A Theological Case for Inerrancy (2)

Let me start where I left off last time, with definitions of inspiration and inerrancy.

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.

Both doctrines appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16.  The verse presents us with the clearest statement about the inspiration of Scripture.  But this statement is in direct continuity with very many statements in both Testaments regarding the Bible’s Divine provenance.   Scripture itself always stresses its God-givenness far more than it does its human provenance; a fact hardly ever given the attention it deserves.  Paul views the Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.

This is why Paul can praise the Thessalonian believers for receiving the spoken Word of God,not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13b.

In the production of the Scriptures, the roles of God the Holy Spirit and the roles of the human authors bear an asymmetrical character which must never be brought into equal balance.  Assuredly, this was not done by Jesus (cf. Matt.4:4 and Jn. 17:17), or the OT prophets, or the Apostolic authors: why then should we be out of step with them?

Carl Henry wrote of the doctrine of inspiration:

Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. – Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4.143

This is most important for us to understand as conservative evangelicals.  B.B. Warfield recognized the same truth.

These acts could be attributed to Scripture only as the result of such a habitual identification in the mind of the writer of the text of Scripture with God as speaking, that it became natural to use the term ‘Scripture says’ when what was actually intended was ‘God has recorded in Scripture said. – B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 299-300.

Let us consider the full import of Christ’s words in John 17:17:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Jesus is praying to the Father regarding the sanctifying of His disciples.  He tells the Father “Your word is truth.”  This “word” is the same “word” which will sanctify them.  They have kept it (v.6) as it was given them (v.14), but where is this word?  I maintain it is Scripture (v.12), and this text associates the word with God’s own holy and truthful character.  There is no room for human frailty.

This text also separates Jesus from the Scripture.  Jesus is going away, but the word of the Father must now keep His disciples.  Thus, it is a mistake to too closely equate Jesus the Word with the Scriptures.  There does exist a close connection between the two, but we cannot push the association too far.  Indeed, we cannot push it even as far a personification.  The Scriptures are the written product of the Divine revelation, but they are a product all the same.

Talking about partially inspired Scripture is like talking about partially dirty bathwater.  If Titus 1:2 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, and if Scripture is the Word of God then it is true in the sense that there can be nothing in it that bears false witness.  If God says something about the world or about history which is untrue, His word cannot be truth.  When we say “Word of God” we ought to mean “Word from God.”  By “Word from God” we should mean a written deposit of course, not some voice in the ether.

To summarize, most arguments against inerrancy stress the human element over the Divine in spite of the fact that Scripture emphasizes the exact opposite.  This point cannot be over-emphasized and is fundamental for understanding the divide between inerrantists and errantists.

We must deal with what the Bible says and then decide whether we are going to believe it.  We must not fool ourselves that the Bible doesn’t say something, or more commonly, doesn’t mean what it says, because we have trouble with it.  I’m thinking here specifically of the creation account and the history of Jonah.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean either that errors are not reproduced by the biblical writers as errors, or that painstaking  exactitude is being aimed for, or, as a matter of fact, even considered.

Inerrancy is a corollary to inspiration.  It may state truth in anthropomorphic, metaphorical, phenomenological, generic, or symbolic language.  But it does state inspired truth.

J.I. Packer reminds us of what “inerrant” means:

Inerrancy is from the Latin inerrantia meaning ‘the quality of being free from any error of any kind – factual, moral, or spiritual.’ Protestant usage favors this too; the words may carry slightly different nuances. Infallibility suggesting that Scripture warrants a faith commitment. Inerrancy of Scripture undergirds orthodoxy. But it has been standard evangelical practice for a century now to treat the words as mutual implicates.” – J.I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 51

Hence, Peter Enns must reject this connectivity between truth and inspiration:

To put it better, the scientific evidence showed us that the worldview of the biblical authors affected what they thought and wrote and so the worldviews of the biblical authors must be taken into consideration in matters of biblical interpretation. – Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 14.

This encroachment of “scientific evidence” from the present and the worldviews of the ancients shows us that Divine superintendence over Scripture is given but a half-share in the end product.  Human fallibility has equal rights.  The Bible itself does not give him that option.

More to come…

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5 comments

  1. I might point out that full preterists love where Enns is going with all this. His work is a gateway drug for entry into
    their views.

      1. Paul, sorry if I my statement was a bit opaque. As your quote points out, Enns front-loads the Bible with naturalism and rationalism regarding creation (theistic evolution), Adam, the “dust of the ground”, genealogies, the flood, etc, over and against the priority and perspicuity of special revelation on those matters.

        In short, he collapses the front end of the tent of a normal hermeneutic and historicity about origins with effects that ripple through anthropology, Christology, and of course hermeneutics. The full preterists do this to the back of the tent – eschatology and work backwards to dismember anthropology and Christology from the back end. Reading some of their recent stuff, they appreciate Enns for his work on the front end. By collapsing both ends they intend to knock the props out of support for the middle of orthodoxy and can make the whole of Christianity anew.

  2. That’s an interesting association! Thanks Eric. It makes me think of Jesus’ words, “He who ears to hear, let him hear.” How many of those calling themselves Christians prioritize hearing what God is really saying?

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