Monday, November 30, 2009

The purpose of inerrancy and the deduction logic for it

This is a portion of my essay on 'What do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God?' , edited for this blog:

The purpose of inerrancy.
“There are good Christian people who would like to believe in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, yet who hesitate because they are convinced that there are mistakes in the Bible,” as E. J. Young observed how a perceived errancy of the Bible undermines the authority of it.[26]

As one pastor forcefully put it, “If I knew of one error in this book, I’d throw the whole thing out.”[27] The fundamental concern here is to uphold the authority of the Bible. It is presumed here that even one error exist in the Bible would remove people’s confidence in the scripture. In other words, by defending the inerrancy of the Bible, we are defending the authority of it; by eliminating the gap, we have removed the barrier that prevents God’s authority from establishing in the world. As J. I. Packer puts it, “[S]tatements that are not absolutely true and reliable could not be absolutely authoritative.”[28]

However this is a begging-appeal. This position betrays the desperate tone behind all its seemingly noble claims to defend God’s authority. Instead of dealing with what is in fact the case (whether the Bible indeed is inerrant or not), this position was produced to defend an already presumed conclusion: Unless the Bible is inerrant, God’s authority is threatened. Such deduction is questionable because it has no integrity in inquiring the case.

In other words, those who take this position and argue for inerrancy do not really care about whether or not their position corresponds to reality. They argue for it for the sake of protecting their perceived interest and not concern over the epistemological justification or realness of that interest. This is not dissimilar with a communist who argues for the inerrancy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital so that he can uphold the authority of a certain political economic system. Whether or not that system best represents reality is not a concern at all. We shall see two further problems impinged on this claim.

The deduction logic for inerrancy.
First is the problematic argument from deduction. The most common syllogism applied to argue for the inerrancy of the scripture is that God is not a god who errs or with errors.[29] And since the Bible is God’s Word, therefore the Bible does not contain errors. As described in the words of the world’s best known inerrantist, Norman Geisler, “Since the Scriptures are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3.16-17), and since God cannot breathe out falsehood, it follows that the Bible cannot contain any falsehood.”[30]

Logical deduction, as the one used above, though can be coherent and consistent does not necessary corresponds to reality. Consider this: All theological colleges are liberal. Since Trinity Theological College is a theological college, therefore Trinity Theological College is liberal. The argument is coherent internally yet does not at all represents reality.

The problem lies in that each premise in the syllogism depends on other premises to be epistemically justified, making the case in view a possibility at best. Yet such reasoning is not epistemically warranted for lack of reference to external evident (assuming the cognitive faculty of the inquirer is functioning properly).[31] The syllogism used in this argument for inerrancy is certainly logical, consistent and coherent, yet we have to ask does it correspond to the real, as far as afforded by the current discovery in the academic biblical studies and the wider theological context?

If not, then the syllogism is a mere deduction reasoning bearing no relevance to truth or reality.[32] Think of all the people living in the matrix in the movie The Matrix. They thought they are in the real world but in fact they are in a digital cyberspace. In the same way, this syllogism functions as the matrix to those who hold on to it; who think that they are living in reality despite the fact that they are confined in an epistemic prison which impedes them from knowing the real world.


(A scene from The Matrix)



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[26] E. J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (USA: Eerdmans, 1957; Finland The Banner of Truth, reprint 1997), 163.

[27] Stephen J. Nichols and Eric T. Brandt, Ancient Word, Changing Worlds (USA: Crossway, 2009), 64.

[28] J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (USA: Eerdmans, 1958), 95-96.

[29] A more sophisticated form is seen in Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Edition (USA: Baker Books, 2004), 251. “If God is omniscient, he must know all things. He cannot be ignorant of or in error on any matter. Further, if he is omnipotent, he is able to so affect the biblical author’s writing that nothing erroneous enters into the final product. And being a truthful or veracious being, he will certainly desire to utilize these abilities in such a way that humans will not be misled by the Scriptures. Thus, our view of inspiration logically entails the inerrancy of the Bible.”

[30] Norman Geisler presents the syllogism in this way:
The logic of inerrancy is straightforward:
(1) God cannot err.
(2) The Bible is God’s Word.
(3) Therefore, the Bible cannot err.
See his Systematic Theology, volume 1 (USA: Bethan House 2002), 257. His defence of inerrancy led him to found the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1977, produced the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’ with more than 300 signatories, edited an authoritative book on the subject titled ‘Inerrancy’ in 1979, engineered the expel of Robert Gundry, for an alleged breach on affirming inerrancy, from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 1983, and resigned from the ETS in 2003 after failing to convince the ETS members to expel Clark Pinnock for the same charges he held against Robert Gundry twenty years earlier.

[31] Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (USA: Oxford University Press, 1993), 178-182.

[32] Some argue that this is not a pure deduction as there are external references made to Numbers 23.19, Deuteronomy 6.6-7, 8.3, 2 Samuel 7.28, Psalm 1.1-2, 12.6, Proverbs 30.5, Matthew 4.4, 5.18, 24.35, John 10.35, 17.17, 2 Timothy 3.16-17, 2 Peter 3.16 and other passages. Yet none of these passages refer to the ‘Bible’ or ‘scripture’ in the way the Church Fathers or today’s Christians do because all these references are made to specific books which we do not have idea which. For example, if one argues that 2 Timothy 3.16-17 is referring to the Bible as we know it today, then one commits an anachronism because the Old Testament was not being canonized at that time, not to mention that many of the New Testament books have not yet been written! In the end, in arguing so, one betrays his own unhistorical and anti-realism view and so testifies to the charges brought upon him.

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