Was Jesus an inerrantist?

People commonly appeal to Jesus’ words in the Gospels as authoritative evidence shoring up their beliefs about the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. If Jesus believed that the Bible was the Word of God, then he believed it was inerrant, and if he believed it was inerrant, it’s inerrant. Q.E.D.

You think I’m special? Get a load of this!

Right?

I’m going to explore this over the next few posts. But before getting to the main questions, in this post I want to make a couple of quick points.

I’m not sure that it matters all that much whether Jesus was an inerrantist. Jesus did not claim exhaustive knowledge. Apparently he thought that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds on earth–that, or he presented a truthful statement in a decidedly reckless and misleading way, which indicates an error in his judgment.

And aside from understandable ignorance about such mundane facts, Luke says he had to grow into wisdom; this is significant because it means that at one stage, he had incomplete wisdom, which for the Jews was anything but trivial. In fact, late into his ministry he’s even recorded to have admitted ignorance about an important aspect of his own mission (“the day or the hour” when he would return and bring the Kingdom). This shouldn’t be troubling to us, but inspiring: Jesus is our model of a man being instructed by God and putting all of his dependence on Him. He wasn’t just a puppet to God’s ventriloquism. We should, then, actually count it a felicity when he didn’t share the mindset and presuppositions of his peers.

The other point I wanted to raise was the obvious point that appealing to the Bible to say, “Jesus affirmed inerrancy,” is begging the question. The best you can hope to demonstrate is that there are passages in the Bible that claim that Jesus affirmed inerrancy–which would not prove inerrancy, since it depends on those passages’ inerrancy!

I don’t have have a problem with saying that anything that is truly a word from God within Scripture is sacred and inviolable. God would not lie. So if, as the bumper sticker says, “God said it,” then “He meant it,” and indeed, “that settles it.” But the point in question is whether God did say everything the biblical authors may have thought He said–or whether they even thought that everything they said was from God. It’s only from a premature and unwarranted assumption of inerrancy and a simplistic understanding of inspiration that we would just proceed as though everything attributed to God in Scripture is actually from God–isn’t that what the discussion is about?

But starting with the next post, we’ll lay those things aside for a little while. Let’s assume that it does matter whether Jesus signed off on the Chicago Statement, and that the circularity of using internal evidence to prove the Bible inerrant isn’t a problem.

Next up: The Bible’s “Word of God” isn’t the Protestant’s “Word of God”

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  • Pseudonym

    I am fairly unimpressed by the circularity argument, which I’ve both come up with and seen many times before. It has some trivial “gotcha” value, but it seems to violate the principle of charity.

    But here’s a slightly different version which, I think, takes the evangelical position a bit more seriously: The Chicago Statement declares that the Bible is inerrant in everything that it affirms. It does not declare that the Bible is inerrant in anything that you think you can infer.

    Look through the list of modern US-style evangelical slogans, like “homosexuality is a choice”, and even “the Bible is inerrant”. The Bible does not actually affirm any of these things. They are arrived at by a process of inference which is inherently imperfect, even if you believe the Bible is perfect. About the only point of culture war dispute which you could argue the Bible affirms is creationism.

    I think this is a more useful approach, because it meets the mainstream evangelical position on its own terms.

  • Thomas

    Looking forward to your future posts on this, Steve.