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Is the Bible Only Partially Inerrant?

 

By Eric V. Snow

 

Recently (January 31, 2004) in “The Journal,” Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, the Seventh-day Adventist church historian, argued that the Bible was only partially inerrant:  “That both the writers and their sources were human makes it unrealistic to insist there are no inaccurate statements in the Bible” (p. 45).  But, on the contrary, Christians have to affirm the Bible is without error on every subject it touches on, or else any text could be deemed suspect even when it doesn’t appear to contradict any other scriptural passage or secular sources.  The Bible is a somewhat uncertain roadmap in life for a partial inerrantist.

 

When debating His fellow Jews about His identity, He cited one text, and justified the conclusion He drew by noting, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  If the text (Psalm 82:6) Jesus cited might have been wrong (say) 1% of the time a priori, His generalization would have been wrong.  Likewise, Paul told Timothy:  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).  Although Dr. Bacchiocchi argues that no Biblical writer affirms all of Scripture is inerrant, this reasoning is like asking a fish in the ocean to be conscious about its water supply:  It’s so utterly taken for granted, so axiomatic, it need not ever be explained.  By definition, by the nature of His character and attributes, an almighty, all-knowing God who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) doesn’t inspire errors.  Nor would He allow shoddy research or sloppy writing by His prophets to garble His revelation to mankind. 

 

If prophets are to be evaluated by their fruits (cf. Matt. 7:15-23), what should we think of prophets who might sometimes be wrong in their predictions?  Could a true prophet of God have been inspired but still have proclaimed errors?  Could God allow one of His prophets to be justly executed despite being truly inspired by Him?  Consider the implications of Deut. 18:20-22:

 

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak . . . that prophet shall die.  And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?”—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

 

The details in such situations DO matter:  If a given prophet said no rain would fall for three years, but then rain fell a year later, he would be a suitable candidate for stoning.  Since prophets were inspired to write the Bible, we shouldn’t doubt their 100% accuracy.  After all, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private origin, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (I Peter 1:21, NKJV, margin).

 

The partial inerrantists’ position is incoherent since the cause (i.e., a perfect God) wouldn’t produce a defective product (i.e., written revelation) as a direct effect.  As Gleason Archer comments:  “The sovereign Lord who could use the wooden staff of Moses to bring down the ten plagues upon Egypt and part the waters of the Red Sea can surely use a fallible human prophet to communicate His will and His truth without blundering or confusion of any kind” (“Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties,” p. 28).  Now Dr. Bacchiocchi objects to such reasoning:  “The nature of the Bible must be defined inductively [Says who?—EVS]—that is, by considering all the data provided by the Bible itself—rather than deductively—that is, by drawing conclusions from subjective premises” (p. 45).  Is it a “subjective premise” that if God is almighty, all knowing, and all-loving, the revelation this God gives humanity can be transmitted through otherwise fallible human instruments perfectly?  It’s sound deductive theology for Archer to conclude:  “The inerrancy of God’s written Word as it was originally inspired is a necessary corollary to the inerrancy of God Himself” (“Encyclopedia,” p. 28).

 

Good arguments can be made for using in theological work deductive reasoning, which is a crucial issue of epistemology (the branch of philosophy that deals with how humans gain knowledge, i.e.., “How do you know that you know?”)  Dr. Robert Morey notes how important the relative validity of inductive and deductive theology was to the debate over the inerrancy of Scripture by noting the reasoning of neo-orthodox and neo-evangelical critics:  “They claimed that the inerrancy of the Bible was the product of the ‘old’ deductive method and, hence, invalid in the eyes of all those who use the inductive method” (“The Trinity:  Evidence and Issues,” p. 5).  Although making an over corrective case against using inductive logic in theology based on false presuppositional apologetics, Morey nevertheless brilliantly wields deductive logic after arguing for its use in deducing correct doctrines.  For example, on whether or not the Godhead has one or more Persons in it, he asks two excellent a priori (before experience) questions:  “‘What would we expect to find in the Bible, if its authors believed that God was multi-personal?’ . . . ‘What would we expect to find in the Bible, if Unitarians wrote it?’” (“The Trinity,” p. 87).   He then goes on to reason that the plural words used by, for, or about God in Scripture contradict Unitarians’ would-be assumptions, which shows the power of this approach. Is Dr. Bacchiocchi prepared to defend in detail his (complete?) rejection of deductive logic in developing doctrines in order to prop up partial inerrancy, rather than just assuming it to be true?

