Lack of Inerrancy May Not Be A Big Deal After All

I ran into a comment by Scott W, a regular commenter here at New Leaven, over at New Epistles in response to a post on Bart Ehrman:

 If one’s belief in the Christian god is tied to a particular view of Scriptural inspiration, then one is bordering on idolatry.  (emphasis mine)

But then I found this comment by noted textual critic Daniel B. Wallace, over at Parchment & Pen:

Here’s how I define a theological liberal: someone who does not believe in the bodily resurrection of the theanthropic person. Inerrancy is hardly the litmus test of orthodoxy, of whether one is an evangelical or liberal. A liberal is defined by his denial of the essentials of the Christian faith, that which one must believe to be saved.  As much as I embrace inerrancy, I know that the Bible did not die on the cross for me.  (emphasis mine)

The Doctrine of Inerrancy goes like this: “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 90).

In other words, “the question of truthfulness and falsehood in the language of Scripture” (Ibid., p. 91) is the focus of this doctrine: whatever Scripture affirms must be true though not exhaustive.

But I’m sure a Daniel B. Wallace doesn’t mean to minimize the truthfulness of Scripture.

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26 Responses to Lack of Inerrancy May Not Be A Big Deal After All

  1. Justin Dodson says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. I think this is a good voice to hear among the many others to keep the evangelical voice truly focused on the evangel.

  2. Bryan says:

    He isn’t trying to minimize it at all. At least, not if he’s saying the same thing as his friend and partner at P&P C. Michael Patton, who has said in Reclaiming the MInd lectures that [paraphrasing] if we find out that something in the Bible is false, that doesn’t effect whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, which the hinge to our faith (something I think Paul agrees with in 1 Corinthians 15). And, as a huge supporter of the doctrine of inerancy, I’m inclined to agree. Let’s get to the crux of the matter first–the resurrection–then we can deal with the other matters.

  3. Bryan, Amen.

    I like what Paul said regarding priorities:

    What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Php 3:8-11 TNIV)

    • T.C. R says:

      Justin Dodson :

      Thanks so much for posting this. I think this is a good voice to hear among the many others to keep the evangelical voice truly focused on the evangel.

      Justin,
      Yes, keeping the main thing the main thing.

      Bryan :

      He isn’t trying to minimize it at all. At least, not if he’s saying the same thing as his friend and partner at P&P C. Michael Patton, who has said in Reclaiming the MInd lectures that [paraphrasing] if we find out that something in the Bible is false, that doesn’t effect whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, which the hinge to our faith (something I think Paul agrees with in 1 Corinthians 15). And, as a huge supporter of the doctrine of inerancy, I’m inclined to agree. Let’s get to the crux of the matter first–the resurrection–then we can deal with the other matters.

      Bryan,
      This whole matter of inerrancy focuses on that human side of the writing of Scripture, esp. given our scientific age and given its penchant for precision.

      Stan McCullars :

      Bryan, Amen.

      I like what Paul said regarding priorities:

      What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Php 3:8-11 TNIV)

      Stan,
      In the end, that’s Wallace’s point.

  4. Kevin Sam says:

    Bryan,ditto for me too. The resurrection is vital to the Christian faith. It may be the litmus test of orthodoxy, at least for me.

    TC, the ELCA/ELCIC churches have gotten away from using the term “inerrancy” because of critical scholarship. But this is possibly a slippery slope. The ELCA has gone far away from law and gospel.

  5. The Chicago Declaration, prepared in 1978 by leading scholars in the evangelical community at the time, defined inerrancy this way: “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.” That definition gives a lot more wiggle room than Grudem’s “contrary to fact” statement.

    The key issue falls back to hermeneutics. What is the intended assertion of Genesis 1? We antribute the inconsistencies in the Gospels to authorial intent without violating inerrancy. For example, the suggestion that Jesus must have cleared the temple twice because John puts it early in his gospel (John 2)rather than in the last week as the synoptics is a strained attempt to defend inerrancy (and infallibility) with respect to “facts.” The “problem” is resolved simply by recognizing that John’s intent in his gospel is not constrained by a historical timeline. It’s a 1st century gospel, not a 21st century biography.

    I think Scott W’s comment, “If one’s belief in the Christian god is tied to a particular view of Scriptural inspiration, then one is bordering on idolatry” is right. Doctrine is often the tail that wags the dog of Bible interpretation, as we all know.

  6. T.C. R says:

    Kevin Sam :

    Bryan,ditto for me too. The resurrection is vital to the Christian faith. It may be the litmus test of orthodoxy, at least for me.

    TC, the ELCA/ELCIC churches have gotten away from using the term “inerrancy” because of critical scholarship. But this is possibly a slippery slope. The ELCA has gone far away from law and gospel.

    Kevin,
    Yes, to remain orthodox all the way, the resurrection of Christ must be solidly affirmed (1 Corinthians 15).

    Though one may not embrace inerrancy, we must ask why. But what has been taking place in ELCA leaves little to doubt.

    Kyle,
    In his Theology, Grudem devotes an entire chapter (5) to the matter of Inerrrancy. But I do agree with you on the matter of hermeneutics, esp. as it has been playing out in the quest for the historical Jesus, which by the way, comes down to methodology.

    If we could only learn to view the world of the NT writers through their lens and not ours, which so often hasten to judgment against our scientic age.

    But it’s keeping the main thing the main thing.

  7. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Daniel Wallace: “As much as I embrace inerrancy, I know that the Bible did not die on the cross for me.”

