What is the Inerrancy of the Bible? (part 1)
In an earlier post, I noted it appears the historicity of Adam may become a point of debate among conservative evangelical Bible scholars. I briefly summarized the view of Dr. Peter Enns on his book Inspiration and Incarnation and the difficulty it raises for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. What I’d like to do in this series is briefly lay out a positive case for inerrancy and provide a few responses to some common questions about the doctrine. So the goal isn’t to attack anyone, but to set forth some reasons for why we can trust every word of the Bible. For resources on contemporary writers who question the doctrine, see the last post in the series.
Knowing what we’re talking about. Before we get any further, let’s define our terms. Here’s my definition of inerrancy:
When all the relevant facts are known, and when properly interpreted, Scripture never contradicts itself, nor does it misrepresent the facts.
This is the standard evangelical definition of inerrancy as reflected in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy. So, this is the definition we’ll need to examine and explore.
A ridiculously brief history of the controversy. Theological liberals and proponents of higher critical scholarship denied the Bible was of ultimate divine origin and worth little as far as history was concerned. On the other hand, those who came to be known as fundamentalists argued that each passage of Scripture was literally true and precise. Looking to avoid this impasse, a number of Christian theologians grew tired of the liberal/fundamentalist debate, and affirmed biblical infallibility while not affirming its inerrancy. So, “inerrancy” was taken as loaded with fundamentalist baggage. So the term inerrancy (and the concept) was denied in favor of infallibility (as they define it). At this point I should note that these theologians were often 1) true and sincere Christians, and 2) defining infallibility in a different way than what I’ve provided above. Their definition would be something close to saying that the Bible generally will not deceive us or lead us into spiritual darkness. Let’s think through this further. These theologians would say the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture means that Scripture is our supreme authority for faith and practice. But more often than not, by faith they meant theology, and by practice they meant ethics. Scripture wasn’t intended to speak with authority in matters of history and science. It’s here where we run into problems.
Next, we’ll take a look at some of the problems with affirm biblical infallibility, while denying biblical inerrancy.