Inerrancy is a charged topic within Christian circles. Some believe the language of inerrancy to be antiquated and negative conceptually. Others believe that inerrancy is to die for, and to deny inerrancy is tantamount to denying the kerygma or gospel message itself.
Below I will briefly define particular types of inerrantists, and then present my own perspective on inerrancy. You will note that there are three variant perspectives within the inerrantist camp, with some overlap between all three. Here are the three views of inerrancy, as defined by Millard Erickson:
1. Absolute inerrancy holds that the Bible, which includes rather detailed treatment of matters both scientific and historical, is fully true. The impression is conveyed that the biblical writers intended to give considerable amount of exact scientific and historical data. . . .
2. Full inerrancy also holds that the Bible is completely true. While the Bible does not primarily aim to give scientific and historical data, such scientific and historical assertions as it does make are fully true. There is no essential difference between this position and absolute inerrancy in terms of their view of the religious/theological/spiritual message. The understanding of the scientific and historical references is quite different, however. Full inerrancy regards these references as phenomenal; that is, they are reported the way they appear to the human eye. They are not necessarily exact; rather, they are popular descriptions, often involving general references or approximations. Yet they are correct. What they teach is essentially correct in the way they teach it.
3. Limited inerrancy also regards the Bible as inerrant and infallible in its salvific doctrinal references. A sharp distinction is drawn, however, between nonempirical, revealed matters on the one hand, and empirical, natural references on the other. The scientific and historical references in the Bible reflect the understanding current at the time the Bible was written. The Bible writers were subject to the limitations of their time. Revelation and inspiration did not raise the writers above ordinary knowledge. God did not reveal science or history to them. Consequently, the Bible may well contain what we would term errors in these areas. . . . For the purposes for which the Bible was given, however, it is fully truthful and inerrant. (Millard Erickson, “Introducing Christian Doctrine,” 61)
My position is the second one, I am a Full Inerrantist. While the scriptures never intended to teach science or history, they in fact do reflect God’s character (given the doctrine of inspiration II Tim. 3:16); consequently leading to the conclusion that the scriptures tell the truth in all that they communicate, since God cannot lie (cf. Tit. 1:2). Of course, within the “full inerrantist” camp it is important to keep in perspective both the phenomenological and genre specific modes (conditioned both by historico/socio considerations) that the Bible employs in its communique. Furthermore the Bible uses approximations and idiomatic language that needs to be properly understood when approaching this issue.
As far as the formation and history of the dogma surrounding inerrancy, I think most people know that it was a term “coined” during the Fundamentalist controversy that took place in the early to mid-twentieth century. B.B. Warfield, amongst others, was an ardent articulate of this doctrine which was developed to counter the “modernist higher critical” program which was bent on, in many situations, undercutting the veracity and reliablity of the scriptures. Thus leading to the abandoment of the authority of the scriptures, as a pre-modern relic of the “dark ages” and the “ancients.”
It is posited today, by some, that the language of inerrancy was formed in “reaction” to logical positivism and modernist epistemology making the scriptures answer questions (as noted above), and fit molds it was never intended to answer or fit. This may be true, but I do not think that the parlance of inerrancy necessarily needs to imply that the Bible should “perform” like a Math book. Rather as the full inerrancy position asserts, we should be sensitive to the literary types, genres, and forms of the scriptures; which entails a perspective that does not force scripture into doing and saying things that it never intended to do or say (as “absolute inerrancy” leads us to).
Ultimately, my position starts with the idea and a priori assumption that God is an excellent communicator. If the God disclosed in the Bible has chosen to reveal Himself, which He has, then I think it is safe to conclude that He can communicate with full accuracy. Thus leading to the idea that everything that He communicates, in the scriptures, is trustworthy and therefore authoritative (a topic for another post) for life and godliness.
It is my view that the scriptures uniquely bear witness to God’s ultimate revelation to the world, Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 5:39), and that this witness was specially guided and brought to pass by God’s design (cf. Gal. 4:1ff). Again, given the nature and character of God, His special witness (scripture) will be fully accurate and reflective of His character as corrollary (as He superintends both the diclosure of His Logos and Witness to that Logos [Word] in time and space).