Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Case for Biblical Inerrancy

by Brian Auten

Christians consider the Bible to be the Word of God.1 It is revered as the final authority in life and doctrine. Yet what makes this book so special? How can it be considered the authoritative Word of God? How can it be believed to be inerrant? This paper will briefly explore the nature of the Bible, its historical reliability, and its claims of inspiration. The purpose of this paper is not to prove the inerrancy of the Bible, but to show that accepting the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God is logical and warranted based on the person of Jesus Christ.

The Nature of the Bible
The world’s best-selling book is also the most translated, most published, most quoted, and most influential book in history.2 The word Bible simply means “book.” It is a collection of sixty-six books, written by about forty authors over the course of approximately 1,500 years. Composed of two sections, the Old and New Testaments, it contains a variety of literary genres: law, history, poetry, prophecy, biography, letters, and apocalyptic writings. Despite the diversity of its writings, the overarching theme of the Bible is one central figure in history: Jesus Christ.

It must be understood that the Bible is wholly unique among texts that are considered sacred. The Bible displays a unity and harmony throughout that is distinct. It contains hundreds of specific prophecies that have been fulfilled with complete accuracy—something no other religious book can boast. It is historically verified and supported by archeology. No scientific inaccuracy has ever been found. From a literary perspective, the Bible’s richness, depth, and beauty are unequaled.

The Historical Reliability of the New Testament
Before the claims of the New Testament are examined, an important question must be asked: Can the New Testament be trusted as history? When you question a document’s historicity, you question the document’s authenticity, and ultimately, its authority.

There is much more evidence for the New Testament than for any other ancient writings of comparable date.3 There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, all of which bear earlier dates than any other ancient works. F. F. Bruce, considered to be one of the greatest of New Testament scholars, said: “The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning.”4

According to New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, “…97-99% of the New Testament can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is founded solely or even primarily on textually disputed passages.”5 There are no variant readings among textual critics that affect issues of doctrine or historical fact. For all intents and purposes, the NT as we have it today is the same message and content as the original manuscripts. The highly respected scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon sums it up:
"The interval then between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established."6

Before even evaluating the spiritual claims of the New Testament, one can confidently view it as authentic, reliable, and historically accurate. This is supported by abundant manuscripts, archaeological evidence, and external historical sources. One need not believe in the inspiration or inerrancy of the scriptures to trust the New Testament as a reliable historical record.

The Life of Jesus Christ
From the New Testament documents, one is introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. His authoritative teaching and radical claims of divinity culminated in his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection from the dead. Christ’s closest followers were eyewitnesses to the events, and their lives were transformed. Many who were unbelievers and skeptics were converted. James, the unbelieving brother of Jesus, was converted and died for his belief in the resurrection. In the same way, Saul, the persecutor of early Christians, was radically converted because he believed in the resurrected Jesus.7 The rise of the early Church in Jerusalem was considerable, as those nearest to these events believed and gave their lives by the thousands.

It is through the New Testament account of Jesus Christ, and the reality of his resurrection, that one comes to faith in the Son of God for salvation. This faith in Christ transforms the life of the believer, and enables him to receive the Bible itself as the Word of God. The point to be made here is that faith in Christ is the prerequisite for the acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God. This belief is not unwarranted or baseless.

Rather, it is warranted by one’s acceptance of Jesus Christ and based in the authority of Jesus’ teaching. The New Testament simply provides a fully trustworthy historical account for one to be introduced to Jesus Christ. Then, through Jesus Christ, the Christian can know8 that the Bible is God’s Word, as the Holy Spirit enables him.

This argument may not seem valid for the skeptic. The skeptic may balk at the idea of any “leap of faith,” or “suspension of reason.” However, it has been demonstrated that this in not an irrational jump of logic. The early Church was composed of those who had legitimate reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is who he claimed to be. The same reasons they had, we have today through the historical account of the New Testament. Once one sees that Jesus truly is the Son of God, everything changes.

