Tuesday, November 12, 2013

True or False? The Inerrancy of Scripture

I apologize for the tardiness of this post.  I had the great delight of hosting my father and brother unexpectedly in my home for two weeks, and spent time enjoying their company instead of posting.  I hope you will forgive my absence. 

The Inerrancy of Scripture
                Before we start, I need to clarify that this post is about the theology of scriptural inerrancy.  It is not an apologetic treatise on how we know scripture is inerrant.  I add this qualification because I have neither the space nor time to articulate the mountains of evidence that are required for such a premise.  But know that I have studied them, and will again in the future {if anyone has seen my copy of Christian Apologetics by Dr. D. Groothuis, I’d really appreciate it finding its way home…}; and that if you have any specific questions, I am more than happy to respond. 

                Now, what makes the study of scriptural inerrancy so challenging is that Scripture itself doesn’t lay out the doctrine of inerrancy for us.  Rather, just as authors in our day, “the biblical writers were far more concerned with the reality and demands of their encounter with God than with explaining in some theoretical way how it took place, much less with the defending the possibility of its occurrence.”[1]  However, even after making this statement, Ray Dunning asserts that there are philosophical means, using the clues found within the Scriptures, to affirm its inerrancy.  Dunning views Scripture as a special revelation of God, articulated through human means; he explains that    

special revelation involves two moments, the first occurs in the existential experience of the saving act of God,…the second movement involves the Spirit’s guidance in the process of inferring the theological and ethical implications of the saving event(s), and inscripturating these interpretation and inferences.[2]      

Thus, as the biblical authors experienced truths about God, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these down.  Because the Holy Spirit is a member of the Triune God, He has the ontological attribute of absolute truth; therefore, anything inspired by the God of truth cannot be untrue.  Thus the Scriptures, as written by human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, are the inerrant revelation of God to his people.  

                But what, exactly does “inerrant” mean?  Drs. Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis carefully define biblical inerrancy as: freedom from all falsehood, deception, or fraud. 

                Citing the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978, Lewis and Demarest claim this is a possibility because the Scriptures “[utilize] the distinct personalities and literary styles of chosen” authors, while

the Spirit superintend[s] their writing such that the sum of what was written, to the very words used, constitute the authoritative Word of God.  Since God is the author of scripture, what is written is ‘inerrant’ (Art. XII).[3]

Demarest and Lewis are also cautious to note that this inerrancy applies to the “original autographs of the sixty-six canonical books [of] the Bible,” because it is the product of supernatural inspiration through the Holy Spirit.[4]  This very specific definition allows for textual variants in even the oldest manuscripts, throughout centuries of human existence.  The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy maintains that this attitude toward scriptural inerrancy is “sensitive to the cultural contexts in which the biblical documents were written;” so that  “‘although Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventions of a particular period.’”[5]  The conditions mentioned do not affect the inerrancy of the scriptures, rather the practical application of its principles in contemporary times.  Demarest and Lewis find that any difficulties that arise concerning biblical inerrancy have roots in the interpretation of scripture, instead of in scripture itself.  Nevertheless, Demarest and Lewis assert that “No amount of interpretive abuse can change the nature of the biblical message as it was originally given.  But ‘ignorant and unstable people’ may distort it ‘to their own destruction’ (2 Peter 3:16).”[6]

Where Theology Can Go Wrong
                One opposing view of inerrancy is forwarded by those who adhere to what is known as Feminist Theology.  And though I consider myself a Christian Feminist[7], I draw a distinction between my position and that of Feminist theologians.  These theologians primarily view the scriptures as historical documents produced by ancient, patriarchal societies who purposefully omitted stories about women, thereby excluding women from the “processes by which cultures find meaning, interpret and explain their past and present, and orientate themselves to the future.”[8]  To address what Gerda Lerner refers to as the “androcentric fallacy,” some extreme feminist theologians require more than gender-inclusive readings of neutral and plural nouns within the texts; instead, they desire a “radical restructuring of thought and analysis which comes to terms with the reality that humanity consists of women and men.”[9]  Thus, as the feminist theologians approach the study of scripture, the underlying attitude is that it is a human created collection of historical texts, which include only a limited sample of the population, and are therefore not fully trustworthy. 

These unarticulated attitudes of feminist theologians do not overtly suggest it, but subtly posit that the Holy Scriptures are not inerrant.  The subtext of their discussions of the historical and cultural androcentricity of scripture, while an attempt to include the voices of women in the body of Christ, ironically ignores the cultural and historical context from which these texts originated.  This subtext is also that the Holy Spirit somehow omitted half of the imago dei when inspiring God’s Word.  Whether this omission is purposeful or inadvertent, if it has the Holy Spirit as its source, the logical conclusion must be that either the Holy Spirit is fallible, or that Scripture is fallible in the same way other ancient documents are.  If the Holy Spirit or the Scriptures are fallible, then God is not who he says he is.  Thus the position of Feminist theologians cannot be supported.  The inerrancy of scripture is of paramount importance when engaging in apologetics, evangelism, or the proclamation of the gospel.

           The inerrancy of Scripture is a key theology in believing God is who He says He is.  But, it does not mean that the 2011 NIV sitting next to my keyboard is completely devoid of textual variants ("typos" in the modern vernacular).  Inerrancy means that what the Holy Spirit inspired the original authors to write, even to the words they used, is the absolute truth about God.  Not the total truth about God, for we cannot comprehend nor communicate the total truth of God in our finite state.  Rather, what the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors, in their respective historical and cultural contexts, to write (in the original autographs), is true and without falsehood, deception, or fraud. 

For further investigation on the topic of inerrancy, I offer the following link for podcasts of Dr. Wayne Grudem’s lectures on the inerrancy of scripture for Scottsdale Bible Church’s Christian Essentials class.  He covered this topic on October 9th, 16th, and November 6th and you will need to download or listen to each lesson individually.  
Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 
Why Theology? | How do we do this? | What are attributes? | What's Omnipresence? | What's Transcendence? | What's Revelation?


[1] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.  Page 99.
[2] Ibid., page 175.
[3]Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987.  Volume 1, page 137.
[4] Ibid., page 160.
[5] Ibid., page 137.
[6] Ibid., page 160.
[7] A Christian Feminist is defined as a Christ-follower who seeks gender equality afforded through the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as it was part of the pre-curse, original creation, and is opposed to vaulting one sex over another.  See Christians for Biblical Equality for further definitions and the scriptural basis for this view.      
[8] Loades, Ann, ed.   Feminist Theology: A Reader.  London: SPCK, 1990. Page 2. 
[9] Ibid.