Science in Christian Perspective
The Argument for Inerrancy: An Analysis
TIMOTHY II. PHILLIPS
Graduate School of Religion
Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee 37240
From: JASA 31 (June 1979): 80-88.
This paper is an attempt to explicate the contention that inerrancy is essential to biblical authority. The concern underlying such a primary focus upon inerrancy is identified as foundationalism, an epistemological argument which claims that one is able to obtain genuine knowledge only from a foundation of apodictic certitudes. Without such an indubitable and independent principium, the argument continues, what is attained is not absolutely certain and thus no longer knowledge as such. For that reason the biblical foundationalist contends that "without inerrancy ... there is no solid basis for biblical authority and hence no sure word for theology or Christian living." After demonstrating exegetically that this underlying assumption is not biblical, three criticisms of foundationalism are outlined: (1) inerrancy ignores the Holy Spirit's role in grounding Scripture's authority, and such a disregard has historically led to a dead orthodoxy; (2) even granting the conservative results of evangelical Biblical scholarship, the Bible is still unable to assume the role of an indubitable and independent principium; and (3) due to hermcneutical problems, the biblical foundationalist's goal of absolutely certain knowledge is unreachable. One must conclude then that foundationalism is not a proper model for biblical authority.
After quietly smoldering for more than a decade, the tensions within evangelicalism are now aflame. In fact the intensity and bitterness of this dispute, which concerns the priority of inerrancy, threatens the hard won evangelical consensus itself. What is disturbing is not that the conciliatory attitude of the past is gone. To be sure, the attempts by Francis Schaeffer and Harold Lindsell to tie a scholastic view of scriptural authority to evangelical identity have carried the polemic into a new arena. But did not the separatistic roots of evangelicalism in fundamentalism and the equivocal outcome of the historic Wenham Conference portend such a development? What is disquieting is that the issues are still being posed in categories reminiscent of the Briggs-Warfield or the more recent Beegle-Pinnock debate. Surely those controversies have shown us that when inerrancy is construed as "the problem of scriptural authority," either dialogue is immediately short-circuited or debate centers on ancillary issues such as what constitutes an error, inerrancy's historical support, or purported errors in Scripture. Those arguments are secondary and even evasive because the very ground of the discussion, the inerrantist's precise framing of the issue of biblical authority, is not directly confronted. The fundamental issue rather is whether it is correct to assert that the most crucial problem facing theology is inerrancy, inasmuch as an inerrant Bible is "the foundation of our Christian thought and life, without which we could not . . . maintain the confidence of our faith and surety of our hope."1 In other words, is inerrancy a first order doctrine and thus a theological watershed? Or, perhaps, does such a framing of the problem obscure an underlying and dubious presupposition? What follows is an analysis of the logic which grounds the inerrantist's understanding of the problem of biblical authority.
The Logic Grounding the Inerrancy Thesis
Throughout the discussions on theological prolegomena in orthodox circles there has been a familiar ring to the argument for the necessity of an inerrant Scripture. From Gaussen and Warfield through Edward Young to the more recent statements by the earlier Clark Pinnock and Harold Lindsell, this tradition has echoed the post-Reformation scholastics' contention that the acknowledgement of errors in the Bible "vitiates the authenticity and authority of Scripture, and by such an opinion the certainty and assurance of our
faith are destroyed . Unless we are made infallibly certain of the source of our faith, how can there he any fats post axis to our faith, any assurance of salvation, or even any peace of conscience ?"2 The pivotal crisis underlying theology is accordingly understood as being epistemological in nature. Specifically, does theology's authority, which is identified as Scripture, provide us with indubitably certain knowledge? If that is not the ease, the argument continues, mistrust of one's theological conclusions invades matters as personally consequential as the character of God and the reality of One's own salvation. "If the source of theology is not entirely infallible, sure and certain then no theological conclusions are infallible and sure...3 An inerrant Scripture, by virtue of the fact that it alone provides an absolutely certain foundation for religious knowledge, is thus identified as theology's authority.
The philosophical underpinnings of this epistemic argument is foundationalsm, the classic theory in western philosophy.4 It is derived from Aristotle's conception of science, which was modeled after Greek geometry.-, The goal of foundationalism is a knowledge free from all prejudice and conjecture, or what Francis Schaeffer aptly calls "true truth." More precisely, knowledge and belief are dualistically differentiated so that knowledge is knowledge only because it is absolutely certain. Anything possessing less than this unshakable certitude is not knowledge, but belief. In general terms, the foundationalist argues that this prerequisite is achieved when one begins with a foundation of indubitable certitudes and builds with the aid of logically precise methods an inferred body of knowledge. For then what is attained is as certain and as true as its ground. The most important aspects of knowledge, however, are those indubitable truths or principia which undergird knowledge with an apodictic foundation. As all indubitable foundation, they function as an Archimedean standpoint. That is, truth originates a priori from the principium. It alone determines what is true and without any necessary a posteriori verification. Consequently, a principium cannot be vulnerable to other measurements of the truth. In fact one of the inherent criteria of a principium, in addition to its indubitability, is its independence of or at least agreement 'with such extraneous truth judgments. Because truth originates solely from a principium, its relation to the body of knowledge which it logically affects is one-way. Originally the logic involved was that of deduction. For only in deduction is the conclusion a logically necessary inference of the premise. The foundationalist accordingly begins with an indubitable and independent premise and deductively infers a body of knowledge.
