According to a fundamentalist Christian view of the Bible it “is without error or fault in all its teaching” (1). This is essentially the doctrine of classical biblical inerrancy which some years of study have shown me to be false at least to the extent that, in my mind, it is undeniable (I will provide an article articulating my reasons shortly). However, this brief article will focus on the concepts of inerrancy and authority/inspiration while also attempting to expose an unwarranted presupposition held by the classical inerrantist.
It is noticeable, according to Thom Stark (an award winning filmmaker and a scholar at the Emmanuel School of Religion, A Graduate Seminar), that biblical inerrantists often conflate the concept of authority or inspiration with that of inerrancy (2). However, Thom argues that is not self-evident that scripture must be inerrant in order to be authoritative. In fact, such a requirement is logically unwarranted. Thus, to reject inerrancy is not to impugn the authority of Christ or of the Bible as they are separate issues, even if there is some on-the-surface-relationship between them. Secondly, what inerrantists do with this claim is they manipulate the believer into accepting their doctrine of inerrancy by appealing to their devotion to Christ. However, in response to this James Barr (the late Professor Old Testament Studies & Interpretation), argues that:
“This endlessly repeated argument seeks to use the personal loyalty of Christians towards Jesus as a lever to force them into fundamentalist positions on historical and literary matters. There is no part of the fundamentalist positions on historical and literary matters. There is no part of the fundamentalist world view that should inspire so much distaste in the mind of other Christians. It is a distortion of the proper proportions of the Christian faith to the extreme.” (3).
However, the key point argued by Stark is that biblical “authority” or “inspiration” does not necessarily entail “inerrancy,” nor has the case been made that it does (4). As scholar James Barr continues:
“The link between authority and inspiration on the one side, and inerrancy on the other resists on one basic only: supposition. Here conservative evangelicals go over to a purely philosophical and non-biblical argument: if it was inspired by God, then how could there be error of any kind in it? This is in fact that core of their argument. But, since this link has not rootage in the Bible and belongs to purely philosophical assumption, the entire attempt of conservative evangelicals to derive their positon from ‘the Bible’s view of itself’ is a waste of time.”
For instance, 2 Tim 3:16-17 describes the Bible has “God-breathed,” and therefore as useful for instruction and rebuke. This would be a key argument for the classical inerrantist’s view of scripture. The problem is, however, that Tim’s author does not provide any indication of what he means by “God-breathed.” For instance, could it be that God breathed out the worlds of scripture? Or is it that God breathes into the text of scripture, in the sense that the Spirit of God brings life into the dead letters. Either is plausible but, as Stark argues, “the latter seems to be much more consistent with the hermeneutics of the period, and with Paul’s use of scripture… On the other hand, even if 2 Tim 3:16 does mean that scripture is breathed out by God, in the sense that it is divinely uttered, that does not necessarily entail that it is without error” (5). To say that scripture is “God-breathed” could very well mean that God breathes new life and new meaning into even obscure texts that are outdated, irrelevant, and perhaps even wrong.
The point being is that the classical inerrantist imposes his own view of how he thinks scripture should speak onto scripture itself. It is not clear from the Bible that this is a warranted method. We shall be reviewing more of Stark’s work shortly.
1. Geisler, N. & Roach, B. 1012. Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation.
2. Stark, T. The Human Faces of God. p. 48.
3. Barr, J. 1977. Fundamentalism. p. 74.
4. Stark, T. ibid.
5. Stark, T. ibid.