[If you don’t want to read this entire post, but you’d like to participate in the discussion, please skip down to the last two paragraphs.]
I have been part of evangelicalism for about seven years now. When I went to college it was a school organized by Pentecostals who taught Scripture from a Fundamentalist perspective (e.g. Genesis 1 must be six literal days). When I moved into evangelical circles I was taught about inerrancy, but it seemed to be a tad more flexible. For example, someone like John Walton can write about Genesis 1 as the construction of a cosmic temple, argue that Scripture is completely true in what it says, and acknowledge that it doesn’t have to be six literal twenty-four hours days putting it at scientific odds with modern science.
Most evangelicals I know allow for this flexibility, but I’ve been wondering for a while whether or not I understand what is meant by inerrancy. Yes, I am an evangelical, but an adopted one and though I’ve been in the family for some time I still don’t understand the language. Also, I’ve noticed many evangelicals have abandoned or don’t use the word “inerrancy” while teaching about Scripture in a way that I find most comfortable, e.g. Daniel Kirk, Peter Enns. I wondered aloud after watching the Enns situation a few years ago if I understood inerrancy correctly. I found nothing wrong with Inspiration and Incarnation. In fact, it may have rescued me from greater doubts about Scripture. Yet he was driven away because of what he wrote.
I consoled myself by telling myself it was the particular corner of evangelicalism with which he was affiliated that didn’t accept what he wrote, but then I watched as he never came back into an evangelical institution and it made me wonder why. I haven’t asked Enns whether or not he couldn’t find a place to teach or whether he just wanted to go a different direction, but I’ve thought about it a lot. Other situations like Waltke being removed from RTS was similar.
When G.K. Beale left Wheaton College for Westminster Seminary it seemed to confirm for me that within evangelicalism there are more conservative circles and less conservative circles that affirm inerrancy. I assumed Beale and Kevin Vanhoozer or Beale and Nicholas Perrin aren’t that far apart, yet they both belong, so the evangelicalism that does affirm inerrancy has a broad enough definition of the word to allow for a wider-array of interpretations.
Over the last several months I have debated within myself whether or not I want to continue to use the word “inerrancy”. I am very, very comfortable with infallibility. In other words, I think the Scriptures tells us the truth about God in Christ and the Gospel has been faithfully relayed, but I don’t know that I am opposed to there being historical inaccuracies and I expect scientific inaccuracies.
For example, if Luke 2.2 is wrong about Quirinus being a governor in Syria when Jesus was born (I understand there are responses to this accusation like πρώτη being translated “before” rather than “first”) can one acknowledge this and still affirm inerrancy or does one have to say Luke 2.2 must be correct? If Acts 5.36 is anachronistic, and Gamaliel is portrayed as speaking of Theudas many years before it actually happened in 45 CE, can we acknowledge this or must we assume that the author was accurate because one affirms the word “inerrancy”?
When Norm Geisler began attacking Michael Licona (see “If Michael Licona is a heretic then who’s safe?”) because he “dehistoricized” Matthew 27.52-53 it made me think that maybe this word inerrancy is too abused to be useful. Currently, though I respect the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), and some of my favorite people are highly involved in ETS, I decided to avoid renewing my student membership because I don’t know what I am being asked to affirm.
Does it have to align with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy? If so, I don’t think I can do that. What about what Michael Horton has written on the subject? For instance, he wrote in “The Truthfulness of Scripture: Inerrancy” that if there seem to be contradictions:
“Some discrepancies are due to imperfect copies, which textual criticism properly considers. In other cases, an original reading may be lost, or we may simply fail to have adequate data or be blinded by our presuppositions from understanding a given text. Sometimes we are ‘destitute of the circumstantial knowledge which would fill up and harmonize the record,’ as is true in any historical record. We must also remember that our own methods of testing the accuracy of Scripture ‘are themselves subject to error.’ (A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 27.)
This seems problematic. For example, in the story of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage recording in Matthew 9.18-26; Mark 5.21-43; and Luke 8.40-56 there are many details that correspond, yet Matthew differs with Mark and Luke by pointing out that when Jairus arrives at Jesus his daughter is dead already. In Mark and Luke she is dying and very close to death. This is only one small detail and I don’t think it ruins the truthfulness of the account, but it is a difference. As I’ve understood inerrancy it didn’t seem like I could admit that there is a difference here that is somewhat substantial, but I could be wrong.
If inerrancy allows for scientific and historical errors/contradictions/tensions then what makes if different from “infallibility”?
I have invited some people who hold to the confessional position of inerrancy to guest post on this blog. I am waiting to see if this happens. In the meantime, I want to open this discussion to people who affirm inerrancy and people who deny it to explain what it is that you affirm or what it is that you deny when you affirm or deny inerrancy? How do you understand “inerrancy”?