Biblical Inerrancy/Part 2

By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©1999
Consider how the limited inerrancy position collapses when we evaluate this basic thesis: maintaining inerrancy in matters of doctrine and morality but accepting errors in matters of science and history.

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We continue now by considering how the limited inerrancy position collapses when we evaluate this basic thesis: maintaining inerrancy in matters of doctrine and morality but accepting errors in matters of science and history.

We can illustrate the inseparable relationship between these two areas with two ex­amples: A) in the area of science, with the biblical fact of creation, and B) in the area of history, with the biblical fact of Christ’s resurrection. In each case the teaching of Scripture is clear. In the area of science, if we accept errors at one point, what happens to theology at another point? For example, if a literal supernatural, six-day creation is rejected in favor of something like theistic evolution in deference to the “fact” of the modern scientific theory of evolution, it implicates both Jesus (i.e., God) and the Apostle Paul in error. If so, Adam and Eve were not originally created by God as our first parents, as Jesus taught (Mt. 19:4- 5) and six literal days becomes six hundred million years of slow evolutionary progress necessary for producing man. If so, then death did not arrive through Adam, and further Eve was not created from Adam’s side, etc., and therefore the Apostle Paul was in error (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:42-49; 1Tim. 2:1-14). If we assume the Bible is in error on the creation account because we choose to believe in the scientifically discredited theory of evolution, it is not just the credibility of the creation account that suffers but everything logically based on it, which is a great deal more, as Henry Morris shows in Biblical Cre­ationism: What Each Book of the Bible Teaches About Creation and the Flood. If we reject a literal reading of Genesis chapters 1-11, then “The only other honest alternative would seem to be to abandon our professed belief in biblical inspiration and authority altogether.”[1]

The events of “science” (creation) and history (the resurrection) are integrally tied to matters of “faith and practice” as the chart below shows:Creation Faith/Practice (Theological and Moral)

Science and History/Faith and Practice
A. Facts Related to the Biblical Creation (Science) Related Area of Faith/Practice (Theological and Moral)
Six days (Gen.1-2:3) The Sabbath observance is based on the six day

creation account (Ex. 20:8-11)

Adam and Eve as literal persons (Gen. 3) The Divine institution of marriage and prohibition of divorce and homosexuality are dependent on the creation account (Gen. 2:23-24; Matt. 19:4-5)
Eve was created from Adam’s side (Gen. 3:2-22) The role of men and women in marriage and the church is based on the priority of Adam in creation (1 Tim. 2:12-14; Eph. 5:22-32)
Adam as the first created man (Gen. 2:5-7; 1 Cor. 15:21,45) and his subsequent fall The imputation of Adam’s sin and the entrance of death into the world is based on Adam being the first man (Rom. 5:12-19); the fact of our physical resurrection is tied to Adam’s fall (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-59)
B. Facts related to the Resurrection of Christ (History) Related Areas of Faith/Practice
The resurrection as space-time history, not religious allegory or myth (1 Cor. 4-8 The resurrection is proof of Christ’s Messiahship (Lk. 24:44-47), incarnation (Phil. 2:1-10), and of coming divine judgment (Acts 17:31)
The resurrection was physical not spiritual (Lk. 24:39) The resurrection of our body and the validity of Christian faith are both tied to the physical nature of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-22, 42-50)
Christ resurrected from genuine death (Jn. 19:30-35; Lk. 23:46; Mk. 15:44-45) Propitiation/justification and salvation in general are based on Christ having truly died (Rom. 4:25; 1 Pet. 2:24)
Christ was raised to eternal life (Rom. 6:2-10) Christ’s resurrection parallels regeneration to eternal life (Jn. 3:16; 6:24; 6:47); The symbol of baptism commemorates Christ’s (and our) resurrection to new life (Rom. 6); the symbol of communion commemorates Christ’s death (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Matt. 6:26-28)

Clearly then the areas of science and history are inseparably related to matters of faith and practice. It is therefore logically impossible to maintain the “limited inerrancy” view—that the Bible is without error in its doctrinal and moral teaching but with error in teachings concerning science and history. If the credibility of Christian doctrine and morality is directly related to the credibility of what the Bible teaches in the areas related to science and history—and the latter aren’t credible—then how can the teachings based upon them be considered credible? In other words, to charge one with error is to implicate the other with error. There is no escaping this conclusion.

In addition, note that the resurrection—besides being an historical event—is also a miraculous event and as such related negatively to the domain of science. If materialistic science is the authority by which we judge “scientific error” to be in the Bible, how do we safely preserve the truth of Christian doctrine and yet retain the absolute authority of sci­ence? Every major doctrine of Scripture is intimately tied to the supernatural (God, incarna­tion, virgin birth, Jesus’ Messianic role (prophecy), miracles and atonement, salvation, eschatology, bibliology, etc.). If presuppositional and theoretical science (i.e., in materialism and evolutionism) are the authority, then Christianity is clearly false, for miracles are impos­sible by definition, no God exists, and Jesus was only a man.

