The Issue of Inerrancy
Can the message of Scripture be inerrant in fulfilling its “purpose” yet be errant in its words? Since the dawn of the Enlightenment philosophy and rationalism have changed the landscape in relation to the nature of the Bible. The philosophy of this period gave birth to the historical-critical methods of hermeneutics and exegesis. The impact on evangelicalism was that the authority of the Bible was questioned. Jones recognized the phenomena well:
“This authority (authority of the Scriptures) was more or less universally accepted until you come to about the middle of the eighteenth century when the movement which goes under the name of “Higher Criticism” began. It started in terms of certain other presuppositions, naturalistic presuppositions, concerning man’s reason, knowledge and science. The attack of the authority of the Scripture began at that point.”
As the authority of the Bible was questioned, then natural result was that its infallibility and its inerrancy were then questioned.
Weariness over this question, according to Venema, has led some scholars such as Pinnock and Farrow to conclude that orthodox views of inerrancy were overstated and inconsistent with the biblical phenomena and thus postulate a new definition of inerrancy called “functional inerrancy.” This new definition has done little to resolve the issue and in some sense made it even more difficult for evangelicals to agree on and clarify the doctrine of Scripture relating to inerrancy.
Kent poses at least nine different approaches to the definition and understanding of inerrancy. As one considers the arguments for functional inerrancy, it would not be out of the question to conclude that the system seems to be motivated more by the desire for common ground among differing evangelicals than gaining a true understanding of inerrancy.
Definition of Inerrancy
The beginning point in understanding functional inerrancy is to first understand the classic orthodox position of biblical inerrancy. Grudem defines biblical inerrancy as follows: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” Hence, the Bible is completely true in all that it says. In the fall of 1978 a large group of evangelical leaders gathered in Chicago, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, to discuss and ultimately defend the inerrancy of the Bible against the influences of liberal theologians. The result of that council was an exhaustive statement on the inerrancy of the Bible that is summarized in five summary statements and followed by nineteen Articles of Affirmation. Grudem’s definition is consistent with the statements especially in relation to its summary statement number 2:
“Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”
However, the ICBI further defines inerrancy in its “verbal” sense which becomes a sticking point for more liberal theologians. In their statement number 4 the ICBI states the following:
“Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”
The orthodox view of inerrancy includes the belief that not only is the Bible true in everything that it says and that nothing it says is contrary to fact (i.e. Grudem) but that the Bible is without error in a verbal sense, meaning, that it is inerrant in all its teaching. Furthermore, this study agrees and will argue that the Bible is “exhaustively” inerrant in that every word and historical detail is without error in the original writings. This view is described as “exhaustive” or “strict” or “formal” by those who espouse a functional inerrancy view, and becomes a major point of departure on this issue.
Summary of the Debate: Functional Inerrancy vs. Biblical Inerrancy
The difficulty or debate between the traditional view versus the functional view of inerrancy centers on the verbal aspect. The difference is between the “strict” or “exhaustive” inerrantists and the more “limited” or “functional” inerrantists. How do these differ? As has been said, traditional inerrancy believes in verbal inerrancy or exhaustive inerrancy as the functional inerrantists call it. The Bible is free from error in every word and detail. In contrast, those who hold to a more functional view of inerrancy state that the Scriptures do not err in fulfilling their function to communicate salvation in Christ and to equip the believer for all aspects of his faith and practice. Therefore, the message of the Bible is effective and without error in its totality, but is potentially errant in words and details.
Scope of this Study
In light of the vast nature of this debate, this study will not be exhaustive. Liberal pre-understanding and the impact of biblical criticism play a role in resolving this debate, but will not be dealt with here. Rather, this study will define the concept of functional inerrancy and expose it as an unbiblical notion of biblical inerrancy by exposing its logical, theological and exegetical fallacies. In doing so, the views and defense of functional inerrancy as posited by Clark Pinnock and Douglas Farrow will be a key source of consideration.
Furthermore, this study accepts and affirms the traditional reform view of inerrancy as outlined by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy as summarized above, and will not purpose to defend it directly, but will compare and contrast it to that of functional inerrancy demonstrating that it is logically, theologically and exegetically sound and must be accepted.
Functional inerrancy is an unbiblical and unacceptable view of biblical inerrancy because it is not logical in its thought about the nature of God nor is it consistent with the Bible’s statements about its own truthfulness. In defending this thesis, this paper will bring to light the logical, theological and exegetical fallacies of functional inerrancy that support this view.
