Inerrancy, Scripture, and the Easy Way Out

Inerrancy, defined as simply as possible, is the Christian doctrine that the Bible is divinely inspired and without error.

But it is important to move beyond this simple definition, because people often come away with misconceptions about the doctrine. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy explicates what evangelicals mean when they speak of inerrancy. I highly recommend that anyone interested in Inerrancy read this statement. It clears up a number of misconceptions.

A rejection of inerrancy is frequently due to a misunderstanding of what the doctrine means. Here are some common misreadings of the doctrine:

1) Inerrancy does not mean that there will be no discrepancies between Gospel accounts. These discrepancies, based upon an interpretation given by one who affirms inerrancy, are not seen as errors but as the different authors expressing their biographical accounts in different ways. Unlike modern conceptions that a quoted phrases must be exact, historians in the first century felt at their liberty to rearrange temporal events to better illustrate a common theme. The Gospels can be seen to utilize several methods of ancient biographies as they emphasize certain aspects of Christ’s life.

2) Inerrancy does not mean that there are no cultural or personal aspects to Scripture. An example of this can be seen in the geocentrism in the Bible. That there is geocentrism in the Bible does not undermine inerrancy. Inerrancy is the belief that what the Bible teaches is without error. The Bible does not teach geocentrism, but features it as part of the background beliefs of the cultural context of the authors. The authors have imported their culture into expressing God’s word, but that does not undermine the teachings.

3) Inerrancy does not mean God dictated the Bible word-for-word. This point ties into 2: God used human authors and gave them the leeway to write within their cultural background.

Those who reject inerrancy have taken an easy way out. Rather than investigating the issue of historical grammatical interpretation of Scripture or looking into what inerrancy means, they find what is perceived as an “error” in Scripture and reject the doctrine. The misconceptions outlined above are just a few of the errors made by people who do not investigate the issue seriously enough. Rather than coming upon a difficulty in the text and rejecting inerrancy, I urge readers to explore the difficulty, see what people have to say about it. I’ve found on more than one occasion that something I thought could be an error was explained by a cultural tradition or misreading of the text.

Finally, I’d like to address something that might come up to those reading through this. Often atheists object to the doctrine of inerrancy. I’ve run into this in my own personal discussions with those outside of the faith. They say things like “Do you really think a book written by a bunch of humans is without error?”

Well, if the Christian God exists, then the Bible is not just a book written by a bunch of humans. If God exists, there is no reason to think that God would be incapable of guiding His people to write a book to reveal Himself in a way that allows them to use their historical and cultural contexts without transmitting error in teaching. It would take a very powerful argument to convince me that an omnipotent deity would be unable to do this.

Links

I blog about a number of issues related to Christian Apologetics at Always Have a Reason.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bibbia_con_rosa.jpg

SDG.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About J.w. Wartick

Christian Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion are J.w.'s passions, and God continually opens new opportunities for him in this area. He has been accepted to Biola University to work towards a Master’s Degree in Christian Apologetics. J.w. is a student member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Evangelical Theological Society.

Publications:

Book Review: Revelation by Richard Swinburne, Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics, Volume 1, p. 5-8.

“Past, Probability, and Teleology,” Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics, (2010-2011 Volume 1) p. 67-78.

  • Mark McGee

    Good job, J.W. Here is another human comparison. I used to be one of a dozen journalists who would descend on a news story. It might be a school board meeting, a trial, murder or multiple car accident. All of us journalists covered the story for the same reason – to investigate, ask questions, gather information, talk to eye witnesses, and get photos, sound and/or video depending on which media we worked. We were looking for the truth of the story. All of us then returned to our stations or newspapers to put together our story for the next newscast or publication.
    If someone watched every TV station, listened to every radio station and read every newspaper that had a journalist covering the same story, that person would come away with a good understanding of the who, what, when, where, how and why of the story. However, each journalist covered the story uniquely. Though the information was basically the same, we were all looking for ways to make the story unique to our abilities as journalists. As an investigative journalist I was always looking for something that no one else would find – the deeper meaning behind the story that helped explain the why. We were all looking for the exclusive interview, the one piece of information that no other reporter discovered. We all told the same story, but the words, pictures, sound, angles, and information were unique to us. We covered the same story, but made it our own based on skill and often some luck.
    Another aspect of journalism is audience. Though some news outlets reach out to a general audience, others are targeted to a specific audience that is interested in knowing how stories affect their lives, their children, their neighborhood, their community, their city, their region, etc. Because of audience needs, journalists sometimes focus more of their attention on two or three aspects while not reporting on other aspects of the same story. That doesn’t mean the reporters didn’t tell the truth or didn’t cover the story well; it simply means they did the job they were sent to do based on the needs and interest of their audience.
    The Gospel writers covered the same story, but made it uniquely their own based on audience as well as God’s leading. They focused on those aspects of the story of Jesus that would be of most relevance and importance to their audience. Think of the Gospels as being covered by four journalists writing for different audiences. The story is the same, but the presentation is different for the purposes of their audience.
    Coming into Christianity from atheism I looked at the Gospels from my experience as a journalist and quickly understood that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were covering the same story for different audiences. Everything makes sense when we understand the purpose.

