Biblical Inerrancy: The Evidence-Part 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|Did Jesus ever express any doubts about the inerrancy of Scripture at any time or in any way? Why are the “jot” and the “tittle” such compelling evidence for inerrancy?|
Biblical Inerrancy: The Evidence—Part 3
The most important criteria for evaluating inerrancy is the teaching of Jesus, although God’s other words in the Bible are no less authoritative. Nevertheless, if Jesus Christ is the example for Christians, then one could argue that limited inerrantists should be ashamed, for they do not maintain the same confidence in Scripture as that of their Lord and Savior. They claim there are errors and mistakes and contradictions in the text; therefore, they do not trust it when they think they have sufficient reason for doubt.
But did Jesus ever express any doubts about Scripture at any time in any manner? Is there the slightest indication He did not trust Scripture fully? Was there even a single reservation about one Scripture anywhere?
Indeed the strength of the case for Jesus’ view of inerrancy can only be seen by a detailed study of His absolute trust in and use of Scripture—and this is certainly a strong indication of scriptural inerrancy. For if it were otherwise, Jesus would of necessity have told us that there were errors in Scripture and corrected them—but again even this is unthinkable for it presumes either errant inspiration or a lack of providential preservation of the text (cf. Jn. 14:2).
Nevertheless, for Jesus, what Scripture said, God said, period. Not once did He say, “This scripture is in error,” and proceed to correct it. John Wenham points out:
- Surely He would have explained clearly a mingling of divine truth and human error in Scripture had He thought such to exist. The notion that our Lord was fully aware that the view of Holy Scripture current in His day was erroneous, and that He deliberately accommodated His teaching to the beliefs of his hearers, will not square with the facts. His use of the Old Testament seems altogether too insistent, positive, and absolute. He unequivocally maintained that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35); “Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law….” (Matt. 5:18); “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law” (Luke 16:17).
The weight of the above three verses mentioned by Wenham is impressive indeed when we consider them in more detail. In Matthew 5:17-19, for example:
- The “jot” is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the “tittle” is the minute horn or projection that distinguishes consonants of similar form from one another. It would be impossible to think of any expression that would bespeak the thought of the meticulous more adequately than precisely this one used here by our Lord. In respect of the meticulous, our English expression “one letter or syllable” is scarcely equivalent. Could anything establish more conclusively the meticulous accuracy, validity, and truth of the law than the language to which Jesus here attaches his own unique formula of asservation?
On John 10:35, for example:
- …when he says the Scripture cannot be broken, he is surely using the word “Scripture” in its mostcomprehensive denotation as including all that the Jews of the day recognized as Scripture, to wit, all the canonical books of the Old Testament. It is of the Old Testament without any reservation or exception that he says, it “cannot be broken.”…He affirms the unbreakableness of the Scripture in its entirety and leaves no room for any such supposition as that of degrees of inspiration and fallibility. Scripture is inviolable. Nothing less than this is the testimony of our Lord. And the crucial nature of such witness is driven home by the fact that it is in answer to the most serious of charges and in the defense of his most stupendous claim that he bears this testimony.
The above two verses establish the particularity of inerrancy (“jot,” “tittle”) and the extent of inerrancy (all Scripture). As John Murray states of Jesus’ view, “We found it to be nothing less than that of the infallible character and authority of the Old Testament. A higher view of plenary or verbal inspiration we could not expect to find.”
Theologian Dr. Charles Ryrie also has relevant comments on these passages:
- A jot is the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest letter in that alphabet. It looks much like an English apostrophe. The word tittle means a minor stroke and refers to the almost unnoticeable strokes which distinguish certain Hebrew letters from others. For instance, the tittle that differentiates a d (daleth) from an r (resh) is a protrusion that in a normal font of type would not be more than 1/16 of an inch. Of course the presence or absence of the tittle could change the spelling of a word and likely change the meaning. The Lord was emphasizing that every letter of every word is important, and what those words say in sentences and paragraphs is completely accurate. In fact, they can be depended on to be fulfilled exactly as spelled out letter by letter and word by word in all the promises of the Old Testament. Such a specific statement by our Lord would have no meaning if the Scripture were subject to errors in the text.
John 10:33-36 is another passage where the Lord states that the Scripture cannot be broken. This is an assertion that the entire Scripture cannot be broken and that the particular words being quoted on that occasion cannot be broken. This is only possible because the Scripture is true in each particular and in all its parts.
