Linking Inerrrancy and the Resurrection

There is an area of theology where I tend to agree with Christian fundamentalism as opposed to more liberal Christians. I think that if Jesus rose from the dead, then the Bible is inerrant. A major difference is many fundamentalists think that resurrection is evidence for inerrancy (Modus Ponens), where I think errancy is evidence for the fact the resurrection didn’t happen (Modus Tollens). I have some liberal Christian friends who think that the inerrancy doesn’t follow from the resurrection and shouldn’t play into my assessment of the resurrection. I think there are good reasons to side with the fundamentalists on this issue.

A deductive argument for the inerrancy is given below. The argument entails that an error in the Bible is incompatible with the resurrection of Jesus.

  1. If the gospels are reliable in their central claim, Jesus was raised from the dead.
  2. If Jesus was raised from the dead, he was vindicated (marked as a perfect sacrifice and endorsed) by God.
  3. If Jesus was vindicated by God, everything he said and was true.
  4. If everything Jesus said was true, the Old and New Testament are true (Jesus indicated that the Old Testament was true and the New Testament would be true).
  5. If the Old and New Testaments are true, they are not in error about matter of fact (be the facts historical, spiritual, etc.) in other words, inerrant.
I would also add that if God made the effort to inspire an inerrant work as guidance throughout the ages, he would ensure that we would be able to reliably reconstruct that work.

There is the question of should a Christian think that the argument is sound? Given Christianity, is there good reason to believe each of the premises is true? Another way to frame the question is how likely is Christianity to be true if any of the premises are false. I think rejecting any of the premises is very damaging to Christianity.

I don’t know of anyone who disputes the first premise. The same goes for the second premise. If a resurrection doesn’t indicate God’s approval, it is hard to imagine what Christians would regard as approval by God. In support of this, see Acts 17:31. The fifth premise seems to be obvious as well.

The third premise is a little more controversial, but not much more so. A resurrection could only be brought about by God. It seems exceedingly unlikely that God would intervene and bring back to life someone who taught things God didn’t endorse. God vindication of someone who taught errors would imply that God endorses at least some falsehood. If God endorses falsehood, we shouldn’t necessarily belief what God proclaims. That idea seems incompatible with Christianity. Another way to look at this is if Jesus made error regarding things that can be checked, why should we believe him with regard to things that can’t be checked like the requirements for salvation.

The fourth premise is perhaps the most controversial. Some of it is based upon one of the perceived purposes of the incarnation. If God were to be incarnated, it would be expected that he would indicate the path to salvation. If there were literature that was inspired by God that would guide us in the correct path, He would be expected to indicate it.

Greg Koukl also supported the idea that Jesus indicated that the Bible is inerrant here:
More than that, we also see in the person of Jesus, His stamp of approval on virtually the entire Old Testament. He quotes from every section of the Hebrew Bible: the Pentateuch, the Wisdom Literature, the Poetry, the Prophets (both major and minor), the Historical material. He quotes them as if they were authoritative, from God Himself.

In fact, sometimes Jesus refers to the text itself as "God said." Sometimes He says "Scripture says…" sometimes He says "Moses says…" or whatever writer. But clearly, when you examine the words, in His mind those terms are interchangeable.
In addition, the following passages lend support to the idea that Jesus indicated the Old and New Testaments are true.

Matthew 5:18
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

John 17:17
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

II Peter 1:20-22
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

John 14:26
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 16:13
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

I have heard some Christians say that Jesus did endorse parts of the Bible as God’s word, but they didn’t think that his endorsement applied to the entire Bible (particularly the parts with demonstrable errors). However, if Jesus should have indicated what God’s word was, why wouldn’t he have indicated the parts that are not? An omission of this type would indicate that Jesus would have been tolerant of error. His tolerance of error would undermine any salvation message contained in the writings he endorsed.

Another objection is that perhaps Jesus didn't say the things that would indicate he endorsed the Old Testament. Of course if that is the case, the Gospels we have are unreliable, and that undermines the plausibility of anything they claim, like that Jesus was resurrected.

The issue of inerrancy was probably the biggest factor in my realization that Christianity was probably false. When I closely examined several difficult passages, I had no choice but to conclude that they were in error. When I tried to make enough qualifications to the doctrine of inerrancy to sustain it, that made it seem like I was making allowances for my beliefs that I wouldn’t allow Mormons or others to make. In the end I couldn’t maintain my belief in Christianity.

