The Case For Inerrancy:
A Methodological Analysis
The church of the 20th century not only demands an apologia for the authority of her Sacred Scriptures but an apologia for the apologia. In these times not only an adequate defense of inerrancy is necessary, but such a defense needs to be defended. The reason for this proliferation of apologies is clear. Not only do we face the viewpoint of those who maintain that the Bible is full of errors and consequently no cogent case for its inspiration of infallibility can be made, but many who maintain a high view of Scripture contend that a rational defense of inerrancy ought not to be made even if it could be made.
The position of this essay is to maintain that not only can a defense of inerrancy be presented, but that such a defense ought to be made. The purpose of this paper is not to provide a comprehensive apology for the case for inerrancy but rather to provide a methodological framework for such a defense. This will involve a brief rehearsal and analysis of methodological options that are before us.
THE CONFESSIONAL METHOD
The confessional method may be defined as that method by which the Scriptures are confessed to be the Word of God (being inspired, trustworthy, reliable, etc.) and this is recognized by faith alone.
No rational defense for infallibility or inerrancy is given. On the contrary this method eschews such a defense for introducing foreign rationalistic elements into a purely fideistic approach. A major exponent of this method would be G.C. Berkouwer of the Netherlands. In his two-volume work on Holy Scripture (part of the larger series, Dogmatische Studien) Berkouwer celebrates the Scriptures as the Word of God, as being inspired, sufficient, trustworthy, etc., but shrinks from the notion of verbal inspiration or inerrancy. Berkouwer sees the doctrine of inerrancy and/or verbal inspiration as involving a formalistic view of Scripture that isolates itself from the "message" of the Scripture itself. He directs his critique primarily against Roman Catholic views (particularly those arising out of the modernist controversy at the turn of the century)1 and against positions articulated by American fundamentalism of the same period. He sees verbal inspiration as a product of a post-reformation quest for rational certainty. He warns of the danger of a speculatively constructed theory of inspiration that provides an apriori escape hatch from all uncertainty. He sees in this theory an intrusion of foreign Aristotelian elements into the Christian faith.2
Berkouwer speaks of a "confidence" (vertrouwen) in the trustworthiness of Scripture that is inseparably related to the contents of the message.3
Zo kan ook blijken, dat het in de Schrisft niet gaat om een door ons geconstrueerd zekerheidspunt, dat door ons wordt aangegrepen, omdat we in de crisis der zekerheden toch een vast, onaantastbaar orientering spunt nodig hebben. Zulk een verklaring heeft men meermalen gegeven, b.v. toen men in de belijdenis van het Schriftgezag een protestantse parallell meende te zien van het vaste punt in het rooms-katholieke kenken nl. de onfeilbaarheid van de paus. Van de protestantse visie op het Schriftgezag gaf men dan een psychologische verklaring vanuit de behoefte aan een tastbare onwrikbare zekerheidsgrond en sprak van een papieren paus, een door Lessing gebruikte uitdrukking.4
H. Berkof accurately traces the development of Berkouwer's method in terms of "correlatie." This method of correlation can be traced throughout Berkouwer's Dogmatische Studien and involves a decisive shift in Berkouwer's view of Scripture. Berkof sees Berkouwer moving through three different states of Biblical views. The first stage involves a view of the "complete authority of Scripture." This stage
(directed against the movement toward subjectivism of German theology) is detected in Berkouwer's earlier writings including his doctoral dissertation of 1932, Geloof en Openbaring in de nieuwere duitse theologie, his book Karl Barth (1936) and especially his major volume of 1938, Het probleem der Schriftkritiek. The second phase which Berkof delineates is that one which emphasizes the "Redemptive Content of Scripture" which he sees beginning in 1949 and manifesting itself clearly in Geloof in volharding. The third and final phase is what Berkof calls the "existential tendency of Scripture."5 In the third phase Berkouwer seeks to steer a course between subjectivism and objectivism in which the accent is found on the personal involvement of the believer with the life-transforming message of the Scripture. This approach, which Van Til calls "activistic"6 seeks to avoid a "causal approach" to the Word of God that would build an apologetic from the perspective of the believer who responds to God ex auditu verbi.
The strength of the method of confession as advocated by Berkouwer consists in the following: 1. This method escapes the pejorative, emotive categories so often identified with fundamentalism and orthodoxy. It is "organic" and open-ended enough to escape the appellations of "rigid," "dogmatic," obscurantist," etc. 2. This method takes seriously the human element of Scripture and allows for a thorough-going analysis of the cultural, linguistic, and historical framework of the Scripture. This method can make abundant use of higher critical tools of Biblical studies without abandoning a confidence of the trustworthiness of Scripture. 3. This method is free from any charge of a "docetic" view of Scripture such as that leveled by Karl Barth against orthodoxy. 4. This method provides liberation from any need to define and redefine such terms as "inerrancy" or "infallibility." The believer is freed from any need to "harmonize" difficult passages in a coherent "systematic" form. Berkouwer is in no danger of being accused of holding to a "mechanical" or "dictation" theory of inspiration.