PRESENTATION OF FUNCTIONAL INERRANCY
Logical Fallacies of Functional Inerrancy
It must be restated again that functional inerrantists believe that the Bible is only inerrant in matters of faith and practice and not in an exhaustive verbal sense. The first fallacy of functional inerrancy that must be considered is concerning the very nature of God. The Bible states in Titus 1:2 that God cannot lie and in fact it is impossible for God to lie. The very nature of God is that He is the source of truth. On the positive side 2 Samuel 7:28 records that God’s words are truth, and according to John 17:17 God’s Word is truth and the means by which the believer is sanctified.
The Bible also teaches that the Scriptures are the very product of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul states that all Scripture is “inspired” by God. Thus, the very words of Scripture come from God Himself. If God cannot lie, and God’s words are truth, and the Word of God originates in God, it does not logically follow that the words and details as recorded in Scriptures could be in error. How can God who cannot lie and is the source of truth then produce a message that is functionally effective yet contain some error? Grudem makes a valid logical argument that pertains then to the life of the believer in relation to God’s commands. If we are to be imitators of God as Paul states in Ephesians 5:1, then are we not placed in a moral dilemma if God’s word contains potential errors?
If functional inerrantists believe that Scripture is still the inspired Word of God, yet at certain places God has spoke falsely in lesser matters, do believers not have the same liberty to lie in lesser matters? How do believers determine what is true and what is in error? If the Word of God is truth and is the means of our sanctification, the belief that it could be in error in any respect would go against God’s truthfulness and have negative impact on the standard for our own Christian life. A further implication of this logical fallacy is that if God was in error concerning lesser matters in Scripture, is it then not possible that other more important matters of doctrine in Scripture could not be questioned?
The second logical fallacy concerns the distinction that functional inerrantists make between the “form” and “content” of Scripture. Functional inerrancy as has been stated extends inerrancy to the message and function of Scripture while using errant words to communicate that message. For example, Pinnock posits that the function and purpose of the Scriptures are of paramount importance because while the Scriptures are not flawless, the Bible is not prevented from carrying out its purpose. But, Venema points out that Pinnock, along with Farrow, allow a dichotomy to exist in their thinking. Venema states the following:
“Because in their view of the inspiration of Scripture, this inspiration extends only to the message communicated and to the usefulness of the Scriptural texts to communicate that message, they are quite open to a position which contends that this message may be unfailingly and inerrantly communicated in the form of texts which themselves are “errant.”
How can a truthful message be extracted from untruthful words? And, if this logic were true, what implications does this logic have for the interpreter? For the interpreter of Scripture, the logic of truth from error would pose serious tenuousness in biblical conclusions and applications. Functional inerrantists cannot have their cake and eat it too.
The third logical fallacy deals with a violation of the authority of Scripture. Functional inerrantists again desire to build a case for the authority of the message and messenger but not the words that the message was communicated through. Farrow argues that a more “formal” view of inerrancy, belief that every word and detail is true, can be resolved by looking at the relationship between Christ’s lordship and the authority of the Scriptures. The authority and veracity relate to their service to Christ. He goes on to argue that the “testimony of the Spirit” to the Word is not a testimony to the Scripture as such, but a testimony to the Christ who speaks and is communicated through the scripture. He says that it is a “material” authority and not a “formal” authority. Hence, if we look at the Scriptures through the lens of the lordship of Christ then we will see the Scriptures as authoritative. Therefore, no need exists to prove or hold to an every word every detail inerrancy. Farrow summarizes his view: “For, in any event, we are not concerned so much with the statements or words themselves, but with the realities they are intended to direct us.”
In a certain sense Farrow accuses those holding the orthodox view of inerrancy of approaching the text apart from divine lordship, thus the “formal” view is overemphasized apart from the lordship of Christ. A need for “strict” “exhaustive” or “formal” inerrancy where every word and detail must be true is not the main concern. It is the message and ultimately the authority of the “messenger” that is the issue. Authority is presupposed through a submission to lordship. How can they be one in the same logically? It is illogical to say one can interact with an authoritative messenger and then say that the messenger communicated with errant words and details? A divinely authoritative (truthful) messenger met through a divinely authoritative (truthful) message cannot be communicated through un-authoritative and errant words. The interpreter cannot subject himself to divine lordship through errant words.
Summary of Logical Fallacies
At its heart, functional inerrancy is characterized with logical fallacies. God who is truth and cannot lie could not communicate through errant words and details. Second, functional inerrantists cannot hold to an inerrant message communicated through errant words. How would one measure the degree of accuracy of that message? Third, the functional inerrantists cannot emphasize the “ultimate” encounter with divine lordship through an inerrant message that is communicated through words that may be in error. That messenger and message would be built on a foundation of sinking sand. Next, a look at the functional inerrantist’s tendency to focus on the human aspect of the inscripturation process must be considered.