  • Frank

    I feel like this article mixes up two very different concepts in order to maintain the bible as “inerrant”.

    Two stories providing different levels of detail is not an error. If I say “Joe went to the store” and you say “Joe went to the store by car”, neither one of those statements are erroneous. One just has more detail than the other. However, if I say “Joe went to the store on foot” and you say “Joe went to the store by car”, one of those statements contains an error, I don’t see how anyone could see it differently. The contradictions in Genesis 1 and 2 with regards to the order of creation is a problem. One of them is erroneous. They cannot both be true. This is not a matter of perspective. This is not cultural influence. This is not a quotation problem because one was missing an adverb that the other had. This is not an audience problem. This is a blatant inconsistency in a key part of the bible that flies in the face of the concept of inerrancy. To try to stretch the word “inerrancy” to include blatant factual contradictions seems, to a skeptic, like a desperate attempt by believers to avoid cognitive dissonance by manipulating grammar.

    “Unlike modern conceptions that a quoted phrases must be exact, historians in the first century felt at their liberty to rearrange temporal events to better illustrate a common theme.”

    In all practical terms, this means “not all of the bible is true.” If events are not sequenced accurately, that means it’s not a true account of what happened. Again, we’re not talking about audience here, we’re talking about facts – there’s a difference. From a skeptics perspective, it’s not at all surprising that the bible contains factual errors. Eye witness testimony is notoriously flawed, especially when it’s from decades prior and traveled via word-of-mouth. That doesn’t mean nothing in the bible is true, or that the general messages of the bible aren’t consistent. But when using the bible as evidence for an argument, like the resurrection, contradictions do present a problem.

    • Jason Dykstra

      Frank, I understand your frustrations, and I think the problem lies in the use of the word “inerrancy” itself (it’s not a biblical term). The word “error” carries with it so many connotations, and they can be applied more conservatively or liberally, depending on whether a person does or doesn’t want to believe in the Bible’s validity. A better approach would be to discuss from God’s word (not from our opinions), what God’s Word was intended to be by God. Then we don’t have to fit it into an exceptionally problematic human box or term like “inerrancy;” rather, we can appreciate the divinely authoritative and unchanging validity or truth that God intended to give us about himself from himself.
      Oh, and just food for thought, Genesis 1 is unequivocally a poem, not a historical account. Its clear intention seems to be to communicate that God is ultimately responsible for the physical creation (among a few other things), not to provide a history of how or when. Literary genre is just as important to take into consideration as perspective, cultural modes of writing, etc.
      Jason @ http://www.jasondykstrawrites.com

    • Vince Latorre

      If you are referring to the apparent chronological contradiction between the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 where in Genesis 1 animals are created first and then man, and Genesis 2 where it seems to say that man was already there when God formed the animals, there actually is a very plausible solution. The “contradiction” is caused, as they often can be, by a translation problem. The verb for “formed” (yatsar in Hebrew) as in God “formed” every beast of the field, etc., can actually legitimately be translated “had formed”, as the NIV does, in the pluperfect, rather than perfect tense. The pluperfect referring to an event further in the past than another past event. The context of the passage is not so much chronology as in the first chapter, but to tell the reader that certain animals that were already in existence were brought to Adam for inspection. In general,the second chapter of Genesis is recapping and amplifying certain events of chapter one.

      • C. Mark

        Yep. That is it. moreover, the language of narration can suggest that without any need to overloading the verb itself or limiting its meaning to a specific and only specific tense. Most times in Semitic sentences, being poor in tenses, the actual tense is understood from the good following of the narration, taking into consideration the apparent purpose of the narrator.

    • C. Mark

      Frank, frankly speaking, the modern western world lacks the simple usage of the art of narration.