I know that liberal Christians disagree with the argument that I have put together here. In addition, I know some skeptics who don’t think that inerrancy has a significant tie to the resurrection. If you don’t think that belief in inerrancy follows from the resurrection, which premise could a Christian plausibly deny? I ended up agreeing with fundamentalists that one should not simultaneously belief the resurrection happened and the Bible contains errors.

17 comments:

SteveJ said...

> If everything Jesus said was true, the Old and New Testament are true (Jesus indicated that the Old Testament was true and the New Testament would be true).
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Two problems: 1. There were times when Jesus seemed to disagree with the law of Moses. "You have heard that it has been said, but I say to you ..." 2. In the gospels, he never mentions the New Testament Scriptures. There isn't a word anywhere about a coming body of authoritative writings.

BruceA said...

Premise 4 is the obvious one, both for the reasons Steve mentions, and because it doesn't necessarily follow that, if everything Jesus said was true, then everything he said was faithfully recorded.

Bill Curry said...

SteveJ,

Most Christians I know think that Jesus was not disagreeing with the Law of Moses, but the Pharisaic application and additional rules. They think God is the source of the Law and Prophets as well as the New Testament. This is related to the "House Divided" rebuke of Matthew 12:25. The Christian view is God cannot contradict God; hence the Old Testament cannot contradict the New Testament.

The verses I quoted in my post, John 14:26 and John 16:23 are often interpreted as Jesus indicating the Disciples would be supernaturally guided in their recollection and writings. It is very hard to see how New Testament writings have any authority if they had not been pre-validated by Jesus.

BruceA,

I don't see how a Christian could hold to the position that the Gospels didn't reliably report and characterize Jesus' positions. Demonstrable unreliability of the Gospels undermines the primary evidence for belief in the resurrection. In addition, if the Gospel writers give us the wrong impression of Jesus characterization of the Old Testament, wouldn’t it be reasonable to think they mischaracterized what Jesus thinks is required for salvation? I don’t see how that position is tenable for a Christian.

HeIsSailing said...

As a Fundmentalist, I relied on the inerrancy of the Scripture. I think you are pretty spot on with your five premises. I will admit to having the most problem with Number 4. Jesus clearly viewed the Law/Prophets as authoritative. Regarding SteveJ's argument, we viewed Jesus as not disagreeing with the Law, rather expanding on the law to its ultimate conclusion. As the Fulfillment of the Law, he had the authority to do that.
My biggest hangup was with the authority and inerrancy of the New Testament, not the Old. I cannot find a place where the New Testament authenticates itself. So most Christians will trust that inerrancy is implied by Paul's statement that all scripture is 'God Breathed', and that 'scripture' has sort of a retro-active definition. We also trusted that the Gospels were in fact written by eyewitnesses very soon after Jesus died. That's about all we had to rely on.

Anonymous said...

The Bible is infallable and it testifys of the ressurection. Why do you make it seem as if people ignorantly believe the ressurection is true and then that makes the Bible infallable?

BruceA said...

I don't see how a Christian could hold to the position that the Gospels didn't reliably report and characterize Jesus' positions.

That's not exactly what I was saying. It seems obvious to most (non-fundamentalist) readers that each of the four gospels was written by a specific person with a specific agenda. To pull out just one example from each: Mark treats Jesus' messiahship as a grand secret; Matthew tries to show how Jesus' life parallels the entire history of Israel; Luke tries to show that Jesus is equally relevant for both Jews and non-Jews; John presents a more mystical Jesus. Each gospel writer has a particular emphasis, and the words the writer attributes to Jesus supports that emphasis.

And while I'm at it, I'll comment on premise 5: Historically, Christians have believed that the Bible is authoritative in matters of doctrine, but even in ancient times some Christians denied that it was always accurate about history or other matters not related to its central message.

Anonymous said...

So you mean to tell me 4 witnesses to an event have variation in their stories? Wow! I bet that woulden't happen if 4 people witnessed a car accident and reported it.

Bill Curry said...

HeIsSailing,

When I first considered this argument, it was clearer to me that Jesus had endorsed the Law and the Prophets than the New Testament as well. But examining the Old Testament convinced me that Jesus’ endorsement was misplaced. I wrote a post on a difficulty I found in Samuel here if you are interested. Samuel was clearly not speaking for God. If Jesus thought Samuel was, Jesus was wrong.

BruceA,

I guess I don’t understand what you mean by "faithfully recorded." When I was a Christian, I had no problem with the idea that each of the four gospel author emphasized different aspects of the life of Jesus. But just because the authors had different emphasis didn’t imply that they were contradictory. I would have interpreted that each author accurately characterizing some statement made by Jesus. The fact that each author recorded different sentiments would not, in itself, imply any contradiction. Jesus' endorsement of the Law and prophets seems to be echoed throughout the Gospels. When you say "the words the writer attributes to Jesus supports that emphasis." Do you mean to imply that the writer wasn’t accurately conveying Jesus intent?