Is inerrancy a first order doctrine and thus a theological watershed? Or does such a framing of the problem obscure an underlying and dubious presupposition?
When it becomes apparent that the inerrantist defines the problem of biblical
authority within the epistemological context of foundationalism, the
characteristic of inerrancy are illumined. For instance, because Scripture is
interpreted as theology's principium, the character and range of its
is predetermined. As a principium, its primary goal is designated as providing
knowledge; only at a secondary level is it specified as being in
The implications of that logically necessary move are widespread.
can be attained only from an indubitable foundation, the very possibility that
Scripture could fulfill its soteriological end within the confines of
world-view is denied.6 Nor can the foundationalist analyze the
in order to ascertain whether the authors were actually motivated by the ideals
of modern historiography. Rather, the framework of foundationalism has already
determined that an historically imprecise record would thwart the
of Scripture. In other words, Scripture does not determine what
and error. That has already been determined by foundationalism:
is necessarily plenary and absolute.7 "Inerrancy pertains to
and asserted in Scripture. Not merely the substance of the doctrine
in Scripture is truthful but also the statements or affirmations that appear to
be nonessential, adjunct, or obiter dicta."8
Implicit in this normative assessment of knowledge that knowledge ought to be indubitably certain-is a critique of anything less parading under the term "knowledge." Consequently throughout the literature a pressing question is posed to the opponents of inerrancy: once inerrancy is given up, what becomes the basis for deciding truth and falsity? How can an erring authority serve as the source or judge of God's revelation? This same dualistic separation of knowledge and belief underlies the ominous warnings so frequently predicted by inerrantists:
The authority which cannot assure of a hard fact is soon not trusted for a hard doctrine. Sooner or later . . . the authority of the Bible in doctrine and life is replaced by or subordinated to that of reason, or of the feelings . . . .9 Without inerrancy . . . there is no solid basis for biblical authority and hence no sure word for theology or Christian living.10
If the Bible is not infallible, then we can be sure of nothing.11
The more precise argument is that by denying inerrancy, theology's indubitable
foundation is dissolved. Everything in Scripture is relegated to the level of
mere probability; the body of knowledge derived from it is likewise uncertain,
and thus no longer knowledge as such. Consequently, theology is east
upon a "subjective
sea of conjecture with no guiding light."12 The argument for ierraucy is
clear; and admittedly, if
foundationalism is true, there can hardly be any doubt concerning the importance of an inerrant Scripture for theology.
Exegetical Support for Inerrancy?
Thus far in our attempt to explicate the inerrantist's point of view, we have shown that the role an inerrant Scripture plays in guaranteeing theological knowledge accords with the epistemic logic of foundationalism. The argument for inerrancy however involves more than this extrabiblical rationale. In the classic arguments for inerrancy, whether by the post-Reformation scholastics or the later statements by Gaussesi and Warfield, the notion that Scripture provides absolutely certain knowledge is explicitly based upon a prior exegetical analysis of Scripture.13 But is foundationalism actually the consequence of their exegesis? This is a pivotal question. For much theological weight lies on the precise contention that inerrancy is biblical. To resolve this issue we analyze Warfield's argument, which most conservatives acknowledge to he the apex of the traditional exegetical defense of inerrancy.
Warfield's exegetical argument that inspiration entails inerrancy is found in "The Biblical Idea of Inspiration."14 The term inspiration is rooted in the Greek word theopneustos found in II Timothy 3:16, meaning God-breathed. However Warfield readily admits that this passage cannot hear the full weight of his defense. Two integral factors left unspecified by this passage suggest the direction of his argument. First, this passage does not determine how Scripture is God-breathed, that is, how God actually produced Scripture. Warfield contends that II Peter 1:19-21 does offer such an account. Secondly, even though Paul indicates that Scripture is spiritually useful in II Timothy, Warfield points out that he "does not tell us here everything for which the Scriptures are made valuable . . . . Whatever other qualities may accrue to them from their Divine origin, he leaves to other occasions to speak."',15 John 10:31-38 is used to specify some of those qualities.
11 Peter 1:19-21
Warfield explicates the divine origination of Scripture in light of II Peter 1:19-21, primarily the phrase, "no
prophecy ever was brought by the will of man, but it was as borne by the Holy Spirit that men spoke from God." The contention is that "borne" cannot he understood as mere providential guidance, or direction. For that which
is "borne" is taken up by the "bearer", and conveyed by the "bearer's" power, not its own, to the "bearer's" goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the holy Spirit and brought by His power to the goal of His choosing. The things which they spoke under this operation of the Spirit were therefore His things, not theirs.16
The exact implications of this argument are vague; for the content underlying
such terms as providential guidance, providential direction and divine bearing
is unclear. Nor is the intent behind Warfield's very rigid
interpretation of phero
as "to bear" apparent. In fact, it should be noted that the meaning
of that Greek term normally extends far beyondWarfield's restrictive interpretation to include some quite figurative senses-for instance, those
implying mere guidance, direction or leadership.