    I thought it was a snarky comment. No inerrantist has ever made such a claim. I think the definition of a theological conservative should be, if it’s not already, someone who embraces inerrancy, preferably CSBI. If not, then that person is not a theological conservative. He or she may not be a liberal according to Daniel Wallace, but neither are they conservative either.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Dan Wallace: “Inerrancy is hardly the litmus test of orthodoxy, of whether one is an evangelical or liberal. A liberal is defined by his denial of the essentials of the Christian faith, that which one must believe to be saved. As much as I embrace inerrancy, I know that the Bible did not die on the cross for me.

    Title of Blog Post: “Lack of Inerrancy May Not Be A Big Deal After All”

    Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: “we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.”

    Dan Wallace has leaned forward much too far to appease and accommodate the “liberals” he associates with at the Society of Biblical Literature. He relies on the “historical” origins of the term “theological liberal” so that he can provide moral cover for them to be thought of as evangelicals. Phhhhhhhhht! It’s a rank farce and if other people want to inhale, go ahead. If they don’t want to be thought of as theological liberals because they deny inerrancy, then let’s call them “theological compromisers”. Because the historical position of the Church (be it Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) has considered the Scriptures to be without error. It’s only the last 150-200 years that the Scriptures has been regarded by LIBERAL scholars to have error. The historically conservative or evangelical position is inerrancy. Thus, those who deny inerrancy can be known as Liberals or Compromisers. Take your pick.

    • T.C. R says:

      You’ve just appealed to “history” as your authority. How are you any different?

      By the way, do you have a name you go by? That will be cool.

  9. I believe for many people the Bible has replaced the Holy Spirit.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      I believe for many people, let’s say those liberals who claim that same-sex behavior isn’t a sin, the Spirit of the Age has replaced the Bible.

      • Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        I believe for many people, let’s say those liberals who claim that same-sex behavior isn’t a sin, the Spirit of the Age has replaced the Bible.”

        Here’s evidence: Evangelical Lutheran leader suggests Bible not the final authority

        Yep. That’s a theological liberal.

      • Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        Conservative Inerrantist Albert Mohler writes the following concerning the election of a lesbian to the office of bishop:

        “Conservatives, on the other hand, have been frustrated by the Archbishop’s refusal to define the actions of the Episcopal Church as unbiblical and objectively wrong.

        Here is a great lesson: We cannot reduce a question of truth to a question of process. The real question that confronts the Anglican Communion is whether their churches will bless homosexuality. Liberals see this as the necessary liberation of oppressed human beings from prejudice. Conservatives see the blessing of homosexuality as a direct rejection of Scripture, a violation of Christian tradition, and an act of rebellion against God.

        The conservatives are profoundly right. The blessing of homosexuality is an affront to Scripture and an act of rebellion against God.

        When truth is at stake, denominational etiquette is no basis for courageous leadership. A call for “gracious restraint” is no leadership at all.”

        Read it all here.

        Lack of Inerrancy is a big deal after all.

  10. Tim Worley says:

    I definitely hold to the inerrancy of scripture. My problem is not at all with the idea of inerrancy, but with the fact that too often the discussion stops there among evangelicals. Inerrancy, even if true, doesn’t get us far enough in articulating a robust doctrine of scripture. A phone book can be “without error in its original manuscripts”, though I’d hardly build my life on it. In the midst of upholding the negative claim that the Bible does not contain errors, we evangelicals could do better at emphasizing the positive claim that the Bible is the life-changing, life-giving Word of God, able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15).

    Randy,
    Daniel Wallace, in his book “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit: The Uneasy Conscience of a Non-Charismatic Evangelical”, makes the observation that too many Christians today worship the “Trinity” of the Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

    • T.C. R says:

      Tim,
      In the end, I’m with Wallace about where we need to put our emphasis – the essentials of the Christian faith.

      One’s position on inerrancy should not be “a litmus test of orthodoxy.”

  11. Pingback: Authority of Scripture | Scripture Zealot

  12. Richard says:

    Personally I tend not to worry too much about the inerrancy debate. I find that biblical criticism renders the whole thing rather moot.

  13. T.C. R says:

    For those who make it a test of orthodoxy, do so based on the nature of God and what the Bible says about itself.

  14. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    This article by Professor Linnemann regarding Historical Criticism might be of potential interest to readers of this blog.

  15. T.C. R says:

    Truth Unites… and Divides :

    Conservative Inerrantist Albert Mohler writes the following concerning the election of a lesbian to the office of bishop:

    “Conservatives, on the other hand, have been frustrated by the Archbishop’s refusal to define the actions of the Episcopal Church as unbiblical and objectively wrong.

    Here is a great lesson: We cannot reduce a question of truth to a question of process. The real question that confronts the Anglican Communion is whether their churches will bless homosexuality. Liberals see this as the necessary liberation of oppressed human beings from prejudice. Conservatives see the blessing of homosexuality as a direct rejection of Scripture, a violation of Christian tradition, and an act of rebellion against God.

    The conservatives are profoundly right. The blessing of homosexuality is an affront to Scripture and an act of rebellion against God.

    When truth is at stake, denominational etiquette is no basis for courageous leadership. A call for “gracious restraint” is no leadership at all.”

    Read it all here.

    Lack of Inerrancy is a big deal after all.

    I grant that in some areas of discussion inerrancy, by which I mean, the Scripture’s teaching on certain issues, is a big deal.

    I’m with Mohler.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      “I grant that in some areas of discussion inerrancy, by which I mean, the Scripture’s teaching on certain issues, is a big deal.

      I’m with Mohler.”

      Selective Inerrancy, eh? Good luck with that.

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