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The Inerrancy of Scripture

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The subject of the inerrancy of Scripture is often approached with great emotion and heated discussion.  It has put stress on both individual and associational relationships, as is evident in our own Southern Baptist Convention.  But is this a subject “worthy” of such tension?  Can we not simply hold to our own views on Scripture and avoid such volatile words as “inerrant” to describe its nature?  Could we not settle for “trustworthy” or “inspired,” or some other word that does not draw such a line in the sand?

The term inerrant is important.  It gives no place for wavering but stands solidly on the position that Scripture is not simply inspired, but is completely without error.  That’s an important distinction.  Those who hold to an “inspired,” but not inerrant, Bible can “let God off the hook” on such difficulties as the Creation account and recorded miracles in the Old and New Testaments, not to mention letting themselves off the hook where Scripture conflicts with their personal lives.

Inerrancy, at the bottom-line, means that the Bible is truthful and trustworthy in all areas.  In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul states that Scripture is “God-breathed”; 2 Peter 1:21 says that, “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke for God.”  The recording of Scripture is not solely a human undertaking.  In fact, that same verse in 2 Peter concedes that “ . . . no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will. . . .”  The recording of the “inspired” Word of God was the act of God, though He spoke through the limitations of His human instruments (more on this later).  The point is this, God is ultimately responsible for every word recorded in Scripture, including the difficulties that some would attribute to the human failings of the mortal authors through whom He spoke.  If there are errors in the Biblical record God would certainly know of those errors and be at fault for their presence in “His Word.”

If God, who is responsible for the truthfulness of Scripture, cannot be trusted to maintain that truthfulness in some areas it is valid to lose trust in other areas.  Or better stated, “If the Bible is unable to produce a sound doctrine of Scripture, then it is thus incapable of producing . . . a doctrine about any other matter.” (MacArthur, pg. 30)   Some may disagree; however, history gives credence to this view, as Erickson points out:

There is evidence that where a theologian, a school, or a movement begins by regarding Biblical inerrancy as a peripheral or optional matter and abandons this doctrine, it frequently goes on to abandon or alter other doctrines which the church has originally considered quite major, such as the deity of Christ or the Trinity.  (Erickson, pg. 62)

There is a “slippery slope,” as some have suggested, in the relationship between the doctrine of inerrancy and other doctrines of the Christian church.  Once we step away from the idea of inerrancy, we begin an inevitable slide toward what some would call apostasy.

Historically, the Church has held the Scriptures to be inerrant.  Even when the church was seen as corrupt, and reformation was imminent, the Bible was held at an infallible level.

In the days of the great Reformation there was no break with the historical, traditional view of Scripture even though the reformers were in a death to death struggle with Rome.  They may have quarreled with Rome concerning the accretions that were added to the Scriptures but they did not seek to destroy the Scriptures themselves.  They dethroned the church in favor of the Spirit as the interpreter of the Holy Word of God.  They exalted the Scriptures.  They held them to be self-authenticating and self-interpreting.  (Criswell, pg. 156)

Not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the Bible assumed to be as errant as any other of the ancient writings.  “[Rationalists] divided the Creation account in Genesis, denied the unity and Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible, split Isaiah into two books, postdated the prophecies until after their proclaimed fulfillment and attributed Biblical miracles to natural events that had been cloaked in a supernatural aura by simpleminded believers.

“Darwin’s new theory that life was evolving upward by the survival of the fittest served to further undermine the confidence in the historical veracity of the Bible.” (Hefley, pg.14)

I believe the argument should be shifted somewhat.  If the Bible is, as many contemporary scholars would have us believe, less than trustworthy there are two options: either the Bible is not God’s Word, or God is less than trustworthy.  In this situation, we certainly cannot have our cake (a trustworthy God) and eat it too (fallible Scripture).

There are many scholarly theologians today who embrace an inerrant Bible.  Are these men and women closing their eyes to the “truth” that modern science has made available to us?  They would say not.  In the fall of 1973, Biblical scholars and theologians met in Pennsylvania and issued the “Ligonier Statement.”  It reads as follows:

We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God: We hold the Bible, as originally given through human agents of revelation, to be infallible and see this as a crucial article of faith with implications for the entire life and practice of all Christian people.  With the great fathers of Christian history we declare our confidence in the total trustworthiness of Scriptures, urging that any view which imputes to them a lesser degree of inerrancy than total, is in conflict with the Bible’s self-testimony in general and with the teaching of Jesus Christ in particular.  Out of obedience to the Lord of the Church we submit ourselves unreservedly to His authoritative view.  (Sproul, pg. 32)

R.C. Sproul, in his book Reason To Believe, states that we can trust the Bible as inerrant and suggests some “key points” to remember in approaching the Scriptures as an infallible source of truth: (1) The Bible does not have a mythical literary style as compared with other ancient literature.  (2) The Bible is not a science text but describes the world as it appears to the naked eye.  (3) Variant accounts are not the same as contradictory accounts.  (4) Modern historical research adds to Biblical credibility.  (5) The Church’s faith in the infallibility of Scripture is established on the basis of Christ’s view of Scripture.  (Sproul, pg. 33)

The Bible does not have a mythical literary style as compared with other ancient literature.

