Posted By MSH on June 14, 2008
Well, here we go with the inerrancy issue. Hopefully by now you have read the required readings for this discussion (yes, they are required; I have specific goals with this thread, and comments posted that make me think you haven’t done the reading will likely not be displayed).
In the wake of the readings, I’ve listed below a number of definitions of inerrancy. Some come from respected systematic theology books; others do not. What I’d like it for you to read them and then comments about their strengths and weaknesses, especially in light of the readings. These definitions will be our starting point.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine:
The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. (p. 90)
What does the word “infallibility” mean? The Westminster Confession uses the word infallible” in I/v and I/ix (“the infallible truth and divine authority thereof”; “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself”). By it we assert that the Bible is true, that is to say, devoid of, and incapable of teaching, falsehood or error of any kind in all that it intends to affirm. It is internally noncontradictory and doctrinally consistent. Its assertions correspond to what God himself understands is the true and real nature of things . . . By “inerrancy” we intend essentially the same thing as “infallibility,” namely, that the Bible does not err in any of its affirmations, whether those affirmations be in the spheres of spiritual realities or morals, history or science, and is therefore incapable of teaching error . . . It is important that we mean by these two words no more and no less than what the Bible itself would permit by its own claims to truthfulness and by its textual phenomena. That is to say, we must not evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its Sitz im Leben, usage or purpose. Such phenomena as a lack of modern technical precision, perceived irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts and the use of free citations should not be used as arguments against the Scripture’s inerrancy. (pp. 70-71)
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology
The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was written, if fully truthful in all that it affirms. (pp. 233-234)
Peter Enns offers this definition on his blog:
The Bible as it is is without error because the Bible as it is is God’s Word.
Such a confession does not predispose us to affirm in what way Scripture is without error. Rather, it puts us in a position of reverent expectancy to see what the Spirit will teach us from and about Scripture, to be self-reflective enough to allow the very categories about which we speak of Scripture to be driven by Scripture . . . To put it another way, a belief in Scripture as God’s word is an article of faith, a gift of the Spirit, and is confirmed by faithful study and following Jesus within a community of believers. It is not where we end up after some rational proofs. It is where we begin so that we can end there.
This should be sufficient to get us started. However, I also recommend reading Chris Tilling’s proposal for a new statement on inerrancy, posted a year ago on his Deinde blog. I think it will help in some respect to stimulate our thinking.