Why I am Not an Inerrantist – Part Three

**Disclaimer – There is no monolithic inerrancy movement, but rather many different competing conceptions of inerrancy. When I say, as I do below, “Inerrancy assumes . . .” I know that such a statement may be true of some conceptions of inerrancy and not of others. My full series should eventually address reasons that speak to many if not most conceptions of inerrancy.**

3. Inerrancy assumes that Scripture, in order to communicate truth, must be error-free.

Many who confess that Scripture is inerrant operate under an unfortunately narrow conception of “truth.” Essentially, that truth is error-free. The simplicity of this equation is no-doubt alluring, but it is ultimately indefensible. A simple mathematical joke will serve as an excellent counter-example. “There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who cannot.” I doubt there will be any who contest that an error exists in this joke. According to the Law of Excluded Middle, it must be true that, either I can count, or that I cannot count–no third option exists. Given the categories being discussed, it is an error to suggest that there are three kinds of people. But it is important to recognize that this error has the potential to communicate truth. Let us assume that I am not trying to tell a joke when I make this statement. The error communicates the truth that I belong to the latter category–I cannot count! Let us assume that I am trying to tell a joke when I make this statement. The “error” communicates that I am not really funny (though whether it is because the joke itself is not funny or because jokes are inherently void of humor when I tell them is a subjective judgment only you can make). Whether the error was intentional or unintentional, it communicates truth.

Of course, some may suggest that the error in the above example is merely the vehicle for the truth, which is itself error free. Hence, such people will argue that while Scripture can contain error as a vehicle for truth, its essential message–the truth it is communicating–is error-free. I could be de-contextualizing or otherwise abusing John Hobbins’ words, but I was struck by something he said in his recent post, A Language Without Literature is a Disemboweled Corpse:

Those who think it’s possible to disassociate form [metaphor] from content [propositions] do not know the first thing about language, communication, or cooking.

Whatever we say about the content of Scripture should not be so radically divorced from those things we say about the form of Scripture, though I invite John to expand upon his statement and my appropriation of it. But even if we accept this dichotomy between vehicle and content, we have moved beyond the confession that Scripture is inerrant to confess that Scripture’s truth is inerrant, which is an entirely different confession!

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5 thoughts on “Why I am Not an Inerrantist – Part Three

  1. Have you read the Chicago Statement? The evangelical position on inerrancy, if this Statement can represent evangelicals, is that Scripture is inerrant because of God. If God is truthful and never lies, then, derivitavely, Scripture (i.e. His Word) is inerrant. Also, I think that many would claim (rightly so) that the Bible is self-attesting. Any statements about Scripture/Word of God within Scripture describe it as true and pure (cf. Psalm 12:6; John 17:17). So, I am having trouble grasping how point four is a good argument against Scripture considering that the primary example to instantiate inerrancy is the Source of the text. If one were to go and investigate whether a prophecy came true or a biblical city actually existed, that would be corroborative evidence. However, I do not think historically Christians have considered the Scripture to be inerrancy based on these external evidences; Scripture’s inerrancy has been tied to its inspiration by the living God.

    About your three-kinds-of-people-joke: the problem with this example is that you, a speaker, had a motivation. You did not actually believe that there are three kinds of people and that the two kinds defined the three. You intentially made a joke. You formed the joke (or borrowed it) and relayed it to an audience. So two comments: 1) the type of statement was never meant to important a fact about reality; 2) if we compare the biblical authors/Author to you in that situation, they intentionally lied or gave a logical inconsistency if they were not trying give a joke. If they were joking, were they trying to impart metaphysical facts? I do not think so. The reason your example works is because you know that it is a joke and you spoke it with that motivation.

  2. I think I had a few typos in the last paragraph…

    *You intentionally made a joke

    Let me clarify some thoughts of my last sentence. If you actually believed the “joke-statement” then you would not know how to count or that you do not know the definition of “three.” This seems to be unintentional error. I am finding this example difficult though because you knew it was a joke, and that is why you chose it. You even used an law of logic to explain the joke! You knowing it was a joke makes the statement not about indicative realities but more a speech-act statement. Also, how is it an error if you are not funny?

    So can you give quotes in Scripture that, when interpreted rightly, display an illogical mind that unintentially asserts logical errors?

    1. I think you are reading too much in to my particular example and failing to appreciate the essence of the argument. Truth, or a true statement, need not be wholly removed from any association with error in order for it to still be regarded as truth/true. That is what my joke illustrates, all intentions aside. This is a move many in the inerrantist camp make when they respond to critics who point to genuine error of one sort or another in the Bible. For example, the unchecked assumption of the Biblical writers was that the sun revolved around the earth. This is erroneous, and yet inerrantists are * correct* to challenge that this error in any way undermines the truth(s) that are communicated by means of this pre-scientific worldview. In this case, an error is a vehicle for truth, which means that truth need not be wholly removed from any association with error in order for it to be true. My problem with the inerrantists is when they cannot recognize that this move changes their confession from “Scripture is inerrant” to “Scripture’s truth is inerrant.”

  3. In dealing with the sun revolving around the earth, is this really the truth that the psalmist and other writers were trying to convey? Is there no room for phenomenological language? Is this language not the vernacular of the common people? We need to understand the language and genre of Scripture. Do you call up weather stations accusing meteorologists of lying and saying, “They are lying; they are in error. The sun does not rise! The earth is spinning on its axis as it revolves around the sun!”?

    So what in the text of Scripture led you to reject the inerrancy of the Bible?

    1. I don’t feel like this conversation is going anywhere. Anything I say in response to your last post will only be a rearticulation of my original post and original response. As to your final question, the issues I address in this series is what led me to reject the inerrancy of the Bible.

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