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Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice by Robert K. Johnston


Robert K. Johnston, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA 91182. Prior to that he was Vice-President and Dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. This book was originally published by John Knox Press in 1979. Copyright held by author and permission granted. Prepared for Religion Online by Rev. Herbert F. Lowe.


Chapter Two:The Debate over Inspiration: Scripture as Reliable, Inerrant, or Infallible?


Debate over the precise implication of Scripture's inspiration has continued almost unabated within modern evangelicalism. In a poll taken by Christianity Today in 1957, for example, among members of the Protestant clergy who chose to call themselves conservative or fundamental, 48% affirmed that belief in Scripture's inspiration also demanded a commitment to its inerrancy, while 52% said they were either unsure of the doctrine of inerrancy or rejected it outright.1 Discussion within evangelicalism concerning the inspiration of Scripture has usually focused on this point: whether or not Scripture is inerrant. So prominent has been this debate that outsiders have often regarded evangelicals as holding, not to a distinct view of the sole authority of Scripture (as was argued in the previous chapter), but to a belief in Biblical inerrancy.2

 

Reasons for the Debate

"Inerrancy" has been the issue among evangelicals for three reasons-one Biblical, one theological, and one sociological. Biblically, the issue has continued to provoke debate, for while Scripture asserts its own inspiration, it nowhere is explicit regarding the result of that inspiration. Although 2 Timothy 3:16 declares "all scripture is inspired by God" (literally, "God-breathed"-theopneustos), this claim is never unpacked. The text asserts that God brought Scripture into being, and that, therefore, it is profitable "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." But what the other implications of Scripture's "God-breathedness" are, and how its divine origin correlates with its human dimension, are nowhere delineated. Similarly, 2 Peter 1:21 states that prophecy has come not by the impulse of man, "but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." Scripture's authority and trustworthiness are grounded in its God-givenness (apo theou, from God). But again, the precise nature of this identification of the prophet's words with God's Word is not specified.

Theologically, the debate over the significance of Scripture's inspiration has been fostered by the great importance of the subject. There are few if any areas within Christian life and thought that do not lead back to this tenet which grounds Biblical authority. The heat generated by this topic is witness to the fact that we are, in Pinnock's words, "close to the heart of the conception of religious authority in our evangelical confession, which `limits the ground of religious authority to the Bible.3" There is a "deep relationship between origin and authority" that cannot be ignored.4 Thus discussion concerning the implications of inspiration is of interest to all evangelicals who seek to be Biblical Christians.

Sociologically, the debate has been largely American and has continued to be fueled by the memory of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy which raged between men like B. B. Warfield and Charles Augustus Briggs at the turn of the century. Perhaps for this reason, conservative theologians. from both Britain and the Continent have often failed to become involved in the discussion, even misconstruing its significance because of their radically altered historical context.5 In a recent article on evangelical identity, Gerald Sheppard goes so far as to claim that "inerrancy" is for American evangelicals "the official language of social identification, over against other so-called 'nonevangelical' institutions." It is the use, or non-use, of this word, he claims, that has provided "the most common rhetorical means by which nuances . . . [are] officially distinguished in the evangelical identity."6 Sheppard finds evidence for this claim in the ongoing controversy at Fuller Theological Seminary, whose history parallels in many ways the rise of modern American evangelicalism. Debate at Fuller has never touched such major orthodox doctrines as the deity of Christ, the resurrection, virgin birth, or second coming. Instead, it has consistently centered on a correct interpretation of the nature of inspiration.7

 

Difficulties with the Discussion

Although the subject matter of inspiration has been judged as of crucial importance, creative theological formulations have been made difficult within American evangelicalism for at least two reasons. David Hubbard, in his article on the debate over Scripture's inspiration entitled "The Current Tensions: Is There a Way Out?", refers to "the silence of evangelical biblical scholars"-I. e., their reticence to publish their findings and enter into open theological dialogue. He states:

I have a hunch that one explanation accounts for the silence of evangelical biblical scholars more than any other: the basic fear that their findings, as they deal with the text of Scripture, will conflict with the popular understanding of what inerrancy entails. Where a rigid system of apologetics becomes the basic definition of orthodoxy, true biblical scholarship becomes difficult if not impossible.8

Hubbard is echoing Edward J. Carnell, his predecessor as president of Fuller Seminary, whose book The Case for Orthodox Theology is perhaps the classic statement on modern evangelicalism:

a heavy pall of fear hangs over the academic community. When a gifted professor tries to interact with the critical difficulties in the text, he is charged with disaffection, if not outright heresy.9

The threat of heresy also relates to a second problem in the development of a constructive theology of inspiration. It has encouraged an "apologetic" excess among all parties in the discussion, blurring the issue by selective argument and loaded terminology. On the one side, many proponents of inerrancy attempt to restrict the discussion of inspiration to the God-relatedness of Scripture, claiming with Balaam that "'God is not man, that he should lie."' (Num. 23:19) Overlooked along the way are questions pertaining to the meaning of error, its relationship to lying, the role of human agency, the importance of the author's intention, and so on. On the other hand, certain opponents of inerrancy have become preoccupied with the human character of Scripture, claiming that "to err is human." Thus, the fact that God is the ultimate author of Scripture is downplayed for apologetic reasons, the stress being instead put on the "fallible" human minds and hands that produced the text. Such a bifurcation of the divine-human nature of inspiration is unfortunate and confuses the theological task. An unnecessary polarization results which paints everyone in black-and-white terms. In fact if one were to take seriously the criticisms by both sides, one might conclude that the choice facing evangelicals today is between doctrinal declension or shoddy scholarship.

Recent Developments

Although the debate has been marred by the fear of being judged heterodox on the one hand, and by apologetic excess on the other, it has continued unabated. In September of 1977, for example, a group of thirty prominent evangelical leaders met in Chicago to form the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and to map out a ten-year effort to study and defend the doctrine. Through conferences, pastoral training centers, traveling seminars, and technical dialogues with noninerrantists, the ICBI is attempting to show that those who deny inerrancy are "out of step" with the historic evangelical mainstream and with the Bible. Although not everyone in their organizations would agree with their positions, leaders from such evangelical strongholds as Inter-Varsity, Campus Crusade, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Christianity Today, and Gordon-Conwell Seminary signed the summary document. Reaction to the Council has shown the deep-seated differences within the evangelical community. Carl Henry, for example, a supporter of inerrancy, declined to participate in the conference. Clark Pinnock, another traditional advocate of inerrancy, was quoted as saying:

"The last thing we need is a ten-year inerrancy compaign. . . . The phenomenon of Scripture demands more than simply a theory developed by the Princeton boys in the 19th century. ... A campaign for inerrancy will encourage people to avoid the real issues."'10

 

Perhaps wishing not to fight the battle on hostile terrain, David Hubbard, who dislikes the term "inerrant," nevertheless responded that he welcomed the Council's formation, for " `evangelicals should support anything that contributes to a better understanding of Scripture.'"11' Non-inerrantist Jack Rogers countered more candidly that he resented the Council's use of the term "historic" to refer to what is in reality a "modern" notion of inerrancy.12

To understand the stridency of the Council's campaign, or Pinnock's vehemence, or Hubbard's circumlocution, it is necessary to describe more carefully the different approaches regarding the doctrine of inspiration of which these men are representative. Within contemporary evangelicalism, there are, at present, four distinct positions which are being taken regarding inspiration's implications. While there are permutations within these basic categories, one can distinguish the following: (1) detailed inerrancy, (2) partial infallibility, (3) irenic inerrancy, and (4) complete infallibility. Although evangelicals hold in common to Scripture's inspiration and authority, they differ over the implications of these truths. "Detailed Inerrantists" claim that a commitment to Scripture's inspiration demands that the original copies of the Bible be considered without error, factual or otherwise. "Irenic Inerrantists" agree that the Bible is without error, but believe Scripture itself must determine according to its intent the scope of that inerrancy. "Complete Infallibilists" reject "inerrancy" as a helpful term for describing the total trustworthiness of the Biblical writers' witness, substituting the word "infallible" in its place. "Partial Infallibilists" believe that the authors' intended message is in error at points, but their witness to the gospel is trustworthy and authoritative.

It is to a discussion and comparison of these four viewpoints that I now turn. Having noted basic differences in these positions, we can then look at a number of questions which evangelicals must address if they hope to move beyond the present impasse in their theological understanding of the doctrine of inspiration.

