Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Systematic Theology--Chapter 5

The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any Errors in the Bible?

A. The Meaning of Inerrancy

The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. (Also see notes on Chapter 4 for arguments concerning the authority of Scripture.)

In simple terms, the Bible always tells the truth, and it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about.

   1. The Bible can be inerrant and still speak in the ordinary language of everyday speech.

  • This is especially true of scientific descriptions of facts or events (e.g. The Bible can speak of the sun rising even though we know that the literal truth is that the earth rotates to bring the sun into view)
  • Similar consideration applies to numbers and measurements, which can be vague and imprecise, but that doesn't make them untrue (e.g. "I live a little over a mile from my office" is a vague and imprecise statement, but it is also inerrant.)
  • Biblical statements can be imprecise and still be totally true. Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with the degree of precision with which events are reported.
   2. The Bible can be inerrant and still include loose or free quotations.

  • Written Greek at the time of the New Testament had no quotation marks or equivalent kinds of punctuation
  • The original writers of the New Testament did not ordinarily imply that they were using exact words, nor did original hearers/readers expect verbatim quotes, as long as the content was accurate.
   3. It is consistent with inerrancy to have unusual or uncommon grammatical constructions in the Bible.

  • Not all of Scripture is elegant and stylistically excellent. Some contains the rough-hewn language of ordinary people.
  • Grammatical errors do not compromise inerrancy The issue is truthfulness in speech, not eloquence.
B. Some Current Challenges to Inerrancy: (and responses to each)

   1. ARGUMENT: The Bible is only authoritative for "faith and practice."

  • The Bible repeatedly affirms that all of Scripture is profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16) and that all of it is "God-breathed." Thus it is completely pure (Ps. 12:6), perfect (Ps. 119:96), and true (Prov. 30:5).
  • The Bible itself does not make any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.
  • Acts 24:14: But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets
  • Luke 24:25: And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!"
  • Romans 15:4: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:11: Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
    • Paul can refer even to minor historical details in the Old Testament and say both that they "happened" (thus implying historical reliability) and "were written down for our instruction."
  • New Testament authors write in such a way that demonstrates they trust ALL of the Old Testament narrative, including the smallest historical details, NOT just matters of "faith and practice."
    • Jonah was in the whale (Matt. 12:40)
    • The men of Nineveh repented (Matt. 12:41)
    • The queen of the South came to hear Solomon (Matt. 12:42)
    • Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:25-26)
    • Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy (Luke 4:27)
    • On the day Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from heaven (Luke 17:29)
    • The Old Testament tabernacle had a specific and detailed design (Heb. 9:1-5)
    • Rahab received the spies and sent them out another way (James 2:25)
    • God turned Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes but saved Lot (2 Peter 2:6-7)
    • Balaam's donkey spoke (2 Peter 2:16)
    • There are many more examples
  • Everything stated in Scripture is there because God intended it to be there: God does not say anything unintentionally. (p. 95) Therefore, we are not at liberty to ignore or discount historical and scientific details while only deeming worthy and accurate matters of "faith and practice."
   2. ARGUMENT: The term inerrancy is a poor term.

  • Many who make this objection say that the term inerrancy is too precise and that it denotes scientific precision. Also, some argue that this term is inappropriate since it is not used in the Bible itself.
  • First, scholars who have used the term inerrancy have defined it clearly for over a hundred years, and they have always allowed for the "limitations" that attach to speech in ordinary language. In no case has the term been used to denote a kind of absolute scientific precision by any responsible representative of the inerrancy position.
  • Second, we use many words not found in Scripture to summarize biblical concepts. We do not treat these words as if they *are* Scripture, only as aids in explaining and understanding Scripture (e.g. Trinity, incarnation). If these other words are so easily accepted and allowed in conversations about their respective topics, the argument against the term "inerrancy" seems rather pointless.
  • Finally, this is the term that has been widely accepted (on both sides of the argument) for decades in discussions related to this topic, so while discussions on either side of the topic will likely continue until Jesus returns, choosing a different term to define the topic seems highly unnecessary, unimportant, and unhelpful.
   3. ARGUMENT: We have no inerrant manuscripts; therefore, talk about an inerrant Bible is misleading.

