**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!