 

I. Detailed Inerrancy

Taking the initiative in recent discussion concerning inspiration are apologists like Francis Schaeffer and Harold Lindsell who see inerrancy as the watershed of the Christian faith. Schaeffer created much consternation among fellow evangelicals by threatening not to appear at the rostrum of the International Congress on World Evangelization which convened in July of 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. What was at issue was the wording of the Lausanne Covenant on the subject of Scripture. The statement, which sought to summarize the beliefs of the evangelical community, affirmed Scripture's "inspiration, truthfulness and authority." Omitted was the word "inerrancy," though Schaeffer was pleased with the attached explanation which asserted that Scripture was "without error in all that it affirms."

Using this subsidiary phrase to champion his position, Schaeffer published as a follow-up to the conference a pamphlet entitled No Final Conflict The Bible Without Error in All That It Affirms. In this pamphlet Schaeffer states that what is "at stake is whether evangelicalism will remain evangelical." Without the entire Bible being considered "God's verbalized communication to men giving propositional true truth [1] where it touches the cosmos and history," Schaeffer believes that Christians lack an adequate authority on which to build their faith. Suspicious of the role of hermeneutics (it is a means of "explaining away the brute factness" of Scripture), Schaeffer considers in the booklet the Genesis 1-11 account, but without regard to its literary genre. Taking a literalistic reading of the text, he attempts to show how it can fit into a scientific understanding of the cosmos. Too often, thinks Schaeffer, Christians have tended to value the "truth of science" more than the truth of the Bible. Schaeffer seeks to reverse this ordering.13

Lindsell, in his book The Battle for the Bible, contends that the Bible itself and the history of the Christian church support a view of inspiration that insists on the inerrancy of the autographs of Scripture in every detail of chronology, geography, astronomy, measurement, and the like, even when such details are incidental to the central intent of the passage." Because he believes that both the Bible and the orthodox tradition of the church support inerrancy, Lindsell feels justified in denying the term "evangelical" to those who reject this doctrine. Moreover, he views inerrancy as crucial for all of Christian theology; for without a watertight epistemological defense against liberalism, heresy will enter into the church and destroy its very faith.15 According to Lindsell, the history of such formerly "evangelical" groups as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (at least the Seminex supporters), Fuller Theological Seminary, and the Southern Baptist Convention reveals that once inerrancy is abandoned, there is an inevitable, even if prolonged, deterioration of the faith. Evangelism is undercut; spiritual sterility sets in; and apostasy looms on the horizon ready for the next generation to embrace.

Lindsell's book is a work of apologetics, a polemical discussion backing up his claim that to be an evangelical demands a commitment to the notion of inerrancy. Although the term is qualified to exclude faulty grammatical construction or textual transmission, Lindsell's definition of error does include any "misstatement or something that is contrary to fact."16 Thus, Lindsell posits that the cock crowed six times for Peter (in order to harmonize the Gospel accounts); he concludes that "about 23,500" people died on a certain single day (in order to account for Numbers 25:9 citing 24,000 as the figure while Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 10:8 that it was 23,000); and he hypothesizes that the "molten sea" described in 2 Chronicles 4 as being ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in circumference (although we know that C=BD, I. e., the circumference of something ten cubits in diameter is actually 31.4159 cubits) can be understood if the vessel is considered to have sides that are four inches thick, and if the measurement for diameter is taken from the outer edges while the measurement of circumference is taken from the inner edge.17

Two problems with Schaeffer's and Lindsell's position need to be mentioned here. First, contrary to their claims, the historical background for the doctrine of inerrancy is extremely complex. A modern concept of inerrancy involving scientifically precise language was of course unknown prior to the rise of modern science. Thus, even when the church fathers claim that the Bible is without error, we can be almost certain that "error" did not mean for them what it means for us today. We cannot, for example, read into Calvin our own preoccupations, and expect him to answer questions which are ours, not his.18 The temptation is to line up the evidence that supports one's position and ignore conflicting statements. It is true that one can find among individual theologians support for an "inerrancy" position throughout the history of the church, but it is also true that these same theologians often exercise in their exegesis much greater freedom than Lindsell's or Schaeffer's interpretation of their theory would seem to allow.

The church corporately has been cautious in making the "inerrancy" claim normative for Christian life, using instead words like "authority," "sufficiency," and "infallibility" in its creedal pronouncements. Lindsell is perhaps the most flagrant offender, but detailed inerrantists commonly tend in their apologetic zeal to conflate such terms as "inspiration" and "infallibility" with "inerrancy." Because the church has traditionally accepted Scripture's inspiration, these inerrantists claim that "inerrancy" is also the church's historical position.19 Such an argument must be rejected. If we place it historically, "inerrancy" finds its home most comfortably in the post-Reformation scholastic orthodoxy of a Turretini or in the nineteenth-century Princeton theology of Alexander and Hodge.

Second, detailed inerrantists rely heavily on a form of the "domino theory": reject inerrancy and one will be forced to abandon other cardinal doctrines of orthodox Christianity. Opponents are judged to hold a position of "limited errancy" (even if they deny such charges) which "can slide easily into an unlimited errancy stance."20 Without the solid platform of inerrancy to stand upon, evangelicals will move down the gentle slope of "limited errancy" to apostasy.21 Besides its weakness as an ad hominem argument, such a charge is also naive historically.22 Fellow inerrantist John Woodbridge, for example, warns against such an "all-or-nothing mentality," for "it does not fit all the available historical data." In his article "History's `Lessons' and Biblical Inerrancy," he points out the case of Jean Le Clerc who moved from a more critical position regarding Scripture's inspiration to a more conservative one.23' The abandonment of inerrancy does not force one to embrace permanently liberalism and/or apostasy. In fact, one can defend a high view of Scripture without recourse to the term "inerrancy" as I shall argue in this chapter.

 

2. Partial Infallibility

At the other end of the evangelical spectrum from Lindsell and Schaeffer are those like Dewey Beegle and Stephen Davis who believe that one must admit there are errors in the text of Scripture, even in areas related to the author's intention.24 Such errors, however, do not involve any of the basics of the faith. The Bible is inspired, but in a qualified sense, relating primarily to the essentials. The norm for judging what is essential is the gospel message contained therein. With regard to the gospel, the Bible as inspired still proves itself to be accurate and trustworthy, and thus authoritative.

Beegle's first book, The Inspiration of Scripture, proved to be the most controversial book within evangelicalism in the early sixties.25 Published in 1963, it was given ten pages of review in Christianity Today by editor Carl Henry and contributing editor Frank Gaebelein. In his book Beegle attacked "inerrantists" for being overly rationalistic, obscurantist in fixing upon the "autographs" of Scripture, naive linguistically in thinking language can be precise, misguided in their use of proof-texting, Docetic in their denial of Scripture's humanness, and wrong in their commitment to a domino theory regarding inspiration. Any dangers in renouncing inerrancy were largely imaginary, Beegle claimed; one must let the "facts" of Scripture show straightforwardly what kind of book it is and that will suffice.

In a second edition of his book, renamed Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, published ten years later, Beegle attempts to broaden his discussion by including the Roman Catholic situation concerning a theology of inspiration and Scripture. He also seeks to move beyond his intended "demolition job" on inerrancy to strike a more positive note.26 But the essential thrust of his argument remains the same. Beegle eschews a deductive methodology (one based in a doctrine of God) and proposes instead an inductive approach to the study of inspiration. Such an investigation, especially when correlated with an analysis of the process of Scripture's canonization, textual transmission, translation, and reception, suggests to Beegle that there are degrees of inspiration within the Bible. Luke's inspiration, for example, is not unique, for he is only a historian. Beegle states, "What distinguishes Luke from Christians today is not inspiration as such, but rather the unique period of revelation that he was privileged to witness." Similarly, Beegle believes that the song writers Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, had they "lived in the preexilic centuries of David and his successors and been no more inspired than they were in their own day, " would no doubt have had their hymns included in the Hebrew canon. The ground of Scripture's authority is not its inspiration which dynamically extends into the present as well, but its "structure of theology, the gospel, that undergirds the whole of the Bible and in one way or another informs, and expresses itself in, each of its texts."27

Stephen Davis's book The Debate About the Bible is a response to Lindsell's attack and seeks to answer the question, "Must a person believe in inerrancy to be an evangelical?" Davis writes as a practicing philosopher with strong ties to the evangelical community. He holds the Bible to be "inspired, authoritative, trustworthy, and, as I define the term, infallible." Although the majority of his book is a refutation of Lindsell's arguments, Davis does spell out his own position as being that the Bible is "infallible, as I define that term, but not inerrant."28`

As with Beegle, an inductive approach to inspiration is taken. Davis states that he must admit the text is in error (I. e., it has made a false statement) when it uses God to justify the murder of innocent people in the taking of Canaan, or when the book of Jude attributes the pseudepigraphic (first-century, B.C..) book of Enoch to the well-known Biblical character, or when it quotes Jesus' reference to the mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds. Though he admits he cannot absolutely prove these are errors, Davis says they seem so to him. Using a similar kind of argument, he realizes that he cannot claim a priori that the Bible is infallible (I. e., that it makes no false or misleading statements on matters of faith and practice); but he believes such a statement best explains the evidence he sees. Although he realizes that he cannot prove his contention and must, in fact, leave open the possibility he is wrong, Davis considers the Bible fully trustworthy on all matters that are "crucially relevant to Christian faith and practice." As a working hypothesis, "infallibility" is kept in order to affirm with the Christian tradition that the Bible as "Godbreathed" has full doctrinal and moral teaching authority.29'

Both Davis and Beegle echo the posture of P. T. Forsyth, the English theologian of the turn of the century, who said, "'We may not feel compelled to take the whole Bible, but we must take the Bible as a whole.' "'30 That is, although specific sections of Scripture might need to be rejected, one must still take as authoritative the overall message of the Biblical text. There are problems with such a position, however, both at the point of rejecting "the whole Bible" and at the point of accepting "the Bible as a whole."