Jesus’ View of Scripture
Jesus’ view of scripture is central to the Christian view of the Bible. His resurrection confirms His claim as the Son of God, and thus His ultimate authority is established. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the cornerstone for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

First, Jesus considered the scriptures (what we refer to now as the Old Testament) to be historical fact. Throughout the Gospels His view does not change. Jesus refers to Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot, Isaac and Jacob, manna, the snake in the desert, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Zechariah, and Moses.9 In each of these accounts, Jesus takes the scripture as literal historical fact. Christ also affirms the account of creation in Genesis chapters one and two. Regarding the historical references of Jesus, John W. Wenham said, “the narratives that are least acceptable to the ‘modern mind’ are the very ones that He seemed most fond of choosing for illustrations.”10

Second, Jesus considered every word of scripture to be divine. Contrary to the liberal view of many scholars today, Jesus’ opinion of the scriptures was that they were fully inspired by God—even to the smallest letter: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Indeed, Christ considered the scriptures fully inspired even in the smallest details.

Third, Jesus considered the scripture authoritative. In John 10:35, Jesus said, “…the scripture cannot be broken…” When tempted by the devil, Jesus appealed to the authority of scripture three times (Matthew 4:4). Also, Jesus lived in full expectation that the prophecies made about him in the Old Testament would be fulfilled. John W. Wenham lists over twenty times that Jesus refers to himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.11

In one particularly notable passage, Jesus speaks to his disciples about his own fulfillment of prophecy: He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27). If Jesus considered the scriptures to be the Word of God, should Christians consider them to be anything less?

The Apostles’ View of Scripture
As Christ’s contemporaries and authoritative heralds of His Gospel, the apostles’ view is important to the study. Like Jesus, they considered the scripture to be the very word of God. Among the New Testament writings, at least ten percent is Old Testament material, composed of some 295 quotations, 1600 citations, and numerous allusions.12

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, who would lead and guide the apostles into all truth (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15). Therefore, they wrote with the understanding that they had a commission from Christ to fulfill. As professor of theology Edwin A. Blum put it, “As the apostles were commissioned to preach the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they were also instructed and enabled by the Holy Spirit to teach these truths to the church.”13

Accordingly, the apostles saw their own writings as inspired scripture. For instance, Peter referred to Paul’s writing as scripture: “. . . His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). We have the inspired writings of the apostles today in the letters of the New Testament.

The Biblical Teaching of Inspiration
The Bible itself makes the claim to be the inspired Word of God. When looking at the concept of inspiration, we must define it in the terms the Bible gives. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)” Other translations of 2 Timothy 3:16, such as the New American Standard Bible, may read, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (emphasis added).

The meaning of the word inspired is literally “God-breathed.” As Bible teacher John MacArthur put it, the word inspired could be more accurately called “expired,” because the scriptures were breathed out by God. The Bible claims to be a divinely authoritative book resulting from a process whereby Spirit-moved men wrote God-breathed words.14

While inspiration is defined as “God-breathed,” it can be described as both verbal and plenary. Verbal means that the words of scripture themselves are inspired, not the writers. Plenary means complete in all respects; the entirety of scripture. So our definition of scripture is that every word of the Bible is God-breathed.

Inspiration does not imply a word-for-word dictation from God. Throughout the scripture, one will find a diversity of authors and their particular writing styles. One will also find figures of speech, various levels of grammar, references to non-biblical documents, and many different literary genres. This does not call into question the inspiration of the Bible. The teaching of inspiration simply states that God spoke His words using human authors and human language.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy
Inerrancy has to do with truth. It means the Bible is truthful and does not err. Theologian Paul D. Feinberg proposes the following definition of inerrancy:
Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.15

This definition helps to clarify what is and is not implied in the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy applies to the original writings (autographs), not the copies. The Bible teaches that the scriptures were inspired, not the scribes or copyists. Thus, inasmuch as the copies reflect the originals, they are considered inerrant. Any errors in copying, transmission, or preservation do not negate original inerrancy. No human interpretation is infallible, so proper hermeneutics is necessary.