With regard to premise 5, I know historically Christians have believed a wide variety of things. But do you think it is reasonable to believe that even if the Bible is unreliable where we can check it, it is reliable where we can’t check it? That position would give us no more reason to believe the Bible than any other ancient or religious work.

BruceA said...

Okay, maybe an example will help me explain what I'm saying. Look at an event that is recorded in more than gospel but could have only happened once: Jesus' baptism, for example, or his appearance before Pilate, or Jesus' words from the cross.

Looking at it, it is obvious that each gospel records the event differently. Why? Often the words of each gospel reflect the author's own theology. In Mark, Jesus does not answer Pilate's questions. In John, Jesus answers Pilate by philosophizing about truth.

If Mark is correct, then John put words in Jesus' mouth. That's not to say that John's gospel is false, necessarily, if it conveys a spiritual truth. And, in fact, Christians throughout history have referred to John as a more "spiritual," less historical gospel.

But do you think it is reasonable to believe that even if the Bible is unreliable where we can check it, it is reliable where we can’t check it? That position would give us no more reason to believe the Bible than any other ancient or religious work.

I don't see how that is relevant to the question. You wanted to know which of your five premises Christians could plausibly deny. I say many Christians historically have denied premises 4 and 5.

Shygetz said...

So you mean to tell me 4 witnesses to an event have variation in their stories? Wow! I bet that woulden't happen if 4 people witnessed a car accident and reported it.

That's kinda the point. Unless you are some weird kind of metaphysicist, if one eyewitness says that a green Honda Civic struck a pedestrian and then drove off, and another eyewitness says that a green Toyota Corolla struck the pedestrian, one of them is wrong (or, in other words, errant). Therefore, if you compiled the two accounts into one book, you could not then call that book "inerrant" as it would obviously contain errors.

Bill, while I do not find your arguments to be logically rigorous (i.e. 2 does not necessarily follow 1, 3 does not necessarily follow 2, 4 does not necessarily follow 3), they are inductively compelling. My biggest problem is the argument that you tacked on to the end:

6. If God made the effort to inspire an inerrant work as guidance throughout the ages, he would ensure that we would be able to reliably reconstruct that work.

Most inerrantists that I have interacted with that have given it any thought say that the original manuscript of the books of the Bible are inerrant, not necessarily what we have today. The Christian tradition is full of stories where God gives people what they need to prosper in his eyes, and then stands by and does nothing when they screw it up (e.g. the Garden of Eden, the 15 Commandments, etc., etc.). For him to give mankind the inspired scripture and then stand by while carelessness, petty religious politics, and false teachings ruined His Word would be totally fitting with his character as illustrated in the Old Testament.

Of course, one you throw out 6, the Bible could REALLY say anything, and we wouldn't know. Maybe the Mormons were right all along...

Bill Curry said...

BruceA,

You asked about the relevance of my latest comment. Early in my post I wrote:
I think rejecting any of the premises is very damaging to Christianity.

Look at premise 5 again.

If the Old and New Testaments are true, they are not in error about matter of fact (be the facts historical, spiritual, etc.) in other words, inerrant.

Rejecting this premise concedes that the Old and New Testaments are not necessary correct about historical, scientific, and spiritual facts (even if “true”, which makes no sense to me). As I understand it, the essential doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh is a real historical fact. It happened in our world. I don’t see how the rejection of premise 5 is compatible with a version of a relevant Christianity. (If Christians say that there is no reason to believe what they proclaim, I suppose I don’t object).

Shygetz,

The additional point I tacked on is again to impede the retreat into “the original manuscripts are inerrant, but what we have today is not.” I think I understand the idea God lets people screw up situations, but I think it is different in the case of scripture. Recall Mark 13:31 “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

Doesn’t the belief that the originals were inerrant and were corrupted entail that: 1) God inspired writers to write perfect scripture meant as guidance for all subsequent generations2) God is capable of ensuring the message can be reconstructed (perhaps through multiple copies 3) God allowed his perfect scripture to be corrupted such that it could not be reliably reconstructed. These seem like difficult beliefs to juggle.

Further, if we think God’s message has been corrupted, why should we think it is reliable when it comes to the path to salvation? Further maybe the whole resurrection narrative is a corruption. (I believe this is the Muslim position.) Anyway, this set of beliefs seems extremely damaging to Christianity as well.

