Pardon the tedious in this post.
I have a friend from Louisiana who lives in West Virginia.
And I also have some different views on inerrancy and infallibility than most evangelicals.
Moreover, I am fairly sure I have irritated my friend with my views on the topic because they more or less redefine the concepts.
Take the beginning of my post title, for example. That number is a specific reference to the beginning of the book of Numbers, where the Lord instructs Israel to number the children of Israel by their clans and by their families, and to get a tally of their resources. Now the numbering of these resources is a post all to itself for another time.
But the number itself is fairly precise.
And there are a number of critics of inerrancy that like to push the debate on inerrancy/infallibility to places it was not designed to go.
For example, “if that number–603,550–is off by even one, then the number isn’t exact, which constitutes an error, and thus the argument for Scriptural inerrancy falls apart.”
Or, “you forgot to include women and children, therefore you are pushing a repressive, patriarchal agenda”.
While I do not attempt to address every concern in the debate with one post, I propose–hopefully, with some measure of humility–to address better definitions of both inerrancy and infallibility that are based on a particular shade of meaning found in the words’ roots.
Errors and Failures or Fallacies
The root of “inerrant” seems to be “err”, whether that is an erring of judgment or an erring of direction or purpose.
The root of “infallible” seems to be “fail”, whether that is a failing in terms of failures or a failing in terms of fallacies (cut the 14 different ways that students of logic like to cut it).
Thus I define inerrancy as “the incapacity of Scripture to provide us with bad judgment and causing us to err in discerning God’s and our directions or understanding God’s and our purposes”
And for “infallibility”, “the incapacity of Scripture to provide us with counsel that is fallacious or leads to our ultimate failure.”
I’d say the issue with “erring” and both senses of the word “fail” is one of motive. Was it intentional on the Father’s part, that we ultimately make errors in judgment, and thus fail in life?
Given redemption is the heart of the gospel, does it make sense that the Father would intend that for us, erring and failures? If we are going to assert these books are our sacred texts, and thus authoritative, then does it make sense that we assert that the Author meant for that to happen to us?
If we are going to be part of Jesus’ plan of redemption, does it benefit him or the Father if we fail or end up in a place of futility.
I don’t think so.
Therefore, is it possible that we have hinged our debate on the details of Scripture rather than in the character of the one about whom they speak?
In my view, it is better to discuss inerrancy or infallibility from the position of whether or not God intends us to err and fail, rather than asking if all the bricks make the building that we think they are supposed to make.
God never means for us to fail.
We often like to repeat that the Bible is the Word of God in church, but often times we forget to include in the same breath that Jesus is the Word of God. And that is to our detriment. Our basis for faith in the Scriptures is the character and nature of the God described in the Scriptures. They have to work together, because the voice of the Lord is what helps us understand the Scriptures, and the testimony of Scripture is what helps us understand the nature and character of God.
True, lots of bloodshed did happen in the Old Testament. However, did you see that the bloodshed was executed because of rebellion and sin? And further, did you see that God doesn’t enjoy roasting us over the coals in hell? He does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, especially the ungodly. The judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah came because of the distress call that went up to the Lord.
These judgments were ultimately executed because of the redemptive nature of God. Because he is concerned with the redemption not just of humanity, but also all of creation, he will discipline and judge those people and attitudes that willingly choose to defile time, land, individuals, communities, and offices.
God’s plan does not include gleeful torture. Our foolishness leads us to accuse him of that. He does not revel in the separation from one of his kids anymore than we revel in our separation from our source.
If we get that point nailed and set in our hearts, then we can trust him not to let us err and fail. He also will not provide us with writings that err or fail.
He will also provide us the gifts of the Spirit and the gifts of our design that help us along the way.
Our job is to first follow Him with the assertion that the best God we can conceive of is the God who redeems. He fixes and makes things right. He will take care of us, if we let him. And He will take care of the jots and tittles.
Pardon the tedious in this post.