These ambiguities are elucidated through the following rhetorical question.
The production of the Scripture is . . . a long process, in the course of which numerous and very varied Divine activities are invoked, providential, gracious, miraculous .... we give due place in our thought to the universality of the providential government of God, to the minuteness and completeness of its sway, and to its invariable efficacy, . . . what is needed beyond this mere providential government to secure the production of sacred books which should be in every detail absolutely accordant with the Divine will?17
Providential guidance is not enough, Warfield answers, because it carries one
only as far as one's human powers extend. Guidance, even divine, is confined to
the limits of man, "If heights are to be scaled above man's native power
to achieve, then something more than guidance is
because the authors of Scripture are "borne" by the Holy Spirit, the
Bible possesses a superhuman, or divine quality. As a result, the
characteristics of the writers do net impinge upon the pure Word of
God. The reader
does not have to "make his way to God painfully, perhaps even uncertainly,
through the words" of the Bible.19 Rather here is an absolutely
authority. The divine production of Scripture consequently brings
about a principium;
one simply listens "directly to the Divine voice itself speaking
in the Scriptural word to him."20
In these distinctions and in the confining interpretation of phero, we see Warfield's foundationalism in action, But do these verses actually support this analysis? Or has Warfield's foundationalism perhaps predetermined this interpretation, thereby concealing Peter's true intent? In II Peter 1:19 the prophetic word is likened to a lamp shining in a dark place. George Ladd insightfully points out that an ancient lamp was vastly different from modern electric lights.21 It gave at best only a limited light; it was merely a sufficient guide allowing the hearer to make his way safely through the darkened streets. Peter even contrasts its power to the full and absolute disclosure of truth which will occur when "the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." Peter's point seems to be that while the lamp of Scripture may fail to clearly present what is among the shadows, God's Word does adequately disclose the path before our feet so that we will not stumble and fall. A better metaphor clarifying how Peter views the trustworthiness of Scripture could hardly have been chosen. According to Peter, then, Scripture is not a principium which ipso facto resolves every minute issue it touches. Rather, Scripture is construed as a perspective which provides a sufficient and reliable guide to God, even though the light it casts on the peripheral matters along this well-tread path may he dim. Consequently, Warfield's speculations on the type of divine activity necessary to effectuate a principium are far from Peters mind when he uses phero.
That Peter is not advocating a "divine bearing" in contrast to a "divine guidance" is additionally indicated by the very phrase on which Warfield concentrates so much focus. When Peter writes that "men moved by
the Holy Spirit spoke from God," we cannot ignore that Peter clearly says that men spoke. lie conjoins what men spoke with what God spoke. If Warfield's interpretation had been Peter's intent, one would expect more of a contrast. In other words, would not Peter have indicated that the men spoke in a nonhuman, in fact a suprahumao manner? Warfield's overstatement is perceptively corrected by Michael Green's commentary on these verses:
Men spoke: God spoke. Any doctrine of Scripture will not neglect either part of this truth. Certainly those who are convinced of God's ultimate authorship of Scripture will take every pains to discover the background, life situation, limitations, education, and so forth of the human agent who cooperated with God in its production. For revelation was not a matter of passive reception: it meant active cooperation. The fact of God's inspiration did not mean a supersession of the normal mental functionings of the human author. The Holy Spirit did not use instruments; He used men.22
These two elements in II Peter 1:19-21, the metaphor of the lamp and
of human and divine, reveal not only that Warfield's exegesis is biased but how
far astray his foundationalism has led him.
In "foundationalism" knowledge and belief are dualistically differentiated so that knowledge is knowledge only because it is absolutely certain.
Through an interpretation of John 10:31-38, Warfield attempts to confirm his analysis of the divine production of Scripture qua principium. This passage begins with the Jews' charge that Jesus had conceived of himself as God even though he was simply a man. Jesus' defense against this charge of blasphemy centers on Psalms 82:6, "I said, you are gods," which is placed in even sharper focus by the aside that "Scripture cannot be broken." According to Warfield's exegesis, Jesus uses that Old Testament phrase, in which men had been called gods on account of their official function as judges, to point out that "it is not blasphemy to call one God in any sense in which be may fitly receive that designation."23 Warfield interprets this argu-ment as being merely an appeal to Scriptural authority. More precisely, be concurs with the analysis that Jesus' defense is a simple case of deduction from a principium.
Stated formally, His argument is as follows: Major-The Scripture cannot be broken. Minor-"I said ye are Gods," is written in your law, which is Scripture. Conclusion-"I said ye are Gods" cannot be broken. He argues the infallibility of the clause on which He founds His argument from the infallibility of the record
in which it occurs the Scripture."24
In view of the apparently incidental and even indiscriminate character of this
Old Testament phrase, Warfielcl concludes that "in the Saviour's view the
indefectible authority of Scripture attaches to the very
form of expression of its most causal clauses. It belongs to Scripture through
and through, down to its most minute particulars, that it is of
According to Warfield, Jesus construed Scripture as a principium.
