an inerrant bible

November 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm 4 comments

chagallI have been muddling through the issue of biblical inerrancy recently, reading some articles and listening to some lectures. I do not find it surprising that people believe in the inerrancy of the bible, people hold beliefs like that at many different levels, and I held to some form of that belief myself at one time. But I am intrigued by the systems of biblical inerrancy contrived by theologians and they way they hold to these systems as essential elements of their faith. The more I study the issue of biblical inerrancy and the different ways people of faith read the bible, the more these systems of biblical inerrancy seem contrived and untenable. I want to better understand why highly intelligent and well educated theologians hold to these theories.

While the thelogians provide support for their theories and go to great lengths to harmonize “appearant contradictions” and defend their reading of the bible, at the end they typically include a profession that ultimately they believe the Holy Spirit provides them with an “inner witness” attesting to the inerrancy of the bible. Which is well and good perhaps, but then why the desire to create and defend a comprehensive doctrine of biblical inerrancy?

The justification for the belief seems to come down not so much to the evidence they find for it but to a need they feel for it to exist, a need to believe that God must communicate clearly with people, hence the inerrant bible. Of course there needs to be a correlary assumption that the bible indeed speaks clearly, and also that we need the bible to speak clearly about God in the first place. I suspect that perceived need is related in a large degree to the belief that we will go to Hell if we don’t believe the right things. If God will send us to Hell for believing things incorrectly, then it goes to reason he would choose to communicate that clearly. But of course the belief that we will go to Hell for believing the wrong things comes from the bible itself in the first place… It becomes such a hopelessly circular set of arguments, spirals within spirals within spirals.

As is often the case, arguments that exist to defend something hoped for rather than something evidenced tend to fall short logically and factually. I have heard it asked, “Wouldn’t you want to be confident the contents of the bible are inerrant?” My answer is certainly yes, but unfortunately wishing for something does not make it demonstrably true. As with so many things in life, the reality is often more complicated and messier than we would desire. Black and white perspectives may be more comfortable, but that doesn’t always make them more truthful. If anything, wishing for something hard enough has the result of clouding our ability to see things clearly and rationally.

Reading some of these theologian’s arguments sounds to me at times like reading the writings of a Lord of the Rings afficionado arguing a point about the role of Hobbits in the history of Middle Earth, or something like that. In a way the theologian and the Tolkein afficionado are in similar positions, arguing for the reality of something only evidenced by human writings. Sure you can argue for logical consistency within the created system of doctrines, but that is not an indication of whether or not the created system is real or imaginary. And the further the theologian goes to support their doctrine, the more they sound as though they are defending something imaginary. Even if the imagined things were true there would not be an indication they were. And unfortunately belief in biblical inerrancy requires not only faith in the supernatural, but also a rejection of evidence from the material world we live in. At that point the belief is at best unevidenced, and at worst imaginary.

A few sources:

The Inerrancy of Scripture, Wayne Grudem (audio lecture)

Fundamentalism and the Word of God, J.I. Packer (book)

The Authority of Scripture, Mark Dever (brief transcript of talk)

The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?”, F.F. Bruce (book)

“Exploring Our Matrix”, James McGrath (blog). Here are a couple of examples.


Entry filed under: apologetics, bible, fundamentalism.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Janus Grayden  |  November 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Of course, there is a much larger issue with a demonstrably errant book. If it is unverifiable save for its own self-references and is known to be incorrect in places and unclear in others, then what does it do for the credibility of the work in its entirety?

    Humanity has come to develop a legal system by which credibility which cannot be corroborated is a very delicate thing. One crack is enough to shatter the whole. If this is the standard by which man has come to accept validity and trust, then why shouldn’t a deity be expected to, at the very least, match this standard?

    Further, when the supposed deity is mentioned only in this work along with all tenets of faith with the rewards and punishment that follow, they, too, are equally called into question. It strikes me as odd that someone will be quick to address how the Bible does have its faults, but still maintain that there are particular points that are so beyond reproof that they should not be questioned: the existence and works of Jesus, God, Satan, Heaven, Hell, and so forth. There is nothing that defends these particular notions from the exact same criticism that can be used on the parts that are accepted to be faulty.

  • 2. Lorena  |  November 14, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Good points. I agree. Their excuses resemble those of a person who wants something to be true so badly that an argument is concocted to reflect the desire.

    It reminds me of parents whose children are accused of some horrible crime. Many of these parents rationalize to themselves that their kid couldn’t possibly have done it. “I know my daughter,” some say. “She may be a liar but she’s no murderer.”

  • 3. Temaskian  |  November 16, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Well-said. I especially like:

    “… at the end they typically include a profession that ultimately they believe the Holy Spirit provides them with an “inner witness” attesting to the inerrancy of the bible. Which is well and good perhaps, but then why the desire to create and defend a comprehensive doctrine of biblical inerrancy?”

    It’s like they first try their best to argue logically, and then when that starts to fail or look weak, they will just resort to the Holy Spirit argument.

  • 4. Sabio Lantz  |  November 16, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    You know, in my head, I remember something about Arabs being jealous of the Jews and Christians having books and thus Allah gave them one too.

    People desire stability and nothing better than certainty on paper.
    Well done ATTR

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