Today we’re continuing our serialization of an article from the December 1979 issue of The Outlook. Dr. Louis Praamsma was responding to Dr. Harry Boer’s attempt to marginalize biblical inerrancy so as to make room for other aberrant views. Here’s part 2:
The Suggested Change
It seems that we now live in another climate. A distinction is being made between infallibility and inerrancy; it is said that we certainly have an infallible Bible, which, however, contains many errors.
Dr. Harry Boer wrote a book about this topic (Above the Battle: the Bible and its Critics) which has been largely discussed by Dr. Alexander De Jong (Christ’s Church, the Bible and Me). I need not repeat what has been said by these two able men. I would recommend that every reader study the brochure of Dr. De Jong.
In his book Dr. Boer adduces (mainly in parallel columns) some ten passages or groups of passages in which the Bible seems clearly to contradict itself with respect to specific data of circumstance, time, place, person, number, and phraseology. As a point in case he refers (in his reply to Dr. De Jong) to the account of the death of Judas Iscariot both in Matt. 27 and Acts 1.
Apparently he is convinced of the fact that both stories cannot be true; one of them must be in error. If the logic of Dr. Boer holds, it might even be assumed that both Matthew and Luke may have been in error; each one of them may have jotted down some rumour from the many stories circulating in the first congregations. However, who is qualified to say what really happened?
But all this does not matter, in Dr. Boer’s view, as far as the infallibility of Scripture is concerned. That infallibility, in his opinion, is “the massive idea of the unbreakable, ever-valid revelation of the creation, redemption, and consummation of all things in Christ.”
Echoes of Barth
It is small wonder that I, reading those things, was immediately reminded of the position of Karl Barth.
Barth, the man who with a mighty voice and great talent, once opposed the liberal theology of his days, also declared: “The prophets and apostles as such, even in their function of witnesses, even when writing down their witness, were real historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their actions and indeed guilty of error in the spoken and written word” (Church Dogmatics I.2, 529).
Barth also once wrote: “As far as the relativity of all human words, including those of Paul, is concerned, I share the opinion of Bultmann and of all intelligent people” (Romerbrief, XXXI).
It was quite a remarkable, I am almost inclined to say, a most un-Barthian thing, to appeal to “intelligent,” i.e. critical people.
I was also reminded of something else.
A Much Older Problem
Is it only in our time, the time of refined historical methods, the time of endless hermeneutical problems, the time of an existentialistic relativism and loneliness without measure, that we are struck by “historical inaccuracies” and “discrepancies” in Holy Scripture? We should know by now that the fight for the Bible is by and large as old as the Christian church itself.
The first adversaries of the church were not blind, even as the church fathers were not blind.
Among those early adversaries was Celsus. He knew the Bible. He claimed that it taught falsely that God changes His mind, that He chooses favorites among the human race, and that it is full of childish legends. There was also Julian the Apostate. He claimed that the Bible teemed with contradictions, obvious at first sight by a comparison between the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.