Undoubtedly the Old Testament was authoritative for Jesus. At issue is the nature of this authority. Specifically, does the Old Testament function as a principium for Jesus? Needless to say there are many different ways in which something is authoritative; it is not necessary that an authority be modeled after a principium. The influence of Warfield's foundationalism is evident inasmuch as this is the only option he seriously considers. However, something quite different is involved in Jesus' defense than simply an appeal to a foundational authority. Jesus does use Psalms 82:6 to contend that it is not blasphemy to use the term "God" of those for whom it is appropriate. But how can this defense against the charge of blasphemy be depicted as a conclusion deduced from that Scripture, as Warfield so hastily assumes? In the Psalm it is God Himself who argees that the term "god" appropriately describes judges. However, Jesus was not being opposed because He raised himself to the level of a god. What the Jews considered blasphemy was His understanding of Himself as God with a capital "G ."26 In effect they are asking why the term "God" is an appropriate description of Jesus, or what is the basis of that insistence. Obviously Jesus cannot use this Psalm, which deals only with the term "god," to ground that claim.
Nor does Jesus attempt to resolve the blasphemy charge by appealing to Scripture. Rather, He uses Psalms 82:6 to strategically refocus the argument on Himself and His original claim that He is the Son of God, Jesus asks, if God Himself called men gods because they were representatives of God, why is it not permissable to apply the title of Cod to Him who is the Word of God?27 Thus everything is made to depend upon whether that "is" applies to Jesus, whether He actually is the Son of God. Precisely because such a confession is in view, Jesus concludes His argument by challenging the Jews, "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works; that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (John 10:37-38). In other words, Jesus attempts to absolve himself of the blasphemy charge solely through the contention that He is the self-revelation of God. Thus Scripture does not function here as a principium. The problem at hand was not immediately solved when Scripture was quoted. Rather Jesus used the Old Testament contextually, allowing it to function within the interpretive and more fundamental perimeters of His self-revelation as the Son of God .28
By elucidating the oversights and distortions in Warfield's exegesis, it becomes evident that the presupposition of foundationalism and not Scripture's own selfwitness is the basis for the inerrantist's eonstrual of the problem of biblical authority. Once this ground is revealed, a more precise and fundamental critique of the various inerrancy defenses is possible. For in many eases the inerrantist's rationale is simply not compatible with the logic of foundationalism. To give but one example, inerrantists frequently attempt to establish that inerrancy is the historic Christian position by quoting church fathers to the effect that the Bible is without error. But are those quotes really to the point? Admittedly, some church fathers did view Scripture as being without error. That specific confession however was a secondary concern; it was not at all connected with-in fact it was incidental to-the certainty of one's salvation or knowledge of God's character. It is only by totally ignoring the distinction between first order and second order doctrines that modern inerrantists can claim support from those church fathers. For modern inerrantists have an entirely different view of Scripture. They argue that it is only because Scripture is inerrant that we have certainty of our salvation and knowledge of God's character; accordingly for them inerrancy is a first order doctrine. If the inerrantists want historical support, they must show not only that the church fathers viewed Scripture as inerrant but more importantly were also foundationalists.29 However, the purpose of this paper is not to instruct the inerrantists in the matter of argumentation. Rather we are attempting to determine whether inerrancy is the most basic issue facing theology as claimed. Having explicated the groundwork of the inerrantist's argument, attention must now be focussed on the viability and plausibility of foundationalism. Accordingly, a critique of foundationalism from various perspectives follows.
Foundationalism Tends Toward a Dead Orthodoxy
The effect of foundationalism on the vitality of Christianity is difficult to ascertain short-term. A disturbing trend, however, becomes apparent when one compares the Reformers with the post-Reformation scholastics. Absent from the Reformers' writings is the characteristic logic of foundationalism. Scripture's authority does not hinge upon such "definitions and devices of men."30 Whether Scripture can be construed as an indubitable and independent principium is beside the point. "God alone is a sufficient witness of Himself in his word..."31 Thus only an act of God within us -that is, the witness of the Holy Spirit producing saving faith by effecting a new life in Christ-can bring about the awareness that God is the real author of Scripture and thus the acknowledgement of its authority. However, as the post-Reformation scholastics became self-conscious of prolegomenous issues, an entirely different base developed: foundationalism. The Bible's authority was no longer understood as being interdependent with the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Rather, the scholastics relegate the certainty and truthfulness of the Spirit's work in salvation to a secondary position within the epistemological context of an inerrant Bible. That is to say, they confide more in the certainty intrinsic to a principium, that human ideal of indubitahility, than the personal and salvific certainty which accompanies the Spirit's witness. Quenstedt clearly admits that Scripture's role as a principium is actually the ground for its salvific efficacy: "Such an opinion [that there are errors in Scripture] vitiates the authenticity and authority of Scripture, and by such an opinion the certainty and assurance of our faith are destroyed."32 Paralleling this depreciation of the existential and soteriologieal reality of revelation was the quick deterioration of post-Reformation theology into a dead and sterile orthodoxy. It is this same predominating emphasis upon abstract epistemological issues among modern inerrantists which is so disturbing. In fact their overconcern with this epistemic construct which ignores the pivotal role the Holy Spirit plays in grounding religious authority may be prophetic." For when a book like The Battle for the Bible is able to precipitate the present crisis, even though it fails to explicate the Spirit's crucial role in founding revelation's authority, is not the reality of the Holy Spirit already at stake? Is not evangelicalism on the threshold of a dead orthodoxy?
