Saturday, July 12, 2008

John Murray on necessary inerrancy

In reading John Murray's article "Inspiration and Inerrancy" (Collected Writings of John Murray 4: Studies in Theology, p. 25) I came across a helpful rejoinder to a recent criticism over the presumptive nature of inerrancy. Here's the criticism (from The Divine Spiration of Scripture):
The basic error of the inerrantists is to insist that the inerrancy of the autographa is a direct implication of the biblical doctrine of inspiration (or divine spiration). In order to defend this implication, the inerrantists make an unwarranted assumption about God. The assumption is that, given the nature and character of God, the only kind of Scripture he could 'breathe out' was Scripture that is textually inerrant. If there was even one mistake in the autographa, then God cannot have been the author, because he is incapable of error.

Notice, the argument is not that God, being all powerful, is able to deliver a perfectly autographic text. On that matter there is no disagreement between us, since I am happy to affirm God's sovereign power. Rather the argument of the inerrantists is that God is unable to produce anything other than an inerrant autographic text. In other words, I agree with the inerrantists that God could have brought into being inerrant autographic texts, had he chosen to do so, but I reject their argument that he must have acted in this way. (p. 113-4)

Perhaps the most striking problem with the rationalistic implication concerning inerrancy is that it limits God. It assumes that God can only act in a way that conforms to our expectations, based on our human assessment of his character. It assumes that whatever God does must conform to the canons of human reason...In opposition to these inerrantist assumptions, we must surely argue that God is free to act according to his will. (p. 118)
And here is John Murray's analysis of the issue:
To predicate verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture is the same as to speak of its inerrancy. Something cannot be infallible if it contains error of judgement or representation.

We are not to suppose that some syllogism as the following:

God's Word is inerrant
The Bible is God's Word
Therefore the Bible is inerrant

is necessarily a priori and arbitrary, or that it involves our imposing upon Scripture preconceived canons and determines beforehand what is possible or impossible for God. The syllogism is based upon certain presuppositions which are derived from the Scripture, respecting God, the Bible, and God's Word. The fundamental presupposition of the syllogism is that God is truth and that he cannot lie. Who is to say that such a great tenet is arbitrarily a priori?

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