The Importance of Inerrancy-Part 1
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|Previously we have seen defined inerrancy and seen the evidence for it. Now, we will document why the subject is important and show the weakness of the alternate position. As one scholar notes, “The evidence that those who surrender the doctrine of inerrancy inevitably move away from orthodoxy is indisputable.”|
The Importance of Inerrancy-Part One
Previously we have introduced the subject of Biblical Inerrancy—the doctrine that the Bible is without error in the autographs, or original writings—and looked at the evidence for inerrancy in history and prophecy. Now, we will document why the subject is important and show the weakness of the alternate position.
- The evidence that those who surrender the doctrine of inerrancy inevitably move away from orthodoxy is indisputable.
Conservative Protestants who reject inerrancy, like their neo-orthodox predecessors in Europe, genuinely and sincerely believe they are helping preserve the substance of Christian faith. Obviously, they assume inerrancy is not a vital part of biblical faith and that the essentials of Christian faith will not be damaged if the doctrine is abandoned. However, the goal of many errantists, “protecting” the faith by ridding it of a “nonessential accretion” is honorable only if it can be determined that inerrancy is nonessential. For this reason, the position of the errantist needs careful evaluation as to the soundness of its views. If we acknowledge that inerrancy is nonessential, then we forfeit the most valid reason for defending it.
Dr. Fred P. Thompson, a regular contributor to the National Association of Evangelicals periodical, United Evangelical Action, states his personal belief as follows: “I do not regard the doctrine of inerrancy helpful or relevant.” In the words of Donald Dayton of North Park Seminary (owned and operated by the Evangelical Covenant Church) “increasing numbers of evangelicals” are coming to view inerrancy as “a positive hindrance to the understanding of the fuller and deeper significance of the Scriptures.” He also observed that in The Battle for the Bible, Dr. Harold Lindsell had underestimated the extent to which higher criticism had infiltrated the evangelical church, a conclusion which Dr. Lindsell agreed with in his sequel.
How important is the issue of inerrancy? If 1) the evangelical world is “split” over this issue (as it seems it must be), if 2) in the words of Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, editor of Christianity Today, “A battle is raging within evangelical circles today…,” if 3) inerrantists are so concerned they established a scholarly society, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, with a ten year plan to counteract “the drift from this important doctrinal foundation by significant segments of evangelicalism”, then certainly the issues is nothing if it is not important. And yet this is just what some are saying—that the issue is unimportant.
As we noted in an earlier installment, the debate, by definition, centers around truth—and truth is always important. Charles Colson once believed of inerrancy, “It need not concern me” but later concluded “How wrong I was…it is relevant, indeed critical, for every serious Christian—layman, pastor and theologian alike.” In the following pages we will briefly attempt to show some of the reasons why inerrancy must concern “every serious Christian.” Dr. Lindsell states:
- …evangelicalism has been deeply infiltrated by an aberrant view of the Bible…. If anyone can still believe there is no problem facing the evangelical world with respect to biblical authority, revelation, inspiration, and inerrancy such a conclusion can be drawn only in the face of a refusal to accept the hard facts.
And, in a more lengthy assessment:
- …once infallibility is abandoned, however good the intentions of those who do it and however good they feel their reasons for doing so, it always and ever opens the door to further departures from the faith…. I will contend that embracing a doctrine of an errant Scripture will lead to disaster down the road. It will result in the loss of missionary outreach; it will quench missionary passion; it will lull congregations to sleep and undermine their belief in the full-orbed truth of the Bible; it will produce spiritual sloth and decay; and it will finally lead to apostasy….
A great battle rages today around biblical infallibility among evangelicals. To ignore the battle is perilous.
- To come to grips with it is necessary. To fail to speak is more than cowardice; it is sinful. There comes a time when Christians must not keep silent, when to do so is far worse than to speak and risk being misunderstood or disagreed with. If we Christians do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat its mistakes.
- …I am contending that once Biblical Inerrancy is scrapped, it leads inevitably to the denial of biblicaltruths that are inextricably connected with matters of faith and practice. History bears this out as we shall see, and nowhere is there any example of a group that has proclaimed a belief in the truthfulness limited to [strictly] those matters having to do with faith and practice where further defection has not occurred.
Infallibility: An Inescapable Concept
So declares the title of a book by noted Christian philosopher Rousas John Rushdoony, a leader in the Christian reconstruction movement.