Is Foundationalism Compatible with Evangelical Scholarship?
If the foundationalist's thesis is correct-that without Scripture qua principium, there is no solid basis for biblical authority and no sure word for theology-it is absolutely essential that Scripture retain its epistemological role as an indubitable and independent principium. Recognizing that, the scholastics argued for a number of commitments which effectively delimit most critical enterprises by positing theology's principium above any possible destructive attack. The legacy of this rear-guard action, primarily the distrust of historical criticism, is still felt in some evangelical circles.34 However Carl Henry's criticism of Lindsell, namely that lie tends in an uncritical and unhistorical direction which cripples Christian faith by repudiating the historical-critical method as the deadly enemy of orthodoxy, clearly discloses the current state of biblical studies among evangelicals.35 Yet in a sense, Lindsell demonstrates greater insight into the logic of foundatiunalism, even though neither he nor other modern inerrantists have fully come to grips with the fact that without other similarly reactionary commitments their principium is imperiled.
An analysis of the post-Reformation scholastics' view of the Old Testament reveals that the Bible's role as a principium cannot be sustained with simply the denial of higher criticism. Levita's findings nearly a century earlier that the Hebrew vowel points were not Mosaic, with which Luther, Calvin and Zwingli concurred, had established the credibility of textual criticism by the seventeenth century.36 Nevertheless the scholastics generally rejected those findings and the method itself, clinging instead to the authenticity of the Masoretic text. 37 This reaction cannot be dismissed by attributing it to a precritical age. Rather foundationalism was at the heart of their critique. The scholastics perceptively realized that an unpointed text challenged Scripture's status as an indubitable principium, by undermining their certainty with regard to what the Bible teaches. As one such theologian argued,
If the churches permit the devil to establish this hypothesis, will not then all of Scripture become uncertain? But in no way should one admit that the Holy Ghost has placed before us such a dark and exceedingly inarticulately written doctrine about God, when He wanted it written just for this reason, that the doctrine could be clearly understood by the church . . 38
Not only though does uncertainty about the content of Scripture explicitly question its indubitability. In addition, to the degree that the unpointed text is uncertain, no matter how minor the problem, critical deliberations and their incumbent uncertainties usurp Scripture's independence. As a Reformed confession of the period indicates, that was another motivation underlying rejection of textual criticism.
Therefore we can by no means approve , , of those who . . do not scruple at all to remodel a Hebrew reading which they consider unsuitable, and amend it from the Greek Versions of the LXX and others, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Ghaldee Targums ...; and furthermore, they do not acknowledge any other reading to be genuine except that which can be educed by the critical power of the human judgment from the collation of editions with each other. . . Thus they bring the foundation of our faith and its inviolable authority into perilous hazard.39
The point is evident; lower criticism undermines Scripture's role as
and independent principium of theology by denying that the Masoretic
coincides with the original autographs. Insofar as textual criticism
judge of the Bible, Scripture's authority and truthfulness no longer originates
a priori from itself but is inferred. Even more devastating is that
does not bring about a new principium. For the results of any
are only probable, and never attain the apodictie certainty required
by a principium.
Recognizing those dangers, this confession insisted that the
direction of textual
criticism be reversed. To the standard of the Masoretie text "as
to a Lydian
stone, all extant versions, oriental and occidental, ought to be applied, and
wherever they differ, be conformed."40 This is not mentioned
as an emharassing
anachronism but merely to illustrate the seriousness with which these
held that their principium was actually available and present. Obviously that
is indispensable to foundationalism; an actual text must assume this role. How
else can that crucial epistemological link between the foundation of
an inerrant Scripture, and its deduced knowledge be maintained?
Even though these commitments are now recognized as erroneous, the scholastics must be appreciated for their penetrating comprehension of the demands inherent in the logic of their position. Where does one find such incisive reasoning among modern inerrantists? The problems of an unpointed text and lower criticism within the context of foundationalism are ignored. Imserraney is attributed only to the original autographs, not to any existent text. The scholastics realized it would be epistemologically futile to argue on the one hand that an inerrant Bible is the principium of dogmatics, while on the other to locate this principium bevong reach! An episteniie gap remains even when it is argued that textual criticism is able to establish a text which "represents" the no longer existent autographis.41 For these results cannot assume the role of a principium; they are merely probable and not indubitably certain. Consequently, those foundationalists who contend that nonexistent original autographs are alone inerrant are ironically in as much an epistemic impasse as their theological foes! On the other hand, perhaps this acceptance by modern inerrantists of textual criticism should be interpreted as a hopeful sign. Have modern inerrantists recognized
James Packer has offered a promising model for biblical authority and a creative interpretation of inerrancy to correlate with this new context.
that absolute certitude is a human ideal and more appropriate to mathematical
systems or analytic statements than to historical documents or personal truths?
