Inerrancy of the Bible

in-a-book

As P. D. Feinberg explains, “The question of authority is central for any theology, [so] biblical inerrancy is [a highly debated topic, which] views that when all the facts become made known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to any sciences.”[1] Millard Erickson similarly defines inerrancy as, “The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”[2] This writer believes the Bible makes no false or misleading statements about matters of faith and practice, but admits there are grounds to debate the infallibility of the church’s interpretation and teachings throughout the centuries. Human beings are flawed and Feinberg illustrates, “Human knowledge is limited in two ways: first, because of our finitude and sinfulness, human beings misinterpret the data that exists; and second, we do not possess all the data that comes to bear on the Bible.”[3] However, when it comes to the Bible, “the writers were under the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.”[4] The main issue faced, throughout history, was how to preserve this revelation and for multiple generations, oral tradition was used, which certainly made it possible for specific details to be modified and/or changed. Because of this and other issues resulting in various scribes’ translations, this writer holds to more of a full inerrancy view. Absolute inerrancy has some questionable areas pertaining to history and science. For example, II Peter 3:8 says, “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.” When looking at the creation account, this verse is often cited to explain the carbon dating of objects, which seem to predate the account in Genesis. Undeniable proof and evidence is what people want, and that is what proponents of Evolution or Darwinism, also stated that when enough archaeological evidence was obtained, macroevolution would be proven, which the world is still waiting to see. However, despite the lack of evidence, this flawed theory is still being taught to children.

Feinberg demonstrates the debate over biblical inerrancy rests upon four arguments: (1) the biblical argument, (2) the historical argument, (3) the epistemological argument, and (4) the slippery slope argument. The biblical argument is rooted in five observations:

(1) The Bible teaches its own inspiration, and this requires inerrancy (II Timothy 3:16). (2) Israel is given criteria for distinguishing God’s message and messenger from false prophecies and prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:20-22). (3) The Bible teaches its own authority, and this requires inerrancy because something cannot be authoritative if it contains errors (Matthew 5:17-20; John 10:34-35). (4) Scripture uses Scripture in a way that supports its inerrancy and some arguments rest upon a single word’s translation. This can be observed by a careful study of the way New Testament authors cited Old Testament passages. (5) Inerrancy follows from what the Bible says about God’s character. Since God cannot lie, it makes sense that the Bible, which is God’s Word, should also be inerrant and infallible (Numbers 23:19; I Samuel 15:29; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).[5]

The historical argument for biblical inerrancy maintains this teaching has been the view of the church throughout history, so there is no reason to question it now. Both the biblical and historical arguments are more important than the epistemological argument, which asserts, “Knowledge claims must, to be justified, be indubitable or incorrigible”[6] and the slippery slope argument, which views inerrancy being so fundamental that those who give it up will soon surrender other central Christian doctrines.”[7] According to Feinberg, “The slippery slope argument is both the least important and most disliked by those who do not hold to inerrancy, [and] for many individuals and institutions, the surrender of their commitment to inerrancy has been a first step to greater error.”[8] When analyzing the epistemological argument, its logic means if a single error is present in the Bible then it contains no truth at all. This argument seems to be classified more as an over-belief and Feinberg cites two flaws: (1) while it is true that one error in Scripture would not justify the conclusion that everything else in it is false, it would call everything in Scripture into question, and (2) it does not account for all the issues involved in inerrancy.”[9]

Many who argue against the historical argument for biblical inerrancy believe this doctrine to be the formulation of Princeton theologians, in an attempt to counter the rising tide of liberalism in the nineteenth century, but as Feinberg points out, “These objections do not do justice to the evidence, [because] they fail to reckon with the host of clear affirmations of inerrancy by Christian theologians throughout the church’s history.”[10] Opponents of the biblical argument emphasize there is no place in the Bible that teaches its own inerrancy. Feinberg also cites another objection, “That inerrancy is unfalsifiable, [meaning:] either the standard for error is so high that nothing can qualify, or the falsity or truth of scriptural statements cannot be demonstrated until all the facts are know.”[11] Erickson sheds light on the various views and adds:

(1) Inerrancy pertains to what is affirmed or asserted rather than what is merely reported; (2) We must judge the truthfulness of Scripture in terms of its meaning in the cultural setting in which its statements were expressed; (3) The Bible’s assertions are fully true when judged in accordance with the purpose for which they were written; (4) Reports of historical events and scientific matters are in phenomenal rather than technical language; and (5) Difficulties in explaining the biblical text should not be prejudged as indications of error.[12]

