Thank you for your post called Inerrancy, which was an excellent response to my question, “How trustworthy is the Bible?” This is where I thought you stood on the issue, but I didn’t want to assume. Before I get started, I know… I said I would try to do more short posts. I obviously failed miserably. Before you glance at the tiny size of your scroll-bar indicator and cry, know I tried. I wanted to be thorough because this is such an important issue. On the bright side, be glad you don’t see all the items I left out of this post. Trust me, it could have been worse. 🙂
Why inerrancy matters to all Christians
Biblical inerrancy is an extremely important topic when evaluating the Bible. As I described in Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions, everything comes down to how certain the believer is of the Bible’s inerrancy. If someone holds to inerrancy of scripture, it is much easier to maintain their faith in face of claims about Biblical discrepancies. If they are certain that the Bible cannot err, they will ignore most potential errors in the Bible without much consideration. Only an avalanche of outright problems will convince them to really consider whether inerrancy is a justified belief. Once that happened to me, my faith crumbled. Inerrancy is one of the most vital doctrine’s for a believer given the challenges of today’s scientific world.
Atheist bias? Why inerrancy matters to me…
Let me be honest about my biases. They may be different than some readers suspect. As you can read in Not an outsider, the Christian faith is very dear to me. Biblical inerrancy is what grounded my faith. If the Bible has errors, how could I know which parts were Truth? The flood? The garden? The resurrection? Salvation? If Jesus is the word of God and the Bible has errors, would that mean Jesus has errors? I have always and still do desire that the Bible be inerrant. As I stated in Why I am not a Christian and The Real Reason I Am Not a Christian, I did not abandon biblical inerrancy willingly. I did so only begrudgingly and with great difficulty after forcing myself to deal with what seemed like errors in scripture in order to fulfill 1 Peter 3:15.
Committed to consistency
As I assess Biblical inerrancy now, from the point of view of an atheist, I must be honest about my desire. Being a non-believer, I don’t think the Bible is inerrant, but I still hope to find that inerrancy is a justifiable position. I do not reject Christianity for emotional reasons and would love to find I was mistaken about the flaws in scripture. However, I cannot hold a belief that is not justifiable to me. Like you, Pascal, I’m committed to consistency. I must start by acknowledging that all beliefs are probabilistic, especially those conveyed through ancient documents.
Inerrancy is a claim that needs to be demonstrated
The problem from the start is that many of us accepted the claim of inerrancy the same way we accepted other biblical claims. Our parents and/or other respected authority figures taught it to us. As I mentioned in The Problem, it is extremely difficult to examine our own beliefs critically. Something being inerrant is unusual, especially something as complex as the Bible. I cannot accept such a claim without sufficient justification. Someone claiming a thing is inerrant has the burden of proof. So, is inerrancy of the Bible justified or is it wish fulfillment? Was I right to abandon it, or can I find a way to rekindle it? I’ll walk you through my questions as I reexamine this pivotal issue. Despite my desire for the doctrine of inerrancy to be true, here is my attempt to proportion my belief to the evidence. I welcome your insight and correction in the places I will inevitably go astray.
Assessing the claim of inerrancy
In Why I Respect Pascal, I explained why I believe we are less critical of our own beliefs. I also discussed the dangers of motivated reasoning. Since we have come to different conclusions about the inerrancy of the Bible, I plan to follow the process outlined there by examining the argument for inerrancy to discover “where the assumptions are in the premises, where the false premises are, or where the errors in logic are.” The claims I’ll use are those provided in your post called Inerrancy. I know the documents you referenced are more concerned with statements of faith than justifications for those statements, but they do provide some reasoning to back up their claims. It is that reasoning that I will assess now.
Quote #1 on biblical inerrancy
In the statement, inerrancy does not refer to a blind literal interpretation, but allows for figurative, poetic and phenomenological language, so long as it was the author’s intent to present a passage as literal or symbolic.
One problem with this is that we are responsible for interpreting the author’s intent. For the passages in which this intent is not clear there are often many possible interpretations of the intended meaning. Readers of the Bible must rely on other verses to help them decide what view to hold, but these verses often conflict with the original or are themselves ambiguous. This is what led to the various sects of Judaism. It is also what led to the various denominations in Christianity. We tend to view the Bible as a single work. However, verses that weren’t available to the author’s intended audience were unlikely to have been known to them. This is especially true for verses that were written at a later date. So looking at the Bible now, which was compiled in a non-chronological order, likely gives us a false sense of what the audience knew and what was intended by the authors.
