Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Fallible Doctrine of Inerrancy – Part II

From the outset it needs to be stated that I am an “Infallibilist” in the sense that there is no single error in the teaching or instruction of revealed Divine truth in what we deem the sixty six books of our Protestant Bible. I am not willing to state that the Apocryphal or pseudo-canonical books assembled over the centuries and millennia can be held to that same standard. I certainly would not rule out other books and writings that have been lost to the ages for I have nothing to base that decision on. The Book of Enoch as an example is quoted in Jude but not included or generally regarded as canonical except among the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. I am involved with neither of those churches so I have no background to comment on their canon. It is important to make this distinction of holding to the infallibility of scripture but it is equally important to distinguish this infallibility from that espoused by other certain elements of Christendom. The infallibility stances arising out of the Princeton and Fuller seminaries in reaction to the modern inerrancy debates is a separate issue from the infallibility expressed here. Those of Princeton and Fuller consider that the Bible may indeed contain mistakes, both in the original autographs and in the various copied manuscripts although not with regard to faith and morals. My own infallibility stance regarding the integrity and reliability of scripture is hardly a hair’s breadth of difference (to borrow from Wesley) from most inerrantist positions.

The Bible provides teachings about a variety of events and circumstances that I believe are true in every respect. The creation of Adam and a woman formed from Adam are true, very real happenings in my belief in the infallible scriptures. We all have our origins in a single man called Adam in scripture. A lot of the Princeton and Fuller infallibilists might reject that Biblical teaching but I do not. There is a diversity of beliefs within the fold of infallibility as should be obvious. It was this thought in mind that spurred me to title these musings as the fallible doctrine of inerrancy for we find the same degree of diversity of beliefs among the inerantists. How can that be among those who hold there is not one single “error” in scripture? Well, the dichotomy of inerrancy is easily demonstrated with the varying opinions regarding the “world flood”. I know several inerrantists who believe as I do that the great flood of Genesis was global and occurred literally as the Bible teaches. I also know inerrantists who reject a global flood dismissing it as lacking a context that must be added to the discussion in order to understand what God meant by the “world”. There are others whose opinions are held in reserve because as inerrantists they just don’t know what to believe. So, with the various fallible doctrines of inerrancy, we have varying opinions of what is true and what is not. Somebody believes the truth and somebody else believes a falsehood. Which inerrantist is correct?

Lastly, there is the accusation among inerrantists that if we reject their stance (whatever that stance of the day is) we are somehow stating that God makes mistakes. Let’s be clear about this. God does not make mistakes (even though some will point to language in scripture indicating that God repented of making man and then proceeded to destroy all but eight souls but let’s not go there). Did Jesus err (make a mistake) by using the mustard seed example as the smallest of seed sown in the earth? Unless one denies the omniscience of God, Jesus was certainly cognizant of the fact that the orchid is much smaller so there was no mistake if we hold the scriptures infallible. Instead, Jesus allowed the error to make a much greater point. Whether the Hebrews were familiar with orchids or not is beside the point. It is all speculation in any event. What remains true is the infallible teaching regarding faith and in the fullness of that teaching there is no mistake even though by empirical measures there is an intentional deviation from absolute “correctness”. Again, it is an intentional deviation most likely for the benefit of the audience and their limitations but we can only speculate on that matter. Unfortunately for reasonable Christian apologetics, speculation becomes the ground for dogmatic assertion and dust flies, clothes tear and brothers turn away angry.


The Seeking Disciple said...

It seems your fight is with the actual usage of the term "inerrancy" but I don't believe that should be the case. I believe that the Bible is infallible and it flows that it is inerrant as well. How else could it be? If God has written the Bible as you and I believe that He did according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 then the Word is sufficient and He is certainly able to protect it from error.

I believe that science, history, etc. must be judged by the Bible and not the other way around. I preach the Bible and allow science, history, and everything else to submit to the final authority of the Word.

William Watson Birch said...

I have to agree with Roy. Your first sentence is what Inerrantists admit. Perhaps I need to read more carefully, but I'm not understanding your beef with Inerrancy. Is it just the word you don't like? (Forgive me if you've addressed this before. Honestly, with finals this week I barely have my head on straight, lol.) You certainly agree that there are no errors in Scripture, and we wholeheartedly agree : )

A.M. Mallett said...

My issue with inerrancy has always been its reactionary use as a defense against rational scientific and humanist inquiry. It fails at that endeavor. Now, as I've acknowledged several times to others, I have few qualms with inerrancy among "in-house" participants. If inerrancy carried the meaning of infalliblity, as some dictionaries would suggest,you could easily label me an inerrantist. However, there are ready distinctions between the two terms.

This issue is very much a matter of theists walking into the scientific house, taking the scientists empirical language and redefining it to suit their purposes. That is fine until the theist tells the scientist that his terminology is no longer rational and applicable. The analogous scientist just stands there scratching his head thinking what kind of illogical nonsense is this?

In a nutshell, "infallibility" is wholly sufficient and detracts absolutely nothing from the truth that the scriptures do not err in teaching the revealed, Divine truth of God.

A.M. Mallett said...

Here is another thought. If we are linking infallibility and inerrancy together,then we should agree that one flows to the other with infallibility being the higher view. I agree with that notion as long as inerancy is indeed linked to infallibility. (Jack Cottrell recently posted a four part series on this very thing on his facebook page)

Now, if we delink the two thoughts and try to force inerrancy to stand on its own, even denying empirical evidences, then I would not agree with "inerrancy". Without infallibility's do not err in teaching the revealed, Divine truth of God the notion is easily disputed. So in that sense, the linkage is essential.