INERRANCY OF THE SCRIPTURE
This is a relatively old doctrine, though little had been done to develop it until more recent years when the Christian community allowed the liberal questions and attacks to shake their belief and confidence in the Scriptures. Since, there has been good research and the doctrine has been developed. Most conservative Christians would have believed it in years past but probably hadn't really thought that much about it.
In recent years there has arisen confusion as to the meaning of the term. Some have used terms similar to those used by conservatives to discuss the Scriptures. These men do not believe that the Bible is without error.
Enns describes the dilemma nicely. "The result, as Charles Ryrie has shown, has necessitated the inclusion of additional verbiage. To state the orthodox view it is now necessary to include the terms 'verbal, plenary, infallible, inerrant, unlimited inspiration!' All this has been necessitated because of those who have retained words like inspiration, infallible, and even inerrant while denying that the Bible is free from error." (Taken from: "THE MOODY HANDBOOK OF THEOLOGY"; Enns, Paul; Copyright 1989, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 166)
1. The Scriptures are without error of any kind in all that they say.
2. Webster states that inerrancy means "free from error."
3. Enns suggests, "The teaching that since the Scriptures are given by God, they are free from error in all their contents, including doctrinal, historical, scientific, geographical, and other branches of knowledge." (Taken from: "THE MOODY HANDBOOK OF THEOLOGY"; Enns, Paul; Copyright 1989, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 636)
Inerrantists are people that believe that the Bible is without error, while Errantists are people that believe that there are errors in the Scripture.
1. An errantist writes, "The Bible is infallible, as I define that term, but not inerrant. That is, there are historical and scientific errors in the Bible, but I have found none on matters of faith and practice" (Ryrie quoting Stephen T. Davis, THE DEBATE ABOUT THE BIBLE, Ryrie, Charles C.; "BASIC THEOLOGY"; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986 p 115)
This demands that either God gave men His message and the men added in what they wanted, or that God gave the writers of Scripture information that was not correct. Neither are acceptable to the theologian that believes in infallibility.
2. The Lausanne Covenant stated, "inerrant in all that it affirms." Both errantists and inerrantists could agree to that statement, though the inerrantist would naturally desire to take the statement further.
3. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in Chicago stated, "Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching..." They then added nineteen articles to define what they said.
4. The Roman Catholics hold to an inerrant scripture, but only in the area of salvation.
5. The Neo-evangelical holds to either inerrancy or non-inerrancy. Some of the old timers that we now call established evangelicals held to the inerrant scriptures. Harold Ockenga is one of those according to Enns.
There are others that feel that the text itself is not inerrant, however the truths that the text conveys are inerrant.
Ryrie sets the argument logically by stating that God is true, the Scriptures were breathed out by God, thus the Scriptures are true. (Rom. 3:4; II Tim. 3:16)
Erickson suggests that there are seven divisions within inerrancy. (P 222ff if you are interested.) I will recap his points as I understand him.
1. ABSOLUTE INERRANCY: This position holds that everything is true and if there is a seeming contradiction that it needs to be explained. In the area of science some suggest that the Word is in error. The absolute inerrantist would state that there is an explanation for all those seeming contradictions, normally that science is wrong again. Science has been proven incorrect before when it had contradicted Scripture.
2. FULL INERRANCY: The full would be similar to the absolute except that they would not attempt to prove contradictions to be false in the area of science. They would state that the Biblical author was presenting what he saw or heard as he saw or heard it with his level of understanding in his own time period. This might allow for errors of misunderstanding on the author's part.
3. LIMITED INERRANCY: These folks would hold that the Bible is not attempting to be an authority on science, history etc. The items of science, history, etc. that Scripture mentions are limited to the understanding of the day and may indeed contain some error.
4. INERRANCY OF PURPOSE: This position tells us that the purpose of the Scripture is to bring man to God. In that purpose, everything that the Word states is inerrant, but that is all.
5. ACCOMMODATED REVELATION: There is the possibility of a mixing of man's knowledge with the revelation of God. When Paul mixes in teaching that comes from his Rabbinical days he is actually adding comment to the Lord's inerrant revelation.
6. NONPROPOSITIONAL REVELATION: This is the position that holds that the Bible is only there to guide us to personal relationships between people. The Scriptures are only the words of men and are only useful to bring you to person to person encounters.
7. INERRANCY IS IRRELEVANT: The thought of inerrancy brings one to concentrate on the minute thoughts of inerrancy while ignoring what might happen if someone is free to study the Word without the limitation of thinking that it is without error.
Ryrie poses some questions that might help us understand some of the ramifications of this doctrine. (p 77) Can a person be an Evangelical and not hold to inerrancy? Yes, many are today. Can a person be a Christian and not hold to inerrancy? Yes. Many are. Can a person be a Biblicist and not hold to inerrancy? No, not if the Bible teaches inerrancy.
