Is Inerrancy Indispensable?

Thankfully, this is not the dilemma presented to us in understanding history, or any other discipline of human inquiry. We understand that people, while errant, can supply generally trustworthy accounts. Those who hold positions as professors, scientists, engineers, historians, mathematicians, lawyers, teachers, and just about every other career must rely upon the general trustworthiness of the witness of other errant individuals.

What if we took the same approach with the Christian Bible? Let us assume for the moment (for the sake of argument) that the Scriptures are not inerrant. Let's take it a step further and say that the Scriptures are not inspired at all. Here then is the situation: the Scriptures are a collection of 66 ancient historical records, in various literary forms and genres. The records, like any other record, may have errors -- historical, scientific, or otherwise. Let us say, for instance, that the Gospel of John is mistaken on the number of women who came to the tomb of Jesus after His resurrection. Does this make the testimony of John completely false? Does this mean that the entire testimony of John is wrong at every turn?

Of course not! Any historian who employed this methodology would quickly find himself with no sources for his research. Even if the Scriptures were like other historical records, having minor discrepancies, this would not justify a complete rejection of the events they record. Their credibility is based upon a record of general historic reliability as established through the rules of historic inquiry -- which do not include criteria for inerrancy.

Let us take this one step further.

Christianity could be true even if we had no Bible at all. Remember, the Christian worldview is Christocentric (centered around the Advent of Christ), not bibliocentric (centered around the Bible). It is because of God's grace that we even have the record of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. But if for some reason God had decided to withhold His grace and not record these events in Scripture, does this mean that the events did not take place? Of course not. Christ's death, burial, and resurrection are historical events that happened whether or not we have inspired records.

You may say to me, how would we know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ had it not been recorded? This is a good question, but you must first take this next step of concession. Not only is it true that Christianity is not dependent upon inerrancy, inspiration, and recording of the events, but it is also not reliant upon our knowledge of the events. Theoretically speaking, God could have sent His Son to die for the world and raise him from the grave and not told anyone at all, and Christianity would still be true. The point is that Christianity stands or falls upon the historical truth of the Advent of the Son of God, not the record of these events through Scripture. How God decides to communicate these events, should He choose to do so, is not the issue. I suppose, for the sake of argument, God could have used unwritten tradition, the testimony of angels, dreams and visions, or direct encounters.

Now, apologetically speaking, there is no reason whatsoever, I believe, for one to reject the general historical reliability of the Scriptures if presented as such. If one were to accept the Gospels, for instance, like any other historical writing, then they would have to be persuaded of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth based upon honest and solid historical inquiry. If they did not, then, in my opinion, their methodology is flawed by other unjustifiable presuppositions such as the impossibility of miracles.

Why did Greg feel compelled to reject the entirety of Christianity because of a few supposed errors? Because that is what he was taught by conservative, well-meaning Christians. I believe that often times we, in our zeal for the Scriptures, create a false dilemma suggesting that belief in inerrancy and total rejection of the Christian message are the only two options. These are not the only two options. The Scriptures can be generally reliable historical accounts and the Christian faith still be true.

To those of you who are struggling with or reject the doctrine of inerrancy, while I believe you are wrong, this does not mean that you have grounds to reject the historicity of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God as recorded in Scripture. There are 27 ancient documents that have historical credibility that must be referenced just like any other ancient document (not to mention the witness of dozens of first- and second-century historical documents that are not included in this New Testament canon). If you reject Christianity based upon your belief in the errancy of these documents, you must also reject all the records of ancient history.

To those of you who believe in inspiration and inerrancy, your belief is on solid ground. But please be careful not to create a false dilemma concerning a strict adherence to your persuasion. While the authority of God's word is of central importance, Christianity is Christocentric, not bibliocentric. Christ is still Lord, even if the Scriptures were never written.

1/20/2010 5:00:00 AM
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