      Let me start from your example, ‘Joe went to the store by car.’ But he stopped at the metro station. Then he moved into the second phase of the journey, i. e. park and ride.
      At the destination metro station he had to walk a bit of distance.

      So it is still about the the level of details to conceive the ostensible discrepancies in the narration. More accurately, the assumed discrepancies are to be interpreted in the light of CONTEXT.

      If the context is a question in the store to give a ride to an old woman, then the answer is no. The care is faraway and he could not give a ride.
      While if the context is Joe’s wife asking him before he goes, then the answer is yes, for he would go by car and his wife would have to wait for the bus.

      Applying this comprehensive conception on the story of creation, few key words drop from even the scholarly eye for sorrow. The second chapter uses the Hebrew verb, ‘yatsar’, while the first one uses ‘bara’ for creation.

      The first suggests that the account are given in more details.
      Also, the overall context of the account suggests the purpose-order. So every creature kind in the account of chapter 2 is recalled only when needed to be mentioned. This is the art of narrating a purposeful story. While in chapter 1 the whole context is the actual order of creation. The clue for that is numbering the days explicitly.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello JW,

    I certainly agree that some versions of inerrancy are more sophisticated than others.

    That said, when faced with the decision

    1) believing that God ordered soldiers to kill babies and pregnant women alike (Joshua)

    2) giving up innerancy

    I choose 2).

    According to my experience, this doctrine is largely responsible for people moving away from God and becoming militant, angry atheists.

    Greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • tildeb

    Doesn’t the word ‘inerrant’ clearly and succinctly mean ‘without error’?

    When John says he went to the store and bought milk but in fact went to Jane’s locked house, broke into it, stole a computer, sold it in a back alley, took the money, bought a pack of cigarettes and some milk, and returned home, can we really consider his original ‘story’ inerrant and maintain the definition of the term?

    When Genesis says man and woman were created by god and founded the human race, but in fact population genetics shows we evolved as a distinct branch of primates with our oldest male and female ancestors separated by some 70,000 years from the smallest ‘founding couple’ of a population bottleneck of some 12,000 individuals, then can we really consider the original ‘story’ inerrant and maintain the definition of the term?

    Maybe apologists can, but I don’t think it the least helpful to alter the meaning of a word to try to fit incompatible facts with stories and pretend that aligns contrary facts to give the appearance that everything’s fine and copacetic when it obviously isn’t.

    The bible – as far as facts it presents and the beliefs people hold based on these facts – is not inerrant, is not without error. One only needs to look to human ancestry and the biblical account for it to appreciate the deplorable lack of public understanding of evolution to see just how deeply this technique of playing with words to make seem to be down and black appear to be a different kind of white is disingenuous (meaning lacking in candor, meaning open and honest, meaning truthful and legitimate, meaning valid in regards to its biological assertion of factual ancestry, meaning it conforms to accepted principles of sound biological classification. Clearly the creation story incontrovertibly fails to do this and so stand in conflict with knowledge based on facts of human ancestry). Pretending that biblical facts opposing reality are actually compatible – such as the biblical claim of human divine creation versus what reality shows us to be human ancestry – is simply not true. This is where the rubber of apolgetics and its claim for biblical inerrancy meets the rubber of reality and it is found to be in error, which is the opposite meaning of innerancy.

  • C. Mark

    Gen 2:8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
    Gen 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

    Having a look on these scriptures gives one a clearcut evidence that the repetition of the same action within the narration is not necessarily to happen in a time-order fashion, but rather for recalling the act to add further details of. This same very act of putting Adam in the paradise could never be meant to happen twice consecutively.

    • C. Mark

      To take the idea of elaborating on a compact account further,
      one should notice that focusing on a specific point in the middle of a whole account necessitates explaining the INNER RELATIONSHIPS of this part with other parts.

      So, every other part will be recalled only in order of purpose, for the sake of explanation.

      One evidence for that the story of Genesis 2 is a focus on Gen1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” is apparent by comparing this scripture with Gen2: 18-25!

      Indeed, the purpose of the whole story of Gen1 and gen2 at all is showing up the uniqueness and high value of the human being in the divine purpose. Notice that it is only first person pronoun appeared in Gen1: 26 when God said, “Let us make man in our image”!
      While in accomplishing the other creatures it is the third person pronoun and the passive verbs only are there, in the form of “And let them be … And God created … and it was so.”

      Deacon Basil, aka Christopher Mark