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THEOLOGY > Bible > Truth > Question of Inerrancy   


For some in the Christian community inerrancy is the watershed issue; to be faulty on this point is to begin the descent down the slippery slope that culminates in theological heresy. What is the proper perspective regarding the question of inerrancy? Is it acceptable to rethink the specific nature of inerrancy and to define inerrancy and Truth so that these vital concepts can be applied to both the autographs and the copies of the Bible we have (see: Autographs and Copies)?

This thinking does not outright reject absolute scribal inerrancy (no errors of any kind in spelling, grammar, chronology, citations, descriptions, numbers, or dates) in the autographs; that may indeed be the truth of the matter. In fact, verbal Revelation may absolutely require inerrant autographs.

But the point is this: we do not have autographs, and we do have copies. It would appear that it would be more honest to admit that the modern day view of scribal inerrancy is not explicitly taught in Scripture. Verses used by some today to refer to original autographs were in the original autographs; the purpose of the verses when they were given was to instill confidence and belief in God’s Word. They were not given to defend or teach a technical, scribal inerrancy. Their purpose was more general than that limited, specific purpose given to them today by those who defend scribal inerrancy.

For instance, “jot” and “tittle” (Matt. 5:18) have been used to defend the modern day concept of scribal inerrancy in the autographs. But was that the reason Jesus spoke these words? Was not Jesus in the context stressing the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between what had been given and the life He was living? Was He not affirming that none of the sacred writings would be discarded or abrogated until He had given full meaning to them, both by accomplishing them and interpreting them? Implicitly, perhaps, one may reason scribal inerrancy from this verse, but explicitly inerrancy is not taught. It seems less than honest to use this and similar passages to defend a modern position that was not intended by the original passages themselves.

Scribal inerrancy of autographs is difficult to defend exegetically. The message of the church should be a message of confidence in the Bible we have. The Bible we hold in our hands is Truth (it teaches what God intends to teach), whatever may be true of the autographs, inerrant or otherwise (see: Autographs and Copies) .

To argue for inerrant autographs is to argue for a position that does not have to be defended, unless one is interested in rationally defending the Bible.

Whether the autographs were inerrant or not
does not change the fact that the Scriptures we have today
accomplish the purpose intended by God.

Scribal inerrancy in the autographs is not demanded in order for the Scriptures to teach Truth about God; the ability of Scripture to effect transformation and the new birth is not dependent upon their being textually inerrant.

Every text we use today is textually flawed or questionable at some point, however small the point, yet in the text God speaks and man finds God. Is God’s present use of a text which may have questions dependent upon the fact that He originally gave a textually pure autograph? Individuals are convicted and converted by the Bible that they are reading.

The message should not be what the Scriptures were in the autographs, but what the Scriptures are that I hold in my hand. Current copies are to be identified as the Word of God, that is, they contain the verbal Revelation God gave. And in the modern translations Truth is found. The Bible that I read is the Word of God—it is Truth!  “The product of Inspiration is the greatest proof for Inspiration” (Lenski, Romans, 564).

Theories of inspiration make for interesting academic study and discussion. Words like “infallible” and “inerrant” cry out for exact definition for they are used in different ways by different thinkers. For instance, David Dockery in SBC Today, May, 1986, listed nine possible views relative to inerrancy:

* mechanical dictation (John R. Rice),

* absolute inerrancy (Harold Lindsell),

* critical inerrancy (Roger Nicole, J. Ramsey Michaels, D. A. Carson, John Woodbridge),

* limited inerrancy (Howard Marshall),

* qualified inerrancy (Donald G. Bloesch),

* nuanced inerrancy (Clark Pinnock),

* functional inerrancy (G. C. Berkouwer, Jack Rogers, Donald McKim),

* irrelevance of inerrancy (David A. Hubbard),

* errancy (William Countryman).

This is all academically fascinating and stimulating. And from the above listing it is obvious that a great deal of scholarly attention has been devoted to this matter. But this attention to detail and the attempt to be specific does not enhance the ability of the Bible, through the work of the Spirit, to effect salvation in the sinner.

But can it be that in some circles of Christian thought there is an undue preoccupation with the process that resulted in the Scriptures rather than with the Scriptures themselves? The mystery of the process cannot be fathomed (See: Revelation was Mysterious). The greater emphasis should be on how the Bible is handled and what the Bible teaches and accomplishes rather than the process that produced the Bible.

The crucial area is hermeneutics (see: Principles of Hermeneutics). Is one’s definition of inspiration of the same magnitude as one’s definition of Christ? A strict view regarding inerrancy does not guarantee orthodoxy or unanimity in doctrine (Arminian dispensationalists and Reformed Amillennialists both embrace inerrancy). Which is more important: one’s view of Scripture or one’s interpretation of Scripture? Does not the individual’s interpretation of Scriptural teaching reveal one’s basic posture with regard to the Scriptures themselves?

Perhaps the watershed issue is not inspiration but Theology, Incarnation, Atonement and related Truth!

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
II Tim. 3:16

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