The Errors of Inerrancy: #1 The Church has never possessed an inerrant Bible

errorofinerrancy1[The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals.]

The Errors of Inerrancy: #1. The Church has never possessed an inerrant Bible.

No one person or church has ever possessed an inerrant Bible, because Biblical Inerrancy "strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture" (c.f. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X) and all the Original Autographs have not existed at the same time. It's possible that an early church may have briefly possessed two or more Original Autographs of Paul's letters (e.g. 1 & 2 Corinthians), but no one has ever seen all of the Original Autographs of the New Testament. Therefore, the Church has never possessed or operated with a complete inerrant Bible. The extant Bible that has actively guided the Church everywhere throughout history, from the very beginning, has never been an inerrant Bible.

Inerrancy undermines the Authority of the Bible in the Church

According to the logic of Biblical Inerrancy, only the lost Original Autographs are authoritative, and extant copies of the Bible are authoritative so far as they accurately reproduce the inerrant Original Autographs. Therefore the Church has never operated with an authoritative Bible because the Original Autographs perished shortly after they were written, and as few as fifty people or less may have been eye-witnesses to one or more of the so-called inerrant Original Autographs! Sadly, the hypothetical inerrant Original Autographs have perished and are forever lost, and their brief existence was like shooting stars that unknown people happened to see strike brilliantly across the sky before disappearing forever into the darkness of space.

Inerrancy undermines the Infallibility of the Bible.

On the contrary, the extant Bible has always had authority in the Church throughout history despite the immediate extinction of the inerrant Original Autographs. The authoritative Bible is the extant Bible actively used in the Church, and not the extinct inerrant Original Autographs. The authority of the Bible does not depend on inerrant Original Autographs, but exclusively upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit, such that revelation of the Word of God is faithfully witnessed through even inaccurate copies of the Bible (e.g. consider the influence of the KJV Bible that used the defective Textus Receptus). Establishing the authority of the Bible on extinct inerrant Original Autographs means that the Word of God has failed to outlive the parchment of the Original Autographs they were written upon, and is in flat contradiction to Matthew 24:35, where the Evangelist declares the word of Jesus are infallible.

Inerrancy undermines Church Dogma dependent on single words of scripture.

It is impossible to say that a single word of any extant Bible is identical to the inerrant Original Autograph. Many Christian Doctrines are established on a single word of Scripture (c.f σπέρματι in Gal 3:16). Ironically, this includes inerrancy as well! B.B. Warfield's argument for Inerrancy in his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible rests exclusively on the single greek word inspiration (θεόπνευστος) in 2 Tim 3:16! So it is impossible to affirm Biblical Inerrancy and "DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs" (Chicago Statement, Art X).

Biblical Inerrancy is a Dispensable Accretion to the Doctrine of Inspiration.

Martin Luther said that "there are two entities: God and the Scripture of God, which are no less than two entities, creator and creature of God." The error of inerrancy might have been averted if this distinction between the divine revelation of the Word of God and the human witness in the Holy Scriptures were maintained. Inerrancy unnecessarily combines these entities in a similar way to how the monophysites combined the human and divine natures in Christology (and for clarity, I'm not saying Biblical Inerrancy is a heresy). The desire to affirm the Bible, naively resulted in reducing the doctrine of inspiration to a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. Maintaining Luther's distinction abolishes the requirement for inerrant Original Autographs entirely! If there are errors in the Scriptures, then the testimony of the Holy Spirit will enable the Church to hear the Word of God faithfully and accurately in Scriptures, despite the Scripture's capacity for error.

