Biblical inerrantists make regular use of the fact that Jesus sometimes referred to biblical stories (especially Old Testament ones) such as where David ate the showbread, or the one where Jonah was in the belly of the fish, or where Daniel predicted the desecration of the temple. To the inerrantist these allusions by Jesus to biblical stories somehow supports their (not the Bible’s) doctrine of inerrancy. However, the late biblical scholar James Barr exposes this faulty assumption:
“The high status that the Old Testament holds in the mind of Jesus and the early Christians will be granted by the most critical as a matter of historical fact, and therefore the fundamentalist efforts to prove this are of no importance. On the other hand, the fundamentalist attempts to argue that these sayings of Jesus and the New Testament writers about Jonah, Daniel, and Moses prove the historical accuracy of the Old Testament are futile, because they make no attempt to show that Jesus or the early Christians were interested in such questions as the authorship of books, the presence of sources, or the historical accuracy of data and figure” (1).
Or as historian & Professor John Huxtable puts it: “Jesus Christ came into the world to be its Saviour, not an authority on biblical criticism” (2). Thus, Jesus never taught that David wrote Psalm 110, or that Daniel wrote the book of Daniel or that the book of Jonah is historically accurate. As my Biblical Studies lecturer said concerning Jonah’s story of the fish: “Jesus could have been recounting what was common knowledge for 1st century Jews” (3), though my lecturer remains open to the idea that God really could have worked such a miracle.
However, Thom Stark explains this best by taking into account that “At the very most, he [Jesus] assumed these things. But not even this is guaranteed. It is quite possible that by alluding to these traditions, Jesus was simply conceding to standard assumptions. He may have known better, he may not have… By alluding to the story, he does not commit himself to its historicity, any more than Evangelicals commit themselves to the historicity of the Chronicles of Narnia when they say, reverently, “Aslan is not a tame lion”” (4).
Again, as evidenced, I do not think that the inerrantist’s presupposition carries through. They merely, as Stark shows, assume too much in order to make scripture fit their controlling presupposition. To any historian, or for a Christian like myself, it is clear that Jesus may simply have been working within the assumptions of his tradition, even if he knew better. Alternatively it is very possible that he may not have known better, or as Stark believes that “in all likelihood, Jesus assumed the tradition with which he was raised.”
Jesus is, and will always be, mankind’s salvation but he certainly wasn’t a literary critic.
1. Barr, J. 1981. Fundamentalism. p. 81.
2. Huxley, J. 1962. The Bible Says. p. 70.
3. Personal interaction with Biblical Studies lecturer A. Coates, 2016.
4. Stark, T. 2011. The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals when it Gets God Wrong (and why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It).