1.It’s fashionable in some quarters to say the inerrancy of Scripture dies the death of a thousand qualifications. Critics insinuate that conservative Christians pile on ad hoc qualifications to shield the Bible from falsification.
However, there’s a basic problem with this allegation. The concept of inerrancy is obviously bound up with the concept of truth. What makes a statement a true statement? For example, what makes a statement about a historical event true?
The problem is truth is not self-defining. There are competing theories of truth. And theories of truth are bound up with other issues, like competing theories of meaning.
By the same token, inerrancy is not self-defining. If truth is not self-defining, then neither is inerrancy.
Inerrancy needs to be defined. It’s not as if there’s a ready-made definition of inerrancy which conservative Christians proceed to load down with additional, ad hoc qualifications.
These are not extraneous qualifications. Rather, these figure in the definition itself. Otherwise, you have no operating definition.
And, of course, unbelievers have their own definition of inerrancy. They, too, determine what feeds into the definition.
2.So what makes a historical statement true? There are at least three elements:
i) The statement must bear a certain relation to the event it describes.
But a statement is also a form of communication. As such:
ii) The statement must also bear a certain relation to the intent of the speaker or writer. What was he trying to convey? What did he mean to say?
iii) Likewise, the statement must also bear a certain relation to the audience. What expectations feed into their construal of the statement? What makes it meaningful to them?
These are complicated issues. Any definition of inerrancy which tries to be reasonably complete is bound to provide a number of conditions under which a statement is true or false.
Any definition will have to do something like this. We might disagree on the conditions, but there’s no simple way to define inerrancy.
3.Critics of inerrancy single out the allegedly suspect the motives of the inerrantist. According to them, the inerrantist is guilty of special pleading. He’s trying to rig the definition of inerrancy to shield the Bible from falsification.
But one of the problems with that accusation is that it cuts both ways. We could just as well say the critic is trying to define inerrancy in a way that makes it easy for him to falsify the Bible. It’s a set-up.
As such, the critic of inerrancy would be well-advised to refrain from impugning the motives of the inerrantist.
If he thinks the inerrantist is guilty of rigging the definition, then he needs to specify what, exactly, is wrong with the definition.