Davis is perhaps more candid than Beegle in recognizing that he cannot be dogmatic concerning what in Scripture is to be rejected. Beegle implies that modern scholarship can indeed do that and that it has therefore created a new situation today. This is, however, not true. All of the examples Beegle mentions are long-recognized difficulties in the Biblical text which have been debated by theologians throughout the centuries. Even more to the point, no two modern-day scholars seem able to draw up the same common list of errors, each finding on the other's worksheet difficulties which have, in their opinion, plausible modern-day alternate explanations often involving a reassessment of the author's intention and/or cultural context.

Second, if we accept only "the Bible as a whole," how are we to determine what is essential from what is nonessential? If error in matters of faith and practice is allowed on the periphery, as well as error in incidentals, by what criteria do we arrive at the nonnegotiable borders? Davis and Beegle propose to use as a norm their understanding of Christ and his gospel. But this is to subject Scripture to an outside criterion which the interpreter brings to the text. Rather than accepting as authoritative Scripture's total witness, the interpreter uses either his subjective experience with the Christ, or his contemporary sensibility, or the church's traditional understanding of the gospel, or perhaps some combination of these to judge what reasonably the "whole Bible" might be saying. While Scripture is still considered vital to an understanding of the faith, it is relegated to a secondary authoritative role one factor among several. Davis, in fact, concedes this point, recognizing that his decisions regarding what to accept and what to reject are based on "good reasons" stemming not only from exegesis, but also from his total understanding of Christian theology. Here, he states, is his "imprecise and flexible" criterion for judgment.31

______________________

The problem for those holding to limited infallibility is this: an external criterion is used to determine the extent of inspiration. Inspiration is imputed to only the "essential" elements of the text; inner experience, church tradition, or contemporary standards of reasonableness determine what that essence is.

Ironically, external criteria are the basis of judgment for those holding to a detailed-inerrancy position as well. As is so often the case, errors at the far right and far left of any given issue end up having a surprisingly similar shape. On the far right, it is not the gospel's "essential elements" standing judge over Scripture's inspiration; instead, the "scientific accuracy" of the text gives it its ultimate verification. Demanding strictly scientific precision to guarantee Scripture's trustworthiness, requiring something more objective than the internal, personal witness of the Holy Spirit through the text itself, scholars like Lindsell end up testing the truth of the Bible by an extra-Biblical standard.32 As with Davis, externally derived "good reasons" become the ultimate criterion for judging the gospel.

The results are unfortunate in both cases. First, since the norm for establishing the truthfulness and thus authority of Scripture is external to the Bible itself, confidence in the Bible and its message can only be highly probable. On the one hand, as Lindsell demonstrates, one's confidence hinges on being able to harmonize 23,000 with 24,000, or to correlate a diameter of ten with a circumference of thirty. One error brings the edifice crashing down. As Clark Pinnock states, one gets "the strong impression that the authority of the Bible and with it the truth of the gospel hangs on the resolution of some chronological puzzle or mechanical detail."33 Is it really true that our confidence in Scripture's claim regarding Jesus as Lord rests on such a basis? On the other hand, the "good reasons" of Davis provide scarcely a better foundation for knowing what we should believe. Though Davis is himself quite eager to submit to the teaching authority of Scripture, he allows for the bracketing out of certain texts while canonizing others for critical-personal reasons. Moreover, he admits that he cannot prove his contentions.34

Second, we find in these extreme positions a compulsion to maintain one's stance-by refusing to admit error (the detailed inerrantists) or by discovering error (the infallibilists). For the inerrantist, this brings one of three results: either the evidence is transformed to conform with the theory, or the theory is inconsistently and quietly changed, or "error" is so qualified that it can never be located in practice. For example, in trying to harmonize the Gospel accounts, Lindsell feels compelled to posit that the cock crowed six times within Peter's hearing, although the various Gospel texts clearly say "three." When the data do not allow for such manipulation, as with Jesus' remark that the mustard seed is the smallest seed, then Lindsell slides into an argument that hinges on the author's intention (e. g., "it was the intention of the speaker to communicate the fact that the mustard seed was `the smallest that his hearers were accustomed to sow' ").35 But his commitment to scientific accuracy is thus qualified, though this is nowhere admitted. Last, for a genuine error to be acknowledged by Lindsell, it must be indisputably false. But with Scripture's autographs no longer extant, they are by Lindsell's criterion unfalsifiable. "Inerrancy" has become a shibboleth, to be defended even at the expense of theological discourse.

On the other side, for Beegle and Davis, pressure to defend their position (now, by locating "error") brings equally unsatisfactory results. Davis posits that the Bible is erroneous because of the variation in the parallel accounts of David's numbering of the people found in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, because the mustard seed is not the smallest seed as stated in Matthew, and because the brutality of Canaan's conquest by the Israelites could not be God-ordained as is claimed. Such "difficulties" are "errors" however, only if the context, literary genre, and purpose of the respective texts are disregarded. Adequate interpretations exist for each case that Davis raises. Beegle's methodology is scarcely better. He claims to reexamine traditional viewpoints "in the light of new information gained during the last forty years or so."36 But tellingly, all of his examples are familiar to traditional theological discussions and have not increased in difficulty in the modern era. The problem of "errors" in the text is not a new one, and Beegle's claim in this regard seems unfounded-merely an apologetic ruse.

Both detailed inerrantists and partial infallibilists compromise Scripture's inspiration by the use of outside criteria for evaluation and judgment. Moreover, they fall prey to questionable methods of argument in their desire for apologetic effectiveness. It might be fair to say that one side is guilty of overbelief; the other, of underbelief. One side expects too little from the Biblical text; the other, too much. Both have let polemical and apologetic concerns become primary, with the result that the authority and truthfulness of the Biblical text are undermined. Rather than search among theologians such as these, we must look to the mediating categories within evangelicalism-to the irenic inerrantists and to those holding to complete infallibility if helpful insight is to be gained.

 

3. Irenic Inerrancy

An increasing number of evangelicals are recognizing that the word "inerrant," when used in theological discussion, must be defined Biblically; it must be given a meaning related to standards in Biblical times. Such an attempt has taken several directions, but perhaps the views of Clark Pinnock and Daniel Fuller are most representative of this more flexible and irenical position.

Pinnock is, like Lindsell and Schaeffer, first of all an apologist, as can be seen in the titles of his books: Set Forth Your Case, A Defense of Biblical Infallibility, and Biblical Revelation. For Pinnock, the Bible authorizes and authenticates the preaching of the gospel. "To construct a theology on the basis of an unreliable Bible," he writes, "is to build on sand."37 But this is not necessary, for Scripture's inspiration guarantees that it is infallible (I. e., it is incapable of deception) and inerrant (I. e., it is without error in all that it affirms). Read in its natural sense, Scripture is fully trustworthy in all matters that the writers affirm. States Pinnock:

The importance of Biblical infallibility is measured by the sola scriptura principle, wherein the Bible is taken to be the sole source for the knowledge of divine truth. The foundation of theology is, therefore, only as secure as the Bible is trustworthy. . . . Sola scriptura cannot be sustained apart from Biblical infallibility. An erring standard provides no sure measure of divine truth and human error. The assurance in which the believer knows and rejoices in his Lord's nature and purposes is threatened when the reliability of Scripture is questioned.38

Pinnock might seem to be one with Schaeffer and Lindsell given the above (he did, in fact, spend some time studying under Schaeffer at L'Abri, Switzerland). But Pinnock adds the important qualification that Scripture's infallibility (and thus inerrancy, which he deduces) must be understood Biblically according to an adequate hermeneutic. To his deduction concerning a doctrine of inspiration, he adds an important inductive qualification.

