Monday, May 25, 2009

Objection to Biblical Inerrancy #8

Continued from Objection to Biblical Inerrancy #7

An eighth objection
is that inerrancy is too complicated
. Daniel Day complains that the inerrancy claim prima facie is that there is no error anywhere of any kind, but then its claimants “undermine its claims with exclusions and exceptions so as to permit wiggle room for this or that indisputable finding of science or for some post-biblical social revolution, proving that the initial ground staked out was too high.”[1] Day is talking about Article XIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a paragraph on the phenomena of Scripture.

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and errors that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.[2]

What this paragraph means is for example, ain’t might be poor English, but it can communicate truth. It means that it is not problematic that the biblical writer might have measured the Sea in the Temple in a general measurement of 10 x 30 cubits when any seventh grader knows that it will measure π (3.1416…). It means that inerrancy is not affected when Jesus says that a mustard seed is the smallest seed but there are actually other smaller seeds on the earth. It means that when one passage says there were two persons and another only mentions one, instead of calling into question inerrancy, it rather gives us confidence that these are independent witnesses, that no one tried to harmonize the passages, that there was no illicit collaboration.

These types of issues in the Scripture actually increase our confidence in the integrity of the text and buttress the doctrine of inerrancy. The problem with what Day and others are saying is what they do not say. Actually the many shades of inerrancy were concocted from the moderate/liberal side. Noninerrantists, they posit, could be instead “functional inerrantists” or “infallibilists,” meaning that the Bible is entirely faithful in matters of revelation of God while other errors of a factual nature may exist. It was the liberals who wanted to disguise a lower view of the Scriptures to speak of “limited inerrancy,” “qualified inerrancy,” or even “critical inerrancy,” the view that the Bible is true in all that the Bible affirms to the degree intended by the biblical authors. This view accommodates a historical-critical view of the Bible.[3] The dissection of inerrancy was not among conservatives. It was among those who had reservations about errors being in the Bible, and that is not an intellectually honest approach. Article XIII of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy is a more honest approach to an understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture.

On the other end of the spectrum, fundamental Jeffrey Khoo of Far Eastern Bible College in Singapore rails against a view that ascribes inerrancy only to the autographs: “What is the use of having a Bible that was only perfect in the past but no longer perfect today? The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), despite its name, is mostly populated by neo-evangelicals who deny the total inerrancy of Scriptures albeit in varying degrees. The ETS definition is so loose that it allows for all kinds of interpretations with regard to what inerrancy means.” Khoo advocates an inerrant preservation of the Scriptures. He says that Jesus affirmed the Scriptures which he had in hand though the canon closed in the fifth century B.C., and Paul’s declaration in 2 Timothy 3:16 also affirmed the inerrancy of the apographs. Further, the Reformers “in their declaration of Sola Scriptura,” Khoo says, “always thought in terms of the existing infallible and inerrant apographs rather than the autographs.”[4] Khoo is talking about Article X of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the paragraph on the autographs.

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from the available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.[5]

This article softens Khoo’s argument and implies a divine preservation of Scripture’s inerrancy. What is problematic is that if Khoo were being completely intellectually honest, he would agree that humans have made dumb errors in transmission through the centuries and a few willful changes, but the great wealth of extant manuscript evidence is a self-preserver of the inerrant text. With the ability to compare a large number of manuscripts across a wide geographical area and various languages, accidental errors and the occasional willful emendations can be spotted with precision. In summary, inerrancy is about truth, not grammar or misspellings. Error is the absence of truth, and the Bible demonstrates its own inerrancy.

[1] Day, “Errors.” See also Joel Stephen Williams, “The Error of Inerrancy,” EncounterRestoration Quarterly 37, no. 3 (1995): 158-177. 57, no. 1 (Winter 1996): 51-73. Note Roy Honeycutt’s similar complaints about inerrancy in Joel Stephen Williams, “Inerrancy, Inspiration, and Dictation,”

[2] Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, 1978, Article XIII.

[3] Edgar V. McKnight, “Baptists and Inerrancy,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 20, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 147-159.

[4] Jeffrey Khoo, “Sola Autographa or Sola Apographa?: A Case for the Present Perfection and Authority of the Holy Scriptures,” The Burning Bush 11, no. 1 (January 2005), [article on-line]. Singapore: Far Eastern Bible College. Available from; Internet; accessed November 25, 2008.

[5] Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, 1978, Article X.

Continue on to Objection to Biblical Inerrancy #9

Also on Sunday in the South:
Objections to Biblical Inerrancy #1 & #2, #3 & #4, #5, #6, #7