Indeed, if there are genuine mistakes or errors in the “earthly” portions of Scripture, i.e., science and history, those areas we can test, how can we safely assume inerrancy in the more crucial “heavenly” areas, those areas we can’t test, such as salvation by grace through faith alone? And if the biblical authors wrote carelessly in the important “little” details of history, how do we know they wrote flawlessly in the crucial matters of salvation? If, as some evangelicals enamored with higher criticism maintain:

  • Daniel was written in 165 BC, not the 6th century BC—then it is a rank fraud and forgery—and Jesus was certainly in error in calling Daniel a genuine prophet of God (Mt. 24:15).
  • If Isaiah had two or three authors, it, too, is a fraud and the Apostle John was in error ascribing authorship to the traditional Isaiah (Jn. 12:38-41).
  • If Genesis chs. 1-3 and the book of Jonah are legends, “didactic fictions,” then Jesus was again in error when He upheld them as history and called Jonah a prophet (Mt. 12:39- 41).

If the Jews canonized such obviously fraudulent books, what other part of the canon may we trust? And if New Testament authors made such evident errors in “common knowl­edge” what can we say about the rest of their reporting?

  • If Paul did not write most of his letters, who did, and how can we trust the writings of a fraudulent impersonator?
  • If, according to redaction theories, Jesus did not say everything attributed to Him by the Gospel writers, which of His teachings do we trust and which do we question? And how do we know which is which? Aren’t we back to the hopeless confusion and nonsense of the Jesus Seminar? And if, according to “evangelical” redaction theories, the Holy Spirit in­spired the writers to record sayings of Jesus that He never actually spoke, can we trust anything the Holy Spirit inspired? Would the Holy Spirit do this and implicate Himself in deception?

Some evangelicals do believe these things—and this is precisely the issue in theinerrancy debate: the reliability and authority of Scripture. Not unexpectedly, these kinds ofdestructive conclusions often arise from the use of so-called” higher criticism” of the Bible.

How do evangelical errantists defend their views? Those who reject inerrancy often claim they are actively preserving true evangelicalism. As Lindsell writes of those errantists who work in Christian institutions that accept inerrancy:

Many who hold that the Bible is fallible are deeply convinced that those who think it infallible are wrong. Rightly or wrongly, they think they are doing the Christian faith a service by staying where they are and working to delete any commitment to an infallible Bible from the creeds and confessions…. They wish to deliver those who believe in it from their error. The decision to remain where they are and to work for this change is based on the conviction that to do so is more important than the ethical dilemma of signing statements of faith they do not actually believe.[2]

Others argue the entire issue is blown out of proportion. Is there really a difference between an inerrantist who believes no present translation is 100 per cent inerrant yet treats the Scripture as inerrant and a limited inerrantist who rejects inerrancy but treats the Scripture infallibly in matters of faith and practice, especially when neither would reject any cardinal Christian doctrine? After all, no evangelical errantist believes the Bible is “full of errors,” and some would probably be reluctant even to claim a single demonstrable error. Are the two positions all that divergent? What if the errantist (in good conscience) truly does not believe the Bible claims its own inerrancy? And what if he staunchly defends the inerrancy of Scripture in matters relating to salvation? What if he simply does not believe that biblical inerrancy is necessary for God to achieve all the purposes God intended to in revealing His Word? In the end, what is the crucial difference when the inerrantist believes in something he can not finally prove (inerrancy can’t be proven without the autographs) and the errantist who also believes in something he cannot prove (errancy)? Do not both positions result in the same practical end: the infallibility of Scripture for all of God’s in­tended purposes, i.e., for revealing

  1. the one true God,
  2. His plan of salvation, and
  3. everything necessary for the Christian’s spiritual health?

To begin with, the issue surrounding inerrancy is not merely the ability of Scripture to accomplish God’s purposes, important as this is. The issue surrounds the character of God and the establishing of biblical authority. All Christians agree God is a God of truth, omnipo­tent and sovereign. If God did inspire or permit errors in the autographs, aren’t there impli­cations for His character and nature? Further, how can we know where the errors are? In the end, can God or His word be trusted? And how can we be truly certain the Scripture will provide all that Christians need for spiritual health if Christians themselves are not certain what parts to believe or trust or attempt to decide the issue subjectively?

Perhaps the issue is more important than the limited inerrantist supposes. Can a fallible Scripture, which demands individual uncertainty over the location of truth really accomplish the will of God? As Dr. Archer points out, the doctrine of inerrancy and the doctrine of salvation are more closely tied than some Christians think:

God’s written revelation came in inerrant form, free from discrepancies or contradictions, and this inerrancy contributes to its achieving its saving purpose. If there were genuine mistakes of any sort in the original manuscripts, it would mean, obviously, that the Bible contains error along with truth. As such it would become subject to human judgment, just like any other religious document. The validity of such judgment, of course, depends on the judge’s own knowledge and wisdom. If he rejects the truth of the scriptural record simply because it seems to him to be unlikely or improbable, then he is in danger of eternal loss. The charge of scriptural self-contradiction or factual error is to be taken quite seriously; it cannot be brushed off as a matter of minor consequence. At stake is the credibility and reliability of the Bible as authentic revelation from God…. For this reason there is no such thing as an inconsequential scriptural error. If any part of the Bible can be proved to be in error, then any other part of it—including the doctrinal, theological parts—may also be in error.[3]

Further, inerrancy has implications for how we treat Scripture. The words of men must be perceived differently from the words of God. One we examine critically, one we bow before. If our finite minds must be the rational judge of what is Scripture, where does such a process end? After all, does even the central salvation truth of Scripture seem probable or reasonable?

Read Part 3

Notes:

  1. Henry M. Morris, Biblical Creationism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), p. 14.
  2. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1977), p. 23.
  3. Gleason Archer, “Alleged Errors and Discrepancies in the Original Manuscripts of the Bible” in Norman Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), p. 59.

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