Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Idea of the Inerrancy of Scripture

Several years ago, someone wrote a nasty post about me on his blog, so I answered it in his comment section.  I wasn't trying to win the Mr. Evangelical or Mr. Fundamentalist contest, just clearing up the slander.  That comment section no longer exists -- he deleted most comment sections in his archives -- but in my defense of myself, someone referenced Daniel Wallace, and I said something about his view of inerrancy being less than biblical or historic.  It didn't look enough like inerrancy to call it inerrancy.  My true comment about Wallace was spun by the author of the post essentially into --  "You said Dan Wallace denies inerrancy, so apologize to him or you're kicked off my blog."  It's tough being kicked off something you don't read, except the rare occasion the post is about you, but someone has to do it.  I wouldn't apologize for the truth.

I do believe that Daniel Wallace denies inerrancy, but he denies denying it.  I was more nuanced than 'he denies inerrancy' in my comments, because I knew he denied denying it.   This is the new requirement in conversation.  You can't state the obvious sometimes, because people make room for deniability with new definitions of the words they would deny if they meant the same thing.  Deniability is the point.  But he only doesn't deny his redefinition of inerrancy.  His redefinition makes it something different than what it was, but you are to ignore that if you want to keep the evangelical coalition together.  It's all a matter of what "is" is.

We arrive to about six or so years later.  Norman Geisler savages the redefinition that Wallace advocates.  Wallace endorses a refutation that contradicts Geisler's defense of inerrancy, not unusually called, Defining Inerrancy.  MacArthur and Mohler endorse Geisler's book, as well as many others that take the same position that Wallace rejects.  They're just saying what I had written in the comment section of that blog the six or so years ago.  The blogger was Frank Turk, partner of Phil Johnson, executive director of John MacArthur's Grace to You, editor of many of his books.  Early next year, MacArthur will hold a biblical inerrancy summit.  I would be sure there will be some confrontation of the Wallace view there.  I'll be interested in what comes out of it.  Maybe Frank will attend and find out what side he's on with something more effective than sticking your finger in the wind.

With all of the above being said, what about the idea of the inerrancy of scripture?  I had done this before, but I went to google books and put in a search for "inerrancy," period, between 1/1/1500 and 1/1/1800.  The English word inerrancy was not used to apply to the Bible during that period.  It was used by Roman Catholics to apply to the Roman Catholic Church and the pope.  Then I looked between 1/1/1800 to 1/1/1850.  The same.  Then 1/1/1850 to 1/1/1875.  I got more precise and used "inerrancy of scripture," thinking that this is when that started to be used.  You still were not getting that terminology from Christians.  Something changed between 1/1/1875 and 1/1/1885.  You got the writing then of B. B. Warfield, longtime professor at Princeton.

The book was published in 1881, entitled, The Christian Treasury.  Beginning on p. 265 of that book, you could read an article written by A.A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, entitled, "Inspiration."   You will not in fact find the word "inerrancy" in that entire article.  However, in the article, the two men wrote this line on p. 284:

Hence, in all the affirmations of Scripture of every kind, there is no more errors in the words of the original autographs than in the thoughts they were chosen to express.

Two pages later, they write further on this:

Nevertheless the historical faith of the Church has always been that all the affirmations of Scripture of all kinds, whether of spiritual doctrine or duty, or of physical or historical fact, or of psychological or philosophical principle, are without any error, when the ipsissima verba of the original autographs are ascertained and interpreted in their natural and intended sense. 

Later, on p. 293, they expand on those lines:

A proved error in Scripture contradicts not only our doctrine but the Scripture claims and therefore its inspiration in making those claims.

No one knew at the time that these would be landmark quotes, recited again and again and again in future books.  They didn't even use the term inerrancy, but the words "without any error" are the source for the term.  In one sense, Warfield (and to a lesser extent, Hodge) is given credit for inventing the doctrine of inerrancy.  How?  Why?

Warfield was in fact watering down the idea of the Bible being without error, protecting evangelicalism and perhaps Christianity from liberalism.  The manuscripts of scripture were under attack and so Warfield concocted the new doctrine that inerrancy actually was to be found in what he termed the "original manuscripts," found twice in that article on inspiration.  You won't find "original manuscripts" in the Westminster Confession of Faith or the London Baptist Confession.  They use "original tongues," that is, "original languages."