Can we be certain about intent of documents we don’t have?
There is also a danger in assuming the Bible represents a Truth from God. Such a proposition encourages us to hold a level of certainty about our interpretations of what the authors intend. We are to believe the things they write are foundational, transcendent Truths, but these are things about which we cannot have certainty. Supernatural claims cannot be justified to the level of certainty, because by definition, they are unknowable. I am not saying we may not be correct when we believe in supernatural causes. I am saying that we are necessarily unjustified when we are certain about supernatural causes. This is relevant because “author’s intent” refers not just to the writer, but to God’s intent through the author. According to the claim, God is also the author and we must judge his intent.
Certainty, moving target, and the natural reading
There’s no significant benefit in thinking that the Bible is inerrant. The real benefit is in knowing that the Bible is inerrant. This certainty leads to a moving target problem. Many issues in scripture can be resolved by the assumption (which quickly turns into a certainty), “The author must not have intended this.” The reasoning goes as follows: “We know, above all, that the Bible is inerrant, therefore, the author(s) must have meant something else. Can we look at the inner and outer context and imagine anything else that could have been intended that would preserve inerrancy? If so, that must have been what was intended. If not, God must have been up to something, and he’s the author, too.” See Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions. It seems to me that this defeats the idea of a “natural” reading of scripture because the obvious meaning is trumped by the most likely or desired meaning that keeps the Bible inerrant and works best with other verses – regardless of how badly it misses the natural intent of the verse in question.
Quote #2 on biblical inerrancy
We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.
We don’t care about evidence against our belief (we have faith)
My initial reaction is that this is equivalent to saying, “If something might disagree with our opinion that scripture is inerrant, it is wrong and we won’t consider it.” If that’s what they mean, wouldn’t this admission be the epitome of motivated reasoning and rationalization? Some have defined faith as “that which allows one to deny evidence so that belief can be preserved.” Does the quote above validate that definition of faith?
Motivation is not justification
“The Bible validates Christ, who is the Word of God, who validates the Bible.” – paraphrasing from Piper’s video. This idea provides evidence that some desire the Bible to be inerrant. However, since it is circular reasoning (begging the question), it is semantically null and provides no validation for the claim.
Missing claim of inerrancy?
I completely understand the motivation for wanting the Bible to be inerrant. However, I don’t see the Biblical justification for claiming that it is inerrant. Have I overlooked something? What verses justify the claim that all the content in your Bible or mine, at least in their original form (which no one alive has seen) is without error in the authors’ intents?
Can we have certainty that missing documents are perfect?
The obvious desire is that the Bible would have been preserved by scribes, copyists, and translators so that each version of the Bible we use today is inerrant. That would give us a firm ground to stand on. However, the modern versions, and even the early versions, are demonstrably errant. So how far are the adopters of the Chicago Statement willing to go? They claim that, while God has chosen not to miraculously preserve the later versions of our canon, he definitely did preserve the earlier versions. Doesn’t this sound more than a bit suspicious? As far as I understand, there was a large gap (Nailed says 150 years?) between many of the events of the New Testament, and the first extant manuscripts. That’s a rather large amount of time in the formative years of the religion for many changes to take place. It’s during that time that the faith would have been first preached, questions raised and rebuttals given, and concepts changed to improve the position of Christianity. During these years we have little to go on, and some of what we do have doesn’t match what we see in our Bible today. Pieces appeared here and there later, but full manuscripts weren’t around until much later. The full canon we see in our modern Bible wasn’t assembled and voted on for a few hundred years.
It seems to me that wanting there to have been some perfect, inerrant version of the text that would hypothetically explain the difficult passages we see today, does not justify belief that such a version ever existed. It does, again, represent motivated reasoning, begging-the-question, and an inappropriate level of certainty to assert it is so.
What is “scripture”?
