Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Inerrancy of Scripture: closing thoughts

One of my professors here at Azusa Pacific University, Steve Sommers, told our Theology and the Christian life class about an experience he had when interviewing for a professor position at a Christian university. He had recently attended Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. At fuller there had recently been a debate between two doctors of theology about the inerrancy of scripture. The two doctors held opposing views. One held the view that the bible was infallible meaning that the bible is true in all its intention. The infallible view is concerned with the intention of the authors. To them, from my understanding, and to this first professor the bibles truth depends on what it’s trying to tell you. It might have problems and even mistakes and it might not be scientifically or historically accurate. It’s accurate wherever the authors speak concerning matters of faith and practice.[1]

The other, the second, doctor was a strict inerrantist. He held that the bible contained absolutely no mistakes and that it was basically dictated from God to men. He believed that it was accurate in every way, about every subject. He even went as far as to say that every true Christian should hold this view.

The debate was a hot topic surrounding Fuller Seminary. When my professor interviewed at a nearby university the first question was “where do you stand.” They were talking about the debate. Sommers thought about his answer for a second and said “I’d rather be friends with the infalliblist who loves his friends and loves his family than the inerrantist who goes home and beats his wife.” His point was made and he didn’t get the job (but good old APU hired him).

The point of the story is that the point of the whole thing is that no matter what you believe about the nature of scripture if it has no authority on your life it’s all for not. As I’ve said before, the point is not the bible, the point is God. I worship, I love, I pray to, and I serve God… not the bible. If we get all caught up in the argument about inerrancy but then we do nothing that the bible says to do, we are hearers but not doers of the word[2], then we’ve missed the point. The authority of scripture; its’ command over the way we live our lives is a lot more important than whether it contains mistakes or not.

May the people who blog here and all those who claim the bible be people who do a lot less talking about what the bible is and a lot more doing what it tells us to do.


End Notes
[1] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000) 399.
[2] James 1:22-25

30 comments:

MicahGirl said...

The point is, indeed, God--above all!

Jason S said...

Wes- Let's make sure that we define the terms correctly. Infallibility is a term which means that something is incapable of failing or being in error. If scripture is in fact God breathed and God is incapable of erring, then we can safely assume that the bible is infallible.

Inerracy on the other hand deals with the bible being free from error.
An anology would be helpful here. Let's say that you scored a 100% on on your term paper. You could say that you were in fact inerrant with regards to that paper. However, you weren't infallible, because there was a possibility for you to have erred.

WES ELLIS said...

Jason,
According to academic resourses, including the one I used "theology for the community of God," there is a difference between Infallibility and Inerrancy. I think I defined them well in my post. If you disagree with this definition, that's ok but we'll just use these definitions for simplicity's sake, ok?

I don't think I really understand your analogy.

Inerrancy is defined as being "without error whenever it speaks to any subject." including, "history, geography, astronomy, measurement, science." and here's an important part; "even when the details included are incidental to the central intent of the text." This basically means that even though Genesis 1 is a poem abou the goodness of creation we can also draw from it that the world was created in six literal days... even though the time is really incidental to the text.

Infallability means that "the bible is without error whenever it speaks concerning matters of faith and practice." "hence they reject the emphasis on perfect historical and scintific accuracy they find in the strict inerrantist position." Does this make sense? to use Genesis 1 again, the infallabilitist would not likely draw a conclusion that the earth was created in six literal days (some infallabilitists still make a case for this view but only by saying that it isn't incidental to the text). They also might argue that the historical accuracy of certain stories is incidental and therefore MIGHT not be perfectly acurate.

I hope our terms are clear. I'm sorry if I didn't really answer your question.

WES ELLIS said...

All my quotes from the last comment are from pages 398-399 of "Theology for the community of God" by Stanley J. Grenz

Jason S said...

Wes- I respectfully disagree with those definitions. If you read the Chicago statement of faith on inerrancy and infallibility of scripture, you'll see what I mean.

I agree that there is a difference between the 2 terms. Infallibility once again refers to the incapability of something to err, so it is a stronger term than inerrancy. Example, I may make a statement that is inerrant, but am by no means infallible.

Jason S said...

Wes- Here are just a couple of statements from the Chicago statement on inerrancy:

2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.


4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished but not separated.

Article XII.

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

WES ELLIS said...

Jason,
It's ok to prefer a different definition but on the street the definitions I presented are going to be the ones people use. They are the "accepted" definitions in acadamia and any other definition found in an academic sourse should thouroughly explained in contrast to these definitions. In the end it doesn't matter what label you put on it people will approach it in one of the two ways I described. Here we are choosing to accept the "accepted" definitions.

Jason S said...

One last statement....
'Infallible' signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.
Similarly, 'inerrant' signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.

Jason S said...

In order to discuss matters such as these, one must agree on the definition of terms. Otherwise there is mass confusion.

Jason S said...

This document, by the way was signed by over 300 evangelical scholars and is in fact the accepted definition amongst scholars.

WES ELLIS said...

The Chicago statement is very much an inerrantisit perspective. Anyone who considers themself an infallabilatist would probably take issue in what this statement says about infallability. I'm tryin to use objective sourses if at all possible.

