Errors of Inerrancy #9: Inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope.

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

The Errors of Inerrancy #9: Inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope.

Biblical Inerrancy not only causes misunderstanding of the Bible, it also causes misuse of the Bible. When Biblical Inerrancy abolishes the distinction between the Word of God and the human witness of the Holy Bible, it also abolishes the distinction between the Holy Bible and an individual's interpretation of the Bible. Consequently, asserting that the Bible is inerrant is a covert way to assert an interpretation of the Bible is inerrant as well! The Bible is asserted to be so clearly and certainly free from error, that anyone who simply reads it, will interpret it without error. So, disagreeing with a proponent of Biblical Inerrancy who cites the Bible is tantamount to disagreeing with God Almighty! Proof-texting is a pinnacle example of the problem, that occurs when a biblicist makes an authoritarian and dogmatic statement, demanding that others accept their opinions absolutely, by citing a single, isolated verse of Scripture (regardless of context). Therefore, Biblical Inerrancy weaponizes the Bible, because the Bible becomes a list of propositional statements, that may be quoted to control others. And this practice is often praised as "being under the authority of the Bible", but in truth it makes the Bible into a way to control people and the Word of God! Or as Karl Barth once said, "The Fundamentalist says he knows the Bible, but he must have become master over the Bible, which means master over revelation."[1] So the ninth Error of Inerrancy is that inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope by elevating the Bible above all criticism (denying even internal material criticism where the Bible criticizes itself), and then citing the Bible in order to control others through authoritarian claims. 

Karl Barth on the Paper Pope

The phrase "Paper Pope" comes from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol 1/2. Barth believed that Biblical Inerrancy was a false doctrine of inspiration developed in the 17th century because the Bible ceased to be a witness to the revelation of the Word of God, and became revelation itself; the Bible was grounded in itself, apart from Jesus or the Holy Spirit or any external event it described.  Barth said that the Bible became a Paper Pope, that was controlled by its interpreters. He said that the living Pope in Rome was better than the Paper Pope of Protestantism, because the living Pope had to conform to the proclamations of past popes, living authorities in the Catholic Church, and many others.  The Paper Pope repeats every private interpretation a proponent of Biblical Inerrancy imagines, such that when an individual holds up his Paper Pope, no one on Heaven or Earth may disagree with them. 

"Therefore we have to resist and reject the 17th century doctrine of inspiration as false doctrine. . . . In it the Word of God could no longer be the Word of God and therefore it was no longer recognised as such. The Bible was now grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost. It became a "paper Pope," and unlike the living Pope in Rome it was wholly given up into the hands of its interpreters. It was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power. And in this form the Bible became so like the holy books of other religions, for which something similar had always been claimed, that the superiority of its claim could not be asserted in relation to them or to the many achievements of the human spirit generally. What product of human inventiveness does not ultimately rest on the same claim of infallibility? . . . In content the 17th century doctrine of inspiration asserted things which cannot be maintained in face of a serious reading and exposition of what the Bible itself says about itself, and in the face of an honest appreciation of the facts of its origin and tradition. Therefore the postulate on which 17th century man staked everything proved incapable of fulfillment. . . .  that once the doctrine arose it was . . . a kind of theological bogeyman." [2]

Karl Barth

Jürgen Moltmann on the Dictatorship of the Exegetes

Jürgen Moltmann reads and interprets the Bible in a similar way to Karl Barth, and expresses a similar criticism of Biblical Inerrancy. Moltmann was once criticized for not being a disciplined exegete, because his approach to Scripture is more free from the literals of the Biblical text, and in response he repeats Barth's criticism of Biblical Inerrancy, by calling disciplined exegesis a "Dictatorship of the Exegetes". Moltmann says that theology isn't a dictation of Biblical texts, or proof-texting, because this turns exegetes into dictators over the Bible and people! He said, it is a myth that all theology must be conformed to Scripture, because the great theological systems of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Tillich and others were not merely repeating Biblical texts. Biblical Inerrancy pretentiously claims that they are more faithful to the Bible, but in reality, this mechanical theory of inspiration inhibits or event prohibits theological development! So requiring all theology to be conformed to the Holy Scriptures prevents understanding the Bible! Many of the great discoveries of theology would not have been possible if rigid conformity is required. 

Theology is not subject to the dictation of the texts, or the dictatorship of the exegetes. Questionings as to whether the theology is 'in conformity with Scripture' seem to me to be a remnant left over from the old doctrine of verbal inspiration. The great theological outlines and systems of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Tillich and so forth do not see themselves as 'disciplined exegesis'. Calvin wrote disciplined commentaries in addition to his Institutio. Barth's Epistle to the Romans does not fit into the category of scholarly New Testament commentaries. In Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology there is hardly a single biblical quotation. Barth's dialectical doctrine of predestination cannot be found in this form in the Bible, nor can the magnificent structure of his doctrine of reconciliation. Richard Bauckham has taken me to be an exegete, and and I am not one. I am a theological partner in dialogue with the texts which I cite, not their exegete. [3] 

Jürgen Moltmann 


[^1] Barth, Karl. Karl Barth's Table Talk. Ed. John D. Godsey. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965. 9. Print.
[^2] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, Vol 1.2 Doctrine of the Word of God. Study Edition #5 ed. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 71-3. Print. [525-6]
[^3] Moltmann, Jürgen. "The Bible, the Exegete, and the Theologian." God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology ofJürgen Moltmann. By Richard Bauckham. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2006. 230-31. Print.



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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