Why I Hate the Word “Inerrancy”

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Bible-psalm-inerrancyCulture isn’t supposed to get the last word on how we read the Bible. I believe that and try to put that into practice. Many Christians do as well.

However, many of these Christians unknowingly fight for a doctrine that, in every way, is a product of a culture’s influence on the way we read the Bible.

I’m talking about inerrancy.

If there’s one thing I don’t want to do with the Bible, it’s to let secular culture tell me how to read a divinely inspired document. I am 100% committed to listening to the guidance of the promised Holy Spirit. While I am aware of the influence of my culture on how I read the Bible, I want to let the Spirit speak through scripture rather than letting my culture determine what I can and cannot believe.

Inerrancy has unintentionally allowed the standards of our culture to determine how we use the Bible, creating a demand on scripture that would only make sense for a modern science or historian.

A few weeks ago my friend Zack Hunt wrote a post about inerrancy that got my wheels spinning: see the original post and the follow up post.

When I first saw his post, I hesitated to link to it because I have my own thoughts about inerrancy that I wanted to share with any link to his post. It’s one of those doctrines that’s so delicate and complicated, that I dare not let anyone read into my own story based on a link that I share.

Does Inerrancy = True?

The primary problem with inerrancy for me is that it has been equated with the truth of the Bible. If you’re not 100% on board with inerrancy’s terms and categories, then you’re a godless liberal who is “deceiving the sheep.”

I’m sure someone will offer to “pray” for you.

I completely affirm the truth and trustworthiness of the Bible, but the concept of inerrancy troubles me. It’s incredibly hard to have a conversation about the Bible in which I both affirm the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible and distance myself from the term that many equate WITH those concepts.

For many Christians, inerrancy is the only option if you’re going to accept the Bible as trustworthy. However, there are many traditions who affirm the teachings of scripture and view it as authoritative without affirming inerrancy.

In fact, I would argue that inerrancy came into being for the wrong reasons.

The Flawed Origins of Inerrancy

What we know of early church history is that the early Christians were trying to explain Jesus in a culture dominated in many ways by Greek categories. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Christianity to the Greeks was the idea that God would fully reside in a human body.

The incarnation was a non-starter that sent many Christians veering toward Gnosticism, a handy heresy that divided spirit and body into separate realms.

As Christian thinkers hammered out the nature of the incarnation, they used Greek words and ways of thinking, but they did not let Greek culture determine what they believed about God and the incarnation of Jesus.

In the 1800’s, the Enlightenment had challenged what many Christians believed, and a large part of Christian thinkers began to use the Enlightenment’s scientific categories for reading the Bible. Everything in the Bible had to be tested and proven, and if it could not be scientifically proven, then it was ditched.

We know that the Bible says it is God-breathed and useful for training us in righteousness, but it was hardly intended to be sliced and diced by the Enlightenment’s methods. We can look back in retrospect and see that the scientific approach was bound to rip the Bible apart. It’s a true document, but it’s also an ancient document that wasn’t designed to answer the questions of modern thinkers who imposed their own standards on it.

How could Christians demonstrate the supernatural origins and authority of the Bible in a scientific age?

Faith wasn’t going to cut it for the liberal Christians who dismissed the Bible as a series of myths invented by clever storytellers.

The Christians who called themselves fundamentalists arrived at a solution: the Bible could be proven divine since it was inerrant, completely without error. What other ancient document could boast such a thing?

Instead of pointing the doubters to Christ, the fundamentalists pointed them to the Bible.

By allowing the philosophy of the day to determine the way they spoke about the Bible, the Fundamentalists shifted Jesus away from his primary place as Lord of all and slipped the Bible above him. That’s why you’ll often find churches today who inadvertently affirm the trustworthiness of the Bible over the person of Jesus.

The Impossible Wager of Inerrancy

Inerrancy states that any kind of error in the Bible renders the entire book false and made up. If the entire Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then everything single verse must be 100% true and reliable.

The primary problem with inerrancy is that it has the wrong priorities. Rather than making Christ our one and only foundation, inerrancy makes an error-free Bible the one and only foundation of our faith.

The passion of Christians in their debates about inerrancy and the accuracy of the Bible testify to the consequences of this kind of thinking. Permitting one error in the Bible isn’t just annoying, it’s a disaster for the faith of many.

The impossibility of inerrancy is that we’re so far removed from the events described in the Bible and composition of each book and letter that we can’t possibly prove the truthfulness at the scientific level that inerrancy demands. I believe that the Bible is true, but not because of inerrancy or because I have 100% certainty about the events it describes.

My faith is built on the person of Christ, the only way, truth, and life, the only foundation for our faith, and the one central focus on the scriptures. Paul wrote, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 3:11.

I can’t point you to one verse in the Bible and say, “I know for certain that this is wrong.” At the same time, proving the “reliability” of the Bible according to the standards of inerrancy is a fruitless quest.

I’ll talk all day about the presence of Christ in my life and the ways that scripture has continually guided me to the truth, but I will not live as if my faith hinges on proving every little detail of the Bible. That’s simply not our goal.

The scriptures  point us toward the trustworthiness of Christ rather than the trustworthiness of their composition.

Inerrancy and Biblical Idolatry

I affirm the historical accuracy and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

I believe the writers of the Bible were truthful.

Could there be a discrepancy over the date of an Israelite king because a writer misunderstood how the rise and fall of kings were dated? (I spent a 3-hour class in seminary addressing this very issue.)

Rather than answering that question, I want to know if a detail like that really matters. If it does, then we need to ask why we think it matters.

Inerrancy demands this level of accuracy because it’s seeking a way to scientifically prove that the Bible is inspired by God.

I do not affirm the word inerrancy because it compromises the Christian faith to the standards of secular scientific thinking. It takes our devotion and worship away from Christ and substitutes a second-rate god that breeds fear and paranoia, threatening to crumble our faith in God with every scientific report, literary device, or historical discrepancy.