In his text he documents that the concept of infallibility is inescapable—that of necessity men will accept the concept somewhere. If they deny it to the Bible, they will transfer it to another entity. For example, he shows how the controversial Catholic priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin referred to the infallibility of the evolutionary process. Infallibility may be tied to any number of ideals—political theory or process (Marxism), Church or Pope (Roman Catholicism), aesthetic experience, even to man himself (intuition, rationalism, humanism) etc. Rushdoony observes:
- For a man to live successfully, he must have an ultimate standing ground; every philosophy is authoritarian, in that, while it may attack savagely all other doctrines of authority, it does so from the vantage point of a new authority. This new authority is a basic pretheoretical presupposition which is in totality religious and which rests on a particular concept of infallibility. Every man has his platform from which he speaks. To affirm that foundation without qualification is an inescapable requirement of human thought.
- It is a naive and foolish error to assume that “deliverance” from the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture “frees” a man’s mind from the concept of infallibility. Rather, it means the adoption of a new infallibility as a rival and supposedly liberating concept….
- Infallibility is thus an inescapable concept. What we face today is not an abandonment of the doctrine of infallibility, but its transfer from God to man, from God’s word to man’s word….
If infallibility is a necessity, if it is a concept that all men will place somewhere regardless, then why not place it where it belongs—in God and His revealed Word?:
- To deny the infallibility of the word of God is inescapably to deny the God of Scripture. When the omnipotent God speaks, His word is of necessity infallible. This is the only kind of word that God can declare. Because God is God, it is utterly impossible for God ever to speak a word which is not infallible.
The Importance of Inerrancy for Biblical Authority and the Health of the Church
If inerrancy is inescapable and yet Christians do not accept it for the Bible, the church will suffer the consequences of a fallible divine revelation. Indeed it is already suffering, and its denial is taking an immense toll on individuals, churches, seminaries, Christian colleges, publishers, etc., and through them, on society itself. The results of the rejection of inerrancy and biblical authority can be seen most clearly in the cancerous tragedy of theological liberalism (e.g., The Jesus Seminar, Unitarian Universalism). With its denial of nearly every biblical doctrine and its leading men to eternal judgment in the arms of a solely human Jesus, it illustrates the far-reaching consequences of rejecting biblical authority.
The simple fact is that, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, apart from inerrancy, there can be no logical certainty of spiritual authority. Theologian Clark Pinnock argues:
- Defenders of inerrancy sometimes play on the fears of Bible readers. If the Bible is mistaken on a single point, how can we believe it at all? Religious certainty would be destroyed if a flaw were to exist in Scripture. When we consider the fact that no Bible in existence is flawless, logically we should stop trusting the Bible at once.
Nevertheless, using a virtually inerrant text based upon inerrant originals is a far cry from using an errant text based on errant originals—with no certainty as to where truth or error lies. There is a considerable difference between 1) a God who has inspired truth and error and 2) a God who has inspired only truth with manuscript copies containing some minor, if expected, problems that we must grapple with. In the first instance, we would attempt to decide where God has made or permitted error—but with no hope of recovering an inerrant text or of having an absolute authority for our decisions. In the second instance we would attempt to decide where man has made an error in an attempt to recover as much as possible of the inerrant originals— but with a logical faith in the absolute authority of Scripture. There is all the difference in the world between a perfect revelation to begin with—which can be almost 99 percent recovered and is 100% contained in the variant readings—and an imperfect original revelation—faulty and unreliable—that we have no certainty over.
As Dr. Gleason Archer points out, if the Bible does contain mistakes in the original manuscripts, then it ceases to be unconditionally authoritative. It must be validated and endorsed by our own human judgment before we can accept it as true. It is not sufficient to establish that a matter has been affirmed or taught in Scripture; it may nevertheless be mistaken and at variance with the truth. So human judges must pass on each item of teaching or information contained in the Bible and determine whether it is actually to be received as true. Such judgment presupposes a superior wisdom and spiritual insight competent to correct the errors of the Bible. If those who would thus judge the veracity of the Bible lack the necessary ingredient of personal inerrancy in judgment, they may come to a false and mistaken judgment—endorsing as true what is actually false. Or else they may condemn as erroneous what is actually correct in Scripture. Thus the objective authority of the Bible is replaced by personal research, subjective intuition, or judicial faculty on the part of each believer, and it easily becomes a matter of mere personal preference how much of Scripture teaching he or she may adopt as binding.
This can lead us to a hopeless, almost cultic subjectivism where we pick and choose the word of God within the Bible as it suits our fancy, or vainly attempt to sift the revelational matter from the nonrevelational, or to find the Gospel within the Gospel, etc. Remember Dr. Davis’ statement cited in an earlier issue that the Bible is authoritative for every Christian until he encounters a passage he cannot accept “for good reason”? Where has such subjectivism led many biblical scholars to if not into either a quagmire of skepticism and uncertainty or a new papalism of higher critical “ex cathedras”? Scholars of the so-called Jesus Seminar, for example, are at best intellectual agnostics on the teachings of Jesus and at worst practical atheists. We documented the consequences clearly in our The Facts on False Views of Jesus: Knowing the Truth About the Jesus Seminar (Harvest House, 1997).
