To Those Who Doubt the Inerrancy of Scripture:Thursday, August 11, 2011
Know anyone who doubts Scripture? Not too long ago, I went through several rounds of letters with an opponent of the historic Christian belief that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms. This was my last response. I have yet to hear back from "Mr. M."
Hi Mr. M.,
Though it’s been awhile, I just wanted to circle back with you to say that I’ve been helped by our interaction and have come away re-invigorated about inerrancy.
Before getting into what I’ve studied since our last exchange, let me first highlight a couple of things that I found helpful:
(1) This brief video (link below) addresses common questions about inerrancy/infallibility. There’s also a book cited in the video: John Woodbridge, Biblical Authority that is the book to read regarding the historicity of the doctrine of inerrancy. Check out the book Inerrancy as well (ed. by Norm Geisler).
What is inerrancy?
Is the Bible really without error? What does inerrancy actually mean, and how recent a doctrine is it?
Must one believe that Scripture is inerrant in order to be a Christian?
Watch Dr. Don Carson’s helpful reply.
(2) Also, Wayne Grudem's, Systematic Theology- see pp. 90-101, “The Inerrancy of Scripture.” This is the kind of scholarship you really ought to be interacting with if you want to test the mettle of your theories.
I'm glad to keep the conversation going and hope you are well.
Inerrancy holds a place in my faith because it has heretofore withstood refutation. I could be wrong, I suppose. I just haven’t yet been presented with sufficient argument to see that my belief in inerrancy is wrong. You’ve asked me to present why I believe it, and that’s a fair question.
The place I start when establishing the origin of Biblical inerrancy is with what the text of Scripture says about itself. And, yes (as I wrote in my previous email) this is circular, just like all worldviews are circular at their presuppositional, foundational level.
This point I’ve raised about presuppositions is crucial, so let me say a few things about this.
- I believe that our differing foundational assumptions (i.e. presuppositions) are at the epicenter of our differing viewpoints. It is a matter that cannot simply be waved away or treated as a distracting rabbit trail.
- Your foundational assumption about the elevated place of human reason to measure and evaluate all things biblical deserves serious examination before we move forward.
- You choose reason as your primary source of knowledge about the Bible because it seems reasonable to you to do so. That is circular, Mr. M., and it is unsupportable. It’s an assumption. And it’s an assumption that ultimately leads only to a place of speculation, not knowledge.
I do see a place for reason, and I seek to abide by the laws of logic. God has ordained them. Ultimately, however, I trust Scripture as my ultimate source of knowledge about meaning, identity, human value, knowledge, etc. (And, no, saying this doesn’t negate the scientific method or other valid forms of inquiry and their judicious use.)
You seem more inclined to trust yourself and others who affirm your claim that Scripture is not inerrant. This is not new. For centuries, people have chosen to huddle together to reaffirm each other in their speculations. What I fail to see is what ultimate good such a speculative position offers to a broken and hurting world. We’re not just talking about our favorite flavor of ice cream here. This is a significant matter at the heart of the meaning of life—and one that has far-reaching practical implications.
I believe Scripture is trustworthy because it claims to be inerrant and shows itself to be inerrant. (So that we’re not confused on our terms, I use the term inerrant as defined in The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. You’ll see that this view accounts for scribal errors, misspellings in the manuscripts , etc., so let’s not get hung up on trivial matters.)
Let me also say upfront that the wording of part of your question seems to assume a requirement that the concept of inerrancy needs to have been “codified” as a principle of faith. It seems that you’re thinking it was supposed to have been written down thousands of years ago by some church fathers in another part of the world perhaps (certainly not Chicago, right?).
But I’m not so sure this is fair of you to require. The battle over inerrancy may not have been ostensibly fought in every generation. Rather, it seems to be more of a long-standing assumption of genuine Christians. As I understand it, the battle over inerrancy has been around for over 100 years at least because of critical viewpoints trying to chip away at the belief that God’s Word is inerrant.
