Thursday, July 5, 2012

Inerrancy and the Early Church

Before leaving the subject of Bibliology in general and inerrancy in particular, it is best to see what the early church taught regarding this issue. Many have argued that the debate over inerrancy is a new phenomena and does not reflect the view of the church throughout history. Though it is true that on one hand it is a recent debate (dating to about the Enlightenment) but that is only because the question of Scripture's truthfullness and inerrancy was not debated until the rise of modernism.

To show that the truthfulness of Scripture has been the predominate view of the church throughout her history, I turn to Dr. Greg Allison's helpful book Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. In his volume, Allison argues that there were two ways in which the early church understood the Bible's truthfulness.

First, the affirmatiosn of Scripture correspond to reality. That is, the Bible recounts the stories of people who really lived, it relates events that actually tpook place, it rehearses the works of God as they were performed hsitorically, and so forth (100). To prove his point, he begins by quoting Tertullian who noted, "The statements of Holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth." ("A Treatise on the Soul"). Likewise, Origen criticized heretical views that the biblical writers were tellers of tall tales. Origen argued, Allison says, that it would be quite strange for the authors of Scripture to present all of the shameful and embarassing acts . . .unless their accounts portrayed the actual facts. (100).

Secondly, truthfulness means Scripture does not contradict Scripture. (100) Theophilus argued that "all the prophets spoke harmoniously and in agreement with one another." ("To Autolycus") Irenaeus, too, emphasized that "All Scripture, which as been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent." ("Against Heresies)

I would add here, and Allison does not go in this direction, the important issue of the canonization of Scripture. The early Christians had a view of Scripture similar to that of their Jewish counterparts (a point that Allison does make here) and when debating the question of the New Testament canon, it was understood that anything that is Scriptural cannot contradict anything that is already considered biblical. Marcion conveniently rejected the entire Old Testament and most of what we call the New Testament. The early church responded by affirming all 39 books of the Old Testament and then affirmed only books in the New that were consistent and harmonious with other Scriptures. This can only happen if the early church had a basic belief in the truthfulness of Scripture.

Allison goes on to show, and I will not expand on it here, that the early church were aware of some of the common biblical difficulties like grammatical errors, etc. And in dealing with such texts, the early church affirms what sounds like a modern articulation of inerrancy.*

This is all to say that when looking at the evidence of church history, even beyond the early church (which is highlighted here), it is clear that the church has historically affirmed that Scripture is true and it is without error. Thus the so-called first inerrantists (some say it the Princetonians or others before them) did not articulate a view that did not predate them by thousands of years. Scripture affirms its truthfulness and so has the church.


* Arnobius wrote, "You accuse our writings of having disgraceful blemishes. However, do not your most perfect and wonderful books contain these grammatical errors as well?" ("Against the Heathen")


Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 4
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 5
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 6
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 7
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 8  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 9
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 10

For more on Erickson:
Blogizomai - Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man
Blogizomai - Wherefore Art Thou Theological Giants?
Blogizomai - On Special Revelation: Dreams, Visions, Theophanies, and the Word of God 
Blogizomai - Is Hell Real?: The Difference Between Emergent Agnostic Doctrine & Orthodoxy
Blogizomai - Condemnation But No Justification: The Purpose of General Revelation
Blogizomai - The Reservoir & Conduit of Divine Truth: Carl FH Henry on Revelation
Blogizomai - Where is the Gospel? Charles Hodge & the Insufficiency of Natural Theology 
Blogizomai - Exegetical Theology or Theological Exegesis?: DeYoung on the Both/And
Blogizomai - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed: The Authority Question - Part 2
Blogizoami - Grudem on the Problems With Denying Inerrancy

For more:
Blogizomai - The Gospel and the Story of Everything
Blogizomai - Repost Friday | What the Book of Galatians Taught Me About Politics: The Importance of Freedom, Personal Responsibility, and Community
Theology - "God's Word in Human Words": Full Series
Theology - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
Theology - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
Theology - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3
Theology - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4
Theology - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 5
Theology - John MacArthur and the Authority of Scripture  
Blogizomai - The Book of the Prophet Habakkuk
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