 

Dr. Bacchiocchi sets up and knocks down a straw man when arguing:  “This absolute view of inspiration . . . results in a ‘dictation’ view of inspiration that minimizes the human factor. . . . We believe that Bible writers were God’s penmen, not the pen of the Holy Spirit” (pp. 43, 45).  But inspired authors having different writing styles is perfectly compatible with inerrancy since factual accuracy in matters of doctrine, morality, history, and science can be preserved through varying vocabulary and syntax choices in a written document.  Using one of Dr. Bacchiocchi’s own (bogus) examples of a “contradiction” in parallel Old Testament passages (II Sam. 24:25; I Chron. 21:25), the style of either (or both!) Biblical writers wouldn’t have been cramped had the Holy Spirit whispered “the correct figure in the ears of the two writers” (p. 44).

 

According to Dr. Bacchiocchi, the partial inerrantist position won’t lead Christians to abandon other foundational Christian doctrines, and “eventually find themselves sliding down the slippery slope to apostasy” (p. 45). But in reality people, after accepting certain premises philosophically, tend to inevitably draw them out to their ultimate logical conclusions, although this process may take more than one generation.  For example, the early Catholic writer Origen’s acceptance of the doctrine of eternal generation of the Son helped to set the stage for the Arian heresy that denied Jesus was fully God.  Arius’s own acceptance of the Platonic teaching that God’s substance (the “monas”) was unchangeable and thus indivisible into two Persons is another example of the same principle at work.  In reality, there’s little functional or logical difference except in degree between a partial inerrantist and neo-orthodoxy, which maintains the Bible “contains” the word of God.  As a matter of empirical reality, Harold Lindsell documented, in “The Battle for the Bible,” according to Gleason Archer, that “virtually all the theological training centers that have embraced (or even tolerated as allowable) this modified concept of biblical authority exhibit a characteristic pattern of doctrinal erosion” (“Encyclopedia,” p. 20).  Now Dr. Bacchiocchi believes:  “If inerrancy collapses, [the claim that] the great doctrines of the Bible collapse also is groundless.  Such doctrines [like creationism?—EVS] are universally believed even by Christians who do not subscribe to inerrancy” (p. 44).   Bacchiocchi has to rebut in detail Lindsell’s work in this regard if he expects to persuade others that undermining this one foundational doctrine doesn’t eventually cause the rest of the superstructure to topple over.

 

Dr. Bacchiocchi carelessly uses supposed instances of Bible “contradictions” without even attempting to refute in advance the standard explanations that inerrantists use.  A good scholar should refer to and rebut the (likely) counter-arguments of his (informed) opponents in the initial statement of his position instead of assuming his own arguments will go completely unanswered.  Those troubled by alleged Biblical errors should consult any solid conservative Bible commentary, such as the “Bible Knowledge Commentary.”  Books that focus on supposed Bible contradictions in detail are also worth looking up, such as Gleason Archer’s “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties,” John W. Haley’s “Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible,” and R.A. Torrey’s “Difficulties in the Bible.”  Theodore Engelder’s “Scripture Cannot Be Broken:  Six Objections to Verbal Inspiration Examined in the Light of Scripture” is also valuable.  Even my own book, “A Zeal For God Not According to Knowledge:  A Refutation of Judaism’s Arguments Against Christianity,” spends much of a chapter (pp. 156-192) on the kinds of “contradictions” Jews find within the New Testament or between the New Testament and Old Testament.  Dr. Bacchiocchi clearly isn’t breaking new ground here by unearthing these examples.

 

For example, Dr. Bacchiocchi argues for partial inerrancy by using the supposed discrepancy between I Chronicles 21:5 and II Samuel 24:9 about the size of Israel’s army according to King David’s census.  But as per Archer (see “Encyclopedia,” pp. 188-89), this difference can be explained.  The total of 800,000 for Israel from Samuel concerned “valiant” men, but the 1,100,000 figure included evidently the second-line troops as well.  The difference between the 500,000 and 470,000 totals for Judah may well be from the omission of Benjamin, a tribe that sided with Judah during the civil war right after Solomon’s death, from the latter number, since Joab “did not count Levi and Benjamin among them” (I Chron. 21:6).

 

If Joab reported the total numbers several ways to David, the authors of Chronicles and Samuel may have taken from different parts of the overall report for what they wrote about David’s sin in ordering this census to be taken.  Likewise, a difference in details from different observers doesn’t prove a contradiction:   I remember a case in church in which I asked the daughter and the husband of a woman about her health problems.  The daughter briefly explained that her mother had diabetes, when in fact she had hypoglycemia.  The husband went into much more detail, but said nothing about his wife having any kind of blood sugar problem.  In fact, both were (overall) right, for she had multiple major health trials, including hypoglycemia and lupus.

