Quotables: What Christ’s Incarnation Teaches About Inerrancy

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The logic of some still insists that anything involving humanity has to allow for the possibility of sin. So, they say, as long as the Bible is both a divine and a human book the possibility and actuality of errors exist.

Let us examine that premise. Is it always inevitable that sin is involved where humanity is?

If you were tempted to respond affirmatively, an exception probably came to mind almost immediately. The title of this chapter put the clue in your mind. The exception is our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the God—man, and yet His humanity did not involve sin. He serves as a clear example of an exception to the logic pressed by people who believe in errancy.

The true doctrine of the God—man states that He possessed the full and perfect divine nature and a perfect human nature, and that those were united, in one person forever. His deity was not in any detail diminished; His humanity was not in any way unreal, though sinless; and in His one person His natures were without mixture, change, division, or separation.

Similarly, the Bible is a divine—human book. Though it originated from God, it was actually written by man. It is God’s Word, conveyed through the Holy Spirit. Sinful men wrote that Word, but did so without error. Just as, in the incarnation, Christ took humanity but was not tainted in any way with sin, so the production of the Bible was not tainted with any errors.

Let us take the analogy further. In the humanity of Jesus Christ there were some features that were not optional. He had to be a Jew. He could not have been a Gentile. He had to be a man, not a woman. He had to be sinless, not sinful. But there were some features of sinless humanity that might be termed optional. Jesus could have possessed perfect humanity within a variation of a few inches in height at maturity. A dwarf or a giant would have been imperfect. He might have varied a little in weight at maturity and still have been perfect. Surely the number of hairs on his scalp, within limits, could have been a sinless option. However, it was the humanity that He exhibited that was, in fact, perfect humanity.

The writers of the Bible were not passive. They wrote as borne along by the Spirit, and in those writings there were some things that could not have been said any other way. Paul insisted on the singular rather than the plural in Galatians 3:16. But there were, conceivably, some sinless options as in Paul’s emotional statement in Romans 9:1-3. Yet the Bible we have is in fact the perfect record of God’s message to us.

Everybody wrestles with the relationship between the divine and the human authors of Scriptures. The divine must not be so emphasized as to obliterate for all practical purposes the human; and the human must not be allowed to be so human as to permit errors in the text. God did dictate the law (Deuteronomy 9:10). On the other end of the divine—human involvement scale, Dr. Luke researched his material (Luke 1:1-4). Paul expressed himself freely (Romans 9:1-3), and he expressed himself rigidly (Galatians 3:16); but everywhere he wrote accurately what God wanted us to have.

A similar thing happened with regard to the person of Christ in the early centuries of church history. Docetism, a first—century heresy, taught that Christ did not actually become flesh but only appeared as a man, thus robbing Him of genuine humanity. Docetism was, of course, a Christological error, but one can see the analogy with the question of the dual authorship of the Bible. Those who hold to errors in the Bible say that inerrancy overemphasizes the divine authorship to the neglect of its “humanness.” Thus God’s superintendence of the Bible to the extent of producing an errorless Bible is said to be a Docetic view of inspiration. Karl Barth has made that charge, and so, more recently, have Dutch theologian Gerrit Berkhouwer and Fuller professor Paul Jewett.

But if it were true (which it is not) that those who hold to the total inerrancy of the Bible are espousing a heresy akin to Docetism, then it would be equally true that those who hold to any kind of errancy support a doctrine analogous to Ebionitism.

In the second century the Ebionites denied the deity of Christ by denying His virgin birth and His preexistence. They regarded Jesus as the natural son of Joseph and Mary, who was elected Son of God at His baptism, but not as the eternal Son of God. They thought Jesus was a great prophet and higher than the archangels, but not divine.

Now if inerrancy is supposed to be a Doceticlike heresy, then errancy, albeit limited, is obviously an Ebionitelike heresy, since the humanity of the Bible has to permit errors in the Bible. According to the errancy view, inasmuch as real men were involved, their writings cannot be guaranteed to be without error even though the Holy Spirit directed and inspired them. That is an Ebionitelike error.

But remember, there is an orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ, and there is an orthodox doctrine of the Bible. Both involve God and man, and both result in a sinless product.

Ryrie, C. C. (1998, c1981). What you should know about Inerrancy.

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10 thoughts on “Quotables: What Christ’s Incarnation Teaches About Inerrancy

  1. Rey –

    I’m glad you have brought up a fresh topic for the blogosphere world to discuss. :)

    The logic of some still insists that anything involving humanity has to allow for the possibility of sin. So, they say, as long as the Bible is both a divine and a human book the possibility and actuality of errors exist.

    I believe one would argue that the fundamental flaw here would be to unequivocally equate sin and error. To err does not mean to sin. To forget does not mean to sin. To have lack of knowledge does not mean to sin. These are all part and parcel to being finite creations.

    Now, sin is equatable with erring with regards to the holiness of God. But erring is not always equatable with sin. So, if the cosmology of the author of Genesis was a bit off, it does not strike against anything of the inerrant, true, reliable, faithful, God-breathed, inspired words communicated by God through the human author in the early chapters of Genesis. Why? Well, at least I believe that the author of Genesis was not trying to teach us cosmology. Something else was going on in those opening chapters, something that would have been much more important and pertinent to the Yahweh-following, Israelite community.

    He serves as a clear example of an exception to the logic pressed by people who believe in errancy.