The weaknesses of this method include the following: 1. Berkouwer's method leaves us without a rational apologetic. His method never takes us away from fideism. Consequently the Christian (with a Bible) has no better argument to offer the unbeliever than does the Muslim with his Koran. 2. Berkouwer's method leaves us no way to solve the subject-object dilemma and offers no escape from an arbitrary subjectivism. Van Til says:
If Berkouwer thinks that an activistic pattern of thinking is a better means of expressing the doctrines of grace
than the traditional one, he would oblige us by showing how he can, by using his method, avoid slipping into neo-orthodoxy altogether. So far, every time he uses the activist pattern of thought, his theology also becomes activist. When Berkouwer is most activist in his thinking he first starts off with causal thinking as though it were an intelligible way of thinking without the biblical presuppositions of creation and redemption, then he takes off into the realm of the unspeakable, the realm of praise without words, in order to finally return and speak of that realm in the language of causality.7
3. Berkouwer's method leaves us without an answer to the crucial issue of our day concerning Scripture, namely the question of the degree of Biblical trustworthiness. Is the Bible altogether and completely trustworthy? If so, then what is wrong with the categories of verbal inspiration and inerrancy? If not, then to what degree is the Bible un-trustworthy? How do we deal with the Biblical writers' claims for themselves? To what extent is the Bible the Word of God as well as the Word of man? Does God inspire error? 4. Berkouwer's method is weak with respect to the one who is a spectator, namely, the unbeliever. Berkof says: "Ikgeloof dat the Schrift minder bang is voor toeschouwers-elementen dan Berkouwer" (I believe that the Scripture is less afraid of spectator-elements than Berkouwer).8 To be sure, a believer's confidence in the Biblical text is closely linked to the content of Scripture. We know that "faith comes by hearing and hearing from the Word of God." We respect the importance of faith that comes ex auditu verbi but it seems that in the final analysis the only apologia Berkouwer leaves us is the plea Tolle lege, tolle lege.
THE PRESUPPOSITIONAL METHOD
The presuppositional method of apologetics follows closely the Dutch Calvinistic school that has been influenced heavily by Abraham Kuyper. The leading exponent of this methodology in the 20th century has been Cornelius Van Til. Van Til's defense of Scripture follows closely his general method of apologetics which is presuppositional. He says: "In fact it then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God."9 The starting point of all apologetics is clearly stated by Van Til: "A truly Protestant apologetic must therefore make its beginning from
the presupposition that the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, speaks to him with absolute authority in Scripture."10 Thus, according to Van Til, the proper method of defending the absolute authority of the Scripture is that method which incorporates the notion of the absolute authority of the Scripture in its foundational premise. Any method which does not proceed from the presuppositional basis of the absolute authority of the Scripture involves a presupposition of human autonomy. Scripture must be taken as "self-attesting" if we are to avoid autonomous thinking.11 Autonomous thinking or reasoning on "neutral ground" with unbelievers can only lead to conclusions that are at best "probably true." For the Christian to say that God's Word is "probably true" is to do violence to the integrity of God's self-revelation.
The presuppositional method of apologetics follows closely in the following way:
Premise A The Bible is the infallible Word of God
Premise B The Bible attests to its own infallibility
Premise C The self-attestation of Scripture is an infallible attestation.
Conclusion The Bible is the infallible Word of God.
Here we have a line of reasoning where the conclusion is explicitly stated in the opening premise. This approach has been and may fairly be called circular reasoning. The classical problem with circular reasoning is that it "begs the question."
Circular definitions are a rather obvious instance of question-begging. In its full-blown maturity question-begging can go on for volumes, even through whole systems of thought. As can be guessed, the mature fallacy is not easy to handle. There it is, big as the universe (in Hegel, for example), but just how it operates is hard to show in a simple instance.12
Van Til and others within the presuppositional school are not particularly bothered by the circularity of their approach.13 Van Til, of course, recognizes circularity and goes on at great length to defend it. He maintains that all reasoning is circular in the final analysis. He says:
To admit one's own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting point, the method, and the conclusions are always involved in one another.14
Van Til has written extensively in an attempt to show that
non-Christian presuppositional thinking is self-destructive. He maintains that any presupposition apart from the Christian one leads inevitably to irrationalism.15 Only if one begins with the existence of God can reason be ultimately rational and coherent and empirical data be intelligible.
