Monday, November 23, 2009

The Best and Primary Argument for The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Gospel

Questioning or denying the inerrancy of Scripture is tantamount to attempting to remove the support structures from a large high-rise building while believing that the building will continue to stand unaltered. For centuries now the presupposition of the inerrancy of the Scriptures has been the foundation on which the salvation of innumerable souls, the continuance and form of the Church and western civilization was built. One cannot expect; therefore, that one can assault this vital substructure and not see the world as we know it come crashing down.

The attack on the inerrancy of the Scripture; however, seems to be only a proxy war being waged with a greater “enemy” in mind for those who have taken up arms against it. Efforts to undermine the inerrancy of the Bible with textual criticism and by pointing to seemingly apparent contradictions really are just a slight of hand meant to distract from the real, foundational premise used to assert the perfection or inerrancy of the Scriptures that is in the crosshairs—the one, perfect God is the author of the Bible and therefore the Bible is as perfect as He is perfect. The greater enemy of those who deny the inerrancy of Scripture is none other than God Himself. Arguments regarding the inerrancy of Scripture; therefore, lead (should lead) instantaneously back to the doctrine of whether or not the Bible is the word of God.

If God is indeed the primary author of the Bible, all facts and questions must be assessed in light of what that Bible makes undeniably clear about Him. Instead of subjecting the Scripture to the litmus test of flawed, subjective, often emotionally motivated human reason; we must look at every phrase, proposition, scientific and historical fact in light of the nature and character of God. The argument would look something like this: if God is, and God is X and God authored the Scriptures, then the scripture is (or isn’t) inerrant.

In my experience, arguments against the inerrancy of Scripture start from a primary motivation to either disprove that God exists at all or to argue against the holy and delightful perfection of His character. It is here, then, that all our manpower and weaponry should be employed; namely, in proclaiming the existence, perfection and greatness of God, thus proving the inerrancy of the Scriptures. This is where Jesus Christ and the cross come in, that is; this is where the gospel comes in, but I’ll return to that shortly.

Most of those who subscribe to the fact that the Scriptures are inerrant agree with Wayne Grudem’s definition of inerrancy from his Systematic Theology which states “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” Those who scoff at this definition do so with rather illogical arguments. Many of these arguments are formed by attempts to demand of the Bible what no one demands of normal, acceptable speech and writing. Examples of these illogical arguments would include assaulting historical figures that appear to be inaccurate. When one says “140,000 people were killed in the tsunami” we do not take them literally. It would be rather amazing if exactly 140,000 people died in that tragic catastrophe. Normal conventions of speech allow for this sort of rounding as well as using what Grudem defines as “loose or free quotations.” As an example, Grudem says this:

Consider this sentence: “Elliot said that he would return home for supper right away.” The sentence does not quote Elliot directly, but it is an acceptable and truthful report of Elliot’s actual statement to his father, “I will come to the house to eat in two minutes,” even though the indirect quotation included none of the speaker’s original words.

Often an understanding of historical forms of written and verbal speech, especially in their original culture and language, can dispel many of these seemingly apparent errors in the Scriptures. Yet despite giving plausible and even convincing technical arguments for the inerrancy of Scriptures, especially in problem areas; those who deny the inerrancy of Scripture are most often left unconvinced and usually come up with new reasons to reject the Bible and the God of the Bible. If this is the case, and it often is, then perhaps there is a more base reason for why the inerrancy of Scripture is dismissed. The apostle Paul gives us the clearest reason:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:7-14)

The inability to accept the inerrancy of the Scripture traces directly back through these branch issues of grammar, semantics and statistics to the very root problem; if you do not believe God exists and is the author, then you will not know the author and you will not know His character. If you do not know His character, you will not understand how His absolute, sovereign and glorious perfection could never produce a work filled with lies or errors. Furthermore, not having the Author present to explain His work is sure to lead to not understanding the Scriptures and eventually to deciding that it is flawed. One then comes full-circle as the belief in a flawed work leads to either a belief in a flawed God or a God that does not exist at all. If one approaches the Bible with a desire to prove that God does not exist or is flawed, then that is certainly what they accomplish time and again. How, then, do we respond to those who reject the inerrancy of Scripture and therefore the inerrancy of God Himself? Once again, Paul provides us with an answer:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

