The bible is an immensely important book to Christians, which is I guess why we are always fighting amongst ourselves about it. Here is an essay I did for a theology subject on inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is free from all error.
On the surface, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the affirmation of Stanley Grenz have much in common. Both affirm the trustworthiness of Scripture. However, Grenz’s emphasis is on trustworthiness and not on a modernist definition of inerrancy. Chicago stands much closer to Warfield’s position.
This essay proceeds from this comparison to show that history does not validate the Warfield school, and further that the fundamentalist position is a manifestation of modernism. The Bible does not support such a doctrine as formulated by Chicago or Warfield, neither in its direct teaching nor in its phenomena. Furthermore, many Evangelicals support a trustworthiness view of Scripture that focuses on the purposes and agendas of the God who authored it through human writers, namely the making wise for salvation. Scripture is the authoritative narrative that energies the Christian life by announcing the kingdom of God.
Grenz on inerrancy
Grenz affirms that inerrancy can be a valuable term, properly understood. Firstly, he cites the proper role of deductive and inductive reasoning. A deductive argument may be written as:
P1: God cannot lie
P2: Scripture is inspired by God
C: Scripture cannot lie, i.e. it is inerrant
Inerrantists insist that this is a sound and valid argument. Grenz prefers an inductive approach to allow the bible to speak to these issues rather than applying an a priori assumption or definition. What is required is to ask what the authors purpose was in writing, and what in their mind is an adequate level of accuracy.
An inappropriate understanding for Grenz is a requirement for the biblical authors to meet modern scientific understandings of precision. The biblical writers used phenomenological language and wrote from the perspective of their day. Inerrancy therefore addresses the context in which statements are made. This context also includes the genre of the material, whether it is apocalyptic, prophecy, narrative, wisdom, etc.
For Grenz, the purpose of Scripture is best stated by 2 Tim 3.16. All Scripture is theopneustos and useful for instruction and transformation (Rm 12.1-2), so that we live the Christian life. The Old Testament was written for our instruction, encouragement and hope (Rm 15.4) and as an example to us (1 Cor 10.6, 11). This purpose is fulfilled within a narrative framework that speaks of the Messiah coming to save lost, sinful humans. It would therefore be inappropriate to suggest that inerrancy should extend to the method of creation. The fact that God created the heavens and the earth is well established by the two creation stories, and the contrast and context of pagan creation stories is well noted. To suggest that modern cosmology and evolutionary biology present challenges to the authority of the bible is to apply modernist criteria to the inerrancy of the text, ignore the context (genre, culture) and purpose of the account.
Furthermore, error in the biblical sense is primarily moral and theological, not modernist factual error. Psalm 95.10 speaks of hearts going astray (cf. Jas 5.20). Proverbs equates a lack of knowledge with ethical behaviour and a right attitude towards God. Therefore, to insist that the bible has a doctrine of inerrancy that refers to facts is an inappropriate use of the term.
Thirdly, Grenz insists that inerrancy is not necessary for a view of Scripture as authoritative. He notes that translations are seen as authoritative.
Given these caveats, Grenz sees inerrancy as affirming the Spirit’s instrumentality and the trustworthiness of Scripture. This begs the question of why we cannot simply abandon the term in favour of trustworthiness.
Grenz & Chicago
The authors of the Chicago statement affirm the “total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture”. At first glance, this appears similar to Grenz. However, the Statement employs deduction. Its view of inerrancy includes all matters upon which Scripture touches, “‘inerrant’ signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions”. This is inconsistent with Grenz’s focuses on the goals of Scripture.
In attempting to safeguard the definition from criticism, the authors acknowledge genre, and lack of scientific precision. Inerrancy is “making good its claims and attaining that measure of focussed truth”. There is a double standard in that whilst the Statement doesn’t require scientific accuracy, it insists that passages make scientific claims.
Inerrancy is linked to plenary, verbal inspiration. Infallibility and inerrancy are distinguishable but not separable. For Grenz, the two are related insofar as God’s word is trustworthy. However, he affirms that one can view Scripture as authoritative without being inerrant; Chicago makes them interdependent. Further, there are grave consequences for abandoning inerrancy, since it safeguards “crucial positive truths”.
Grenz’s allows translations to be inerrant, but Chicago limits this to the autographs. To extend authority to extant documents relies the texts being “amazingly well preserved”. However, the Statement’s various caveats would seem to undermine this.
The rise of inerrancy
The above shows that there is more than one Evangelical option on inerrancy. Erickson lists seven: absolute (cf. Warfield), full, limited, of purpose, accommodated revelation, non-propositional revelation and inerrancy as irrelevant. Inerrancy claims a long pedigree. Clement of Rome stated ‘nothing iniquitous or falsified is written’, and Augustine declared ‘none of these (canonical) authors has erred in any respect of writing.’, either deliberately or through forgetfulness. However, Origen and Luther were untroubled by discrepancies. Wesley could tolerate factual mistakes but not doctrinal error. Goldingay claims that this was the norm until the 19th century.
