A Couple of Preliminary Ramblings on Biblical Inerrancy

If you head over to the Gospel Coalition, you’ll find a couple recent blog posts on inerrancy and Scripture written by Kevin deYoung:


Being the kind-of-Barthian that I am, I found plenty to complain about in the above exposition of inerrancy, and I am intending to complain quite a bit. First off, the idea of inerrancy as a whole.

Here’s my idea: inerrancy is a reaction to a skepticism about the Bible that pretty much started in the Enlightenment and has continued to today. I’m no expert, but if you take a gander through church history, you don’t really find the modern day understanding of inerrancy emerging until the 19th century, or thereabouts. Once the Enlightenment kicked off, the bible was seen as an old book and pretty much not a whole lot else. Christians felt a need to reply to skepticism about the bible, Christianity, etc, and from that the modern understanding of inerrancy was born.

I see its development as particularly unhealthy, and here’s why. Inerrancy becomes something that *has* to be true, or else (insert consequences here). It *has* to be true. It’s a theology of defense-or-else. If it’s not true, then how can you trust any part of the bible? Why believe verse X is true but not verse Y? Where do you draw the line? Why believe anything in the bible if you can be mathematically certain that the entire thing is inerrant as understood by most modern evangelicals?

I found this neat little quote by Torrance to be thought-provoking:

[T]he extraordinary fact about the Bible is that in the hands of God it is the instrument he uses to convey to us his revelation and reconciliation and yet it belongs to the very sphere where redemption is necessary. The Bible stands above us speaking to us the Word of God and yet the Bible belongs to history which comes under the judgment of God and requires the cleansing and atoning activity of the Cross. When we hear the Word of God in the Bible, therefore, we hear it in such a way that the human word of Holy Scripture bows under the divine judgment, for that is part of its function in the communication of divine revelation and reconciliation. Considered merely it in itself it is imperfect and inadequate and its text may be faulty and errant, but it is precisely in its imperfection and inadequacy and faultiness and errancy that God’s inerrant Holy Word has laid hold of it that it may serve his reconciling revelation and the inerrant communication of his Truth. Therefore the Bible has to be heard as Word of God within the ambiguity of its poverty and riches, its weakness and power, and heard in such a way that we acknowledge that in itself in its human expression, the Bible comprises the word of man with all the limitations and imperfection of human flesh, in order to allow the human expression to fulfill its divinely appointed and holy function for us, in pointing beyond itself, to what it is not in itself, but to what God has marvellously made it to be in the adoption of his Grace. The Bible itself will pass away with this world, but the Word of God which it has been inspired to convey to us does not pass away but endures for ever. [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics, 9-10] (stolen from http://growrag.wordpress.com/)

Hopefully this will generate some good discussion. Like I said, I’m a Barthian, more or less, when it comes to Scripture, so I don’t really have to deal with this problem too much since this view pretty much sidesteps most of the things that cause this issue to come up. I welcome criticisms and challenges though.


6 thoughts on “A Couple of Preliminary Ramblings on Biblical Inerrancy

  1. Chris Falter August 23, 2013 / 1:23 am

    Hi –

    Ran across your blog when my son Daniel posted about it on Facebook. I gotta like it: it exudes passion, scholarship, and faith.

    I agree that inerrancy is possibly the most abused and misunderstood doctrine in the modern evangelical movement. In its name we sometimes set up a false dichotomy between the word of God and the works of God (as expressed by science). In its name we sometimes stamp out curiousity and scholarly inquiry. Too often the doctrine of inerrancy is a fig leaf we hide behind so that we don’t have to engage the honest questions of our neighbors.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the Word of God should be synonymous with the Son of God, and not a text. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In other words, our passion should be centered on Jesus the Christ. The Scripture is instead a canon–which in the Greek means a measuring rod or standard.

    At the same time, I must confess that I do not understand why we should indulge the notion that the Bible is imperfect and flawed. At the heart of orthodox Christology is the idea that Jesus is completely human and yet completely divine all at once. Moreover, his taking on the nature of humanity does not imply that he was flawed or imperfect. (“He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf.”) Why can we not regard the Scripture in the same way? Since it is a divine word, we affirm that it is not flawed or imperfect in spite of its human aspect.


  2. Chris Falter August 23, 2013 / 2:30 pm

    Barth’s teaching on Scriptural authority is perhaps as much a reaction to Enlightenment skepticism as the inerrancy movement. The inerrancy movement dismisses the skepticism wholesale and doubles down; Barth seems to accept the skepticism wholesale and looks for a way to accept the authority of Scripture at the same time.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about Barth. But I don’t think I can walk all the way down the road with him on this particular issue. The problem I have is that I can’t figure out a way to untangle the Word of God that endures forever from the Bible that passes away with this world…at least in a way that outside observers could agree on. I could try to rely on orthodox tradition to separate the wheat from the chaff, I suppose, but tradition would be just as subject to judgment in Barth’s dialectic as the Bible itself.

    To me, the inerrancy of the Scripture is every bit a mystery, just like the Trinity and a host of other doctrines. If you look hard enough, you can find some passages that raise the eyebrow–I can’t deny that. But accepting the Bible as the canon for our faith and life doesn’t seem to be fundamentally different from accepting the resurrection of Christ, or the notion that a just and loving God could allow evil to exist in our world.


    • whitefrozen August 23, 2013 / 9:02 pm

      I don’t think Barth accepts skepticism – but he does take it seriously. Barth took modernism very seriously as a challenge to Christianity (Kant, Hegel, etc) – hence his dialectic theology.

      The overall issue I have with Barth is that (at least early on, he mellowed out eventually) he basically draws a circle, calls it faith, and says you have to be inside it to ‘get’ Christianity, hence his rejection of various historical methods of investigation of something like the Cross. I think his approach to doctrines like the atonement, the Word of God, etc are brilliant – but to paraphrase N.T. Wright, there’s pretty much nothing for an outside observer to do but mock the circle of faith within which these doctrines make sense.

      That being said – while I won’t go so far as to say that Scripture is filled with error, I will say that what Barth’s doctrine of Scripture does is simply remove the need for such defenses by looking at Scripture from a much more theological perspective, if that makes sense. Hopefully some of this rambling made sense, lol.


  3. whitefrozen August 23, 2013 / 2:59 pm

    I’ll reply to your outstanding observations this evening when I get to a computer, as all I have is my phone at the moment.


  4. Chris Falter August 26, 2013 / 4:36 pm

    What I glean from your reply is that we should listen carefully to those who write (or speak) critical comments about the Bible, rather than circling our wagons and firing arrows at them. We may eventually reject much of what they say, but often they will have interesting and useful insights that can help grow our faith and knowledge, too. And we always owe *everyone* as gracious a response as we can muster.

    Have I grokked correctly?


    • Chris Falter August 29, 2013 / 2:56 pm

      Sorry about the mixed metaphor. Firing rifles, not arrows. I didn’t watch many Westerns as a kid.


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