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Don Stewart :: Does Inerrancy Exclude All Matters Scientific and Historical? (Limited Inerrancy)

Don Stewart

Does inerrancy extend to all matters scientific and historical? Some people do not believe so. They teach that a person can accept the biblical teaching about God, heaven, hell, salvation, etc. without accepting the statements the Bible makes concerning historical or scientific matters. This view is known variously as "revelational inerrancy," "dynamic inspiration," or "limited inerrancy."

Scriptures Are To Make Us Wise Unto Salvation

Those who hold this view often emphasize that the purpose of Scripture is to make one "wise unto salvation," or give unbelievers, "wisdom unto salvation." Paul wrote.

And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

Consequently the incidental details of the events that are recorded in Scripture may or may not have happened. The important thing is that the message of salvation from sin comes across - not whether or not certain historical details actually occurred.

Is Limited Inerrancy An Option?

Is this an option? According to many, it is proper to make the distinction between the theological and historical statements. But the Bible makes no such distinction. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that all Scripture is breathed out by God.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Scripture Assumes That All Events Recorded Actually Occurred

The Scripture makes it clear that all the events it records literally occurred. For example, the New Testament saying the following things about certain events recorded in the Old Testament.

Noah

Eight people were saved in the ark when the Genesis flood occurred.

In which also he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water (1 Peter 3:20).

Peter also wrote.

And did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5).

Abraham

Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils from his victory to Melchizedek.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace (Hebrews 7:1,2).

Jacob

Jacob gave a field to Joseph.

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph (John 4:5).

Esau

Esau sold his birthright.

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Hebrews 12:16-17).

The People Of Israel Passed Through The Red Sea

The people of Israel actually passed through the Red Sea.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11)

Rahab Received The Spies From Israel

Rahab the prostitute received two spies from Israel.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? (James 2:25).

Observations On These Passages

This list is only representative concerning how the New Testament views events that were recorded in the Old Testament. It does not include the various confirmations of the Old Testament and its details by the Lord Jesus. However from these passages we find that the New Testament writers, like Jesus, believed these events, with all their details, actually occurred. They make no distinction between the sacred parts of Scripture and the historical and scientific parts.

There Is No Evidence Of A Limited Inerrancy

Consequently Scripture gives no evidence that its authority is limited in any way. There is no hint that any of the biblical statements, whether historical or theological, should be questioned. To make such a distinction is neither needful nor helpful. The inerrancy of Scripture does extend to all matters scientific and historic. Evidence is lacking in the statements of Scripture for the notion that the Word is a product of a division of labor - God working with the writers on doctrinal matters while leaving the biblical writers to their own fallible wisdom on historical and scientific matters.

There Are Other Important Purposes In Scripture

Furthermore, the fact that the relationship between God and humanity is the main concern of Scripture does not comment, one way or another, about the Bible's truthfulness in areas of history and science. Other passages do this. These passages make it clear that all parts of Scripture are the true words of God.

The fact that the purpose of Scripture is to make its readers "wise unto salvation" certainly does not exclude it from being inerrant.

In addition, while the main purpose of Scripture may be to bring the message of salvation to its readers this does not mean that there are no other important purposes. In short, the main concern of Scripture is not the only concern.

There Would Be No Basis Of Authority

There is more. If the biblical writers were mistaken in their historical, geographical and scientific references then why, one might ask, should their statements in the theological realm be trusted? It is meaningless to assert that the biblical writers made errors in history, science, and geography, but were kept error-free when they recorded statements in the theological realm (heaven, hell, salvation, etc.). We may rightly ask, "In what sense is the Bible divinely inspired?"

Therefore The Scripture Must Always Be Correct

The Bible must be correct on things that can be verified. While it is not a textbook on history, the historical references must be accurate. While the Bible is not a textbook on science its statements of a scientific nature must be accurate. If the Bible cannot be trusted in areas in which it can be verified, then why should we trust it in areas, that by definition, cannot be verified? Jesus said.

I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:12)

We Are Reversing Roles With God With A Limited Inerrancy

Another problem with this point of view is to determine exactly which statements are divinely inspired and which are not. The questions that immediately arise are these: Who decides what is true? How can one differentiate between facts and teaching? How can one separate the essential message of the teaching of the Bible from the background in which it is presented? There is certainly no such distinction recognized in Scripture itself. Whoever does this sets themself above the Bible and reverses roles with God.

Therefore the doctrine of limited inerrancy causes more problems than it solves.

Summary

The doctrine of limited inerrancy believes that inerrancy does not extend to matters historical and scientific - only theological statements are error-free. The purpose of the Bible is to make its readers "wise unto salvation" not to be an historically accurate record in every detail it presents.

This position cannot be justified biblically. Scripture treats all its events as literally occurring. In addition, there is no hint that the insignificant details recorded did not actually take place. All Scripture is assumed to be correct in everything that it says.

Furthermore the main concern of Scripture, to bring salvation to its readers, is not the only concern of Scripture. The Bible testifies that it also reveals the true words of God to humanity in every place that it records God speaking. This includes the direct words of God, the words of the prophets, or the historical details recorded in Scripture.

The position of limited inerrancy also causes more problems that it solves. There must be some standard to determine what passages are theological and which are merely historical or scientific. Who will determine the standard?

Some may argue that the Bible can survive even if a small number of errors are found in it. However this may be the start of a downhill slide that will logically end in unbelief. Every part of the Bible will become suspect. Limited inerrancy is not a sufficient answer to the question of inerrancy.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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