My View of Inerrancy, Revisited

*Let me repost something that I wrote a little while ago now. This is prompted by a commenter, and emailer of mine; I will follow this post up with a more direct answer to the question that this emailer has provided me with in a forthcoming post.

I was recently asked by Brian LePort to fill out a questionnaire on my view of Biblical Inerrancy. He posted my responses to his questions, here. But I thought I would repost what I wrote here at my blog as well. So that’s what the following represents.

Do you use the word “inerrancy” to describe your understanding of Scripture? Why or why not? (If not, can you explain your “doctrine of Scripture?”)
 I grew up ardently advocating for this terminology; it has only been over the last few years that I have taken a different approach to my doctrine of Scripture vis-á-vis an ontology of Scripture. While maintaining my identity as an Evangelical (Reformed) Christian, and some of the received history that this entails (including the intention that inerrancy sought to capture–e.g. the trustworthiness of Scripture); I would probably eschew emphasizing the language of inerrancy relative to my position (even though I remain sympathetic to it, and those who still feel the need to use it).
In a nutshell: I see Scripture within the realm of soteriology (salvation), and no longer (as the classically Reformed and Evangelical approach does) within the realm of epistemology (or a naked Philosophy). Meaning that I think a proper doctrine of Scripture must understand itself within its proper order of things. So we start with 1) Triune God, 2) The election of humanity in the Son (Covenant of Grace), 3) Creation, Incarnation (God’s Self-revelation), 4) The Apostolic Deposit of Christian Scripture (e.g. the New Testament re-interpretation of salvation history [i.e. Old Testament] in light of its fulfillment in Christ). This is something of a sketch of the order of Scripture’s placement from a theological vantage point (I don’t think the tradition that gave us inerrancy even considers such things). So I see Scripture in the realm of Christian salvation (sanctification), and as God’s triune speech act for us provided by the Son, who comes with the Holy Spirit’s witness (through Scripture). Here is how John Webster communicates what I am after:
First, the reader is to be envisaged as within the hermeneutical situation as we have been attempting to portray it, not as transcending it or making it merely an object of will. The reader is an actor within a larger web of event and activities, supreme among which is God’s act in which God speaks God’s Word through the text of the Bible to the people of God, as he instructs them and teaches them in the way they should go. As a participant in this historical process, the reader is spoken to in the text. This speaking, and the hearing which it promotes, occurs as part of the drama which encloses human life in its totality, including human acts of reading and understanding: the drama of sin and its overcoming. Reading the Bible is an event in this history. It is therefore moral and spiritual and not merely cognitive or representational activity. Readers read, of course: figure things out as best they can, construe the text and its genre, try to discern its intentions whether professed or implied, place it historically and culturally — all this is what happens when the Bible is read also. But as this happens, there also happens the history of salvation; each reading act is also bound up within the dynamic of idolatry, repentance and resolute turning from sin which takes place when God’s Word addresses humanity. And it is this dynamic which is definitive of the Christian reader of the Bible. [[John Webster, “Hermeneutics in Modern Theology: Some Doctrinal Reflections,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 336]
So I see Scripture as God’s second Word (Jesus the first and last Word) for His people the Church. From this perspective inerrancy becomes a non-starter, since Scripture is no longer framed apologetically; but instead, Christically, and positive witness for the Church.
If you were to provide a brief definition of the doctrine of inerrancy what would it include?
Millard Erickson has provided the best indexing of innerancy[s]; he has: 1) Absolute Inerrancy, 2) Full Inerrancy, and 3) Limited Inerrancy (see Millard Erickson, “Introducing Christian Doctrine [abridged version],” 61). Realizing that there is nuance then when defining a given inerrancy; I would simply assert that inerrancy holds to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture; meaning that Scripture is both Divine-human speech, or Divine revelation (or God’s Words). And since God cannot lie, Scripture must be totally without any error; because if it has error then God has lied.
Can there be a doctrine of inerrancy divorced from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy? If so, what are the “practical” consequences? If not, why?
I think the Chicago Statement, given its recognition for literary and genre analysis of the text of Scripture has effectively allowed for the possibility of qualifying inerrancy to the point that you might end up with my current view ;-).
How does your doctrine of Scripture impact your hermeneutics? Can you use Genesis 1-11 as a case study/example?
I would simply say that I see Genesis 1–11 as the first instance of the LORD’s first Word of grace; viz. we have God introduce himself as the personal God who created, and for the purpose of creation communing with him by and through the Son (Gen. 3:15). So, no, I don’t  follow Henry Morris and the Institute of Creation Research  in defending a wooden literal reading of this section of Scripture. I see it literally, but as God’s  introduction of himself to his Covenant people such that His people might know what he intends for his creation; viz. that we commune with him through the Son. It is through this purpose for creation that all other idolatrous parodies (like those in the Ancient Near East) fall by the way side and are contradicted by creation’s  true purpose, in Christ.
I would recommend John Webster’s little book: Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. His book articulates and informs my view on this like no other I have ever come across.
I would be interested in knowing what you think about my response; and like to hear what your own view is on this issue. I am highly sympathetic to the impulse that charged the construction of inerrancy (i.e. to defend the reliability of Scripture as God’s words to humanity), but I ultimately think there are better ways to frame Scripture rather than from the defensive and largely reactive posture that gave inerrancy rise. To be totally frank; when I read Scripture I still cannot but read it as if (because I believe this to be the case) it is indeed completely accurate relative to the standards of accuracy it originally intended to be accurate by ;-).
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6 Responses to My View of Inerrancy, Revisited