This second-rate god demands that we spend our lives worrying about the chronology of the Hebrew kings, the findings of archeology, the age of the earth, and the chronology of the gospels.

This second-rate god drives wedges between the people of God as we fight each other in the name of protecting this false “foundation” of our faith.

On its own, the Bible is incapable of giving life, peace, or healing. It only can give a fragile certainty that must be defended tooth and nail.

That we feel compelled to fight for this god suggests that we may have lost sight of the true foundation in scripture. Our faith rises and falls on the person of Christ alone. We trust that the Bible is true and reliable, but we don’t have to meet a modern, scientific standard in order for Christ to be Lord.

I hate the word inerrancy because it creates a super supernatural standard for truth that the Bible never set up.

I hate the word inerrancy because it clouds the ways that the Bible actually is true.

I hate the word inerrancy because it binds the Christian faith to a set of standards that were never intended for the people of God and that are completely foreign to the centuries of Christians who have gone before us.

I hate the word inerrancy because it has become a way to determine who’s in and who’s out, even though few actually understand what it means or where it came from.

I hate the word inerrancy because it provides a flimsy, easily combustible foundation for the people of God.

I hate the word inerrancy because it takes the focus of our faith away from Christ and places it in a book.

It’s time to stop fighting for inerrancy and to start living as if everything in the Bible is true.

When we see the words of scripture come true in our own lives, we’ll have all of the proof we need that the Bible is reliable.

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75 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Word “Inerrancy”

  1. Daryl B. Reyes

    However, I submit the following for consideration. Craig A. Evans’ book Fabricating Jesus [2006, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL] is an apologetic against those who would claim the Gnostic “Gospels” (so-called) are a (or THE) form of authentic Christianity. Bart Ehrman is one such individual adhering to this belief. Ehrman lost faith in the inerrancy of Scripture by studying the text of Mark 2:25-26 (among other things).

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  3. Ryan Mahoney

    Nice post. I’m not a fan or proponent of innerancey as it is understood by most evangelicals, but to the extant that I do I take Vanhoozer’s understanding of it. If you’ve not read his account of the innerencey v. infallibility you should check it out.

    I’d like to push back on one of your arguments against innerencey because I think the logic of it runs into problems with other more fundamental doctrines such as the Trinity.

    My premise is that all theology all doctrine is contextual, meaning that it is all deeply shaped by cultural pressures. Just as innerencey was an articulation about scripture based upon certain questions that Modern culture wa asking, so the Trinity was an articulation about God in response to thought forms and questions that the Hellenistic culture was asking. So I don’t know that your argument that suggests the culture should not dictate how we read our Bible is a difficult one to sustain.

    1. ed Post author

      Thanks for the reading recommendation Ryan. I’m a fan of Vanhoozer. I also liked Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation.

      Regarding the Trinity vs. inerrancy, the key for me is that Christians responded to the thinking of their time but were willing to opt out when Christianity didn’t fit the categories of the time. So while Christians could have argued during the Enlightenment that the Bible is true and reliable and that we have plenty of reasons to trust it, they didn’t have to adopt the foundationalist framework and scientific method that was handed to them.

      I should have linked up to Nancy Murphy’s book Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism where she argues that conservatives and liberals made the same mistake and landed on different conclusions that both shared the same roots. I fear I may have muddied the waters more here or at least resorted to academic speak. Maybe another cup of coffee would help…

  4. Maria B

    So a logical follow-up question, perhaps: how do we (you) decide what in the Bible is true and what is not; and if we’re deciding that, how is that not us imposing our standards/culture on the Bible?

    1. ed Post author

      Hi Maria. I’m not sure if I don’t understand your question or if you’re asking a question that is beside the point of my post. The Enlightenment demanded that we build a foundation of certainty for Christianity. That’s not what Christianity offers because it never was intended to play by the rules of the 1800′s. So we can take comfort in the reliability of the Bible in its own literary context, but it also requires faith because it never was supposed to give us the kind of scientific certainty the enlightenment demanded.

      I’m sure there are lots of ways we can apply our own standards to the Bible, and inerrancy is just one of the most glaring ways we can do that.

      1. Maria B

        Thanks for your response. I am confused on a couple of points – first, I don’t believe we can separate Jesus from the Bible. I understand your warning that we shouldn’t set up a book as an idol, but I don’t believe that having faith in the inerrancy of Scripture is doing that – obviously there is no point in Scripture that is in conflict with Christ. Furthermore, if we don’t believe that the words in the Bible are true, how do we decide which parts are true and which are not? That is the biggest danger of “imposing our culture” on the Word, in my opinion.

        I think maybe my issue here is a semantic one. What is the difference between the Bible being “true” and the Bible being “inerrant”? Are those two words not the same thing in this case – and how could they not be?

        1. Kimberly

          Maria,

          I think the confusion may be in equating truth with facts. There can be many ways to communicate higher truths about our relationship with God and one another without every word being literal/factual. For example, there are part of the bible that are clearly poetry that describe God’s love in metaphorical language. These pericopes are true but they are not literal. So too parables function to teach higher truths using stories, metaphors and analogies that are not accounts of factual events.

          The overarching narrative of the bible is made of of many types of literary devices to communicate the truth about God and mans as understood at the time by the authors who were faithful men, attended to the Holy Spirit, but none the less fallible men living and learning to love God in specific culture and time. From this we can glean some eternal truths regardless of the errors easily traced in incosistancies and scientific errors. I do not need the bible to be factual in order to believe in the ultimate truth of God’s radical love made known in the Incarnation and through the power of the Holy Spirit. I can know they are true through my current experience of Christ in community and even through the stranger the world would tell me is my enemy.

          K

          1. john

            “I can know they are true through my current experience of Christ”

            is this not also an example us imposing our standards/culture on the Bible?

