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Traditional Biblical Inerrancy

Part One

What the Bible Says about Inspiration
by Farrell Till

In recent years, there has been an increase in the numbers of those who disclaim the doctrine of inerrancy while maintaining that the Bible is nevertheless the inspired word of God. The motives of those who teach this view can only be surmised, since they would never admit to any ulterior objectives, but I suspect that the growth of this new approach to "apologetics" has resulted from a painful recognition that the traditional view of inerrancy, as defended by such apologists as Gleason Archer, William Arndt, John Haley, Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, and such like, has suffered such obvious defeat in debating arenas, which have dramatically increased with the growth of the internet, that another kind of "apologetics" became necessary. In this series of articles, I will be discussing the "new fundamentalism," which readers will understand better if they first understand what the old school of inerrantists believed.

The old school believed that the Bible, in its entirety, was verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity. Many people fail to understand why these inerrantists argued that the Bible is inerrant, because they don't understand what was meant by the term "verbal inspiration." Verbal inspiration is a view that the very words that the biblical writers used were the words that "God" selected for them. Of course, I don't believe that the Bible was verbally inspired. I don't believe that the Bible was in any sense inspired by a deity, but if it could be established beyond doubt that the Bible was verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, I would have to agree that a logical necessity of that process of inspiration would be a totally inerrant biblical text.

Why would total inerrancy have to be a logical necessity or consequence of verbal inspiration? Well, first of all, an entity that is omniscient would know everything that it is possible to know in matters of science, history, geography, chronology, etc., etc., etc. If this omniscient entity should also be omnipotent, then he would be able to do anything that is logically possible to do. So if an omniscient, omnipotent deity verbally inspired the writing of a text, it would have to be completely inerrant unless deception was a characteristic of the omniscient, omnipotent deity who verbally inspired it. In the case of the biblical god Yahweh, the Bible claims that truth and honesty are features of his nature. If an omniscient, omnipotent deity should verbally inspire an errant text, the errors would have to be intentional, because the inspirer is omniscient (so he would have to know that he was guiding the writers to put errors into the text), and the inspirer is omnipotent (so he would have the ability to keep the errors out of the text). Therefore, if errors are in a text that was verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, they would have to be there because of an intentional act to deceive or mislead. However, the Bible god is allegedly "omnigood," which would exclude dishonesty and deception from his nature. There is only one conclusion that all of this could lead to: If the Bible was verbally inspired but contains errors, then the entity who inspired it was not omniscient or not omnipotent or not omnigood. It would be logically impossible for the verbal inspirer of an errant document to have all three characteristics.

Is this something that Farrell Till is just saying, or is it an accurate representation of what biblical inerrantists believe and teach? In Finding Inner Peace and Strength, Jerry Falwell said, "The Bible is the inerrant... Word of God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc." (Doubleday, 1982, p. 26, emphasis added). In Alleged Bible Contradictions Explained, George DeHoff said, "The Holy Spirit taught the apostles what to say--what to write. We have, therefore, the Word of God. If God had wanted another i dotted or another t crossed, He would have had it done. The writers did not use one word unless God wanted that word used. They put in every word which God wanted them to put into the Bible" (p. 23, emphasis added). In November 1991, I had a written debate in Christian News, a conservative Lutheran paper, with William Bischoff, a pastor in Bridgeton, Missouri. He said this in his first article:

In opposition to your agnosis (ignorance or lack of spiritual discernment), I believe that God moved the men who wrote the Holy Bible so that the very words they wrote and the very thoughts they expressed were given to them by God and miraculously preserved from every possibility of error. I further believe that Holy Scriptures "since they are the Word of God, contain no errors or contradictions, but are in all their parts and words infallible truth, also in those parts that treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters" [Brief statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, 1932]. I will go even further since Jesus went further. I believe that the Bible is not only verbally inspired, but is also totally accurate in its tense, mood, voice, and case (in the original autographs) because Jesus says so (Christian News, November 11, 1991, emphasis added except for agnosis).