I think you yourself believe in inerrancy—not of Scripture, perhaps—but you believe in the inerrancy of some foundational reference point. No one in the universe is a true relativist. Inerrancy is a foundational concept that’s innate to all human beings, whether they acknowledge it or not. Let me ask you: Do you believe that your view is true? It certainly seems that way to me. By your engaging in an argument for the veracity of your own truth claims, you’re agreeing with me that there IS truth and falsehood. Otherwise, why argue?
I think that your objections over inerrancy are actually a smokescreen (perhaps one you don’t intend). It seems you’re trying to re-draw the lines on the playing field by insisting that someone needs to prove the legitimacy of inerrancy in a “test tube” for you, as if you can shirk the burden of proof for a foundational epistemological concept that you’d rather not deal with, so you simply try shouting it down instead.
All people are created equal, but not all ideas are equal. Each must be evaluated on a scale of truthfulness according to a fixed standard of truth. The standard is set by whoever’s position better comports with reality. I believe mine is such a position. You believe yours is. One of the unavoidable flaws of your position of denying inerrancy is if you deny inerrancy, you essentially make your own human mind a higher standard of truth than God’s Word itself. If you (using your mind) pronounce some sections of Scripture to be in error, that in effect says that you know truth more certainly and more accurately that God’s Word does or God does. To quote Dr. Grudem, “Such a procedure, making our own minds to be a higher standard of truth than God’s Word, is the root of all intellectual sin (p. 83ff in his "Systematic Theology").
Inerrancy is what gives one grounds for saying A is right and B is wrong. Inerrancy is just one of those unavoidable issues of epistemology. It’s a foundational concept. But perhaps you’re not seeing this.
Why has inerrancy been such a focus of late? (…over the past couple of centuries). Well, historically speaking, heresies seem to dictate the doctrinal agenda of any given era. The doctrinal battle over inerrancy (just like other doctrines that have had to be clarified over the course of history) was one that had to be fought in the past 200 years or so because heretical views were being raised in opposition to what had been, historically, a foundational belief. (E.g., Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” [John 10:35]; the test of the OT prophets was 100% accuracy or they were to be stoned to death; we’ll get into other support for inerrancy below; hang in there with me).
The Chicago Statement was simply a re-affirmation of the orthodox view that has always been among God's people. Just because the Statement was issued in 1978 in a certain place in North America doesn’t make it provincial, nor does it nullify its content. Also, I fail to see how the Statement is legalistic. (How are you defining that term anyway?) The Chicago Statement is precise, yes. It draws clear lines about what’s correct, what’s incorrect, and it supports its assertions, yes. But aren’t you also trying to define things and attempting to say what is correct and what is incorrect? Don’t you want people to agree with you and disagree with me? Sorry, but it just seems sometimes like you're talking of of both sides of your mouth. You draw lines, then condemn others for drawing lines.
Granted, the Chicago Statement authors were addressing concerns that were relevant at the time, but that doesn’t necessarily make it provincial or passé. What it essentially affirms is timeless and has its origins in the people of God going back ages past to the Mosaic authorship of Genesis through Deuteronomy. (By the way, do you affirm the de-bunked JEDP “Documentary Hypothesis” too? That’s a rabbit trail, I confess, but it would help me to better know where you’re coming from. If you don’t know what ‘m referring to, just skip it.)
Scripture’s own testimony about itself says that it’s not merely a human book. This is contra the prattling of your Dr. Coogan. And, no, there is absolutely nothing new or compelling about what he is saying.
Mr. M., if you and your group want to discount the testimony of what Scripture says about itself because you don’t like it, be honest about that. Don’t pretend that you’re on firmer, more scholarly ground to do so.
Now that we’ve cursorily dealt with presuppositions and the legitimacy of having localized discussions (in Chicago, or wherever) about timeless principles of faith, let’s move on to where Biblical inerrancy comes from, how it has been assumed as a principle of faith going back thousands of years, and by whose authority the principle is so absolute.
