Review Article: A. T. B. McGowan, “The Divine Authenticity of Scripture” (Part 3)

In my last installment of this review I said that this would be the final part.  With due apologies, I publish this with the promise that the last part is on its way.

The chapter, “Infallibility: An Evangelical Alternative,” proposes the author’s remedy for the allegedly unsatisfactory belief of many in inerrancy.   As already noted, McGowan is keen to dump the term “inerrancy,” which he feels embodies a rationalist gloss on the teaching of the Bible, and replace it with “infallible,” which he says carries an older and more scriptural pedigree (123).  What then, we must enquire, are we to mean when we assert an “infallibilist” position on Scripture?  McGowan writes,

“Having freely chosen to use human beings, God knew what he was doing.  He did not give us an inerrant autographical text, because he did not intend to do so.  He gave us a text that reflects the humanity of its authors, but that, at the same time, clearly evidences its origin in the divine speaking.  Through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, God is perfectly able to use these Scriptures to accomplish his purposes.”  (124, emphasis added).

But before anyone calls to mind the Rogers/McKim Proposal  of an errant original[i], McGowan wants his reader to know that he rejects that view just as much as he rejects inerrancy.  He thinks the errancy/inerrancy debate as it has been carried on in America presents a false dichotomy.  “There is a third option, namely that the Scriptures we have are precisely as God intended them to be, but we must take seriously the fact that God used human authors to communicate his Word and did not make them ciphers in doing so.” (125).

Are We Really Being Offered a Third Way?

We shall see how he articulates his thesis shortly, but before we do I want to pause and think through these statements.  In the first place I want to ask whether his denial of inerrancy can possibly lead anywhere but to an acceptance of an errant text.  Is the author not trying to have his cake and eat it?  Is he not flirting with the law of the excluded middle?  Here I am at a loss to see how he thinks he can escape being counted as an errantist like his mentors Marshall, Webster, and Torrance.  It is McGowan who implies there are contradictions in the Bible (see 108-113).  It is he who is promoting the acceptance of the encroachments of human fallibility in the autographs (122, 124, 133).  Any real contradiction in the Bible, whether it be textual, as in the so-called Synoptic Problem, or a statement at variance with a known scientific or historical fact, is fatal for the notion of Divine inspiration, not just inerrancy.  And if inspiration is weakened, so is the witness of the Bible to the truthfulness of its own theology!  The question might well be asked, “How much of the Bible’s theology is actually from God, and how do we know?”

Contradiction entails logical incongruity.  If “all Scripture is God-breathed” but some of it is contradictory one has to wonder at the extent God’s influence on the human authors.  A clearly contradictory statement cannot be God-breathed without impugning God’s logic.  It naturally follows that to preserve the rationality of God 2 Timothy 3:16 would have to be rendered, not as “all Scripture is God-breathed” but as  “every Scripture that is God-breathed.”  The liberals would have been right all along!  Thus, if McGowan wishes to grant contradictions and admit human slips in the original text he will have to tamper with his doctrine of God.[ii]

But second, like all those who, tainted with the mark of Barth, want to emphasize the humanity of Scripture, the author will have to undermine its divine provenance.  In arguing for a text “that reflects the humanity of its authors” he has to accommodate the influence of human imperfections in the autographs and curb the supervening influence of the Holy Spirit on those writers so as to avoid reducing them to “dictating machines” (148).  He believes his “infallibilist” view establishes evangelicalism upon the twin pillars of divine intent (to produce a revelation which ‘does the job’) and sanctified human freedom (148), which provides the explanation for the bloopers, scientific and logical, in the text.  Bypassing the question of what the exercise of this human authorial freedom looked like when compared with that of just any saint who “walks in the light” I want to ask a more straightforward question: What does the Bible itself say about its own authorship?  I invite the reader to produce his or her own list of texts which state expressly that “God spoke” or “Thus says the LORD” or “the word of the LORD came to” etc., or that refer to the Scriptures as “the Word of God” or “the Truth,” or to consider Christ’s use of Scripture.  When, I ask, is the humanity of Scripture given any weight or importance?  What impression is made by studying passages like Exod. 24:3-4; Josh. 24:26-27; Isa. 8:1; Jer. 7:1; 30:2; and Hab. 2:2?  Is the humanity of Scripture ever in view?  The fact of the matter is that the Scriptures themselves testify routinely to their divinity, never to their “humanity.”  Thus, two matters arise: a doctrine of Scripture must be built which highlights, not the humanity of Scripture, but its divinity.  Along with this it must be strongly asserted that it is those who wish to forge the humanity of Scripture into a doctrine akin to its divinity who are indulging in unwarranted deductive theorizing; the same thing they accuse inerrantists of doing (e.g. 114-117).


[i] It is worth pointing out that Rogers and McKim’s thesis was strongly influenced by G. C. Berkouwer’s book Holy Scripture, which Jack Rogers translated.

[ii] McGowan seems to be aware of the objections of those who “assume that [the Scriptures] must be inerrant because God cannot lie.” (137). But he does not face the implications of his own reasoning.  At least James Orr, whom he is there discussing, held to degrees of inspiration to try to explain this problem, though very inadequately.

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