In his earlier writing, Pinnock's Biblically derived qualifications concerning inerrancy were based on the facts that modern historiography was unknown in Biblical times, that writers use the language of simple observation (e. g., the sunrise), that figurative and mythological language is used (Isa. 27:1; Job 9:13), that parallel accounts take different standpoints (e. g., Samuel-Kings-Chronicles; MatthewMark-Luke-John), that Old Testament citations in the New Testament are often loosely rendered, and that literary quality varies from writer to writer. According to Pinnock, purported "errors" in the Bible often dissolved when the above observations were noted. Pinnock realized that others found "error" also due to inconsistencies in the sources Bible writers quote, moral accommodation to prevailing standards in Biblical times, scientific inaccuracies, and pseudonymous writing intended to deceive the reader. But for Pinnock these "assured results" of scholarship which allegedly crippled infallibility were "little more than the current popular hypotheses grounded upon the dubious assumption that Scripture may contain errors."39 Remove the probability of error as one's starting point and instead substitute a "scientific" (inductive) approach to Scripture, one beginning with the Bible's own teaching concerning its infallibility, and building criticism of it from there, and even these more difficult problems dissipate.

While keeping to his general framework, Pinnock has, in more recent writing, modified his judgments on the irreconcilable differences between a high view of Biblical inspiration and such critical claims as error in the Biblical sources. He has sought better to qualify "inerrancy" inductively-according to the "scope, purpose, and genre of each passage." The author's intention has been given increased significance, as in the following examples which he cites:

in confusing the facts of the Abraham story in Acts 7 we fault neither Stephen for citing the facts as he recalled them nor Luke for recording what he believed Stephen said; where Job cites the errant opinion of liars; where the chronicler recounts figures quite different from those in parallel passages, his intention being only to set forth the record as, he found it in the public archives; where the ipsissima verba of Jesus are handled with a certain freedom depending on the purpose of the redactor evangelist, or where Paul cites the Old Testament freely in line with some concept he wishes to teach us.

 

For Pinnock, the implication of this hermeneutical qualification to the notion of inerrancy is that though the Bible "contains errors" it "teaches none."401140

"Inerrancy," understood in this way, is "a good deal more flexible than is supposed," according to Pinnock, "and does not suspend the truth of the gospel upon a single detail, as is so often charged."41 Moreover, Pinnock's qualifications concerning Scripture's inerrancy are internally derived and textually oriented. He is not using externally formulated theological categories like "faith and practice" or "revelational matters" to judge a specific Scriptural text's intention, nor the "good reasons" of the interpreter, but is rather letting each passage declare its own scope and purpose through its own genre and historical context.

Pinnock's flexible use of the word "inerrancy" causes him to criticize certain evangelicals like Lindsell for an "overbelief about the Bible" which seeks to protect it from its own humanity.42 It compels him to criticize the position of irenic inerrantists like Daniel Fuller, who, according to Pinnock, operate in their judgment of Scripture's infallibility according to an a priori standard derived inductively from doctrinal verses (2 Tim. 3:15), but then applied deductively and uniformly throughout the text. It also allows him to criticize more liberal evangelical theologians who would seemingly sacrifice the principle of sold scriptura for another standard. Most important, Pinnock's position allows him to maintain a strong Biblical foundation for his theology, while at the same time being open to new exegetical and critical insights. Pinnock is willing to make a strong apologia for sold scriptura and to criticize alternate viewpoints. But he also urges "charity toward those whose hesitation over inerrancy is due to their honest judgment and not to any weakness of their evangelical convictions."43,

Like Pinnock, and for that matter Schaeffer and Lindsell, Daniel Fuller holds with the Lausanne Covenant that the Bible is "without error in all that it affirms." But Fuller, a professor of hermeneutics at Fuller Theological Seminary, would understand Scripture's inerrancy in a still different sense. Rather than take as his criterion for judgment either the principle of "factual" accuracy or the principle of the author's immediate intention, Fuller proposes that inerrancy must be posited only in terms of the Bible's "overall purpose," I. e., in terms of the intention of God who inspired it. This purpose is for Fuller stated clearly in 2 Timothy 3:15; it is to make us "wise unto salvation."44

Although the whole Bible is revelational and thus inerrant in fulfilling its intention (something Fuller repeatedly affirms in spite of criticism by some like Lindsell),45 those things in Scripture which are incidentally related to the completion of this revelational intention can be labeled "non-revelatory" matters. Furthermore, our inductive study shows that some of these incidental "non-revelatory" statements in Scripture related to "geology, meteorology, cosmology, botany, astronomy, geography, etc." are quite probably fallible (e. g., Stephen's speech relating Abraham's chronology in Acts 7:1-4, or Jesus' allusion to the mustard seed as the smallest seed in Matt. 13:32).46 But this should not concern us, for the intention and purpose of the Biblical writers is to set forth revelational truths alone:

being verbally inspired, the Biblical writers were also supernaturally enabled by God to understand the best way to take certain non-revelational, cultural matters, and without changing them, use them to enhance the communication of revelational truths to the original hearers or readers.47

To use more accurate, but as yet unknown, judgments in nonrevelatory matters would, in fact, have distracted the hearers' attention away from the intended revelational point.

Fuller is willing to pursue his grammatical-historical methodology relentlessly. Thus, while "inerrancy" concerning revelatory matters is a necessary induction based on a critical study of 2 Timothy 3:15, it is only a "highly probable" deduction when applied to all of Scripture. If error could somehow be shown in matters that are said to be revelatory (those incapable of "being checked out by human investigation") or in matters which are non-revelatory but serve as the basis for revelation (those matters germane to the "whole counsel of God" where "historical control is possible"), then the entire Bible would become questionable, Fuller believes. Humbly, Fuller concludes with these words, "I sincerely hope that as I continue my historical grammatical exegesis of Scripture, I shall find no error in its teachings."48

Fuller's inductive historicist perspective thus undercuts his sure knowledge of Scripture's authority. Historical research, rather than the Holy Spirit, is said to bring certainty to one's faith in Scripture as authoritative. The Spirit acts, but only to help the Christian be docile before the text and to submit to the results of its grammatical historical investigation in faith. "Inerrancy" remains at best an ongoing hope, and "authority," a pious belief.

 

4. Complete Infallibility

Similar to Pinnock, but declining to use the word "inerrancy" because of its modern connotations, is David Hubbard. As president of Fuller Seminary, Hubbard has been called on repeatedly to justify the change which he presided over in his seminary's Statement of Faith. In the seminary's original statement, adopted in 1950, the section pertaining to Scripture read as follows:

The books which form the canon of the Old and New Testaments as originally given are plenarily inspired and free from all error in the whole and in the part. These books constitute the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.49

In Fuller's revised statement which was announced in 1970, this section was modified to read:

 

Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure. All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power.50

What has been deleted from the first statement is the phrase "free from error in the whole and in the part." What has been included is the recognition of the need for reverent, yet critical, interpretation. For Hubbard, the inspiration, infallibility, and authority of Scrip ture are givens. Here the evangelical consensus is strong and must be maintained. Scripture "must stand as teacher and judge of all that we think and do. It both inspires and corrects our doctrine and our conduct."51 One's view of Scripture is pivotal, and submission to its full authority is basic to the evangelical faith.

While the term "inerrancy" served to underscore, in past generations, "the fact that Scripture is indeed God's trustworthy Word in all it affirms," it has provided a mixed legacy according to Hubbard. For the term "inerrancy," if left undefined, misleads in at least five ways. First, "it implies a precision alien to the minds of the Bible writers and their own use of Scriptures." Second, it causes the church's attention to be directed from the Bible's chief purpose (its message of salvation) to secondary matters. Third, it encourages superficial scholarship rather than serious Biblical wrestling for fear that one proven "error" will call all of one's faith in doubt. Fourth, as used in most evangelical discussion, the term is a philosophical judgment controlled by categories alien to Scripture; it is a slogan based on "how God ought to have inspired the Word" which has been substituted for careful patient analysis of what the Bible does teach about itself. Last, and paradoxically, the word "inerrancy" undermines its apologetic intent by reflecting a defensiveness toward Scripture that is out of keeping with the gospel's own boldly proclaimed confidence.52 For these reasons, Hubbard has become increasingly uncomfortable with the use of the term "inerrancy" to describe his basic commitment to Scripture's infallibility, though he has no basic argument with those like Pinnock who use the term as qualified and understood Biblically.