Biblical criticism has impacted the issue for inerrancy in that it has placed a large amount of attention on the human authors and how their humanness has influenced Scripture. Form criticism posits that information about Jesus was picked up by communities and embellished to meet their specific needs, therefore the gospels do not accurately portray the Jesus of history. Redaction criticism seeks to unfold the editorial work of the human authors that pertain to the theological bias the writer was intending to record. Each put a great deal of emphasis on the humanness of the authors and marginalizes the divinity of the God-inspired word. As has been stated, part of the underlying motivation of those behind a functional inerrancy view is to meet the Bible critics in the middle not holding to an “exhaustive” view of inerrancy but a “functional” view of inerrancy, especially as it relates to the humanity of the Bible.
Pinnock supports this shift in attention to the humanity of the Bible. He states that the Bible claims to be God-given Scripture, but not to be inerrantly dictated. Biblical inerrantists would agree. However, Pinnock goes further and says that the case for biblical inerrancy is not as good as it looks. He brushes aside the logical arguments as deductive arguments from Scripture. He further states that an inductive study of the Scripture does not produce inerrancy either. Biblical inerrantists rely too heavily on the reformed position especially that of Warfield who also depended ultimately on deductive reasonings. Pinnock himself acknowledges that he once held to the biblical inerrancy position but upon examining the biblical evidence today the case for total inerrancy just isn’t there. He ultimately concluded that those who defend a biblical inerrancy are elevating reason over Scripture.
Having removed the logical arguments and dismissing the possibility of inductive evidence, Pinnock shifts to the humanity of the Scripture to support the functional view. Venema organizes Pinnock’s view of this humanity into three categories: 1) accommodation of God to our creaturely-ness, 2) incarnation of the Word to us in the script of the Bible, and 3) human weakness. Scripture comes to us in the form of human weakness and thus the quest for an errorless Bible showing no marks of such weakness but divinely perfect is a fruitless quest. Because of this human weakness, Pinnock would argue that an inerrant Bible could then only be the product of divine dictation. Thus in the mind of the functional inerrantist, the human factor is must be given a larger place of prominence in the study of inerrancy.
The human factor has two theological problems as identified by Venema, one of which will be included here. The employment of a human language in the revelation of God’s grace and will requires an accommodation to a creaturely form which must be per definition, “errant.” This would mean that God is unable to infallibly communicate to His creatures through human language; however, God’s ability to communicate infallibly to Adam and Eve in their pre-fall condition would suggest otherwise. If God could not infallibly communicate through human weakness in relation to communication, how does human weakness impact the infallibility of the death of Christ on our behalf? If God cannot infallibly communicate through human language due to human weakness, could Jesus have been fully human yet without sin?
To argue that biblical inerrancy falls short when considering the human process of inscripturation would be to place oneself on a slippery slope of God’s ability to work through His creatures in general and more specifically through the Savior. The theology of the humanity of the inscripturation process is an important one and cannot be fully detailed here. However, it is important to highlight that functional inerrantists are giving much more attention to this element to aid their argument. This treatment has at a minimum exposed this fallacy, an aspect of its motivation, and also an important consideration of its logic. The exegetical fallacies of functional inerrantists will help shed more light on the humanity issue.
Functional inerrantists claim that biblical inerrancy is forced logic deduced from Scripture and not induced from Scripture. Douglas Farrow is a proponent of functional inerrancy and acknowledges that a consideration of scriptural passages is warranted in this discussion. The two most important passages to consider include 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21.
2 Timothy 3:16 is one of the most important texts in the inerrancy debate. 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The crux of this passage relating to the inerrancy debate lies in the word “inspired” or “qeo,pneustoj.” Farrow interprets this word “God-breathed” not as origin of God’s words but one of being taught by the wisdom of God. This interpretation fits in more with the context of the passage that sees all Scripture as profitable. Therefore, the function of the Word in its salvific ability is what is meant by God-breathed and not its origin which would point to its divine nature and inerrancy.
The classic view of biblical inerrantists is that “inspired” or qeo,pneustoj means “God-breathed” or “breathed out by God.” This translation points to the origin of the words of Scripture, literally the breath of God and relates to the production of authoritative Scriptures. It is not correct to interpret “inspired” as God energizing His Word or being taught by the wisdom of God but rather to interpret it as the production of God. God is the author of Scripture. Consider Feinberg’s summary of Warfield’s work on this interpretive issue:
“Warfield, whose exhaustive and often bypassed analysis has not been matched, has concluded after a thorough examination of eighty-six words ending in toj and compounded with qeo.j that qeo,pneustoj has nothing to do with inspiring, but relates to the production of sacred, authoritative Scripture.”
