In my previous posts, I talked about how, although belief may be a risk, it doesn’t have to be blind. Evidence and experience matter.
And so does the authority of Jesus and the Bible. In theology, there’s an extremely important doctrine called inerrancy — the doctrine that the original meaning of the Bible is without error.
One stubborn myth about inerrancy is that it’s a new, Evangelical Protestant, and North American idea. Although inerrancy is found in sources fitting that description, it’s also in sources like Augustine, Aquinas, and Vatican II (chapter III).
Another error, touted by Stanley Grenz and Brian McLaren, ties inerrancy to a theory called strong foundationalism or classical foundationalism. This is an account of how we get knowledge which (nearly) all philosophers these days agree is wrong. (You don’t need to know for the purposes of this post, but, roughly, the general idea is that all evidence must rely on some very small number of beliefs that are warranted independently of other beliefs — like self-evident beliefs and the evidence of our five senses.)
Inerrancy has approximately nothing to do with strong foundationalism.
Those who want to study epistemology — the philosophy of we know stuff — can read my old epistemology article. For the rest of us, here’s the theological upshot.
First, our rational beliefs get evidence, warrant, or rationality in three different ways:
- by means of argument and evidence,
- directly (like how I can see that 1+1=2 even if I don’t have any arguments for it),
- and by their consistency with a system of warranted beliefs.
And, second, theologians who defend the inerrant authority of the Bible have described all three kinds of evidence:
- they give arguments for the Bible’s authority, including one very important argument based on the authority of Jesus;
- they talk about knowing it directly by the testimony of the Holy Spirit;
- and they emphasize the consistency of the Bible with itself and with all the other things we know about the world.
And so what? A good question. If you’re a nerd like me, you might find it interesting in itself. It’s also important to avoid misunderstandings about important doctrines, and Christians would do well to have some idea of how the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy is supported.
For a fuller understanding, of course, you would have to know something about some of those arguments! The argument from Jesus’s authority is especially important.
You can get a good introduction to this argument and the rest of this topic in my article when it comes out later this year in Themelios .