  5. Herm

    I love you Ed, I love you Ed, I love you Ed … there are we divorced now? I hope not because though your post became a heated book you wrote with the same Spirit as did all the authors of the Bible. I can write all day on perceived flaws in the Bible that every theology teacher has a different, often contradictory, explanation for; hence different doctrines for different members.

    The Bible is more perfect because you read from it the real imperfections of humanity and the author in every book and yet Truth came through

    The specifically drawn out temple and precise ritual demanded by God for those chosen to tell of the Messiahs coming had its veil rent when the Word died. Oh yes, John knew that Jesus was the Word and his (John’s) words were not the Word but were from inspiration of the Word, as are your words because they love the Truth the best as can be exposed at our level of maturity.

    The Holy Trinity is probably not all of God combined together in one heart and mind. All I know is it slipped out, somehow, in the Genesis story that our one God was a “they” that we were created in the image of, male and female.

    I truly know the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and our Father share with me daily through my heart, through my mind and through my neighbors who show me mercy. I learn from them all every day and want the Way for me to continue and build on this very, very real relationship eternally. That is what I feel compelled to share with all my fellow mankind the best imperfectly way I know how. I don’t have any need for fame or riches, as my barely satisfactory financial and social status will attest to, but I ache to tell the world there is a Teacher who does home tutoring in each heart and mind that will not let up even after we pass. I know Him and They are all life inclusive of every race, creed, religion and gender we know today of in our age and not exclusive of any.

    What you just wrote speaks to love of all and implies that you know you are not capable of judging any except that human spirit which would alienate you from our creator God by their judgment. The word “devil” in the Bible is defined as a false accuser and was the only reason Jesus could be crucified. I am not aware enough to accuse anyone base on what I want so badly to be the last word and all that is necessary for eternity to base all my relationships on. God teaches me through all things as I am ready and it is my imperfect, uncoordinated and childish in His/Her eyes result you see before you today. I am not ready for the Truth in all Its forms. I, though relatively literate, am certainly not ready to write judgment based on a knowledge that will take me an eternity to learn. If women were allowed to write and be the sole scribes would God have been She? When did Peter become so literate? Did Paul ever give up his trained need to be CEO? It really doesn’t matter when we test and realize the whole Truth in all we need is summed up in Luke 10:25-37, not perfectly but with “all” the love we can muster as Her children.

    Physical infinity goes as far into the atom as it does out to the universe. Spiritual is the reality of eternity and allows independently spiritual life to be in one and all places at the same time. This is a time which is not based on revolving around a sun but is, for us, around the Son.

    Thank you Ed!

  6. Connie Baker

    SOOOO grateful that someone finally put succinctly into words my long term reservations about the whole culturally-driven premise of “inerrancy”! So good. After being raised in a sub-culture where a person was unable to even question it, this is a breath of fresh air! Thank you, Ed!

  7. Tyler Francke

    It’s certainly not easy to walk the line between trusting in the Bible while not elevating it above one’s saving faith in Christ (which may be part of the reason so many people go to opposite extremes of either blanketing their faith with “inerrancy” or pretty much abandoning the Bible altogether and pursuing their “individual relationship with God”) but I thought you did a great job of it here, Ed.

    I believe the Bible is a divinely inspired, complete revelation of God, to be fully trusted by believers as a witness of his vital work in our redemption and to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. But I don’t think the book is to be viewed as on the same level as Christ. It is merely a sign pointing toward him. As such, I don’t expect there to be any Bibles in heaven.

  8. Ken

    Before abandoning this term and associated teachings, it is wise to do one’s homework, beginning with BB Warfield’s classic work and then maybe Turretin. I get the sense from this post that such has not happened.

    1. Karen

      From Dr. Jordan Bajis’ book, Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian (pp. 30-31, Light & Life Publishing):

      “. . . Rationalism . . . highly respects the method or Scripture study which puts a premium on analyzing, categorizing, and ordering Biblical facts. It generally distrusts any knowledge of the faith which relies too heavily on emotions or experience. The task of the conservative Evangelical-Fundamentalist theologian is . . .

      “‘ . . . to systematize the teachings of Holy Scripture the best he can. he is to aim at a final system of theology deduced from sacred Scripture even though he knows that he could never in this life attain this final system.’

      “. . . This system of Biblical study found favor at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1800s, where A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, Archibald, Alexander, and B. B. Warfield ‘never wavered from the fundamental tenet that if the Bible was proven to be God’s inspired word, the demonstration must be made on the basis of reason through the use of external marks of authenticity–not inner convictions.’ Charles Hodge was able to compare his rational view of the Scriptures with the system of Newtonian physics. Warfield went on to maintain that unaided reason put both the believer and the non-believer on equal footing in their respective abilities to interpret the Scriptures: . . .

      “ . . . Given their bias that reason is the key to Bible interpretation, the Princeton professors believed that God would never reveal His truth through a book containing errors. From this platform, they constructed what they believed was the ‘shock-proof’ doctrine of biblical authority. This theory taught ‘…that God had so inspired the biblical authors that their every word as recorded on the original autographs [the very parchments upon which the Bible authors themselves wrote] was inerrant—a term more specifically rationalistic than the word infallible.’ In essence, these men became responsible for the late stage development of what is often referred to as the Fundamentalist view of the Scriptures: the Bible is verbally inspired and inerrant in its every reference, statistic, and quotation.”

      (Emphases mine.)

