Read Part 1.
Let us consider the full import of Christ’s words in John 17:17:
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
Jesus is praying to the Father regarding the sanctifying of His disciples. He tells the Father “Your word is truth.” This “word” is the same “word” which will sanctify them. They have kept it (v.6) as it was given them (v.14), but where is this word? I maintain it is Scripture (v.12), and this text associates the word with God’s own holy and truthful character. There is no room for human frailty.
This text also separates Jesus from the Scripture. Jesus is going away, but the word of the Father must now keep His disciples. Thus, it is a mistake to too closely equate Jesus the Word with the Scriptures. There does exist a close connection between the two, but we cannot push the association too far. Indeed, we cannot push it even as far a personification. The Scriptures are the written product of the Divine revelation, but they are a product all the same.
Talking about partially inspired Scripture is like talking about partially dirty bathwater. If Titus 1:2 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, and if Scripture is the Word of God then it is true in the sense that there can be nothing in it that bears false witness. If God says something about the world or about history which is untrue, His word cannot be truth. When we say “Word of God” we ought to mean “Word from God.” By “Word from God” we should mean a written deposit of course, not some voice in the ether.
To summarize, most arguments against inerrancy stress the human element over the Divine in spite of the fact that Scripture emphasizes the exact opposite. This point cannot be over-emphasized and is fundamental for understanding the divide between inerrantists and errantists.
We must deal with what the Bible says and then decide whether we are going to believe it. We must not fool ourselves that the Bible doesn’t say something, or more commonly, doesn’t mean what it says, because we have trouble with it. I’m thinking here specifically of the creation account and the history of Jonah.
Inerrancy doesn’t mean either that errors are not reproduced by the biblical writers as errors, or that painstaking exactitude is being aimed for, or, as a matter of fact, even considered.
Inerrancy is a corollary to inspiration. It may state truth in anthropomorphic, metaphorical, phenomenological, generic, or symbolic language. But it does state inspired truth.
J.I. Packer reminds us of what “inerrant” means:
Inerrancy is from the Latin inerrantia meaning ‘the quality of being free from any error of any kind – factual, moral, or spiritual.’ Protestant usage favors this too; the words may carry slightly different nuances. Infallibility suggesting that Scripture warrants a faith commitment. Inerrancy of Scripture undergirds orthodoxy. But it has been standard evangelical practice for a century now to treat the words as mutual implicates.” (J.I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 51)
Hence, Peter Enns must reject this connectivity between truth and inspiration:
To put it better, the scientific evidence showed us that the worldview of the biblical authors affected what they thought and wrote and so the worldviews of the biblical authors must be taken into consideration in matters of biblical interpretation. (Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 14)
This encroachment of “scientific evidence” from the present and the worldviews of the ancients shows us that Divine superintendence over Scripture is given but a half-share in the end product. Human fallibility has equal rights. The Bible itself does not give him that option.
In closing out this foray into the notion of inerrancy from a theological perspective, I call your attention to the support-texts I have given for the two doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Three of the passages used in support of inspiration have been used again to support inerrancy. I have also run these verses through the “Rules of Affinity” so as to show how sure these proposals are (even though more texts could be mustered to support the propositions). Let us examine the outcomes.
2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 tell us the Scripture comes from God and those who wrote it were superintended, nay, “carried along” by Him in their production of it. They do not deal with the collection of the Canon, since that is a separate (though related) issue. The C1 tag corresponds with the places in the first proposition where phrases from the texts make up the proposition. Matthew 4:4 connects with 2 Tim. 3:16 because of the reference to “the mouth of God” and the connection between “every word which proceeds from the mouth of God,” and the Scripture as “God-breathed out.” Palpably, Jesus was referring to and quoting from the Scriptures in His Temptation.
John 17:17, as already stated, refers to God’s Word as “Truth.” That “Word” is inscripturated. The link with Matt. 4:4 is in the way a man ought to live. He must live in Truth, not in falsehood. Psalm 119:89f. connects the settled Word “in heaven” with the discipling Word which the psalmist observes. We have that Word.
When we turn to see how the doctrine of inerrancy utilizes these texts we get the following:
2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 are now rated C2 since they provide the support in the first two statements in the proposal upon which inerrancy is based (they do not testify to inerrancy with the same clarity that they do for inspiration). In Psalm 12 I am only interested in the first assertion about the words in verse 6 (“the words of the LORD are pure words, etc.”), not the preservation in verse 7, which I hold to be referring to the people in the context. The purity of the words of God relates there to their ability to “keep” the people safe, and their trustworthiness, not just their moral clarity. I believe a good (C3) inference can be made that the dependability of the words (“refined seven times”), logically applies comprehensively to all they claim. John 17:17 calls the Word of God “Truth.” This truth separates believers from unbelievers in the world. It could hardly do that effectively if it enunciated scientific or historical error, since error in those cases would lessen the force of any ethical assertion made in the Bible, and throw immediate suspicion upon its authorship. But then we are back to the matter of the sustained voice of Scripture that it comes from God, and that it is His Word not man’s.
There seems to be no way out of concluding that the theological case for inerrancy is sound if the witness of Scripture is to be our guide. The only theological case against inerrancy which is weighty is the Barthian view which effectively makes it irrelevant. But inerrancy is irrelevant to Barth because he constructs his doctrine of Scripture upon the hiddenness of the revealing God (see Sections 4 through 6 in the Church Dogmatics I.1). Barth distinguishes revelation from Scripture, thereby leaving Scripture open to be a word of man as well as a word of God. The Spirit reveals by the Bible, but the Bible itself is not the revelation. This denudes the Bible of its innate power and authority, and it renders its self-witness mute.
But does not the Bible itself witness to what God spoke? Yes it does, but (and this is crucial), what God spoke in the past is only the Word of God to us if it is a scriptural Word. In point of fact, the scriptural Word is the only Word of God we have! It is the written Word which has authority. What God said to men in times past, even if it is reported in the Bible, is only the Word of God to Everyman because it is in the Bible. If God spoke to Moses then Moses heard the Word of God. But until Moses wrote it under inspiration that revelation to him was not revelation to us.
Even the words of Jesus can only be the Word of God to us if we find them in the Bible. Until He returns, even our notions of Jesus’ stature as the Logos depend upon what Scripture says about Him. That kind of preeminent declarative authority demands both inspiration and inerrancy.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.