A Primer on Inerrancy
Bible Inerrancy (or the doctrine that “what the Bible says God says”) has been under relentless attack since the Bible was written, but never more so than today. Something new, however, has been added in the modern onslaught. While the old liberal tradition of rejecting vast portions of the Bible still continues, the New Orthodoxy rejects all of it—as the Word of God, that is. John 3:16, no less than the Old Testament command to exterminate the Canaanites, is demoted from the status of Inspiration. The Bible, according to the new view, is the “instrument” (if God wills to make it such) of revelation and not itself revelation. We have tried briefly and non-technically to present a case for Bible Inerrancy that a serious-minded layman can follow and evaluate. Our critique of various false starts is first given to prepare the reader for what we feel is the correct view. While this is not in any way an exhaustive treatment of its divine subject, we trust that it is sound and faithful to the Scriptures of God.
Part I: Some Unsound Bases for Sound Doctrine
1. The Bible’s Own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy
We could compose a book many times the size of this one consisting merely of fervent and eloquent evangelical appeals to the Bible itself as the proof of its own inspiration. Some three thousand times the Bible does make this claim for itself. “Thus saith the Lord” is a veritable refrain of the Scriptures. No book in the history of literature has made such frequent and moving assertions of its divine origin. Because of this remarkable characteristic of the Scriptures many have almost unconsciously concluded that the Bible is the Word of God.
This we believe and later shall attempt to prove is the right doctrine. The Bible is the Word of God; the inerrant revelation from above. It is the Word of God indeed, but not because it says so. Rather, it says so because it is.
How, we ask, would anyone prove the Bible is the Word of God simply because it so often says so? There could only be one basis for accepting Scripture for Scripture’s sake: assertion for assertion’s sake. But what an incredibly naive notion: A thing must be what it says it is. A man must be what he says he is. A book must be what it says it is.
Surely the mere setting forth of such an argument must be its sufficient refutation. An identification of claim with proof of claim is palpable error.
If it is not beating a horse that was born dead, let us point out the absurd consequences of the position we are here considering. If everything is to be believed simply because it says it is to be believed, then Hitler was a Messiah, the devil is an angel of light and antichrist is Christ. As Jesus
said: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not” (Matthew 24:23).
But on the principle under scrutiny we would have to believe everyone who claims to be Christ—here and there, now and then. After all, according to the supposition we first believed in Jesus as the Christ because He said he was the Christ. We would have to be fair with other claimants whose claim is as loud or louder than his. If we would say “You are not the Christ because the Christ says you are not the Christ,” anti-Christ could well say, “If you believed this other one because he said he was the Christ; why do you not, on the same principle, believe me when I say that I am the Christ; and if you will not believe that I am the Christ because this other Christ, whom you believe merely because he said what I also say, why not believe me when I say that he is not the Christ?”
There cannot be any answer to this criticism, for even to attempt to answer it is to admit it by retreating from the position being maintained (acceptance on mere assertion without any argument). If, for example, one says to antichrist, “I believe Jesus’ claim because He has confirmed it in my experience,” then you do not believe Jesus simply because He says He is the Christ. Rather, you believe Him because of something which He does in your heart; your ground has changed. You are no longer believing Him for His mere word’s sake, but for His work’s sake, specifically, His work in your heart.
Consequently, if you give no answer to the criticism of belief on the mere basis of assertion you are exposed to palpable naiveté and absurdity. But, if you do give an answer you flatly contradict yourself.
Some suppose that the Word of God is a special case to which ordinary rules of evidence do not apply. They admit essentially what has been written above, but take exception to its application to the matter in hand. It is true of men, they say, that their word may be challenged and must be proven to be true. But God’s Word cannot be challenged, but must be immediately accepted as true and obeyed as right. To hesitate when God speaks is to be both foolish and impious, they say.
With all of this we cordially agree, but it misses the point under discussion. We are not here asking whether God should be obeyed when He speaks. We are simply asking whether a being must be acknowledged as God speaking merely because he so claims, or, more particularly, whether the Bible is to be regarded as the Word of God merely because it so claims. It cannot be said too emphatically that when God speaks He is to be instantly believed. Any question whatsoever at that moment is utterly and dangerously out of order. When God the Lord speaks, the devout and intelligent mind can only reply: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” But like Samuel, who spoke those words, we must first know that the voice speaking is God’s.
It would be just as foolish and impious to accept and obey any voice whatsoever which claimed to be divine, as it would be not to accept and obey the divine voice when it is shown to be such. To apply some reasonable test for ascertaining the voice of God and distinguishing it from the voice of men is not presumptuous as many charge, but, on the contrary, is as humble as it is necessary. Humble? Yes, humble because it is using the only means which our Maker has given us whereby we may distinguish between truth and error; God and men; His Word and theirs. To accept any voice which claimed His divine name would be arrogantly to disregard the means God Himself has graciously provided to prevent just such a mistake. The person who professed to believe without evidence would be despising the God who gave us minds, which must have evidence in order to provide a basis for reasonable belief. While God is, of course, infinitely above His creatures it does not follow that if and when He condescends to speak to them He will speak in a manner which is infinitely above them. Manifestly, if He speaks to men He must speak so that men can understand what He says. He must, as Calvin has said, “lisp.” If parents must accommodate their language to their infants when they would be understood, surely God must indulge in baby talk when speaking to those infinitely below Him. If He chose to speak to us in a manner which is as infinitely above us, as His being is above ours, He would be, literally, infinitely over our heads. This would not only make comprehension by us infinitely impossible, but it would inevitably reflect on God’s infinite intelligence, which would know no better than to attempt to communicate with finite creatures by going infinitely over their heads. It is equally evident that He will make it known that He is speaking—which means He will give some signs of His presence which the human mind can recognize.
In conclusion, then, the fact that the Bible claims its inspiration is not the basis for Inerrancy. If there is a sound basis for believing in Inerrancy, as we shall attempt to show in the second part, the self-testimony of Scripture will be a wonderful confirmation of it. Without the Bible’s own claim it would not be impossible, but it would be more difficult, to believe that it is the Word of God. But with such self-attestation the truth of divine Inspiration is gloriously sealed.
To be continued…
Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.