There are not only bad arguments against inerrancy; there are equally bad arguments for inerrancy. Today I look at three often-heard arguments in favor of inerrancy that I don’t think are good ones. I conclude by suggesting one argument I take to be adequate, and then outline what I take to be an even better argument in support of God’s Word being without error.
Bad Argument #1: Because The Bible Says So!
Perhaps the most common argument in favor of inerrancy is that the Bible itself claims this to be so. The reasoning goes something like this: “The Bible is God’s Word. It can be trusted. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16 that ‘All Scripture is inspired by God…’ God would not lie to us. Therefore the Bible is inerrant.” Or, said more succinctly, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” (Other passages often cited to make this argument are Ps. 19:7-11 and 2 Pet. 1:20-21.)
As we saw last week, it is sometimes easier to see if there is a problem with the reasoning to a conclusion by putting it into syllogistic form. The formal argument here would be:
Premise 1: The Bible is from God, and therefore whatever it says is true.
Premise 2: The Bible states it contains no errors.
Conclusion: Therefore it is true the Bible contains no errors.
When put this way, the fallacy becomes obvious. The conclusion, that the Bible is without error, is built into the first premise. Beginning what this assumption, of course this conclusion follows! This is known as “begging the question” (or the petitio principia fallacy—I’ll write more about this in my next series). Often it is referred to as arguing in a circle. A circular argument for inerrancy is not a good argument for inerrancy.
Bad Argument #2: The Bible Doesn’t Need Our Arguments!
A related argument for inerrancy is not really an argument at all. Actually it is an argument that no argument is needed. The reasoning goes something like this: “The Bible doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend it as God’s Word. It just is, and we all need to recognize this fact. To make an argument in defense of it puts human logic above the Bible, and therefore above God. We shouldn’t do that!”
It seems to me at least two errors are contained in this way of thinking. First, it is simply false that people do not need reasons to believe the Bible is God’s Word. This is precisely what skeptics are asking us for. Furthermore, I Peter 3:15 charges us with being able to give good reasons when asked why we believe. Therefore, if we believe the Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word, we should be able to give good reasons why. In sum, skeptics do need good reasons to believe, and we are under obligation to provide these reasons.
Second, this argument draws a false dichotomy between beliefs base on “human” logic and beliefs based on something higher or more spiritual than human logic. Knowing the Bible is inerrant is a belief we have based on this higher or more spiritual knowledge. Sometimes this is said as “God’s logic is above human logic.”
The perils of this way of thinking are many. First, it is logically self-defeating: if true, it is false. It argues that human logic cannot be trusted to know truth about the Bible (including its inerrancy). Yet the argument itself is based on human logic. Therefore, if true, we shouldn’t believe the conclusion that human logic cannot be trusted to know truth about the Bible. We can only believe the conclusion if human reason can be trusted to know truth about the Bible, including the truth that human logic doesn’t give us truth about the Bible!
But it gets worse. If “human” logic is different from “divine” logic, then none of our beliefs about God can be trusted, because they are all based on human logic. For instance, we believe God loves us because in John 3:16 we read that God “…so loved the world…” We apply the Law of Non-Contradiction: that something can’t be both A and not-A in the same way (that contradictory statements can’t both be true in the same way). But if Law of Non-Contradiction is simply “human” logic and therefore doesn’t apply to God or what is recorded about him in the Bible, then we can’t be sure of what John 3:16 really means. If the Law of Non-Contradiction doesn’t apply to the Bible or God, then God could equally have meant in John 3:16 that he hates the world and will not act to save us.
Simply put, without the Law of Non-Contradiction we have no way to know any passage means one thing and not the other. So if we believe there is a distinction between “human” logic and “divine” logic, we cannot make any statements or have any beliefs about what God is like or how he relates to us, because all these beliefs are based on “human” logic. This is too high a price to pay to avoid offering an argument for the inerrancy of Scripture!
No, logic is logic, whether in the mind of God, in the pages of Scripture, or underlying arguments in defense of God and his Word. This does not put logic “above” God and his Word. Rather, it uses the tool of logic, which God gave us as a gift, in order to distinguish truth from error.
Furthermore, we not only share these laws of logic with God, but with skeptics. Therefore we have common ground from which to study together and discover the truth of the matter (in this case, whether the Bible is the inerrant Word of God).