Often, the Bible is thrown into the same category as literature containing pagan mythology.  In fact, one author seeks to describe the process that was used to write the Old Testament as no different from the process of putting into writing other mythical accounts:

First, things happened.  The people to whom they happened told others about what had happened to them.  Just as every family has a fund of stories about various relatives, many of the stories that eventually were to become part of the Old Testament came from the oral tradition of the people who were to be known as Israel.  Not all these stories, however, were based on actual events.  (Tullock, pg. 6)

This same author goes on to explain how these oral traditions were eventually put into written form.  He further suggests that during the Babylonian exile, these writings were “in competition” with other mythical accounts of history and in danger of being assimilated into the culture, thus losing the importance they held in the eyes of the Jewish people of that era.  Consequently, “the Jews moved to preserve their most meaningful literature by designating it as sacred.”  (Tullock, pg. 7)

Admittedly, this is a logical progression in accessing how much of pagan, mythical writing has been preserved through the ages.  However, there are some differences that separate Scripture from other ancient mythical writings.

One reason “scholars” attempt to put the Bible on the same level as these other writings is the presence of unexplainable events, miracles, in their content.  It should be noted though, that the presence of miracles in the Biblical accounts of both the Old and New Testaments is not, exclusively, sufficient evidence to dismiss it as mythical.

It would be an obvious concession if the context of the document that contained the phenomenal happenings lent themselves to myth.  But to excuse an event from the realm of the possible on basis that the reader does not personally believe that it could have occurred is poor literary analysis.  None of the Biblical “stories” that scholarship has deemed mythical are presented in a context that suggests the author regarded the event as less than historical truth.  The story of Jonah is not presented in a literary style that would separate it, in any way, from some of the more historically supported narratives in 1 and 2 Chronicles and 1 and 2 Kings.

The Biblical writers, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, wrote with a profound commitment to the sanctity of truth.  “Mythic creatures that are half man and half beast, for example, are noticeably absent from the Scriptures.  Bizarre stories about the creation of the universe are also conspicuously absent.  The world, for example, is nowhere described as an appendage of God; nor do we see notions of the world coming into being as the result of sexual acts of procreation among the Gods.  Though Jesus is born of a virgin, He does not spring anew out of the head of Zeus.” (Sproul, pg. 22)

Also, the Bible itself teaches against the presence of mythical tales in Scripture.  2 Peter 1:16 states, “We do not declare unto you cleverly devised myths and fables but rather what we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears.” (RSV)  A chief principle of Biblical hermeneutics is to allow the implicit to be interpreted by the explicit.  Applying this rule to a serious study of the Scripture supports the view that the Bible is not to be interpreted as myth in any area.

The Bible is not a science text but describes the world as it appears to the naked eye.

Many who point to an errant Bible use passages were Scripture seems to conflict with what we know of science and history.  One verse that is used to show the Bible’s “inconsistency” with science is Psalm 104:22, which states, “The sun rises. . . .”  (NIV)   Critics rightly point out that from the time of Galileo, we have known that the sun neither rises nor sets but that the earth revolves around the sun in its orbit, giving the appearance of a rising and setting sun.  It is important to note that the Bible never presents itself as a scientific text.  It does not speak in precise scientific language; rather, the writers describe nature from a phenomenological perspective.  The world is depicted as it appears to the naked eye.

