In Matthew’s account of Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went after dawn to see Jesus’ sepulchre. In Mark’s account of Easter, Mary Magdalene, “Mary the mother of Joses” and Salome bought spices with which to annoint the body. In Luke’s account of Easter, Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women went to the tomb. In John’s account of Easter, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone.
Now I note these small differences in accounts because they relate to an important issue and an important word — “inerrancy.” Of course, inerrancy is a perfectly good word and an appropriate word to apply to the Scriptures when properly understood. However, the misuse and abuse of this word has caused immeasurable damage in Baptist life. Careers and lives have been ruined by the misuse and abuse of this word. The misuse and abuse of this word can be credited with sundering the Southern Baptist Convention. The misuse and misapplication of this word prompted Mercer University to sever its relationship with the Georgia Baptist Convention. Again, “inerrancy” is an appropriate word to apply to the Scriptures when properly understood. However, when Shorter University adopted a new “Statement of Faith,” that began with this declaration, “We believe the Bible . . . is the inerrant and infallible Word of God,” I could not help but wonder if those who penned that declaration really understood what the term meant.
Some people have a clear understanding of what inerrancy means. Years ago, Adrian Rogers, one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, said that inerrancy means “the Bible is truth without mixture of error historically, philosophically, scientifically and theologically.” Conservative scholar Paul Feinberg said that inerrancy means that “when all of the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be without error in all that they affirm to the degree of precision intended, whether that affirmation relates to doctrine, history, science, geography, geology, etc.” Give these gentlemen their due: they were at least crystal clear in their definitions of inerrancy. But they were making claims about the Bible that the Bible does not make for itself.
The Bible never claims to be a history book. It certainly contains history – a lot of history, in fact – but the Bible’s history concerns the history of God’s interaction with humanity, the implementation of God’s redemptive plan, and the revelation of God’s nature as provided by Christ. The Bible does not offer a chronicle of historical events in the same way an account of the American Civil War is a history book. The Bible’s history is the presentation of salvation history. The Bible never claims to be philosophy book. It certainly contains philosophy – the book of Ecclesiastes, for example, has been hailed as one of the most complex and incisive philosophical statements ever penned. But the Bible’s purpose is not to articulate any particular philosophy. The Bible never claims to be a science book. The Bible makes but one statement about creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Scriptures are crucially adamant in asserting WHO brought creation into being. The Scriptures have no interest in asserting HOW creation came into being.
The writers of Scripture had no interest in relating their assertions to the findings of geology or geography – they didn’t even know such disciplines existed. If you don’t believe me, compare Genesis 1 with Genesis 2.
In the creation account of Genesis, chapter one, God creates everything in the world, then creates humanity last. In Genesis, chapter two, God creates humanity first, then creates the remainder of the natural order. The brilliant editor who blended these two accounts into one sacred text was fully aware of the discrepancies in the accounts – but he did not care! He was not offering a scientific explanation for how creation came to be; he was simply offering the fundamental theological observation that all reality owes its life to and roots in God. When one tries to turn the Bible into a scientific text, one misuses God’s word.
You might be wondering, ‘Dr. Kremer, why does it matter? Why even bring this topic to the fore?’ Because it matters how you use the Bible. I don’t want one young person to surrender his/ her faith because they think some scientist had made some discovery that seems to contradict and undermine the Bible. I don’t want one scientist to feel like he or she must put his or her brain on ice because their research contradicts some concocted scientific notion derived from the Bible. Yet such things actually happen. While I was pastoring in Rome, Georgia, a science professor at Shorter was forced to leave his faculty post because the school’s administration had mandated to him what theories concerning creation he ought to teach – even though they offered no empirical data to support their claims. Why would administrators with no scientific training be trying to teach a scientist how to teach science? Because, they thought of the Bible as a scientific text that reveals the age of the earth as six thousand years old. The administrators were asking this scientist to ignore reams of evidence to the contrary. The administrators of that institution wanted him to teach science that comported with their preconceived notions of what the truth ought to be. Again, when you try to turn the Bible into a science book, you misuse God’s Word and do damage to its intended integrity.
Why do people try to regard the Bible as a science text or a philosophy book or a history book? It is because they hold to a particular view of Biblical inspiration, a perspective that says the Bible came into being through plenary verbal inspiration. In layman’s terms, the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration says, “God said it, and humanity wrote it down.” Incidentally, that is exactly how Muslims view the Koran as having come into being – God said it, humanity wrote it down. And there are passages in our Bible that validate this notion of plenary verbal inspiration. For example, God dictated to Moses the Ten Commandments, and Moses faithfully wrote them down. But think of Psalm 16. God would have to be pretty egotistical to be dictating to David, “Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever!” Can you imagine God dictating unto David in Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Surely God is not so insecure and conceited as to bother dictating words of praise about Himself and expecting us to write them down? Do you think David was taking dictation when he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”? No: he was expressing the impact of God’s reality upon his soul, and he was trying to convey to the rest of us, ‘You, too, can have this relationship with the divine.’ Was David inspired by the Spirit of God as he wrote? Absolutely! But David was not serving as a stenographer. He was speaking out of his experience of God to share a testimony that could benefit us all.