  • Although we do not have the original manuscripts of Moses or Paul or Peter, it is widely accepted and agreed upon by centuries of scholars that over 99% of the words of the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament are the same as the original manuscripts.
  • Of course the theoretical possibility exists that there was a copying error in the very first copy made of one of Paul's epistles, for instance, and that this error has been reproduced in all remaining copies. But this must be thought unlikely because:
    • it would require that only one copy was made of the original, or that only one copy was the basis for all other extant copies, and
    • our earlier argument about the faithfulness of God in preserving the canon would seem to imply that if such a mistake did occur, it would not be one that would materially affect our understanding of Scripture. The existence of such a copying error cannot be either proven or disproven, but further speculation about it apart from hard evidence does not appear to be profitable. (p. 96, footnote 6)
  • Thus, if we have mistakes in later copies (as we certainly do), then these are only mistakes of men, not examples of inerrancy in the original intended text.
   4. ARGUMENT: The Biblical writers "accommodated" their messages in minor details to the false ideas current in their day, and affirmed or taught those ideas in an incidental way.

  • This objection to inerrancy essentially denies God's effective lordship over human language.
  • If we believe Scripture is "God-breathed" and that God cannot lie, then we must respond that Scripture cannot "accommodate" any falsehood--even incidentally.
   5. ARGUMENT: Inerrancy overemphasizes the divine aspect of Scripture and neglects the human aspect.

  • It is agreed that Scripture has both a human and a divine aspect, and that we must give adequate attention to both. However, those who make this objection almost invariably go on to insist that the truly "human" aspects of Scripture must include the presence of some errors in Scripture. 
  • We can respond that though the Bible is fully human in that it was physically written by human beings using their own language, the activity of God in overseeing the writing of Scripture and causing it to be also his words means that it is different from much other human writing in precisely this aspect: it does not include error.
   6. ARGUMENT: There are some clear errors in the Bible.

  • Most people who make this claim have difficulty citing specific examples. Without specific examples, it is impossible to respond. When there are specific examples, further study/research of the "problem texts" typically results in a realization that errors are not present, only lack of understanding.
  • There are no really "new" problems in Scripture. The Bible in its entirety is over 1900 years old, and alleged "problem texts" have been there all along. Yet throughout the history of the church there has been a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture in the sense in which it is defined in this chapter. Moreover, for these hundreds of years, highly competent biblical scholars have read and studied those problem texts and still have found no difficulty in holding to inerrancy. This should give us confidence that the solutions to these problems are available and that belief in inerrancy is entirely consistent with a lifetime of detailed attention to the text of Scripture.
C. Problems with Denying Inerrancy

   1. If we deny inerrancy, a serious moral problem confronts us: May we imitate God and intentionally lie in small matters also?

  • Ephesians 5:1 tells us to be imitators of God
  • A denial of inerrancy that still claims that Scripture is "God-breathed" implies that God has spoken falsely, which then gives us permission to do the same.
   2. If inerrancy is denied, we begin to wonder if we can really trust God in anything he says.

  • If we become convinced that God has spoken falsely in even the most minor matters in Scripture, then we realize that God is capable of speaking falsely.
  • This realization would greatly hinder our ability to trust him completely and obey him fully.
   3. If we deny inerrancy, we essentially make our own human minds a higher standard of truth than God's Word itself.

  • Making our own minds to be a higher standard of truth than God's Word is the root of all intellectual sin.
  • We must not deny inerrancy simply due to lack of understanding or difficulty accepting the truth of Scripture.
   4. If we deny inerrancy, then we must also say that the Bible is wrong not only in minor details, but in some of its doctrines as well.

  • If the Bible contains errors, those errors could just as easily affect major doctrinal concerns as they do minor details. If we deny inerrancy, how do we know where the errors lie? 
  • It seems that if only parts of the Bible can be trusted, then really none can be trusted.
Psalm 12:6:
The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

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