Warfield truly does represent the historic view of inerrancy, but it was not a historic bibliology.  Those before him espoused a view of the Bible that is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession and communicated by John Owen in this statement from his "Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scriptures" (volume IV of his complete works, p. 393):

It is true, we have not the autographa of Moses and the prophets, of the apostles and evangelists; but the apographa, or “copies,” which we have, contain every iota that was in them.

In other words, the historical view of inerrancy didn't revert back to the original autographs, but to the apographa.  You won't find any other belief, until Warfield came along to read his view into the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Warfield defended evangelicalism from liberalism with new boundaries to the terminology "without error" -- the original manuscripts -- which is called "inerrancy."  The next stage comes from Daniel Wallace and others like him, who still want to use the term, but want to make it mean something different.  

I'm sympathetic with the battle in evangelicalism over inerrancy.  I support the Geisler-Mohler-MacArthur view over the Daniel Wallace one.  But let's not get this wrong.  Even what Warfield believed, which is considered the historic view of inerrancy, and in a sense, it is, does not represent biblical or historic bibliology.  Before enlightenment and even modern rationalism, Christians believed that the copies that we possessed were without error like the originals.  Like the originals, not just inerrant in doctrine, but inerrant in the very words.

I'm not saying that Owen or Turretin and others didn't believe that the original autographs were without error.  Of course they believed that.  But they believed more than that.  That's how this article is wrong, essentially revising history to read back the Princetonian view into the past.  Inerrancy did begin with Warfield in a technical sense.  But something more than and better than Warfield started with the Bible and made its way through history.  That's what I believe.


Now that this post has sat here for a brief time, I want to make some comments that are not in any necessary order.  First, I wanted to show the inconsistency and the political nature of evangelicalism, as bad or worse in conservative evangelicalism as fundamentalism.  If it was based on principle, on what scripture teaches, Frank Turk would give in.  He doesn't.  And it doesn't look like it matters to evangelicals, depending on who is the one who says it.  They might decry the big shots, but they play the same game.  The same game.  Count it.  They do.  If the one guy, Micaiah says it, it doesn't count, but if a celebrity among the four hundred prophets says it, it becomes acceptable.  Truth should be truth.

Second, Warfield was a sheer pragmatist in attempting to "save" the seminarians and clergy from liberalism.  His position, which is the historic position -- historic as in 140 years now, is indefensible, but fits into the game that is evangelicalism.   Inerrancy in the original manuscripts.  That can't be proven wrong, because we don't have them.  I do believe that it is a kind of Platonic text to the evangelical.  The Platonic ideal, floating in spiritual ether.  The ones we actually use -- wink, wink -- those have errors and are a work in progress.  But seminarians and clergy can grasp on to the ideal, the original manuscripts.   The idea that the original manuscripts were perfect is not defended from the original manuscripts, but from copies.   If these seminarians and clergy think too much, they'll still have a basis to press the eject button, but these are the straws given to evangelicals to grasp after.

Third, Geisler and Mohler and MacArthur and everyone else are all playing the game too.  They say, "Uh-hum, inerrancy was around before Warfield, because lookey at Chrysostom and Augustine, and they said this and this."  But actually, the position that came out the other side and onto paper from the printing press is a position that they deny.  They deny the Westminster divines, the London Baptist Confession, Owen, Turretin, and anything that believers had to say about it for 350 years. They don't take the actual historic or biblical position.  They aren't even consistent in their own application of scripture.  They take the sausage from Warfield's factory and then spin it into 'that was the thing that was believed.'  No.  It wasn't.  Look at Mueller's Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2.

Fourth, now we get Daniel Wallace just taking the Warfield position to another iteration, a much worse one, but for the same pragmatic reasoning, to save the seminarians and the clergy from leaving the reservation.  They have concocted new theology and a new approach to the Bible to get it done, like Warfield did.  However, the line was already drawn for Geisler and Mohler and MacArthur, and they shall not pass.  Why not keep moving to an even more pragmatic position that will work even more or better?  Is it just generational?


