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Monday, April 04, 2016

Defending Inerrancy ... Why?

I have on more than than one occasion (and more) defended the argument that the Scriptures in their original documents were without error. We can further conclude, based on the high level of confidence that we have better than 99.5% confidence that the texts we have are true to the original documents, that our Bibles are without error. Oh, there may be a minor translation mistake here or there. There may be a transcription error in a number or something. But the doctrine of biblical inerrancy holds that the Bible is 100% infallible and inerrant in what it teaches. I defend that.

Lots of people disagree. Lots of people wonder why I bother. "What's the point? Are you some kind of crazy fundamentalist whacko?" (because, as we all know, anyone who believes in the fundamentals of Scripture and, therefore, Christianity is a whacko). Some have argued, "You know, the Bible makes no such claim." Others have argued, "You know, if you're arguing from the Bible, you're arguing from circular logic. 'The Bible claims to be inerrant, so it is.' Logical fallacy." There are even those who will claim "I love the Bible, but your idea that it is infallible and inerrant cannot be true." In other words, there are lots of critics, and they even disagree with each other.

Why do I defend the doctrine? Well, it's simple. The question is not the book (technically "books"). The question is God. Consider this syllogism.
Premise 1: God cannot be wrong.
Premise 2: The Bible is God's Word.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible cannot be wrong.
In logic, arguments are valid if they logically agree, if the premises require the conclusion. This is a valid argument.

Now, in logic, there is a difference between a valid argument and a true argument. A valid argument means that the conclusion must follow the premises. A true argument requires that the premises be true. Are these premises true?

The claim of the Bible is that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV) The phrase you will often see for "breathed out by God" is "inspired by God". There is, in fact, a difference between these terms. "Inspired" is "breathed in". The word here is the opposite -- to breathe out. The idea is not how inspiring the writing was -- not the nature of the writing -- but the origin of the writing. Where did it come from? The biblical claim for Scripture is that Scripture is originated by God. It is God's Word. Thus, Premise 2 would be deemed truthful. Now, of course, we might consider a version of reality where God can be wrong (Premise 1), but if we're going to go down that route, we're going to have to stop being theists, let alone Christians.

Thus, we see that the syllogism is both valid and true. Therefore, the Bible cannot be wrong.

Some people question the inerrancy of Scripture. I would contend that 1) logic requires it and 2) theism requires it. Now, you can debate all day long about whether or not it's true, but understand, at the end of the day, if you arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is not inerrant (as I've defined in the first paragraph), you have also eliminated either the reliability of God and/or the Bible as the Word of God. Some people are fine with that. People who claim to be Christians either must not be fine with that or must not be Christians. It isn't the Bible that is in question; it is God.


Neil said...

Great and important points.

And I've noticed the "coincidence" that those who reject inerrancy always end up using that belief to justify mischief and worse.

Stan said...

"those who reject inerrancy always end up using that belief to justify mischief and worse."

I would assume that the primary purpose of denying inerrancy is to do exactly that -- justify actions that go against Scripture.

Josh said...

We are studying Jonah at our Church. Does your definition of inerrancy allow for allegorical interpretation for being in the belly of the fish?

Stan said...

Scripture certainly includes allegory, hyperbole, poetry, etc. The question is does Jonah fall in one of these categories? The only reason I can find for concluding that Jonah never happened would be a prior commitment to an anti-supernatural bias. On what basis do you conclude that it never actually happened and the references to it elsewhere are solely references to an allegory rather than an historical event? Is there something in the text or context that demands "This never really happened; it's just a story with a moral"?

Josh said...

I guess my question isn't do you think it happened as it says. My questions is: Is it possible to believe in the inerrancy of scripture, and believe that Jonah is allegorical?

Same question, but what if it was actually a whale and not a fish? Would this fall under translation issues?

Stan said...

I believe that the Bible should be read as it is written. Historical texts as historical, poetry as poetic, proverbs as proverbial, doctrine as doctrinal, allegory as allegorical, and so on. So I don't believe that inerrancy requires that none of these writing techniques are excluded by inerrancy. "Could Scripture be classified as inerrant if Jonah is allegorical?" In my view, sure, since I've stated that allegory is in Scripture. Are there questions about translation? Sure. In fact, there are some terms we've never quite figured out. Augustine wrote, "It is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken'; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood." There might be copy errors in a manuscript (we have too many to compare with each other to worry about this anymore) or there might be translation difficulties (like your "whale" or "fish" question) and there are certainly failures to comprehend, but none of these alter the inerrancy of Scripture.

Josh said...

Fair enough. Thanks for entertaining my questions. I think I tend to agree with you.

Unknown said...

The "whale" and "fish" debate is less a matter of zoological translation than of historical usage. At the time of English translation - give it a five hundred years back or so - and the time of writing (I leave that to the reader, but it's a long, long time), the word "fish" meant anything that lived permanently in water. Until "mammal" came into specialised use comparatively recently, "whale" was just a very big fish which happened to have a horizontal tail and a habit of blowing it nose in spectacular fashion from time to time. Old Germanic and other languages gave English "whalefish" for centuries.

The "Greenland Whale Fishery" folk song brings things into quite accurate focus, first by mentioning the date in the opening line:

"In eighteen hundred and forty one, in June on the thirteenth day.."

Then ending on:

"Greenland is a barren land
A land that knows no green
Where there's ice and there's snow and the whalefishes blow
And the daylight's seldom seen, brave boys
And the daylight's seldom seen.

However, the accuracy of "virgin" as a translation is considerably more problematic, both for Christians and Mohammedans: for the former it may well be no more than "young woman" and some of the latter motivated to murder by juvenile prurience may be surprised to find they've earned 72 raisins in paradise; the "virgins" in question appear in a long list of desirable fruit and are only a very minor slip of the pen from "raisins".

Stan said...

As interesting (and even, at points, amusing) as that all is, I'm not at all sure what it contributes to the question of why we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.