Inerrancy denotes that the Bible is true in all it affirms. For instance, the Bible contains historical record of many evil acts, but it does not condone or teach those evil acts. Finally, inerrancy is not a denial that difficult passages exist within the Bible. But these difficult passages should not be assumed to be errors, contradictions, or discrepancies simply because they have not yet been understood or harmonized. One should be encouraged by the fact that for over 2000 years the Bible has stood the test of time.

Biblical inspiration implies inerrancy because of the nature of who God is. Bible teacher R. W. Glenn presents the following syllogism to describe the derivative nature of inerrancy: 1) God is always truthful in all that He does; 2) God is the author and source of scripture; 3) Therefore, scripture is always truthful.16 It follows logically that if the scripture is inspired by God in all its parts, it is inerrant and therefore authoritative.

Inerrancy, therefore, is not derived from an observation or a survey of the text itself. Inerrancy is not a proven fact; nor can it be proven. Inerrancy is a doctrine derived from the teaching of inspiration, grounded in the person and authority of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christians believe and accept the Bible to be inerrant ultimately based upon Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, we see that the Christian has good reason to believe the Bible to be the inerrant and authoritative Word of God in all matters. The historically reliable account of Christ’s resurrection testifies to his divine identity; Jesus’ authority as the Son of God authenticates the scripture’s claims; and the inspiration of the Bible establishes its inerrancy and ultimate authority for the believer.

1 The words Bible, scripture, and Word of God will be used synonymously throughout this paper.
2 Norman Geisler and William E. Nix, From God to Us (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1974), p. 7. 1
3 F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1981), p. 10.
4 Ibid.
5 Craig Blomberg and William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), p. 194.
6 Bruce, p. 15.
7 The conversions of James and Paul are accepted as undisputed historical fact by virtually all scholars due to the substantial historical evidence. See Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), pp. 64-69.
8 Knowledge can be defined as, “True belief that is warranted or justified.” See C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press), p. 66.
9 John W. Wenham, Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), p. 6.
10 Ibid., p. 7.
11 Ibid., pp. 19-29.
12 Edwin A. Blum, Inerrancy, p. 41.
13 Ibid., p. 40.
14 Geisler and Nix, p. 21.
15 Paul D. Feinberg, Inerrancy, p. 294.
16 R. W. Glenn, “Bibliology, Part 4: Inerrancy” (Redeemer Bible Church, Minnetonka, MN)


Jon said...

Sounds pretty reasonable, Brian. Another way of saying this might this:

1-If Jesus rose from the dead, then his claims are true.
2-Jesus rose from the dead.
3-Therefore Jesus' claims are true.

You basically say he claimed the Bible was the Word of God (which implies inerrancy) and he really was raised from the dead, then based upon the argument above the bible would have to be inerrant.

Here's an interesting corollary though. The argument above follows the form of Modes Ponens. That goes like this:

1-If A then B
3-Therefore B

Another valid form of an If-Then statement is Modes Tollens. It goes like this.

1-If A then B
2-Not B
3-Therefore Not A

So for your argument it would go like this:

1-If Jesus rose from the dead, then his claims are true.
2-Jesus' claims are not true.
3-Therefore Jesus is not raised from the dead.

You say Jesus claimed that the Bible was inerrant. If he's wrong, then this proves that he was not raised. So basically if I find a factual error in the Bible I should conclude that Jesus is not raised from the dead. Would you accept this reasoning?

Brian said...

Thanks for reading the blog, Jon.

I checked out your Evangelical Agnosticism blog and I hope you find the answers you are looking for. I know that biblical inerrancy is one thing that skeptics, agnostics, and atheists really like to make fun of.

It is interesting that I found this same argument you used over on Debunking Christianity and other popular skeptic sites. I guess great agnostics think alike!

I really would encourage you to read through this post in its entirety and especially the part talking about inerrancy. There I clearly define what inerrancy is and is not. That alone should clear up some confusion.

It is a common misunderstanding of the doctrine of inerrancy that it requires perfection in the texts, lack of scribal errors, precision in language, etc. This is not what inerrancy affirms. Again, go back and read the definitions.

The other misunderstanding is the line of logic. I don't use the syllogism you presented. That is not what I claim, so applying the modus tollens as you did does not apply to my case for inerrancy.

