Inerrancy is perhaps the most obvious example of what the Bible is NOT, and I have written about it many times. But today I approach it from a different angle by examining common inerrancy proof-texts.
I begin with the most popular one.
All Scripture is God-Breathed
The #1 go-to inerrancy proof-text by far, considered by many as the defeater of any argument against inerrancy, is 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
This sounds like the death knell for those arguing against inerrancy, but there are several reasons why this passage cannot prove inerrancy. First, this is part of the author’s coaching of a specific person in a specific situation; it is not a revealed truth from God and is not even addressed to us but to the recipient.
Secondly, we must ask what the author means by ‘Scripture’. The New Testament didn’t exist at that time so ‘scripture’ here cannot mean the New Testament—including this passage. Therefore, this passage cannot be an inerrant statement based on itself. It has no inerrant authority to prove inerrancy; and to think that it does is an excellent example of circular thinking.
We must also ask what the author means by ‘God-breathed’? He doesn’t mean ‘inerrant’, which is a later concept in history infused into this passage. What the author meant is likely known only to himself and the recipient, since both would be aware of the context of the correspondence–and we are not.
In my opinion, this is an extremely weak proof for inerrancy.
Everything that was Written in the Past was Written to Teach Us
This is a statement by Paul in Romans 15; the KJV says, ‘Written for our instruction’. To some it seems like a doctrinal revelation about the Old Testament that suggests inerrancy.
But consider the context of the statement:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Paul was writing to Roman believers about tolerance and patience for the ‘weak’, and he appeals to several passages from the Old Testament (hereafter ‘OT’) to support his point. His saying that the OT was written to teach us is an incidental comment, and he is right. I often find OT passages encouraging and am inspired by stories of endurance.
But this does not mean they are inerrant instructions from God. In fact, in this very letter Paul rejects the ‘instructions’ of the OT regarding legalistic practices. This text does not prove inerrancy at all.
Not the Smallest Letter will Disappear from the Law
Jesus says this at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. The full statement is:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
At first this might seem to support inerrancy of OT laws, but then Jesus goes on to alter them with his ‘You have heard, but I say’ pronouncements that demonstrate the inadequacy of the Law, beginning with murder and adultery from the 10 Commandments. In this sermon, the entirety of chapters 5-7 establish the ethic of the kingdom of God as opposed to the Law.
I think Jesus is saying that the intent of the ethic of the Law remains, but he supersedes the Law; his ethic is all about justice and relationships. I cannot see how this supports the claim of OT inerrancy.
Scripture Cannot be Broken (KJV)
The frequent appeal to this passage in John 10 seems so thin that I wonder if those who quote it ever read the context. Pharisees were about to stone Jesus, saying he claimed to be God.
Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”?’ If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?
He is quoting Psalm 82:
God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the ‘gods’…I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.” But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.
This passage refers to rulers as ‘gods’. Do you think OT rulers were gods? Did Jesus think that? No, this is a trick question. Jesus rarely gave direct responses to Pharisees who challenged him. The idea that scripture cannot be set aside was not Jesus’ idea but that of the Pharisees, and he throws it up to them both to question their view of the OT and to deflect their accusation.
I think this is more anti-inerrancy than a defense of inerrancy.
While inerrancy demands no errors in the Bible, of equal concern to me is disregarding important factors such as:
* The Bible was written by people–not God
* These people wrote from the limitations their own time and understanding
* The Bible contains many literary genres that cannot be read in a literal way
The assertion of biblical inerrancy is a mere assumption, unproved by any proof-texts; and we need not be intimidated by such claims. Next time we will begin to look at some stranger ideas about the Bible.
Other articles in this series: What the Bible is Not
What the Bible Is–And Is Not
The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts
The Bible is not a Rule Book: Overcoming Legalism
The Bible is not a Promise Book: Exploring a Misguided Approach to the Bible
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Life: Demise of a Bible Answer Man
The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy
The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You
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