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On Inerrancy and the Biblical Use of Secondary Sources

In writing their inspired messages, several biblical authors saw fit to mention or cite books that would lend support to their historical claims. In the book of Ezra, over one-third of its contents are actually quotes from official legal documents. The question is raised, “if uninspired material is quoted in a supposedly infallible book, how does this effect the biblical understanding of inerrancy?”

On the surface it would seem that quoting flawed, or at least fallible, sources would cast a shadow of doubt on the truth of the Bible. Let’s explore what these citations or references do not imply. First, in quoting these sources the biblical writers and/or editors did not imply that books like The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and The Annotations on the Books of the Kings were separate vehicles of inspired revelation. When Jude makes reference to the Book of Enoch and The Bodily Assumption of Moses he is not telling us that we should find these books and include them into the canon of Scripture. Acknowledging that uninspired books that contain truth do in fact exist does not imply that we lack a complete canon and should therefore seek out these ‘revelations.’

Second, when we see a note directing our attention to a Book of Records of Nathan the Prophet it does not necessarily mean the inspired Writers agreed with everything in that uninspired source. The Book of Enoch contains several things that a biblically informed Christian would reject. But, as noted earlier, this does not stop an author from accepting a particular truth in a document. Paul, in Acts 17, made reference to the Greek philosopher Epimenides when he acknowledged that in God we “live and move, and have our being”, and that “we are His offspring”. Yet as we examine the actual work he cited, Epimenides was not referring to YHWH, the God of Israel, but of Zeus, the supreme deity of the Greek pantheon. Does this mean that Paul condoned pagan idol worship? No, of course not. Paul was simply confirming to the men of Athens that in our supreme Creator we owe all of our existence, though they substituted this Creator with Zeus.

Lastly, and typing together our first two points, when quoting outside sources the Prophets and Apostles claimed neither that those books where an authoritative rule of faith, nor were they infallible. Historical documents were cited simply to corroborate the truthfulness of what an inspired writer claimed. All these references were perfect, infallible uses of imperfect, fallible documents.

Yet, with these few notes having been made, we must now look to what actually was implied by the biblical Writers when they quoted from uninspired documents. First, if we are to define inerrancy by saying that the Bible is correct in all that it affirms, we must confess that these quotations taken from other sources are indeed correct, and reliable in conveying the reality which they dealt with. The entire concept of biblical inerrancy, when properly understood, is the natural, logical conclusion to the doctrine of biblical inspiration. The reasoning goes as follows:

  • God is truth, and cannot tell any falsehood. (John 3:33, 17:3, 1 Jn. 5:20)
  • All Scripture is inspired by God[1], and is the very source in which we find God speaking to us. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  • Therefore, all Scripture is without error in everything it affirms, and correct in all it documents. (Ps.19:7, Isa. 65:16)

It is with this presupposition that we come to the texts in question.

Another point we must realize is that the writers of these particular texts knew that the resources they cited would hold quite a bit of weight with their readers. For example, when Ezra quotes at length from the letters of King Darius and King Artaxerxes he knew that the authority lent to his writing by official royal decrees would confirm his writings. Therefore, anyone contesting the authenticity of his writing could confirm them within the annals of royal decrees.

And lastly, it is worthy of mention that we must always keep in mind that the concept of biblical inerrancy does not imply that the canon was written in a vacuum. When authors such as Ezra or the writers of such books as 1 & 2 Kings and Chronicles were addressing the pressing issues of their day, they were not exempt from gathering source data much like we today do.

The chief difference between their research and our own is that God superintended their writings of biblical authors in such a way, through inspiration, that their citations and references were completely free from error and misguidance.

[1] The literal rendering of the Greek text is “God-breathed”, theopneustos. For more see my What is Biblical Inerrancy? A Six-Part Series

Creatures have No Private Chambers

Van Til on the clarity of God revelation in nature:

Nature can and does reveal nothing but the one comprehensive plan of God. The Psalmist does not say that the heavens possibly or probably declare the glory of God. Nor does the apostle assert that the wrath of God is probably revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Scripture takes the clarity of God’s revelation for granted at every stage of human history. Even when man, as it were, takes out his own eyes, this act itself turns revelational in his wicked hands, testifying to him that his sin is a sin against the light that lighteth every man coming into the world. Even to the very bottom of the most complex historical situations, involving sin and all its consequences, God’s revelation shines with unmistakable clarity. “If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there” (Psalm 139:8). Creatures have no private chambers.

-Cornelius Van Til, The Doctrine of Scripture, 8-9

Every fact in creation serves as evidence for the wisdom and character (let alone existence!) of God. We can’t escape the facts because all facts get their meaning from God.