The following answer covers all three of these areas throughout, and there is a lot of crossover as the answer unfolds. Also, the answer takes the point of view that the named authors of the biblical books actually wrote them, and that the entire New Testament was completed before 100 AD. This view is, at the very least, just as legitimate as any speculative redaction theories to which you may hold. I just want to be forthright about these things upfront so we don’t get pulled into tangents where you try to “inform” me that Peter really didn’t write 2Peter (or other such guesswork that’s done under the guise of scholarship).
Where Biblical inerrancy comes from, how it has been assumed as a principle of faith going back thousands of years, and by whose authority the principle is so absolute.
Jesus Christ believed in the inerrancy of Scripture.
As the British theologian John Wenham argued, Christianity is rooted first and foremost in faith in a person: "Hitherto Christians who have been unaware about the status of the bible have been caught in a vicious circle: any satisfactory doctrine of the Bible must be based on the teaching of the Bible, but the teaching of the Bible is itself suspect. The way out of the dilemma is to recognize that belief in the Bible comes from faith in Christ, and not vice versa." In other words, confidence in the Bible rests upon confidence in Christ. Is Christ who He said He was? Is He just a great man or is He the Lord? The Bible may not prove to you Jesus Christ is the Lord, but the lordship of Christ will prove to you that the Bible is the very word of God. This is because Christ regularly spoke about the authority of the Old Testament (see Mark 9). He claimed authority for His own teaching by saying, "I tell you" (see Matthew 5). Jesus even taught that the teaching of His disciples would have divine authority (see John 14:26). If Jesus Christ is trustworthy, then His words about the authority of the Bible should be trusted as well. Christ is trustworthy and He trusted God's Word. So should we. Without faith in Christ, you will not believe the Bible is the self-disclosure of God. With faith in Christ, you cannot help but believe the Bible is God's Word.
Jesus’ post-ascension followers believed in the inerrancy of Scripture.
Paul describes the Bible this way in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Notice that Paul says "all" of Scripture--not just part of it, but all of it--comes from God. So we should see the Bible as a different kind of book from any other book there is. In the entire Bible, God tells us what he wants us to know. Not just parts of the Bible come from God, but all of it is God's own word to us. Also, notice that the Bible is "breathed out by God." This is a way of saying that it comes from God's own mouth. God speaks and breathes out the very books that form the Bibles that we have. Of course, human writers are responsible for writing these books also (we'll say a bit more about this in a minute), but here Paul's main point is that the Bible should be seen as God's Word.
Look next at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:13: "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." This helps us because Paul shows that the word spoken to these Thessalonian believers really was God's Word, even though it was spoken to them by Paul. So the Bible is the word of certain men, to be sure. But because God is working through those men as they speak and write, the Bible is really "the Word of God," as Paul says.
But how can the Bible be from men but really from God? How can we be sure that humans who spoke and wrote actually have spoken and written what God wanted them to express, so we can be sure that the Bible really and truly is God's Word? Our answer comes from a very helpful statement by the apostle Peter. In 2 Peter 1:20-21 Peter writes, "No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Here is our answer. The Holy Spirit of God, who lives in the lives of all of those who trust in Christ, did a special work in producing the Bible. As Peter says here, the authors of Scripture, who spoke forth the prophesies of the Bible and all of its teachings, were "carried along by the Holy Spirit" as they wrote. So, what they wrote was not as much from them as it was from the Holy Spirit who moved them to write what they did. In this way the Bible is from human authors but even more from God. God, by his Spirit, worked in these writers so that these "men spoke from God" as they wrote the books that we now have in our Bibles. This doesn't take away from the fact that Moses and Isaiah and Paul and Peter and many others wrote different books of the Bible. But it means that with these books, unlike any other books, God worked by his Spirit to make sure that what they wrote would be exactly what he wanted.