Jason S said...

Why do you assume that those that deny infallibility are objective?

WES ELLIS said...

Yes, I agree that "One must agree on the definition of terms. Otherwise there is mass confusion."
That is why we're using the "accepted" definitions. On this blog we'll agree to use the definitions I gave so that there is no confusion, we can direct the conversation from there.

WES ELLIS said...

Who is denying infallibility? all we're doing is describing it.

Jason S said...

The problem is that those definitions are incorrect. All you succeed in doing is building a straw man when you misrepresent a position.

WES ELLIS said...

The document represents the inerrantist scholars perspective.

WES ELLIS said...

"Straw man" is for arguing. I'm not arguing.

WES ELLIS said...

I was simply defining two popular beliefs... I haven't taken a stance in this particular post.

Jason S said...

What the document argues for is irrelavant to the terms defined within it.

WES ELLIS said...

well, I disagree because the document fails to acknowledge the other perspective which (by the accepted definition) is the infallible perspective. My definition takes both views into consideration.

WES ELLIS said...

Why does it matter... the definition is beside the point of the post.

Jason S said...

I don't follow you. Whether you believe in inerrancy or infallibility does not negate what the accepted definitions of the terms are.

WES ELLIS said...

can we continue this discussion in the direction of what the post is really about? It's about the authority of scriptue.

Maryellen said...

I think the point you make in the post is a good one. It is hard to "worship" the Bible when there are so many translations of it out there. I think I am more in the Inerrancy camp, being of the opinion that if Science begins to contradict Scripture, it is Science we should rethink and not Scripture. But the main thing is to be doers of the Word, not merely hearers.

WES ELLIS said...

thanks Maryellen,
You're right. I might fit better into the infallability category but in the end it's the authority that's more important. I'm not sure that I'd totally pick a side yet, myself, only because I'm not sure I'd ever say that there were mistakes in the bible. I would say, on the other hand, that if something is incidental to the text we should get caught up in it. If science contradicts something that isn't even specified in scripture (meaning that it was mentioned but only to prove a different point) then science might be right and I'm ok with it. One thing I know will never be proven wrong is this: the greatest commandment is "you shall love the Lord God with all your heart, sould, mind, and strength... and love your neighbor as yourself."

Robin Dugall said...

dude - that was an awesome post! Man, I am proud of you! Robin

Pastor Art said...

What creates conflict and controversy? If we observe the processes around us in this case the increasing of knowledge and understanding involved and reflective the process of maturity as with the parables we should be able to gain some understanding here.

If we understand infallibility as incapability of err and inerrancy as without err applying to a specific topic or discipline we have got to understand that they fit together in some way and are not agents for conflict.

These concepts work together (or should) like a dovetail joint in timber framing. Each side has a function and has to be complete and flawless in and of themselves or they at the worst never can join and on the other side can be forced together but with time and settling of the structure will fail and the building will be imperfect and in the worst case fall apart.

Scripture (as much as some would set the match to the sticks around my feet) is a mixture of the Holy Spirit’s instruction and guidance given to the author and the cultural and personality of that same author in conveying that information. This does not produce “relativistic” or “un - authoritative” information but guarantees that the information being set down in a knowable understandable setting can be known and understood even in different cultures and in any time because the setting of the author can be know and understood with careful and faithful study. Once the contextual understanding is reached then faithful men (as Paul says) can find the application for their living setting this is true exegesis and flows from these complementary ruling understandings.

Scripture being infallible will not contradict actual truth. This being the case inerrancy guides us in searching out the wider understanding that can be setting influenced. In Job there is reference to the fountains of the deed and rivers in the ocean. Up until recent scientific discoveries these concepts were thought to be “poetic”. Infallibility applied to the over - view rules the inerrancy of specific information. And as I have alluded to the Hebrew mind investigates Scripture on 4 levels therefore this debate and many other debates resulting from the “Greek” and resulting Euro - cultural foundation being the ruling factor instead of one of the “Nations” needing to investigate historic - culture understandings and Trans - culturally transfer the inerrancy into the “discipline” of the different setting. I know this is harder work then raising a banner of authoritarianistic decrees into un - understood settings but these two concepts serve as two witnesses guiding the speaking of the Good News devoid of the xenophobic understanding seen through out history. The dovetail joint can be fitted together flawlessly as with the timber framing when we use these laws of understanding as the blueprint so the Temple of Yahweh can stand.
Pastor Art

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Robin! It's a treat to have you comment on my blog.

Anonymous said...

The comment your professor said about the "inerrantist who beats his wife" was really stupid. When you deny the inerrancy of Scripture, you are limiting the Holy Spirit and God... sure, God can raise Jesus from the grave, but He cannot keep the biblical authors from error in the Bible.

Sounds like a limited view of the Bible to me....

Anonymous said...

I would rather be friends with the whole lost world regardless of what they believe. But as for the truth of god's word, it is a slippery slope when people who live more than 2000 years after it was written began to make judgments of what is true and not true. The bible are the words given to men from god, and should that be taken away or reduced to our so called wisdom of what is true scientifically and such. May gods entire word empower us to preach the gospel, heal the sick, feed the poor, seek out the lost, and care for the poor