INERRANCY OF SCRIPTURE, PART TWO: WHAT IS AT STAKE?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 4:01pm
THE INERRANCY OF SCRIPTURE: DOES IT STILL MATTER?
JACK COTTRELL – CINCINNATI CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY – APRIL 2011
PART II. WHAT IS AT STAKE IN THIS MATTER OF INERRANCY?
Does the inerrancy of Scripture still matter? The answer is yes. But what exactly is at stake here? We need to say, first of all, that the issue is not necessarily salvation. One can have saving faith in Jesus without accepting inerrancy, even though there is some inconsistency involved when this happens.
So what is the issue? What are the consequences of denying the inerrancy of Scripture? Specifically, denying inerrancy means that one is affirming that there are errors in the Bible—somewhere. It means that some statements in Scripture are true, and some are false. This means that the task of deciding which are true and which are false now falls upon each one of us, individually.
This deadly consequence is well illustrated in an account by Donald McGavran (“That the Gospel Be Made Known,” Theology, News and Notes [June 1985], 10-11) He tells of an experience he had as a missionary in India while teaching a men’s Sunday school class. The men, he says, “were mostly workers in the mission press with an average education of seventh or eighth grade. My predecessor . . . had been a flaming liberal, a graduate of Chicago Divinity School. He had taught this Bible class for the previous seven years. A turning point in my theological pilgrimage took place one Sunday morning when I asked the class of some fifteen or twenty men, ‘When you read a biblical passage such as we are studying this morning, what is the first question you ask?’ One of the most intelligent workers in the mission press replied immediately, ‘What is there in this passage that we cannot believe?’ What he meant, of course, was that when we read the passage about Jesus walking on the water, we know instantly that He could not have done that. Consequently, we must understand the passage as an exaggerated or perhaps poetic account of what happened.”
McGavran concluded, “I had never before been confronted as bluntly with what the liberal position means to ordinary Christians in multitudinous instances. It shocked me, and I began at that moment to feel that it could not be the truth. Despite all the difficulties, I began to feel my way toward convictions concerning the Bible as infallible revelation. It was God’s Word. It was entirely dependable. It was the rule of faith and practice of every true Christian.”
The issue is simply this: If you reject Biblical inerrancy, HOW will you decide what in the Bible YOU will believe, and what you will reject? You can no longer say that any specific statement in Scripture is TRUE, just because it is in the Bible—something Jesus did in John 10:35. Instead, every individual statement in Scripture must now be evaluated and judged for its truth or falsehood by some other criterion, e.g., reason, experience, a mystical sense of being guided by the Holy Spirit.
In the final analysis, if the Bible is not inerrant, then we have no objective basis for accepting MOST of what the Bible teaches. Someone may say, “Not so! We can apply human reason—the commonly-accepted rules of evidence.” This may be true up to a point. I.e., we can use historical method to evaluate some of the historical claims in Scripture. Archeological research helps us to evaluate Biblical claims about geographical locations, the times and sequences of events, and the existence and identity of individuals named in the Biblical narratives. See, e.g., Luke 3:1, and similar claims throughout the Book of Acts.
But there are two serious limitations to the use of such reason as a criterion. One, it can be applied to only a small minority of Biblical claims of this nature; there simply are no relevant data for most historical claims. E.g., there is no objective way to individually verify that Jesus actually did most of the things the gospels say he did, or that he actually said the things the gospels say he said. Two, and even more seriously, there is no way to cite rational and historical proof for the great doctrinal claims of Scripture, e.g., the great doctrinal affirmations in such texts as Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 53; John 1:1; John 3:16; and Romans 3:21-31.
So where does the denial of inerrancy ultimately leave us? First, it leaves us at the mercy of subjectivity. In the final analysis each of us will decide which Biblical teachings we will accept and which we will reject, based on something inside of us: our own experiences, our own feelings, our own desires, our own subjective judgments about what we deem possible or right or objectionable. Second, it results in relativism. There will no longer be any such thing as TRUTH in the genuine sense: no more objective, absolute truth, no more sound doctrine, no “place to stand” in order to establish some ideas as true and some as false. There will no longer be any agreed-upon authority, no agreed-upon authoritative source for seeking unity of doctrine.