Biblical Inerrancy II: Straw Men
Christ absolutely trusted the Bible; and though there are in it things inexplicable and intricate that have puzzled me so much, I am going, not in a blind sense, but reverently, to trust the Book because of Him.
-Bishop H.C.G. Moule
The previous post addressed the aspects of scripture that are often confused with inerrancy: inspiration, authority, interpretation, and importance. As we look at the “straw men” used to attack inerrancy, we will see that the confused elements are often intentionally confused.
[For those unfamiliar with the term “straw man”, it is a case where one party falsely restates the position of the other party in order to easily attack it. An example in the political arena of a straw man would be as follows:
Mr. Lib - “We are losing the war in
Mr. Con – “You want to tell the troops that we should cut and run – don’t you think that is cowardly?”
Mr. Lib – “How dare you call me unpatriotic! What ever happened to freedom of speech? I thought you conservatives believed in liberty – but only when it’s your side, right?”
Here, Mr. Lib has committed the fallacy of the “straw man”, where he accuses Con of attacking his patriotism. He does so because it is easier to defend against someone who is calling one’s patriotism into question than it is to explain how an immediate pullout of
Back to the matter at hand.
Straw Man #1: “If you believe in inerrancy, you are a literalist/ you believe it all literally”
This is an intentional confusion of inerrancy and interpretation. It is very easy to discredit someone who believes that every word of the Bible is to be interpreted literally – that person would have to hold that when Jesus says “I am the bread of life” that Jesus actually was made of bread. Such a thought is simply ridiculous, which is why opponents of inerrancy often throw around the term “literalist” or “literal”. However, there is no person who has ever espoused such an interpretation, and even if they did, it is an interpretation of the words, not a value statement of the inerrancy of the entire scriptures. Words mean something, and inerrancy is not interpretation – and especially not a caricature of an interpretation that no one holds.
Straw Man #2: “If you believe that God only speaks through the Bible, then you are denying that God speaks through the Holy Spirit or personal experiences or creation itself”
Another intentional confusion of terms. Holding to an inerrant text of Holy Scripture is not tantamount to denying anything else of any kind. The subject of inerrancy of Scripture is limited to the very subject it clearly is about – the Scriptures. The presence, reliability and authority of other methods that God uses to speak to people are not at issue. I will discuss the ways that God reveals himself to humanity in the post after next to explore this subject in more detail. For this straw man, it is false because it is confusing the issue of authority with inerrancy and is introducing subjects that are not part of the issue at hand.
Straw Man #3: “You think the Bible is a science textbook”
Perhaps the single greatest reason this is a fallacy is that it is a lie. Like the false claim that inerrantists are literalists, no inerrantist is claiming that the Bible is a science textbook. Once again, opponents are intentionally creating a confusion of terms to make inerrantists look like idiots. Whether scientific facts are present or absent and what relation they have to science are matters of authority and interpretation, not inerrancy. Inerrancy does impact the issue potentially – because an inerrant book cannot contradict a known truth. However, believing that there are no conflicts between scientific facts and events described in scripture is a long way from thinking the Bible is a science (or math, or engineering, etc.) textbook. We’ll discuss some of these apparent conflicts later in the series.
Straw Man #4: “You think the Bible is a step-by-step rulebook for life”
This is a curious attack, for it is not even related to inerrancy, authority, inspiration or importance. It is an attack upon an application of Scripture, which is why it is a fallacy. There may be some who apply the Bible in this fashion – but I have never met them. Claiming that the Scriptures are inerrant will affect one’s application (after authority, interpretation and importance are determined), but to state that a belief in inerrancy is equal to a specific and very restricted application is an intentional deception and a straw man.
Straw Man #5: “You worship a book.”
A tedious straw man. Again, I have never met someone who worshipped the Bible instead of Christ. Inerrantists are in agreement with some non-inerrantists that the Bible is a witness to the One we worship. The matter of disagreement for these two groups who agree here is not who is worshipped, but the inerrancy of Scripture. As we will see in an upcoming post, the line of division between inerrantists and non-inerrantists creates room for great disagreement in other areas, too – but the issue of the worship of a book is not one of them, because no one is doing it!
Now that we have dispensed with unintentional confusions and intentional straw man attacks against inerrancy, we will move forward in the next post, “Inerrancy Defined”, where I will define inerrancy and demonstrate the scriptural and historical support for the doctrine of inerrancy. Following that, we will discuss the different ways that God communicates with people in “Revelations, General and Special”, and then the alternate views of Scripture that exist without a belief in inerrancy, before finishing up with a defense of the need for this doctrine.