There is a interesting new website called The Ehrman Project (ehrmanproject.com). It has been designed to engage the popular scholarship of Bart D. Ehrman in the public arena where he has gained so much notoriety. One of the videos that has been posted is one of D.A. Carson defining inerrancy. The definition given is this: “Inerrancy is merely a way of saying that wherever there is a truth claim in fact God’s words are true.” There is much more said to give it context so I recommend hearing all that Carson says.
Watch the video and let me know what you think of Carson’s answer. Also, make sure you visit The Ehrman Project for more interesting videos. I think it is a promising resource.
I liked what he said. He countered the idea that for the Scriptures to be inerrant every word had to be spelled correctly or there must be no grammatical problems which, sadly, is what many people think inerrancy is.
Hmm…that doesn’t sound much like the Chicago statement, which is what most of the conservative evangelicals who subscribe to inerrancy follow. Maybe I missed it, but did he specify the kind of truth-claims that are inerrant? Is it every truth claim or is it only truth-claims about God?
@Ryan:: It is a big vague, so I don’t know and I haven’t read enough of Carson to know if he fills it in elsewhere.
Why is Dr Carson is trying to defend the word “inerrancy” ? He is not defining inerrancy, if any thing he is defining infallibility. This may be a shock to some, but inerrancy means without error. You don’t need Bart Ehrman to point out errors in the Bible (I’m not just talking about typos). But some can argue more convincingly, even with that knowledge, that the Bible does not fail in communicating God’s word. Which is what Dr Carson is saying, but he is calling it something else.
Maybe he must be faithful to the word inerrancy for other reasons. Here is what Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (where he teaches) says on its website about the Bible in its Statement of Faith:
We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.
I find it interesting when people say “the Bible is without error in the original writings,” because what that really means is the Bible your holding in your hands . . . well, not really sure about that
There is a range or continuum on the semantic range of meaning relative to defining inerrancy. Carson’s definition fits within that range. Check Millard Erickson’s definitions for the term in his systematic theology. This is in re. to Jeff’s point above.
@Jeff: It does seem that there is a blurring of inerrancy with infallibility, but maybe that means some of the rigor of the Chicago Statement did not carry the day and affirming inerrancy is closer to affirming infallibilty than some acknowledge.
@Bobby: Very true. It is always interesting to try to cipher what is meant by inerrancy in different areas. There is Norm Geisler, for instance, then there is ETS. ETS seems broader in the interpretation of the term than say the Chicago Statement. I don’t think, but inerrancy is an important affirmation for the society as it is for the stricter interpretations.
Anyone read The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage by A. T. B. McGowan? I thought he did a good job of giving the historical and philosophical backgrounds of the inerrance/errancy debate as well as a worthwhile proposal for infallibility.
@Ryan: I have not read it, but it does sound interesting.
Wonderful. Yet another useless (and possibly more confusing?) definition of a completely unhelpful word. I agree with Jeff’s question: Why is he defending this?
Yeah, I don’t think inerrancy will ever be able to be jettisoned by the “society.” Often it is so highly qualified that the more strict versions of it seem to be left in the dust (or the typical caricature of inerrancy). I still affirm inerrancy, partially because it’s simply my heritage (which might seem just disingenuous, but I’m not); and partially because I think it captures something (apart from its origin in its positivist and fundy form) about how I think Scripture bears witness to the “Word,” I believe it finds its Spirit spirated inherence in the “Living Word” and thus it remains accurate and infallible.
Sometimes I wonder why this word ‘inerrancy’ is such a source of stumbling for so many Christians today. Sure its fundy heritage can have negative connotations, but if understood in a way that has some dynamism built into it; then why does this word need to be abandoned? There are too many Christians out there who have come to value this reality (just lay folk) or word, because for them it doesn’t signify a rigid mode of rationalist engagement of Scripture or God (it can); but instead that God’s Word is a trustworthy and reliable source where they can go and encounter a God who is full of love and grace. I guess my “holding on to this word” is more pragmatic and pastoral than “theo-logical.”
Just ranting . . . 🙂
@Bobby: I share the same concern. It is always tempting to function within the realm of critical scholarship making the Scriptures something we define rather than letting the Scriptures define us. I affirm inerrancy (I am a student member of ETS after all), but I am on a long journey to better understand what that means, what it does not mean, what it must mean, and what it cannot mean.
I know I need to make time to read the writings of Kevin Vanhoozer at some point soon. I need to find a way to think about Scripture as God’s voice outside of the false either/or paradigms presented in the fundamentalist-liberal debates. Other than Vanhoozer do you have any recommendations?