Joe Cassada said...

I get what you're saying, but I wonder if you could define how you use the word "error." Is error a mistake (like a missing word) or is error falsehood (like modalism, etc.)?

With that in mind, how do you answer the skeptics who say none of the extant manuscripts agree 100%? Doesn't that imply some kind of error in the words? Given the TR family agree closely, yet even the smallest variance implies some error in the words (at least to the minds of many).

I think this is why many lean to the preservation of truth over the preservation of words.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks. Error became science, history, etc. with Warfield. Before that, it was a different word. A different word was a corruption. Today it is called a "variant." Corruption is theological and variant is scientific. Warfield thought he saw the demise of evangelicalism and Christianity so he spun the Westminster Confession to read in textual criticism. He brought inerrancy back to the original manuscripts.

As far as the understanding historically -- the following represents it well. Let me know if you have any questions, or be free to comment here.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Paul Ferguson puts it together nicely in this article:

Anonymous said...

If someone believes you have to reconstruct the biblical text, as Daniel Wallace essentially does, then isn't that a denial of inerrancy.

Jon Gleason said...

TQC -- "If someone believes you have to reconstruct the biblical text, as Daniel Wallace essentially does, then isn't that a denial of inerrancy."

It depends on if you are talking about the inerrancy of what we have or the inerrancy of the autographs. If the former, yes, it is a denial of inerrancy.

But for Wallace, inerrancy only ever applied to the autographs. He bought Warfield's redefinition, hook, line, and sinker. And with that redefinition, textual reconstruction is not a denial of autographal inerrancy. You can believe the autographs were inerrant, textual reconstruction is simply (in theory) trying to determine what they said.

Theoretically. But the problem is you've removed the Divine from a vital area of your view of Scripture (preservation), and elevated yourself (as the textual reconstructor) to a position of sitting in judgment on the words of Scripture.

Philosophically it begins to eat away at your high view of Scripture. And spiritually you've warped your thinking towards the Scriptures and that's a spiritually dangerous place to be. You leave yourself vulnerable to deception and more warped thinking. Belief in the absolute veracity of Scripture, even the autographs, is likely to be one of the early casualties.

Thus, very few textual critics are at all conservative in their theology. Wallace is somewhat an exception, but we can see where he's going. Harry Sturz, who taught Wallace (and me, BTW) textual criticism was definitely an exception. Not that I agree with Sturz on the text, but he did have a high view of Scripture, and would be rolling in his grave over what Wallace has written.

It's common to claim that Bruce Metzger was evangelical, but if so, he was way on the leftward side of evangelicalism. But he was VERY evangelical compared to the vast majority of textual critics. It's hard to find anyone among those who hold to the tattered shreds of the WH theory (that's all anyone holds of it anymore) that is anything other than a rank unbeliever.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Joe,

The idea that no two manuscripts are exactly the same is a myth. See:

Anonymous said...

WH theory (Textual Criticism) is to Christianity (the tares within) as Evolution is to the world.


It seems they want it both ways. Look at virtually any church's statement of faith, or "What we Believe" section of their website on the Bible. Here's an example:

"The Bible
We believe that the Bible is the written word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and without error in the original manuscripts. The Bible is the revelation of God's truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice."

Look at the tenses:

The Bible IS the written word of God...

It WAS without error in the original manuscripts...

The Bible IS the revelation of God's truth

The Bible IS infallible...

How can it used to be inerrant in the originals and infallible now?

Art G said...

At 2:42 of 4:54 of, Dr. Geisler discusses copyists errors including the 2 Kings 8:26 vs 2 Chronicles 22:2 inconsistency. Page 157 of Thou Shalt Keep Them has an explanation. What is the best presentation to someone who asks about this inconsistency?

Art G

Don Johnson said...

Kent, it is pretty well known that the term "inerrancy" is a fairly new term. You should search pre-Warfield on "infallibility". I don't know what you will turn up, but it is my understanding that "infallibility" was the term until liberals started hijacking it and claiming to believe it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3