Submitted by Ben Johnson
What do we do with inerrancy?
The purpose of this post is to stimulate discussion and to hear the thoughts of others on an issue that I consider to be of the utmost importance for evangelical faith. Those of us here at Western are mostly from a certain theological camp. The professors have all signed the same doctrinal statement and many of us students are members of ETS which means we have all signed the following statement:
“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”
My question is 1) how useful is this doctrinal statement and 2) how do others understand it? My purpose in this post is not to undermine this doctrine but have a more meaningful and more mature discussion than is often found when talking about inerrancy.
Here are my reservations. First, those of us who have had any training in exegesis have had to do some textual criticism, and those of us who have done some textual criticism know one thing: we do not nor will we ever have the ‘autographs.’ So, this doctrine is a purely hypothetical statement.
Second, even if we agree to this statement as a good hypothetical that helps us maintain the authority of Scripture, how do we wrestle with what the ‘autographs’ actually were? Even if we don’t buy into JEDP or 1st, 2nd or 3rd Isaiah, I don’t think any of us would doubt that there were editions of various biblical books. Let’s face it Moses probably did not write his death scene (Deut. 34) and statements like the one in 1 Sam. 9:9 seem clearly to be later editions. So which version constitutes the ‘autograph’?
One answer that is often given is: the canonical version. But then this begs the question: which cannon? I know this sounds heretical but lets think about it. The canon of the Septuagint (LXX) is very different from the canon of the Masoretic text (MT). Now, we (contrary to the very early church) have accepted the Masoretic canon as authoritative but if what we are after is the ‘autographs’ there are places where the LXX seems closer to those autographs. Most scholars view 1 Sam. 16-18 in the MT as an expansion on the shorter version in the LXX. I have even heard our beloved Dr. Verbruggen speak of the MT version of Jeremiah as ‘expansionistic’ and that we should probably prefer the LXX version, which, is at least 1/8 shorter (see Klein, Textual Criticism, 20). So the canonical answer doesn’t quite suffice either.
Like I said earlier, my intention is not to debunk the doctrine of inerrancy. My reason for bringing up these questions is my attempt to take the Bible seriously. I submit to the authority of Scripture but I am wrestling with what that means. I want to have a meaningful and mature understanding of Scripture. I do not have answers to these questions, that is why I pose them to this prestigious crowd. How do others deal with inerrancy? Can this perhaps be reworded into a meaningful doctrine? Should we talk about Scripture’s authority another way? I welcome any thoughts or suggestions.