Think about Paul Feinberg’s assertion that the Bible is inerrant in its original autographs. Feinberg is a Biblical scholar, and he knows as well as I do such a statement is intellectually dishonest. There are no original Scriptural autographs. There is no original Biblical manuscript hidden away in some dusty Israelite cave. The Bible came into being over the span of centuries, originating in a variety of cultures and tongues. Much of what we call the Old Testament was preserved orally – orally! – passed on from holy servant to holy servant for generations, long before its holy words were committed to print. The Bible came into being in sundry places, recorded in a variety of languages, composed over a variety of eras. There are no original autographs of the Biblical manuscripts, and to assert the existence of such documents is intellectually dishonest.
So, when the Shorter University statement of faith declares, “We believe in the inerrant and infallible Word of God,” is that true? Yes. Absolutely! When the Bible is talking about the nature of God, our Bible is infallible and inerrant. When the Bible is revealing the nature of divine redemption, the Bible is infallible and inerrant. When the Bible is presenting the revelation of God in Christ and how we can access the redemptive work of Jesus, our Scriptures are infallible and inerrant. The Bible is not a book about geology or geography – it is a book about redemption and our appropriation of it. Like many of you, I attended many a Vacation Bible School assembly where we offered a pledge to the Bible. Why did we do that? Because we understood that our Bible offered us accurate information about the nature of God and the nature of God’s redemptive action in the world and the mission and mercy of Christ and the Kingdom of God. We didn’t take a pledge to the Bible because we want to learn from its words about geology or geography.
Think about the four Biblical versions of the resurrection. There is not a lot of difference among them as to who goes to the tomb: Matthew says “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,” Mark says, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses and Salome.” Luke adds the name of Joanna to the list. John mentions only Mary Magdalene. But who meets the women there? Matthew says an angel met them inside the tomb. Mark mentions no angel, but speaks of a young man dressed in a white robe. Luke says that no, two men dressed in dazzling apparel were there to greet them. John testifies that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone, the only one who met her there was the resurrected Jesus.
You might say, ‘Dr. Kremer, what do these slight differences in detail matter? What matters is that all testify to the fact that the tomb was empty. All four testify to the fact that God the Father raised God the Son from the dead to a glorious newness of life.’ That is exactly right! But that is exactly my point! If God was dictating an account of the resurrection to stenographers, God would not be varying the details. God wouldn’t be providing four different writers with four different accounts. No! The four Gospels came into being because each writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, drew upon their own unique experiences, their own unique sources and influences and data to present their own singular presentation of the ministry of Jesus Christ. But ultimately, the small differences in their account are really of no account. What matters is that all four accounts testify that God is a God of resurrection power who is capable of raising not only his Son to newness of life but desires to elevate us all into such a manner of living. On that fundamental truth about God and the universe, the Scriptures are absolutely infallible and inerrant.
I invite you to conduct your own Biblical investigations. Notice the differences in detail, even with regard to the same event. For example, in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s slave, the centurion himself comes to Jesus to ask for healing help. In Luke’s version of the same healing, Jewish elders come to Jesus on behalf of the centurion to intercede with regard to his slave. What really mattered to the centurion’s slave is that Jesus had compassion on him and healed him. According to Mark, Jesus is leaving Jericho when he encounters blind Bartimaeus and gives him sight. In Luke’s account, Jesus is entering Jericho when he encounters blind Bartimaeus. All that mattered to blind Bartimaeus was that Jesus had compassion him and gave him his sight! What really matters to us is the Bible’s testimony that Jesus has compassion on us and can bestow upon us a Spirit that can redeem us and heal us in our need.
The Bible is a book about redemption. Simply put, the Bible is a book that tells us about God and God’s intent for us. Moreover, the Bible never claims perfection for its words. The Bible claims perfection only for the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh is presented in the Scriptures as perfect. And we can embrace the Bible’s presentation of this Word made flesh as inerrant and infallible. And so, even now I can with integrity say those words that I uttered often as a youngster at Vacation Bible School: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart, that I might not sin against God.” That’s the Scripture’s purpose and power. When we are not sure how to go forward in our lives, the Word is a light. When we are uncertain as to what path to take, the Word is a lamp. When our spirits are disconsolate, the Word is a salve unto us our souls. And always, the Word is a word of redemption. On that score we can embrace the Word, the Word written and the Word made flesh with certitude, as inerrant and infallible.