      ——–

      If this is an accurate summary assessment of Warfield’s teaching, it underscores Ed’s point, Ken. I suspect Ed and many others who question or reject the rationalistic Fundamentalist doctrine of “inerrancy” do so because they recognize that it requires a subscription, not to apostolic biblical Christian faith as it has been demonstrated and taught through the centuries within the Church (notice it is the “church” and not the Scriptures that the Apostle Paul identifies as the “pillar and ground of the truth” in 1 Timothy 3:15), but rather to the presuppositions of Enlightenment Rationalism, which are themselves unbiblical. These presuppositions are utterly demolished, it seems to me, by the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 (esp. vs. 14), and also by Jesus Himself in John 7:17 and in John 8:42-47. Here understanding of spiritual truth (i.e., that which is revealed in the Scriptures) is directly connected not to its interpreter/preacher’s powers of rationalistic persuasion, but to the demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power (i.e., signs, wonders, the conviction of the heart, and the witness’s holiness of life). Similarly, the capacity of discerning spiritual truth is directly connected, not to the hearer’s capacity for logical deduction and reason (which I suggest would be more in keeping with what the Bible calls the “traditions of men” and “the elementary principles of this world”), but to the hearer’s purity of heart and willingness to do God’s will (summarized in its horizontal application in John 13:34). The Apostle Peter connects the capacity for understanding and interpreting prophecy (Scripture) to a real experiential encounter with the incarnate Person of Christ in 2 Peter 1:16-21, and Jesus connects spiritual discernment to the work of the Holy Spirit’s conviction in John 16:8.

      1. Herm

        Karen, one more thanks to you! I was raised and theologically trained Presbyterian and was introduced to Benjamin Warfield years ago as my “homework”. I have been subsequently taken on a decades long Guided tour through the theological schools of LDS, SDA and Roman Catholic perspectives. What have I learned? There is only one sustaining and directing authority which can be trusted and allowed to be active in my life. That authority is felt in my heart and understood in my mind and needs no name to fully appreciate the offered protection, nurture and love.

        B.B. Warfield was intellectually determined and sincere for his culture but missed the boat on the fact that each one of us today, even if for just a moment or an entire mortal lifetime, can be our Father’s apostle and our Brother’s disciple capable of miracles and prophesy when needed to lift up the lost and injured to carry them to His inn to heal, no matter which nation/religion we were born from or eventually seek shelter in.

        Ken, I am sure you risked volunteering your studies to save us all time completing this Bible related picture. You might have just a little faith that Ed is doing the same and your sense from his post is potentially a bit askew. I am absolutely certain Ed has read supporting arguments that you and I have not. We all can learn better from each other by continuing to each take the same risks, thank you.

        Ed, I cannot thank you enough for making this study and all the responses available, but I will try, THANK YOU!

  9. Scott Connelly

    There was a mention of not being able to prove the bible scientifically, but that is not the way you measure historical events and facts. You can’t prove that George Washington was president scientifically. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. Another words it can’t be observed or reproduced which is a requirement to be scientific. If truth is based on interpretation by default it makes it an opinion.

  10. LarryTheDeuce

    This is similar to arguments that we can have with atheists. We get wrapped up in proving our faith is true (rather difficult to do) instead of point them to the Truth, who can handle the job Himself better than we can.

    1. ed Post author

      I love what Barth has to say about the Bible being the “word of God” when it’s united with the Spirit. People roll their eyes at me when I get going about this, but he makes a ton of sense to me.

  11. Nick Peters

    Hi Ed. I’m Nick Peters. My father-in-law is Mike Licona, and knowing what he went through because of Inerrancy, I greatly thank you for this post.

    Now is it my contention that all that the Bible teaches is true, but I think there is a modern fixation on Inerrancy. I get absolutely terrified to hear Christians say that if there’s one mistake in the Bible, none of it’s true. Really? We can’t even know Jesus existed and was crucified, something that the huge huge huge majority of NT scholars consider to be irrefutable?

    Not only that, a number of atheists then come with the same idea and have it become a game of “Stump the Bible Scholar.” They keep presenting contradiction after contradiction (None of which I think have validity) and you have to answer every one to their satisfaction or else they don’t have to listen to anything in the Bible. We don’t treat any other ancient document that way!

    My father-in-law wrote the tour de force on the resurrection, the central doctrine of our faith, and lo and behold, it was attacked by Geisler because it supposedly went against Inerrancy, when in fact it did no such thing! Still, Mike was targeted and so were his allies because of this. This is a large part of why I left Southern Evangelical Seminary.

    I am an apologist in my own right, long before marrying my current wife. I think the truthfulness of the Bible is something to fight for, but I refuse to make Inerrancy an issue that I will marry my Christianity to. I am to get people to the resurrected Lord. I do not have to get them to Inerrancy.

    I also think it’s important that we realize the problem is not so much Inerrancy as it is our modern American hubris that thinks the “plain meaning” of the text is really what is plain to a 21st century American. Why not a 17th century Englishman, a 13th century Chinese, a 9th century German, a 5th century Frenchman, or a 1st century Jews, etc.?

    Let the Geisler’s of the world go full throttle for Inerrancy over and over. I prefer to get to the empty tomb first and then get a doctrine of Scripture.

  12. Phil Drysdale

    This is a great article Ed, not an easy topic to cover with so many quick to throw stones when we talk about our favourite golden calf – the Bible.

    Thanks for writing in such a balanced, open way and pointing out many of the downfalls of this perspective that is all too prevelant.

    I love the Bible and believe it is God-breathed and absolutely invaluable to our lives as believers but it’s a far cry from part of the trinity which is where many place it (although maybe they wouldn’t quite say that ;) )

  13. Christian

    Can you help me flesh out truth vs inerrancy? If something is inerrant isn’t it necessarily true and likewise in the other direction?

    1. ed Post author

      That’s a great question. Inerrancy has come to equal “true” but it means something more than true. The Gospels aren’t just reporting what Luke honestly learned from reliable witnesses, witnesses who could have been wrong about a minor detail. Inerrancy demands that every single detail be 100% accurate. So if there’s a slight discrepancy over the date of a Hebrew King or the name of a foreign king, the Bible must not be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is true and accurate in all that it reports, but inerrancy takes things to another level.

      Like I said, we spent 3 hours in one class just talking about the chronology of the Hebrew kings. We could have talked about all of the records and findings of archeology that support the Biblical record. Instead we spent 3 hours trying to explain the ascension years of the kings because there were a few years that didn’t seem to line up.

