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Inerrancy according to the Chicago Statement

Tim Bulkeley is asking a question about the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. When I say that I reject biblical inerrancy, a frequent (and valid) follow-up is to ask what kind of inerrancy I reject. The answer, for me, is the inerrancy of the Chicago Statement.

If you’re wondering what about that statement I reject, I could point to plenty of items, but the short answer would be Article XII, which Tim Bulkeley quotes, especially this: “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”

I’ve written on all this before. For now I just want to provide the link and open the discussion.

Note the recent series of articles on the Energion Discussion Network:  Creationism: A Denial of the Authority of the Whole Bible, A Literal Reading of Genesis 1-3Which Creation is the Greater Witness?

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  1. An Evangelical professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (no less), in his book, The Lost World of Genesis One, makes a very important distinction between the data of Genesis and the meaning. He states that if Genesis 1 were written today, modern cosmology would be used and the same meaning would accrue. Therefore, the cosmology of the Ancient Near East can easily be set aside without doing any harm to biblical inerrancy. To insist that moderns must believe in an outdated cosmology is to miss the point entirely.

    1. True. But the problem with this statement is that if it is true that the cosmology can be set aside (which I think it can), then the portion of XII that I quoted is of no import at all. The history and the cosmology removed, no scientific statement really could override the remainder. So I’m suspecting the authors of the statement would not have agreed that the cosmology could be set aside.

      I know people personally who accept both inerrancy and evolution, but I can’t see that their inerrancy can be that of the Chicago Statement. In fact, I have seen definitions of inerrancy that I would find acceptable, always assuming anyone else would understand that meaning. For example, Joshua is a founding legend. Founding legends are not supposed to be accurate histories. Therefore any errors in the history of the book of Joshua are no problem for inerrancy, since the book is a founding legend.

      The problem I see is that no ordinary person would understand that to be inerrancy. I have no problem with it as a statement of the working of inspiration. God can be found speaking through any form of literature. But there comes a time when calling it “inerrancy” is misleading.

  2. I would push the question of inerrancy back further to ask, “What does the Bible teach inerrantly?” The answer is, “Who can say?” I can say, you can say, anyone can say, but the cacophony of voices makes the question moot, and therefore irrelevant. For the Bible to be inerrant, it must have clarity. Now some would say that the Bible speaks with clarity on this or that, but its inerrancy is confined to only those who agree. Inerrancy is a dead end.

    In leading a discussion on deriving meaning from scripture in an adult Sunday School class, I averred that no statement in the Bible is free from human interpretation. One member said, “I can think of a verse that is perfectly clear and needs no interpretation.” I asked him to state it. “God is love.” My response? “What is meant by God and what is meant by love?”

    On the positive side, where some see contradictions, I see different points of view (Job v. Deuteronomy). These disagreements point to a very necessary reality–it’s difficult to get even the Bible to agree with itself, so let’s not get so hung up on mortals’ disagreements and learn to live with them.

  3. Another way of putting this is that for inerrancy to have any value, there must be inerrant interpreters. And there are none. On the other hand, the idea that ultimate truth is available is an incentive to always seek it, and if it is thought that it resides in the Bible, then that’s the place to look. But the objective will never be attained, so let’s quit acting like we’ve found it.

  4. I would say that if we leave off the lack of an inerrant interpreter, we would still come up against the lack of an inerrant standard. The normal way in which one measures something is to use a measuring tool. The accuracy will be limited by one’s ability to interpret the instrument, determined both by the quality of the instrument and one’s ability to process that information.

    When we try to explain that the Bible is inerrant we have to do so by comparing it to processed that are acknowledged to be errant, such as historical research. No sensible historian claims to get absolute, 100% accurate results. Conclusions are always subject to revision.

    So ultimately the claim of inerrancy is a matter of faith, and it’s a claim that I think contradicts the story of the Bible itself. There is nowhere in the process of the production of scripture that any concern is shown for inerrancy. There are repeated claims that contradict this. Then if the scriptures were inerrant when written (and pinning down a moment which can be defined as “when written” for many scriptures is itself difficult), we can be certain that the copies we have are not all inerrant. If God was concerned that we have inerrant scriptures, he apparently forgot about the problem after the autographs were penned.

    I just think inerrancy leads the discussion down the wrong paths. When debating inerrancy we are almost always talking about something that is not the intended message of a passage. So I see it as distracting and unhelpful. We can’t prove it or even demonstrate it as probable. We can understand the message without it. What good does it do either way?

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