That Christianity alone provides an ultimately coherent world-view is not in dispute among Christian thinkers. That the presupposition of autonomy will lead inevitably to the denial of theism is not in dispute. That there is no higher authority possible than the testimony of God is not in dispute. That all men ought to recognize the Scripture as being the Word of God is not in dispute. That a Christian cannot abandon his conviction of the existence of God when he enters into debate with the unbeliever is not in dispute. That all reasoning is ultimately circular in the sense that conclusions are inseparably related to presuppositions is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the form of argument for Scripture.
When the classical method argues from historical reliability to infallibility, the existence of God is presupposed in a certain sense. (That is, the category of history has no meaningful basis apart from the existence of God.) But the argument is not explicitly circular. The progression is from general reliability to infallibility, not infallibility to infallibility. The issue is, of course, the issue of common ground. If we are to choose between two possible presuppositions, namely the existence of God or the autonomy of man, then by all means let us choose the former! But this is a false dilemma involving the either / or informal fallacy when there is in fact a tertium quid (self-consciousness). If the presupposition of the existence of God leads inevitably to the affirmation of the existence of God because it begins there and the presupposition of autonomy ends in autonomy (excluding God) because it begins there, how do we decide which presupposition to begin with? This leaves us with a choice between presuppositions that can only be made by pure subjectivism which is a pre-pre-supposition. To avoid this impasse of subjectivism classical apologists have sought a tertium quid that would provide a point of contact with the unbeliever: a presupposition shared by all. This presupposition which is first in the order of knowing, though not first in the order of being, is self-consciousness. By working with this presupposition, apologists have been able to reason directly rather than indirectly to the existence of God and the infallibility of Scripture. Though unbelievers may assume autonomy along with self-consciousness, the notion of autonomy
is not analytically contained in the premise of self-consciousness. Apologists can and have shown that self-consciousness does not lead to or demand autonomy and that autonomy is a false assumption.
The strengths of the presuppositional method involve the exposure of the existence of, and poverty of pagan presuppositions. In Dooeyweerd's categories autonomy has been exposed as a "pretense." Van Til's method is rich in its critique-value of alternate systems of truth. His method exerts a restraining influence on those who would exalt reason to the primary place in order of being rather than knowing. He forces us to be careful about viewing epistemological systems such as rationalism or empiricism as being more authoritative than revelation.
The weaknesses of this method are focused in its dependence upon circularity in argument. The clear and present danger of this approach is subjectivism. As Warfield detected a strong element of mysticism and subjectivism in Kuyper, so not a few contemporary evangelical scholars detect these elements in Van Til. The debate is an intramural one between men who agree as to the nature of Scripture but differ with respect to apologetic methodology. The debate continues as indicated in the compilation of essays found in Van Til's Festschrift, Jerusalem and Athens.
THE CLASSICAL METHOD
The classical approach to the defense of Scripture is one that concerns itself both with deduction and induction, external and internal evidence. The approach proceeds on the basis of a progression from the premise of basic or general trustworthiness of Scripture to the conclusion of inerrancy or infallibility. The reasoning proceeds as follows:
Premise A The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
Premise B On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Premise C Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an infallible authority.
Premise D Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy: it is the very Word of God.
Premise E That the word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
Conclusion On the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, the Church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy, i.e., infallible.
It is important to note at this point that this method does not involve circular reasoning. Circular reasoning occurs when the conclusion is already present in the first premise. The argument itself is not an infallible argument as each premise involves matters of inductive or deductive reasoning by fallible rational creatures. There is neither a formal apriori assumption nor a subjective leap of faith in the method. Rather, the method is involved with careful historical, empirical investigation as well as with logical inferences.
Premise A The argument, of course, stands or falls on the basis of the premise. If the Biblical documents are not at least basically trustworthy then we have no historical basis for knowledge of Jesus at all. Without a reliable historical witness to Jesus the Christian faith would be reduced to an esoteric-gnostic religion. That the Bultmannian approach to faith has been called neo-gnostic is inseparably related to its un-historical methodology.
It is not within the scope of this essay to give a detailed defense of the general reliability of the Biblical documents. Such a defense, at this point in history, should not be necessary in light of the overwhelming abundance of evidence and testimony confirming the historical reliability of the Scripture.16 Only the most radical higher critics would deny the premise of basic or general reliability. One testimony, however, will be added. Consider the following passage from a joint statement issued by William Foxwell Albright, the dean of twentieth century archaeologists, and C.S. Mann:
For much too long a time the course of New Testament scholarship has been dictated by theological, quasitheological, and philosophical presuppositions. In far too many cases commentaries on NT books have neglected such basic requirements as up-to-date historical and philological analysis of the text itself. In many ways this preoccupation with theological and metaphysical interpretation is the unacknowledged child of Hegelianism. To this should be added the continuing and baleful influence of Schleiermacher and his successors on the whole treatment of historical material. The result has often been steadfast refusal to take seriously the findings of archaeological and linguistic research. We believe that there is less and less excuse for the resulting confusion in this latter half of the twentieth century.