  14. Michael Thompson

    Good work, Ed. I think it’s worth mentioning that we always need to maintain a theology of Word AND Spirit. The Bible is true not only because God’s Spirit inspired the original writers, but because it is the normative place for us to meet that same Spirit today by God’s own choosing. Even if the Bible were inerrant, it would fail to be true if God’s Spirit did not meet us.

    1. Karen

      Good point. I have seen a quote from one of the early Church Fathers (and probably several of them could be quoted as saying something similar) to the effect that the Spirit’s inspiration of the Scriptures is not in the letter or in the words of the Scriptures as such, but in the hearing/understanding of them (i.e, in their real meaning and message as revealed within the Church by the Holy Spirit).

  15. Pingback: Questions for Inerrancy (or for Inerrantists and Critics) | My Life on the Balance Beam

    1. ed Post author

      I need to brush up on my church history, but I believe the word infallible sufficed for most. That’s the crazy thing about this. Inerrancy wasn’t on the radar for a good 1800 years.

        1. ed Post author

          I used to be Catholic, and we never talked about inerrancy like the Protestants. I’ve asked some scholarly friends of mine who have studied the church fathers, and they mentioned a bunch of points that I probably won’t do justice to. However, the gist is that first of all, Augustine’s terms for inerrancy fall more into a “limited inerrancy camp” (see Zach’s follow up post for more about that).

  16. Jason Woodford

    Thanks Ed for sharing your thoughts about this. It is
    A relevant subject, and I really appreciate what you said
    About it. We can believe that the Bible is true without
    Having to invent a man made mechanism like the etChing of innerancy to protect it. Thanks again.

    1. Jason Woodford

      The funny looking word in my comment is supposed
      to be the word: “teaching” :)

  17. Herm

    Help! I am childishly ignorant and stupid and really need help from any who feel inspired to answer some sincere and burning questions, please!

    What Holy Guide Book did any and/or all of the Patriarchs, Prophets, Writers, Disciples, and Apostles written about in our Christian Bible found their relationship and actions with God upon?

    None of our Christian mentors in the New Testament had the New Testament which took centuries after them to compile. How did they coordinate and grow in the body of Christ without a book to go by if we are so dependent upon a book to do so today? … and might that be why the Body doesn’t seem to be growing as fast today?

    If we are dependent upon the infallibility of the Bible to get it right is the illiterate barred from the Father’s family?

    What might be properties that would determine blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? I mean like might belittling His immediately available power to inspire each and every heart and mind opened to Him in deference to the infallibility of our Bible’s authority suffice?

    Is there more that needs to be done to live eternally than what is summarized in Luke 10:25-37 and if there is does that scripture remain wholly inerrant?

    What else could inspire us more to want to live eternally than having that whole time to learn from, with and of the whole Truth? Wouldn’t knowing all the Truth in order to enter leave us with playing a harp on a cloud while singing praises to our Lord God forever more? Do we really think we or God wants that for an eternity? I don’t but then I can be wrong because I certainly don’t know it all but I want to and am willing to spend eternity to do so.

    Thank you

  18. Andrew Morrison

    Thanks for the article, Ed. You make some interesting points. I don’t understand your view that inerrancy adopts the “standards of secular scientific thinking”. It seems to me that “errancy” (to coin a term) does that, and inerrancy is simply an attempt to affirm what the Bible claims for itself in response to those who analyze it scientifically and “slice and dice it”, as you mention. Is what you’re opposed to actually the doctrine and belief in inerrancy, or the sometimes insecure and unbelieving attempt to empirically *prove* inerrancy? Because I don’t think the two are the same. From the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html): “WE DENY that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.” Further, “WE DENY that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.” That last statement is a statement of faith; i.e., even if we can’t prove it, we still affirm the truthfulness of all that Scripture asserts. Which I think is the rub: you affirm Scripture’s moral and spiritual reliability; inerrancy claims that Scripture asserts truth also on matters of history, on which many of its moral and spiritual claims are based. Are the dates of the Israelite kings as important as the resurrection of Christ? Of course not, but if God breathed out words about how long the kings reigned, it must serve *some* purpose for our understanding of his dealings with His people.

    In general, I think you’ve torn down a straw man of innerancy, and not the real thing. If you were to argue point for point with the Chicago statement or with Poythress’s “Inerrancy and Worldview”, for example, I’d be much more inclined to listen to you.

    1. ed Post author

      Hi Andrew. I have personally found the arguments of Nancey Murphy on this quite persuasive as I’ve read evangelical history and some philosophy (but who can really say they understand philosophy other than a philosopher?). Here’s a link to her book: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Liberalism-Fundamentalism-Postmodern-Theological/dp/1563381761. If you aren’t persuaded, that’s fine.

      As to my straw man, perhaps I should have spent a bit more time describing what inerrancy is, which is I did not do so well, and describing what inerrancy has produced, which was the focus of my post. I’m take it or leave it about inerrancy for the most part because I honestly don’t believe the Bible has errors in it, and it if does, they are minor things like the dates of kings. My bigger beef is the way inerrancy has elevated the truthfulness of the Bible over the primacy of Christ in our lives. That is an undeniable outcome of inerrancy, and so in that respect, I reject that straw man accusation.

      1. Andrew Morrison

        Ed, thanks for your reply and the suggested reading.

        Thanks too for clarifying your beef with inerrancy. Your charge that inerrancy has elevated the truthfulness of the Bible over the primacy of Christ in our lives seems like a sweeping claim that I don’t think you can prove. I guess your comment in the original post is also getting at that:

        “Inerrancy demands this level of accuracy because it’s seeking a way to scientifically prove that the Bible is inspired by God.

        I do not affirm the word inerrancy because it compromises the Christian faith to the standards of secular scientific thinking. It takes our devotion and worship away from Christ and substitutes a second-rate god that breeds fear and paranoia, threatening to crumble our faith in God with every scientific report, literary device, or historical discrepancy.