The Bible is a collection of claims about man, nature, the supernatural and how each of those things relate. The canon itself is a big issue for me. What was the scripture to Jesus which he affirmed? It was parts, but probably not all, of the Old Testament including some books we don’t have – many books were in a different order, had a different emphasis, and some different content, right? What was scripture to the author(s) of Timothy who states that all of it is “God-breathed”? Wasn’t it mainly the Septuagint which also had many different books than our Bibles have today and different content, as well as different content from Jesus’ “scriptures”? Any answer we give is an assumption, right? What about the writer(s) of Revelations (who warned people about altering that book? Who knows what he/she/they considered scripture? For an example of what I mean, take your bible and line it up with this chart of the Old Testament Canon. Then compare it to Paul’s Bible. Notice the different order of the books in his Bible, number of additional books that your Bible probably doesn’t have, and the books that say “with additions”. The additions are instances of added verses during translation, like the many additions of God to the otherwise Godless book of Esther. If we believe that Paul’s scripture was inerrant, what does that say about ours? Also, what of the differences between Paul’s, Jesus’, and ours, and the problems with each?
How did scripture come to be?
I’d like to pause for a moment here to discuss my understanding of how we got the Bible. The Bible is a collection of stories written over many centuries by many writers. For each story, someone long ago claimed that they witnessed something supernatural, or that something was revealed to them (often while dreaming and sometimes in a delirious state from starvation/fasting). Some stories were passed down from generation to generation in oral form before they were first written down. Later, sometimes much later (years or hundreds of years), the person who claimed to have experienced the events of the story, or another person who claimed to have heard what that person believed happened, or someone who claimed to have heard it from someone who heard it from that person (possibly several times removed), wrote it down. Many books had several authors writing many years apart. Scribes copied texts, made errors, recopied the errors, made corrections, recopied the corrections, and on and on for centuries. Many of the people who wrote or dictated the words often didn’t identify themselves. Some of those who did apparently forged the name of the person they believed was a witness to, or an authority about, the event(s) or revelation(s). Almost all of these writings were within a specific context targeted at a specific audience at a specific time. Few individual sections of these writing claim to have been divine or for use outside their specified context, audience, or time. All of the writing were from a time prior to the scientific method, so confirmation of what is natural vs supernatural could not have been justified. The later portion of the writings (New Testament) are in a different language (Greek) than was spoken when the events occurred (Aramaic). The writings quote a translation (Greek) of the first portion of the writings (Hebrew), which has many textual changes and variations of its own.
Centuries later, many of these manuscripts were being used, and they did not all agree with one another in their message about God. For various reasons and motivations a group of people decided to collect and evaluate all these writings to see which ones should be considered correct. They wanted to canonize an officially accepted work with a clearer central message from some subset of the collection of writings they had. They sifted through many of manuscripts that claimed to be legitimate, looked at how prevalent each document was among the churches, how many churches accepted it, what it said, and how well it fit with other writings they might include. Then they prayed and cast a vote over which ones should be in the official Bible. Choosing which books made it in the canon was not easy. Many of them already contained vast numbers of scribal errors and some showed deliberate changes of the text that happened far after the original writing was penned (like additions, deletions, or altered meanings). The writings often contradicted themselves and other writings, and included things that sounded like fairy tales and couldn’t have been told from the person who claimed to be speaking. In short there was heavy contention over many of the books included and not included. Even the act of assembling the Bible into a single collective work changed some of the meaning of the original concepts.
First quote from John Piper on inerrancy
We have a book in front of us that claims to be the inspired word of God and since God doesn’t lie. Doesn’t make mistakes. We say the Bible doesn’t lie. Doesn’t make mistakes.
That was from John Piper’s video that you linked.
My Bible claims inerrancy?
But wait, where does the Bible claim to be the inspired word of God? Of the many claims about the Bible, some are made, not by the Bible, but by supporters of the Bible. Certain specific verses claim this, especially in the Old Testament, but most of the stories and letters seem to have been written from one person to a specific audience at a specific time, with the author(s) having no obvious “intent” that their words are the Word of God or inerrant. So the question is still relevant here. Isn’t it an assumption to think that these various letters are inerrant?