Closely allied with these presuppositions is the ever present fog of existentialism, casting ghostly shadows over an already confused landscape. Existentialism as a method of interpreting the New Testament is based upon a whole series of undemonstrable postulates of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, left-wing scholastic, and relativistic origins. So anti-historical is this approach that it fascinates speculative minds which prefer clichés to factual data, and shifting ideology to empirical research and logical demonstration.17
That the case for the infallibility of Scripture rests on a premise that can only be established on the inductive basis of historical-empirical evidence should not be a problem to the Christian. It is on the historical-empirical plane that our redemption has been accomplished. The Biblical witnesses are "eye" witnesses. If the eye witnesses are not reliable we are left with a subjectivistic arbitrary claim of unconditional importance of Jesus of Nazareth. If the Christian faith is indeed established on an historical foundation then it is essential that we have a reliable knowledge of that history. Without it, the subject-object polarity is reduced to one pole, namely the former.18
The basic reliability of the Biblical witnesses provides a crucial point of contact for the Christian believer engaged in apologetics. Without it we must opt for fideism.
Premise B If the Biblical data concerning the person and work of Christ is reliable we have sufficient evidence for any reasonable man to come to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth is God Incarnate. Again, it is beyond the scope of this essay to demonstrate that the New Testament does in fact clearly manifest the deity of Christ. I am aware, of course, that many people have indeed read the New Testament and have not been persuaded of the truth of its claims about Jesus. Many have endeavored to explain this by pointing to the sinful disposition of natural man that makes it impossible for him to acquiesce to the Biblical claims without experiencing the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, we are often left with the impression that the Biblical data, apart from the internal testimony, is insufficient to provide a rational-evidential basis for faith in Christ and that the Holy Spirit either provides new internal evidence for the believer that is unavailable to all, or that He gives the Christian the ability to leap over the evidence (being either insufficient or contrary) by an act of faith. Such a view of the internal testimony of the Spirit
would involve a serious distortion of its classical meaning. For example, Calvin points out:
Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit.19
Again Calvin says:
If then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit. It is true, indeed, that if we choose to proceed in the way of argument, it is easy to establish, by evidence of various kinds, that if there is a God in heaven, the Law, the Prophesies, and the Gospel proceeded from him. Nay, although learned men, and men of the greatest talent, should take the opposite side, summoning and ostentatiously displaying all the powers of their genius in the discussion, if they are not possessed of shameless effrontery, they will be compelled to confess that the Scripture exhibits clear evidence of its being spoken by God, and consequently, of its containing his heavenly doctrine.20
Thus, for Calvin, the testimony of the Spirit does not cause men to acquiesce contrary to the evidence but into the evidence of Scripture. The evidence of the Scripture for the deity of Christ is compelling. To refuse to acknowledge what is plainly manifest must be motivated by a sinful disposition that refuses to submit to what is plainly evident. If the Biblical documents are a reliable historical source of information and their testimony of Jesus' activity is reliable we are left with no rational alternative to a bold declaration of his deity. If in fact he performed miracles, raised people from the dead, walked on water, was himself victorious over the grave, and claimed to be God, who can gainsay that claim?
Premise C The content and ramifications of this premise are so crucial and far-reaching to the whole argument that they are the subject of a complete essay in this volume. Rather than a detailed reiteration of the whole matter, I will touch lightly on the issues involved. The basic question raised in
Premise C is not the fact of Jesus' authority but the scope of it. It is fair to assume a consensus among Christians that Jesus Christ is the supreme authority of the Church. This is acknowledged not only by Protestantism but by the Roman Catholic Church as well. Where Papal authority is maintained at a human level of primacy it is still viewed as being a derived authority from the authority of Christ.
A classical point of dispute between Protestant Christology and Roman Catholic Christology has to do with the issue of the scope of Christ's knowledge. In Roman Catholic thought the infallibility of Christ is inseparably related to his omniscience. That is, because of the hypostatic union of divine and human natures Jesus' infallibility is rooted in the omniscience of the divine nature which exists in perfect unity with the human nature. This approach to Jesus' infallibility has been sharply criticized by Protestant theologians as being docetic, monophysite, and euthychian inasmuch as it involves a violation of Chalcedonian Christology by confusing or mixing the two natures. The issue centers on the exegesis of Mark 13:32. In this text Jesus claims ignorance concerning the day and the hour of his coming. Traditional Roman Catholic exegesis has maintained that this text could not possibly reflect a limitation of the knowledge of Jesus. This view was made popular by Thomas Aquinas who provided a kind of "accommodation theory" to avoid the inference of limited knowledge. Aquinas maintained that Christ did in fact know the day and the hour but the knowledge was incommunicable.21 This view reflected the earlier exegesis of Gregory I and was ratified by a decree of 1918.22 This accommodation view preserves the notion of an infallible Jesus but only by raising serious question about the integrity of Jesus.