If it is easier for heaven and earth (i.e. the universe) to pass from existence than for the “least stroke of a pen” to be lost, can we possibly believe Jesus thought there were errors in Scripture? John Warwick Montgomery comments on another statement by Jesus this time in Matthew 4:4: “Christ tells us simply, quoting the God of the Old Testament, that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ One must therefore operate with every word and consider every word as significant. Had God ‘intended’ otherwise, the text would (by definition) be different from what it is!”
He makes the highly relevant observation, that “the weight of Christ’s testimony to Scripture is so much more powerful than any alleged contradiction or error in the text or any combination of them, that the latter must be adjusted to the former, not the reverse.”
Further, in several ways we can see how Jesus, in pre-authenticating the New Testament also assumed its inerrancy, even as He clearly taught the inerrancy of the Old Testament. In John 17:20 He confirms His belief that new revelation was forthcoming. In promising the disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things and bring to remembrance the things Jesus taught them (John. 14:26, referring to the Gospels, cf., Matt. 24:35) and that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth (John. 16:13, referring to the rest of the New Testament), he clearly pre-authenticated the inspiration and hence inerrancy of the New Testament. Again, is it logical to think that Jesus would believe that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, would either corrupt His own words, or inspire error? How could the incarnate God teach the infallibility of the Old Testament and not know the same condition would apply to the New Testament? Thus, Jesus never wrote anything because He knew it was unnecessary: the Holy Spirit would inspire an inerrant Word. How else could He teach (or could we reasonably believe) “My word shall never pass away” (Matt. 24:35)?
Confirmation in Church History
Here our only concern is to document rather than discuss that the Christian Church historically—Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox has always held to an infallible or inerrant Bible. This is an indisputable fact, for the only basis upon which Christianity could logically hold to such a position is Scriptural testimony itself. Our only other option is to accept that, on so vital a subject, the church has been in error all these centuries. If true, it has been in error for some 2000 years, and certainly has not, as Jesus promised, been guided into all the truth. On the other hand, if Scripture so clearly taught errancy, how could the Church have ever taught otherwise?
When errantists maintain that inerrancy has not been the historic position of the Church they are either unacquainted with the data, or refuse to accept it.
As Lindsell states:
- There is no evidence to show that errancy was ever a live option in the history of Christendom foreighteen hundred years in every branch of the Christian Church that had not gone off into aberration.
Dr. John D. Woodbridge, Professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is correct when he writes:
- The vast majority of Christians from diverse confessional backgrounds until the middle of the 17th century included the teachings of the natural world and history under their definition of inerrancy…. Today’s evangelical Christians who propose that the Bible’s infallibility extends beyond faith and practice to its teachings about the natural world and history reside squarely in the central tradition of the church. Only by a serious misreading of Western history can they be viewed as doctrinally innovative on that point.
In conclusion, either Jesus was correct in his view of Scripture or He was not. If He was not, everything Christian tumbles into the abyss. But, if He was correct in His view of Scripture, the question is, will we follow His lead or will we implicate him with error in the face of His holy testimony? Would not the Christian rather stand with Christ than against Him?
- See, e.g., John Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), chs. 1-2, 5 and his chapter in Norman Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), pp. 3-38; the classic work is Benjamin B. Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible; Pierre Ch. Marcel “Our Lord’s Use of Scripture” in Henry (ed.) Revelation and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1969), pp. 119-134 and Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), ch. 18.
- John Wenham, “Christ’s View of Scripture,” in Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy, pp. 14-15.
- John Murray “The Attestation of Scripture” in N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (eds.), The Infallible Word: A Symposium (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967, Third Rev. Edition), p. 22.
- Ibid., pp. 26-27.
- Ibid., p. 28.
- Charles Ryrie, The Bible Truth Without Error (booklet, Rev. Ed.) (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977), p. 7.
- John W. Montgomery, “Biblical Inerrancy. What is at Stake?” in John W. Montgomery (ed.) God’s Inerrant Word (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1974), p. 31.
- Ibid., p. 38.
- See e.g., John Woodbridge, Biblical Authority (Zondervan); George D. Barry’s The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, A Study in the Literature of the First Five Centuries; Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, chapter 3 (Zondervan); Geisler, Decide for Yourself (Zondervan); John Montgomery (ed.), God’s Inerrant Word, chapters 3- 5; Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy, chapters 12-13; J. M. Boice, The Foundation of Biblical Authority (Zondervan).
- Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, p. 69. This, of course, included matters of science and history, cf., Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 205; cf., R. D. Preus (ed.), Inerrancy, p. 357.
- John D. Woodbridge, “Does the Bible Teach Science?” in Zuck (gen. ed.), p. 49.