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Inspiration and Inerrancy - March/April 2010

A bi-monthly magazine dealing with theology, apologetics, and cultural issues from a Reformational perspective.

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necessary when the Reformed confessions have a good and workable statement on Scripture? Horton: Whatwould be themain reason (ormaybe two) you would offer for inerrancy being “untrue”? Richmond: While I very much agree with Michael Spencer’s observations, I do not believe he has gone quite far enough. Inerrancy is both “untrue” and “inefficient.” The reason that inerrancy is “untrue” is primarily because it is a concept foreign to the Bible, and as such foreign to God. I do not in any waymean to suggest that God is un- true (quite to the contrary!), but rather in regard to in- errancy, the doctrine is so entirely foreign to the biblical narrative that God cannot endorse it. Spencer: The problem for me isn’t the untruthfulness of the term on some level; it’s clearing out all the baggage that comes with it.We have to define “error,” which ap- parently takes several pages of the Chicago Statement and excludes several kinds of information ordinary people call errors. Then we have to understand why “inerrancy” is a required term, when the church operated just fine with- out it for centuries. Finally, the use of “inerrancy”will pick an immediate fight with certain literalistic views of the Bible as a science textbook, and we will have to work through the entire young earth creationist presentation in order to preserve our definition of “inerrant” without pre-committing all of us to be creationists.My contention is not that the Bible has errors inwhat it teaches, but that the material in the Bible that operates in a broader sense of truth—rather than the narrow, technical sense—de- serves better treatment than having to conform to this modernistic and confusing term. Richmond: The word “inerrancy” did not fall from heaven, laden with divine patronage. Instead, when we use the word, it is infected with philosophical ideas that were a knee-jerk response to what was happening theo- logically and philosophically between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. If you ask me if I believe in a literal Adam and Eve, a historic Abraham, or in the physical death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, I would heartily and happily agree. However, I oppose the con- cept of inerrancy because the word itselfmoves the argu- ment, intentionally or not, into the arena of a philosophical systemforeign to the apostles, Fathers, and Reformers. In short, if we are going to use the word, we will need to submit ourselves to the system from which it arose. On these terms, inerrancy is indefensible. Horton: Letme respond to both of your answers—first, on the question ofwhether inerrancy requires investment in a whole philosophical system (modernist epistemology). Surely words such as “hypostatic,” “Trinity,” and, for that matter, biblical terms such as “Logos” (Word) and even “Theos” (God) don’t have to be used exactly the same way 34 WWW.MODERNRE FORMAT ION.ORG thatmost people used themin antiquity. I’mnot sure why the claim that the Bible doesn’t err is wrapped up in En- lightenment philosophy, especiallywhen the termitselfwas used by Augustine andmany others since. Furthermore, I sympathizewith your point about the qualifications that the formal statements of inerrancy oftenmake: only the origi- nal autographs, not the copies; the distinction between dis- crepancies and actual errors; and so forth. However, the closer I study these qualifications, the more valid they seem. We do have access to the “original autographs” indi- rectly by comparing the best-attested families of manu- scripts. The whole enterprise of textual criticism assumes we can reconstruct the original autographs to such an ex- tent that the only remaining questions concern verses that do not affect any article of faith and practice. And doesn’t it make sense to discriminate between discrepancies (apparent conflicts)—forwhich inmany cases good explanations have been offered—and errors or contradictions. Second, when we look at issues such as young earth creationism, that’s a question of interpretation, not the character of the text as such. I’m as worried about the way the young earth argument handles the Scriptures as I am about the science. If they misinterpret the Scriptures, expecting it to answer questions beyond its scope and intention, then I fail to see howthe inerrancy of Scripture itself is jeopardized. Third,whenMichael says that the Bible operateswith a broader understanding of “truth” thanmodernistic assump- tions (technical accuracy, likemathematics), I cannot only concur but could citeWarfield and the Chicago Statement to support that point. Fundamentalists and modernists have defended and rejected biblical truthfulness by demanding modern standards of exactitude. For example, clearly the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, but Jesuswasn’t giv- ing a lecture on botany—and since he did not know the time or hour of his return,we shouldn’t assume that Jesus knew what the smallest seed was in any case during his earthly humiliation. That’s why the Chicago Statement says the Bible is “without error in all that it affirms.” As a fully human book, the Bible exhibits theweaknesses, limitations, and cultural locations of each writer. All of this is affirmed in such formal statements.Are you sure you’re taking issue with this formulation, or is it amore fundamentalist version to which you are responding? Richmond: Regarding Dr. Horton’s comment, “As a fully human book, the Bible exhibits the weaknesses, limita- tions, and cultural locations of eachwriter,”whenwe use theword “inerrancy,” I amnot surewe can enjoy the lux- ury of such discriminating thinking. As for his reference to St. Augustine and others, I concede their use of the word; but when they used it, they did not have between 500 and 1,500 years of baggage (such as the Enlightenment and Scientific Rationalism) with which to contend. Spencer: Dr. Horton’s answer on young earth creation- ismassumes that the use of the term“inerrancy” does not

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