Protestant Christology has traditionally maintained that, touching Christ's human nature (which can be distinguished from though not separated from the divine nature), he had limited knowledge and in fact did not know the time of his parousia. Thus the issue for Protestantism is not, was the human Jesus omniscient, but was he infallible?
In recent times, it has been fashionable among Protestant thinkers to deny both omniscience and infallibility in Jesus. C.H. Dodd comments:
We need not doubt that Jesus, as He is represented, shared the views of His contemporaries regarding the authorship of books in the Old Testament, or the phenomena of "demon-possession" views which we could not accept without violence to our sense of truth.23
Emil Brunner confesses that Jesus shared the high view of Scripture of his Jewish contemporaries: "The Scriptures are to Him the revelation of God."24 Yet Brunner has no problem criticizing Jesus' understanding and use of the Old Testament saying that "the Bible is full of errors, contradictions, erroneous opinions concerning all kinds of human, natural, historical situations."25
Such attitudes toward the authority of the historical Jesus are justified by seeing a limitation to the knowledge of Jesus as part of his culturally conditioned humanness. Jesus could no more be expected to know that Moses did not write the Pentateuch than he could be expected to know the world was round. Being human, he participated in knowledge-gaps, and erroneous views of the Old Testament common to his day.
This approach to the knowledge and authority of Jesus raises even more serious questions than the Roman Catholic view. Not only does this impugn the integrity of Jesus' understanding of the relationship of the Old Testament Scriptures to his own mission and identity,26 but it casts a shadow over his sinlessness. Jesus does not have to be omniscient to be infallible. But he must in infallible to be sinless. That is to say, if Jesus, claiming to be sent from God and invoking the authority of God in his teaching errs in that teaching, he is guilty of sin. The one who claims to be the truth cannot err and be consistent with that claim. Anyone claiming absolute authority in his teaching must be absolutely trustworthy in what he teaches in order to merit absolute authority. In light of his claims, Jesus cannot plead "invincible ignorance" as an excuse for error.
James Orr summarized the matter as follows:
Does this acknowledged limitation of the human knowledge of Christ, and ignorance of earthly science, imply error on the part of Jesus? This is a position which must as strongly be contested. Ignorance is not error, nor does the one thing necessarily imply the other. That Jesus should use the language of His time on things indifferent, where no judgment of pronouncement of His own was involved, is readily understood; that He should be the victim of illusion, or false judgment, on any subject on which He was called to pronounce, is a perilous assertion. If the matter be carefully considered, it may be felt that even sinlessness is hardly compatible with liability of the judgment to error. False judgment, where moral questions are involved, can hardly fail to issue in wrong action.27
Premise D Jesus' view of Scripture is not a hotly disputed issue. This question has been discussed in this volume both
by John Frame in his essay on the autopiste and by Clark Pinnock in his paper on the authority of Christ. A multitude of writers have demonstrated clearly that Jesus held a very high view of Scripture. In addition to Dodd and Brunner (cited earlier), we could mention the word of Murray, Young, Warfield, Orr, Nicole, Packer, Pinnock, and a host of other scholars who have demonstrated the high view of Scripture held by Jesus.
To be sure, questions have arisen concerning Jesus' view of Scripture, especially in light of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount vis-a-vis the Old Testament. Jeremias maintains that Jesus exercises a positive criticism of the Old Testament Law by repealing the Mosaic permission for divorce and implicitly by "Criticizing the Torah primarily by omitting elements of it."28 Nevertheless Jeremias agrees that to charge Jesus with antinomianism is a misinterpretation: "Jesus is not concerned with destroying the law but with filling it to its full eschatological measure."29 Though Jeremias sees a radical rejection by Jesus of the Rabbinic Halakah (the oral tradition), the same kind of attitude is not demonstrated toward the Torah.