Inerrancy is now a test of orthodoxy for some due to the inroads of higher criticism, and the fact that many defenders were Dispensationalists, where inerrancy is “of biblical facts” and “infallibility of biblical truth”.
The methodology of inerrancy is a prior commitment to foundationalist epistemology, together with a propositional theory of language, which insists upon absolute certainty. Inerrancy becomes the first principle in theology rather than a necessary inference from it. The Bible becomes superfluous once the perfect system of theology is constructed, which is then the source of our faith. Inerrancy brings Scripture under human reason, the pagan principle of independent judgement and substitutes “some idolatrous a priori” for revelation. Hence, the doctrine reflects the prejudices of the reader.
For Dockery, inerrancy is deduced as “a direct implication and important corollary of the direct teaching about Scripture’s inspiration”. Inerrantists insist that the doctrine should be established from doctrines of Scripture, and not the phenomena. Disgreement exists as to whether induction can be included, hence Erickson or pure deduction only. Moreland even suggests that induction can involve the assumption of inerrancy as evidence. Howeverfor inerrancy to have a biblical meaning, it should be defined inductively from the phenomena of Scripture.
Inerrancy and biblical phenomena
Apparent contradictions in Scripture, both textual and with modern science which must be addressed. Erickson lists five strategies: 1) doctrine trumps evidence (Warfield and Packer?), 2) harmonisation, 3) moderate harmonisation (Erickson), 4) inerrant recording of sources errors, 5) errancy.
Moderate harmonisation shows epistemological humility and an eschatological hope so that not all problems will find their resolution now. Further, it does not abandon Scripture to critical scholarship:
“[Jesus] teaching in the gospels includes quotations from ‘Moses’, ‘David’ and ‘Isaiah’ which few modern scholars would attribute to those historical persons”.
Edwards makes this move too readily. Numerous problems disappear when we allow ourselves to look for creative and reasonable solutions. However, some textual difficulties do not disappear easily. In the face of these, Beegle warns against ignoring the phenomena in preference for the teaching, nor to ignore science that causes us to ignore the clear meaning of passages. A prior commitment to inerrancy produces problematic, ad hoc hamonisations such as those of Lindsell, and sometimes disregards usual standards of evidence.
Inerrancy in retreat
It is possible to claim that inerrancy applies only to matters of faith: “the infallible and necessary rule of truth”. Calvin stated that Genesis 1 taught theology, not science, but this is an appeal to authorial intent and falls into the “intentional fallacy”. If we do not allow Scripture to address all areas of knowledge, do we risk dualism? Do we say the Bible is truthful and authoritative on every subject which it teaches but not touches or that to “disbelieve or disobey any word in Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God”?
Another issue is that of the autographs. Grisnati is forced to stretch the definition of OT autograph to cover all of the editing prior to the closing of canon. He denies that this is a redefinition of inerrancy, since changes were only of grammar or place names, and they were prophetic figures that made them. This prophetic requirement bears close resemblance to conservative arguments against pseudonymity.
2 Tim 3.16 is a key passage for inerrancy, but this argument misses the point of Scripture, which is to make us wise for salvation. The appeal to origin serves to preclude a deceptive function or a misleading result. Although overstating the case, Achtermeier says “it is not about the nature of Scripture but the nature of Scripture for the purpose of aiding the Christian life”.
Another key idea is the understanding of prophecy in 2 Pet 1.21. However, feromenois far broader in meaning than Warfield’s restrictive usage. Further, Goldingay warns that whilst stretching the concept of inspiration from prophecy to other genres has biblical warrant, to apply inerrancy to narrative is not. Prophecy comes very close to dictation, but few inerrantists would apply this to narrative. Likewise, Beegle sees degrees of inspiration with different purposes, whilst all the time being the word of God.
Grenz calls his modified inerrancy trustworthiness, which is similar to Farrow’s functional inerrancy and Garrett’s dependability. Just as Grenz focuses on the purpose of Scripture (2 Tim 3), so Farrow suggests that “Scripture does not fail to speak truly in addressing man on behalf of God”, unaffected by “trivialities which may be in error”. I favour the term trustworthiness, since this is the opposite of inerrant, not “errancy”.
The church’s confidence in the Bible rests in Christ’s Lordship, since in it we meets with God and he talks with us. It points beyond itself to this triune God. The Bible is defined by the fact that God has given it to the church, not to collect doctrines but to know him. When God chooses to reveal himself to the reader, this occurs by his will, not reason. Hence, illumination is just as decisive a moment in the process of revelation as inspiration. This is a “dynamic infallibilism”, by which the divine will trumps subjectivism. The objectivism of Scripture lies with God.