Notice how adamant these men are in their claims that the Bible is "totally" and "completely" inerrant in everything it says, whether in matters of history, geography, science, or other secular matters, because it is not the words of men but the very words that God inspired the biblical authors to write, so this is not something that Farrell Till is saying; it is what biblical inerrantists preach and teach. At the Gulf Coast Lectureship on Biblical Inerrancy (Portland, Texas, May 1993), Curtis Cates presented the verbal-inspiration view of those who adhere to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

The word "inerrant" is from the Latin infinitive "errare," meaning "to wander"; the prefix "in" negates the word it precedes. Thus, it is to affirm that the Scriptures adhere to the truth, rather than departing or straying from it (John 17:17; 8:32). It does not err in its revelation, its assertions relative to doctrine, ethics, history, et al. The autographs were absolutely and totally free from error. The Bible gives a faultless record of everything with which it deals (including lies and faults, at times); it chronicles the record of those errors but does not sanction them. It does claim infallibility in all that it does teach, however. Further, when accurately transmitted/translated, the translation is also inspired, the Word of God" (Biblical Inerrancy: The First Annual Gulf Coast Lectures, Church of Christ, Portland, Texas, 1993, pp. 33-34, emphasis added).

Cates later said:

Biblical Christianity [which is the only genuine article, though it has been counterfeited] has its very foundation in Holy Writ. If the Word can be proven to err, Christianity collapses like a house of cards. How different are the faithful children of God in the Scriptures from many who profess Christianity today! They strictly adhered to the authority, inerrancy, and reliability of the Word, whereas many in this generation hold it to be full of contradiction, fables, and myths. Who can prove that we possess divine guidance today if the Bible is not God's Word, since the prophets, the apostles, and Christ are no longer speaking directly to man?

When one attempts to discern how we know what we know in Christianity (epistemology), what objective evidence do we call forth? If the Bible is not the actual Word of God, we have none! Not only is Christianity a way of life [ethically, morally, spiritually], it depends upon, it affirms the supernatural.... (Several scripture quotations supporting the preceding sentence were omitted.) The situation is this--remove the inerrant, supernatural Book, and there is absolutely no substance to the claims of Christianity; it is but another world religion without portfolio, without credentials! Reject inerrancy, and man continues his futile attempt to answer the critically important questions of the ages: Where did I originate, What is my purpose in life, and What is my destiny? he is stripped and deprived of one of man's greatest, innate needs--hope" (pp. 34-35, emphasis added).

Under the subtitle "We Affirm the Bible is Verbally Inspired," Cates made the following statement:

The Holy Spirit worked through the writers of the Bible to give us God's very Word, free from admixture with anything human, the Truth and nothing false, the revelation of God and not the speculations, legends, philosophies, traditions, and theologies of men. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, cannot lie! The Word is infallible--wholly and completely free from errors or contradictions--notwithstanding the railings, sarcasm and mockery to the contrary (pp. 40-41, emphasis added).

I could continue with quotation after quotation from inerrantist writers (Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Christers, etc.) to show that what Cates said above is exactly the position of those who adhere to the biblical inerrancy doctrine, but I am going to conclude with a statement from John R. Rice, a popular Baptist inerrantist in the first half of the 20th century. His quotation will show that true inerrantists reject that "brand" of inspiration that the "new fundamentalists" have recently begun to peddle on the internet. Contrary to what some of these new fundamentalists claim, biblical inerrantists in the old school did believe that every word of the Bible was deliberately chosen by God, and their view of inspiration is one that hardly allows for "gaps in communication" that some of the new inerrantists argue could account for what some skeptics "wrongly perceive" to be errors.

Some say that the Bible is inspired in the same sense that great literature is inspired, as the plays of Shakespeare or the poems of Tennyson and Browning. Such people sometimes say, "I know the Bible is inspired because it inspires me." Really they mean that the Bible is not the infallible Word of God but that it is a good inspiring book even though it has mistakes. Some say that God gave the general thought and left it to men to write it down so that of necessity there would be some slight errors. Some say that the New Testament is authoritative and true, but the Old Testament is imperfect and is simply a survival of primitive religious thinking. Some so-called scholars, who are not scholars enough to know what the Bible claims for itself nor the evidence that it is true, teach a so-called "progressive revelation" and say that none of the Bible is reliable except the very words of Jesus, and they doubt many of the statements of the gospels. Many good men are deceived by these theorists and quote them. Some people say that the Bible contains the Word of God but that not all of it is the Word of God. If one must find for himself or depend upon some modernistic scholar to say just how much of the Bible is really the Word of God and authoritative, of course no two living men, on that plan, would perfectly agree as to what was true and what was not. Some good men very foolishly say that the Bible is inspired and reliable for religious knowledge but is not necessarily true in scientific matters, or in history (John R. Rice, Verbal Inspiration of the Bible, Sword of the Lord Publishers, p. 1).

