Matt Flanagan’s Inerrancy and Biblical Authority discussed Glenn Peoples’ Inerrantly Assuming Inerrancy in History. There are so many things I disagree with in the latter post that it was very hard to pull myself away from my desire to write a detailed response, but I didn’t have the time.

I actually agree with much of what Matt says, if you frame it as a hypothetical, which he does: If Peoples is right that inerrancy as currently held by contemporary interrantists is not the historical doctrine of scripture throughout church history, then it’s still possible to claim that the Bible is true in all God intended it to teach us. I think you lose much of what God actually did intend the Bible to teach us, but you can hold a view that God intended it to teach us less than that and still think the Bible teaches all those things.

I’ve written before about historical figures’ attitudes toward scripture, including the biblical authors’ own attitudes, and I’ve concluded that the mainstream Christian attitude toward scripture throughout church history has not been mere inerrancy but the stronger claim that scripture is infallible. [There are those historical revisionists today who claim that they hold to infallibility but not inerrancy, but that’s logically impossible without contradiction given what these terms have historically meant. What such people are calling infallibility is not infallibility of scripture but infallibility of certain claims of scripture and not others. Inerrantists hold to the infallibility of all scripture, which entails the inerrancy of all scripture on all matters that it speaks of.]

As I was looking through the text file I keep of things to blog about, I came across a link the Daniel Akin’s Bart Barber’s An Errant Bible: The Gateway Heresy (ht: Russell Moore), which I never got around to posting about, but I’m using Matt’s recent post as an occasion to do so. Akin’s Barber’s piece is excellent for a number of reasons, but one thing that struck me especially was his response to the first argument he presents from Jim Denison. Denison thinks inerrantists, in responding to objections, have brought inerrancy to the point of death by a thousand qualifications, where the view is so thin that it means hardly anything anymore. In response, Akin Barber says the following:

Actually, Denison’s argument works against him, not for him. Yes, many different people have defined “inerrancy” in different ways. And yes, several inerrantists have offered a number of qualifications of the term “inerrancy” in order to forestall misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the term. Denison has suitably demonstrated that people with an impressive array of varied beliefs about the precise nature of the Bible can all claim to be an “inerrantist” in some fashion or another. Denison’s suggestion is that this complex state of affairs makes it not very meaningful for one to affirm that he is an inerrantist.

Yet even if this fact makes it mean less when someone affirms that he is an inerrantist, then it necessarily makes it mean more when someone cannot affirm that he is an inerrantist. The denial of inerrancy then means that, out of all the various definitions of inerrancy and with all of the various reasonable qualifications of inerrancy applied, a person still cannot find a way with all of that flexibility to affirm the word in any sense.

I hadn’t quite thought about it that way, but I think Akin is right. I myself have argued for a lot of these qualifications. (See my The Broadness of Inerrancy and Longman, Literalism, and Genesis 1.) I don’t think inerrancy really is as strong a claim as a lot of people make it out to be. There are several other things a doctrine of scripture will need to affirm to be as conservative as I think fits with what most inerrantists do believe about scripture, and inerrancy itself is only one part of that. I think Akin Barber is right to notice that those who do end up denying inerrancy, as thin as it is given all the qualifications inerrantists bring in, says something about those who do. Their view of the authority and trustworthiness of scripture is even thinner.
This is why it’s my view that inerrancy is the basic starting point for a doctrine of scripture. Those who can’t hold to it in any sense seem to me to be at odds with orthodox Christian teaching on the nature of scripture. So I can agree with Matt’s post only in that his hypothetical is true. If you deny inerrancy, you can still believe that aspects of the Bible’s teaching are true, and if those are the only ones that God in his limited sovereignty over scripture cared to influence, then all God attempted to communicate in scripture is present in scripture’s infallible teaching. But it reduces the divine role in scripture to a very thin slice of what Christians have historically held to say that God deliberately allowed errors into the Bible of the form that inerrantists deny, and I think it does raise questions of doubt. If you believe the Bible is unreliable in matters of fact that it affirms (but on the view we’re considering somehow doesn’t teach), then the problem is in figuring out which things it affirms but doesn’t teach and which things it teaches via its affirmations. On this two-level view of the Bible, what criteria are there for sorting those out? I suggest that it will be your own preferences for what you want the Bible to teach, even if the position itself doesn’t entail that (as I’ve seen inerrantists claim).



Update: The piece I had attributed to Daniel Akin is actually by Bart Barber. My apologies to Bart. I had skimmed and in the process misread his introduction and concluded that everything after the introduction was the sermon he had initially mentioned by Akin.

Articles by Jeremy Pierce

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