In his little booklet Can I Trust the Bible? R.C. Sproul discusses the terms “infallibility” and “inerrancy.” I appreciate the way he describes the difference and the need to maintain both:
The church historically has seen that the Bible alone, of all the written literature in history, is uniquely infallible. The word infallible may be defined as “that which cannot fail”; it means something is incapable of making a mistake. From a linguistic standpoint, the term infallible is higher than the term inerrant. Though the words have often been used virtually as synonyms in the English language, there remains a historic technical definition between the two. The distinction is that of the potential and the actual, the hypothetical and the real. Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential; that which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err. By contrast, that which is inerrant is that which, in fact, does not err. As an illustration: a student can take a test made up of twenty questions and get twenty correct answers, giving him an inerrant test. However, the student’s inerrancy in this restricted arena does not make him infallible, as mistakes on subsequent tests would verify. (pp.26-27)
This is a good illustration of what medieval theologian John Duns Scotus called a formal distinction. Infallibility and inerrancy are both characteristics of Scripture. They can be distinguished, as Sproul did above, but they cannot be separated. They belong together.
“Several years ago the respected evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer used the example of a watershed in the Swiss Alps to illustrate what happens when some Christians begin to abandon the complete truthfulness of the Bible in places where it speaks to matters of history and science. When spring comes, two bits of snow that are only an inch apart in the high mountains of Switzerland will melt on two sides of a ridge in the rock, and the drop of water from one side of the watershed will eventually flow into the Rhine River and then into the cold waters of the North Sea, while the drop of water on the other side of the watershed will eventually flow into the Rhone River and finally into the Mediterranean Sea. In the same way, Christians who seem so close together on many issues, if they differ on the watershed issue of biblical inerrancy, will in the next generation or two train up disciples who will be a thousand miles apart from each other on many of the most central matters taught in the Bible.”
~ Wayne Grudem, “Theistic Evolution Undermines Twelve Creation Events and Several Crucial Christian Doctrines,” in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (ed. by Moreland, Meyer, Shaw, Gauger, Grudem), p.822.
There is a series published by Zondervan entitled Counterpoints. Several perspectives are presented on different theological issues. From that series, I’ve been reading Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Albert Mohler has the first essay in this volume. Most of his contribution is quite run-of-the-mill — nothing surprising to those who’ve followed this topic. He discusses the history of discussions about inerrancy. He notes the Rogers & McKim thesis that inerrancy is something relatively new in Christian theology. But then he pulls out something that was for me a new revelation.
Identical twin brothers Anthony and Richard Hanson are both ordained Anglican ministers. In 1989, they co-authored a book entitled The Bible without Illusions. In this book, the brothers Hanson reject not only inerrancy, but even the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. Yet, they have a remarkable honesty about the history of the discussion. Mohler quotes these words directly:
Again, as we have seen, the writers of the New Testament certainly believed in the inerrancy of the Old Testament, which constituted for them the scriptures. The Christian Fathers and the medieval tradition continued this belief, and the Reformation did nothing to weaken it. On the contrary, since for many reformed theologians the authority of the Bible took the place which the Pope had held in the medieval scheme of things, the inerrancy of the Bible came to be more firmly maintained and explicitly defined among some reformed theologians than it had ever been before. Only since the very end of the seventeenth century, with the rise of biblical criticism, has this belief in the inerrancy of Scripture been widely challenged among Christians. (Hanson and Hanson, 51-52)
Rejecting biblical inerrancy is the recent development, not affirming it! Remember, that comes from men who are denying inerrancy. Even they recognize that the Rogers & McKim thesis is not tenable.
It has been some time since we have heard from the bloggers at Reformed Academic. Last week, however, a post finally appeared from Dr. Freda Oosterhoff. In this post, she is interacting with an article in Clarion written by Rev. Klaas Stam. She claims that Clarion refused to publish her response and so it now appears on Reformed Academic. The focus of her article is a critique of Henry Morris. Certainly some of what Morris writes is worthy of critique and my goal here is not to defend Morris. Instead, I want to interact with the last of her conclusions.
Click here to continue reading at Creation Without Compromise…
I’m working on my review of Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, also known as the Leiden Synopsis. This is an important piece of our Reformed theological heritage. It was first published in 1625 and served as a reliable theological handbook for many years. It’s only just appeared in English translation. My review is being submitted to The Confessional Presbyterian, by the way. Let me just share a brief excerpt from my review:
The Leiden Synopsis is surprisingly relevant on some important theological issues facing the Church today. For example, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy continues to be debated, with some claiming that it is a modern invention, perhaps dating back to the nineteenth century at the earliest. However, in disputation 2, we find Walaeus writing, “It is made clear to us that the authority of Holy Scripture is much greater than that of the Church by the fact that the Church is capable of erring while Scripture cannot” (71). Sometimes it is claimed that biblical inspiration or inerrancy only extends to doctrines. In other words, the core teachings of Scripture are inspired and even inerrant, but this does not apply to peripheral matters. This notion existed in the days of the Leiden Synopsis already and Walaeus had a ready answer in thesis 28:
And here one ought not to pay heed to Socinus and several other Christians who grant that Holy Scripture is divinely-originated in issues of special importance, but that its authors in situations and circumstances of lesser importance were abandoned by the Holy Spirit and could have erred. Because this opinion paves the way for contempt, and expressly contradicts Scripture which testifies that “everything that was written was written for our instruction (Romans 15:4), and “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Likewise, “no Scripture is of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20); indeed, “not even one iota will disappear from the Law” (Matthew 5:18). “And it is not permitted for any man to add or to remove from it” (Deuteronomy 4[:2], Revelation 22[:18-19].” (69)
In a footnote, the editors point out that besides Faustus Socinus, Walaeus noted elsewhere that Erasmus displayed “the same pernicious view.”
So am I going to recommend the Leiden Synopsis? Absolutely! More information about the book can be found here.