The Importance of Inerrancy-Part 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|Those who reject the doctrine of inerrancy (that the Bible is without error) believe there are original errors in certain areas the Bible touches outside doctrine and morality, e.g., in science and history. But, is there any way to know whether or not the original autographs were without error? The authors suggest there is.|
The Importance of Inerrancy for Exegesis and Theological Method
Unfortunately, belief in errancy has the potential to negatively affect both the rigor exercised toward exegesis and the joy it logically produces. For indeed, one will respond, as one must respond, differently to the word of men than to the word of God. Thus, an errantist will often let a perceived problem passage or alleged error remain and move on to more “fruitful” areas. An inerrantist, however, cannot but attempt a reconciliation and will gain spiritually and theologically through the effort. He will become personally enriched as he trusts the text and seeks resolution. An inerrant text in this regard constitutes a heuristic goldmine; an errant text stifles creative exploration and gems of illumination by the Holy Spirit.
The inerrantist, however, is concerned with the larger ramifications of errancy; he does not seek a resolution to problem texts merely because of his view of God and inspiration. He must do so because a doctrine of errancy, in the minds of sinful men, will inevitably lead to neglect or selfish compromise at subjectively perceived points of “necessity.” This is especially true if an errant Bible is the standard by which we measure things. Thus, if biblical authors erred due to geological ignorance (creation; Noah and the Flood), or due to the influence of religious myth (Jonah, Adam and Eve), or wrote falsehoods due to cultural or sexual prejudices (although they perceived it a duty; Paul on homosexuality or women’s roles) such are still errors and not God’s revealed truth. Hence there is no reason we should not assume to correct them where appropriate. As Augustine wrote to Jerome:
- For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, and under a sense of duty, the author declared what was not true….
- For my part, I would devote all the strength which the Lord grants me, to show that every one of those texts which are wont to be quoted in defense of the expediency of falsehood ought to be otherwise understood, in order that everywhere the sure truth of these passages themselves may be consistently maintained.
Dr. J. I. Packer also observes how the doctrine of inerrancy and its practical ramification in exegesis tend to safeguard the theology and ethics of the text:
- …the assertion of inerrancy bears directly on our theological method. What it says is that in formulating my theology I shall not consciously deny, disregard or arbitrarily relativize anything that I find Bible writers teaching, nor cut the knot of any problem of Bible harmony, factual or theological, by assuming that the writers were not consistent with themselves or with each other. Instead, I shall try to harmonize and integrate all that is taught (without remainder), to take it as from God (however little I may like it), and to seek actively to live by it (whatever change of present beliefs and behavior-patterns it may require). This is what acceptance of the Bible as wholly God-given and totally true requires of us.
Conclusion: A Question for discussion
If the text is originally errant, and it becomes “obvious” we have an error in the text, is it not our moral duty before God to correct the text wherever we can? Should this duty be assigned to the translators?
The Strength of Inerrancy from Lack of Proven Error
Those who reject inerrancy believe there are original errors in certain areas the Bible touches outside doctrine and morality, e.g., in science and history. The truth is that no error can be proven in the autographs since we don’t have them. In His wisdom God has seen fit not to preserve them. The original God-breathed manuscripts would of certainty have become items of worship, and, as with the Qur’an of Islam, translations would likely have been prohibited as causing a “perverting” of the pure Word of God. This eventually would have kept Scripture from all but those studied in Greek and Hebrew.
Regardless, an error can’t logically be suggested in the autographs because our copies strongly support inerrancy. Gleason L. Archer was an undergraduate classics major who received training in Latin, Greek, French and German at Harvard University. At seminary he majored in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and in post-graduate study became involved with Akkadian and Syriac, teaching courses on these subjects. He has had a special interest in middle kingdom Egyptian studies and at the Oriental Institute in Chicago he did specialized study in Eighteenth Dynasty historical records as well as studying Coptic and Sumerian. In addition he obtained a full law degree and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. He has also traveled to the Holy Land where he visited most of the important archaeological sites and spent time in Beirut, Lebanon for a specialized study of modern literary Arabic. He holds the B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and the Ph.D. from Harvard Graduate School.
This background enabled him to become expert in the issue of alleged contradictions in Scripture. Regarding alleged errors in the extant copies of Scripture he says,
- In my opinion this charge can be refuted and its falsity exposed by an objective study done in a consistent, evangelical perspective…. I candidly believe I have been confronted with just about all the biblical difficulties under discussion in theological circles today—especially those pertaining to the interpretation and defense of Scripture…. As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archaeology, or science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and strengthened by the discovery that almost every problem in Scripture that has ever been discovered by man, from ancient times until now, has been dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the biblical text itself— or else by objective archaeological information.
Given the fact that Dr. Archer has graduated from Princeton and Harvard, done extensive studies in archaeology and other areas relative to the biblical text, become fluent in 15 languages, received full training in legal evidences, etc., the above statement can hardly be summarily dismissed.
But there are many similar testimonies by other competent scholars. Dr. Robert Dick Wilson (Ph.D. Princeton), an Old Testament authority and author of A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament could read the New Testament in nine different languages by the age of 25. In addition, he could repeat from memory a Hebrew translation of the entire New Testament without missing a single syllable and do the same with large portions of the Old Testament. He proceeded to learn 45 languages and dialects and was also a master of paleography and philology: “I have made it an invariable habit never to accept an objection to a statement of the Old Testament without subjecting it to a most thorough investigation, linguistically and factually” and “I defy any man to make an attack upon the Old Testament on the grounds of evidence that I cannot investigate.” His conclusion was that no critic has succeeded in proving an error in the Old Testament.
Theologian, philosopher and trial attorney John Warwick Montgomery, holding nine graduate degrees in different fields observes, “I myself have never encountered an alleged contradiction in the Bible which could not be cleared up by the use of the original languages of the Scriptures and/or by the use of accepted principals of literary and historical interpretation.”
John W. Haley examined 900 alleged problems in Scripture, concluding, “I cannot but avow, as the [conclusion] of my investigation, the profound conviction that every difficulty and discrepancy in the scriptures is…capable of a fair and reasonable solution.”
Dr. William Arndt concluded in his own study of alleged contradictions and errors in the Bible,“[W]e may say with full conviction that no instances of this sort occur anywhere in the Scriptures.”
Clearly the evidence lies in favor of Biblical Inerrancy. The apparent discrepancies and errors in the Bible constantly “discovered” and exploited by critics for millennia have been explained and reconciled long ago by conservative scholars. Critics, however, commonly ignore the resolution and continue to present the same old alleged errors and contradictions.
- In Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 200.
- James I. Packer, Freedom and Authority (Oakland, CA: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1981), pp. 30- 31.
- Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), pp. 11-12.
- Robert Dick Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament, pp. 13, 20, 130, 162-63; David Otis Fuller (ed.), Which Bible? (Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids International Publications, rev. 1971), p. 44.
- John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1975), p. 176.
- John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), rpt., p. vii.
- William Arndt, Does the Bible Contradict Itself? (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1955), rpt., XI.