Bible,  Inerrancy

What Wendy Fails to Prove: Refuting Inerrancy-Denying Arguments

I once went to a Don Fransisco show. I am now old enough to admit that I enjoyed it and persuaded my mother to buy a copy of One Heart at a Time. Somehow a memory of the concert sprung to mind recently so I started following him on facebook. Apparently, Don has no time for facebook. His wife runs his social media for him. Recently, Wendy Fransisco went on the attack against the doctrine of inerrancy. She gave a number of arguments that struck me as being common fare among those who deny the doctrine. First up, Wendy presents the following:

…we are not inerrantists. The reason is that 4 decades of international itinerant travel demonstrated the vast variety of the body of Christ, many churches claiming inerrancy, NONE of them agreeing on what scripture says or means, and NO two churches having the same doctrines even within the same denomination. 

The argument is as follows:

  1. If the Bible is innerrant, then there would be no disagreement about what it says or means. 
  2. There is plenty of disagreement about what the Bible says and means.
  3. Therefore, the Bible is not inerrant
The trouble with this argument is that it does not follow from the inerrancy of scripture that the people who read scripture would agree about its meaning. Indeed, there is very little we agree on about anything, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a truth about the matter. Scientific research is full of examples of disagreement, but scientists rarely say that not agreeing over something entails that there is no truth to be had. There is a truth about quantum physics, light waves/particles and alike that none of us have any control over, but there is much debate about the interpretation of those theories.

There is a disanalogy between the results of scientific research and the truth of the doctrine of inerrancy, but the basic point is sound – not agreeing over what the Bible says is not necessarily a problem the Bible has. Given that human beings don’t agree on anything else, it seems extremely unlikely that our disagreement over the Bible is because there is some error in the Bible rather than in us.

Wendy’s next reason has less to do with the readers of scripture and more to do with those who wrote it:

It was written by men who were thinking of and inspired by God to write what they wrote, their opinions differed, and they grew and changed their perspectives, and they argued with each other.

This argument suggests that inerrant sentences cannot be produced by error prone writers. How could we trust people just like you and I, people who make mistakes, disagree with one another, and generally mess up all the time? And if we can’t trust everything they say, then we can’t trust what they wrote in the Bible.

The trouble with this argument is that it ignores the basis upon which the doctrine of inerrancy rests. Inerrancy follows from the doctrine of inspiration, the view that God inspires the writers of scripture with the result that what they write is what God wants to say. If all scripture is inspired (1 Tim 3:15), then its error-free nature is a result not of whether or not the human author is fallible, but whether or not the divine author is fallible. Since God is infallible, the words written in scripture are without error.

Of course, this in no way entails that the writers of scripture cannot be mistaken; they are just not mistaken in anything they write in the Bible. It is perfectly consistent that Paul could not be in error when composing a letter to the church at Corinth and that, when finished, he arises from his chair gets his friend’s name wrong, has a scrap with Peter, and mistakenly picks up the false belief that Jerusalem will trounce Antioch in the game on Sunday. It is not Paul per se who is inspired, but what he writes in the Bible.

Another of Wendy’s contentions is that evangelicals treat the Bible with more reverence than Christ. This leads her to another point: Inerrantists miss the real voice of Christ by focusing on the words of the Bible instead of the person ‘behind’ it:

Inerrancy is functionally impossible — a myth. But scripture is a powerful document and stands up historically… there are things in scripture that are sharply relevant: People HEAR His voice in them. The new is not like the old written on tablets of stone, but on our hearts. There is no mediator between us and God except Jesus. You search the scriptures as if you could find life in them but refuse to turn to Jesus. The letter kills but the Spirit brings life. Ironically, inerrantists ignore or twist verses that give scripture a healthy priority. The bible points to the living Jesus. It is not the other way around. The bible is not the fourth person in the trinity. 

Wendy is right to say that studying the Bible while rejecting Christ is an error. But Wendy argues that though scripture is important, the words within it are not necessarily the words of Jesus. Jesus speaks through scripture, but the words of scripture are not the words of Jesus.

One problem is that it is difficult to know exactly how Jesus speaks through scripture without the words of scripture. Perhaps, what Wendy has in mind is not that Jesus actually speaks, but that scripture is the means by which he encounters a person, as if he is present in the word. Speaking, then, would be some species of non-cognitive experience.

Whether or not such an encounter happens, it doesn’t follow from it that the Bible is not inerrant. And treating the Bible as a fourth member of the Trinity doesn’t prove anything about the Bible. It just shows us something about us.

So, none of what Wendy suggests leads anywhere near a refutation of the doctrine of inerrancy. Just because the readers of scripture disagree, deny Jesus, or idolize scripture it does not follow that the Bible is not inerrant. Likewise it does not follow from the fact that the human authors of scripture were fallen human beings that what they wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit cannot be inerrant. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.

One Comment

  • T. I. Miller

    Psalm 2 is about those who plot in vain against God. They want to tear off and cast away His fetters. They are in essence saying never the less not God's will but my will be done.
    Any excuse used to deny divine inspiration is another such rebellious manifestation of a creature in vain defiance against the creator. David loved the word of God. Jesus commanded us to live by it. The Devil tells us that neither God nor His words are to be trusted. Even those who accept the philosophy of evolution do so in order to cast off the core doctrine of original sin. By casting doubt on Genesis they discard any scripture that does not fit their subjective moral standards. This is done by people who love self justification. The same people who call themselves good in defiance to Jesus saying that there are none good but God.
    This part and parcel of the great delusion, the great falling away.
    This where, escatologically, I part company with my reformed brothers. They, the deluded, will become the majority and they will persecute us in the name of God. They will have the same self righteous zeal as did Saul of Tarsus.