    At least for me, I don’t want to argue ‘errancy’. I want to argue that inerrancy, in the normal evangelical terms, does not help define the nature of Scripture and what Scripture teaches about itself.

    Now if inerrancy is supposed to be a Doceticlike heresy, then errancy, albeit limited, is obviously an Ebionitelike heresy, since the humanity of the Bible has to permit errors in the Bible.

    So are both camps wrong, then?

    Oh, and I do hope no more weeds today. :)

  2. To have lack of knowledge does not mean to sin. These are all part and parcel to being finite creations.
    No. It isn’t. I pretty much trampled that over here.

    At least for me, I don’t want to argue ‘errancy’. I want to argue that inerrancy, in the normal evangelical terms, does not help define the nature of Scripture and what Scripture teaches about itself.

    But you do that by arguing “errancy” (ie: the big block of text up front) so I don’t know why the obfuscation.

    So are both camps wrong, then?
    No. Ryrie goes on to say why one camp is actually right by showing what “incarnational” really means…not the absurdity of necessarily containing error.

  3. I said: To have lack of knowledge does not mean to sin. These are all part and parcel to being finite creations.

    You said: No. It isn’t. I pretty much trampled that over here.

    Did Adam and Eve lack knowledge before the fall? Did Christ lack knowledge? Or did A & E get created with a download of knowledge, and the same for when Christ was born? Or does Luke 2:52 help us with Christ?

    But you do that by arguing “errancy” (ie: the big block of text up front) so I don’t know why the obfuscation.

    There are ‘levels’. On one side of the pendulum swing there is inerrancy, on the other there is errancy. I move one notch away from inerrancy because I believe it causes a few problems. Errancy has its problems as well.

  4. “Grows in wisdom and stature” doesn’t equate with “committed error and believed and/or affirmed falsehoods.” Adam learned when he saw animals what to name them; he didn’t make a mistake and think he was supposed to sleep with them. He learned something without having a false belief or affirming a false belief. I have no doubt that Christ did the same. Just because he didn’t know the hour of his coming doesn’t mean that he affirmed some other hour–it just means he didn’t have access to that knowledge. So it is utterly false to presume that merely because the Bible doesn’t teach all things the way we say it now, that it must mean that it is affirming error.

    There are ‘levels’. On one side of the pendulum swing there is inerrancy, on the other there is errancy.
    No, inerrancy is exceedingly broad. This is why it really doesn’t gain much for an evangelical to say “I believe such and such because the Bible is inerrant.” The telephone book could be just as inerrant and it doesn’t buy you much more than what it aims to do. But when you go off of inerrancy to embrace some errors (that’s all errancy) you’ve stepped into the quagmire.

  5. “Grows in wisdom and stature” doesn’t equate with “committed error and believed and/or affirmed falsehoods.”

    I believe you are making certain connections go too far. I never said he affirmed falsehood, nor that he would commit error in an affirmation of falsehood or deception. But error is not intrinsically connected to falsehood, deception and sin.

    Again, Adam would have simply erred with regards to certain things because he still had to learn certain things. He learned from error, but that does not underline he was affirming falsehood or deceiving. I believe the same of the fully human Christ who became like us in all ways, as Hebrews says (of course, without sin).

    Adam learned when he saw animals what to name them; he didn’t make a mistake and think he was supposed to sleep with them.

    I agree. But he could have easily have made a mistake to think the rabbit a better plower than the ox, at first take.

    Just because he didn’t know the hour of his coming doesn’t mean that he affirmed some other hour–it just means he didn’t have access to that knowledge.

    I agree 100%.

    So it is utterly false to presume that merely because the Bible doesn’t teach all things the way we say it now, that it must mean that it is affirming error.

    I never said the Bible affirms error. Their is no affirmation when we realise what its purpose and intention was. If it was there to teach us cosmology or geology or biology, I’d turn to it regularly to teach me such. But I turn to it to teach me the ways and truths and doctrines of the realities of our faith and practise of it. I suppose you do the same.

  6. Falsehood is an untrue statement. Error is an act involving an unintentional deviation from truth or accuracy or an instance of false belief.

    Affirming something that isn’t true (for example, what you think Genesis 1 and perhaps the entire Old Testament is doing with it’s cosmology) would be affirming a falsehood. Believing something that isn’t true is having a belief in a falsehood. Error is intrinsically connected to mistakes. It doesn’t necessitate falsehoods when its someone tripping on a floor (that’s a falling short of accuracy) but it surely contains that when dealing with beliefs or affirming those beliefs.

    If the Old Testament writers, and Jesus, believed that the earth was flat and the center of the universe and affirmed those things to others they are committing an error, not by tripping, but by affirming a falsehood.

    Saying that the Bible’s purpose is different doesn’t win the argument any points. It either affirms falsehoods or it doesn’t: it doesn’t matter if the purpose is to teach faith, doctrine and practice (whatever any of those are).

    When you start picking and choosing which doctrines the Scriptures can speak about (God, you can teach me about being Saved but I’ll handle that whole Creation bit, thank you very much!) then the Scriptures are only teaching you the faith and doctrines you think are important for practice. (This is an American blog, stop using that UK spelling!)

  7. If the Old Testament writers, and Jesus, believed that the earth was flat and the center of the universe and affirmed those things to others they are committing an error, not by tripping, but by affirming a falsehood.

    Unfortunately, they believed the earth was flat and that it was the centre (center) of the universe. I think to ignore such is unhelpful. But, what do I know.

    And there are many more nations using British English than American English. The whole former British empire uses it. :)

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