What is the Inerrancy of the Bible? (part 2)
Last time I brought up the distinction between the infallibility of the BIble and it’s inerrancy, and how some theologians and biblical commentators grew increasingly uncomfortable with the latter, and stuck to the former. I said that there were some problems with this position, and here I’ll mention two.
Problem 1: Classically, infallibility is actually a stronger term than inerrancy. Infallibility speaks of ability, while inerrancy speaks of performance. So to reject the inerrancy of Scripture while affirming it’s infallibility is akin to straining out a knat and swallowing a camel. Of course, as noted last time, the definition of infallibility by those who deny inerrancy has changed.
Matthew 5:18 and John 10:35 are both texts that reflect Jesus’ belief in the unity of Scripture. Of course, many more Scripture could be brought into the discussion. I raised these in particular because the John passage attests to Jesus’ view on the coherence of Scripture. But after reading this passage, one may still rightly ask what portions, sections, units, or aspects of Scripture cannot be broken. Cannot is a term of ability, Scripture does not have the ability to be broken. To this we have the Matthew passage, every “iota and dot” must stand. Likewise, Jesus and Paul present arguments that hinge on the interpretation of a single word (Jn. 10:34 and Gal. 3:16).
Of course, Jesus and Paul weren’t the only Second-Temple interpreters that made arguments that depended on the interpretation of a single word (you find this practiced even in the Dead Sea Scrolls). The underlining assumption of people who interpret this way is that every word of Scripture is reliable (even when the resulting interpretations weren’t!). Jesus, Paul, and others held this conviction. This is where Jn. 10:35 comes in. As I understand it, when Jesus notes in passing, “Scripture cannot be broken,” he is implicitly charging them with inconsistently interpreting Psalm 82:6, i.e. in a fashion which 1) “breaks” Scripture and 2) is inconsistent with their common confession of the trustworthiness of sacred Scripture.
Problem 2: Scripture itself doesn’t limit the topics to which it speaks with divine authority. Heaven and Earth will pass away, but Jesus words will not (Matt. 24:35, Mk. 13:31, Lk. 21:33). Three gospels felt this was an important saying of Jesus to pass on). Likewise, Christ speaks in Paul (and the other Apostles, 2 Cor. 13:3). Jesus and Paul speak of Adam as a real historical figure (Mk 10:5-9, Rom. 5:14, 1 Cor. 15:22, 45, 1 Tim. 2:13). Notice how the subject of Adam touches on both history and science, subjects in which the limited inerrancy position usually allow for biblical error. But since it is the case that all Scripture is the word of God, no part of Scripture carries less authority that any other part of Scripture. Thus in the Bible we find authoritative songs, hymns, poems, commands, historical records, etc.
If the inerrancy of any parts of the Bible are denied we lose the inerrancy of the whole Bible, because “Scripture cannot be broken.” Biblical authority and inerrancy are closely linked. But I take authority as the primary attribute over inerrancy. Inerrancy is an expression of authority (or, you can say, one of the reasons why it carries authority). As a parallel, I don’t think that wrath is an attribute of God, holiness and goodness are. God’s just hatred of all that is anti-shalom is an expression of his holiness and goodness. How could we say that God was righteous if he make it clear, for example, that he never intended to right the wrongs the Fall has caused (whether through the cross or in judgment)? We couldn’t.
The attribute of authority is primary and inerrancy is a sub-division (or expression) of that primary attribute.