What is inerrancy?
Here is the statement of faith that affirms inerrancy from the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which I think is a good statement of what belief in inerrancy requires:
The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the original. God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
C. Michael Patton at Reclaiming the Mind is an inerrantist, but he thinks that inerrancy should be optional for Christians.
Here is the question: Is the doctrine of inerrancy so central to the Christian faith that if one were to deny it, he or she should pack their bags and search for a new worldview? In other words (and let me be very clear), if the Scriptures are not inerrant, does that mean the Christian faith is false?
Most of you know that I hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. I call my view “reasoned” inerrancy which does not suppose a particular wooden hermeneutic to be tied to it. (You can read more about it here).
Having said this, I believe that this doctrine, while important, is not the article upon which Christianity stands or falls. I believe that the Scriptures could contain error and the Christian faith remain essentially in tact. Why? Because Christianity is not built upon the inerrancy of Scripture, but the historical Advent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ became man, lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, and rose on the third day not because the Scriptures inerrantly say that these events occurred, but because they did, in fact, occur. The truth is in the objectivity of the event, not the accuracy of the record of the event.
Some people who believe in inerrancy respond to complaints about errors by arguing that New Testament writers were not obligated to list all the witnesses to empty tomb, nor to transcribe exactly/all of what people said, or to list all of the events in the life of Jesus in chronological order. They argue that if you relax the standards of reporting a little, the apparent conflicts between the sources often disappear.
I’m an inerrantist, but I don’t think that a person has to be one in order to become a Christian, initially. I think that the list of non-negotiables do be a Christian shouldn’t include inerrancy. Now, I don’t think that people can just dump verses willy-nilly, based on personal preferences about particular sins, or presumptions of naturalism or religions pluralism.
Instead, I think that it’s ok for people to be agnostic on some stories (like the guard at the tomb or the earthquake resurrections in Matthew) because of historical concerns. I would hope that these new Christians would make an effort to read more about problem passages and see if they can move closer to inerrancy, though.
For more about inerrancy, you want to consider watching the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman on the resurrection of Jesus, or you can download the transcript here.
- Assessing Bart Ehrman’s case against the resurrection of Jesus
- Is the Bible we have now the Bible they had then?
- Tough Questions Answered has first report of Licona/Ehrman debate!
- Mike Licona will face Richard Carrier and Stephen Patterson in upcoming debates
- Gary Habermas explains the earliest source of resurrection facts
- The eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ women followers supports the empty tomb
- Quick overview of N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection
- How every Christian can learn to explain the resurrection of Jesus to others
- What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about how the Bible was transmitted?
- William Lane Craig debates radical skeptics on the resurrection of Jesus