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The cutting edge

August 2004 | by James Montgomery Boice

What does inerrancy mean? It means that the Bible is wholly true. Paul Feinberg has written, ‘Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they teach, whether that teaching has to do with doctrine, history, science, geography, geology, or other disciplines or knowledge’.

Here is an even more concise definition: What Scripture says, God says – through human agents and without error. Here then are my answers to some typical objections to this teaching.

Objection 1. Inerrancy is not important. It is quibbling about insignificant details. What really matters is a person’s relationship to Jesus Christ.

Answer.A person’s relationship to Jesus Christ is of the highest importance. No Christian would ever want to dispute that. But how do you know Jesus except as he is presented to you in the Bible?

If the Bible is not God’s Word and does not present a picture of Jesus Christ that can be trusted, how do you know it is the true Christ you are following? You may be worshipping a Christ of your own imagination.

Moreover, you have this problem. A relationship to Jesus is not merely a question of believing on him as one’s Saviour. He is also your Lord, and this means he is the one who is to instruct you as to how you should live and what you should believe.

How can he do that apart from an inerrant Scripture? If you sit in judgement on Scripture, Jesus is not really exercising his Lordship in your life. He is merely giving advice which you consider yourself free to disobey, believe or judge in error. You are actually the lord of your own life.

Objection 2. Inerrancy is not biblical. The Bible does not say it is inerrant. It only says it is inspired.

Answer. This is like saying that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity. True, the Bible does not contain the word ‘trinity’, and nowhere does it say in so many words, ‘There are three persons in the one God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.’

But the Trinity is still clearly and emphatically taught. The Bible teaches that there is one God. It also teaches that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are distinct from the Father and from each other and yet that each is divine. Our doctrine of the Trinity is merely a logical and consistent way of stating these two truths.

It is the same with the doctrine of inerrancy. The word ‘inerrancy’ does not occur in Scripture, nor does Scripture say, ‘The Bible is without error in all it affirms’. Yet the doctrine of inerrancy is there.

It is a necessary and obvious conclusion based on two other truths that Scripture does declare clearly. First, the Bible is God’s Word; that is, the very words of Scripture are the words of God (Matthew 19:5; Hebrews 1:1-13 numerous; 2 Peter 1:21).

Second, God is a God of truth and therefore speaks truthfully (Numbers 23:19; John 17:17; Romans 3:4). If those statements are true, the only possible conclusion is that the Bible is inerrant in everything it teaches.

Objection 3. Inerrancy is divisive. Many who call themselves Evangelicals do not hold to inerrancy. If you insist on the importance of this doctrine, you will divide the evangelical movement at precisely the moment when it seems to be making a real impact.

Answer.Inerrancy, like the doctrine of inspiration (of which it is a part), is not a dividing point for Evangelicals but a rallying point. The effect of defending inerrancy should be exactly the opposite of what this objection implies. The only thing that has ever tied Christians together is a common experience of salvation through the Christ of the Bible.

Therefore, they have always acknowledged the Bible as their only infallible rule of faith and practice. What other unifying factor is there, if we cannot agree that the written record of our faith is true?

Without that, everyone will do what he or she thinks best and the evangelical church will disintegrate just as the liberal church has done. If it is a choice between Evangelicals who adhere to the church’s historical teaching and ‘Evangelicals’ who reject it and try to remake the evangelical movement over into their own image – who is being divisive? If Evangelicals are being divided, the blame lies with those who have changed from a high to a low view of Scripture.

Objection 4. Inerrancy is refuted by modern scholarship. It may have been possible to believe in inerrancy in a less knowledgeable or sophisticated age, but we know today that this view is impossible.

Answer. What argument has persuaded you that the Bible contains errors and is therefore not totally true? Are there real, provable errors? Or are you just adopting the sceptical mindset of our contemporary unbelieving world?

One class of supposed errors is miracles. ‘The Bible must be making a mistake when it says that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, because dead men don’t rise’, say some. ‘The iron could not float, the sun could not stand still’.

The issue here is not error but faith in God – or lack of it. Just because you have not seen a resurrection does not mean that resurrections have never occurred. In fact, if God repeated miracles too often, they would cease to be miracles and would lose their evidential value.

The real issue is whether or not there is a God such as the Bible depicts. If there is, then no miracle is beyond possibility. Besides, if you accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which you should, the other miracles are easy.

A second class of supposed errors has to do with moral issues. In Joshua the Jewish people are commanded by God to kill the Canaanites. Some regard this as an error, because on the basis of their own outlook ‘the killing of innocent people is morally wrong’.

This overlooks two important points. First, the Canaanites were far from innocent. Second, God is the Lord of life. He gave life and has the right to take it away. The only error here is the error of assuming you or other fallen human beings have the right to pronounce on the rightness or wrongness of God’s decrees or actions.

The most significant class of supposed errors are apparent contradictions within the Bible. Examples would be the length of time Israel is said to have been in bondage in Egypt (Genesis 15:13 says 400 years, while Exodus 12:41 says 430 years) or the number of angels reported as being at Christ’s tomb following the resurrection (John 20:12 mentions two, Matthew 28:2 only one).

These are just divergent ways of reporting the events, of course. But they are not contradictory. The difference in the number of years the Jews spent in Egypt may be the result of one writer starting from a different point in history, or of one giving an exact figure while the other rounds the number off.

So far as the angels are concerned, if there were two as John reports, there was certainly one, as Matthew says! People who deny inerrancy try to give the impression that the discovery of problems like these has led them to abandon the inerrancy position.

But these problems are not new. They have been known down through the centuries, and reasonable answers have been given to them.

So far as evidence goes, we have more evidence for a high view of the Bible today than in earlier times. Discoveries from the Dead Sea, Summeria, Nag Hammadi – and more recently from Ebla in Syria – provide more support than ever for the position that Evangelicals have long held.

Objection 5. Inerrancy means arguing in circles. You believe in inerrancy because you believe the Bible teaches it, but you believe the Bible because you believe in inerrancy.

Answer. This is not the case. A logical presentation of the case for inerrancy is not circular, since the Bible is a reliable and trustworthy document. Jesus Christ not only assumed the authority of the Bible existing in his day (the Old Testament); he also taught it, going so far as to say that the Scriptures are entirely without error, being the Word of God (John 10:35; 17:17).

Edited from Does inerrancy matter? By permission, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 1716 Spruce Street, Phil PA 19103, www.Alliancenet.org