Yes to authority, no to inerrancy? – Part 3

Today I am again continuing my evaluation of the idea that we can hold up the Bible as being authoritative while rejecting its inerrancy. My review uses an article written by Dr. James Ayers for Presbyterians Today magazine which addressed some Beliefs about the Bible: Yes to Authority, No to Inerrancy. In case you missed my opening, I am not trying to pick on Dr. Ayers specifically, but using his article merely as a foil for my arguments. For previous sections, you can read Parts 1 and 2.

2. Believing in the inerrancy of Scripture commits us to the factual accuracy of individual texts, while believing in the authority of Scripture presses us to know the message of Scripture as a whole (Ayers).

To the first half of that sentence, I would definitely agree. By definition, if the Scripture is inerrant as a whole then the individual texts are also without error. Without error means without error. Now, if the individual texts are not factually accurate, why believe in them? Why believe in something that is not true, but is false? In fact, if you know something is false, it is impossible to believe in it. Think about that for a moment.

Further, if we really do not know what are the true, inerrant individuals letters of Scripture, we then cannot know the words. If the words are in error, then so are the sentences. If the sentences are in error, then so are the paragraphs. If the paragraphs are in error, then so are the books. How then do we determine the message as a whole?

In order to be inerrant, the factuality of a statement has to be able to stand on its own: “The Battle of Gettysburg took place in 1863” is true or false on its own merits (Ayers).

Actually no. There are several underlying assumptions even in this simple statement. First, there is an assumption about the meaning of each of the individual words. The author and the reader must share a common language for the statement to even make sense. And, this is important, it is the author’s definition of the words and the grammar that are important; not the readers. Secondly, there is an assumption that there was only one battle at Gettysburg. Depending upon the level of historical precision and the definition of “battle”, one could argue that there were multiple battles over the course of 3 days. Finally, the year 1863 assumes the Gregorian calendar. There is always, ALWAYS a context to any statement.

Contrast this with Psalm 103:3 telling us that the Lord “heals all of your diseases.” Or Jesus declaring that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Or the description of final judgment that tells us “all liars” will end up in the lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8). If the term inerrancy can be applied to these statements, then they can stand on their own, and we can believe with confidence that they are the truth (Ayers).

Ayers arguments here sound suspiciously like the serpent in the Garden of Eden when he said to Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?…You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:1). Did God actually say, that he “heals all of your diseases”? Surely God does not heal all of your diseases, does he? Actually, yes, God does heal all of my diseases. All of them! The timing of that healing may be in question, but God is the ultimate source of all healing I experience in this earthly existence. And, I have his sure promises that this broken body will one day be raised again to life everlasting and free of all disease and pain:

He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence (2 Corinthians 4:14).

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power (1 Cor 15:42-43).

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4).

So, Ayers and Satan both want to cast doubt on the sure word of God. I emphatically respond, “Yes, God did say!” So, although Ayers wants to take the snippet from Psalm 103:3 out of its context and make it stand alone, let’s review Psalm 103:3 in more detail and in its immediate context:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy (Psalm 103:2-4).

If Ayers wants to argue that God does not heal all our diseases, does he also want to argue that God does not forgive all our iniquities, does not redeem our lives from the pit, and does not crown us with his steadfast love and mercy? I doubt it. So, again, we must ask – what is his final authority? It is his own reason and his own ideas about what God must be like. He is the ultimate authority on what Scripture can be believed and what can be rejected; what must be read in context and what must be read out of context. Continuing in his article:

Was Jesus sent only to the lost sheep of Israel? Will all liars be cast into the lake of fire? We may want to quibble at this point and say, “Well, you have to view those statements in their context in order to see what they really mean.” If we say that, we have given up on the doctrine of inerrancy: we have conceded that these verses cannot stand on their own, with their plain meaning to be accepted as the truth (Ayers).

This part made me laugh. Consider Ayers use of Matthew 15:24 which reads:

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

Is the plain reading of this text that Jesus was only sent to sheep? You know, the soft, wooly four-legged creatures. That is obviously the plain meaning of this text, right? Jesus came to save the lost, wooly four-legged creatures. That sentence could not be more clear. You see, Ayers does not follow his own prescription for interpreting Scripture, because he understands FROM THE CONTEXT of Matthew 15 and the whole Bible that Jesus was really sent to redeem people and “sheep” is just a figure of speech.

We do not, in the least bit, give up the doctrine of inerrancy by evaluating the context. Just the opposite. We need the context to understand the author’s intent and even determine if there was an error in what they wrote. Take the following statement as an example: “The Cowboys were defeated by the Seminoles.”

We cannot know if that statement is inerrant without knowing the context. Is this referring to a military battle or a college sporting event? If it is University of Wyoming Cowboys versus Florida State University Seminoles, then which sport? Football. What game are we talking about? The 1966 Sun Bowl. Without all of this context we cannot even begin to know if the statement is accurate or in error. For the record, it is in error. The Cowboys defeated the Seminoles 28-20 in the 1966 Sun Bowl.

Hopefully today you have become convinced that arguing for factual accuracy of statements outside of their context is a fool’s errand. This is true not only of the Bible, but of all literature including articles written by Dr. Ayers. Also, hopefully you realize that you cannot understand the message communicated by an author without knowing if the statements are true.

Part 4 tomorrow.

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