March 17, 2007

The Historicity of the Doctrine of Inerrancy

Jeremy Pierce of Parableman has an excellent post refuting the claim that the doctrine of inerrancy was invented in the 19th century as a response to theological liberals. I intend someday to get back to my long-stalled Why Believe the Bible? series, and when I do some of what Jeremy says here will be important for the next post, which is supposed to be on the witness of the Church to the Scripture. My one complaint about this post is that, in a fashion that is unfortunately typical of my fellow Protestants, it jumps through Church history from the New Testament, to Augustine, to Luther and Calvin, as though there was nothing in between. To remedy that briefly, let me add a few additional quotations (these are from David W. Bercot's book, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs):

"These were men who declared things about God and the things of God. They were guided by the Spirit of God ... It would be irrational for us to disbelieve the Spirit from God and to give heed to mere human opinions. For He moved the mouths of the prophets like musical instruments." - Athenagoras 2.132

"I could produce ten thousand Scriptures of which not 'one tittle will pass away' without being fulfilled. For the mouth of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has spoken these things." - Clement of Alexandria, 2.195

"These fathers were furnished with the Spirit, and they were largely honored by the Word Himself. They were similar to instruments of music. For they had the Word always in union with them ... When moved by Him, the prophets spoke what God willed. For they did not speak of their own power. Let there be no mistake about that. Nor did they speak the things that pleased themselves." - Hippolytus, 5.204

"Either [heretics] do not believe that the divine Scriptures were dictated by the Holy Spirit (and are thus infidels), or else they think that they themselves are wiser than the Holy Spirit (which makes them demoniacs)." - Eusebius, quoting Caius, 5.602 [An editorial note is in order on just how strong this claim is - Caius is claiming (1) that thinking anything in the Scripture does not record what God believes to be true is tantamount to denying the doctrine of inspiration, and (2) that anyone who denies the doctrine of inspiration is an 'infidel.']

Of course, these brief quotes don't prove that these are precisely the detailed, considered views of these people, but they certainly contribute usefully to the cumulative case that the doctrine of inerrancy has been around from a very early point in Church history.

Posted by Kenny at March 17, 2007 1:51 PM
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I wasn't trying to give a history of the church's teaching on the subject. I just wanted to show that this view has been held by several important figures whose names I've seen dropped as people who denied inerrancy. The three I listed were the ones I've most often seen this said about.

I did originally hope to include some more figures, though. I wanted someone before Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Wesley. I ran out of time when I was writing it on campus, and then when I got back to it later I decided just to include the few representative figures whose names I'd most commonly seen this said about.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at March 17, 2007 4:32 PM

Very understandable. I just felt the need to remark on it because I see this as being a very common (and very problematic) pattern when present-day Protestants are trying to say that their views are not innovations - they tend to go back and say "look, here it is in the Pauline epsitles, and here it is in Augustine, and here are the reformers" and act as if they've established that this is what Christians have always believed, even though there are challenges to their interpretations of Paul and there were a few centuries of Christians who got along just fine before Augustine. I have no doubt that you are aware that more than that is needed (and you only said you were establishing that it existed before the 19th century, not that everyone had always believed it), I just felt the need to help fill in one of your gaps.

Posted by: Kenny at March 17, 2007 4:44 PM

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