Some writings claim that “scripture” is inspired by God or is the very word of God, but the meaning of “scripture” is not clear in each place it is referenced within the biblical text. Since these references were made long before canonization, which books was each reference to “scripture” talking about? At the time the only thing canonized was about two-thirds of the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint, right? Either way, the modern claims of biblical infallibility/inerrancy point to these verses about scripture for justification. Why do we assume God inspired the writers of these verses to mean all the other verses that would be in the official Bible which wasn’t voted on until hundreds of years later? And which versions of those books were scripture as there was often more than one? Also, we agree that these books were penned by humans but we assume they were the thoughts of God. However, a specific explanation is not given of how much role the divine hand had in the words. If it was inspired like a sunset inspires a writer or God-breathed like humans were — neither case supports inerrancy/infallibility.
As indicated, my Bible doesn’t seem to make such claims and neither do the signers of that inerrancy document. They are focused on the missing autographs that they hope are inerrant, not the “book in front of us” as Piper claims.
Does God lie?
Piper claims “God doesn’t lie.” This is stated as a premise for a logical argument to demonstrate that the belief in Biblical inerrancy is sound. For the argument to show what he’s intending, it should be “God cannot lie.” However, either wording is an assumption and neither is sufficient to determine that God necessarily did not deceive the men writing the Bible. Piper’s assertion fails as a logical premise. If some version of the God described in the Bible exists, we cannot know whether or not he is capable of lying or deception. In fact, the Bible itself does provide evidence that God does lie, deceive and confuse. So Biblical inerrancy cannot rest on the presupposition that God does not or cannot lie.
Does God make mistakes?
Piper claims “God doesn’t make mistakes.” It doesn’t matter for this point whether this is true, because his other requirement, God doesn’t lie, is false. But it is also an assumption that God cannot make a mistake, because the supernatural is unknowable. Likewise, the Bible invalidates this premise, since it includes the description of God, mistakes (which cannot be demonstrated to have been absent from the originals), and several descriptions of God making mistakes. I also have a document with around 8,000 words outlining some of the mistakes I’ve noted while reading the Bible. Some of them are insurmountable, even given the wiggle-room with “author’s intent”. Therefore, it cannot be known that these are not mistakes in the original manuscripts, which none of us have seen.
Second quote from John Piper on inerrancy
We are inerrant when the thing we’re teaching is true and not false. The biblical authors with God as their guide do not teach anything false or command as God’s will anything displeasing to God.
This was also from Piper’s video.
Does the Bible teach anything false?
Piper claims “the biblical authors do not teach anything false.” But our modern Bible’s logically invalidate this when they list contradicting statements about reality or God. So, this is another assumption based on the inerrancy of manuscripts we haven’t seen.
Does the Bible perfectly relay God’s will? We can assess effects in our universe. We can never fully know any intentions that might exist behind those effects that exist outside our universe (see iMultiverse). Claiming we can is another assumption, and all these assumptions reduce justifiable certainty some amount. Also, like the other issue mentioned, God’s will is contradicted many times in the Bible, so we are forced to rely on the more perfect versions that we hope once existed.
A closer looking at the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
The following Statement affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word which marks true Christian faith.
Denying inerrancy is a choice?
I think this statement fails to recognize that this kind of belief is not a choice. If you become convinced that the evidence is overwhelming that the Bible has errors, you can’t will yourself to believe it is inerrant any more than you can will yourself to believe a circle is a square. Is the denial of inerrancy really a willful rejection of submission to God?
Will we go to Hell for denying inerrancy?
They will later assert that subscribing to inerrancy is not a requirement for salvation but not doing so will have grave consequences. However, this quote sounds like one cannot be a “true Christian” if they do not believe the Bible is inerrant. Is this level of motivation more likely to yield a body of believers who critically evaluate the claims of inerrancy and come to a conclusion through the application of objective reasoning (which is more likely to yield true beliefs)? Or does it promote a body of believers who conform to the doctrine out of fear of eternal torment?
Christians abandoning inerrancy
We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstanding of this doctrine in the world at large.
Why are so many Christians “lapsing from the truth of inerrancy?” Surely it isn’t a desire for the Bible to have errors. It seems reasonable to conclude that the most likely cause is that modern scientific knowledge is discrediting the Bible’s story. People are choosing science over the Bible, not out of desire as most believers assume, but out of necessity. We live in this reality, not the reality of the stories relayed by the Bible. When there is a conflict, people choose, and they often land on the side of observation over divination. The fact that this document was needed signifies that inerrancy is not self-evident and not cohesively expressed within the Bible itself.
