A Primer on Inerrancy (pt. 7)

from Apr 20, 2011 Category: Articles

In this excerpt from John Gerstner’s Primitive Theology, Dr. Gerstner looks at the issue of inerrancy and seeks briefly and non-technically to present a case for Bible Inerrancy that a serious-minded layman can follow and evaluate. Though by no means an exhaustive treatment, it is one that is sound and faithful to the Scriptures. This is the sixth part of the series. Dr. Gerstner has looked at four unsound bases for sound doctrine and is now in the midst of a discussion of a sound basis for sound doctrine.

Continued from Part 6

6. The Testimony of Divinely Commissioned Messengers as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy(continued)

(B) The Argument from Inspired Bible to Inerrant Bible.

So far we have shown the inspiration of the Bible. But some will say, “You are supposed to show more than that: namely, the inerrancy of the Bible.” They seem to think that it is possible to have an inspired Bible which is yet an errant Bible. Or, to put it another way, they suppose that it is possible to have a partially-inspired Bible. If this were so we would readily grant that we have not proved our point. If the Bible is partially inspired and partially not inspired, there can be no denying the possibility of error in the uninspired part of the Scriptures. So let us attempt to show the movement from inspired to inerrant Bible.

1. An inspired Bible means an inerrant Bible. They are one and the same thing. To put it another way, an inspired Bible is a completely inspired Bible. If it is completely inspired it is, as we have shown above, a completely inerrant Bible, because God cannot err or lie.

Why do we say that for the Bible to be inspired is to be completely inspired? The question should be the other way around. That is, if a message is said to be inspired, why does anyone say that it is only partly inspired? We have said above that God commissioned these Bible writers and that they wrote under His commission. If this is so, why would we not assume that all that they wrote rather than certain parts of it were inspired? We admit that if they said that their message was only partly inspired that would prove that such was the case. But then for those parts they would not be speaking as the divinely commissioned writers, but on their own, as it were. In other words, the burden of proof is on partial inspirationists and not total inspirationists. They must show that these writers who claimed inspiration for the Bible exempted certain parts of it from their claim.

Some have accepted this burden of proof. Let us examine one of the very few texts to which they appeal to show the merely human writing of certain parts of the Bible. Here are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:10: “And unto the married, I command, yet not I, but the Lord … .” First, we note that this proves far more than our friends want to prove or can admit. If these words were intended by Paul as this interpretation would have it, then he is uninspired unless he specifically claims to be inspired within the contexts of his writings. “Not I, but the Lord,” according to this view, means that it was Paul alone who had been speaking, but at this particular juncture the Lord Himself speaks. That this is not the meaning we have already shown by proving that the Bible writers claimed the authority of Christ in writing. They were commissioned by God to give His message. On the view being considered, Paul would be going back on that and rarely, on occasions such as this one, actually claims inspiration for himself. According to this, then, only a tiny fragment of the Bible is the Word of God. Second, another construction of these words is possible which would fit with Paul’s over-all doctrine and appears, therefore, to be his meaning. He may, according to the words themselves, be here distinguishing his particular revelations on the subject of marriage from that which came from the teaching of Jesus Himself. (Jesus, in fact, did teach in Matthew 5:32 that infidelity was a just basis for divorce by the innocent party, but said nothing about separation, which Paul here reveals as another just ground for divorce.)

Paul is also thought to contradict total inspiration doctrine when in 1 Corinthians 1:16 he says he is unable to remember whether he had baptized any others. But how this in any way, directly or indirectly, denies his inspiration at that moment is never shown. It is merely insinuated. The insinuation seems to be that God could not inspire forgetfulness. But God’s inspiration guarantees only inerrancy, not necessarily total recall. If Paul remembered wrongly we would have an uninspired Paul; but a Paul who does not remember is a Paul who is inspired to record that very fact for our instruction (presumably, concerning the nature of inspiration, what it does and does not include, what it does and does not exclude) .

  1. There are not merely implicit, but also explicit statements that the Bible is completely and not merely partially inspired. The classic text is 2 Timothy 3:16. We cannot in a small work go into a detailed exposition, but can merely say here, as is generally granted, that the correct translation of this text is: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (RSV) . “Not one jot or one tittle” (the slightest detail, that is) of the law shall pass away until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18; cf. also 1 Corinthians 2:13). This could never be said of any partially fallible law. Christ and Paul could not make their arguments rest on single words (John 10:35; Galatians 3:16) if inspiration did not extend to the individual words.
  2. If the Bible were merely partially inspired, we would be worse off than if it were totally uninspired, for we would then have the excruciating task of distinguishing the Word of God in the Bible with no means for so doing. No one who has ever advocated the partial-inspiration view has provided us with a means of separating the inspired and uninspired parts. Some think that Luther, for example, used the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the touchstone of inspiration. We do not think that is an accurate understanding of Luther; but, for the moment, let us suppose it is. How could Luther or anyone else know that justification by faith is true, if not on the ground that it is taught by the Word of God? If the Bible is the Word of God because it teaches justification rather than justification being the truth of God because it is taught in the Bible by what means do we know this? We have shown how we know that the Bible is the Word of God, and how from this we could know that justification is true, but how can anyone prove that justification is true and able to serve as the touchstone to the Word of God? This is a basal fallacy of the “Confession of 1967” (cf. appendix) which virtually makes “Reconciliation” as the mark of the Word of God.

If we pushed this matter to fundamentals we would find ourselves back on one of the wrong bases for the right doctrine which we considered in Part I. This is no doubt the reason that adherents of this view prefer merely to advocate it rather than argue for it, that is, to assume that one can know what part of the Bible is inspired and what part is not (but neglect to tell us how to do this little thing).

We said above that the partial-inspiration doctrine is actually worse than no doctrine of inspiration. With no doctrine of inspiration you would be most unfortunate; however, you would not be doomed to searching for it where it could not be found. On this present view one would have to search without ever knowing whether he had found. By comparison, searching for a needle in a haystack would be child’s play, for you know there is the needle and, given sufficient effort and time, it can be found. But on the partial-inspiration theory you know that a great and invaluable mine of divine truth is there, but you also know that, while you must seek for such a treasure, it is impossible that you would ever find it. You could never know that you found it even when you had it in your hands, as it were. You could hold the precious gold of God’s Word in your hand and not be sure that it was not human slime, while, on the other hand, you could hold human slime and not be sure that it was not God’s precious truth. You must ever be searching, and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

Thus, we believe that we have shown that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired and inerrant. Not everything that God says, He says in the Bible. We have indicated that He revealed Himself to us before He revealed Himself further and savingly in sacred Scripture. But everything that the Bible says, God says.

To be continued…

Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.