That does not preclude the Bible from being scientifically accurate.  Many times Scripture speaks “over the heads” of its authors, though still in the phenomenological perspective, detailing scientific truth far beyond the knowledge of its contemporaries.  Example after example could be given; here are but a few: Job 38:24 asks, “Where is the way that the light is divided . . . ?” several thousand years before Newton discovered that it could be divided with a prism.  Isaiah 40:22 reveals that the earth is round long before the days of Columbus, and Job 26:7 states that God hung the earth on nothing.  Finally, at least three passages suggest what meteorology has come to call the Hydrologic water cycle: Ecclesiastes 1:7, 11:3, and this passage from Amos 9:6 “He who builds His lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land, the LORD is His name.” (NIV)

 The Bible is not a scientific textbook, nor is it in conflict with science.  “There are times, however, when serious conflicts do emerge between theories inferred from science and Biblical teaching.  If, for example, a scientist concludes that the origin of man is a cosmic accident, then the scientist holds a position that is antithetical to the teaching of Scripture.  But . . . the question of [man’s] origin is a question of history.  The biologist can describe how things could have happened, but can never tell us how they did happen.” (Sproul, pg. 24)

In the area of history, Scripture is proving to be quite accurate.  Archeology continues to confirm the accuracy of the recorded events in both the Old and New Testaments.  Consider the following:

Other archeological verifications include proof that there was a ruler named Belshazzar; the Hittites, not only existed, but also had a vast empire; King Sargon also ruled, and the matters touched upon in the Book of Acts are demonstratably accurate.  So far, the findings of archeology have verified, and in no case disputed, historical points of the Biblical record. (McDowell, pg. 35)

Variant accounts are not the same as contradictory accounts.

There are those who would maintain that the Bible is full of contradictions.  One account that is often used to “prove” this assertion is the post-resurrection encounter that those present had with an angel, or with two angels.   Matthew 28:2 records, “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.” (NIV)   Later, John’s Gospel states in chapter twenty, verse twelve, “. . . two angels in white, [were] seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.”  (NIV)   A critic would point out that one account implies that only one angel was present while the other clearly states there are two.  However, this is not difficult to explain.  There is a difference between contradictory and variant accounts of one event.  To say that “an angel” did this or the other is not to say that this is the only angel present.  Because John thought it important to specify the number of angelic beings and Matthew chose to recount merely what one of the two did without mentioning numbers, only serves to prove that the accounts vary, not that they are contradictory to one another.  The two accounts are completely compatible.

Without question there are Biblical situations more difficult to rectify.  For example, 2 Samuel 10:18 says, “David killed seven hundred of [the Arameans] charioteers.”  However, 1 Chronicles 19:18 says that at the same event, “David killed seven thousand of their charioteers.”  I must admit that these verses are not easy to justify.  Some theologians advocate a kind of “blind faith” to an inerrant view regardless of the inconsistencies present.  Others would demand an abandonment of inerrant teaching because of the “obvious contradictions.”  However, as the old time preacher would put in, “One account says David defeated the Arameans by killing seven hundred of their charioteers while the other says he defeated them by killing seven thousand of their charioteers.  But they both say David defeated the Arameans!”

I’m not convinced that is a satisfactory attempt to reconcile the passages; but I would certainly have to agree with the statement.  A more suitable explanation could be this: It is not likely that David personally killed all the charioteers, nor is it necessary that he personally killed any for the statement “David killed [x number] of charioteers” to be historically accurate.  David is credited for the victories, including the “kills,” of the campaigns which he led.  Also, estimating numbers, then and now, is used often in describing events where numbers are secondary in importance.  It is doubtful that either seven hundred or seven thousand is the exact number of charioteers to fall that day.  The numbers were estimated, at best.

One other thing to consider is the language used in Hebrew culture.  This is most important.  To the Hebrew the number seven is symbolic for perfection or completion.  It is unlikely that either historian was attempting numerical perfection; rather, both were saying that the number of charioteers to fall was sufficient for the completion of the battle.

Modern historical research adds to Biblical credibility.

As was suggested earlier, historical, especially archeological, research has done much to establish Biblical inerrancy and virtually nothing to discredit it.  For example, a great portion of the city Ur, the city from which God called Abraham, has been discovered.  The name “Abram” has been found inscribed on some of the columns of the ancient city.

Another archaeological witness to the truth of the Bible is found in the treasure city of Pithom which was built for Rameses II by the Hebrews during the time of their hard bondage in Egypt.  This city has been unearthed, and the walls of the houses were found to be of sunbaked bricks, some with straw and some without straw, exactly in accordance with Exodus 5:7, written 3,500 years ago. (Criswell, pg. 39)

Archaeological evidence also supports the narrative of the conquest of Jericho, the historicity of the book of Daniel, and the reliability of the writings of Luke in the Book of Acts.  Consider the following:

In Acts 13:7 Luke speaks of a deputy, or more accurately, a proconsul who was the ruler of Cyprus.  Now the Roman provinces were of two classes: imperial and senatorial.  The ruler of the imperial provinces was called a “propraetor” and the ruler of a senatorial province was called a “proconsul.”  Now, until a comparatively recent date, according to the best information we had, Cyprus was an imperial province and therefore its ruler would be a propraetor.  But Luke calls him a proconsul, and for years and years this was thought to be a mistake on the part of Luke.  But, as the archaeologists dug into the ground and as the historians continued their research, there was brought to light the fact that, at the time in which Luke wrote, the senate had made an exchange with the emperor whereby Cyprus had become a senatorial province and therefore its ruler was a proconsul.  Luke was right after all.  (Criswell, pg. 42)

Time and again, Scripture has been proven historically reliable in the areas where evidence is uncovered.  To consider the unproven as false simply because the evidence either no longer exists or has yet to be discovered is poor scholarship.  The testimony of Scripture that is proven gives credence to that which is yet to be proven.

The Church’s faith in the infallibility of Scripture is established on the basis of Christ’s view of Scripture.

What was the view of Jesus Christ concerning the infallible, inerrancy of Scripture?  In John 10:35, He said, “Scripture cannot be broken.” (NASB)   He called Scripture the Word of God and the commandments of God (cf. Matthew 15:3, 6).  And, in Matthew 5:18, Jesus plainly declares, “. . . until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (NIV)

Jesus appears to have an extremely high view of Scripture, even for the smallest letter and least stroke of the pen.  John, chapter one, as well as others, teaches that in Jesus we have the author of Scripture present among us.  The Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew could be looked upon as the Author’s interpretation of His work.

You would think that if the author of a book, who had it “transposed” to be read by others, found errors in that work He would surely right them.  However, in the case of Jesus, the Author of Scripture, we find Him authenticating some of the most controversial Old Testament accounts.  For example, in Luke 17:29, Jesus speaks of the destruction of Sodom as though it were an actual event, then recalls the tragic demise of Lot’s wife in verse thirty-two.  In Luke 11:51 He holds “this generation” responsible for both the death of Abel (believed by some to be a mythical or figurative individual) and of Zechariah, “who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary.”  Would Jesus hold anyone responsible for the death of a myth?

Most “scholars” dismiss the calling of Moses from a burning bush.  However, in Mark 12:26, Jesus said, “have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, `I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'?”  And, in John 6:31‑51, He recounts the phenomenon of the manna in the wilderness with which God fed the Israelites.

Matthew 24:37 records Jesus’ recalling the Flood of Noah’s day, and says that, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  From the view of modern “scholarship” we would have to read this as saying, “As it was . . .” (Myth), “so it will be . . .” (Myth).  Is this what Jesus was trying to communicate?  Hardly!

The idea that Jonah was literally in the belly of a fish has been dismissed by some of the thinkers of our day as foolishness or allegory.  But Jesus saw it as a literal happening and compared it to His death and resurrection in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter twelve, verses thirty-nine through forty-one.  Certainly no one would relegate Jesus’ resurrection to simple allegory, or would they?  There’s that slippery slope!

Jesus saw Scripture as the inerrant Word of God.  R.C. Sproul suggests the following progression in light of Christ’s view of Scripture:

Premise A -- The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.  Premise B -- On the Basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus is the Son of God.  Premise C -- Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an infallible authority.  Premise D -- Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.  Premise E -- The Word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy.  Conclusion -- On the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy, i.e., infallible (inerrant).  (Sproul, pg. 31)

In conclusion, The Bible can be trusted as nothing short of the inerrant Word of God.  Those who would seek to discredit it or render it as less than completely trustworthy do so because they are attempting to unite with the unchanging Word of God the capricious view of contemporary scholarship.  This is the same wavering group who, throughout history, has held to such views as a flat earth, spontaneous generation, and bloodletting.

A few of the difficulties of Scripture, I admit, remain unexplained.  “With respect to some of the problems, however, we simply lack sufficient information to understand completely.  Yet we can continue to hold to inerrancy on the basis of the Bible’s own claims, knowing that if we had all the data, the problems would vanish. (Erickson, pg. 63)   However, time and again this old Book has stood in the face of opposition and remained unshaken when the dust cleared.  I believe I’ll stand beside the Book!

                                                                     Works Cited

Rediscovering Expository Preaching                                           By John MacArthur, Jr.

Introducing Christian Doctrine                                                   By Millard J. Erickson

Why I Preach That The Bible Is Literally True                             By  W.A. Criswell

The Conservative Resurgence In the SBC                                    By James C. Hefley

Reason To Believe                                                                     By R.C. Sproul

The Old Testament Story                                                            By John H. Tullock

Answers To Tough Questions                                                     By Josh McDowell

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