We could be wrong
We acknowledge the limitations of a document prepared in a brief, intensive conference and do not propose that this Statement be given creedal weight.
They are admitting that their document supporting the inerrancy of the Bible is not divine or inerrant. I admire this humility.
Not inerrant but above critique
We invite response to this Statement from any who see reason to amend its affirmations about Scripture by the light of Scripture itself, under whose infallible authority we stand as we speak. We claim no personal infallibility for the witness we bear, and for any help which enables us to strengthen this testimony to God’s Word we shall be grateful.
They are not interested in critiques about their reasoning. They only seek feedback if it will help them affirm scripture with scripture. To see how this is the opposite of sound reasoning, see The Solution – Part 2.
Semantics and further assumptions?
God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
There is an assumption that God is Truth. I don’t know what that means. I used to just “get it”. God is Truth. God is Love. But, in reality, what are we saying? Does the fact that we assign something noble to God make it so when we can’t even explain what we mean or justify the claim? If God is Truth, why does he lie? If he is Love, what do we mean by Love, because normally this wouldn’t be the description of someone who causes pain and then kills people because they do what he dislikes? How is “God is Truth” (a claim about the supernatural with a meaning we can’t isolate) not an unjustifiable assumption that just sounds nice? What makes it logically valid in the sense that it is being used in a premise here? Does he really “speak only truth?” Aren’t we making assumptions when claiming that scripture is holy, man is lost, Jesus is the Creator/Lord/Redeemer/Judge, and that scripture’s purpose is to reveal God to man through Jesus? Isn’t the claim that “scripture is God’s witness to Himself” circular? Couldn’t Muslims say the same about the Quran?
What is on the line if inerrancy is lost?
The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
I agree and I understand why they fear this. The loss of the doctrine of infallibility could impair the authority of scripture. However, this fact does not support belief. On the contrary, it provides great motivation for belief and thus provides justification to be even more skeptical of it. Also, isn’t it an assumption to claim that “total divine inerrancy” is the “Bible’s own truth?” Where is this justified in the Bible? If it is clear Bible truth, why is the inerrancy document necessary?
Articles of faith about inerrancy and the questions they raise…
The following articles can be found in the The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I’ve chosen a sampling of the content there to write about.
We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God…
Question: Whose belief are they affirming? Was it a biblical source or an extra-biblical source that originated the inerrancy doctrine?
…The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us…
Question: Isn’t that an indication that we shouldn’t be certain that authors were divinely inspired? How do we test for divine inspiration? Isn’t it whether or not a prophecy comes true? Is that a good test or is the bar set way too low? It doesn’t seem sufficient to justify a supernatural intervention. I wish it weren’t so, but the Bible fails this test. It seems to contain false prophecies and even its central figure, Jesus, gave a false prophecy. Since it fails the test to determine that it’s origin is divine, how can we be certain that it is divine?
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy.
Question: These are the autographs that none of the people who signed this document have seen, correct?
We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
Question: “Faithfully represent” seems subjective. How is this not committing the “No true Scotsman fallacy?”
We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
Question: As I understand it, there’s a large gap of time (hundreds of years), before we have records of all the full manuscripts we see now, and many of these manuscripts between then and now contain not insignificant changes in meaning. But they are confident that the ones that existed before this time when the faith was first solidifying, are perfect versions of the slightly corrupted ones we have now, rather than the other way around? All evidence I’ve seen indicates the opposite is true. The first versions were more inconsistent and became more unified through editing over time.
We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
Question: If the scripture does not mislead us and is true in all matters it addresses, why do committed Christians living in a reason-based society, choose not to live by its teachings? We have progressed past some of the morality in scripture and choose the verses we like. Don’t we ignore the immoral passages and thing cling to inerrancy and insist that all of the Bible is moral and accurate?