Bad Argument #3: There Are No Contradictions
A third often-heard argument in defense of inerrancy is that there are no contradictions in the Bible. Therefore, so the reasoning goes, it must be concluded that the Bible is inspired by God and thus inerrant.
However, if this is the basis of one’s belief in inerrancy, at any moment one must be ready to suspend this belief. Each time a potential contradiction arises we must suspend our belief in inerrancy until we determine there is not an actual contradiction.
For instance, archaeology in general seems to confirm what is recorded in Scripture. Yet time and again a dig seems to uncover something at odds with biblical revelation, and only years later do further discoveries provide a fuller picture that indicates there is no contradiction. The one who takes the “no contradictions” approach must suspend belief in inerrancy until these further discoveries are made.
Or we may read a passage that seems to contain a contradiction. We must again suspend our belief until we determine there is no actual contradiction. It may take us days, weeks, or even longer to do the necessary research. Granted, when the research is done alleged contradictions are often resolved.* Yet in the meantime we must jettison our belief in inerrancy, meaning we must regularly vacillate between belief in errancy and inerrancy. This is an impossible way to live. (*Sometimes resolution comes by applying the principles discussed in the last two articles . Other times by discovering the alleged contradiction is due to a scribal errors in a later manuscript—though rare, such scribal errors do occur. And so on.)
Furthermore, on this rationale for inerrancy, even when there are no current contradictions, we still cannot be sure the Bible is inerrant, for tomorrow an apparent contradiction may arise. For these reasons this is a very weak reason to believe in inerrancy, and a very hard one to live out. We need a better reason to believe in inerrancy.
A Better Argument, But Not The Best
One argument for inerrancy that is better than these is the continuity of Scripture. This is an argument based on the principle of inference to the best explanation (the methodology often used in science). There is a data set that must be explained, and it seems inerrancy is the best explanation for that data.
The data that must be explained is that the books contained in the Bible were written over a period of 1500 years, by authors from many backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic conditions. These various authors discuss many controversial issues. They wrote in different genres. They wrote from different moods. Yet throughout there is a consistent story that weaves its way throughout the 66 books of the Bible: the four-chapter story of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration. The continuity is quite astonishing. What is the best explanation of this fact?
One explanation is that the authors colluded. In other words, they got together (by reading one another) and decided to write what was consistent with what the others wrote. This is possible, as at least some would have had access to the other’s writing. Yet there is such a perfect weaving together of hundreds of ideas, with various authors adding nuances and details that fit perfectly together with what others write before and after them, that I find the collusion explanation inadequate.
The only other possible explanation seems to be God is the unifier, expressing his mind through the many years, authors, and situations. This seems reasonable to me. However, I do not believe it is the strongest argument for inerrancy.
The Best Argument for Inerrancy
I find one argument to be by far the strongest argument in defense of inerrancy. It is an argument offered by the late John Stott and John Warwick Montgomery, among others. It doesn’t make the mistakes the arguments above make. It begins with common ground and hard data—there is no question begging or circularity in this argument. It assumes one should have good reasons for their belief in inerrancy. Finally, it is not dependent on whether or not there are currently any alleged contradictions. If successful, it shows that there is good reason to believe in inerrancy, even if there are currently alleged contradictions that cannot at this point be resolved.
The argument has five premises and a conclusion:
Premise 1: The four gospels are historically accurate documents.
Premise 2: The central figure of these historical documents (Jesus) claimed to be and proved to be God in the flesh.
Premise 3: As God he would not lie or mislead; therefore all he said is true.
Premise 4: He said the Old Testament is inspired by God and assumed its inerrancy.
Premise 5: He said the New Testament would be written by God through the Apostles and would be without error.
Conclusion: Therefore we have good reason to believe the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are inerrant.
The conclusion follows from the premises (the argument is valid). But the question is whether all the premises are true (whether it is sound). This must be shown. Over the next few weeks I’ll look at each of these premises, and give reasons to believe each is true.
This is a very important topic, and so I will take my time discussing each of these premises. My hope is the discussion helps you think through your view, and come to a position that is well reasoned and intellectually satisfying.
Until next week, grace and peace.
For further reading I suggest Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority by Jonathan Morrow, Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler, and Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, edited by J. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett (series editor Stanley N. Gundry).