As a young Christian, I was naïve about the disputes that take place over the authority of Scripture. I took it for granted that those who profess to be believers in God and the Lord Jesus Christ also believe in the absolute integrity of God’s word. It does not take long to discover that the recognition of the doctrine of inerrancy runs from complete acceptance to complete rejection and everything in between. Why does such a disparity exist? It is because the doctrine of inerrancy contains within it a single element that makes it very hard to defend.
A Historical Interpretation of Inerrancy
Historically, the church has long held the view that Scripture is without error. It was David who wrote, “The words of the Lord are pure words” (Psalm 12:6). Not only do David’s words point to a Jewish affirmation of God’s word, but it is a belief that carried through and was affirmed by those in the New Testament era as well (John 17:17).
History reveals that it was not until the early 1600’s when opinions contrary to the trustworthiness of Scripture began to find a foothold. Coinciding with the scientific revolution biblical criticism found a needed partner to create doubts. With science came a redefinition of reason that legitimized the questioning of truth. When Isaac La Peyrere introduced his pre-Adam theory, it was met with a more welcoming acceptance than any previous dissent and thus was allowed to influence and give authority to those who followed in like manner.
Over the course of the next four hundred years, we find ourselves in our current position, where rejection of inerrancy is not only acceptable but commendable. As an example, the ivy league schools of today started out as the training ground for the men who would lead the religious of our nation. Slowly positions changed. While not supporting an outright denial of inerrancy, scholars allowed for the possibility of certain aspects to be negated. With the allowance of suggestions like the JEDP theory and the influence of people such as Schleiermacher, it was inevitable that someone like Karl Barth would come forward to declare that the core of the Bible’s witness was its errancy. The result is institutions, such as those educational monuments, are in a position today in which is more noteworthy to attempt disproval of the teachings of Scripture rather than abide by them.
A Modern Interpretation of Inerrancy
The historical development of the denial of inerrancy has brought us to our current status in which liberal scholarship now reigns. It has cast an atmosphere over biblical studies, and Christianity in general, that makes it both necessary and difficult to defend the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible. However, our defense of it is obscured by something of a great magnitude: the revelation of inerrancy is accompanied by the revelation of the heart.
Millard Erickson suggests at its most basic level, inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is truthful in all its teachings. That’s the issue; if the Bible is affirmed as truthful then all of the awful things that it says about human beings must be affirmed as truthful. Scripture reveals some troublesome and downright awful things about men; who would want to confess to the atrocious charges that are leveled against us.
Consider the words of Paul in Romans 3:
“As it is written:
None is righteous, no not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together
they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to
The venom of asps is under their
Their mouth is full of curses
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and
and the way of peace they have
There is no fear of God before
their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
Further down is where we read the often cited quote from verse 23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” How deep those words would cut us if they were true!
I have found that the rejection of inerrancy hinges not upon arguments of logic or assertions of rationale. It lies deeper than that. It’s a heart attitude. In this ongoing debate, there are two points that can be learned:
- Despite all the best-laid arguments by defenders of inerrancy, they are insufficient to convict someone to believe in it (short of God convicting them of it).
- Despite all of the best-laid arguments by the detractors of inerrancy, they are only symptoms of the deeper heart issue.
The heart issue here is simply pride. We think we are better than we really are, thus the Bible is inaccurate and there is no need to God. Interestingly, that should confirm the truthfulness of Scripture in that it reveals man is prideful.
The affirmation of Scripture comes with an affirmation of humanity’s wickedness. To accept such a point means to admit:
- We are sinful.
- We are wrong (when we contradict Scripture).
- We are dependent.
That’s the problem with presenting an inerrant Bible. People simply do not want to claim something that carries with it a denial of man’s elevated status.
We live in a society in which if you disagree with something it is ok to discard it. However, just because a person disagrees doesn’t mean it is untrue. Therefore, we can have only one response and that is to keep proclaiming the inerrancy of Scripture.
To declare the Bible as inerrant is to declare the Bible as authoritative. The implications of such a proclamation are huge because it compels us then to also declare the authority of God and the dependence of man. In other words, our ability to accurately live and declare the gospel of God is tied to an inerrant word of God.