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
Question: We could spend many posts discussing how the Bible could be considered inerrant in its teachings about science. This says they deny that “scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.” Is this your view? I think this statement is greatly misleading. Scientific hypotheses are not used to challenge biblical assertions. Scientific theories are. That is a big difference and it matters greatly. If they didn’t know the difference between a scientific hypothesis and a theory, they meant to say that the Bible has more authority than science about stories which science can falsify. This is the acknowledgment of a serious conflict between science and the Bible. If they knew the difference between a theory and a hypothesis and chose to use the word hypothesis, then they are misleading people. Geology, archeology, biology and cosmology generate testable theories that challenge the creation and flood stories, not just hypotheses.
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
Question: Isn’t the complete truthfulness of scripture an assumption? If we don’t understand it all, how can we know it is completely true? And what about the contexts or situations in which it obviously is not true?
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
Question: Isn’t this just redefining inerrancy so that the Bible can qualify? Who says what is alien to it’s usage or purpose? Is that anything that makes it false? Are we careful to consider that they had used reasoning as well, and while they may not have made use of the scientific method, they did know the difference between “all” and “most”, for example. An source that isn’t cited may not be an error, but it certainly isn’t perfection. However, hyperbole is a problem for me. Large hyperbole is obvious, but minor exaggerations are misleading at best, and lies at worse. It’s one thing to say every house in Egypt with a firstborn suffered a death. It’s another to say there was not a house in Egypt without the death of a firstborn.
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
Question: But isn’t this completely arbitrary? The Bible is obviously not internally consistent when you look closely. I sure they would like it to be completely consistent, but I’m just not sure how they could say it is. Unless, that is, they are backing up to a minimum level at which the consistencies aren’t obvious and saying something like, “We believe that the overall theme of the Bible is consistent.” But even this has problems.
We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.
Question: So they agree that there are discrepancies that have not been resolved in all this time. But how could they be objectively certain of this? If the evidence is that there is a contradiction, the most obvious explanation is that there is a contradiction. What, other than desire, could account for not yielding to evidence?
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history.
We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by Scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.
Question: They admit that some believe the doctrine of inerrancy is a non-biblical response to criticism, but deny that this is the case. How can they know? If they don’t find the doctrine in the Bible (which they obviously don’t or why write this document), then how can they be sure if the originators of the doctrine did so as a response to questions about biblical discrepancies (their own questions, questions from other believers, or from skeptics)? It seems that external pressure to shore up the faith in-spite of the potential errors is the only reason for creating or expanding a doctrine of inerrancy.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.
We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.
Question: Isn’t this also the “No true Scotsman fallacy?” And since the Holy Spirit is completely explainable by The Problem, what reason do they have to assert that this guidance of the conscience is anything more than a reflection of what we have been emotionally trained to value or look for? That alone is sufficient, so why posit that plus something supernatural? The natural explanation for the Holy Spirit also explains why so many believers come to different conclusions from its guidance.
We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
Question: It is my view that some parts of the Bible are immoral, and some parts disagree with the teachings attributed to Christ. In light of that, dropping inerrancy to let those go may lead to better conformity to Christ. They state that rejecting inerrancy necessarily has grave consequences. The consequences may or may be true, but they have no bearing on whether or not the Bible is actually inerrant. Including it in such a statement only adds motivation (desire) to hold the belief, not evidence for it.
Since a) the conclusion can never be justified with a greater certainty than the strength of the weakest premises, b) each weak premise accumulates to degrade the overall probability of truth, c) there is ample evidence of motivated reasoning for biblical inerrancy, d) the Bible doesn’t claim to be inerrant, and e) most of the premises are each either invalid, unknowable or demonstrably false – the conclusion for the claim, “the Bible is inerrant” is unsupportable for basic belief, much less certainty.
What about The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and John Piper? Are they wrong?
Who am I to say they are wrong? Honestly. They know their subject far better than I. All I can say with my limited knowledge is what I see from my perspective. Either I am mistaken or they are. If I am wrong, I hope a reader helps me discover where. Actually, who am I kidding? Pascal, you’re the only one who might read this far. So I hope you help me discover where. If they are wrong, then it appears they are attempting to justify belief through reasoning, and they wish to employ valid arguments, but they don’t. It’s not because they don’t want to. If they could provide a scientifically sound argument for inerrancy, we know they would. The problem seems to be that the Bible conflicts with science, so they can’t (my present opinion). The Bible appears to be at odds with what we’d expect to see if it were true and it provides no evidence for supernatural knowledge or insight. The inerrancy doctrine demonstrates the invalid, ad-hoc rationalizations we would expect to see if it were false. Its perpetuation is explained well by The Problem (especially the effect of indoctrination which leads to a cycle of “I wish it were so in order to preserve my existing certain beliefs, therefore it must be so”).