Jesus lived in the Old Testament. His sayings are incomprehensible unless we recognize this. His last word, according to Mark, was the beginning of Psalm 22, prayed in his Aramaic mother tongue (Mark 15:34). He was particularly fond of the prophet Isaiah, and above all of the promises and statements about the servant of God in Deutero-Isaiah. The apocalyptic sayings of Daniel were also extremely significant for him. Numerically, literal and free quotations from the Psalter predominate on the lips of Jesus, and this was evidently his prayer book. The twelve prophets are also quoted frequently, and there are repeated allusions to the prophet Jeremiah. The numerous references to the Pentateuch, in which Jesus found inscribed the basic norms of the will of God occur especially in the controversy sayings.30
That Jesus' view of Scripture was high is beyond dispute. That he regarded the Scriptures as being utterly trustworthy can be seen from the following examples summarized by J.I. Packer:
There is no lack of evidence for our Lord's attitude to the Old Testament. He prefaces with his regular formula of solemn assertion ("Verily I say unto you") the following emphatic assurance: "till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law." He quotes Genesis 2:24 in its context a comment passed by Adam or (more likely) the narrator as an utterance
of God: "have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning ... said ...?" He treats argument from Scripture as having clinching force. When he says "it is written," that is final. There is no appeal against Scripture, for "the Scripture cannot be broken." God's Word holds good forever.31
Thus, even a cursory view of Jesus' use of Scripture in debate, discussion and rebuke of his own disciples, added to an examination of Jesus own submission to the authority of Scripture, makes clear that the formula Sacra Scriptura est Verbum Dei was as vital for him as it would be for the Reformers. That Jesus considered and treated the Old Testament as of divine authority is clear.32
Premise E If God is utterly trustworthy, then his Word carries the trustworthiness of himself. This premise has been subjected to rigorous criticism. What is at issue of course is not that God himself is utterly trustworthy or infallible but that a book which comes to us through human means can bear that degree of trustworthiness. The church has recognized that although the Bible is the Vox Dei or the Verbum Dei, it is at the same time, the word of man. The controversial confessional statement issued by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. states the matter as follows:
The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding.33
The Confession elsewhere calls the Bible the "Word of God written." Here the Scriptures are viewed as being both the Word of God and the word of man. The question arises then, can the Bible being the word of man, be utterly trustworthy in light of the propensity of man for error and human fallibility? Can we take the proverbial maxim, "To err is human" and treat it as a tautology which can be reversed to say "To be human is to err?" Though we grant that God is incapable of error must we also admit that man is incapable of being free from error?
Karl Barth has described the view of verbal inspiration or inerrancy of the Bible as one that involves a kind of Biblical docetism. He draws the conclusion that the Bible is fallible because humans are fallible and the Bible is a human document.
The men whom we hear as witnesses speak as fallible, erring men like ourselves. What they say, and what we read as their word, can of itself lay claim to be the word of God, but never sustain that claim. We can read and try to assess their word as a purely human word. It can be subjected to all kinds of immanent criticism, not only in respect of its philosophical, historical and ethical content, but even of its religious and theological. We can establish lacunae, inconsistencies and over-emphases. We may be alienated by a figure like that of Moses. We may quarrel with James or with Paul. We may have to admit that we can make little or nothing of large tracts of the Bible, as is often the case with the records of other men. We can take offence at the Bible.34
Again Barth adds:
The prophets and apostles as such, even in their office, even in their function as witnesses, even in the act of writing down their witness, were real, historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their action, and capable and actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word.35
For Barth, failure to confess such errors and contradictions would be to be guilty of docetism.36 Barth draws a parallel between Biblical docetism and Christological docetism which is indeed a strange one. Christological docetism involves a failure to take the human nature of Christ seriously. As the ancient docetists were scandalized by the notion of incarnation so orthodox thinkers are scandalized by Biblical fallibility. The docetists were guilty of allowing the deity of Christ to swallow up his humanity and leave us with only an "apparent" or "phantom" human nature. So, according to Barth, orthodoxy has allowed the human aspect of the Bible to be swallowed up by the divine when it fails to leave room for human error.
This is a strange analogy indeed! Barth misses the issue completely and produces an argument so fallacious that one wonders how anyone can take it seriously. If we push the analogy we would be forced to ask if Christ could be sinless and still be a man? If being human demands error, is a man not a man when he speaks the truth? The term "fallible" describes an ability, not an act. To say that men are fallible is to say they are capable of error, not that they must err or that they always err. In theological terms, Christ's sinlessness no more cancels his humanity than does inerrancy cancel the Biblical writers' humanity.
What is at issue is not the question whether or not human beings can err. What is at issue is the question whether or not God inspires error or the Holy Spirit guides into error. When Orthodoxy confesses the infallibility of Scripture it is not confessing anything about the intrinsic infallibility of men. Rather the confession rests its confidence on the integrity of God. On numerous occasions I have queried several Biblical and theological scholars in the following manner. "Do you maintain the inerrancy of Scripture?" "No" "Do you believe the Bible to be inspired of God?" "Yes" "Do you think God inspires error?" "No" "Is all of the Bible inspired by God?" "Yes" "Is the Bible errant?" "No!" "Is it inerrant?" "No!" At that point I usually acquire an Excedrin headache. The above dialogue is not a construction of my fancy but a verbatim reproduction of a dialogue I have encountered on numerous occasions. To be sure, there are numerous ways of setting up false dilemmas and committing the either/or informal fallacy when there may be a tertium quid. But where is the tertium quid between errancy and inerrancy? In-errancy is a category that incorporates everything outside of the category of errancy. To affirm or deny both categories is to be involved in logical absurdity. Logical absurdity, however, does not bother some thinkers who see in absurdity the hallmark of truth.
