While 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the queen of all ‘proofs’ of biblical inerrancy, I would say that certain words of Jesus come in second. And, since Jesus is central to all believers, how can we ignore his words if they confirm biblical inerrancy?
Scripture Cannot be Broken
Many inerrantists point out that Jesus said that ‘Scripture cannot be broken.’ Wow! That sounds pretty conclusive—until you look at the statement more closely. It occurs in John 10:
the scripture cannot be broken (KJV)
But I wonder how many people using this ‘proof’ actually read the context. A group of Jewish religious leaders are preparing to stone Jesus, and Jesus asks why.
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Jesus answered them, “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? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
The reference is to Psalm 82:
God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods”: “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?…“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.”
Jesus was messing with his accusers! I am sure they did not believe there was an ‘assembly of gods’ just as I suspect inerrantists do not believe there is an assembly of gods. Jesus’ statement that ‘scripture cannot be broken’ reflects the view of his accusers—not his own view. I think the context rules out this passage as a ‘proof’ of inerrancy.
Not a Jot or Tittle Will Pass Away
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about true ethics and Old Testament Law. Early in the sermon Jesus says in Matthew 5:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (KJV)
But then he goes on to make a number of ‘you have heard, but I say’ statements. I think Jesus is saying that the deeper intent of the Law will not pass away but the bondage of legalism will be replaced and fulfilled by the ethic of loving God and of loving others as one’s self. In reading the sermon I don’t see any alternative to this. Jesus does not destroy the intent of the Law but completes it. So I don’t think Jesus validates an inerrant Old Testament legal system.
Reference to Old Testament Passages do not Imply Historical Inerrancy
A good example of this is in the Jonah story. Many people think the Jonah story is fiction with a point—and I agree. Yet when the Pharisees asked for a sign, Jesus replied in Matthew 12:
A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jesus refers to a well-known story; but this does not mean he thought it really happened. I could say that a child is like Tom Sawyer in tricking other kids into doing his work—like painting a fence. Most people would understand the reference, but I don’t think anyone would think I understood Tom Sawyer to be an historical person.
No proof of inerrancy here.
Jesus’ Treatment of the Old Testament
Another thing that interests me is Jesus’ use of the Old Testament for his own purposes. For example, Jesus declared his mission in Nazareth by reading from the Isaiah scroll in Luke 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he said:
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
However, it seems that Jesus purposefully ignored the very next section of Isaiah 61 regarding judgment:
and the day of vengeance of our God
Jesus chose what he wanted. Does this make him a scriptural cherry-picker?
The Problem of Inerrancy in the Book of Jude
While Jesus does not confirm inerrancy of the Old Testament, another New Testament personality has a bearing on the topic. The short book of Jude says:
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them…
The problem is that the Book of Enoch was NOT written by Enoch, the seventh from Adam in Genesis. Enoch was not written until about 200 years before the time of Jesus. So Jude was absolutely wrong. His statement about Enoch is NOT inerrant and calls into question the supposed inerrancy of the entire Bible.
There is One More ‘Proof’ Offered that God Speaks in the Bible
‘The Lord says (said)’ and ‘God says (said)’ are found in the NIV 2000+ times including prophets and narrators. But how did they know? Did they hear an audible voice? Did they feel a strong impression? Was it simply a prophetic literary device or part of a story? We will talk about that next time—along with truth claims of the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an.
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series:
Belief in Biblical Inerrancy Must be the Second Most Damaging, Misguided Christian Belief of All
Why Do Inerrantists Think the Bible is Inerrant Anyway?
How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns: a Book Review
Did Jesus Confirm the Inerrancy and Historicity of the Old Testament?
5 Common False Assumptions Inerrantists Make about Me as a Progressive Believer
Inerrantists are My Brothers and Sisters in Jesus—Not My Enemies
Books and Resources on Inerrancy
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