"Errancy" is not an option for Hubbard. The Bible's infallibility and truthfulness are taken as a matter of faith, confirmed by the Holy Spirit and witnessed to by scholarly investigation. The option to "inerrancy" for Hubbard is not "errancy," but the "total infallibility" of the Bible in matters pertaining to its intention. He refrains from judgment on other matters (except perhaps to remark on Scripture's remarkable accuracy). Instead of emphasizing Scripture's "inerrancy," thinks Hubbard, those wishing to strengthen the evangelicals' commitment to Scripture's authority should stress the importance of interpretation. A positive Biblical scholarship can do much toward learning the context, literary genre, and purpose of each portion of God's Word. Hubbard is, in this way, arguing for an inductive methodology as the proper means of enfleshing and defining one's commitment to Scripture's infallibility. He states:

 

Dealing with the Bible is not unlike the basic rule of golf: we must play the ball where it lies. We must not let either friends or enemies of the faith force us to use strategies of defense or interpretation that do not reckon with the reality of the Bible itself.53

As God's Word, the Bible is authoritative for the Christian, the final and absolute norm over all Christian thought, including our understanding of its own infallibility.

An interesting permutation of Fuller Seminary's "complete infallibility" position which Hubbard defends is that of his colleague Paul King Jewett. Jewett takes the full authority and infallibility of Scripture with utmost seriousness. In his recent book in which he argues the role of women, he claims that he has tried to appeal "only to Scripture, not to physiology, psychology, or sociology" as many others do.54 As Jewett attempts to let Scripture mold his thought, however, he finds within the writings of St. Paul inconsistencies relating to the role and place of women in the church and home. He does not find an underlying unity among the various parts of Scripture (a basic Reformation principle of interpretation), but believes that Paul's writings contain contradictions concerning women. On the one hand, Paul argues for women's submission and subordination to men (1 Cor. 11; 14; 1 Tim. 2; Eph. 5); on the other, he recognizes the egalitarian thrust of redemption (Gal. 3:28), bringing into effect a new creation (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). Wishing to let Scripture remain totally authoritative and infallible in faith and life, Jewett appeals to a second Reformation principle of interpretation-namely, that Scripture must be understood in light of other Scripture. As Jewett seeks to let Scripture interpret itself, he believes he must allow it to correct its own "errors," revealing its higher truth in the process. Paul "the rabbi" must be countered by Paul "the Christian"; Scripture as human (reflecting the historical limitations of its authors' insight) must be contrasted with Scripture as divine.55

Such is Jewett's methodology in his recent book Man as Male and Female. His discussion will be looked at in some length in the next chapter. Suffice it to say here that Jewett provides strong evidence, by example, of the need to conjoin a notion of Biblical infallibility with an adequate method of interpretation. Although Jewett chaired the committee which formulated Fuller's revised Statement of Faith and recognized the need to move the discussion concerning Biblical authority from the issue of inerrancy to that of interpretation, the argument in his book is inadequate at this very point. At the moment when new insight as to the context and purpose of the supposed "chauvinist" passages in Paul is surfacing, Jewett has surprisingly abandoned his efforts to find consistency in Paul's writing. Instead, he has used the concept of "progressive revelation" to allow for the "historical limitation of... [Paul's] Christian insight." Paul, according to Jewett, was in error.

Lindsell claims that Jewett has openly denied by his book the Fuller Statement of Faith which declares the Bible to be "the infallible rule of faith and practice."56 A faculty and trustee committee at Fuller which investigated the theological implications of Man as Male and Female found Lindsell's charge unwarranted, recognizing Jewett's sincere desire to subscribe fully to the seminary's Statement of Faith. Jewett believes his methods and conclusions are "not only consistent with, but required by, a wholehearted commitment to the infallibility of Scripture, rightly interpreted."57 But the committee also expressed publicly their strong "regret" that "Dr. Jewett has not been more careful to make clear how he maintained the authority and integrity of all the Scriptures as they pertain to the topic discussed in his book."58 With the publication of Jewett's book the question of "error" is seen to be a pertinent topic for discussion concerning Biblical authority, even among those holding to a position of "complete infallibility." But the issue of "error" (and thus of "inerrancy") follows, rather than precedes, the more primary issue of interpretation.

Questions to Be Answered

The above description of the range of evangelical opinion relating to a doctrine of inspiration has raised a number of questions. It has also pointed in helpful directions. From the discussion of inspiration it appears that the real issue is not that of effective apologetics, but one of theological interpretation. How do we rightly judge the implications of Scripture's inspiration? A whole series of questions relating to terminology, method, theological ordering, authorial intention, and cultural accommodation must be raised as central to this task of interpretation.

 

1. Proper Terminology. Inerrant or Infallible?

Little except terminology separates the mediating positions of Hubbard and Pinnock. Each recognizes the reasons behind the other's terminology. Each recognizes the need for all terms to be qualified hermeneutically. Each rejects the hermeneutical extremes that refuse to admit the role of higher criticism on the one hand or that use hermeneutical procedures to call into question Scripture's integrity and complete authority on the other.

"Inerrant" and "infallible" are both strong adjectives describing Scripture's total authority and trustworthiness. But though the words are often considered synonymous in English usage, there are important nuances theologically that should not be overlooked. "Inerrant" implies that the theological text under consideration is without mistake in all that it affirms. "Infallible" suggests that the text is incapable of teaching deception. One emphasizes precision and accuracy; the other, trustworthiness. The one stresses freedom from error; the other emphasizes indefectible authority. The one stresses the original purity of the text; the other, its continuing, life-giving power. "Inerrant" easily bogs down in minor detail; "infallible" seeks to validate the central truths of the gospel. "Inerrant," when qualified hermeneutically, seems to die the death of a thousand qualifications. "Infallible," on the other hand, invites all interpretive procedures which allow for a full reading of the author's intention in his communication, understood in the historical situation from which and to which he speaks. The one leads the evangelical toward a defensive apologetic; the other, to a more confident proclamation. Although Biblical "infallibility" thus seems the better of the two options, as even Pinnock's most recent statements imply, the term is not without its problems within and outside the evangelical community.59 Given the history of controversy over inspiration, to say that Scripture is "infallible" seems to many evangelicals a watered-down statement, one sidestepping Biblical truth. Moreover, to the larger Christian community, the term's double negative no longer suggests the positive trust in the dynamic authority of Scripture's gospel witness which has been evangelicalism's hallmark.

Perhaps the compromise wording of the Lausanne Covenant offers a third alternative to the current impasse over terminology. Rather than use either "inerrant" or "infallible," it opted to express the nature of Scripture as inspired by speaking of its "truthfulness." Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship has also shown wisdom in this matter, choosing in its public affirmation of faith to confess "the entire trustworthiness" of the Bible. In this manner the semantic debate has been sidestepped, the defensive posture of a double negative transformed, and a forceful witness to the nature of Scripture communicated. Undoubtedly terms like "truthful" and "trustworthy" have the same potential for theological game-playing as has characterized the dispute over "inerrancy" and "infallibility." But such terms do at present discourage sloganeering, inviting instead the use of helpful qualifying phrases in order to highlight nuances of meaning that the single terms leave ambiguous.

 

2. Proper Methodology: Inductive or Deductive?

As evangelicals have discussed the doctrine of inspiration, two different approaches have been used. Inerrantists have most often opted for a process of deduction. Because God is perfect and the Bible is God's Word, the Bible, it is claimed, must be perfect. Or again, because God cannot "lie" and because the Bible is "God-breathed" (inspired), it is concluded that the Bible must be inerrant. Infallibilists have almost exclusively used a process of induction. Because the Bible is a human document, its data can be investigated and formulated into a structure of truth. Accepting Scripture's claim to being inspired, the interpreter will investigate the remaining phenomena of Scripture in order to understand how this claim of inspiration is enfleshed. Both a deductive and an inductive approach have their weaknesses. The danger of fundamentalism (I. e., theology having no real connection with the historical data) on the one hand, is met by the danger of humanism (I. e., theology having no transcendent norm) on the other. Observers like Lindsell seem to have little feeling for the phenomena of Scripture, I. e., the variety of words and statements found in the text itself. Those like Beegle, on the other hand, seem to have little appreciation for the doctrine of Scripture, I. e., the importance of maintaining its message to be authoritative and inspired. A deductive methodology allows for a tidier package, but only by stuffing all the loose ends into its box; an inductive approach appears to be more faithful to the text, but it can also easily turn God's-Word as-human-words into merely human words.