Some suggest that the terms infallibility and inerrancy are identical and relate to the Bible. Lindsell is quite emphatic about the fact that they are synonyms. When you are studying either, you will probably need to look under both topics.
I personally feel they relate first to God, and then to His revelation. I also feel there is a slight difference between the two words.
Inerrancy according to Webster is "exemption from error." He defines infallibility as "Incapable of error." If I, as your teacher, sit in silence during a class hour looking at you, I would be without error in what I had taught, however I certainly am not "incapable of error". The difference is slight but we need to see it.
Infallibility is the idea of being unable to make errors. Or in the case of Scripture the Word of God was given without error, in that God can not make errors. God is infallible. His Word on the other hand IS without error. An extension of this might be that it is unable to give forth error to it's reader.
Infallibility then is: God is unable to make errors, and the Bible cannot give forth error. Inerrancy is the other side of the coin in that it is the result of infallibility. Because the Bible was given by One with no possibility of error then it is without error. Inerrancy then is the fact that the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts. Thus an errantist that says the word is infallible but has errors must say that the Lord gave errors to the writers of Scripture, or else that God made errors in what He transmitted.
Geisler/Nix list an argument of logic. "Whatever God utters is errorless (inerrant). The words of the Bible are God's utterances. Therefore, the words of the Bible are errorless (inerrant)." (Taken from: "A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE"; Geisler, Norman L/Nix, William E; Copyright 1968, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission.)
Thus infallibility must be the quality that makes God's utterances errorless, and His utterances are without error or inerrant because He is infallible. This then would extend to the Scriptures themselves as they were given to the authors. Inspiration would be that process by which the infallible God transmitted His errorless revelation to the authors for the recording of the canonical books of the Scripture.
We need to distinguish between the originals and the copies of Scripture. Most doctrinal statements mention that the inerrancy is in the original manuscripts. The implication is that the copies of copies that we have today may have errors in them that the originals did not. The Lord and apostles when quoting the Old Testament were giving their approval to the copies of Old Testament originals. They viewed them as reliable.
We do not know what condition the copies they used were in. I suspect they may have been of better quality than those we have for the New Testament. The fact is that there are differences between different manuscripts that we have today. That was the bad news but the good news is that we have no doctrine that is changed by any of these differences. We will discuss the differences in a coming study.
Point: The originals were errorless.
Point: The manuscripts of today have differences.
Point: The differences make no changes to any doctrine.
Point: There is strong indication that the Scriptures have been PRESERVED. The fact of so many manuscripts existing shows preservation.
Point: We may then safely assume that the manuscripts that we have are adequate for our knowing the total error free knowledge that God has revealed to mankind.
THE CHURCH FATHERS SPEAK
Ryrie assembles some of the Church fathers for their input to our discussion: "For example, Augustine (396-430) clearly stated that 'most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books. That is to say that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us and committed to writing put down in these books anything false. If you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement, there will not be left a single sentence of those books, which, if appearing to anyone difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away as a statement, in which intentionally, the author declared what was not true' (Epistula, p. 28). Here in ancient terms is the domino theory.
"Again, Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) plainly said that 'nothing false can underlie the literal sense of Scripture' (Summa Theologica, I, 1, 10, ad 3). Also Luther declared, 'The Scriptures have never erred' (Works of Luther, XV;1481). John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote, 'Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible there may well be a thousand. If there is one falsehood in that Book it did not come from the God of truth' (Journal VI, 117).
"How can anyone say, then, that inerrancy is a recent invention?
"But even if it were, it could still be a true doctrine.
"Only the Bible, not history, can tell us." (Ryrie, "BASIC THEOLOGY"; P 81)
It may be to simplistic to find a place in a theology book but think about the simple facts.
God can not have, nor give error-
The revealed Word was recorded-
The recorded Word is the Word of God-
HOW THEN CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE ERRORS?
Pache mentions that there are 3,808 times that the authors of scripture state that it is the Word of God that they are communicating. The Psalmist says that the Law of God is perfect (Ps. 19:7). How can something perfect have error? Matt. 5:18 states that there will not be a jot or tittle pass from the word until all comes to pass.
The possibility of errors calls into question every doctrine that we have. There is no part of the Word that would not be suspect.
If as some say the Bible is error free in the parts that govern faith and practice then they leave the rest of Scripture open to errors. This contradicts the idea of the Psalmist when he says it is perfect!
I would like to close with the words of Augustine, "I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it." (Erickson p 226 quoting Augustine Letter 82.3)
APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE
1. When the Bible declares that we need only call on the Name of Jesus Christ to be saved, we can unreservedly declare that we are believers on the basis of His work and not our works.
2. When the Bible declares that we are His for eternity, we can unabashedly declare that there is no possible way in which we can lose our salvation.
3. When the Bible commands that we love one another, it is not a multiple
choice option, but the very command from God Himself.