Unless we want to join the ranks of the absurd, or unless we confess that God inspires error and join the ranks of the impious, or unless we confess that the Bible as a whole is not inspired then we are forced by what Luther called "resist-less logic" to the conclusion that the Bible is inerrant.
The "resistless logic" of which Luther speaks is not a logic of isolated abstract speculations. It is a logic that is driven to a conclusion drawn from the premise of the integrity of Christ. The Bible is not claimed to be inerrant because of confidence in human ability. Rather the claim rests upon the foundation of the integrity of Christ. As Kahler pointed out in the 19th century: "We do not believe in Christ because we believe in the Bible, but we believe in the Bible because we believe in Christ."37
That orthodoxy moves from confidence in Christ's infallibility to confidence in the Scripture has not always been clearly understood. For example, Bernard Zylstra has criticized "orthodox theological circles" for viewing the Bible as the Word of God because it contains "propositional truth."38 This, however, is a caricature in that it reverses the order. Orthodoxy
does not believe the Bible to be the Word of God because it contains propositional truth but believes the Bible to contain propositional truth because it is the Word of God.
It is important to add at this point that terms like "inerrant" or "infallible" must gain their content from a Biblical understanding of Truth. The protests of Berkouwer and others against "inerrancy" are often rightly directed against an imposition on the Biblical text of a notion of truth that is foreign to the Bible itself. Much unfair criticism has been leveled at orthodox thinkers at this point inasmuch as many have labored to clarify the notion of inerrancy along Biblical lines.
The late E.J. Young provides us with an excellent treatment of the question of the meaning of inerrancy and infallibility. He says:
In present discussions of the Bible, both the words infallibility and inerrancy are often used without attempt at definition. The result is that much confusion has adhered and does adhere to current discussions of inspiration. There is not much point in talking of an infallible and inerrant Bible, unless we know what the words mean.39
Young goes on to define the terms by saying:
By the term infallible as applied to the Bible, we mean simply that the Scripture possesses an indefectible authority. As our Lord himself said "it cannot be broken" (John 10:31). It can never fail in its judgments and statements. All that it teaches is of unimpeachable, absolute authority, and cannot be contravened, contradicted, or gainsaid. Scripture is unfailing, incapable of proving false, erroneous, or mistaken.40
He defines the term "inerrant" in similar categories: "By this word we mean that the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings they are in perfect accord with the truth."41
Thus for Young, terms like infallible and inerrant are terms inseparably related to the notion of truth. To confess inerrancy is to confess the utter truthfulness of the Scripture. At this point Young, like Warfield before him and Berkouwer after him, warns against imposing an apriori notion of truth upon the Scripture which is at variance with the Bible's own view of truth. If the Biblical writers and/or Jesus claimed "truth" for their writings we should test their claim by an analysis of their writings in terms of consistency to their own view of truth.
Young demonstrates that within the context of a Biblical view of truth there is room for crudity and roughness of literary style, including improper grammatical structure, variations of parallel accounts of events, discourses, etc., but not room for contradiction or deception. Phenomenological, anthromomorphical, hyperbolic, etc. forms of language do not negate or falsify truth.
Hans Küng has commented on the relationship of the word "infallible" to the notion of deception:
Bearing in mind the root of the word infallibilitas (fallere put wrong, make a false step, lead into error, deceive, delude), I later translated infallibilitas more precisely and perhaps also more felicitously as "indeceivability" (Untruglichkeit), which certainly has a more general meaning. Infallibilitas can then be understood as sharing in the truth of God himself who, according to Vatican I, "can neither deceive nor be deceived" (Deus revelans qui nec falli nec fallere potest DS 3008). Infallibilitas would then mean being free from what is deceptive, from lying and fraud.42
Küng's definition of infallibility drawn by etymological derivation and customary usage within the Roman Catholic Tradition is not far removed from the New Testament concept of "truth."
Rudolf Bultmann properly analyzes the New Testament meaning of aletheia in his article on that term in Kittle's Worterbuch. Truth in the New Testament is that which has "certainty and force," which is a "valid norm," "genuine," "proper" and "honest." Bultmann also indicates that aletheia is "that on which one can rely." The truth involves sincerity and honesty and is concerned with the "real state of affairs."43
When we confess that the Scriptures are inerrant and infallible we mean that they are true according to the categories mentioned above.
