Many advocates of biblical inerrancy will criticize those who disagree with them to have hidden yet questionable motives. One form of this was identified by James Barr who noted that “opponents, in arguing from empirical evidence, are in fact not motivated by a zeal for empirical evidence but by a theological hostility to the truth gospel” (1).
This would find support in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy’s (CSBI) own view of the matter. According to the statement, if any reading of the text finds a contradiction, an error, or a discrepancy then it must be suggestive of some type of anti-Bible faithless presupposition. Article 19 of the CSBI identifies “naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism” as “alien pre understandings” that inevitably result in the misreading of the text (2). Carl Henry explains that,
“When these un-and anti-biblical principles seep into men’s theologies at the presuppositional level, as today they frequently do, faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture becomes impossible” (3).
This suggests that advocates of inerrancy argue that non-inerrantists are operating from presuppositions that distort accurate readings of the biblical texts. So, for example, if a historian sees a conflict between Matthew and Luke’s theology or between Ecclesiastes and Daniel it is not because such a conflict actually exists but because the scholar is imposing his own presuppositions (theological, philosophical, or otherwise) upon the text. It is natural then why many inerrantists think that scholars want to find a conflict in the texts because it would serve their own agendas. But critics of inerrancy have seen similar methods employed by its advocates. Thom Stark explains,
“It is the inerrantists who are guilty of allowing their controlling presuppositions to interfere with the proper processes of historical-grammatical exegesis. Before the interpretative process even begins, the inerrantists rule out the possibility that the text can be wrong, in any way. This, might I add, is very definition of a controlling presupposition” (4).
If Stark is correct then it would be evidence of a double standard in play. The inerrantist essentially holds to a controlling presupposition himself when that is what he or she criticizes opponents for. Stark continues,
“In reality, the vast majority of critical scholars are not motivated by any hostility to the Christian faith. Inerrantists accuse critical scholars of rejecting inerrancy so that they can believe whatever they like; but the truth is that inerrantists have no problem believing whatever they like and forcing their view onto the text.”
Stark does believe that it is possible for a critical historian to ascribe an error to the text where there is none, however, he says there is no reason why the critical scholar is required to ascribe an error to the text. One might add that this is also not to deny that there are those out there who do have an axe to grind against the Christianity and that this filters into their intepretations, but it is wrong to assume that it is the case whenever someone disagrees with inerrantist presuppositions. Stark writes,
“Critical scholars regularly point out when and where the text is accurate, or is supported by external evidence. Conversely, it is the inerrantists who in principle is required to deny the existence of errors. Although both sides sometimes fail to live up to their own ideals, the ideal of the critical scholar is a degree of objectivity; the ideal of the inerrantist is bias … the attempt to paint ordinary critical scholarship as negative, as if biblical critics were motivated by the need to prove the Bible wrong. This is pure fantasy. The historical critic (in any field) is not motivated to prove historical sources wrong or right. The only objective is to achieve perspicuity on what the texts are saying and how that relates to the other historical evidence, so that valid conclusions may be drawn and valid assumptions revised. Conceptions of the “hostile liberal” who is out to attack scripture and “rebel against the God of the Bible” are purely imaginings of conspiracy theorists” (5).
1. Barr, J. 1977. Fundamentalism. p. 71
2. Radmacher, E. & Preus, R. Hermeneutics, inerrancy, and the Bible. p. 886.
3. Henry, C. 1999. God who speaks and shows. p. 218.
4. Stark, T. 2011. The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals when it Gets God Wrong (and why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It).p. 60.
5. Stark, T. ibid. p. 44.