I really don’t understand why you would think the argument is not logically rigorous. The argument is essentially:
If A then B
If B then C
If C then D
If D then E

Therefore: If A then E

This is a standard chain of hypothetical syllogisms, and is thus valid and rigorous. The conclusion necessarily follows from the truth of the premises. The question I pose to Christians is: “which premise can they plausibly deny without damaging Christianity?” That is, should Christian’s think the argument is sound?

Now if you mean by “[not] logically rigorous”, at least some premise is likely to be false we can talk about that premise. But that is questioning the soundness of the argument, not its validity. As the argument stands now, it is deductive. It is possible to convert in into an inductive argument by assigning plausibility values to each premise. I have some similar things with my Bayesian assessment of the resurrection.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Arguments about the 'inerrancy' of the Bible are always fascinating to me -- and, in fact, this was the argument that first got me moving towards the 'exit door.'
We don't have 'the Bible.' Even ignoring the many differences in the Greek and Latin manuscripts we do have, for those of us who have 'limited language skills' what we have are different translations into English of 'the Bible.' (Bible Gateway gives 20 different English Translations, and they don't include the Douai-Rheims, Fr. Knox', The New International that the Jehovah's Witnesses use, and many others.)

God did not provide us with a way of knowing which of these translations 'got it right.' And most Fundamentalists argue that it is the King James Version that is the 'right' one, arguing that the others were corrupted by their translators' 'personal agendas.' How many of them know much about the King James whose name appears on their version. That he was a staunch supporter of the 'Divine Right of Kings,' that he was responsible for the last heretic to be burned at the stake in England -- and Baptists should ponder the fate of Thomas Helwys.

And those fundamentalists who would condemn me to hell for my proud bisexuality should consider that the Bible they use bears the name of someone who was, himself, homosexual.

How many can give a solid argument as to why it should be preferred, either over modern translations or earlier English ones? How many can discuss the career and beliefs, or even give the name of one of the actual translators?

But the question of translation is just one problem. Another, of course, is the ratification by current day Christians of the Councils which chose which books were canonical -- and who would differ with both Luther and Calvin in accepting Revelations.

But there is a more important point, worth a separate post

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Bill Curry touched on my point, but I'd like to take it a little further.

A: Either God could 'choose' any time to send his 'Son" and his 'message' to mankind, or else it was necessary that he chose that particular 'point in time.' (Perhaps because these events had to occur before the destruction of the second temple and the dispersal of the Jews.)

If the message could have been delivered at any time, why choose then? Why not wait until the chaos of the barbarian invasions had passed? Why not wait until the message could be preserved more exactly?

But if we argue that the time wa necessary, could not God have 'inspired' some Roman, Greek, or Hebrew to have come up with the idea of printing? Movable type was, perhaps, beyond the technology of the times, but carved woodblock printing was not -- and was being used for imprinting designs on cloth in China before 250 C.E., and for books -- ironically, Buddhist Scriptures -- before 650.

That way hundreds or thousands of identical copies could have been produced, and we would not have had the disputes over the correct wording that we now have.

Such a simple idea, and the only reason it did not happen was that no man of the time came up with it. But God could have given someone the idea, if he existed and had this message for mankind.

Did he want the disputes? Did he not care if people actually heard what he had to say? Or is this not a 'message from God,' but merely humans attributing their own thoughts to the inspiration of a (non-existent) diety?

Shygetz said...

This is a standard chain of hypothetical syllogisms, and is thus valid and rigorous.

You are correct and I misspoke; you premises are insufficiently founded, therefore invalidating the final conclusion. For example, you assert "If Jesus was raised from the dead, he was vindicated (marked as a perfect sacrifice and endorsed) by God." This is not necessarily true; it is possible that Jesus was ressurrected for other reasons. True, it is the majority Christian mythology that he was vindicated by God, but it does not necessarily follow from premise 1. Similarly, the idea that a vindicated Jesus necessarily was completely truthful is not necessarily true. Again, it is majority Christian theology that Christ did only tell the truth, but it does not necessarily follow from the previous premises. The most glaring of the originals is #4; Jesus could not have referred to the New Testament, as it did not exist. There are references to the words of the Holy Spirit being true, but there is no evidence that Paul or the other epistlists were inspired by the Holy Spirit; it could (and has been) argued that they were uninspired, or only partially inspired. Jesus does refer to the validity of the Law, but in the Judaic tradition that only refers to the first five books of the Tanakh (Genesis through Deuteronomy). John 17 does indeed say that God's word is truth, but the question is what is really God's word? Jesus only explicitly mentioned the Torah, not the rest of the OT and certainly not the non-existant NT.