What arguments will be most effective against refutations of the inerrancy of Scripture? I think it is clear. No matter how much we may try to prove plausibly and convincingly (that perceived errors in the Scriptures are not errors at all by addressing grammar and conventions of speech); at the end of the day the best and most effective argument for the inerrancy of Scripture is the cross of Christ—the gospel. In Paul’s day, what we call Scripture now was largely (excluding the Old Testament) the message he and others were preaching—Christ crucified. Backing up a few verses from those quoted above we see Paul saying this:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

What men were refuting in Paul’s time regarding the inerrancy of Scripture was the very message of the gospel itself. On what grounds did they dispute the inerrancy of what we now call the (New Testament) Scriptures? Was it not on the grounds that God was not the author of this new covenant and that Jesus was not from God? Even today Jews will still ask for signs to prove that Jesus was the Christ and “Greek” (gentiles) will ask for wisdom, that is, convincing arguments. How shall we respond? “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”

Both the existence and perfect character of God are most perfectly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Any other argument employed to prove the inerrancy of the Scriptures and, more importantly, the perfection of its Author will always fail in comparison to God’s supreme argument for His existence, goodness and supremacy. Paul knew this and resolved to not let the gospel become a sub-argument, but the primary argument. Though men may reject the gospel and therefore God and the inerrancy of His Scriptures, the fact still remains that the greatest and most powerful “argument” we have for the inerrancy of the Scriptures is still the gospel. This gospel is that Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to glorify God by dieing on the cross to forgive our sins and bring eternal life to mankind; namely, to know and find ineffable joy in God forever.


N.E. Nelson November 27, 2009 at 6:03 PM  

Pastor Joe, every one I know that argues the bible is not true except one; has never read the bible.

Anonymous April 21, 2010 at 11:06 PM  

"When his [Jesus'] mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 1:18)

According to the working definition of inerrancy, "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact."

Thus, Jesus was conceived miraculously, presumably before she had sexual intercourse with any man, but most definitely Joseph. This can be fact either literally or metaphorically - either Jesus was a biological aberration, or the narrative illustrates a spiritual truth without necessitating miraculous conception. Either way, the description of inerrancy stands.

The first choice runs contrary to everything human experience has observed about conception and childbirth. The second stretches the definition of "fact" and "true" to accommodate almost any reading of the text. I do not consider a fabulous claim of virgin conception to be fact, and I cannot countenance the semantic pretzels in which an allegorical reading would tie me. This is why I believe Matthew chapter 1 cannot be considered inerrant.

Joseph Mancuso May 3, 2010 at 8:59 AM  

Respectfully there are so many holes in this logic. First of all the same logic that says that Jesus could not have been born of the Holy Spirit as the text says must also be applied to the creation of the first man, Adam. Genesis says that God breathed into the man and he became life. To some extent we must understand the breath of God to be God giving man a spirit, even if it is not the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, the point is that man can be created by the "breath" of God and "dust" which all flesh is. Therefore the birth of Jesus is not an anomaly, but something that has happened before.

This argument also creates a rule that anything that runs contrary to human experience is therefore irrational, unlikely and more or less impossible. Degrees of understanding what "human experience" means exists across cultures and time. Some cultures in some time periods, perhaps, have experienced "miraculous" things, and therefore human experience for them is different for someone else. This is true of true stories that I hear coming from naissant churches around the world, with China being a prime example.

Finally the notion of rigid laws of reality and physics is also subject to a current understanding of these laws which has also been subject to change over time. That which appears to defy "laws of nature" is deemed miraculous simply because we do not truly understand how reality works. What once seemed impossible to man (flight, instant communication between continents, medical cures, etc) once defied common human experience. Now it is so common that it is far from miraculous or amazing.

Perhaps one might reply by saying that the virgin birth falls under a different category than technological advancement, and though that is true it still does not negate my point. If God is capable of ex nihilo, then He is certainly capable of a birth that was part Holy Spirit and part human. As I stated before, this is not the first time that God's "breath" was breathed into dust to form a man.