A Theological Case for Inerrancy (1)

The battle over the inerrancy of Scripture hasn’t and isn’t going away.  We must decide how we will approach the Bible – what our working assumptions will be.  If “all Scripture is God-breathed” then all Scripture has the insignia of God upon it.  This would be the bare-bones theological deduction from the relationship between the two.  For the human element to be lifted above the Divine element so as to enjoy equal ultimacy over the resultant production of Scripture requires an alteration to Scripture’s own self-witness.  This is the reason why those who reject the idea of inerrancy (and I am far from rejecting all their work on account of their error), often plead in the vacuum of unaided reason.

Taking one prominent broadly evangelical theologian as an example, Donald Bloesch wrote,

While we grant that in one sense the Bible is the revelation of God to men, this revelation is in the form of human witness and is therefore to a degree hidden from the sight and understanding. The bane of much of modern evangelicalism is rationalism which presupposes that the Word of God is directly available to human reason. It is fashionable to refer to the biblical revelation as propositional and in one sense this is true. The Bible is not directly the revelation of God, but indirectly in that God’s Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality. – Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology – Volume I, 75-76.

This quotation shows us how the human element can be stressed so as to compete with the Divine element.  To wit, the doctrine of inspiration must be accommodated to include the “human witness.”  This means that the claim to “direct revelation” from God to man is excluded (or, at the very least, camouflaged).  And then we are laid open to the philosophy of God’s free action reaching us through the Bible but only by His choice to employ it as His Word.

What we must say… is that in the case of Scripture just as surely as in preaching, ‘fallible men speak the word of God in fallible human words’ – Trevor Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

Taking this tack immediately places one on the horns of a dilemma.  For the Bible stresses many many times its God-givenness.  If it is produced by the combination of God’s out-breathing and the Spirit’s direction, and if every word of God is true, then unless we are prepared to engage in the futile task of separating God’s words from man’s words we shall have to decide to be those who accept a form of inerrancy, or else those who fail to find God’s prints on the Bible at all.

For this reason contemporary attempts to rid evangelicalism of inerrancy are doomed.  One such attempt is by A.T.B. McGowan:

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.  – A.T.B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture, 124, emphasis added.

What we have here is a pragmatic God at work.  Even the originals of the various books of the Bible were not inerrant, but they accomplished God’s purposes.  There are clear evidences of God’s “speaking” so Scripture has a “Divine authenticity.”  It is, says McGowan, “infallible” but not “inerrant.”  But talking about an “infallible” Bible while denying an “inerrant” Bible, or limiting inerrancy to the conceptual world of the biblical writers is playing with words.  And the one doing the playing is very often the one hiding his tracks.

Finding God’s involvement under such an outlook will, let us be frank, involve weighing every historical and scientific Bible assertion against the pronouncements of “experts” and consigning Scripture to a slow death by degrees.  Not, I should say, because the experts are right – they often are not.  Besides, ones choice of experts usually reflects which “expertise” one wants airing.  But where the voice of men is allowed to judge the voice of Scripture the voice of men is often given preference.

While history, science, and archaeology provide obvious instances where Divine authenticity could be obscured, the prophetic element of Scripture might be appealed to.  Yes, but many evangelicals (McGowan would be one of them) who refuse to interpret the prophecies at face value because it crosses their theological predilections.  No, even allowing for the either/or fallacy, going down McGowan’s road is taking a road to nowhere.

What road is the right one to take?  It is the same one which should be taken in formulating every doctrine – we see how Scripture itself attests to it.

For present purposes, I will take my own basic formulations of inspiration and inerrancy as a starting point.

The Inspiration of Scripture – Proposition: “The Scriptures come from the God who breathed them out and caused them to be inscripturated through men who were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit.  That is what makes them Scripture.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:89-91

Inerrancy – Proposition: “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men.  They must be up to the job of transmitting truth from He who is True.  This truth will be as reliable in one area of knowledge as in any other, even if exact precision is not necessary.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21.

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7 comments

  1. Paul, thanks for this post. Inerrancy is a doctrine I have been thinking a lot about and going to be doing some more reading on. What are your top three books on the subject?

    Question: Is it in any way correct to characterize Scripture as a ‘witness’ to the Word of God? So, God spoke to Moses directly and then later Moses writes down what God said. This is not to say that God is not actively speaking to man through Scripture. It is to say that The words God spoke to man (esp in the OT) were the WOG when spoken and thus before they were written down. It seems to me that we can characterize Scripture as a witness to the verbally spoken WOG and at the same time itself being the WOG but in a different way. The WOG is the WOG before it was inspired as written Scripture. That it is in the Bible does not make it the WOG. Make sense?

    Which leads me to…..

    Question: Would you grant that Jesus is THE Word of God because He is the person of the Godhead who speaks to man and as incarnate Christ He speaks as God because He is God. So, Jesus and Scripture are both the WOG but not in the same way?

    These are some of the thoughts running around in my head.

    1. Craig, you asked for my opinion of the 3 best books on inerrancy. I missed it because I was focusing on you two other questions (which I shall try to answer in my next). Well, here are my five preferences, in no particular order:

      1. Nothing But The Truth – Brian Edwards
      2. Thy Word is Truth – E.J. Young
      3. God’s Inerrant Word – John W. Montgomery (ed.)
      4. Standing on the Rock – James M. Boice
      5. Theopneustia – Louis Gaussen

      I think “What you Need to Know About Inerrancy” by Charles Ryrie is a good primer. I do not much care for the newer works of White, Sproul or Beale. White’s is okay, but he loses specificity in the dialogue. Sproul is clear and informative but his anti-Van Tilian views are a train wreck. Beale has its uses, but he (as usual) is condescending (particularly to Moyise), and assumes covenant theology is the only way to view things.

      Though not specifically on inerrancy Warfield is terrific, Pache is very good, and “The Infallible Word” by the old Westminster faculty is outstanding. These plus Van Til’s first 50 or so pages in his “A Christian Theory of Knowledge” would be great.

      Finally, Carl F. H. Henry’s huge “God, Revelation and Authority,” especially volumes 3 & 4.

      God bless,

      P

      1. Paul, thanks! I have always wanted to hack through Henry’s God, Revelation & Authority.

        I look forward to your answers on the other questions.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Vern Poythress has recently come out with a book on inerrancy that addresses issues concerning its reception by unbelievers it seems (I say “seems” as i have not read the book or have it). If the book is anything like the interview at Credo with him describing the issues of “impersonalizing” and “falsification” then, to me it brings helpful understanding regarding how to communicate the truth claims of God’s word better to people who don’t know Jesus.

    Good work on preaching the sure answer to our soul’s need of truth and direction found in God’s incomparable revelation. I am awestruck at its intricate truth and sufficiency.

    From my view, problems arise for the hearer when they are imbued with pedantic “Greek thought”. Often human nature wants to get overly “technical” and find so-called errors which are errors only in their classification system they have set up in their minds making themselves and their understanding the sole arbiters of truth. This is a hopeless stance since they know empirically that they have been wrong before similar to all the philosophers and philosophies that have preceded them. Prayer for wisdom is essential for us also so that our hearers would see the marvelous glory of God.

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