Inerrancy, Inspiration and Authority: A Clearing of the Throat

Recently, I wrote about whether or not it matters if Paul wrote the pastoral epistles. As I briefly explained, what we believe about these letters is a huge issue, particularly in how it impacts our view of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. As I wrote previously:

So, if Paul didn’t write these letters, then they would be falsified documents that would have been unwelcome in the early church.

Why? Because they would contain a lie.

More than that, they would be based upon a lie. And if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, in that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.

This last point, that you either have to embrace a subjective view of Scripture or chuck the whole thing, is fairly contentious. It is very black and white. So, I want to begin digging a bit deeper into the issue of inerrancy to help give you a sense of why I believe it truly is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

The doctrine of inerrancy is one of the most important—and one of the most misunderstood. What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant? Is it a man-made doctrine? Is it something that we have to read into Scripture, or is it something that Scripture reveals to us?

Like all the debates surrounding Scripture, like the existence of Adam & Eve, gender roles within the Church and so many others, there is another question at the heart of the issue—a question of authority. What we believe about Scripture says a great deal about who we believe to be in authority over us. If Scripture is truly what it says it is—the Word of God—then it is our ultimate earthly authority in all matters.

Before we start really digging into what Scripture says about itself, it’s important to lay a foundation for discussing the subject. And to do that, we need to understand what inerrancy does not mean.

First, inerrancy does not mean that the Bible is above critical examination. If anything, inerrancy demands that we examine the Scriptures with the utmost seriousness. If this is, in fact, the Word of God, then we must know and understand what it means to the best of our ability. Textual criticism is a discipline that is enormously helpful in gaining a greater understanding of the Scriptures, for example.

Second, inerrancy does not mean that context doesn’t matter. The Scriptures were written in a specific time and place, by more than 40 authors over a period of roughly 1500 years. Time, place and culture play a huge role in understanding exactly what was going on, as well as the purpose of why the books were written in the first place. If we ignore a text’s context, we risk misapplying it and injuring ourselves and those around us.

Thirdly, inerrancy does not mean that we ignore literary devices or genres. We always read poetry as poetry, history as history and so on. The most ridiculous arguments against the Bible’s trustworthiness come from literalistic readings; that is, ignoring literary devices like phenomenological language (meaning descriptions of natural events as they appear to the human eye—think sunrise and sunset).

Finally, inerrancy does not mean that we stick our fingers in our ears when it comes to engaging science and culture in light of the Bible. What it does mean is that we critically examine science in light of Scripture. Those things that clearly align with the Bible’s testimony can be accepted. Those that are clearly contradictory must be rejected. And for those issues upon which the Scriptures are silent, we likewise must not become too dogmatic.

Stated positively, inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in the original manuscripts. From the author of a book to the events being described, we can count on it being true. This is because inerrancy is inextricably connected to the person and character of God Himself, who never lies (Titus 1:2). And that’s really where the discussion has to start—with the character of God. If He is trustworthy in all things, His Word must likewise be true. That will be the subject of the next post in this series.

Sponsored Message

Get new content delivered to your inbox

  • Anonymous

    The Word is infallible. The words do not have to be inerrant. We can trust the Bible because of it’s Word. Which is Christ Himself. Not because of the sinful men that God used to write it, compile it, translate it.

    How does this sound, “In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God and the Bible was God.”

    No. It’s the Word which cannot err and that is Christ Himself. In preaching and teaching, and in the Bible.

    There were lots of Christians before there was even a Bible. And many who never read the Bible. But they heard the Word…and believed.

    My 2 cents.

    Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      @theoldadamlives:disqus   You said,
      “The Word is infallible. The words do not have to be inerrant. We can
      trust the Bible because of it’s Word. Which is Christ Himself. Not because of
      the sinful men that God used to write it, compile it, translate it.

      How does this sound, “In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible
      was with God and the Bible was God.”

      No. It’s the Word which cannot err and that is Christ Himself. In
      preaching and teaching, and in the Bible.

      There were lots of Christians before there was even a Bible. And many
      who never read the Bible. But they heard the Word…and believed.

      My 2 cents.”

      I think there is some confusion
      here… Inerrancy does not mean that we worship the Bible or lift itself up to
      a position of worship either.   The inspiration of the Bible
      speaks to its authority. The authority of the Bible rests on its inspiration
      from God.  This speaks to the Bible as a God
      breathed Word from God. Inerrancy speaks to the Bible as a work of the God of
      Truth meaning that the Bible is without error. Infallibility overlaps inerrancy
      but the emphasis is not just on factual truth but also on practical
      dependability. Not only are the facts of Scripture true but also its promises
      are dependable, and they will not fail us.