Farrow believes that if this interpretation is true then God places His words directly into the mouths of his spokesmen. Farrow posits that Warfield was drawing this conclusion. Scripture certainly speaks of times when God did communicate through divine dictation, but “inspired” refers to the product of God, the Scriptures themselves that are actively breathed out by God and not the process of being taught by the wisdom of God. Therefore, in relation to 2 Timothy 3:16, the Bible inductively speaks of the Scripture being the divine words of God. If Scripture is God’s words then deductively it can be said that they are without error or true in an exhaustive since. Functional inerrancy rests on improper exegetical conclusions of 2 Timothy 3:16. Inspiration, properly interpreted, teaches that Scripture is the product of God and not the process of being taught the wisdom of God.
The second passage of prominence is 2 Peter 1:19-21. Farrow agrees with work of the Spirit in overseeing those who spoke to insure the divine goal was met. But Farrow does not believe the passage teaches “how the Spirit” carried along those who spoke under God’s inspiration and certainly the conclusion could not be drawn that the interpretation of the text require direct spiration of every word of the text. However, it seems clear from the passage itself that the process of how the Spirit worked through the men. Verse 21 speaks directly to the process. First, the process is highlighted by a negative idea that Scripture was not made by an act of human will. The verse clearly speaks of activity in that Scripture was not an “act” of the human will. However, the verse then teaches that men were “moved by the Holy Spirit” or were driven to speak and utter the message of the Spirit. The Spirit “impelled” the prophets to speak the words of God. Therefore those men who were impelled by the Spirit were certainly recording the words of God and while no direct claim is made that every word is spirated, certainly the Spirit’s ministry through the men speaking guaranteed a divinely authoritative and truthful message without error. Venema agrees stating the following: “At the very least it describes a special work of the Spirit in the production of the prophetic writings, such that these writings bear the authority and reliability of the divine Author.” God communicated His divine words through the mind and mouth of human men as they were driven along or “impelled” by the Holy Spirit. This process guaranteed divine transmission of the words of God to insure their authority and reliability.
In summary, 2 Timothy 3:16 and also 2 Peter 1:19-21 are key passages in the inerrancydebate. 2 Timothy speaks of the Word of God as a “divine” product originating with God; and 2 Peter 1 speaks of the Holy Spirit’s work to impel men to speak this God originated message. While these passages do not say that the Scriptures are inerrant, the inductive fruit of this interpretation surely supports the deductive conclusion that God’s Word is inerrant in all that it says including the words and details. If one can deduce the theological position of the Trinity through inductive study of the Scripture, surely one can accept the deductive truth of the inerrancy of the Scriptures through an inductive study of appropriate passages. Functional inerrancy rests, at least from Farrow’s vantage point, on exegetical fallacies of interpretation potentially plagued by a functional pre-understanding.
Functional inerrancy is an unacceptable view of biblical inerrancy because it is not logical in its thought about the nature of God nor is it consistent with the Bible’s statements about its own truthfulness. This proposition has been defended by looking at the logical, theological, and exegetical fallacies of functional inerrancy. Functional inerrancy has been motivated in part by an attempt to bridge the gap between conservative and liberal evangelicals. The Scriptures are not just inerrant in their purpose and effectiveness, but are inerrant in a verbal plenary sense. At the conclusion of Warfield’s study on qeo,pneustoj he makes the following conclusion with which this study will close: “What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.”
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 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing, 1994), 90.
 Carl F. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Tx.: Word Books, 1979), 211-219. A complete copy of this statement can be found here.
 Paul D. Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy, edited by Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), 294.
 Venema, 82.
 Ibid., 81.
 Clark H. Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, Cal.: Harper & Row, 1984), 55.
 Venema, 118.
 Douglas Farrow, The Word of Truth and Disputes about Words (Winona Lake, Ind.: Carpenter Books, 1987), 48.
 Farrow, 80-81.
 Pinnock, 104.
 Ibid., 57.
 Pinnock does not offer any exegetical insight into the matter in The Scripture Principle.
 Ibid., 58.
 Ibid., 99.
 Venema, 141.
 Ibid., 142.
 Venema, 95.
 Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy, edited by Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), 278.
 Farrow, 91.
 George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 446.
 Farrow, 100.
 Venema, 127.
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 9:57-58. The pass. is also used of the prophets who spoke as they were φερόμενοι “impelled” by the Holy Ghost.
 Ibid., 127.
 B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, Penn.: P & R, 1984), 296.