I’ve been arguing online with folk who don’t hold to inerrancy on, what I think, is faulty grounds.
For example, some folk deny inerrancy because the “distinctly evangelical doctrine causes too many problems.” Okay, but how is that a reason to chuck a doctrine? Then there’s another common (silly) argument that “holding to inerrancy is a distinctly docetic view of Scripture that gets rid of the messiness of human frailty” or, in other words, since humans make mistakes we should expect Scripture to make mistakes. I’ve off-handedly argued that error isn’t necessarily human and that humans actually do speak inerrantly all the time. If it’s possible once, its surely possible twice—and so on.
In all my discussions, I might have given off the impression that the doctrine of inerrancy is central to Christianity—lose inerrancy and lose Christianity. Surely I’ve left people in an epistemological quagmire to force them to think, but surely I don’t want to give the impression that they’ve lost their Christianity.
I think inerrancy is important so as to deny it might leave folk working harder trying to figure certain things out; I think Jeremy Pierce is right about the broadness of inerrancy so to deny it is really to deny quite a lot; I think we can deduce from the Scriptures, Jesus (Mt 5:18), God (Heb 1:1-2; John 12, the Apostles (2 Peter 3:16) and Church history (check this too) the inerrancy of the Scriptures; I think that we can inductively justify inerrancy by noting history, the way the prophecies came to be and so forth: but I don’t think that inerrancy is central to faith, orthodoxy, orthopraxis or orthopathy.
Let me use a syllogism from one of William Lane Craig’s old professors.
- Whatever God teaches is true.
- Historical, prophetic, and other evidences show that Jesus is God.
- Therefore, whatever Jesus teaches is true.
- Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
- Jesus taught that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
- Therefore, the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
This is a pretty tight syllogism. It follows that Jesus is God and that whatever Jesus taught is true. All those things are really tight. I also think that point 5 and 6 are right—but out of all the points, point 5 is the one that can be attacked. If one can show that Jesus didn’t teach that the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God you’re left with 4 extremely solid statements about the truthfulness of God and the truthfulness of Jesus—just not the inerrancy of Scripture. One’s view of inerrancy might go down the hatch but you’re still left with an extremely reliable historical document with plenty of supporting textual evidence of a real historical figure who came fulfilling a mess of events spoken of in a then occasionally errant document.
Christianity remains standing.
Another nice syllogism I’ve seen is this one:
- A) Whatever God teaches is true.
- B) If something is the word of God, then whatever it teaches is true.
- C) The Bible is the word of God.
- D) Therefore What the Bible teaches is true.
The premise that can be attacked here is Premise C: one can argue that the Bible isn’t in itself the word of God so that it teaches truth but not everything it touches on is true. It would still hold that whatever God teaches is true while ignoring those other bits so that if I added another two points:
- E) God teaches (through the prophets, through the Bible, through other evidences) that Jesus is the Son of God
- F) Therefore it is true that Jesus is the Son of God.
They would still remain true even if Point C was modified to “The Bible contains the Word of God”.
Those folk who think that this is an Evangelical problem for the preaching of the Gospel are just confused—losing inerrancy is an important loss but the truth of the Gospel remains. Those other folk who toss their Christianity (like Ehrman) because they think they’ve found an error are just being absurd with their conclusions. The evidences for Christ’s claims are overwhelming—tossing it is more a matter of dishonesty with history than anything else.
So, in an already short post, here’s the short of it: I don’t have to hold to inerrancy to believe that God is true, that His Son is Jesus, that He is the savior of the world or that He rose from the dead. I hold to it because I think the syllogisms up top (especially the first one) are right: I think God through Jesus, the prophets and the apostles taught an inerrant Scripture. I think Church History affirms that. But if I get to glory and find out I was wrong; ah well: I’m in glory.