Monday, March 20, 2006

Inerrancy? Pt.2

Does the bible assert its own inerrancy?
  1. Rather than go through individual verses – something that would take too much time, I will say a few points about how we use verses in the bible to build up a doctrine of scripture.

  2. Some of the verses used in support of inerrancy are pushed too far even without further comment. For example, 2 Tim 3:16 and the description of Scripture as ‘useful’ among other things, hardly lends support to inerrancy (cf. Inspiration, by David Law, 84 ff. for a discussion of this and many of the usually quoted verses)

  3. It needs to be stated that the bible says nothing about itself! The bible is a collection of materials of greater or lesser accuracy to the original, and weren’t officially collected together as one till hundreds of years after they were written. Thus, when it states in Rev 22:18 ‘I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book’, it is, of course, a reference only to Revelation, as there was no bible for it to correspond to. This is obvious, but a point amazingly overlooked by many defenders of inerrancy.

  4. Only by taking verses here and there and by putting them through a deductively logical wringer can one conclude a doctrine of inerrancy (see the chapter on Scripture in Packer’s, Fundamentalism and the Word of God as an example). It can be asserted that parts of the bible as we now have it, more or less, would have been seen as the words of God, as inspired by God etc., by the early Christians and by Jesus himself. However, a) the ‘more or less’ isn’t insignificant, b) more importantly, it is a step of deductive reason to take the premises to mean ‘without error’, however reasonable it may sound. c) This step of deductive logic is not a scriptural leap, but rather an inductive reading of the many clear contradictions and mistakes in the bible mean we must avoid such a logical wringer. One ceases to be biblical if one states that inspiration means inerrancy. As a Fundie, it was the realisation that my doctrine of scripture was itself no scriptural that started the process of my escape! I thank Goldingay’s Models for Scripture for this life-moving insight.

  5. However, after all of this, there is a far stronger reason for rejecting the doctrine of inerrancy, far stronger: The witness of the bible itself, read inductively. I suggest that it can be conclusively proved that scripture is not inerrant, and the bible’s own witness to this is decisive!


At 3/21/2006 12:26 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

Could I recommend a couple of books?

The Gagging of God by DA Carson (Zondervan / Apollos 1996), especially Chapter 4 "Has God spoken? The Authority of Revelation". DAC interacts with critics of inerrancy and deals with the "Scottish Common Sense" and "inerrancy is a new-fangled doctrine" arguments on the way. DAC's footnotes (note: FOOTNOTES!!!) suggest further reading on the whole subject.

The Revelation of God by Peter Jensen (IVP 2001). Is is one volume of the excellent "Contours of Christian Theology" series. Jensen is mindful of the impact of Enlightenment thinking on Biblical studies. He also discusses the ideas of Barth and Brunner is a very helpful way. Jensen's whole approach to the revelation of God is refreshing, well argued and to my mind, convincing.


At 3/21/2006 2:05 PM, Anonymous Claire Joy said...

Thanks so much for this post. I keep getting into hot water every time I suggest there are contradictions, that the writers had their own personal agendas, that the compilers had agendas as well... not with my own community, but with the fundamentalists I must converse with.

At 3/21/2006 6:40 PM, Anonymous Fearsome Tycoon said...

Wait, what's the difference between talking about redemption and theology? I'm not sure that I see it.

At 3/21/2006 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought some might find this excerpt of interest;

Interview with Dan Wallace

What I tell my students every year is that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than protect their presuppositions. And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines start to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. It strikes me that something like this may be what happened to Bart Ehrman. His testimony in Misquoting Jesus discussed inerrancy as the prime mover in his studies. But when a glib comment from one of his conservative professors at Princeton was scribbled on a term paper, to the effect that perhaps the Bible is not inerrant, Ehrman’s faith began to crumble. One domino crashed into another until eventually he became ‘a fairly happy agnostic.’ I may be wrong about Ehrman’s own spiritual journey, but I have known too many students who have gone in that direction. The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope. But if a student views doctrines as concentric circles, with the cardinal doctrines occupying the center, then if the more peripheral doctrines are challenged, this does not have an effect on the core


At 3/21/2006 9:10 PM, Anonymous Kevin D. Johnson said...

Would love to hear your thoughts (and looking forward to more of your posts on this subject):

At 3/22/2006 5:22 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Chris, i hear some Kierkegaard in you. In his Postscript, he says basically that with regard to any "historical" truth (including the Bible), the best we've got is an approximation and that's not good enough on which one should base one's eternal happiness (i.e. "salvation").
Secondly, i also hear a bit of Brevard Childs as well when he says that too much theology today remains "confessional" and not "Biblical." That is, too many theologians try to maintain their presupposed beliefs rather than drawing out the truth in the Bible.

At 3/22/2006 1:33 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Guy, Yes, I have had a copy of Carson’s The Gagging of God for years – picked it up for just 10 pounds! Anything Carson writes is worth reading, I think, but I must disagree with his reasoning regards inerrancy in this chapter. Better is Goldingay’s Models for Scripture, on this subject. I once heard him suggest that inerrancy is a doctrine that we need to be vigilant defending and reaffirming, or its easy to let it slip. You know, he’s right in one sense, it’s easy to let it slip, in my opinion, because so much speaks against it. Those aspects of our ‘symbolic universe’ that need special treatment and attention to stop them crumbling may be so delicate because they do not correspond to reality.

As for they Jensen book, thanks for the tip, I’ll have a look!

Hi Claire, thanks for your kind words. Having been a Fundie, I always found those who would challenge inerrancy a real threat. So discovering that inerrancy was not what a I needed to believe to be biblical came as a real relief!

Hi Jason, thanks for these thoughts – and I’m with you on that. You drew in a number of terms: ‘authority’, ‘infallibility’, ‘inspiration’, and a fuller discussion will of course do that – something you theologians are good at! But being a NT man, and knowing that a focus on inerrancy would be enough for a small series of posts, I decided to keep things much more restricted. Deliberately. Lovely prose, btw.

Welcome to Chrisendom Josh S

Hi John,

Your point is one of the reasons I think a Chicago style inerrancy is actually damaging for the health of the church. If it is insisted that people have to believe something that clearly doesn’t match reality, either faith will close it’s eyes, talk in pseudo-intellectual language, die, or look for another formulation. I’m in the last category!
Thanks for your thoughts.

Hi Kevin, I’ll probably address some of your thoughts in my podcast or written post later. Thanks for your thoughtful engagement with my musings.

Hi Chris. Nice name. You would be spot on with your comments. Childs work on the OT was one of my favourites during my undergrad studies.

Once again, cheers all for comments thus far.

At 3/22/2006 6:01 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...


Could you give us an example of what you consider to be an error in the Bible?



At 12/01/2006 2:05 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

Once again, I arrive months later after Chris has directed us back here with a digging-up-the-archives post. Just wanted to say that I really appreciated Jason's (lengthy) contribution here. Keep quoting Forsyth - when you're on a good thing, stick with it!


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