Although a deductive approach more easily allows one to maintain the unity of Scripture by suspending judgment concerning supposed difficulties in the text, it has several problems which have caused the majority of evangelicals to opt for an inductive methodology. To begin, a deduction inhibits an honest critical testing of the data. Instead of listening openly to the words of Scripture, a norm is set up concerning their meaning, and then the evidence is made to conform to it. Even more damaging, if the data cannot be brought into conformity with the norm of "inerrancy," then the whole notion of inspiration is undermined and threatened. To avoid such a possibility, deductivists have often set up unfalsifiable criteria for judging an error to be error (e. g., must be in the nonexistent autograph; must be proved beyond doubt). The reader is in this way always left with a conceivable (even if unlikely) option.

Perhaps the greatest weakness in the deductive approach is the original syllogism on which it is based: one that moves from "God cannot lie," through "Scripture is God's Word," to "Scripture is inerrant." Although the major and minor premises are easily defended as Biblical, the conclusion is unsupportable either in terms of compelling logic or direct Biblical support. The original premise declares that God is free from all deception, deceit, and falsehood. This is a far different claim from the one that all incorrectness (even unintended and incidental) has been removed from God's-Word-as-human-words, i. e., that Scripture is inerrant. Lying is something different from making a statement that has a technical inaccuracy. It is for this reason that those using the term "infallible," as well as inerrantists like Clark Pinnock and Daniel Fuller, have opted for an inductive method of interpretation. Surely, the seminal article in evangelical circles concerning an inductive approach is Everett Harrison's "The Phenomena of Scripture" which has been widely quoted. Appearing in 1958 in Revelation and the Bible, edited by Carl Henry, Harrison's essay set forth the following thesis:

No view of Scripture can indefinitely be sustained if it runs counter to the facts. That the Bible claims inspiration is patent. The problem is to define the nature of that inspiration in the light of the phenomena contained therein.60

In the article, Harrison discusses such "difficulties" in the text as problems with chronologies, differences in numbers, non-parallel accounts in the Gospels, the differences between John and the synoptics, and presumed error in the sources quoted (e. g.; Acts 7:4). He argues, "We may have our own ideas as to how God should have inspired the Word, but it is more profitable to learn, if we can, how he has actually inspired it." Harrison still believes that inerrancy "is a natural corollary of full inspiration," but he realizes that the term must be understood according to the full phenomena of the text.61 Harrison accepts Scripture's claim that it is inspired. As such he accepts the Bible as trustworthy (here is his meaning of "inerrancy") and authoritative. But he believes a method of induction is necessary in order to undestand the full nature of Scripture's trustworthiness as inspired. NonBiblical criteria for inerrancy must not be applied.

 

3. Proper Ordering: Primary or Secondary?

Detailed inerrantists claim that "inerrancy" is the crucial doctrine of evangelical Christianity. If Christians make a concession at this point, they will lack an adequate foundation for their beliefs. According to Lindsell, for example, given a retreat from inerrancy, there is an almost inevitable decline in Christian zeal and evangelism, a tendency toward spiritual sloth, and a high likelihood of apostasy. 62 The issue if theological priority hinges partly on the question of terminology (did Jesus really hold to"inerrancy"?; see question 1 above:"Proper Terminology: Inerrant or Infallible?"); partly it concerns method (can one deduce that "false in one implies false in all"?; see question 2: "Proper Methodology: Inductive or Deductive?"); but primarily it is a matter of theological interpretation. Here, modern day inerrantists can learn from one of their patriarchs, B. B. Warfield. Commenting on his understanding of the nature of inspiration, he wrote:

Let it not be said that thus we found the whole Christian system upon the doctrine of plenary inspiration. We found the whole Christian system on the doctrine of plenary inspiration as little as we found it upon the doctrine of angelic existences. Were there no such thing as inspiration, Christianity would be true, and all its essential doctrines would be credibly witnessed to us in the generally trustworthy reports of the teaching of our Lord and of His authoritative agents in founding the Church, preserved in the writings of the apostles and their first followers .... Inspiration is not the most fundamental of Christian doctrines.63

Moreover, even if inspiration were the most fundamental of Christian doctrines, inerrancy would still be a derivative concern. Inspiration is the basis of inerrancy, not vice versa. To turn a particular view of inspiration, i. e., inerrancy, into the "essence" of Christianity is to confuse one's priorities concerning the Christian faith.64, While maintaining the doctrine of sola scriptura, evangelicals must resist any attempt to elevate one inference from its subsidiary doctrine of inspiration to a position of ascendancy over solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura itself.

Though the argument for the priority of inerrancy is most often couched in apologetic terms, the real focus of the issue is, I suspect, epistemological. The question is this: do we need convincing objective reasons prior to our faith, or can we rely on the Holy Spirit's witness to Christ heard through the Biblical evidence? No longer admitting that the witness of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word is sufficient, certain evangelicals have attempted to develop rationalistic supports for their faith. One can map out the scenario as follows:

a. Some evangelicals subordinate the Holy Spirit's inner witness as a basis for Scripture's self-validating authority.

b. Wanting, nevertheless, to maintain Scripture as God's Word, they overwhelm Scripture's humanity by its divinity.

c. Lacking a sure word from the Spirit, they must look for rationalistic supports for their faith in Scripture.

d. They find this in the notion of inerrancy.

e. But this causes a reversal of the relationship of inerrancy and inspiration,

f. and a transformation of Scripture into a textbook of dogmatic truth.

g. Moreover, the credibility of Christianity now comes to hinge on the defense of inerrancy.

 

Here is the irony: we try to secure the Bible's authority by claiming that it is inerrant; but to show that it is inerrant we apply "a norm external to the Bible to which the Bible must conform if it is to be regarded as true"; and discover, finally, that by this norm we are compelled to admit that "the truth of the Bible can only be established as highly probable. "65 The Reformers took a different approach. Calvin, for example, believed Scripture to be self-evidencing and selfvalidating. "It comes with its own credentials and hence is not to be accredited by our critical judgment of external evidence."66 How are these credentials heard? Calvin's answer is clear: the inner, objective witness of the Holy Spirit to the Word.67 Here is the God-given certainty that faith needs.

 

4. The Author's Intention: Useful or Extraneous?

Evangelicals have increasingly recognized the necessity of describing Scripture's authority and trustworthiness in terms of its intention. As the Lausanne Covenant asserts, the Bible is "without error in all that it affirms " Although detailed inerrantists like John Montgomery and Harold Lindsell resist referring to the writer's intentions as a criterion for Biblical judgment, sensing, rightly, that its adoption undermines their position, they nevertheless use such a standard on occasion (see Lindsell's discussion of differences in Biblical numbers [Num. 25:9; 1 Cor. 10:8], the mustard seed problem [Matt. 13:31-32], and the difficulty concerning Pekah's reign [2 Kings 15:27]).68 Evangelicals are coming to understand that a careful assessment of the author's intention is necessary if they are "to break the empiricist tyranny" of certain evangelicals who would impose their "own narrow view of factuality" on the larger evangelical community, not letting the reader "see the Bible as it really is, and in its own terms."69

While agreeing on the need to take the author's intention seriously, evangelicals are divided on what constitutes that intention and what is its significance. Pinnock's concept of intention, for example, allows that "the Bible contains errors but teaches none."'70 That is, there are "errors" in the text, but they are incidental to what the author was trying to communicate to the reader. Fuller finds in II Timothy 3:15 (to make "wise unto salvation," KJV) the overall intent of Scripture and then uses this to distinguish between revelatory and non-revelatory matters in the text. Jewett, to give yet a third example, argues that the basic intention of Paul concerning the role of women is revealed in Galatians 3:28, and that this must be used in judging inadequate the intention of some of Paul's other statements concerning women ("the problem with the concept of female subordination is that it breaks the analogy of faith').71

What can be said? While the previous three questions were more easily answered, no solution exists within evangelicalism at present concerning the proper use or significance of the author's intention for an adequate interpretive framework. All three examples cited have their weaknesses. It is surely misleading to say with Pinnock that the Bible "contains errors but teaches none." If an approximation is given numerically, or if freedom with the original sources is an agreed-upon procedure, are we really to label these "errors"? One does not call poetry, or historical novels, or mythology erroneous, merely because they follow other norms of precision than scientific treatise. In an analogous way, Scripture's statements must be judged according to their intended literary genre and context.

Fuller's understanding seems to blur the distinction between the intention of the Bible as a whole and the intention of a particular Biblical text. While Scripture's overall intention is, indeed, to make us "wise unto salvation," this is not the aim of each individual passage, at least not in the same way. The main intent of 1 Corinthians 11 is to deal with order in the church; of Genesis 5, to provide a chronology for the descendants of Adam; and of Psalm 8, to sing of the glory of God as Creator. Rather than sift the Scripture according to the general principle of its applicability to salvation, wouldn't it be better to inquire of each text what was its intended message? Only in this way can God's multifaceted revelation be heard on its own terms without narrowing it to traditional salvation-categories.