In either ease, their argument for inerraney is overthrown by the
logic of their
Biblical Foundationalism's Internal Difficulties
Even if these problems which arise when Scripture assumes the role of a principium were resolved, difficulties internal to fnundatinnalism apparently remain. What is questionable is the fnundationalist's claim that genuine knowledge is attained only through deduction from a principium. For it seems quite evident that Scripture is actually ton rich a principium from which to derive such knowledge. The number of incompatible interpretations of the content of biblical truth even by inerrantists is simply ton conspicuous. The debate between catastrophic creationists and progressive creationists over a proper understanding of Genesis is but one minor example. The problem is that even when all the proper exegetical methods are correctly applied, questions remain that concern all except the most primary interpretations of Scriptural teaching. One may even appropriately ask whether any interpretation of Scripture is indubitably certain.
This diversity of interpretation presents a recalcitrant obstacle to the foundatinnalist's search for absolutely certain knowledge. The admission that one's principium cannot he indisputably understood in all its respects obviously undermines its indubitability, since one cannot be absolutely certain of an unintelligible truth. In addition, if one's interpretation is problematic, what finally adjudicates between a deduction inferred from interpretation 1 or an alternative conclusion based on interpretation 2? The implications of this hermeneutical problem for foundationalism cannot be brushed aside with the comment that "to criticize an interpretation is one thing-to declare the scriptural text as errant is quite another."42 Both a problematic interpretation and an errant Scripture strike at the heart of foundationalism. In neither instance does Scripture provide us with indubitably certain knowledge. This interpretive predicament is not a modern discovery. It was decisively revealed to the scholastics when their presumptuous yet valid deduction of a Ptnlemaic worldview was abruptly overthrown by the science of the day. Nevertheless, the deductive method remained unchallenged among inerrantists as late as Warfield.43 Only recently have inerrantists seriously attempted to come to grips with this hermeneutical problem. At least two distinctive methods have been proposed to bridge this interpretive gap.
The prevailing theory among inerrantists is falscificationism.44 Although beginning with deduction, it allows the inductive results from Scripture and science to negatively check false exegesis. That is, if a deductive
inference comes into conflict with "assured" data, one knows that it was not properly derived from Scripture. In a view of deductive foundationalism's disregard of the hermeneutical problem, this is a significant advance. However, does falsificationism adequately resolve the problem? A persisting and serious criticism of falsificationism is that conflicting data do not actually function as a negative check on scriptural inferences. The inability of discordant data to conclusively test even the historical knowledge inferred from Scripture is evident from the well-known mental gymnastics in which inerrantists take part, thereby avoiding the conclusion that Scripture errs.45 The manner in which discrepancies confront more interpretive conclusions is even less direct. For instance, both sides of the creation debate presumably acknowledge the same data. However, because each places different interpretive values on the evidence in view of their basic presuppositions, their conceptions of creation are seldom if ever radically modified. While in some instances it may be necessary to set aside conflicting data by introdncing an ancillary hypothesis, it is doubtful whether many inferences from Scripture wil ever be firmly called into question through this method.
Even if one could determine through falsificationism which Scriptural inferences are based on false exegesis, has not one relinquished the foundationalist's goal of genuine knowledge in the process? In other words, are unfalsified inferences as true and as certain as their ground? While that is the deductive foundationalist's goal, it cannot be the falsificationist's. For this method admits that more than one plausible interpretation of a biblical passage is possible. Consequently two unfalsified yet conflicting interpretive inferences are possible. Moreover the coherence of an inference with present data does not ensure that in the future no falsifying observations will arise. An unfalsified inference thus is merely a necessary and not a sufficient condition for being considered as absolutely certain knowledge. That is, while only an nnfalsified inference can be true, it is not necessarily true. There is a possibility that it may he false. Falsificationism is unable to determine which unfalsified inferences are unfalsifiable and thus genuine knowledge. Not only is falsificationism unable to resolve the hermeneutical problem, but it surrenders the fornsdationalist's goal of absolutely certain knowledge in the process.
A second option, adduction, which is beginning to circulate in evangelical circles has been proposed by James Packer.46 As in the previous methods, the Christian theologian begins in conscious submission to Scripture, deriving from it interpretive doctrines. Packer however is more cognizant of the pre-understandings and hermeneutical assumptions underlying this whole procedure. From our analysis and criticism above it is evident that deductive foundationalism and falsificationism fail to decisively confront this whole complex of beliefs through which Scripture is interpreted. Instead of implicitly justifying these preconceptions, Packer contends that all inferences which purportedly are validly derived from Scripture-even those which involve our conception of the nature of Biblical authority and thus those which predetermine our very approach to Scripture-must he challenged:
theological theories, like the theories of natural science, have to he tested by seeing whether they fit all the relevant biblical data. If the data seem not to fit the theory, then the relation between them should be thought of as one of reciprocal interrogation; each calls the other in question. So, if particular texts, despite our exegetical coaxing, still appear to be out of accord with each other in some significant way, or to assert what is untrue, methodologically the first thing we have to do is to reexamine our concepts of biblical authority, and of the hermeneutic which we drew from it.
