Randy Alcorn's First Response to Fuller Statement on Inerrancy
Fuller statements are surrounded by ** **
**Where inerrancy refers to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches through the biblical writers, we support its use.**
This sounds great, but all it says is that God doesn’t make errors, which we already knew. The issue of inerrancy is not about whether God is errant, but whether or not He sovereignly guided to cause the Bible to be without error.
It’s a bit misleading for the Fuller statement to affirm inerrancy of the Spirit, since no one questions that. It feels almost political, as if Fuller is taking a middle of the road position on inerrancy (of the Spirit), when in fact it is outright denying the only inerrancy (of the Scriptures) that’s up for discussion. This is like saying that Jesus is perfect in his deity, but flawed in his humanity—this isn’t a balanced or moderate position, but an extreme one, with pervasive implications. So too with the doctrine of errancy (believing the Bible, as first written by human hands, contains errors).
No one can know what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches through the biblical writers, if in fact they sometimes failed to accurately tell us what God was telling them.
It’s like a game of telephone—it’s not very reassuring that the first person said something right, because when it’s passed down the line to you all you know is what the person next to you said. By the time it gets to you it has departed radically from the original. The game becomes fun when the original speaker reveals “This is what I really said.” But apart from the doctrine of inerrancy, we cannot possibly know what the Holy Spirit actually said. We can only guess.
If what the Spirit said to the writers is different than what the writers said to their readers (and us), then the Bible is not the Word of God. Or when it is the Word of God (sometimes), we can’t know for sure what parts are (since some of it is error).
If what the Spirit said to the writers is the same as what the writers said to their readers (not in a dictation sense, but sovereignly communicating his truth through the different styles and vocabularies of different writers), then that is inerrancy.
**Where the focus switches to an undue emphasis on matters like chronological details, precise sequence of events, and numerical allusions, we would consider the term misleading and inappropriate. Its dangers, when improperly defined, are:
1) that it implies a precision alien to the minds of the Bible writers and their own use of the Scriptures**
But as Grudem makes clear, inerrantists agree that Scripture may use round numbers, which are imprecisions, etc. If I say “a dozen friends came over tonight” no one accuses me of speaking falsehood if the number was actually 13 or 14. Now if I said “exactly 12, no more, no less” and there were 13, that would not be mere imprecision, but error. No one believes the weatherman is lying when he says that the “sun rose” this morning. It’s our figurative and imprecise way of speaking, which is just fine. Biblical writers do exactly the same as we do. Inerrancy just means that, as they were borne along by the Sprit in their writing, the biblical authors never said anything contrary to the truth when their words are understood according to their culture and literary genre.
There is a huge difference between imprecision and historical inaccuracy. It is not imprecision to say that a man named Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. It is either true or it is false. If he wasn’t, the Bible isn’t merely imprecise, it is false. (And Jesus himself was errant, since he believed it to be true. So not only the written Word’s, but the Living Word’s inerrancy is at stake in this discussion.)
**2) that it diverts attention from the message of salvation and the instruction in righteousness which are the Bible’s key themes**
This is a bit of a red herring, diverting us down a path irrelevant to the question at hand—whether the Bible is always true or sometimes false. Scripture nowhere distinguishes between the Bible’s accuracy in salvation matters and historical matters. Indeed, the central components of salvation are historical events, including incarnation, birth, death, burial, and resurrection. If the Bible is wrong on some historical events, it could just as easily be wrong on salvation-related events. The “gospel of God” (salvation revelation information) and the “Word of God” (which includes non-salvation related information) are interchanged. See 1 Thess. 2:9 & 13—what Paul proclaimed to them was “the Gospel of God,” and in v. 13 he says what they “received” and “heard” from him was “the Word of God.”
Why should I believe John 3:16 is true if I believe much of Genesis 1-11 is not true? If I argue that it’s all allegory or metaphor (even though it’s written as historical narrative), what do I do with Jesus who clearly believed there was an original man and woman? Why should I believe Romans, if the biblical/historical foundation upon which Paul’s arguments are based (also the early chapters of Genesis) is faulty? If the Bible doesn’t get it right on Jonah and the whale and the feeding of the 5,000, why should I think it’s right about Christ’s claim that he is the only way to the Father?
Indeed, having become accustomed to believing the Bible isn’t accurate in lots of “little” areas, many Christians are now questioning whether Christ is the only way to God. Once you start deciding your opinions and preferences and current cultural viewpoints trump the Bible’s claims in small matters, the Bible loses all authority, and big matters are sure to follow.
**3) that it may encourage glib and artificial harmonizations rather than serious wrestling with the implication of biblical statements which may seem to disagree;**
It’s a valid criticism that some who hold to inerrancy sometimes make artificial (and silly) harmonizations; but this statement implies that serious wrestling will result in an anti-inerrancy viewpoint. This isn’t true. Through serious wrestling I have often come to see that many apparent contradictions are resolved through a closer look. And this happens so often that even when I can’t fully explain the paradox (apparent contradiction), I can trust that if I had sufficient information or brainpower, I would.
The fact that I can’t resolve an apparent contradiction in the Bible means that either something is wrong with the Bible or something is wrong with me. The non-inerrancy position affirms something is wrong with the Bible. The inerrancy position affirms that something is wrong with me. I know both myself and the Bible well enough to know where the real problem lies.