        This second-rate god demands that we spend our lives worrying about the chronology of the Hebrew kings, the findings of archeology, the age of the earth, and the chronology of the gospels.”

        I don’t follow your logic here. Is it impossible to affirm inerrancy without resorting to bibliolatry and denying Christ? Without resorting to paranoia about the claims of science? The denial I quoted above from the Chicago statement affirms the trustworthiness of Scriptural statements on these things whether or not we can prove them. Doesn’t that free us from paranoia instead of subjecting us to it?

        I also don’t understand your inconsistency about how you feel about “inerrancy”. Your title says you hate it; in your comment above you say you can take it or leave it, yet you also say that it is undeniably connected to trading the Lordship of Christ for bibliolatry. Make up your mind, brother.

  19. Steve

    Everything that you have written is based on a grossly distorted understanding of the doctrine of innerancy. Inerrancy does not, as most of it’s opponents absurdly suggest, assert that the authority of scripture is based on the fact that it is inerrant, and thus because it is inerrant than we know it is the Word of Christ. Quite to the contrary the assertion of inerrancy is that the authority of scripture is from Christ and because of that we can trust that scripture is inerrant. The opponents of inerrancy accuse it’s defenders of being legalistic and yet it’s the oponnents who talk about what passages we “don’t have to believe”.

  20. Steve

    Herm the new testament did not take centuries to compile. Do a little research of the didache and you’ll see that by as early as 109 AD virtually all of the New Testament books were being cited regularly by the church fathers.

    1. Herm

      Thanks Steve. Please correct me if I’m wrong, I thought the books of our Christian Bible were first compiled (not composed) about 345AD by order of Emperor Constantine, divided into chapters in the 13th century by Stephen Langton, and versed in the 16th century by Robert Estienne. I think the the Roman Catholic Bible today has 12 more books than my NIV and the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches even have three more.

      This is my problem and I appreciate your response, again, thank you. I love and relate with the Bible nearly daily but I have found Jesus more in my neighbor, such as you, than I ever have ever from parsing scripture, really.

      What’s so inadequate with just pleading directly with our Father in Heaven to protect me from spirits of the devil and fill my heart and mind with the Holy Spirit? I may be insane (how would I know?) but I’m pretty happy and at peace from the ever growing results from His answer found in all things and not just the Bible. If I am insane I would highly suggest insanity for everyone totally trusting in giving up intellectual and emotional authority over my life to live in God’s family.

      It seems to me that if my God is as the Bible portrays all powerful, loving and specifically Jesus Christ now has full authority over the Earth I can trust that They will understand the sincerity of my plea and then I can be even more at the same peace I had when I trusted my parents to look over me when an ignorant, stupid (compared to my parents) and powerfully loved child of Man. I can be a child of God as Jesus told me in the Bible.

      We seem more to need to trust in our expanding knowledge to be at peace than the simple good news found in the Bible that we have a divine Parent who does protect us from the boogey man under our bed when we sleep at night. Maybe, we are simply being His and Her children exercising our right of divine sibling rivalry like; “I know Mom and Dad better than you and I’m their favorite”. If that is so then by human history those of us who have known and grown from familial love will eventually realize there is enough love for all especially when we accept the whole family as ours to love and be loved by.

      Heartbreakingly, not all of us have had a good example of family love to be able to even begin to understand the relatively infinite depth our Father’s love. We then need the church headed by our brother Jesus to demonstrate the pros and cons of such a relationship, not a pass/fail university, for those lost to make their choice.

      Forgive me Steve; I got a bit carried away there in the picture developing that would take more than all the words in the Bible to share with you. I truly trust that the Holy Spirit can take it from here. Thank you, even once again (70 x 70), for your response!

  21. Panyerong Putik

    The Bible provides an objective ground for the supernatural illumination and the concept of appropriating it to the minds and hearts of believers. Your idea of who Jesus is comes from this revelation and illumination. Your treasured feeling of love for Jesus comes from the authority and truth of God’s word. The reformers called this logos prophorikos, God’s supernatural revelation in words committed to writing. Your faith arose from a discovery of that objective word.

    Now inerrancy (among others) simply contributes to that objective ground as reliable, just as you would affirm that it is reliable. So both of you and inerrancy affirm reliability, only that you think that extending that confidence is wrong despite the fact that the Bible frequently affirms its objective reliability.

    You drive a wedge between your subjective need for it to be true and its self-attesting truthfulness. Why don’t you just allow its objective reliability? You go to the Chicago STatement on Biblical Inerrancy list of signatories and I don’t think you would find there anyone who elevates the Bible to the level of “paper pope.”

    You just cannot find objective reliability to be commensurate with your subjective need for it to be reliable. I don’t know why. Maybe you are just pissed off with people not with this doctrine.

    1. Herm

      Dear Panyerong, since you didn’t direct your query directly to Ed I need respond to your assertion, “The Bible provides an objective ground for the supernatural illumination and the concept of appropriating it to the minds and hearts of believers. Your idea of who Jesus is comes from this revelation and illumination. Your idea of who Jesus is comes from this revelation and illumination. Your treasured feeling of love for Jesus comes from the authority and truth of God’s word.”

      My treasured feeling of love for Jesus came initially from the living example of those who personally love Jesus and shared Him with me as their cup overflowed. It is from their example that I asked Jesus to come into my life and He did. It is only by His authority and truth as the Living Word (John 1:1-14) in my spiritual heart and mind today that I even desire eternal life, otherwise I prefer to die.

      Apostle Paul’s letters help me to understand the beginnings of the church and in each church’s case it was the Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ’s church that provided “an objective ground for the supernatural illumination” and not the Bible which came much later to chronicle this as even remotely a possibility for all of us. Believe me, please, my idea of who Jesus is does come from Jesus and I have been allowed to test to be certain.

