Christians generally hold that the Bible is inspired by God. The notion of inspiration of scripture is old. We see  it in the Bible itself, for example:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (I Timothy 3.15)

And in the writings of the Church Fathers:

You have searched the scriptures, which are true, which were given by the Holy Spirit; you know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them. (I Clement 45.2-3)

There are many these days who will deny that these passages teach anything like the inerrancy of scripture but that instead scripture represent the consensus of the faithful over the space of time.  But this is a rather modern development, at least from a post-reformation perspective.

Chapter 1 of the 1646 Westminster Confession is entitled Of Holy Scriptures. In it we find article 5:

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.  And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the  doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and  assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our  hearts. (http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ 5/8/2010)

During the reformation there was disagreement over the role of tradition and scripture. Even today the Catholic Church looks at tradition as an equal to the revelation found in the scriptures. Subjugating scripture to the traditions of men was a big part of the differences that the Reformers had with the Roman Church of their day.  In our day this has further fragmented into a disagreement among many on interpretation of scripture and just what is meant by inspiration. At this point in history it seems that much of the church is unsure of both tradition and scripture.

Many, perhaps most, Evangelicals will say that Inerrancy is necessary for inspiration to be credible. If there are errors in the Bible how can it be inspired? (Skeptics ask this same question and arrive at a the conclusion that the Bible is not inspired in any sense.*)

Leaving inerrancy aside for the moment, the real question becomes: What is it we actually mean by inspiration? This question is answered in a number of ways by Christians who do not hold to Inerrancy.

Ordinary inspiration holds that the Bible is inspired in the same sort of way that Shakespeare's writings are considered inspired. In this view, the Bible is the result of human genius. It chronicles mankind's search for God. Directed, perhaps, by His inspiration but more likely by fleeting experiences with Him.

Dynamic Inspiration holds that the thoughts expressed in the Bible are thoughts of God but the words are the words of men. Dynamic inspiration allows that the details of the Biblical narrative may not be accurately reported, for instance, the creation story could be the stuff of legend, but the lessons it teaches are from God.

Some hold that there are Degrees of Inspiration. That is, some parts of the Bible are more inspired than others. This can be sort of a combination of the two above. The problem for us, then, is determining which parts are inspired and what sort of inspiration it was. This puts us in a rather awkward position of not knowing what part of the Bible to believe.

These three positions are not necessarily all that different from one another.  All of the above positions leave us in a rather awkward position of having to determine just what part of the Biblical witness we are going to accept. Ordinary inspiration all but removes the divine element from the equation and puts the Bible on the same level as all human literature.  Dynamic inspiration requires us to find the thoughts of God among the noise of human reason.  Something that is not unfamiliar in our daily lives, but leaves us with a shaky notion of the authority of scripture.  And Degrees of inspiration combines the uncertainty of the other two.

Taking inerrancy as an article of faith ends the discussion on dogmatic grounds but is not an acceptable position for many. A typical faith-statement of this sort sounds like this is:

We believe that the Bible is inspired by God in its entirety, and is without error in the original autographs, a complete and final written revelation from God. (http://www.davidhocking.org/beliefs.html 11/14/07)

Because we have no original autographs this statement leaves some wiggle room for the odd issue that we might experience with the Biblical text.  After admitting this it is also important to note that these textural variations are not many and major.  J. I. Packer tells us:

In the New Testament only one word per 1,000 is in any way doubtful, and no point of doctrine is lost when verses not "in better manuscripts" are omitted. (As examples, see Matt. 6:13b, 17:21, 18:11; Mark 9:44, 46, 49, 16:9-20; Luke 23:17; John 5:4; and Acts 8:37.)  Such has been God's "singular care and providence" in preserving his written Word for us (Westminster Confession I. viii). (Christianity Today 4/5/10)

Another important factor to note is the few claim that the Bible is like a legal code that would have to be interpreted so finely as to make the odd textual issue a real problem.  Further the great doctrines of the church are spread through out the Bible.  This being the case even noisy transmission of the text would not effect the final meaning to any great degree which is part of Packer's point.

Inerrancy is not as unreasonable a position as some would like to make it appear. I personally come to Inerrancy as the most comfortable and useful position from which to teach. It removes many fruitless hours of debate and allows us to focus on what is being said in the Bible that we have. In general, the Church says that the Spirit is the ultimate author anyway. Allowing Him to interpret is the key to understanding. Without this individual inspiration the inspiration of the Bible is indeed not clear.

 


 

 *The skeptics are fond of pointing to what they call errors in the Bible and saying that these prove that it could not be inspired. That argument is actually the fallacy of affirming the consequent (sometimes called the converse fallacy): While there may be a causal link from antecedent to consequent the antecedent may not be the only cause. The classical example of this argument is: If it rained last night the sidewalk will be wet. The sidewalk is wet therefore it rained last night.

While it is true that rain could have wet the sidewalk it is not the only possible cause of a wet sidewalk.  All wet sidewalks are not an indication of rain.

In the case of the Bible, a copyist's error could produce an imperfect text but that would not affect the notion of inspiration or even inerrancy as other manuscripts would not have that error.  That is why inerrancy is generally claimed for the original autographs not our current texts.

The conservative Church classifies the skeptics 'errors' as 'errors of interpretation' and sticks to a claim of inerrancy in the original autographs. The liberal Church modifies the claim of inspiration as covered in the rest of this article.

One final note of logic: Abductive reasoning can look very much like affirming the consequent above.  Abduction is a form of guessing but one must always guess with an open mind because your guess may be wrong.  It all boils down to whether the the antecedent P is the only sufficient condition for the consequent Q.  In abduction we generally try to assess how likely it is that P caused Q.

Even from this perspective, the Bible fairs well:

  • The church has long held that the Bible is inspired

  • The Jews hold that the Tanakh (Old Testament) is inspired

  • History and archeology support events in the Biblical narrative

  • The over all story squares with what we observe

  • In the Bible story there are people who get the message and those who do not

These points will not satisfy all critics, just as a Christian would expect.  It is evidence, however, that inspiration is more probable than not.