The so-called "high view of inspiration" advocated by some of the new fundamentalists is hard for me to understand. The "high view of inspiration," which Rice referred to elsewhere in his booklet, is a belief that God inspired only the ideas and left it to the writers to decide what words to use in conveying those ideas, so if there are any errors in the Bible, they are the fault of the fallible writers and not the fault of the infallible "God" who inspired them. As I will be showing in upcoming articles on the new fundamentalists, this position is as impossible to defend as the traditional view of biblical inerrancy, but at least the traditionalists have a semblance of logic on their side. I am certainly no admirer of Gleason Archer, who has long been the poster boy of the old school of fundamentalists, but I have to agree with his defense of biblical inerrancy in his well known Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. After explaining that witnesses in a court of law lose all credibility once they have been caught lying, he applied this principle to the Bible.

The same is true of Holy Scripture. If the statements it contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extrabiblical records, by ancient documents uncovered through archaeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth, then there is grave doubt as to it trustworthiness in matters of religion. In other words, if the biblical record can be proved fallible in areas of fact that can be verified, then it is hardly to be trusted in areas where it cannot be tested. As a witness for God, the Bible would be discredited as untrustworthy. What solid truth it may contain would be left as a matter of mere conjecture, subject to the intuition or canons of likelihood of each individual. An attitude of sentimental attachment to traditional religion may incline one person to accept nearly all the substantive teachings of Scripture as probably true. But someone else with equal justification may pick and chose whatever teachings in the Bible happen to appeal to him and lay equal claim to legitimacy. One opinion is as good as another. All things are possible, but nothing is certain if indeed the Bible contains mistakes or errors of any kind (pp. 23-24, emphasis added).

I have yet to see any of the new fundamentalists give a satisfactory reply to Archer’s argument. All of their talk about a "high view of inspiration" is... well, just talk, but it does not make the problem that Archer identified go away. It doesn’t explain why an omniscient, omnipotent deity would do only a halfway job of "inspiring" men to write his "word." If such a deity could "inspire" the ideas, why would he not have been able to inspire the words? In fact, it seems a bit idiotic to me to call a book "the word of God" if the words in that book are not the words of God but only the words of fallible men who were given "ideas" to record in their own words. Anyone with any kind of background in writing should know that this is a ridiculous premise. I don’t know how many times I have had "ideas" in my head that I wanted to write about, but when I sat down to write whatever article I had formulated in my mind, the words just wouldn’t come out. I can’t even begin to estimate the number of times that students working on writing assignments in my classes came to me during my teaching tenure and said something like, "I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it." I would ask them to try to tell me in their own words what they wanted to say so that I could help them solve their writing blocks. Sometimes, they would ramble on and on, often incoherently, until I would understand enough to help them write their ideas in intelligible sentences, so when I hear these new fundamentalists talking about their "high view of inspiration," I know that I am talking to someone who doesn‘t have a clue to what is involved in competent writing.

The so-called "high view of inspiration" is being adopted by more and more Christians today, but it is not the view of real biblical inerrantists, and it is not a very logical view. It allows for the possibility--and even probability--of error in a divinely inspired work, and as Archer explained above, it destroys the credibility of the Bible. My own view, of course, is that inspiration by a divine entity just didn't happen during the writing of the Bible. The writers may have thought that they were divinely inspired, but there is a difference in what is thought or believed and what is reality.

In Part Two of this series, I will show that the Bible teaches that "the word of God" came to man through a process of verbal inspiration. Hence, the traditional fundamentalists are the ones who are preaching what the Bible actually teaches on this subject, and the new fundamentalists teach a view that is both illogical and contrary to what the Bible plainly says about how "the word of God" was channeled through "inspired" men.

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