            The doctrine of biblical inerrancy is very relevant to the church today, as Feinberg emphasizes, the Bible is a divine-human book so, “To deny the authority of the original is to undermine the authority of the Bible the Christian has today [and] to deemphasize either side of its authorship is a mistake.”[13] Additionally, biblical inerrancy does not explain how to interpret Scripture; that is the job of hermeneutics; however, it does assert, “Whatever statements the Bible affirms are fully truthful when they are correctly interpreted in terms of their meaning in their cultural setting and the [original] purpose for which they were written.”[14] Erickson adds, “Scripture inspired by God is necessary because it confirms the nature of God’s special revelations through Scripture”[15] and this is one of the primary ways God made Himself known to man. The argument for biblical inerrancy rests on the foundation that the Bible is the inspired Word of God or “God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16). Additionally, as Erickson illuminates, “If the Bible is not inerrant, then our knowledge of God may be inaccurate and unreliable.”[16] The final argument for the inerrancy of the Bible is Jesus, Paul, and the apostles teaching Scripture as though it was authoritative, leading the church to continue that tradition and hold fast to the inerrancy of the Bible. Ultimately, it comes down to one’s belief in the power and authority of God’s Word and whether or not Scripture then leads a person to change his or her behavior and/or convictions. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a huge factor in one’s ability to read the Word and is vital in guiding believers into all truth, teaching believers all things, and bringing to remembrance all that Jesus had taught (John 16:13, 14:26).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

[1] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 156.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 201-202.

[3] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 156.

[4] Erickson, Christian Theology, 169.

[5] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 157-158.

[6] Ibid.,158.

[7] Ibid., 157-158.

[8] Ibid., 158.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Erickson, Christian Theology, 202-205.

[13] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[14] Erickson, Christian Theology, 206.

[15] Erickson, Christian Theology, 168.

[16] Ibid., 188.

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Four Approaches to Theology

theology

While theology is the rational reflection on God/god(s) and every religion, regardless of simplicity or intricacy has a theology, Bruce Demarest defines systematic theology as, “the attempt to reduce religious truth to a coherent and relevant whole for the church [which serves to:] (1) edify the believing community, (2) allow the gospel in its fullness to be proclaimed, and (3) preserve the truth content and lived experience of the faith.”[1] Demarest further illustrates, “systematic theology concerns itself with God’s saving history with His people, the utterances of divinely ordained prophets and apostles, and supremely the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[2]

            In contrast, Demarest explains how, “biblical theology sets forth the message of biblical books by author or other scheme, while historical theology traces the church’s faith topically through various eras of history. [Then,] systematic theology incorporates the data of exegetical, biblical, and historical theology to construct a coherent representation of the Christian faith.”[3] Lastly, philosophical theology is also utilized by systematic theology and Millard Erickson highlights three contributions, “philosophy may: (1) supply content for theology, (2) defend theology or establish its truth, and (3) scrutinize its concepts and arguments.”[4] Philosophical theology prepares one to receive the special revelation revealed in Scripture and Erickson, explains how, “Philosophy also performs the second function of weighing the truth-claims advanced by theology and giving part of the basis for accepting the message.”[5]

When looking at each branch of theology, it is apparent systematic theology and biblical theology are closely connected, however, as Erickson demonstrates, “in biblical theology, there is no attempt to contemporize or to state these unchanging concepts in a form suitable for our day’s understanding, [but Erickson does recognize,] the systematic theologian is dependent on the work and insights of the laborers in the exegetical vineyard.”[6] Historical theology also contributes to systematic theology, as it makes one aware of his or her own preunderstanding or presuppositions, it always one to look back at how other theologians in the past approached a specific topic, tradition, or issue, and it also provides the ability to analyze a specific belief by looking back to exactly where and when it began, which allows today’s scholars the ability to see how people came to various professions of faith, conclusions, and/or deductions.

In a ministerial setting, an understanding of each field of study is necessary, but overall, systematic theology appears to provide the most benefit and context. Demarest demonstrates, “Although Scripture is inviolable, fresh theological understanding and reformation are required in every generation and for every culture, first, because the corpus of Christian truth must be clad in every distinctive cultural form and context, and second, because new issues and problems arise to challenge the church, [so] theologians need to be continually re-contextualized.”[7] Being proficient in systematic theology allows one the ability to openly communicate the gospel message while also being able to provide a relevant rationale why one should choose the Christian faith over other various belief systems. However, without an understanding of the other fields of theology, one will have a difficult time utilizing systematic theology to its fullest potential.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

[1] Bruce A. Demarest, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1162-1163.

[2] Ibid., 1163.

[3] Ibid., 1164.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 13-14.

[5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 14.

[6] Ibid., 10-11.

[7] Demarest, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1162.