  1. Kevin Davis says:

    I still struggle with this. My concern about inerrancy is how it can dislocate the authority of Scripture from its triune context (of revelation and salvation), which has devastating consequences for naive young evangelicals who go to nearly any university. They invariably enter “apologetic mode,” the futility of which is followed by skepticism and disillusionment. I was saved from this path by good theology (the usual suspects: Brunner, Barth, Torrance, Webster, and others), and I was fortunate.

    However, now that I have a good theological foundation, I am more sympathetic to the inerrancy position (with the appropriate qualifiers), as represented by Horton or Vanhoozer. This is not a “flat” view of inerrancy, but it does entail an unwillingness to say “x” is wrong, if it is clear that the author intended to affirm “x.” I still struggle with whether certain historical minutia should be included, but I am otherwise clearly in the conservative camp. By contrast, Peter Enns has gone way too far afield — rejecting certain representations of God in the OT, among other problems with his theology.


  2. Bobby Grow says:


    I am where you are!

    I just engaged with Peter Enns at his blog, and his suggestion about how to understand the apparently genocidal God of the OT who calls for wiping out the cannanites. When I pressed him a bit, by way of simple question, he didn’t have much of a response to offer, which was disappointing.

    I think Vanhoozer and Horton do indeed provide a better way to think about this in round terms. And now Webster’s book “The Domain of the Word” also contributes to this as well!

    I know what you mean about how the apologetic mode can kick in for younger college folk (or some Christians in general), only to see many of them turn into mini-Ehrmans :-(.


  3. Paul Bruggink says:

    FYI, Millard Erickson listed four additonal positions on inerrancy (Erickson, “Christian Theology: Unabridged, one-volume edition,” pp. 223-224):
    4) Inerrancy of purpose, which holds that the Bible inerrantly accomplishes its purpose.
    5) Accommodated revelation, in which the Bible contains a mixture of revelational and nonrevelational elements [which is one way of dealing with the contradixdtions].
    6) Nonpropositional revelation [whatever that means], and
    7) Inerrancy is an irrevelant issue.

    As you could probably guess from our previous Comment discussion on Near Emmaus’s “How much of your Christianity can be ahistorical?,” I am somewhere between #4 and #7.


  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Yes, he did, Paul, thanks for sharing this!

    My approach has been morphing even more since I first posted this; I will have to share where I am at in the days to come. Thanks for highlight where you are at on Erickson’s spectrum, that is good to know.


  5. Kevin Davis says:

    I need to shell out the $80+ for Webster’s ‘Domain of the Word’. Speaking of Webster, according to the St. Andrews’ announcement of his departure from Aberdeen, he has four more books in the pipeline:

    God without Measure, On Creation and Providence, Ephesians (a theological commentary), and Perfection and Presence: God with Us

    I believe the last one is his Kantzer Lectures from a few years ago. And, presumably he has been working on an ST for Baker Academic, but maybe he has put it off or is just taking his time.


  6. Stephen Woerner says:

    Bobby! Great post. Thanks for the follow up.


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