It would be a potentially serious over-simplification, as it seems to me, to ignore the fact that we may need to go around the one-way system of the exegetical circle very many times, revising our doctrine of Scripture and our hermeneutics again and again in the light of the various queries about both that the different classes of phenomena raise . . . . The truth is that neither our doctrine of Scripture, nor the exegesis can he in a healthy state unless they constantly interact, and each undergoes constant refinement in the light of the others.47
Adduction's advance over the previous options lies in the fact that it does not
perceive the direction from Scripture to inferred knowledge as being
That is, deduced theories are not perceived as being necessarily true; nor are
these inferences only negatively checked at a secondary level as in
Rather, this method involves a hermeneutieal circle which is traveled
in the gradual and sometimes hesitating process of adducing models
Thereby the data are allowed to continually challenge the interpretive theory
and the theory is permitted to constantly rescrutinize the data in
order to properly
How does this method thwart the devastating implications of the hermeneutical problem for biblical foundationalism? That difficult task, it is crucial to note, is side-stepped; for foundationalism is no longer conceived as the proper framework for biblical authority. Adduiction does not conceive religious knowledge as originating from an indubitable foundation through which absolutely certain truths are derived. On the contrary, theological doctrines and even the confession of biblical authority within the context of adduction is more dependent upon Peter's image of an ancient lamp which casts only sufficient light or Paul's insight that see through the glass darkly. For an authority utilizing the hermeneutical circle does not produce indubitable truths, but functions more as a perspective which is continually in the process of approximating the truth.
Corresponding to this new methodological context must he an equally innovative reinterpretation of inerraney, if that term is to be retained at all. No longer can inerrancy be designated as a paramount or first order doctrine with the result that the qualities of Scripture necessarily parallel that of a principium, as is the procedure among biblical foundationalists. Such a conception of inerraney, it has been pointed out above, is dependent upon an underlying foundationalism. That Packer subtly advances a reinterpretation of inerrancy which correlates with the method of adduction should then occasion no surprise. His divergence from the traditional definition is evident from the very fact that he allows this scholastic preconception of Scripture qua principium to be questioned:
If . . . we allowed ourselves to treat a pre-packaged, deep-frozen formula labelled "the evangelical doctrine
of Scripture" as a kind of untouchable sacred cow, we should be showing ourselves more concerned about our own tradition than about God's truth...48
This distinctive attitude becomes more conspicuous through the observation that
Scripture qua priocipium does not ground biblical authority. The artificially
precise standards intrinsic to foundatinnalism are in fact
acknowledged as being
alien to the biblical writings and distorting their true intent. Instead Packer
follows the Reformers' insight, contending that Scripture's authority
upon God's ability to speak through the Bible, whereby' He discloses
brings redemption. The scope and nature of Biblical truth consequently must he
defined in conjuetion with this salvific ground. The meaning of inerrancy thus
is not predetermined in an a priori manner, but is formulated at a
one which is relative to the more primary intent and purpose of
For instance, Packer denies that Scripture can he
manipulated to teach science; that it truly reveals all that is salvifically necessary, however, is affirmed .49 In actual practice the meaning of inerrancy becomes quite elastic and is construed so that it actually fits the phenomena and purpose of God speaking through Scripture. Such a brief analysis can hardly reveal all the subtleties in Packer's proposal; nevertheless his departure from foundationalism is clear. In view of our critique of foundationalism, Packer has offered a promising model for biblical authority and a creative interpretation of inerrancy to correlate with this new context. Surely it deserves more recognition and scrutiny than it has received.50
It is evident that foundationalism does not present a viable model for biblical authority either exegetically, theologically or philosophically. Key inerrantists in fact have implicitly admitted as much through their inadequate responses to those problems intrinsic to a biblical foundationalism. This denial of foundationalism however must he made explicit. Only then can the agenda for the evangelical theologian be directed from the current sterile and futile polemics toward completing this critique and opening up for discussion concepts which our tradition has ignored due to foundationalism's pervasive influence.
1B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, 1949), p. 127, 140; sec also 122-125, 212.
2Robert D. Preas, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism (St. Louis, 1970), p. 342. L. Gausscn, The Inspiration of the Holy Scripture (Chicago, nd.), pp. 5-22, 200204. Warfield, op. cit., pp. 105-226. Edward J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Grand Rapids, 1957), pp. 5-6, 7679, 103-104. Clark H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation (Chicago, 1971), pp. 11, 69-81. Clark H. Pinnock, A Defense of Biblical Infallibility (Nutley, New Jersey, 1967), pp. 1-10. Harold Lindsell The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, 1976), pp. 17-27, 203.
3Calov, Systema, quoted in Prcus, op. cit., p. 343.
4Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids, 1976), pp. 2430. Preus, op. cit., pp. 116, 339-362.
5Aristotle, Posterior Analytics I, 2, 72a 25-72h.
6This seems to be the point of contention between J. Barton Payne and Donald Lake which arose at the December 1977 E.T.S. meeting. See Christianity Today, XXII (January 27, 1978), pp. 39-40.
7Preus, op. cit., p. 343. Preut admits that the scholastics did not derive their standard of truth from Scripture, however he does not realize the extent to which foundationalism influenced those discussions.
