Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Inerrancy and the enlightenment

One popular line of attack on the inerrancy of Scripture is the oft-repeated claim that the very concept of inerrancy is a product of the Enlightenment. A concept of truth that only developed during or after the Enlightenment. I've never seen people who say this document their claim. It seems to be a thirdhand claim that began in Philosophy 101 courses on postmodernism, then seeped into theological literature. From there it gets repeated time and over by people who don't bother to trace the claim or check the facts.

I'd simply point out that attacks on the inerrancy of Scripture antedate the Enlightenment by centuries. Take pagans like Celsus (2C) and Porphyry (3-4C), or the medieval Muslim polemicist Ibn Hazm (11C). It would be grossly anachronistic to say they were operating with an Enlightenment or post-Enlightenment concept of truth.


  1. Perhaps this is a careless confusion of the refinement of inerrancy with the arrival of belief in inerrancy (which mirrors the error some make by saying the Trinity was a novel concept, imposed by Nicea, etc.); or maybe it has reference to viewing the Scripture as a source of knowledge instead of a source of religious experience.

    As you've noted, history shows that inerrancy was believed before the Enlightenment.

    As for hostile sources, I've seen reference to Mark Massa's Charles Augustus Briggs and the Crisis of Historical Criticism, but I've never bothered to track it down.

  2. BTW, on a related note, this book serves as a historical corrective (among other things) to the idea that the Bible is only inerrant in matters pertaining to faith and practice but not history or science.

  3. I listened to a lecture by Alister McGrath a few months ago in which he claimed that inerrancy is an American invention from the 19th century. Where do they come up with this stuff?

  4. I remember in seminary (Columbia International University, Columbia, S.C. - 1983-1988), we had to read ( in 1987) an excellent chapter (chapter 7) on this issue by John Woodbridge in the book, Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon; edited by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge. (Zondervan Academic, 1986)