God is good and is worthy of our praise.
You know, this seemed to me like an appropriate place to start, even though this is a phrase that is considered somewhat of a cliché by many these days. However, if we don't begin with a confession of who God is, then we will be tempted to look for some other starting point in our study of his word. We might be tempted to look for some greater authority than God himself as seen through his written revelation to us, and so that is why I say once again that God is good and is worthy of our praise. I also begin with this confession because it is very applicable to what we are going to consider.
The subject at hand is something I am very passionate about – the study of the nature of God's word. Now what do I mean when I speak of the nature of the Bible? Well, when the Bible speaks about itself it makes some rather impressive claims. It claims to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of our creator. These are remarkable claims, and if they are true, then we have a very remarkable masterpiece from God right here in our hands – wouldn't you agree?
You may have heard it said in your church that the Bible should be the ultimate authority in our lives. I agree with this completely, and feel it is something we should all try to understand and embrace. At the same time, however, I have found no topic which I have studied for to be a greater challenge than that of the nature of the Bible. After all there are many more learned and scholarly individuals than I who have devoted much of their lives to studying this very thing, and yet can't seem to come to consensus on this subject.
Two basic views on the inerrancy of scripture
There are those who feel, as I do, that the Bible is an amazing masterpiece that God himself has inspired. We feel that the Bible is inerrant in the original autographs, that is, the original documents which were penned by those who God inspired. We believe, furthermore, that God himself has providentially maintained his written word since its inception, despite the fact that he has seen fit to use fallible human beings as the means to translate, organize, and duplicate it. We furthermore believe that the meaning and intent found in those original documents still persists today in the various translations we call "the Bible", despite the existence of minor errors that may have been introduced along the way.
On the other hand, there are those Christians who believe that the Bible, although practical for guidance in many areas, is merely a collection of the writings of ancient men who (at the time) were simply sharing their own ideas as to what God meant to them. From their perspective, there was no divine inspiration, neither has there been divine guidance as it has been duplicated. Because of this, it contains historical, geographical, and scientific errors, meaning that it is "errant" rather than "inerrant". According to these individuals, this does not mean the Bible is entirely worthless; rather it means that the scripture needs to be interpreted in light of what modern scholarship has determined to be real and true. Rather than being the ultimate authority in the lives of these men and women, it becomes simply another document which ultimately bows its head to the greater authority of man's collective wisdom.
There are no doubt other perspectives of the Bible that fall somewhere in between.
Given this diversity of opinion, it should be no surprise that answering the question of the true nature of scripture is a challenging undertaking. It is, however, a topic of extreme importance to us if what the Bible says about itself is true.
Why do I believe the Bible to be such a remarkable masterpiece? Simply because I believe that the Bible is just what it claims to be; the inerrant, inspired, authoritative word of our Creator. You may have a different opinion than this, and it is for this reason that I am writing this. Your view of the Bible will have a great bearing on your understanding and acceptance of what you hear in your church, if your church preaches from it. Your view of the Bible will in fact determine how you view yourself, how you view the world you live in, and how you view God himself.
So I will stress this once again. If the Bible is true, it is crucial for each of us to come to terms with what it is saying. If the Bible is really the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God, then we had better be confident in how we feel about those claims.
So why should we believe the Bible is inspired? Why should we believe it is authoritative? Why should we believe it is inerrant? We can actually answer all three of the questions by answering the last; the question of inerrancy. After all, since the Bible itself claims to be inspired, and since the Bible itself claims to be authoritative, if it turns out to be inerrant then those claims of inspiration and authority that are found within it are obviously true.
So that's the question before us - why believe that God's word is the masterpiece it claims to be? Why believe that the Bible is inerrant?
How to answer the question?
Let's consider first how we might go about answering this question. To put this in context, let me share with you what I was taught as a young Christian. Perhaps some of you heard this very statement when you were growing up:
"We believe the Bible is inerrant because God tells us this in the Bible"
Now, we should hardly be surprised when such reasoning as this doesn't convince many that the Bible is what it claims to be. After all, a mere claim to divine revelation isn't reason to believe the text in question is of divine origin. Consider just how many books have been written that make this claim! They can't all be inerrant, as they contradict each other.
For that matter, consider how many people there are wandering around the streets of most major cities who claim to be Jesus Christ himself! Do we simply accept their claims? No, a mere claim to divine revelation cannot establish a text as divine in origin, anymore than a mere claim to being divine can establish one as being God.
So it almost sounds as if we need to look outside of scripture for reasons to believe that the Bible is what it claims to be. As a matter of fact, many Christian apologists do just that. Over the years, many have presented arguments based on historical evidence, arguments based on evidence about the universe around us, geological and archeological arguments, and even arguments based on "pure reason" in an effort to establish God's word as divine in origin and therefore inerrant. They have appealed to something outside of the Bible in order to prove the Bible is God's own revelation.
I believe this is entirely the wrong approach.
You recall earlier we stated that the Bible claims to be our ultimate authority. Because of this, there is a fundamental problem with looking outside the Bible for reasons to believe the Bible is inerrant.
The problem resides in looking at something other than the Bible as a way to establish the ultimate authority of scripture. How could one ever hope to succeed at this? Presenting an argument for the ultimate authority of the Bible based on something outside the Bible is a contradictory notion.
Why? Because whatever that standard is outside of the Bible which establishes the Bible as our "ultimate" authority would end up being more ultimate and more authoritative that the Bible itself! Appealing to something outside of scripture would demonstrate that the claims of scripture itself need to be verified against whatever that standard is in order to be believed. That means this standard that is appealed to in order to validate scripture, whether historical, archeological, or whatever then becomes more ultimate than the Bible. That standard is what is ultimately used to weigh the claims of the Bible in order to see whether they are true. Thus the Bible is no longer ultimate, as it is subordinate to this other standard.
Only one way to validate scripture
So what are our options as Christians when confronted with the question of Biblical inerrancy? As we have already seen we can't simply appeal to a mere claim of authority found in the Bible, as any book can make that sort of claim. We also can't appeal to anything outside the Bible either, as that would disprove the very thing we are trying to establish, that the Bible is the ultimate standard.
In order to demonstrate that the Bible is what it claims to be, there is only one thing we can do – appeal to the Bible itself as a whole. We must look beyond the mere claims of authority in the Bible, while nonetheless still looking in the Bible. There must be something else found in the Bible, beyond a mere claim of authority, that can prove to us that the Bible is authoritative.
Now I am painfully aware that what I am suggesting here is not going to be acceptable to those who don't already claim to be believers in the Bible to at least some degree. It will still be seen as assuming the truth of that which I am trying to demonstrate – something known in logic as "circular reasoning".
But here's what I ask of you – bear with me over the next few days and weeks as we work through this. Allow me to assume that the Bible is true just for the sake of argument (after all, unless you can objectively demonstrate it is false, then you have to admit it might possibly be true), in order to demonstrate to you why it must be true. And when we get to the end, I promise I will have an answer for those who don't want to assume, even for the sake of argument, that the Bible is true.