To witness how scholars believing in inerrancy seriously wrestle with problem passages, see Gleason Archer’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties or Norman Geisler’s When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, or much of Walter Kaiser’s Hard Sayings of the Bible. Judge for yourself whether these answers make sense.
Ironically, I think the Fuller position (errancy) can cause people to not dig deep and wrestle—instead, they can take a cursory look at the apparent problem and write it off as “another place where the Bible is wrong.” So why dig deeper?
**4) that it leads those who think that there is one proven error in the Bible (however minor), to regard its whole teaching as subject to doubt;**
If you take a close look you see an incredible irony in this statement—it proposes that affirming that the Bible contains errors will serve to INCREASE people’s trust in the Bible. And affirming the Bible is inerrant will cause people to reject other teachings of Scripture!
This is one of those points where it feels to me like a “sound bite” doctrinal statement. It makes me think of political spin-doctors who craft words that leave a positive impression, but which underneath are something very different. I see this constantly in pro-abortion rhetoric, e.g. Planned Parenthood’s slogan “Every child a wanted child.” It sounds so good; who could disagree with it? But the statement actually means something radically different. It really means “Every unwanted child a dead child.” Now, nobody’s going to put that on their bumper sticker, but that’s what lies beneath the pro-choice rhetoric. When you see it for what it is, exposing it to the light of day, it’s unthinkable. That’s how I feel about parts of this Fuller statement. It’s using nice words, but they are misleading. The deck is being stacked. In a way that appears very respectful of God and His Word, you are being told that the Bible contains errors, and it is normal and healthy for you to believe it is errant, and furthermore, if you advocate inerrancy, you will actually lead people to reject what the Bible teaches. (Huh?)
**5) that too often it has undermined our confidence in the Bible by a retreat for refuge to the original manuscripts (which we do not posses) whenever problems cannot otherwise be resolved**
True, people can conclude the Bible they hold in their hands is not inerrant, since inerrantists only claim that the original manuscripts are inerrant. However, this situation isn’t the fault of the doctrine of inerrancy. We just have to recognize that while there is strong consensus on the proper original words of 99.8%, there are some disputed passages where the original is uncertain. But fortunately these do not affect any significant doctrine in Scripture.
**>>6) that it prompts us to an inordinate defensiveness of Scripture which seems out of keeping with the bold confidence with which the prophets, the apostles and our Lord proclaimed it.**
It is here that I must admit I start feeling this statement is disingenuous, like it’s trying to leave an impression that simply doesn’t match up to reality. It feels to me like it speaks out of both sides of its mouth, giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
With stirring words it advocates “the bold confidence” of the prophets, apostles and our Lord as they “proclaimed” God’s Word. But then it ignores (and by its defense of the anti-inerrancy position undermines) the EXACT REASON for this bold confidence—that they regarded God’s Word as being absolutely true, without error, and therefore worthy of being proclaimed obeyed. But it goes beyond that—God’s Word was worthy even of dying for. Consider the martyrs of Revelation 6:9—”I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” Others have died simply to get the Bible translated into languages people could read.
One does not die for a “Word of God” which contains errors, and in which what is true and what is not true cannot be determined except by guessing.
Finally, the Fuller statement speaks of those who defend the orthodox doctrine of inerrancy as “inordinately defensive”. But where is the contradiction between boldly proclaiming God’s Word and at the same time defending it? Look at church history. Those who have cared least about defending the authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency of Scripture, are the very ones who eventually cease to proclaim it as God’s inspired Word.
I do not sit in a corner wringing my hands at all the university professors who despise and ridicule God’s Word. The Bible has been criticized rabidly for the last 150 years, and long before that. The charges just haven’t stuck. God is not intimidated, and I’m not worried. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak up to defend God’s Word when portions of it are said to be untrue. (Particularly in an institution that is training many of our evangelical pastors, and is thereby shaping the future beliefs of our grandchildren.)
It is not inordinately defensive to say that if the Bible is the Word of God, and if God cannot lie, there can be no real errors in the Bible. If there were one proven falsehood in Scripture—and there isn’t—then how would we know there’s not two falsehoods, or three, ad infinitum? (Most who believe in errancy actually think there are hundreds of errors in the Bible, if not thousands.) If the Bible cannot be trusted to tell us the truth in all things—big or small—how can it be trusted at all? And if God considers truth so precious, and His Word so powerful, why would He claim to breathe out Scripture from his mouth, and bear along the writers of Holy Scripture, and then fail to guard that Scripture against error?
A concluding passage to contemplate:
Jeremiah 23:28-29 “‘Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat?’ declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
God’s Word is wheat, man’s word is straw. God’s word is also fire that consumes the straw, and is never consumed by it. God’s Word is a hammer that breaks into pieces the little rocks of human opinion and criticism.
I hope this criticism of viewpoints some of us hold doesn’t offend anyone, as I genuinely meant what I said about being glad these issues are being raised. They are vitally important, and we should all be able to trust each other enough to be honest with each other.
IMO, this issue of the Bible’s nature will inevitably affect every study we do in Bible Doctrine, as well as our personal time with God and how we listen to sermons in our churches. It will largely determine whether we trust God’s Word or trust ourselves or the current drift of our culture. It will determine whether we sit under Scripture as the decree issued by our divine judge, or whether we set up ourselves as judges over Scripture.
May we believe and celebrate the Word of God He has given us, rejoicing that it is worthy to bear all the weight of our trust.
See Randy's second response