Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, part 4
Chapter 5 – The Inerrancy of Scripture
I must admit to being a soft inerranist, and don’t quite understand the slippery slope arguments many pastors and authors engage in regarding those who don’t hold to a hardline inerrancy position. As near as I can tell, the modern understanding of innerancy is a relatively new creation, started by Seventh Day Adventists, and is something that the Apostles and Fathers wouldn’t have held to quite as we do. Regarding the view that the originals are inerrant, I suppose I can agree with that, if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what those originals were like. As a conceit, I will admit that most of my thinking regarding the inerrancy of the Bible has been influenced by Internet Monk’s “We thought he was such a nice boy…and then we found he didn’t belive in inerrancy!”, C Michael Patton’s “If the Bible is Not Inerrant, Then Christianity Must Be False!…And Other Stupid Statements”, as well as a natural rebellion and questioning against KJV-Onlyism and more extreme hyper forms of inerrancy and Biblical authorship.
But let’s see what Wayne Grudem has to say…
“The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact (pg 91).”
Well…shucks, I agree with that wholeheartedly! “This definition focuses on the question of truthfulness and falsehood in the language of Scripture. The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth, and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact that there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true.” No disagreement there at all, but I think he hits on exactly why I have trouble with the contemporary doctrine of inerrancy. I’ve met too many Christians who believe the Bible is an authoritive resource on literally every thing under the sun. Is it a straw man to say that many I’ve known almost believe that the Bible can tell them which car has the best gas mileage? Perhaps, but it’s not too far off from reality, and you’d be skirting the issue if you went for the straw man accusation.
“The Bible can be inerrant and still speak in the ordinary language of everday speech. This is especially true in “scientific” or “historical” descriptions of facts or events. The Bible can speak of the sun rising and the rain falling because from the perspective of the speaker this is exactly what happens.” And right there you do away with the majority of “the Bible contains errors!” arguments. Confusingly, I’ve heard some Bible teachers say you shouldn’t aply this type of study to the Bible, because then you’d be getting away from the literal truth of the text. Kinda sounds foolish. I guess it’s a way of controlling the flow of information: forbid people from studying how to analyze a text properly, any text, and then they’d never turn their gaze on the Bible that way, because that is the slippery slope of liberalism. Strange. Anyways, this whole section and point Grudem makes is an important one, one that will do away with the majority of purposefully anti-intellectual, anti-study Bible readers out there. As well as the whole KJV-Only crowd, possibly.
“The Bible can be inerrant and still include loose or free quotations.” Well…yeah. Duh. That makes perfect sense. But again, a position I’ve heard the opposite preached as being right. I guess I truly am a post-moderism because I’m starting with ME as the source of truth regarding the Bible as the source of truth, and if the Bible is rational, my interpretation and understanding of it should be rational. I should develop this thought more…
Wayne Grudem includes some contemporary challenges to the doctrine of inerrancy. His first is “the Bible is only authoritative for ‘faith and practice.'” Eh, kinda, I guess…maybe? I’ve thought that at times. As Grudem says, “this position would allow for the possibility of false statements in Scripture, for example, in other areas such as in minor historical details or scientific facts…(pg 93).” I’m perfectly ok with the Bible getting a statement or detail or two wrong, but I know many aren’t. What does your faith rest in, Jesus’ finish work or the account of Jesus’ finished work? Anyways, Grudems’ arguments are interesting, and bear more thought than I can devote to right here. I’m not sure if I agree with his rhetoric completely, but it is well presented and well argued. And his point that the New Testament accepts Old Testament stories as facts is well put.
“We have no inerrant manuscripts; therefore, talk about an inerrant Bible is misleading.” That is probably Michael Spencer’s, the Internet Monk, position. As Grudem points out, we do know what 99% of the original manuscripts stated, pretty conclusively. The study of variant manuscripts is interesting but hardly breaks any single Scriptural truth or idea. I like how Grudem points out that God made no promise that any copies of the original manuscripts would be inspired or perfect copies, and they haven’t been. Take that, KJV-Only people! (Just messing…I still love ya.)
Grudem then goes on to address actual problems with denying inerrancy. Here we get into slippery slopes and leaps of logic. His first point? If you deny inerrancy, suddenly it is morally acceptable to copy God and intentionally lie. That seems to me to be a huge leap. I don’t quite get how he gets to that potential conclusion. His second point, that the denial of inerrancy can lead to people beginning to wonder if we can really trust God, is more likely. But I like to jokingly tell my friends, “you can’t trust your English Bible…not really”, and I think that makes a good point that many miss, namely that the vast majority of us are reading an English translation of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and so each translation will have different wordings and thus different meanings coming from the biases of the translators. There is no perfect Bible. Even the KJV has some grave errors, as does my preferred ESV and NLT. If someone is serious about finding out what the Bible says, they should be reading multiple translations.
His next two points seem to be leaps of logic as well. His third point is that a denial of inerrancy will essentially make our human minds a higher standard of truth than God’s word itself. This is the root of all intellectual sin, according to Grudem. And to an extent I agree. But don’t we all already commit this point daily? And then daily are corrected by other men and women who do the exact same thing? And together, guided by the Holy Spirit, we reach a consensus? And THEN someone will go against the consensus and commit intellectual sin. Yeah, I’m firmly a postmodernist it seems. Or maybe postmodernism is just a blatant honesty about life?
Wayne Grudem’s final point about the dangers of denying inerrancy is that if we do so then we MUST also say that the Bible is wrong not only in minor details but in some of its doctrines as well. Again, I see this as a huge leap, a huge slippery slope. But what do I know?
This was a good chapter to read through. Many of these arguments were presented in a clear way than I’ve heard in a long time. And while I may disagree and wrestle with some of his rhetoric, ultimately I think Wayne Grudem and I are still on the same page. Looking forward to reading more Systematic Theology.