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The Error of Inerrancy

December 17, 2007

spoon.pngAs promised in my earlier post on Misunderstanding of the Fundamentals, I feel that a comment on the error of inerrancy is in order. (Nick Norelli has a nice summary of the ongoing discussion in the blogosphere here.)

As a biblical scholar I’ve become convinced that the entire discussion of inerrancy is irrelevant and erroneous from the outset. There were no autographs to begin with.

Now, I should point out, I am not saying that the mere absence of extent autographs disproves inerrancy. An argument from silence is an argument from silence.

Nor am I ignorant of the second half of Article X of Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Rather, looking at the growth of tradition as recorded not only in the scholarly constructs of P, DtrH, Q etc. but also in the various textual traditions already attested in the DSS, LXX, etc., it is evident that there is no clear dividing line between textual genesis and textual transmission. There is no indication of where one stops and the other begins.

The precious quest for an Urtext is itself a leap of faith. Inerrancy is not only a belief in a hypothetical, perfect, error-free text, that in itself is predicated upon a belief in a hypothetical, original text. In the end, there is no spoon.

  1. December 20, 2007 1:59 am


    you make an excellent point. The more we have learned about the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible in which processes of textual genesis and textual transmission run concomitantly, the clearer it has become that ‘autographs’ is a plural concept. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we cannot reconstruct, sometimes in very fine detail, distinct editions of various books. We can. But, at some level, whatever descriptive confessional language we apply to one edition had better be able to be applicable to the others as well.

    In my view, the beauty of the language the great tradition applies to scripture – including infallilbiity and inerrancy language – is that it applies to the text as we have it, and by analogy to other forms of the text that others have had before us, not only to the first of the many autographs that succeeded one other in the course of transmission, or to an arbitrary choice among those autographs (the choice being, for many, the (proto-)MT; for others, the Septuagint).


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