Jewett's alternative raises a related problem. He would take a specific example of Scripture's truth of salvation-the equality of male and female in Christ-and use it to dismiss the intent of other Biblical texts as sub-Christian. In this way, Scripture is being interpreted and judged according to other Scripture, in a way that undermines the authority and trustworthiness of all the Scriptures in their parts. Instead of such a self-defeating hermeneutic, it would seem better to hold to the unity of Scripture in its parts and whole, even while continuing to seek the individual author's intention and historical context for those clues that would allow us to maintain Scripture's integrity. Unintentionally, Jewett has used the notion of intention to undercut sola scriptura, the very principle he seeks to affirm.

It is, of course, easier to criticize other attempts than to propose a constructive alternative. But the above comments should indicate the direction which further refinements on the notion of intention must take. What is unintended cannot be judged as erroneous. What is intended must be judged according to each particular passage. And the intent of

 

5. Historical Accommodation?

In seeking to maintain a high view of inspiration, evangelicals have wrestled with the fact that God's revelation was stated in terms of the language, logic, and location of the people to whom it was originally written. Though Scripture is the "truth" of God, it is truth historically accommodated to the human mind and understanding. While this fact is widely recognized, it is given a variety of interpretations within the evangelical community, many of which prove inadequate on further reflection.

Conservatives such as Lindsell have resisted all attempts to use "accommodation" as a justification for formal error in the text. They have challenged the notion that the Biblical writers were men of their times in respect to history, cosmology, and physics, who wrote what they believed to be true but what is now known to be false. Any error in the text, even on a point incidental to the author's intention, is considered to undermine radically Scripture's usefulness. Even if the Biblical writers personally held to that which we know to be erroneous, the Holy Spirit kept them from including those things in Scripture. For example, Lindsell states: "They may have believed that the sun revolves around the earth, but they did not teach this in Scripture."72 For Lindsell, accommodation has to do with the form of revelation, but it in no way impinges on the content of Scripture.

Daniel Fuller believes that in non-revelatory matters, there is "error" in the Biblical text which was included deliberately by the authors in order to communicate effectively with their readers. He posits, for example, that Jesus in his omniscience knew that there were smaller seeds than the mustard seed, but nevertheless used "this facet of the culture of the people to whom he was speaking as a vehicle for conveying the cargo of revelational truth."73 Had Jesus been more scientifically accurate, he would have merely confused his audience. Fuller quotes Calvin approvingly at this point. Referring to the use in the book of Hebrews of a faulty Septuagintal translation in order to make a point (Heb. 11:21: mittah [bed] has been confused with matteh [staff), cf. Gen. 47:31), Calvin writes: "The Apostle hesitated not to apply to his purpose what was commonly received .... And we know that the Apostles were not so scrupulous in this respect, as not to accommodate themselves to the unlearned."74.

Paul Jewett maintains still a third notion of accommodation. He believes Paul's statements regarding female subordination can best be understood by recognizing "the human as well as the divine quality of Scripture." Paul was as an apostle still a partial captive to his rabbinic past. Thus, although he proclaimed a major theological "breakthrough" when he wrote that in Christ there is neither male nor female, Paul failed to understand the social implications of this truth and remained chauvinistic in some of his practical advice to the churches. His writing reflects "the historical limitations of his Christian insight."" Paul's accommodation to his times, in other words, causes him occasionally to come short of God's revealed intent for humanity

With Lindsell, Scripture is culturally independent; with Fuller, it is culturally conditioned; with Jewett, culturally limited. I would suggest that all three formulations are deficient and work to undercut an adequate notion of inspiration. Concerning Lindsell's position, careful critical study of the text reveals that accommodation has to do with content as well as form (e.g., Heb. 11:21 and Gen. 47:31). Concerning Fuller's claims, it is highly conjectural to posit that all accommodation in Scripture is deliberate. Moreover, it is not clear that "error" in non-revelatory material is necessary in order to communicate effectively. Jewett has mistakenly contrasted the human with the divine (evangelicals have consistently held the whole of Scripture to be at one and the same time human and divine), rather than contrasting the divine principles with their more limited cultural application. Concerning female subordination, accommodation does not have to do with Paul's historical limitation of knowledge, but his historical focus in the application of the knowledge he possesses.

Rather than any of the above models, I would suggest that evangelicals might better look at the notion of accommodation in terms of Scripture's cultural-directedness. Jesus himself provides us our hermeneutical key in his discussion with the Pharisees concerning the Mosaic law on divorce (Mark 10:3-5). Citing Genesis 1 and 2 which speak of marriage's indissolubility, Jesus sees this as God's primary will for married couples. Jesus, then, interprets Moses' allowance for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1, 3 as being on account of the people's "hardness of heart." The Deuteronomic commandment, in other words, is God's inspired revelation to his people-it is trustworthy and authoritative-but it must be understood both in terms of the historical realities of life in ancient Israel (the people's sin) and in terms of God's wider revelation in the whole of Scripture. Interpreted in this light, the Mosaic text witnesses to a divine accommodation. It is culturally directed and must be understood as such, though this does not allow us to dismiss it as a faulty socialization-a mere assumption of the author. No, the Mosaic text is at one and the same time God's Word and human words-divinely inspired and culturally directed. As such, it remains fully inspired and authoritative.

Conclusion

On each of the questions discussed above, matters of theological interpretation prove basic. Moreover, the hermeneutical keys for constructing adequate theological responses come from all three of the sources of theological insight-contemporary sensitivity, investigation into the tradition, and reevaluation of the Biblical texts. The issue of terminology hinges on a proper reading of current sensibilities in evangelical circles. The issue of theological priority is illumined by a consideration of traditional formulations such as those of Warfield The question of historical accommodation is addressed by an exegetical appeal to the tenth chapter of Mark. Thus, to deal with issues involving inspiration is more than to make an apologetic appeal to the character of Scripture's autographs which we no longer possess. It is. instead, to take seriously the issue of theological interpretation. If discussion of inspiration is to prove fruitful in evangelical circles, I. must move from dogmatic statement to matters of concrete theological judgment.

Such an agenda will no doubt prove difficult, for the link in evangelical circles between inspiration and apologetics is a strong one. Inspiration has become, for many, the cornerstone for a defense of the faith. With the focus on "inerrancy," however, much of the balance and vitality within the evangelical theological enterprise is being lost_ The results are proving serious. The task of confronting the nonevangelical world over the issue of Biblical authority is being undercut by the desire to challenge fellow evangelicals' notions of inspiration What is distinctively evangelical needs again to be forcefully presented to the wider Christian community. Again, the important task of adjudicating differences of opinion on other theological issues within the evangelical community is being largely preempted (recent meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, for example, have often become one-topic convocations). Evangelicals need to take more seriously the significant differences that exist concerning a wide range of theological issues. Evangelicals need also to reaffirm the large area of theological common ground which is now being overlooked in the internecine: debate over inspiration. The very strength of evangelical commonality http://commonality.is/

being unnecessarily weakened. Finally, evangelicals face the real danger of bolstering an un-Biblical theology of inspiration either under the cloak of faithful orthodoxy on the one hand, or of critical scholarship on the other. With the focus of discussion concerning inspiration being on apologetics rather than on constructive theology, such excesses and destructive tendencies seem inevitable.

The real issue concerning a doctrine of inspiration centers on complex matters of interpretation-issues which I have attempted to speak to in the discussion above. It is to these matters that the evangelical church must turn, if their present impasse is to be overcome and consensus gained.

 

Johnston_evangelicals2notes.doc

1. "New Dispute Looms over 'Errors' in Scripture," Christianity Today 7 (April 26, 1963):29.

2. Cf. James Barr, Fundamentalism (London: SCM Press, 1977), p. 1; Sydney Ahlstrom, "From Puritanism to Evangelicalism: A Critical Perspective" in The Evangelicals, ed. David F. Wells and John D. Woodbridge (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), p. 270; Martin E. Marty, "Tensions Within Contemporary Evangelicalism: A Critical Appraisal" in The Evangelicals, p. 173

3. Clark Pinnock, "The Inerrancy Debate Among the Evangelicals," Theology, News and Notes (1976, Special Issue), p. 11. His quotation is from Edward John Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1959), p. 13..

4. G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, trans. Jack Rogers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 143.

