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What Is Inerrancy?: The Options

There has been a lot of talk about the doctrine of inerancy since the post on secular academic universities being less likely to accept confessional seminary graduates into PhD programs started at Parchment and Pen. What I have seen over there is that the confessional seminary’s requirement to sign off on inerancy is a hindrance to gaining acceptance into a secular program later.

Now, I want to clear something up. Most people are using “inerancy” to mean one thing alone – that the Bible is without error in any way, shape, or form. Obviously this is not true (see posts here and here for just a small amount of examples).

Here are the other options (care of Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (2nd ed):

Absolute inerrancy holds that the Bible, which includes rather detailed treatment of matters both scientific and historical, if fully true. The impression is conveyed that the biblical writers intended to give a considerable amount of exact scientific and historical date. Thus, apparent discrepancies can and must be explained.  (p. 248)

Full inerrancy also holds that the Bible is completely true. While the Bible does not primarily aim to give scientific and historical data, such scientific and historical assertions as it does make are fully true. There is no essential difference between this position and absolute inerrancy in terms of their view of the religious/theological/spiritual message. The understanding of the scientific and historical references is quite different, however. Full inerrancy regards these references as phenomenal; that is, they are reported the way they appear to the human eye. They are not necessarily exact; rather, they are popular descriptions, often involving general references or approximations. Yet they are correct. What they teach is essentially correct in the way they teach it.  (p. 248)

Limited inerrancy also regards the Bible as inerrant and infallible in its salvific doctrinal references. A sharp distinction is drawn, however, between nonempirical, revealed matters on the one hand, and empirical, natural references on the other. The Bible’s scientific and historical references reflect the understanding current at the time it was written. The Bible writers were subject to the limitations of their time. Revelation and inspiration did not raise the writers above ordinary knowledge. God did not reveal science or history to them. Consequently, the Bible may well contain what we would term errors in these areas. This, however, is of no great consequence, since the Bible does not purport to teach science and history. For the purposes for which the Bible was given, it is fully truthful and inerrant. (p. 248-9)

Inerrancy of purpose holds that the Bible inerrantly accomplishes its purpose. The purpose of the biblical revelation is to bring people into personal fellowship with Christ, not to communicate truths. It accomplishes this purpose effectively. It is improper, however, to relate inerrancy with factuality. Thus, factual inerrancy is an inappropriate term. Truth is though of not as a quality of propositions, but as a means to accomplish an end. Implicit in this position is a pragmatic view of the truth.  (p. 249)

Past here, Erickson shows three views of anti-inerrancy, so for the purposes of this post I left them out (to save for a future post).

I’ve seen at Parchment and Pen that nuanced versions of inerrancy have been called irrelevant by people who want it to mean one thing. I disagree. These four views on the issue offer something to the discussion that should not be overlooked by those commenting there or by secular universities with applicants from confessional seminaries.



2 Responses

  1. Personally, I don’t get why people would whine about their school’s or another’s doctrinal statement or having to sign that you “agree” with it. No one forced them to go that school. If one finds a doctrinal statement unpalatable, then don’t go there–it’s that simple.

    • Indeed. But that is not the issue that is (somewhat) being dealt with at Parchment and Pen. It’s what a graduate of a confessional school has to look forward to when applying to a secular university program.

      I contend that the signing of a statement that contains the doctrine of inerrancy at the confessional seminary should not keep one from being considered at the secular university because it does not simply mean that the Bible is without error in any way, shape, or form (at least to many people at these confessional schools).

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