Friday, July 24, 2015

Is inerrancy an Enlightenment construct?

Critics of inerrancy often claim that inerrancy is an "Enlightenment" construct. Supposedly, Christians before the Enlightenment didn't espouse the inerrancy of Scripture.

I've never see critics who make this historical claim bother to document their claim. Rather, it seems to be a postmodernist trope. Inerrancy is associated with a modernist view of truth. Modernism is equated with the Enlightenment. That's the slack reasoning. 

It's striking to compare their claim with this recent book:

Matthias Henze (ed.)
A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.
This is a very useful volume about Jewish interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles. The introductory chapter by James Kugel describes the origins of biblical interpretation in post-exilic Israel. Interestingly enough he points out that all biblical interpreters, despite their diversity, shared four basic tenets: (1) The Bible is a cryptic document that needs to be explained; (2) The Bible is a book of  instruction; (3) The Bible is perfectly consistent and free of error or contradiction; and (4) Every word of Scripture comes from God. 


  1. The multiple OT appeals to prior revelation, and the multiple NT appeals to OT revelation would seem to count as weighty evidence against this charge.

    It is written...

  2. The argument is so stupid, the concept of inerrancy was developed in order to counter the criticism of the bible that developed because of the enlightenment, the reason it didn't exist before is because inerrancy was ASSUMED among Christians

  3. Clement of Rome wrote, "Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them." (First Clement, 45) Justin Martyr commented that "I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another" (Dialogue With Trypho, 65). Irenaeus thought that "all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent" (Against Heresies, 2:28:3). Tertullian commented, "The statements, however, of holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth." (A Treatise On The Soul, 21) Many other examples could be cited: Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation To The Heathen, 9); Methodius (From The Discourse On The Resurrection, 1:9); Gregory Nazianzen (Oration 2:105); etc.

    J.N.D. Kelly summarized:

    "This attitude was fairly widespread, and although some of the fathers elaborated it more than others, their general view was that Scripture was not only exempt from error but contained nothing that was superfluous." (Early Christian Doctrines [New York: Continuum, 2003], 61)

  4. Here are some of the comments of Augustine:

    "For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error." (Letter 82:1:3)

    "As regards our writings, which are not a rule of faith or practice, but only a help to edification, we may suppose that they contain some things falling short of the truth in obscure and recondite matters, and that these mistakes may or may not be corrected in subsequent treatises. For we are of those of whom the apostle says: 'And if you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.' Such writings are read with the right of judgment, and without any obligation to believe. In order to leave room for such profitable discussions of difficult questions, there is a distinct boundary line separating all productions subsequent to apostolic times from the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the successions of bishops and the extension of the Church, and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind. If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood. In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. In other books the reader may form his own opinion, and perhaps, from not understanding the writer, may differ from him, and may pronounce in favor of what pleases him, or against what he dislikes. In such cases, a man is at liberty to withhold his belief, unless there is some clear demonstration or some canonical authority to show that the doctrine or statement either must or may be true. But in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist." (Reply To Faustus The Manichaean, 11:5)