N.T. Wright emphasises narrative. Scripture has authority in a delegated sense, because authority resides with God and his kingdom. Scripture is a story with authority, a narrative that brings us up to date with what God has done in establishing this kingdom, and setting the scene for us to carry out the next act. Scripture’s authority does not forbid questioning but requires it of each generation.
Inerrancy, life & ministry
Inerrancy is a fruitless search for certainty. Trustworthiness is the character that our loving God has, and is central to the Christian faith. However, if we abandon inerrancy, how can we trust his word? What becomes of apologetics?
Firstly, we can get on with the task of living the Christian life, and recovering the bible as our spiritual sustenance. We come to the text with the expectation that we will meet God, and be energised to live for his kingdom. We can know that what he says is true and effective for this task. Inerrancy do not contribute to this.
Secondly, since our faith is place in God and not in inerrancy, our faith need not stumble over minor issues. Likewise, apologetics does not lie in solving every problem. Although a valuable exercise, apologetics must ultimately rest, not on inerrancy but on the person of Christ. The slippery slope argument advanced by inerrantists only works if one is pre-committed to empirical/rationalism. We no longer need to waste time trying to account for Pekah’s reign to defend the resurrection as if the two could be equated. Belief in some facts carries more theological weight (1 Cor 15.14)
The end of the matter is this: God can be trusted with certainty, his word communicates what we need to know to serve him in the world, some difficulties may remain, others lie waiting for careful exegesis.
Paul J Achtemeir, Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture, Hendrickon Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1999.
Mike Adler, “How to be much cleverer than all your friends (so they really hate you)”, Philosophy Now, June/July 2005.
Vincent E. Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez and Dennis L. Okholm (eds), Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
John Bartkowski, Beyond Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy: Conservative Protestants and the Hermeneutic Interpretation of Scripture, Sociology of Religion 1996, 57:3, 259-272.
Dewey Beegle, Inerrancy and the Phenomena of Scripture, in Readings in Christian Theology, Volume I The Living God, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1973.
Dewey M Beegle, Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973.
Donald G. Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press,1994.
David S Dockery, Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority and Interpretation, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995.
David L. Edwards with John Stott, Essentials: A liberal-evangelical dialogue, London, Sydney, Auckland: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998.
Douglas Farrow, The Word of Truth and Disputes About Words, Carpenter Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1987.
Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F Wright (eds), New Dictionary of Theology, Inter Varsity Press, Leicester, England/ Downers Grove, Illinois, 1988.
James Leo Garrett, Jr, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical and Evangelical, Vol. 1, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.
Norman L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979.
John Goldingay, Models for Scripture, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994.
Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Wm B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000.
Michael A Grisnati, Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dec 44/4, 2001: 277-298.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press/ Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.
Harold Lindsell., The Case of the Molten Sea, in The Battle for the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976.
George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987.
Bruce L. McCormack, The Being of Holy Scripture is in Becoming: Karl Barth in Conversation with American Evangelical Criticism, Tenth Annual Wheaton Theology Conference Wheaton College, April 5, 2001.
Douglas Moo (Gen. Ed.), Biblical Authority and Conservative Perspectives: Viewpoints from Trinity Journal, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1997.
Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda, Trinity Press International, Valley Forge, PA, 1996.
J.I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, Westchester, Illinois: Cornerstone Books, 1980.
N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, 2005, SPCK, London.
The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrance 1987, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1987.
 Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Wm B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000, p401.
 For a useful introduction to concepts of validity and soundness in syllogisms, see Mike Adler’s article “How to be much cleverer than all your friends (so they really hate you) in the June/July 2005 issue of Philosophy Now.
 Although this is too narrow a focus, to limit the biblical narrative simply to personal salvation. See N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, SPCK, London, 2005
 E.g. Ps 1.29; 2.6-10. See also Ps 14.1.
 It is generally believed that most Palestinian Jews used the LXX, and that including by the 2 Tim 3.16 is a reference to the LXX. Why Grenz cannot affirm that Paul wrote this letter is not discussed!
 International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, 1978, Chicago, Illinois, p5.
 Chicago Statement, summary statements 1 and 2.
 Chicago Statement, statement 3, including all matters in creation (statement 4) such as the creation of the world and the Flood (Article XII).
 Chicago Statement, p12.
 Chicago Statement, p12.
 Chicago Statement, statement 4, articles VI, IX.
 Chicago Statement, article XI.
 Chicago Statement, statement 5.
 Chicago Statement , article XIX.
 Chicago Statement, p11.
 Chicago Statement, article X.
 Chicago Statement, p12.
 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998, p248.
 Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F Wright (eds), New Dictionary of Theology, Inter Varsity Press, Leicester, England/ Downers Grove, Illinois, 1988, p337.
