Understanding Biblical Inerranists

Understanding Biblical Inerranists October 7, 2015

Fred Clark understanding Biblical inerrantists

The quote comes from Fred Clark’s recent post, “How to understand ‘Biblical inerrantists.'” Here is a larger excerpt:

The modern assertion of “biblical inerrancy” basically boils down to the claim by certain white Christians that “The Bible says what we say it says, and nothing else, and so you must listen to us as though we were God.”

The claim “the Bible is inerrant” can never be separated from the claim “I can read the Bible perfectly.” It’s not primarily about error or errors at all, but about authority. The Bible is the ultimate arbiter of authority. My reading of the Bible is the ultimate arbiter of what the Bible means. Therefore, I am the ultimate arbiter of authority.

Such a blunt and blatant grab for god-like power may seem a bit crude, but what else would you expect from a “doctrine” that was designed to defend and sanctify the practice of white supremacy, slavery, colonialism and the slaughter of indigenous people?

Click through to read the rest. See also Tim Bulkeley’s post in which he expresses his bewilderment about the language of the infamous Chicago Declaration on Biblical Inerrancy. There is also a series on Biblical inerrancy on the Interpreting Scripture blog.

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  • Ignatz

    I agree with the basic point, but why “white” Christians? There are lots of black fundamentalists, including some of the worst televangelists and prosperity preachers.

    I don’t see how Biblical inerrancy sprang from White Supremacy.

    • Inerrancy was developed in connection with the defense of slavery among conservative religious groups in the American South such as the Southern Baptist Convention. I realize that some today might not even know that that was the original raison d’etre for the formation of that denomination, and thus for its formulation of its distinctive views on the Bible. But historically that was what was behind it.

      • Ignatz

        No, I did not know that, and I’ll have to check it out. I knew that was the beginning of the Southern Baptists (and a few others, like the PCA), but I didn’t know that was the origin of inerrancy.

      • Jeff

        Fred has also asserted this over many posts, but as far as I can tell have never provided a source that traces the origin of the modern conception of “inerrancy” to antebellum slavery. Do you have a source that places the origin of the term and the conception in the antebellum period as opposed to, say, in the mid 19th century as a response/reaction to higher criticism?

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  • Mike B.

    I’m not sure we can claim to be “understanding” biblical inerrantists if we use a description of their beliefs that no inerrantist would agree with. In my experience (And I speak as a former inerrantist myself), inerrancy is less about dictating what the bible *must* say and more to do with what it *must not* say. I’ve met plenty of inerrantists who are willing to accept that there are “problems” in the Bible, but they will qualify that they are problems with a solution and that even if that solution is not readily apparent, it must nevertheless exist. Similarly, plenty of inerrantists are willing to admit the possibility that their own interpretation of the Bible could be wrong on particular points, but what they aren’t willing to admit is that the Bible itself could be “wrong” (whatever that means).

    The problem with this summary of inerrancy for me is that no inerrantist I know believes the Bible is inerrant because he has read it and determined it to be so. Rather, the assumption of inerrancy comes before the reading of the text and informs its interpretation. So the idea that the inerrantist is claiming to be able to read the Bible perfectly seems to be missing the mark. In fact, to the contrary, if confronted with a problem that he is unable to explain away, the inerrantist will usually appeal specifically to his *inability* to read the bible perfectly, saying that he may not know the answer, but he does know that God doesn’t make mistakes.

    It’s frustratingly circular, and full of problems, but I’m not convinced that the problems are the ones that Mr. Clark says they are.