I attend a PCA church. Many would call it “conservative.” Though it’s not in any membership vows, the church leadership believes the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.
This particular issue has been on my mind for a few years, now. Mostly because despite the centrality of Biblical inerrancy to the entire denomination, I’ve never heard a good argument for it. Some take it on faith, which is fine. But most of these will also level some bad argument or other as to why the Bible is inerrant.
Here are some of those bad arguments, plus my responses.
ARGUMENT: The Bible says it is inerrant and infallible.
RESPONSE: No it doesn’t. That is an inference based on a number of specific verses that do not refer to the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, except insofar as you embrace the idea of inerrancy (and completeness) already. It begs the question.
ARGUMENT: The Bible is God’s Word. God cannot lie. Therefore the Bible must contain no lies.
RESPONSE: This begs the question. Also, must God’s Word be inerrant? What is our standard or reference for God’s Word?
ARGUMENT: Without inerrancy, how would we know what of the Bible to believe? How can we trust any of it if some of it might be in error? What is our trustworthy guide for faith?
RESPONSE: This presumes we need some inerrant guide in order to find God (or to know anything, for that matter).
ARGUMENT: If you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, you’re making yourself the standard of truth. You are deciding what parts of it are true and false, based on your own personal preferences. You are making yourself God.
RESPONSE: This does not address the question of whether the Bible is inerrant. And what have we but our own reasons when deciding whether some claim is trustworthy? Choosing to believe the Bible is inerrant is also a matter of personal preference.
ARGUMENT: The Bible, across thousands of years of criticism, has never been proven wrong.
RESPONSE: This begs the question, as those who canonized the Scriptures did not include books with obvious error, just as the Reformers redrew some lines around the canon in the middle of the last millennium.
RESPONSE: Biblical authors make many claims that cannot possibly be disproven. They also makes claims that we know today are wrong, but for which we’ve simply updated our interpretation (i.e. David’s insinuation that the sun moves around the earth).
RESPONSE: The Bible does contain obvious inconsistencies. The sign over Jesus’ head on the cross, for example, has three different phrases across three different books. By some standards of inerrancy, this should most definitely be an “error.”
ARGUMENT: God wouldn’t allow us to have been mistaken for so long.
RESPONSE: Is the same true for other Christian traditions that you believe have been in error for a thousand years?
ARGUMENT: The Bible is what God gave us. Why would it be wrong?
RESPONSE: Who says God gave us the Bible?
RESPONSE: Then why would there be scribal errors? Why is that allowed?
The bottom line is that I don’t think inerrancy (and infallibility) is something to believe, then check off so one can move forward. Or that it is somehow a prerequisite for faith. I think that working this out is what it means to grow in faith.
I don’t know of any gross errors in the Scriptures. I generally believe what I read therein. But mostly I simply grow from my reading of them—it’s not, for me, a matter of believing or not believing. My own reason and convictions are so fickle, I can’t honestly say I’m sure that I believe the same things from one moment to the next. But I like reading the Scriptures, and I don’t care whether they are inerrant or infallible.