 John Goldingay, Models for Scripture, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994, p262.
 Goldingay, p262-263.
 “If there be any mistakes in the bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth”. Goldingay, p264.
 Goldingay, p265.
 Note that Paul D Feinberg in his essay The Meaning of Inerrancy in Norman L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979, p269 takes it for granted that inerrancy is orthodoxy (before he even defines it).
 Whose obsession with the absolute accuracy of numbers insists upon inerrancy of every detail. George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987, p112.
 Quote from H D McDonald, Goldingay, p267.
 Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda, Trinity Press International, Valley Forge, PA, 1996, p16.
 Such as is found in Hodge, so Murphy, p42.
 Bloesch, p96. Farrow, p126.
 Stanley Grenz, ”Nurturing the Soul, Informing the Mind: The Genesis of the Scripture Principle”, in Vincent E. Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez and Dennis L. Okholm (eds), Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004, p41.
 Douglas Farrow, The Word of Truth and Disputes About Words, Carpenter Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1987, p128.
 Bloesch, p91.
 Farrow, p139.
 Farrow, p28.
 John Bartkowski, Beyond Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy: Conservative Protestants and the Hermeneutic Interpretation of Scripture, Sociology of Religion 1996, 57:3, 259-272.
 Dockery, p66.
 Erickson, Christian Theology, p255f.
 Referring to Norman Geisler. Farrow, 273.
 J.P. Moreland, “The Rationality Of Belief In Inerrancy”, in Douglas Moo (Gen. Ed.), Biblical Authority and Conservative Perspectives: Viewpoints from Trinity Journal, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1997, 159.
 Grenz, p401.
 Donald G. Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994, p94.
 J.I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, Westchester, Illinois: Cornerstone Books, 1980, p56.
 Erickson, p258.
 To which we might add, all the worse for those scholars. David L. Edwards with John Stott, Essentials: A liberal-evangelical dialogue, London, Sydney, Auckland: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, p56.
 Jesus using material more than once, multiple perspectives on events providing differences in accounts, abandoning Markan priority for Markan dependence, etc.
 Such as Jude’s issue of the Apocrypha or Stephen’s speech and its reference to Abram.
 “If we try to hold to the teaching of Scripture in preference to the phenomena, are we not saying in effect, “Determine the Biblical writers’ doctrine of inspiration from what they say, not what they do”? The true Biblical view of inspiration must account for all the evidence of Scripture”. Dewey Beegle, Inerrancy and the Phenomena of Scripture, in Readings in Christian Theology, Volume I The Living God, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1973, p249f..
 For example, Genesis 5. Beegle, p202-203.
 Harold Lindsell., The Case of the Molten Sea, in The Battle for the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976.
 Goldingay, p269.
 A quote from Wyclif in Goldingay, p272.
 Goldingay, p272.
 That is, how do we know an intention of a writer? Goldingay, p270.
 David S Dockery, Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority and Interpretation, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995, p66.
 Millard J. Erickson, "Problem Areas Related to Biblical Inerrancy" and Responses in The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrance 1987, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1987, p183.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press/ Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994, p90.
 Michael A Grisnati, Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dec 44/4, 2001: 277-298.
 Grisnati, p590f.
 If deutero-Isaiah were an important prophetic figure, why is he unnamed? Likewise, if unnamed prophets updated Isaiah, surely it is deception for them to claim it is his work alone?
 Grenz, 401.
 Farrow, p96.
 Paul J Achtemeir, Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture, Hendrickon Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1999, p94.
 Farrow, p98-9.
 Goldingay, p274.
 Goldingay, p275.
 Goldingay, p276.
 Dewey M Beegle, Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973, p207.
 James Leo Garrett, Jr, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical and Evangelical, Vol. 1, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990, p167.
 Farrow, p219.
 Farrow, p222.
 Farrow, p217.
 Farrow, pp34, 150.
 McCormack, p6.
 Bruce L. McCormack, The Being of Holy Scripture is in Becoming: Karl Barth in Conversation with American Evangelical Criticism, Tenth Annual Wheaton Theology Conference Wheaton College, April 5, 2001, p6.
 McCormack, p14.
 McCormack, p13.
 Wright, p18.
 Wright, p24.
 Wright, p19. Note that publicly Wright has stated that this is working in the kingdom, not for it in the sense of building it.
 Wright, p67-8.
 Goldingay, p278.
 Farrow, p148.
 Under the assumption that if we abandon inerrancy so that we don’t have to defend the account of Pekah’s reign (because we do not believe it), then we can’t defend (or it is made more difficult to defend) the resurrection. Geisler, p280.
 Geisler appears to confuse notitia with assensus. If I think that there is a problem with Pekah’s reign length, it is not because I do not believe the bible, contra Geisler and Grudem, but because there is a genuine mistake.