I’ve decided to write a few posts on the question of biblical inerrancy. I made comments on this subject in my posts on propositional revelation and scripture here. And as I think the matter is rather clear, I would like to present the argument summarised in that earlier post in a little more detail. Any comments are most welcome.
- What do I mean by ‘inerrancy’? I found this on the web: ‘D. Feinberg defines inerrancy as, “[T]he view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1987, p. 142).’. As an example of this sort of thinking, Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible.
- Is biblical inerrancy what Christians have always believed?
a. There is tension in the Fathers. Goldingay summarises, ‘the Fathers seem capable of combining their recognition that scriptural narratives are sometimes unhistorical with specific declarations elsewhere regarding the detailed reliability of them’ (Models for Scripture, 261). Think, for example, of Origen’s ‘gospel harmonising’ tendencies, with his commentary on John 2:12-15 which ‘emphasised that the Gospels contain many a “discrepancy” of this kind, which he declares to be insoluble if we take each Gospel as attempting a historical account’ (ibid, 262). Cf. also his Origen’s comments on Genesis 1.
b. There is tension in Luther. He simultaneously held a very high view of scripture, but was, at the same time, untroubled by contradictions in the text. Think of Luther’s trigger happy attitude to books of the canon. It wasn’t only James that upset him (the ‘epistle of straw’). The impossibility of second repentance in Hebrews, he said, contradicts the gospel ion Paul, and the Revelation to John he criticised for its fantastic character, and lack of emphasis on the central Christian message (cf. Kümmel’s overview in his, The NT: The History of the Investigation of its Problems, 24).
c. The present interpretation of inerrancy as absolutely without error (sometimes adding the ‘escape clause’: in the original Manuscripts) has been heavily shaped by the Scottish philosophy of ‘common sense’ (cf. A. McGrath, Passion for Truth)
d. These few examples go to show that the conservative Christian’s claim that all Scripture is error free is simply what ‘Christians have always believed’ cannot be upheld without significant qualification.