What’s the value in pointing to original manuscripts as inerrant?
I’m not sure that it matters what the original documents might have said. All we have to go on is what we can understand from what we have now, and those documents are definitely not inerrant. If they were, the claim would be that they are inerrant, not that the original autographs are inerrant. So we are not saved from the tasks of trying to identify which parts of our modern Bibles are accurate and which are not, because some parts of what we have are necessarily not inerrant.
Bible vs Quran?
Doesn’t this sound like exactly the same type of false reasoning that you would expect to find in the belief statement of another faith? If you were an unbiased observer who wasn’t raised to believe this (e.g. a Buddhist), would you make it to adulthood with all the knowledge you have, look at this line of reasoning, and say it’s sound enough to warrant certainty? What if this were the reasoning of another religion, like Islam?
Why would God use ancient writing?
In the end, writing seems to be a poor medium for the conveyance of God’s will. Even a person is a poor medium if he only appears for one generation in one place, long before the advent of science to demonstrate truth, cameras to record events, etc. If he could appear to everyone and answer all their questions, then those of us who subscribe to evidence testing and falsifiability would have a shot at justifiable belief.
Is God the author of confusion?
“…God is not the author of confusion…” – 1 Cor 14:33. Or is he? I encourage you to skim this Christian Bible study and look at the reasons given under the heading “Why Is the Bible Hard to Understand?” Is it at least possible that the real reason is that the Bible is not inerrant?
Dishonest certainty about the Bible
As a layperson, I didn’t know any of these things. The message being preached from many pulpits appears dishonest. Pascal, I believe you agree that the misinformation about the Bible to normal Christians in the pew is a shame. That is why you believe in having these conversations and discussing them with those under your care. You want them to know the negatives of their faith and seek God through them. The benefit of blissful ignorance about such issues is that if believers don’t seriously question their faith, they can have certainty. The cost is that if they do have serious questions, the understanding of this deception can undermine their faith more than would otherwise be the case. There’s also a certain intolerance and inability to understand opposing points of view when we adopt a world-view that requires unwavering commitment of our beliefs in spite of evidence. Much love and much suffering has resulted from this certainty. I don’t know which has been greater. Further, Christian denial of difficult issues about scripture hurts the Christian cause in the minds of non-believers. It’s much more respectable to acknowledge such issues, as you have done, and make an effort to resolve them.
In each of my recent posts, I’ve referred to the crossword puzzle analogy and the danger of holding beliefs which are based on desire and cannot be easily challenged. Why does the doctrine of infallibility exist if not to convince believers that they can be certain and they don’t need to critically examine their faith? This doctrine, more than any other I can think of, is a perfect example of a belief structure that leads to a lattice-work of penned-in answers in life’s puzzle of beliefs (see Cruciverb). Rather than evaluate each potential issue as we are made aware of it, we are taught that the only way to be a “true Christian” is to believe with certainty that the Bible is not subject to error. This doctrine seems to explain some of the stigma inside the church for questioning the Bible or the faith.
Since you hold the position that the Bible is inerrant and I wish to but don’t, how can I bridge the gap? Please help me understand what I may be missing so we can come out on the same side with this.
- Since we know there is great motivation for the Bible to be inerrant, but there is no evidence that the Bible writers claim that the whole of the Bible is inerrant, how can I be justified in believing in inerrancy?
- How can we justify certainty in our interpretations of scripture if their validity is based on the intent of both the human author(s) and God (neither of which we can’t be certain of – especially in the case of God since his views necessarily include more than what we can comprehend)?
I know this has been a lot to read, Pascal. Thank you for taking the time. I hope this clears up any questions about the level of my doubts about scripture. I honestly do want it to be true, but as you can see, I have a long way to go before I can believe it. There’s a lot of content here, so feel free to grab onto anything that jumps out at you and challenge my own assumptions and false beliefs.
Gentleness and respect,