Yes to authority, no to inerrancy? – Part 2

Today I am continuing my review of the article written by Dr. James Ayers for Presbyterians Today magazine which addressed some Beliefs about the Bible: Yes to Authority, No to Inerrancy. His article is being used as a jumping off point to discuss whether or not it makes sense to consider the Bible authoritative, but also containing unknown errors. You can read Part 1 here.

In the second paragraph, Dr. Ayers begins:

Inerrancy is a word that points to complete factual accuracy. It is easy to assume this must be the right word to describe Scripture since it is the Word of God and therefore must not have any mistakes in it (Ayers).

Here, I take no exception to what Dr. Ayers has said. If he stopped right here I could have shouted a loud, “Amen!” Dr. Ayers and I are in complete agreement that inerrancy means complete factual accuracy. And, yes, I do believe that because the Scriptures are the Word of God they must not have any mistakes in them. In fact, why would anyone want to assume otherwise if you believe that God is infallible and this is His word? If fact, that would seem to be a contradiction since, by definition, an infallible God could not make a mistake. And who wants to believe in a fallible God?

If you want to argue about the fallibility of the human instruments employed by God in writing Scripture, I would suggest you go re-read Part 1. If you want to argue about the transmission and/or translation of the Scriptures over the centuries, this is not the article for that. I am addressing the original writings – the autographs. The preservation of Scripture and translation process are beyond the scope of what I can cover this week.

Unfortunately, you can probably guess the next word in Dr. Ayers’ article, “but.”

But this reasoning does not quite work, for a couple of reasons:

1. While you can apply the idea of inerrancy to a history quiz, it is hard to see how to apply it to a work of art. An inerrant quiz paper is one in which all the answers are factually accurate. But what would it mean to apply the term inerrancy to a work of art like American Gothic [by artist Grant Wood]? (Ayers, emphasis mine).


What do you think when you look at that painting? Perhaps it is “How determined farmers are, in the midst of life’s adversities!” But it is not “Ah, now I know what this particular couple looked like.” We recognize that a great work of art often “says something” that has little to do with an exact reproduction of “the facts.” It would miss the point to argue for the inerrancy of a masterpiece. (Ayers).

Dr. Ayers has confused his categories here. American Gothic is inerrant if Grant Wood did not make any errors in creating the painting. Is that painting what Mr. Wood intended to paint? If yes, then American Gothic would be considered free from error. What we think about when we look at that painting has no bearing on whether or not the painting is inerrant. Likewise, an atheist’s thoughts when reading the Bible have no bearing on whether or not the Bible is inerrant. We have to try to understand correctly the message that the author, artist, Creator is sending, but that has no impact on the inerrancy.

The poems, songs, parables and sagas of the Bible are literary masterpieces. For example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan: Jesus made up this brief yet poignant story to answer the objection of the lawyer who asked about eternal life. Defending the inerrancy of this story misses the point. The point is to obey the authority of the story (Ayers).

Yes, the poems, songs, parables and sagas of the Bible are literary masterpieces. We should expect nothing less since the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture.

Now, for sake of argument, let us assume that Ayers is correct that the parable of the good Samaritan from John 10:30-37 has errors (i.e. it is not inerrant, to use a confusing double negative). What are the errors? Is the error that Jesus never really told the story? Perhaps it was really told by a Pharisee who was arguing for works righteousness, and we lost the part where Jesus later condemned the story. What if the story really was that it was the Levite who cared for the man and the Samaritan who beat him and robbed him? Once we open the door for the possibility for error, on what basis do we even know what the message of the story is, or if it is true? And if we do not know what the story says or if it is true, why would we obey the authority of the story?

When we follow Ayers line of logic, how do we know which parts of the Bible are true and which are in error? How do we know which sections to obey and which to ignore or reject? Effectively, Ayers is teaching us to obey the authority of the story of the good Samaritan because he likes it and it fits his theology. Ayers, and people like him, are truly the final authority, not Scripture. Is their human reason infallible? No? Well, then why would we trust their ability to determine which parts of the Scripture are to be believed and which are to be rejected. We are better off believing in the Scriptures as Jesus did – as inerrant down to the last stroke of the pen.

Part 3 tomorrow; God willing.


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