      The Bible helps us who can read, with the aid of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, physically see a divinely developing picture of God’s kingdom and our place in it. Nothing physical on this Earth, that we have been graced with the opportunity to learn from, is eternal or even remotely close to as substantial as our immediately available relationship with our creator God. If the physical Bible, stimulating heated discussions and intellectual arguments, stands between us and our relationship with reality and truth directly from our loving Creator, our Father, Mother and Brother in Heaven, then it is better we cut it off and burn it for it sins against us.

      None of us have been given the authority to coordinate and improve life in God’s kingdom, of which the entire little bitty Earth is a part, for we are children at best in pre-school and none of us are post graduates sufficient to be the Professor’s teaching assistant. I love your passion and care!

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  23. Karen

    Panyerong Putik,

    Where you summarize your point: “Your faith arose from a discovery of that objective word,” I would say this is not necessarily true for every believer. While it is true that the Holy Spirit often uses the Christian Scriptures to bring a person to a real encounter with the living Christ in His Church (what could be more natural, after all?), this was simply not a possibility for the first Christians and has not been the order of things for many Christians since.

    The earliest Christians’ revelation of Christ came through the living witness of the Apostles first and later the Apostolic communities of believers who upheld in their worship and in their way of life the oral Apostolic tradition and which later came to be recorded in the written Gospels). Similarly, many since that time who have come to know Jesus in a true, experiential way (as opposed to a merely conceptual/theoretical one), have encountered Him directly through their own experience (e.g., Saul on the Damascus Road, many former Muslims today who had no access to Christians or their Scriptures), or indirectly through the demonstration of His life through the lives of flesh and blood communities of believers (Christ’s Body on earth). They have then later identified the Divine Person of this experiential encounter with Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

    We also must consider that there are also many people who read and study the “objective” Scriptures who never come to personal encounter and living faith in Jesus Christ. It seems to me only those listening first to the conviction of the Holy Spirit within their own hearts of what the truth is (about themselves and the world around them) come to recognize the truth that is in the Scriptures.

    1. Panyerong Putik

      The apostles were witnesses to an objective testimony of the Gospel before they appropriated it in their lives. The Gospel precedes them and the Gospel was an objective person that they saw and touched and felt.

      Even if you say that they experienced Christ, that experience is wrought by an apprehension or a perception of what is outside.

      Even if they “later identified the Divine Person of this experiential encounter” it goes without saying that if was not a self-generated experience but is initiated by an apprehension of somebody outside of them.

      To illustrate this, think of a spaghetti that you ate. You would say that this spaghetti is inside you, but for it to be inside you first it has to be outside you.

      The Scripture is that objective ground — and that objective ground we must take by confidence as true and trustworthy, however backpedalling you might want to do it by “I hate inerrancy.”

      The thing is Ed affirmed its truthfulness but backpedals on the term which affirms the truthfulness. I don’t know why. It’s like saying it is and at the same time it isn’t.

      Yes the goal is personal encounter, but how can you encounter something you cannot apprehend?

      1. Karen

        Panyerong Putik,

        Thank you for your thoughts. I am fully in agreement with you that God exists “objectively” whether we know Him through our experience or not, but I’m not sure why you insist that “the Scripture is that objective ground,” while not allowing that the living and resurrected Christ, Who is the Lord of all Creation and has made us in His image for communion with Him, and Who can manifest His presence through the Holy Spirit just as He wishes, is not equally or even more “that objective ground.” After all, we can misinterpret, manipulate or misunderstand a text–and if this is what we are doing with the Scriptures, we are believing a lie insofar as we believe the mistaken sense in which we understand them. God’s direct action in our lives and hearts is less easy to misunderstand and misinterpret–rather we rely on this inner witness and conviction of the Holy Spirit together with other believers (including those who have gone before us) to clarify the real meaning and intent of the Scriptures. I don’t understand why you would limit the living God to only working through a written text. If this is what you are meaning to say, I suggest this is a misreading of Scripture, and suggests a lack of faith in the living and true Christ, Who is present in His Church and promised to never leave her nor forsake her. I begin to wonder if you, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, will be searching the Scriptures looking for truth/Christ” and yet fail to recognize Him when He is standing in front of you!

        We can know about God through the Scriptures, but we can only know Him personally through personal encounter with Him in His Body the Church. Simply because He is no longer present to our senses in the body, as He was before His ascension, does not mean that when we now experience Him and His presence in our own hearts and in the sacramental life of His Body, the Church, that this is merely our own subjective experience. For one thing, we find that when such an experience is genuine it will has many commonalities with the experiences of other believers, and what we experience of Him in our hearts and lives agrees with what has been recorded for us in the Scriptures.

  24. Shawn Spjut

    My issue isn’t with inerrancy of Scripture but rather the ones interpreting them. If anyone of us has walked with the Lord for any length of time we can all attest that the way a particular verse of Scripture spoke to us twenty years ago is not how it speaks to us today. If the word of God is alive, living, then why are we so determined to treat it ‘him’ as though it ‘him’ were simply words on paper? To be ‘Christian’ is life and the Word is the life of Christ in us. So to fall into a ditch over a demand for inerrancy only makes sense to those who have no understanding of the life within them and therefore have to ‘prove’ it’s existence hermetically and historically. To walk with Christ is both the Word and experiential and I don’t see how we can separate them and still call ourselves ‘Christian’.

    Maybe it would help if we really believed that it is the living Word – Christ in us – that is the hope of glory and not whether we get all the i’s dotted and the t’ crossed correctly.