Go back again for a minute to something else that was said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Not only does Paul say that all of the Bible is "breathed out by God" and so is God's Word, he also says that this Bible is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." His point is this: because the Bible is from God, it is also very helpful and useful in causing us to grow as we should. Or think of it like this: because the Bible is what it is (it is the Word of God), it can do what it does (it is profitable to help us grow and be equipped for every good work). But if the Bible were not really the Word of God, we could not be sure that it would work in these positive ways to help us to grow. What the Bible is (the Word of God) enables it to do what it does (help us to grow). God is a talking God, and how thankful we should be that he "talked" into the very pages of the Bible all of the teachings that he wanted his people to know. (Adapted from Dr. Bruce Ware's book: Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.) http://www.christianity.com/christian%20foundations/the%20bible/11600832/
Current-day Christians believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. It accurately explains and changes our lives.
The Bible makes sense of the universal feeling of guilt, the universal longing for hope, the reality of shame, the presence of faith, and the exercise of self-sacrifice. Such categories loom large in the Bible and are obvious—to differing degrees—in our own lives. What about good and evil? Some may try to deny their existence, but the Bible best explains what we all experience—the presence of good (the reflection of a perfect, holy God) and the presence of evil (the expected results of a fallen, corrupt creation).
Consider also how the Bible powerfully changes our lives. Philosopher Paul Helm wrote, "God [and His Word] are proved by hearing and obeying Him and finding that He is as good as His Word." Our very lives become evidence of the Bible's reliability. The Christian's life is supposed to be evidence of the Bible's truthfulness. The psalmist urged us to "taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him" (Psalm 34:8). As we experience God, as we take refuge in Him, His words are proved to be a reliable standard. Like the captain of a ship in days of old who trusted in his map to bring him to his final destination, the Christian trusts in God's Word as an infallible guide because the Christian sees where it has taken him. Don Carson made a similar point when he described what first attracted a friend of his to the Bible: "his first attraction to the Bible and to Christ was prompted in part by intellectual curiosity, but more particularly by the quality of life of some Christian students he has known. The salt had not lost its savor; the light was still shining." A changed life is evidence of a true Word.
God was under no obligation to speak; yet He did. He made Himself known. The fact that some would like God to reveal Himself differently or more does not change the fact that God revealed Himself as He saw fit. Second, because God spoke, we should strive to know Him with the passion of a young man pursuing a young woman. That young man wants to know her more and better. He wants her to speak and when she does he soaks in every word. We should desire to know God with a similar, youthful, even passionate zeal. Read the Bible and get to know God. The Christian's life, however imperfect, should reflect that God has spoken, and His Word is true.
The Bible we have today that has been translated and passed down from generation to generation is supported by a greater quantity of historical manuscripts - and demonstrates a greater degree of textual consistency and fidelity - than any other ancient document. The Dead Sea scrolls provide some of the earliest corroboration of the accuracy of the Old Testament manuscripts that served as the basis for today's translations.
Christ Himself affirmed the inspiration and integrity of the Old Testament, which were the Scriptures in existence while He was here. The New Testament was written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Christ's life and ministry, by apostles and others whose work could have been decisively refuted had it been untrue.
And archaeology has repeatedly verified key portions of both the Old and New Testaments. When thoroughly considered, there is more evidence for the reliability of the Bible than other sources of information on which we make decisions and take action every day.
It really comes down to a question of our premise:
Could Almighty God, in choosing to reveal Himself to the human race, inspire and superintend the compilation of a cohesive, inerrant written record of His nature, ways, and will?
Or would imparting and preserving such a record be too difficult for Him?
In closing, here is a recent article discussing the importance of inerrancy when talking about what the gospel is.
By the way, just so we’re clear, the gospel—not sentimental inclusivism—is the linchpin factor in determining whether or not one is a Christian.
Your servant and His,