Biblical Inerrancy is a Mechanical Dictation Theory of Inspiration

For instance, Paul dictated the Epistle of the Romans through the prison bars to Tertius (c.f. Rom 16:11), so in his cause, there is no written Original Autograph! Tertius copied down what Paul spoke, so the first written copy of the Epistle to the Romans is not inerrant (according to the logic of Biblical Inerrancy). Asserting that Tertius' transcription was the inerrant Original Autograph of Romans reduces Biblical Inerrancy to a "mechanical dictation theory of inspiration" (identical to the Islamic view of the Qu'ran). Consider the odd conclusion that Paul's spoken words are not inerrant, but Tertius' transcription of Paul's words are inerrant! Suggesting Paul and his scribe co-authored the inerrant epistle is equally and likewise odd. Proponents of Biblical Inerrancy have said, "WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities" (Chicago Statement, Art. IX). However, in this view, Paul is comparable to a computer speaker that plays heavenly music, and Tertius is like a microphone that records a heavenly musician—and no one considers speakers and microphones to be authors of music today!

The extant Bible is always better than the extinct inerrant Bible

The Bible that has always been normative and authoritative in the Church has never been an inerrant Bible! So there's no need to imagine an inerrant Bible. And since we have no known witnesses to describe the ontology of the lost Original Autographs, we may not make any positive statements regarding their composition or nature. If the lost Original Autographs were miraculously preserved and one day discovered, and upon analysis, proved to have the same types of errors that all future copies possessed, there would be no change to the Bible possessed everywhere today! It is the extant Bible, not the inerrant Bible, that has been norming norm for the Church and the extant Bible, not the extinct inerrant Bible, that is the sola scriptura of the Church.

The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals:

#1 The Church has never possessed an inerrant Bible
#2 Inerrant Original Autographs are a Tautology of Biblical Inerrancy
#3 Inerrancy Censors the Bible’s Capacity for Error 
#4 Inerrancy denies that the Bible contains scientific errors
#5 Inerrancy reduced the Biblical Authors into Ventriloquist Dummies
#6 Inerrancy obscures Jesus with the Bible
#7 Biblical Inerrancy’s Myth-Making Machine, Unveiled 
#8 The Protestant Reformers Would Not Affirm Biblical Inerrancy (Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al.)
#9: Inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope. 
#10: Biblical Inerrancy Divides Evangelicals

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  1. One of my former professors at Multnomah argues that it isn’t the spoken words that are inerrant scripture, but instead the written; this would elide the problem of amanuensis. But his referent was more to inspiration rather than inerrancy; nevertheless he would apply his point, I would think, to inerrancy as a sub-set of inspiration.

    • Emphasizing the text over the writer of the that text is always an odd argument. I’m Barthian in my orientation to Scripture, so I always say the written Scriptures has an indirect identity with the Word of God (namely, Jesus), but it has a capacity for errors, such that the witness of Scripture isn’t greater than that which it witness to!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • I’m Websterian in my doctrine of Scripture so I would say that Scripture is in the domain of the Word. My former profs argument is a result of a literalistic reading of II Tim 3.16 which says Scripture is inspired eo ipso the text is God breathed — a tautology.

  2. Your views are closer to the reformers. I am a Catholic this argument seems odd to me. We have Bible and tradition. As Bible is Word of God in human history a scientific approach to history reveals what text said.

    • Yes, my views are similar to the reformers. I’ll discuss this in future posts in this series. I read that there’s some similarity between Biblical Inerrancy (i.e. Chicago Statement) and Dei Verbum of Vatican II. I haven’t explored the connection myself. I’d be interested in hearing a Catholic perspective on it.

      • The Catholic view at that time moved from a fundamentalist to a scientific view. From St Thomas Aquinas Catholics believe that reason and revelation don’t contradict each other. According to Vatican two Bible contain what is needed for our salvation. Under Pius 12 Catholics should firstly seek what Bible meant in a historical context. The fear of Protestant fundementalist modern studies undermine faith. Catholic teaching Fr R E Brown was appointed by Paul 6 and John Paul 2 and praised by Benedict 16.

  3. Note well: You begin your post by misquoting the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, stating: “No one person or church has ever possessed an inerrant Bible, because Biblical Inerrancy “strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture” (c.f. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X),” when the Statement actually says, “We affirm that INSPIRATION, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture.”

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