Inerrancy

One of the great stumbling blocks for modern Christians (and Jews, I suspect) has been the debunking of the notion that the Bible, as the literal word of God, must be swallowed whole or not at all. Moderns like to imagine that we are in charge; that the truth of a thing is solely determined by our ability to rationalize it. Using “rationalize” in its root meaning of “to conform to reason.”

I believe that Scripture is the inerrant word of God, and affirm the Baptist Faith and Message that the Holy Bible

was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Pesky Baptists, what do you suppose we mean by “totally true and trustworthy?” How about “without any mixture of error?”

Here’s where the believer gets into difficulties with his unbelieving neighbors. Whom he would very much like to bring into the church, but can’t get past objections that the Bible can’t possibly be true, given that amazing and weird things are happening all the time.

I make no claims to be a good interpreter of Scripture, and the very fact that I even use the word “interpreter” means that fundies have already left the lecture hall. Back in the world of the real, I’ve come across one of the best essays on the topic of inerrancy that I’ve seen, ever. It is by Kevin Vanhoozer and available here. Some extracts:

The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.

The thrust of the doctrine of inerrancy, however, like that of sola scriptura, is to stress the distinction between the Word of God and the words of men. Interpretations of the Bible fall under the category ‘words of men’. It is thus important not to ascribe inerrancy to our interpretations.

What conflicts there are about biblical interpretation ultimately must be ascribed to the fallible interpreter, not to the infallible text.

Does inerrancy therefore mean that every word in Scripture is literally true? There has been a great deal of confusion on this point, both in the media and in academia. It should first be noted that mere words are neither true nor false; truth is a property of statements. Second, those who oppose biblical ignorance have all too often contributed to the confusion by caricaturing the notion of literal truth. Critics of inerrancy typically speak of ‘literal truth’ when what they really mean is ‘literalistic truth’. Defenders of inerrancy must take great care to distinguish the notion of literal truth from the kind of literalistic interpretation that runs roughshod over the intent of the author and the literary form of the text.

The Bible speaks truly because it makes good its claims.

This last is at the heart of the matter. “It makes good its claims.” We can argue about whether creation took place in six literal 24-hour days until we’re blue in the face. I don’t think they were days as we now reckon time. It simply does not matter. What matters is the truth of the progression of those first “days” through now, until the end times. That truth remains, undergirding our faith, and not needing to be proven by our inflated sense of reason. Nor disproven, for that matter.

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One comment

  1. John,
    I couldn’t agree more, this is an excellent post, thank you.
    God bless you and yours,
    John

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