My argument follows the line of:
1. If Jesus rose from the dead, his claims to be the son of God are validated as true.
2. Jesus rose from the dead.
3. Therefore, Jesus truly is the son of God.

Because Jesus is the son of God, I choose to agree with his perspective of the Bible.

So no ... if you find a alleged factual error in the Bible, it does not follow that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Thanks again for reading.

Jon said...

Well Brian, you probably saw that argument at DC because either I was making it or my brother was making it. It's something we emphasize because we think it is important.

You're effort to focus discussion on how scribal errors don't rebut inerrancy or how imprecise language doesn't rebut inerrancy is pretty much a move I see made every time. I encourage you to get to know some people (like me) that actually did reject Christianity due to errancy. No informed skeptic that I am aware of claims that an erroneous copy proves that a text is errant. No informed skeptic that I know claims that accurate historical recordings of evil actions necessarily shows the bible to be errant. Notice that I certainly didn't make any claims like that in my post, yet for some reason you think directing me to these statements will clear up my confusion. Why do you think I'm confused about this?

What you're doing is what a lot of Christians do (though honestly I didn't do this while I was a Christian.) The Christian doesn't want to talk about actual Bible contradictions, like the conflicting statements about how Judas died. He wants to shift the grounds of the discussion to something that isn't even in dispute and feel that when he's victiorious in his defense for some reason he can feel like he's on the right side of the argument. Nobody is disputing your arguments about copyists or your arguments about history, so why are you pointing to these things as if they are relevant? I think this is bacis apologetics training. This is what the apologists you read do, so this is what you do. You need to put down your Christian apologetics texts and read actual skeptics and understand their objections to inerrancy. Respond to them, not Norman Geisler's caricature of what they argue.

You say that because Jesus is the son of God, I choose to agree with his perspective of the Bible. I think what is happening here is you are smuggling in my statement that if Jesus is raised from the dead, then his claims are true without explicitly affirming it, because due to modes tollens you know where that would lead. Ask yourself this. Why would you choose to agree with Jesus' perspective if he was the son of God? Is it because you think that by nature of being the son of God, Jesus' claims would have to be true? If not, then what?

Norman Geisler does say words to the effect that "If Jesus is God, then his claims are true." I think it's in the From God to Us book, or maybe his General Introduction to the Bible. I'll look those up for you if you like. Do you disagree with him?

Brian said...

Although I appreciate you taking the time to respond, I honestly am not going to spend another post debating something that has been thoroughly dealt with on other sites.

I spent some time today reading over your blog and see that you have been through such books as Habermas and Licona's The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. I am glad you read it. I'm glad you read all those things. But I am not going to write responses here to questions from someone who knows what the answers are, yet has rejected them. The purpose of my blog is not to win arguments, but to provide resources to genuine seekers. On top of that, inerrancy is probably the last thing that I am about ready to spend time arguing with an atheist about.

If you have questions about inerrancy, you have already posted good links to William Lane Craig's www.leaderu.com, where you point to his defenses of inerrancy.

Also, I don't rest my Christianity on the doctrine of inerrancy. I am sorry that you seem to think that finding an error in the Bible would necessitate that the resurrection never happened. As you know, the Apostle Paul pointed to the resurrection as the one fact that causes Christianity to stand or fall. And no syllogism can undo history, like a magical ontological argument.

Jon, thanks again for posting. I will be reading your blog because it interests me. In fact, I would like to know more about what you believe and why - because I want to understand. Especially noting the fact that you claim to have been a Christian in the past. However, my blog's not a debate forum.

Jon said...

Genuine seekers? Are you suggesting I'm not a genuine seeker?

Just kidding. I think I know what you mean. Anyway, that's fine. I'm an argumentative guy. That's how I seek and learn. Especially about things where my position is weak. It's kind of like psychotherapy, which I blogged about recently. When I'm wrong it's painful, but good for me in the end. But of course not everybody learns the same way I do.

Feel free to comment on my blog.

onfiresurfer said...

I enjoyed reading the above conversation. As a college missionary, it was helpful. Thanks for your honesty and Christ-like example.

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