In summary, the Christian's case for the infallibility rests in the reliable trustworthiness of the Biblical documents which provide knowledge of the infallible Christ. The authority we give to Scripture ought to be no more and no less than that given to them by Christ. The Church cannot submit to the authority of Christ without at the same time submitting to the authority of the Scripture. The apologist of the 20th century must echo the argument of Iraeneus against the gnostics of his day:
If anyone does not agree with them [the apostles] he despises the companions of the Lord himself he even despises
the Father, and he is self-condemned, resisting and refusing his own salvation, as all the heretics do ... The apostles, being disciples of the truth, are apart from every lie. For a lie has no fellowship with the truth, anymore than light with darkness, but the presence of one excludes the other.44
Appendix || Table of Contents
1. Berkouwer gives particular attention to the Papal Encyclicals Providentissimus Deus (1893 Leo XII) and Spiritus Paraclitus (1920 Benedictus XV), see De Heilige Schrift (2 vols.: Kampen: Kok, 1966), I. pp. 33-36.
2. Ibid., I. pp. 32-37.
3. Ibid., p. 190.
4. G.C. Berkouwer, "Het Schrifgezag, in De Bijbel in bet Geding, ed. G.C. Berkouwer and A.S. Vander Woude (Nijkerk: G.F. Callenbach, 1968), p. 14.
5. H. Berkhof, "De methode van Berkouwer's theologie," in EX AUDITU VERBI, ed. R. Schipopers, G.E. Meuleman, J.T. Bakker, and H.M. Kuitert (Kampen: Kok, 1965), pp. 44-48.
6. Cornelius Van Til, In Defense of the Faith, Vol. I: The Doctrine of Scripture (Ripon: Den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1967), p. 148.
7. Ibid., p. 155.
8. Berkhof, op. cit., p. 55.
9. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1955), p. 109.
10. Ibid., p. 179.
11. Ibid., p. 285.
12. W. Ward Fearnside and William B. Hoether, Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1959), p. 166.
13. Klass Runia cites Karl Barth's use of circularity in a favorable way: "The doctrine of Holy Scripture in the Evangelical Church is that this logical circle is the circle of self-asserting, self-attesting truth, into which it is equally impossible to enter as it is to emerge from it: The circle of our freedom, which as such is also the circle of our captivity" (Karl Barth's Doctrine of Holy Scripture [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1962], p.7).
14. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p.101.
15. "It is wholly irrational to hold to any other position than that of Christianity" (ibid., The Defense of the Faith, p. 298.
16. See further: C.K. Barrett, Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London: Epworth Press, 1961); James Martin, The Reliability of the Gospels (London; Hodder and Stoughton, 1959); and F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1943).
17. W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Matthew ("Anchor Bible"; New York: Doubleday, 1971), pp. v-vi.
18. See Helmut Gollwitzer, The Existence of God as Confessed By Faith, trans. James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965), pp. 146-54.
19. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, I. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 72.
20. Ibid., p. 71.
21. See G.C. Berkouwer, De Persoon van Christus: Dogmatische Studien (Kampen: Kok, 1952), pp. 178-84.
22. Heinrich Denzinger (ed.), Enchiridion Symbolorum (Rome: Herder, 1965), para. 2183-85.
23. C.H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible (New York: Harper, 1960), pp. 222-23.
24. Emil Brunner, The Mediator, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1948), p. 368.
25. Emil Brunner, Religionsphilosophie (Munchen, 1927), pp. 77-78; cited by Paul King Jewett in Inspiration and Interpretation, ed. John F. Walvoord (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 211.
26. See J.I. Packer, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1958), pp. 54-62.
27. James Orr, Revelation and Inspiration (reprinted: Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1969), p. 151.
28. Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, trans. John Bowden (New York: Scribners, 1971), p. 206.
29. Ibid., p. 207.
30. Ibid., p. 206.
31. Packer, op. cit., p. 55.
32. Herman Bavinck writes: "Deze canon des Ouden Testaments bezat voor Jezus en de apostelen, evanals voor hunne tijdgenooten, goddelijke autoriteit" (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, I [Kampen: Bos, 1906], p. 412).
33. The Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Part I: Book of Confessions (Philadelphia: General Assembly Office, 1966), para. 9.26-9.31.
34. Karl Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik, I.2, p.507; cited by Klaas Runia, op.cit., p. 59.
35. Ibid., p. 60.
37. Martin Kahler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans. Carl E. Braaten (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964), p. 75.
38. James H. Oethius, et. al., Will All the Kings Men ... (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1972), p. 183.
39. Edward J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 113.
42. Hans Kung, Infallible? An Inquiry, trans. Edward Quinn (New York: Doubleday, 1971), p. 140.
43. Rudolf Bultmann, aletheia , Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittle: trans G.W. Bromiley, Vol. I (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964).
44. Cyril C. Richardson (ed.), Early Christian Fathers ("Library of Christian Classics," Vol. I; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), pp. 370-76.
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