Inerrancy vs. Contradictions

Given the title, this post could easily have been about contradictions within the Bible and whether they disprove Biblical inerrancy, or whether one has to start with the doctrine of inerrancy and insist that anything that appears to be a contradiction isn't really one. And I will come back to that.

But the fact is that, just as the Bible is the result of many authors with different perspectives, so too are statements about inerrancy. And that fact illustrates that these views of the Bible are at least as much about the presuppositions and aims of readers and users of the Bible, as about its actual contents.

Carson Clark has written a blog post about the contradictions within the Chicago Declaration on Biblical Inerrancy. One of the people involved in producing that document, and responsible for those parts of it that sound like they support young-earth creationism, was Henry Morris. Jeff Carter has been blogging about some of the heretical, self-contradictory, and just plain nonsensical things Morris wrote. The whole series deserves to be read.

Now let me return to that intial point. Inerrancy also involves a contradiction when it is affirmed by Protestants who say that the Bible is their ultimate authority. The Bible does not claim its own inerrancy (indeed, the Bible as a collection does not and cannot claim anything about itself, since its texts were written first and only subsequently assembled as a collection). And so in order to be an inerrantist, one has to formulate a doctrine of Scripture as inerrant, and then disallow the possibility that evidence from the Bible can disprove that doctrine. The Chicago Declaration does precisely that, saying that apparent contradictions and inaccuracies, and other “phenomena of Scripture,” do not and cannot be taken as evidence against inerrancy.

And so the doctrine of inerrancy contradicts any claim an inerrantist makes to view the Bible as the ultimate authority. Just try appealing to the Bible to argue against inerrancy, and you'll find out what the ultimate authority for them is.

 

 

  • Ken Schenck

    I’ve never been able to articulate the similarity (and maybe that’s a good thing) but I’m often reminded of Goedel’s incompleteness theorem–no truth system can be completely self-referential if we are to make ultimate claims about its claims. This is also my frustration with pure theological interpretation, radical orthodoxy, and Barthian hermeneutics in general.

  • Steve

    This post makes me smile a great big smile. Nowhere does the Bible say, “Here is the list of the books in the Bible, and they’re all inerrant.” Nor would it matter if it did, for a book cannot declare itself to be inerrant, lest one fall into circular reasoning.

    Therefore, it would take some outside source which can itself make inerrant statements to declare what the Bible is and that it is inerrant. Or, as Saint Augustine said:

    “I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.”

  • Jeff Carter

    If your readers should want to see all 8 (so far) of my posts on Morris’ book they can use this link:

    http://thatjeffcarterwashere.blogspot.com/search/label/Henry%20M.%20Morris

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Thanks for the convenient link!

  • Lothars Sohn

    Hey James, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve written.

    “But the fact is that, just as the Bible is the result of many authors with different perspectives, so too are statements about inerrancy.”

    This should be obvious to any unbiased reader. It is just that the dogma of inerrancy pushes us to believe that if extremely implausible harmonizations are possible, they must be true.

    “Now let me return to that intial point. Inerrancy also involves a contradiction when it is affirmed by Protestants who say that the Bible is their ultimate authority. The Bible does not claim its own inerrancy (indeed, the Bible as a collection does not and cannot claim anything about itself, since its texts were written first and only subsequently assembled as a collection).”

    Yep, I’m now a non-denominational Christian, and I believe that roman Catholicism has, despite its flaws, a much coherent view of inspiration and authority.

    I really like the posts you write criticizing fundamentalism, although I’m certainly more at the right of the theological spectrum than you are.

    Friendly greetings from Germany.

    Freundliche Grüsse aus Deutschland.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • TomS

    I suggest that there is a related, but logically distinct, issue, Sola Scriptura: that all we need to know is in the Bible. Just because the Bible does not say that it is inerrant is not a fault with the position of inerrancy – unless one adds that only things in the Bible are true.


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