their supreme authority. Without having to recount the many citations of the OT found in the key epistles of the NT, it is clear that all the apostles recognized the Scriptures were sufficiently inerrant as they recounted history and ethics. They were considered the “very words of God,” (Romans 3:2).
Take for example Paul’s well-known proclamation about the Scriptures in his second letter to Timothy where he writes, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If the Scriptures are errant, there is no point in appealing to them in the fashion that Paul did. An errant Scripture has no real authority to offer any meaningful correction or training in righteousness because it is constantly in doubt.
The Bible is a human compilation. Humans decided that this Protestant collection of 66 books are “as Scripture” for us and we hold them to be sacred texts.
Regrettably, that comment is typical of many churched individuals in our day, and demonstrates a profound ignorance of church history throughout many so-called evangelical congregations.
The key problem with the objection, and coming from a person who insists he loves the Bible and has read and studied it for decades, is how the divine element involved in the formation of Scripture is absent or intentionally removed out of the discussion. If the Bible is God-breathed, as I just noted above, then God’s fingerprints are on the development, collection, transmission, and even preservation of those documents that are Scripture. God would hardly breathe out Scripture, and then allow it to fall through the cracks of time, becoming corrupted and thus uncertain or lost.
The objection merely fixates upon the fact men were involved with identifying the books that form the canon of both the OT and the NT. Yet it is seen in the very pages of Scripture that while men were the instruments in proclaiming and then documenting the Word of God that became what we know as Scripture, God’s Spirit was always involved in the process of its writing, and then its identification, and eventual transmission.
God wanted to communicate with His redeemed people, and He specifically brought them to be a “people of the book.” That is true both in the OT as well as in the NT. Paul says for example in Romans 3:2, that Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God. An entire scribal class within the tribe of Levi was developed that maintained the writings of the OT. The Levitical priests were to read and teach the Scripture to the people.
While the formation of the NT may had been slightly different, the Christians in the early church were also a people of the book, and they began gathering the writing of men they knew were apostles. Within the first century, Christians were collecting the writings of Paul, the four Gospels, as well as other epistles, and circulating them among the various churches where groups of Christians would also copy those letters. Those collections became identified as the beginnings of what is today our NT.
There has been much written on the subject of the canon, but I am not surprised that my detractor seems oblivious to those studies, because he has such a low view of the doctrine of infallibility. Those who are interested, will benefit greatly from Michael Kruger, who is probably one of the leading authorities on the development of the canon. As an introduction for those wishing to have a better grasp answering objections about the canon of Scripture, Dr. Kruger has written a series of ten articles addressing misconceptions about the NT canon. Those who wish to dig deeper into this topic will greatly benefit from his book, Canon Revisited.
Moving to one final response,
I had written in this post the following statement,
My detractor, writing in rebuttal stated, Can we agree that this is an unsupported human opinion, not a fact, and not in any way at all directly biblical?
It is not entirely clear what he believes is “unsupported human opinion.” Is it my assertion about God safeguarding the transmission of His revelation? Is my detractor now saying God doesn’t, or is perhaps powerless to, safeguard the transmission of His revelation? Or is it that he doesn’t believe God did it through the means of thousands of copies handwritten by His people?
I would firmly maintain that God most definitely has the ability to safeguard the transmission of His revelation. I mean, if we acknowledge that God is our sovereign creator, sustainer, and savior, He most certainly has the power to keep His divine revelation as contained in the pages of Scripture in the hands of His people down through the course of history.
Additionally, I further maintain that God used the means of His people to faithfully copy His revelation during the time of the OT and NT. And, as anyone knows who has the least bit of familiarity with textual criticism, the people of God who made those faithful copies did a remarkable job – dare I even say “miraculous” like there was a divine hand directing the process. The copying was so complete and well-done that even with the numerous, but inconsequential, textual variants, we can know with 100% accuracy what God originally stated.
Now does that mean there are no variants that are problematic and are debated among Christians over the centuries. Of course not. But it does show what I originally asserted: God has safeguarded the transmission of His revelation as it is contained in Scripture, and He has done so faithfully over the course of many years with the use of people copying thousands of manuscripts.