I think that McGowan book sounds good, that’s one that I would like to read at some point. Ironically Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction provides a good and even more lively evangelical way to understand “Revelation” than I’ve found with the “Evangelicals.” But really, I can’t think of any better than Vanhoozer (who I need to read more of: I’ve read his “Is There a Meaning . . .” and part of his “Drama”) on how to think this issue through; someone who really seems to know how appropriate the best insights of someone like Barth and even some of the “Fundy” or “Evangelical” voices. As I type this I have an older book called Christ & The Bible by John W. Wenham which (I’ve read before), and I find his premise very consonant with the thinking that Vanhoozer builds on in constructive ways. But basically he takes a rather exhaustive and inductive look at how Jesus viewed the Scriptures (Wenham was definitely someone who wanted to keep “inerrancy,” but his approach is more critical and I think even sensitive to some insights that Barth had).
Anyway, I’m glad to hear that you’re working through this issue too. I should be a student member of ETS, just been lazy 🙂 .
@Brian, why exactly are you on this quest “to better understand what [inerrancy] means, what it does not mean, what it must mean, and what it cannot mean”? I mean, why are we so bent on teasing out the intricacies of something Scripture doesn’t even claim for itself? It wasn’t really until the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the late 19th-early 20th centuries that the idea biblical inerrancy began to take on a life of its own in creeds and confessions. Martin E. Marty wrote about this in Modern American Religion, Vol. 2:
“In the climate of that peak year  of Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, they took up the term and concept of inerrancy” (211).
“Inerrancy meant that the original manuscripts of the Bible were accurate on all points of fact, including nature, history, and science. The Bible did not claim inerrancy for itself, but Fundamentalists devised or discovered elaborate philosophical defenses of the idea” (205).
So I’m just confused about why evangelicals are so determined to hold on to a word that people can’t seem to define in any meaningful way.
Above Bobby said that people want a way to hold onto the reality that “God’s Word is a trustworthy and reliable source where they can go and encounter a God who is full of love and grace.” I would contend that we already have a word for that: “trustworthy.” In fact, we have many useful words to convey these ideas: trustworthy, authoritative, God-breathed (let’s not get sidetracked on “inspiration”!), and other words. All of these require their own definitions to be sure, but none carries the negative and distracting connotations of “inerrant.”
@Bobby: I think it is a long journey ahead. Maybe I can begin reading Vanhoozer sometime later this year. I wanted to do so last summer, but that slipped right through my fingers.
@Will: For better or for worse the word inerrancy is a modern Shibboleth in evangelical circles. Now if I didn’t want to remain in these types of evangelical circles, nor do biblical and theological studies in evangelical circles, I could easily say, “Well, that is a debate in which I do not want to participate, because it is a subject that I don’t think I care to engage.” I intend on participating in SBL, for instance, but there are many limits to SBL and I don’t think SBL is that helpful when it comes to integrating biblical studies with the actual life of the church. ETS is much more successful in that area (again, for better or for worse) so I would like to remain part of that society in the days and years ahead.
Now, as I have said before, if I give it my full attention, if I ask what my tradition is saying, and if I decide that it is something that I cannot affirm in good faith, then I would leave ETS and not be fake about my qualms with the word. But I have not given it a fair hearing. I have not read Vanhoozer or modern, more progressive adherent of the word “inerrancy”, so as long as a fellowship that I want to retain hinges on me knowing what I am saying I think it best that I at least explore how it works today.
So maybe “inerrancy” is distracting, but it is the word ETS chose. If they chose “infallible” my life would be much, much easier. If they chose “trustworthy” even more so. But they chose “inerrancy”, so I must ask myself what “inerrancy” means as I ponder my future amongst evangelicals.
I guess what might concern some people and perhaps even the trustees of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is that I too can affirm inerrancy with Dr Carson’s definition. Consider what he is saying:
Has God disclosed Himself in words…….yes
God in his mercy is a talking God…… yes
The Bible in your hands has mistakes….yes
Are God’s word reliable…….yes
When God speaks does He speak the truth…..yes
The Bible is made up a many literary forms…..yes
Therefore God discloses Himself in different ways…..yes
The Bible is usually symbol-laden……yes (did I hear him correctly?)
Wherever there is a truth claim it is true….yes
Where the Bible purports to be telling stuff,.God’s word is true….yes, I think, not really sure what he means, he doesn’t seem to be equating the Bible with God’s word, seems to be saying that the Bible contains God’s Word
Here is what might concern some inerrantist about his definition;
If a person felt called to minister in an organization that insisted he/she affirm inerrancy before they could be accepted to that position. They could do it and still believe that Jonah and Job’s literary forms are great novels that contain profound truth. Walking on water is symbolic. That biblical stories need not be factual to be true. The only fact that Dr Carson insist on in the video is “God’s word is true.” I’m just saying I’m not sure his definition is helpful in weeding out the heretics, which I believe is the original intent of that doctrine.
@Jeff: I think he implies most of what you said. I always wonder how much editing is done, what is left out, and so forth. This is very simplistic and it could essentially be under the word “infallible” rather than “inerrant”.
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