One wonders, how can objective authority ever be derived from errant originals when human imperfection or subjectivism is the only criteria for discernment? As Old Testament scholar Dr. Gleason Archer states in a critique of a text advocating errancy:
- We have weighed all of Beegle’s arguments and found them falling far short of his announced purpose of proving the Bible guilty of mistakes even in the autographa…. Suffice it to say that his attempt to establish objective authority for the Bible, while deeming it guilty of error, is a total and complete failure. A Bible containing mistakes in its original manuscripts is a combination of truth and error and is therefore in the same class as the religious scriptures composed by pagan authors as expressions of their own search after God. As such, it must be subjected to the judicial processes of human reason, and in the effort to sift out the valid from the false, any human judge—whoever he may be—is necessarily influenced by subjective factors. All he can be sure of is his own opinion—and even that may change from year to year. At best he comes up with conjectures and guesswork, which he may try to dignify with the label of sanctified intuition or something of the sort. But he has no truly reliable, objective basis for knowledge of the one true God or of His will for our salvation or way of living. Whether Beegle is willing to face it or not, his epistemology is fatally defective, and he has no firmer grasp of spiritual truth than his own “inerrant” judgment may extend. To many of us there is far greater prospect of reliability and security in the inerrancy of the Word of God itself than in the judgments of it by finite, sinful man.
Certainly the health of individual churches is also related to the quality of preaching in the pulpits. Yet the rejection of inerrancy has had tragic results here as well. As noted pastor and commentator Dr. James Montgomery Boice observed:
- Many preachers talk about the Bible. They say they believe it. But they do not really teach it. Why is this? The reason (whether the ministers or the seminaries in which they are trained admit it or not) is that the majority of today’s preachers are no longer sure that the Lord has spoken in Scripture.
- It is not that they do not believe that God has spoken some place or that parts of the Bible, even largeparts, may contain God’s words. They are just not sure of it. If the Bible contains errors, it is not God’s Worditself, however reliable it may be. And if it is not God’s Word, it cannot be preached with authority. The resultis an ambiguous attitude toward the Scriptures, issuing in preaching which gives forth an uncertain sound….
- Is it any wonder that preaching in the majority of American churches is at such a low ebb? Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, one of the great preachers of our generation, has written, “I would not hesitate to put in the first position [for the decline in preaching]: the loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures, and a diminution in the belief of the Truth.”
Another indicator of the church’s health is the honoring of God through practical holiness—in obedience to His Word. But if His word is uncertain, can God be so honored? Do not the current cultural whims increasingly eclipse the authority of biblical teaching and morality for those who reject inerrancy? Carefully examine radical Christian feminism—and see where it leads, or “Christian” parapsychology or the “gay church” or “liberation” theology or theistic evolution. It matters little if the rejection of inerrancy comes before the adoption of error or after—the result is the same. In rejecting clear biblical teaching there is no place left to stand except with the ungodliness or errors of the culture. To cover error with a cloak of Christian piety will not excuse such error and will certainly not bring glory to the One to whom glory is due.
The above considerations represent some of the issues involved which led the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy to state that inerrancy is “an essential element for the authority of Scripture and a necessity for the health of the church.”
(To be continued)
- Harold J. Ockenga in the Foreword to Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1977), p. 12.
- Harold O.J. Brown in Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Challenges to Inerrancy A Theological Response (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1984) pp. 396-397.
- Fred Thompson, Jr., “At Issue: The Wrong War,” United Evangelical Action, Winter 1975, p. 8, cited in Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance, p. 73.
- Donald Dayton, “The Battle for the Bible: Renewing the Inerrancy Debate,” The Christian Century, November 10, 1976, p. 977, cited in Lindsell, Ibid., p. 95.
- Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), pp. 94-95.
- John Woodbridge, Biblical Authority, foreword, p. 7.
- James M. Boice (ed.) The Foundation of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), preface, p. 9.
- James I. Packer, Freedom and Authority (Oakland, CA: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1981), Foreword, p. 3.
- Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance, p. 111.
- Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, pp. 25-26, 139.
- Rousas J. Rushdoony, Infallibility: An Inescapable Concept (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1978), pp. 4, 7.
- Ibid., p. 6.
- Clark Pinnock, “Three Views of the Bible in Contemporary Theology” in Jack Rogers (ed.) Biblical Authority (Waco, TX: Word, 1978), p. 65.
- Gleason Archer, “The Witness of the Bible to its Own Inerrancy,” in Boice, The Foundation of Biblical Authority, pp. 93-94.
- Gleason Archer in Norman Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), p. 81.
- James M. Boice, Does Inerrancy Matter? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1980), pp. 10-11.
- Boice (ed.), The Foundation of Biblical Authority, Preface, p. 9.