Reflecting on Biblical Inerrancy

*I thought I would repost this because I just listened to a podcast created by a pastor in Portland, OR named John Mark Comer where he interviews professor of theology at Western Seminary in PDX, Gerry Breshears. My view of this doctrine hasn’t really changed from the time I originally wrote this following post back quite a few years ago. Here is the link to the podcast produced by John Mark and Gerry Breshears, and then a link to a podcast I created on this topic not too long ago (where I partially read this post, but reflect further):

John Mark and Gerry on Inerrancy.

Bobby Grow on Inerrancy.

biblejesusI 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.

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I would recommend John Webster’s little book: Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic SketchHis 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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9 thoughts on “Reflecting on Biblical Inerrancy

  1. What I’m wondering is the distinction between Scripture soteriologically or epistemologically. I can hear the voices ringing in my ear: “If you don’t start with an inerrant Scripture, how can you ever know the Triune God? God made flesh?” etc. Even these concepts are not absolutely clear as, perhaps, some would like them.

    But the kicker is that, at least for me, I didn’t convert because I had an inerrant doctrine of Scripture nor did anyone convince me of that. The word of a friend, who brought me Christ, had no guarantee or promise of inerrancy. Yet that word stuck, and led me into reading the Scriptures. Thus, if I’m thinking of others, why believe that I need to structure Scripture epistemically is necessary? The Bible didn’t save me (though it confirmed the truth for me). I think it’s a symptom of a non-missionary, cerebral heavy Synod that produced, as a first article, a doctrine of an inerrant Scripture.

    Of course, there’s also interpretive and hermeneutic questions. I think inerrancy can, at times, “baptize” certain cultural perspectives, even if it is given with the whole caveat that this is scholarly bona fide, 100%, actual meaning from the original. This is not only against the Spirit (i.e. a new trinity of Father-Son-Holy Scholarship), but also a novel twist of the Galatian heresy, where you have to learn “Hebrew” this, that. and the other thing in order to properly understand. I think there’s a world of difference between syncretism and inculturation. But this attitude is like a backdoor syncretism, no longer relativizing our own perspective in time and space.

    This is where we need to make space for tradition, in reasoning collectively with the “mind of Christ”. If more people got boiled down, summed up, articulations of what the 7 ecumenical councils taught about Christology, maybe we’d have a lot less confusion, a lot less antipathy towards “history”, and a more balanced perspective. The work of the Spirit in the past anchors us, and opens up paths to work out in our own times, with a vision on an eschatologiically fixed Future.

    As for me, I think the Apostolic phrase “inspired”, especially when thinking of the Holy Spirit, is enough for a Bible that contains no lies and, instead, points to the Lord.

    2 cents,
    cal

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  2. Cal,

    The soteriological approach flows from within a Christian Dogmatic ordering of things, as I noted in my post. Anything else is apologetics and philosophy of religion; rationalism.

    I think the Webster quote engages with your point about hermeneutics etc.

    That book by Webster, I mention, is a gem, and I commend it to you.

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  3. Chemot,

    Chronology etc, as I noted in my post, need to be thought through the literary conventions that make up Scripture. I don’t see an chronological problems in Scripture unless someone is trying to engage Scripture positivistically, but that’s the point; I’m not! But, I will say this: if people who reject inerrancy turn around and say it is errant, then I will respond to such people using inerrantist arguments! But that’s only to stoop! The point is is that inerrantist and errantists are on the same shaky weak ground, and I think it is imprudent to stand on such ground. So that’s why I think its best to abandon the whole superstructure!

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  4. Well I beleve that God has not erred in letting the inspired writer show forth some degree of humanity , showing forth what was essential from them from the accessory. Everything in Scripture is there for a purpose. I think that God is glorified even in the minor discrepancies , if they are a stumbling block it is only for the men or women who want them to be so for those who seek God they do enhance the inspired writer incrediblegenuiness , honesty and reliability , this is what I believe.

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  5. If there are discrepancies I believe that it is because God made provision for mankind’s desire to seek, speculate and debate and because even liberal protestantism has a purpose in God’s plan. It was for the good of everyone , a test for everyone but also to provide an intellectual road to faith and to fill the shelves of our libraries(lol)!!!!! Common grace but God’s “common justice” if I may use such term.

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  6. Yeah, I don’t agree with you, Chemot. Again, I’m not interested in finding “errors” or not; although I do believe it is historically accurate. To me the whole exercise of saying there are errors is plain old positivism! It ignores the reality of genre and periodization (i.e. when and where the text was written). I believe God superintended the writing of Scripture concursus Dei as an embassy of His Triune-speech.

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  7. I’m not interested in finding errors either but many people tried to resolve discrepancies pointed out by others and they were often successful , men like Louis Gaussen or some of Princeton’s stalwarts like BB Warfield.
    Well, could you develop your point about “genre and periodization” especially relating to the four Gospels. Thanks for your time. May God bless you.

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  8. Yes, you are right about Warfield et al. While I’ve rejected the whole inerrancy/errancy binary, if someone is going to argue for errancy I will default back into inerrancy arguments.

    Yes, genre and periodization for one thing relativizes almost all the claims about there being “errors” int the Bible. I recognizes the usage of approximations for numbers in the bible, it understands how idiomatic conventions worked back then, it pays attention to literary techniques used by the ancients, and is able then to walk away from those who claim contradictions in the Bible and recognize that they fail to understand the literary quality of the text relative to its historical situadedness etc. In other words it muzzles that whole discussion.

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