Seven Theses on Inerrancy
A question that my theological studies have always pointed to is Biblical Inerrancy. Does the Bible have errors? And as a conservative, Reformed, evangelical Protestant who studies Apologetics and wants to teach the Bible for a living, I desperately want the answer to be no.
But as a doubter and skeptic the answer keeps coming back as yes, or maybe, or “it depends on what you mean by error” or “what, exactly, is this Bible you speak of” or “do texts have inherent meaning such that they even could be wrong” and so on. Biblical Inerrancy is a question I wrestle with almost daily, turning ideas over and over in my head until I land on something that works. Then next week I ditch that idea in favor of another one. I have many questions.
In about two months The Gospel Coalition ― Chicago is hosting a conference near me called Leading With The Word. Per the website,
Ministry leaders are invited to gather to affirm and celebrate our commitment to the complete trustworthiness and absolute authority of Scripture. Leading with the Word will include teaching from TGC council members from the Chicago area.
The conference will encourage and equip ministry leaders to take the highest view of the Bible and its application in the church, in preaching, teaching and in their own spiritual lives. The goal is that attendees will walk away with a fresh commitment to press on in gospel-centered ministry, confident in the power of the Word of God.
There are five or six speakers over two days and I’m sure there will be a bookstore.
(I also notice that D.A. Carson has a tantalizingly open-ended topic, “How Can We Be Sure of Our Interpretation?”)
I’m going with a few friends from school in my program. Something that I want to do, before I hear their perspectives on inerrancy, is write out some of my questions in the form of theses. These are not final — by giving them in thesis format, I’m trying to signal that they are not substantiated and I don’t stand by them with confidence. Ordered from least controversial to most.
Seven Theses on Inerrancy
I. Inerrancy is a necessary but not fully helpful principle in understanding the Bible because the next question that always arises is, “What would it mean for a poem to be errant?” or “What would it mean for a prophetic writing to be errant?” or “What would it mean for apocalyptic literature to be errant?” etc. In other words, we must delineate inerrancy across literary genres.
II. While genre is important for understanding texts in their original authorial intent, all scripture is one genre in its application to Christians. In the inspiration, preservation and canonization of scripture, the Holy Spirit has signaled to us that all scripture rises together into a common genre called Christian Scripture which is always useful to believers.
III. The concept of Biblical Inerrancy was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in response to new challenges to the scriptures. Those challenges, however, were based on the new mindsets of scientific precision and textual accuracy which Biblical authors did not have or even imagine when writing the text of scripture. To read ancient texts with modern questions will always lead to failures of interpretation.
IV. For a text to have fixed meaning the text itself must be fixed. Therefore texts generated in oral cultures do not have fixed meaning until finding form in writing.
V. Contradictions are not always errors. A later writer can contradict an earlier writer because the earlier writer’s position no longer applies. Two writers can disagree in-cannon because their disagreement, preserved in the text, is itself intended to teach us something today. Whole doctrinal ideas can contradict each other in a theological sense because their resolution will not be found until the eschaton. If contradictory statements come from different genres, they may not be true errors.
VI. A text is not inerrant in its “autographs” if the text originated in an oral culture (and therefore has no true auto-graphs). It is the codification of that text into a final form, and more importantly into a broader literary cannon, that locates its inerrancy.
VII. The Bible does not teach that the Bible is inerrant; nevertheless, inerrancy is true. It is a doctrinal construct that is naturally implied by an understanding of God’s revelation through words, even if nobody in-cannon tells us so. Again, I repeat, inerrancy is true. It is true. It is, it is, it is, it is; please, don’t misread me. But, like the Trinity, or the two natures of Jesus, or the eternal generation of the Son, etc., it is not explicitly stated in scripture (though strongly implied, even necessitated, by it).
(Hope you like the photos. They are from Cinque Terre in Italy.)
My plan is to go to the conference, hear it out — really, just soak it all in — and buy 3 or 4 books that will help me keep figuring it out. Then I want to see if any of the above theses can be knocked out.
I think I’m playing devil’s advocate with myself at this point.