8Ibid., p. 346.
9Warfield, op. cit., p. 181.
10"Council Maps 10-Year Push for 'Historic, Verbal' Inerrancy," Eternity, XXVII (November, 1977), 10.
11Young, op. cit., p. 5.
12Pinnock, A Defense of Biblical Infallibility, preface.
13Most modern inerrantists merely assume that inerrancy is biblical. Carl Henry notes that Lindsell contends that inerrancy is Biblical but presents few relevant texts, Carl Henry, "The War of the Word," The New Review of Books and Religion, I (September, 1976), 7.
14Warfield, op. cit., p. 131.
15Ibid., p. 135.
16Ibid,, p. 137.
17Ibid., pp. 156-7.
18Ibid., p. 158.
21Gcorgc Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1974), p. 605.
22Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude as quoted by Klass Runia, "The Authority of Scripture," Calvin Theological Journal, IV (November, 1969), 188.
23Warficld, op. cit., p. 138.
24Robert Watts, "Faith and Inspiration," as quoted from The Corey Lectures for 1884 by Warfield, op. cit., p. 184.
25Warfield, op. cit., p. 140.
26Raymond F. Brown, The Gospel according to John (Garden City, New York, 1966), I, 409410.
28This pericope in fact is a good illustration of the way Jesus and His disciples used Scripture. As this case reveals they do not, as Wartield asserts, "make their appeal indifferently to every part of Scripture Warfield, op. cit., p. 140. For instance, authority is never attributed to the biological, psychological or chronological elements, even though such aspects are repeatedly found in the Old Testament. Bather it is the revelational content of Scripture which is used, and that-it is important to noteis always interpreted within the context of the New Testament revelatory framework, the selfrevelation of God in Jesus Christ. To Jesus and His disciples the Old Testament was the revelation of God and His plan of salvation, and only as such (lid they use it. Runia, op cit., p. 187.
29In addition, the remark found so frequently in the attempts by inerrantists to harmonize Scripture-that it requires an infallible critic to discover an error in Scripture seems out of step with foundationalism. For it is the foundationalist's contention that knowledge can be gathered only from indubitables. Consequently, the pressure is on the inerrantist to demonstrate that his proposed solution to the tension in Scripture is indubitably correct. That is hardly ever the case, which perhaps is what accounts for this extenuating demand. On the other hand, the critic's only obligation is to show that this purported harmony of Scripture is not indubitable.
30Calvin, Institutes, I, vii, 3.
31Ibid., I, vii, 4.
32Quenstedt, Systesna, quoted in Preus, op cit., p. 342.
33This is not true of J. I. Packer; however, as shown below he is not a true inerrantist.
34Preus, op. cit., pp. 355-57. Kurt E. Marquart, Anatomy of an Explosion (Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1977), pp. 112-117. Lindsell, op. cit., pp. 200-11.
35Henry, op cit., Harry Boer, Above the Battle? (Grand Rapids, 1975), pp. 47-50.
36Preus op. cit., pp. 307-308.
37Prcus, op. cit., pp. 306-309. Charles Briggs, Study of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, 1970), pp. 219-226. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids, nd.) 1, pp. 477-481.
38Matthias Flacius, Clacis Scripturae Sacrae as quoted in Gerhard Mater, The End of the Historical-Critical Method. (St. Louis, 1977), pp. 68-9.
39Helvctic Consensus Formula, III, as quoted in John Leith, Creeds of the Churches (Richmond, Virginia, 1973), pp. 310-11.
401bid., 11, p. 310.
4lPinnock, Biblical Revelation, p. 74. John Warwick Montgomery, God's Inerrant Word (Minneapolis, 1973), pp. 35-38, 279.
42Harold Foos, "The Word of God: why inerrancy is paramount," Moody Monthly, (January, 1978), p. 37.
43Warfield, ob. cit., pp. 201-208.
44Roger Nicole, "Review of The Inspiration of Scripture," Gordon Review, (Winter, 1964-65), p. 106. Carl Henry, Contemporary Evangelical Thought, (New York, 1957), p. 272.
45Pinnock, A Defense of Biblical infallibility, p. 19.
46James Packer, "Hermeneutics and Biblical Authority," Themelios, I (Autumn, 1975), pp. 312. The term adduction taken from Arthur F. Holmes, "Ordinary Language Analysis and Theological Method," Evangelical Theological Society, XI (Summer, 1968), pp. 131-138, where a very similar method is offered-denotes that deduction and induction are transcended by a process which involves a hermeneutical circle and concludes with proposals instead of absolutely certain knowledge.
47Packer, op. cit., pp. 7-9.
48Ibid., p. 9.
49ihid., pp. 11-12. James Packer, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, 1972), pp. 94-101.
50It is quite ironic that while Packer's method actually undermines foundationalism and its correlative notion of Scripture as an inerrant principium, he consistently links himself with the inerrantists. In actuality little separates him from such progressive evangelicals as Jack Rogers or G. C. Berkuuwer, who confess the revelatory infallibility of Scripture but deny foundationalism and an inerrancy defined by that perspective.