       

      Jesus Himself believed in the inspiration and
      inerrancy of Scripture Matthew 5:17-19, “ 
      17(A)
      “Do not think that I have come to abolish(B)
      the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but(C)
      to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you,(D)
      until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the
      Law until all is accomplished. 19(E)
      Therefore whoever relaxes(F)
      one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will
      be called least(G)
      in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called
      great in the kingdom of heaven. “ Furthermore Paul also taught the inspiration,
      inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture in 2nd Timothy 3:16, “16(A)
      All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
      for correction, and for training in righteousness.”)

  • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber

    Great post!

  • Anonymous

    If the Bible is without any errors whatsover, then which Bible is the TRUE and inerrant Bible?

    The Catholics have one. The Orthodox have one. And the Protestants have one. Not to mention the myriad of translations that are out there.

    ________________________________________________

    I would like to make clear that I do believe the Bible to be the Word of God. The message of the Bible is without error. But every jot and tittle in the book does not have to be perfect.

    I mean, God uses fallible men and women for His purposes, doesn’t He? Then why does a real God have to have a perfect book, dropped out of Heaven with a bow tied around it? Actually it makes God into a smaller god.

    Here is the proper doctrine of the Word. ‘The finite contains the infinite.’

    Just like Jesus Himself. True man, and yet true God.

    • Anonymous

      @theoldadamlives:disqus I have no idea what your quoting in the first comment. I am not a Catholic, nor am I “Orthodox” (If by that you mean a member in the Eastern Church). I am however a Protestant, specifically an evangelical, and even more specifically than that a Reformed-Baptist. Furthermore, I don’t believe there are multiple Bibles but one Bible the sixty-six books containing the very Word of God to man about His Son Jesus Christ. 
      You say, “I mean, God uses fallible men and women for His purposes, doesn’t He? Then why does a real God have to have a perfect book, dropped out of Heaven with a bow tied around it? Actually it makes God into a smaller god.” 

      By your statement here you are bringing into question whether the Bible is inspired by questioning whether the Book God gave man is perfect and sufficient. Also, the Bible was written by a process of dual authorship. God spoke in His written Word by a process of dual authorship. The Holy Spirit so superintended the human authors that, through their individual personalities and different styles of writing, they composed and recorded God’s Word to man (2 Pet. 1:20, 21) without error in the whole or in the part (Matt. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16).

      This in no way makes “God a smaller God” in fact it shows that His Word is True, unchanging, inspired, inerrant, and infallible.  May I please encourage you in a discussion about Scripture to actually cite, interact and engage with the Scriptures themselves? Thus far you have only given your opinion which is not Truth. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    I am saying that a lot of Christians use different Bibles. And yet many still come to Christ.

    Even though these bibles are different. If the Bible has NO errors or contradictions at all, then one Bible version, and one version alone must be the right one. That is just common sense.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples…where?

    In the Upper Room? At Pentecost? two versions are in the Bible. Take your pick.

    Who showed up at the empty tomb first? Two versions are given, take your pick.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    Do these differences shake my faith? NO! I realize that God uses finite tools to accomplish His infinite purposes.

    The way some people understand the Bible, they wouldn’t need any faith at all. The Bible says it, and that’s it. Like the Koran. Same thing. We walk by faith and not by sight, and our undestanding of the Word of God is a lot deeper than just the book.

    Thanks. Gotta head to work. But I have enjoyed the discussion.

    • Anonymous

      I think I understand the point you are trying to make. The Inerrancy of Scripture focuses on the original documents not translations. I believe that The Word of God is an objective, propositional revelation (1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Thess. 2:13), verbally inspired in every word (2 Tim. 3:16), absolutely inerrant in the original documents, infallible, and God-breathed. A

    • Anonymous

      Hope you have a good day at work. God bless you.

  • http://twitter.com/sarahcunning Sarah Cunningham

    I think you correctly identified the most important question as one of authority…that often rests in the heart.

  • http://mrben.jedimoose.org/ mrben

    Hey Aaron – great post! I think the diversity in the comments indicates how complex an issue this is. I read a post recently that suggested that the biggest theological debate of the next 20 years was going to be over the nature of the Scriptures. 

    Hope you’re going to throw in some references to the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy – a favourite of mine, and surprisingly accessible to read. 

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Yessir, I will most definitely be referencing the Chicago Statement. You’re right on the money—this issue of the nature of Scripture has been bubbling under the surface for years now already as the controversies around Rob Bell, Brian McLaren et al demonstrate.

  • Pingback: Around the Interweb | Blogging Theologically | Jesus, Books, Culture, & Theology()

  • Pingback: Inerrancy and Infallibility: What’s the Difference? | Blogging Theologically | Jesus, Books, Culture, & Theology()