5. Cf. F. F. Bruce who deplores the "Maginot-line mentality where the doctrine of Scripture is concerned." F. F. Bruce, "Foreword" to Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), p. 10. Cf. also Helmut Thielicke who was unable to dialogue creatively on the question "Are there errors in the Bible?" which was asked during his visit to the United States in 1963. Helmut Thielicke, Between Heaven and Earth (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 1-13.

http://s.cf.f.f.bruce/

6. Gerald T. Sheppard, "Biblical Hermeneutics: The Academic Language of Evangelical Identity," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 32 (Winter 1977):84, 88

7. Cf. the special edition of Theology. News and Notes (1976) which was entitled "The Authority of Scripture at Fuller."

8. David Hubbard, "The Current Tensions: Is There a Way Out?" in Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers (Waco: Word Books, 1977), p. 176.

9. Edward Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology, p. 110.

10. "Council Maps 10-Year Push for `Historic, Verbal' Inerrancy," Eternity, November 1977, pp. 10, 90.

11. "A Campaign for Inerrancy," Christianity Today 22 (November 4, 1977):51-52; "Council Maps 10-Year Push for 'Historic, Verbal' Inerrancy," p. 90

12. "Council Maps 10-Year Push for `Historic, Verbal' Inerrancy," p. 90.

13. Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict: The Bible Without Error in All That It Affirms (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), pp. 8, 46,45..

14. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), pp. 34-35, 40-71, 162, 171, 182. Though this book has been widely panned and lamented by book reviewers, it remains

significant because of the author's position at the time of publication as editor of Christianity Today, because of Harold Ockenga's foreword (he is president of Gordon-Conwell Seminary and a founder of the National Association of Evangelicals), and because of Billy Graham's informal endorsement as quoted in the press. Reviewers have noted the book's anti-intellectualism in terms of higher Biblical criticism, its faulty historical methodology, its lack of candor in stating its own qualifications on the word "inerrancy," and its unwillingness to treat hermeneutics as an issue. Cf. Bernard Ramm, "Misplaced Battle Lines" (review of The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell), The Reformed Journal 26 (July-August 1976): 37-38; Donald Dayton, "Wrong Front" (review of The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell), The Other Side, May-June 1976, pp. 36-39; "The Battle for the Bible: An Interview with Dr. Carl F. H. Henry," Scribe, Spring 1976, pp. 3-4; Clark Pinnock, "Acrimonious Debate on Inerrancy" (review of The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell), Eternity, June 1976, pp. 40-41; David Hubbard, "Reflections on Fuller's Theological Position and Role in the Church," paper presented at Seminary Convocation, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, April 8, 1976 (mimeographed).

15. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, pp. 24, 25, 39, 120-121, 159-160, 203, 206, 210.

16. Ibid., p. 36.

17. Ibid., pp. 175, 168, 166.

18. James Packer, "Calvin's View of Scripture" in God's Inerrant Word, ed. John Montgomery (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), p. 97.

19. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, pp. 43, 47f1: Cf. Norman Geisler, "The Nature of Scripture" (review of Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers), Christianity Today 22 (February 24, 1978):34-36.

20. Clark Pinnock, "In Response to Dr. Daniel Fuller," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 16 (Spring 1973)72.

21. Cf. Roger Nicole, "The Inspiration of Scripture: B. B. Warficld and Dr. Dewey M. Beegle," The Gordon Review 8 (Winter 1964-65):108109; Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, pp. 210-211.

22. Modern neo-evangelicals are often compared with turn-of-the-century liberals H. P. Smith and C. A. Briggs who are said to have exhibited "a sad decline in their faith." Cf. Nicole, "The Inspiration of Scripture: B. B. Warfield and Dr. Dewey M. Beegle," p. 108.

23. John Woodbridge, "History's `Lessons' and Biblical Inerrancy," Trinity Journal 6 (Spring 1977):75.

24. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, pp. 176ff., 206, 308, 262263, 276; Stephen T. Davis, The Debate About the Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977), pp. 95, 107, 97, 115-116, 125.

25. Dewey M. Beegle, The Inspiration of Scripture (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963).

26. F. F. Bruce, "Foreword" to Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, pp. 7-10.

27. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, pp. 206, 258, 309 (Beegle's italics), 262.

28. Davis, The Debate About the Bible, p. 126.

29. Ibid., pp. 95ff., 115-120.

30. P. T. Forsyth, quoted in Donald Miller, The Authority of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 62.

31. Davis, The Debate About the Bible, p. 126.32. Cf. James Daane, "The Odds on Inerrancy," The Reformed Journal 26 (December 1976):5-6.

33. Pinnock, "The Inerrancy Debate Among the Evangelicals," p. 12.

34. Davis, The Debate About the Bible, p. 96.

36. Beegle, The Inspiration of Scripture, p. 9.

37. Clark Pinnock, "Authority of the Bible," reprint from His magazine, p. 4.

38. Clark Pinnock, A Defense ofBiblicallnfallibility (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1967), pp. 18, 1-10

39. Ibid., p. 30.

40. Pinnock, "The Inerrancy Debate Among the Evangelicals," p. 12.

41. Ibid.

42. Clark Pinnock, "Three Views of the Bible in Contemporary Theology" in Biblical Authority, ed. Rogers, p. 62.

43. Ibid., p. 68.

44. Daniel Fuller, "The Nature of Biblical Inerrancy," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 24 (June 1972):47.

45. Daniel Fuller, "Let Me Be a Man of One Book" (Los Angeles: Fuller Evangelistic Association, 1977); cf. Lindsell, The Bottle for the Bible, p. 115.

46. Fuller, "The Nature of Biblical Inerrancy," pp. 47-49.

47. Ibid., p. 49.

48. Daniel Fuller, "On Revelation and Biblical Authority," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 16 (Spring 1973):68-69.

49. Statement of Faith of Fuller Theological Seminary, adopted January 31, 1950.

50. Fuller Theological Seminary Statement of Faith, adopted 1970.

51. David Hubbard, "What We Believe and Teach," Theology, News and Notes (1976, Special Issue), p. 4.

52. Ibid.; Hubbard, "Reflections on Fuller's Theological Position and Role in the Church."

53. Hubbard, "The Current Tensions: Is There a Way Out?", p. 156.

54. Paul Jewett, quoted in "Ad Hoc Committee Clarifies -Relationship Between Paul K. Jewett's `Man as Male and Female' and the Seminary Statement of Faith," Theology, News and Notes (1976, Special Issue), pp. 20-22. C Paul Jewett, Man as'Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).

55. Jewett, Man as Male and Female, pp. 129-149.

56. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, p. 119.

57. "Ad Hoc Committee Clarifies Relationship Between Paul K. Jewett's `Man as Male and Female' and the Seminary Statement of Faith," p. 21.

58. Ibid.

59. Pinnock, "The Inerrancy Debate Among the Evangelicals." It will be interesting to observe whether Pinnock's move from Regent College, which required its faculty to sign an "inerrancy" statement, to McMaster Divinity College, which has no such stipulation, causes Pinnock to drop the term "inerrant" for something he feels is more appropriate to the Biblical record.

60. Everett Harrison, "The Phenomena of Scripture" in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1958), p. 239.

61. Ibid., pp. 249, 250.

62. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, pp. 24, 154, 159, 183, 206-211.

63. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948),p.210.

64Cf Henry in "The Battle for the Bible: An Interview with Dr. Carl F. H. Henry," p. 3: "the first thing the Bible says about itself is not its inerrancy or its inspiration, but its authority. . . . Just as in the gospels the most important thing is the incarnation, death and resurrection, while the how of the incarnation, the virgin birth, lies in the hinterland; so also in respect to the doctrine of Scripture, while inspiration is as clearly taught as the virgin birth, it lies rather in the hinterland."

65. Daane, "The Odds on Inerrancy," p. 6.

66. Ibid.

67. "Therefore, illumined by his [the Spirit's] power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else's judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork!" John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), I. vii. 5, p. 80. It is important to note that appeal tothe witness of the Spirit is not "subjective and experiential" for Calvin, but objective in its God-givenness. Cf. Geisler, "The Nature of Scripture," p. 34.

68. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, pp. 169-172.

69. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, "The Inspiration & Authority of Scripture," Eternity, August 1970, p. 16.

70. Pinnock, "The Inerrancy Debate Among the Evangelicals," p. 12.

71. lewett, Man as Male and Female, p. 134 (Jewett's italics).

72. Harold Lindsell, "The Infallible Word," Christianity Today 16 (August 25, 1972):10.

73. Fuller, "The Nature of Biblical Inerrancy; " p. 49.

74. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews trans. John Owen (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1948), quoted in ibid.

75. Jewett, Man as Male and Female, p. 138.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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