“…the books contained within the Bible were written by man, who is fallible and therefore prone to error. Bearing this in mind, it is disingenuous to know that all the chapters in the Bible were written by human hands and insist that the documentations are perfect.”
(Dr. Michael Abrahams, Gleaner, 30/12/19)
I am quite aware that there are many trained theologians/Pastors across the denominational divide and biblical scholars who share Dr. Abrahams’ view quoted above but I want to challenge the logic of the implied maxim “to err is human therefore humans always err”. This is a non sequitur (the therefore part does not follow necessarily from what preceded it We begin with a look at the notion of biblical inspiration.
Inspiration re the Bible, according to Norman Geisler and William Nix “…is that mysterious process by which the divine causality worked through the human prophets without destroying their individual personalities and styles to produce divinely authoritative and inerrant writings.” (In their A General Introduction to the Bible, 1986, p. 39)
Does the Bible suggest anything about its inspiration or is this a construct foisted on the Bible by overly zealous conservative scholars? Lawyer and biblical linguist the late Gleason Archer mentions biblical texts that suggest inspiration cum inerrancy.
Mt. 5:18 is rendered by Archer thus: “For verily I [Christ] say unto you, till Heaven and earth pass, one jot [the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet] or one tittle [a distinguishing projection in Hebrew letters] shall in no wise pass from the Law [the Old Testament], till all be fulfilled. This indicates that not only the thoughts conveyed by Scripture, but also the individual words themselves, as valid vehicles of those thoughts and as spelled out by individual letters, are possessed of infallible truth and will surely find their fulfillment and realization.” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1994, p. 29)
For Archer, the linguist, the description in 2 Tim. 3:16 of all Scripture being theopneustos or God-breathed means “‘breathed out by God’ rather than ‘breathed into by God’. The emphasis is upon the divine origin of the inscripturated revelation itself rather than upon a special quality infused into the words of Scripture.” (Archer, op. cit., p. 29, note 7. See a similar argument in Geisler and Nix op.cit., p. 36 and in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1994, pages 74-75)
The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains seems to concur saying of theopneustos “pertaining to a communication which has been inspired by God.” (Johannes P. Louw & Eugene Nida, Vol. 1, 1989, p. 418)
Concerning 2 Peter 1:21, Archer says: “‘The prophecy [the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures] came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved [carried along, as the wind bears a sailing ship] by the Holy Ghost.’ In their speech (as committed to writing) these Old Testament authors who prophesied of Christ were supernaturally carried into inerrant truth, truth that is not to be subjected to mere ‘private interpretation’ (v. 20)” (Archer, op. cit., p. 30)
It is precisely because humans were involved in the process why some scholars believe it is indefensible if not impossible to make sense of an inspired inerrant Bible.
Thus, the respected textual critic and self-styled agnostic or atheist, Bart Ehrman, says as a result of his graduate studies in Greek and textual criticism: “I began seeing the New Testament as a very human book. The New Testament as we actually have it, I knew, was the product of human hands, the hands of the scribes who transmitted it. Then I began to see that not only the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book.” (In his Misquoting Jesus, 2005, p. 211)
My intellectual father, Lawyer, Theologian and Philosopher Prof. John Warwick Montgomery isolated and chided the heart of this kind of thinking long before Ehrman became popular, when he wrote: “The stark phrase ‘to err is human’ has been repeated so often and so uncritically through the centuries…that it has unjustifiably been raised to the level of a metaphysical principle. But a moment’s reflection will show that, while man frequently errs, he does not err all the time, or in any given case necessarily. The directions for operating my washing machine, for example, are literally infallible: if I do just what they say, the machine will respond…To be human is not necessarily to err, as Jesus surely demonstrated by His incarnate life.” (In his edited work God’s Inerrant Word, 1974, 33, 35)
Years ago Gleason Archer visited Jamaica and I had the honour of interviewing him in our Baptist recording studio. Knowing his penchant for languages I asked him to tell me the languages he had under his belt. He mentioned the first set and named about 8 Ancient Near eastern languages, the 2nd set was another 6, all impinging on biblical issues, not to mention of course he said, the modern languages required for scholarly academic work.
I then popped the million dollar question “Dr. Archer, knowing all that you do from your years of study and teaching at the graduate level do you still believe that the Bible is inerrant?”
Without hesitation he said: “Clinton, I know too much to believe otherwise.” Though not in his league, academically, I share his view. Archer is the author of the respected Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties which deals with most if not all of the issues raised by my Friend Michael as objections to the doctrine of an inerrant Bible.
I have yet to encounter an objection to biblical inerrancy that I cannot refute or clarify!