I have issues with the usefulness of Bayesian statistics as it is commonly applied for this sort of thing (as a HIGHLY subjective measure of the rationality of a belief), so I will not attempt to form an inductive argument from your premises.

The additional point I tacked on is again to impede the retreat...

I understand that, but it is insufficient to assert that without foundation. You have not cut that retreat off soundly enough--you merely argue what God should have done, which is weak at best.

Your reference to Mark 13:31 is insufficient, primarily for two reasons. First, what if this verse itself is wrong? Second, the verse only assures us that his words will exist, not that they will be widely and correctly disseminated. So, there may be an ancient, correct manuscript with the words of Jesus. Or, his words may be spread out among incorrect manuscripts, both found and unfound.

1) God inspired writers to write perfect scripture meant as guidance for all subsequent generations2) God is capable of ensuring the message can be reconstructed (perhaps through multiple copies 3) God allowed his perfect scripture to be corrupted such that it could not be reliably reconstructed. These seem like difficult beliefs to juggle.

No more difficult to believe tham 1)God created man to worship him and placed him in a paradise 2)God created the means for man's downfall, and placed it in the same paradise knowing it would lead to his downfall 3)God created a serpent knowing it would tempt man into his downfall, and placed that serpent in paradise with man 4)God eternally punished Adam and all of his descendents for doing something that God knew he would do, set up for him to be able to do, and tempted him to do. The God of the Bible seems to like jerking people around, so giving us his word knowing we would screw it up, and then letting us screw it up and suffer with the consequences seems to be his M.O. Calvin would call it "God's justice".

Further, if we think God’s message has been corrupted, why should we think it is reliable when it comes to the path to salvation? Further maybe the whole resurrection narrative is a corruption. (I believe this is the Muslim position.) Anyway, this set of beliefs seems extremely damaging to Christianity as well.

Here I am in complete agreement with you. The only answer I have gotten about this from non-inerrancy Christians is that they have faith that the core message is intact. Weak tea to me, but it makes them happy.

Oh, and Muslims in glass houses really shouldn't throw stones regarding innerrancy.

BruceA said...

As I understand it, the essential doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh is a real historical fact.

Well, not precisely. The essential traditional doctrine is that Jesus was bodily resurrected, but there has always been some dispute over what exactly this means. It doesn't mean merely the resusciatation of a corpse. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 goes into a lengthy discussion of physical vs. spiritual bodies, and this is the very same passage where he says that the Christian faith is worthless if Jesus was not raised. Paul himself encountered Jesus only in a vision. But that's a whole discussion in itself.

But even granting that it is an essential doctrine for Christians that Jesus was resurrected, that doesn't in any way require us to believe that everything in the Bible must equally historical. I just don't think premise 5 logically follows from 4.

Bill Curry said...

Shygetz,

It seems to me that all the attempts to avoid the conclusion the inerrancy follows from the resurrection remove one from Christian orthodoxy. Take your statement with regard to the resurrection implying vindicationThis not necessarily true; it is possible that Jesus was resurrected for other reasons. Wouldn’t this belief imply that God would have resurrected someone who did not perfectly embody God’s message? I can’t see a mainstream Christian taking that position.

In addition to what I have mentioned in the post, the rejection of premise 4 undermines the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scripture. To obtain authority for the New Testament, Protestants typically appeal to the authority granted to the disciples recorded in John 14 and 16. They typically also infer that Paul was granted the same authority. (This is thin tea for me, but it was what I believed.) If Jesus purpose was not to indicate what writing spoke for God, it is hard to see what authority the Bible has. This presumption would further undermine the authority and reliability of the New Testament. That in turn seems to undermine the reason for belief in the resurrection itself.

I think this applies to you assessment of Mark 13:31 as well. If this verse is wrong, then we have good reason to believe Mark is unreliable. So that gives us less reason to believe that the resurrection happened. If Jesus quote meant something obscure such as His words will exist, not that they will be widely and correctly disseminated. Then I think it is fair to think other quotation of Jesus are likely to be obscure. His words with regard to salvation are likely have meaning not expected. That would leave us with no reliable source for understanding the Gospel. This would seem to toss Sola Scriptura out the window.

BruceA said...

It seems to me that all the attempts to avoid the conclusion the inerrancy follows from the resurrection remove one from Christian orthodoxy.

A more accurate statement would be, "All attempts to avoid the conclusion the inerrancy follows from the resurrection remove one from fundamentalist orthodoxy." Inerrancy has never been a requirement for mainstream Christianity.