    1. Karen

      That’s well said, it seems to me, Shawn. I’m Eastern Orthodox and we certainly revere and believe the Scriptures and see in them a “verbal icon” of Christ Himself. I have never attended a worship service more full of Scripture and allusions to the Scripture in the texts of its prayers and hymns than that of the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, the only “infallible Word” is Christ Himself, and He was made manifest first through the work of the Holy Spirit in His Church before a portion of that witness was recorded for us in the works we now know as our New Testament. Also, this is why we don’t ascribe inerrancy or even fully infallibility to the letter or merely the texts of Scripture in and of themselves, but only as they have been meant and understood within the Church that experienced Christ and gave them birth. It seems to me the modern Fundamentalist theories of “inerrancy” are rationalistic and even mechanistic in their supposed scientific empiricism and don’t take into account the personal and experiential nature of Christian truth. Truth is a Person (Christ) Who must be encountered to be known and only a deepening encounter with Christ within His Church by the Holy Spirit allows us to properly understand the real meaning and intent of the Scriptures–which is ultimately Christ Himself in His fullness.

      1. Shawn Spjut

        Karen: I grew up under the doctrines of Scripture but never truly experienced an intimate relationship with the Lord. One evening while I was in my car the Lord said to me “Your love my word more than you love me.” At the time I couldn’t understand how that could be possible. If I loved the word of God, did I not love God? But my love and faith at that time was not born out of a personal experience of the Lord, but rather a religious ritual of ‘salvation’and part of that religious ritual was that I had to study scripture to show myself approved.

        Now? Now its like you said, the intent of Scripture is always to lead us to Christ Himself not to replace Him.

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  26. Herm

    Deuteronomy 25:5
    If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.

    Leviticus 18:16
    “‘Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother.

    Leviticus 20:21
    “‘If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.

    Mark 6:18
    For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

    Lev 19:3
    “‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.

    Mark 2:27
    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

    Luke 14:26
    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple.

    Lev 19:3
    “‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.

    Luke 14:26
    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple.

    Mark 2:27
    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

    Luke 10:27-28
    He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

    Are there Disciples, Apostles and Prophets alive and amongst us today and how might we recognize them to canonize their inspired letters? Can we rely on the high priests, Pharisees and teachers of the law in our culture today to decide for us? Those highly placed authorities in the culture of the man Jesus Christ didn’t do such a good job in exercising judgment in recognition of the Messiah and God in their midst. Whose authority finally reigns in yours and my life as High Priest and Judge, certainly not mine or yours?

    How do you love the Lord your God with all you are responsible to today if you only know of our creator God second hand, as from the Bible or the Preacher. If you know the Lord your God in your heart and mind personally does that relationship strengthen or weaken a need for all the writing in the world telling you of Him? Do we have any evidence that the Disciples of Jesus walking with Him ever relied on a Hebrew Bible or like scripture for reference when in His company? Why do we have to fervently do so today if Jesus is alive and well in our hearts and minds except in fear that that Spirit isn’t Him? Do we trust our faith that He has all authority over us and the world enough to protect us from too much of the greed, envy, intimidation, manipulation and confusion of the intentionally false accusations from every disciple want-to-be exercising their authority over His to misdirect? If those devil spirited are our enemies must we love them and be prepared to forgive them as disciples of Jesus Christ just because they know not what they do because they do not recognize God and His authority in their midst, heart and mind, really? Why can’t we just judge, censor, and crucify them out of our lives as we know they would do to our competing Lord, Judge and High Priest if they could just get their hands on Him?

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  29. Steve Martin

    God does not require a ‘perfect and inerrant’ book to bring about His perfect and infallible will.

    He uses earthen vessels to accomplish His will. What else does He have to work with down here?

    If the Bible was totally perfect in every jot and tittle…then one would not even need any faith.

    The finite contains the infinite. Like even our dear Lord Jesus Himself.

    Thanks.

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  34. WOB

    I don’t hate the word, I hate that people continue to misrepresent what is meant by the term. The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. It is that simple. A perfect God moved human authors, by His Spirit, to perfectly transcribe what He wanted to communicate.

    1. ed Post author

      I’m afraid you have a lot to hate then! There are a lot of seminaries, colleges, and churches who make inerrancy into a MUCH bigger deal than that.

  35. Karen

    “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.”

    But this is the problem it seems to me. “Fact” about what and according to whom? Truth as the sum of “facts” is not a biblical notion of truth, but rather a modern, rationalistic one. Traditionally, my understanding is that Christians have always understood that the the authors of the Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit to record what God wanted them to record about their experience of Him, but that doesn’t mean He necessarily kept those human authors from what we post-Enlightenment moderns might regard as “error” in every detail of what they recorded. The ancient Hebrews and even the Gospel writers didn’t record their “historical” narratives in the painstaking literal sense that our modern “objective” journalism attempts (even modern journalism can’t really avoid subjectivism and interpretation!), but arranged key events and themes to serve a spiritual teaching purpose that they themselves might not even have fully understood at the time. It also includes their own limited and developing human perspectives. They retained a spiritual agenda of what they (and/or the Holy Spirit) wanted to teach about God and their own understanding of their identity as His people. It records what they saw as most important to record. We have to trust that God was in this process because this is what Christ taught and the New Testament writers understood, but even Christ’s own disciples didn’t see the real meaning of their Scriptures as obvious to the “common sense” of just any reader as I explained in my response to Ken above, much less their truth as the sum of inerrant “facts,” though they did understand themselves to be also presenting factual data (especially about Christ Whom they had personally touched, seen and heard, etc.). We see in the New Testament that even the disciples did not really understand the import of their own OT Scriptures until Christ expounded how they spoke of Him after His resurrection (see Luke 24:13ff, esp. vs. 27). If we look at the typological interpretation of the OT narratives in the NT and among the early Fathers of the Church, our modern “historical-critical” assumptions, rooted in Enlightenment notions of truth, would never have us arrive at most of those interpretations! The apostolic Christian teaching is that the full meaning of the Scriptures is ultimately the Person of Christ Himself in His fullness, and as such not reducible to mere logical propositions and facts.

    To summarize, traditionally Christians have always understood that the “truth” of the Scriptures is in their interpretation (i.e., not in their autographs or texts, taken in and of themselves), and their full meaning and correct interpretation and application is ultimately found only in the Person of Christ Himself, Who is embodied (resident by the Holy Spirit) in His Church.

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