 

Another supposed “contradiction” that Dr. Bacchiocchi uses, the discrepancy between what David paid for the property of Araunah on Mount Moriah, could be reconciled after carefully examining the actual words of Scripture.  The cattle and threshing floor itself (perhaps only 30 by 40 feet, according to Archer) apparently cost only 50 shekels (1 ¼ pounds) of silver, but the whole mountain site (cf. I Chron. 21:25) cost 600 shekels (15 pounds) of gold.  So the author of Chronicles simply may have recorded “this entire transaction from the standpoint of its end result” (Archer, “Encyclopedia,” p. 190).  Haley (“Discrepancies,” p. 390) suggests one possible solution:  If a comma is added to the sentence in II Sam. 24:24 to clarify its meaning, the price given was actually only for the oxen to be offered:  “So David bought the threshing-floor, and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.”  Either way, the huge price difference indicates a difference in the property purchased, since paying 15 pounds of gold for a mere threshing floor would be excessive even 3000 years ago.

 

Dr. Bacchiocchi also dredges up two New Testament discrepancies in order to attack the inerrancy of Scripture.  One occurs between Matthew 10:9-10; Luke 9:3 and Mark 6:8 about whether the 12 disciples could take a staff along on their evangelizing mission.  The basic solution here lies in the difference between “procuring” a (new) staff and holding onto whatever one they happened to have already, Archer believes (“Encyclopedia,” p. 326).  The name of the festival on the date of Jesus’ death (cf. John 19:14) is an old issue.  But the word “Passover” (meaning Nisan 14 only when strictly defined as per Lev. 23:5, Ex. 12:6; Num. 28:16) itself clearly came to have multiple meanings that could include one or all of the following seven Days of Unleavened Bread, including the first Holy Day, or be called a day of unleavened bread itself (cf. John 2:23; Mark 14:1; Matt. 26:17; Luke 22:1,7; Eze. 45:21).

 

Finally, why might Dr. Bacchiocchi and his (informed) fellow Seventh-day Adventists defend a partial inerrantist teaching?  They know how Ellen G. White copied from and reworded the work of other authors.  But they still wish to uphold “the Spirit of Prophecy.”  For example, although “The Great Controversy” is an emotionally powerful work, she did copy historical errors from other authors right into it.  Do the SDAs uphold a watered-down view of the inspiration of Scripture because they have to defend the mistakes in Ellen White’s books?  For example, in the SDA “Ministry Magazine” (October, 1981, p. 8), this diehard proclamation appears:  "We believe the revelation and inspiration of both the Bible and Ellen White's writings to be of equal quality. The superintendence of the Holy Spirit was just as careful and thorough in one case as in the other."  The curious may wish to consult such books as Walter Rea’s “The White Lie,” and Asmund Kaspersen’s “Ellen G. White:  The Myth and the Truth,” if they wish to know more on this issue.  Relevant Web sites to visit include ellenwhite.org and bible.ca/7-plagiarism.htm..

 

In conclusion, Dr. Bacchiocchi’s pitch for people in the Church of God to buy into partial inerrancy is a doctrine that should be left on the store shelf.  If Christians believe the Bible is partially false, any text supporting any doctrine could be doubted for any reason.  There’s no reason why such problems could be restricted to matters of science and history a priori when the world deems various Biblical moral teachings to be errors also, such as the immorality of gay sex, the general submission of wives to their husbands, and the (non)ordination of women to the ministry. An almighty and loving God simply wouldn’t allow the production of a faulty revelation in the original manuscripts.  The kind of “evidence” (i.e., purported contradictions and errors) used inductively to question Scripture dismisses the standard explanations for them that defenders of inerrancy have devised.  Although we in the Church of God movement should appreciate Dr. Bacchiocchi’s sterling work in defending the Sabbath doctrinally, we should reject any of his teachings that conflict with Scripture, including partial inerrancy.

 

 

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Does Islam cause terrorism?  Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Moral Equivalency Applied Islamic History 0409.htm

Is the theory of evolution true?  /Apologeticshtml/Darwins God Review.htm

Is the Bible God’s Word?  Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Is the Bible the Word of God.htm

Why does God Allow Evil?  Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

Is Christian teaching from ancient paganism? /Bookhtml/Paganism influence issue article Journal 013003.htm

Which is right?:  Judaism or Christianity? /Apologeticshtml/Is Christianity a Fraud vs Conder Round 1.htm

/Apologeticshtml/Is Christianity a Fraud vs Conder Round 2.htm

Should God’s existence be proven? /Apologeticshtml/Should the Bible and God Be Proven Fideism vs WCG.htm

Does the Bible teach blind faith?  Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Gospel of John Theory of Knowledge.htm

 

Links to elsewhere on this Web site:   /apologetics.html   /book.html   /doctrinal.html  /essays.html  /links.html /sermonettes.html  /webmaster.html     For the home page, click here:    /index.html