Is the Christian doctrine of inerrancy derived from circular reasoning?

I pondered this quite some time ago and have no shame is presenting my own uncertainties to an audience.  Inerrancy as I understand it can be summed up as: everything the Bible asserts to be true, is true.  Of course this gets to the heart of the post.  Inerrancy, at least on the surface, appears to have been derived from circular reasoning based on a set of presumptions.  Even if true this does not mean the Bible is not inerrant or the Word of God, only that its defense as such is based on loose tautologies.

When I think of what might be considered a conflict I don’t include discrepancies in numbers, quantities, ages, years, etc.  Given the nature of the Hebrew language and the characters used to represent numbers are often very similar to the point where they are nearly identical.  Also what appear to be discrepancies in accounts of events can be explained by matters of perspective and intended emphasis.  No, the discrepancies which are of any real concern are those with theological consequences.

The Trinity, in my opinion, is the most significant Christian doctrine which requires some discrepancy reconciliation.  God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus are all referred to as God yet the most common theme through out the Old and New Testaments is that there is only one God.

So here’s the (apparent) circularity.

  • The Bible identifies three different entities/persons/beings as God.
  • The Bible is clear that there is only one God.
  • The Bible’s authors were superintended by God.
  • God cannot err, therefore the Bible is inerrant.
  • Therefore, any discrepancy is only apparent.
  • So when the Bible lists three separate entities/persons/beings as God, it cannot be that there are three separate Gods.
  • Since there can be no real discrepancies, we need to devise an understanding in which all three are God but there is still only one God.

The mere idea that verses need to be reconciled is an admission that there are seeming conflicts in ideas within the text but presupposes inerrancy from the outset. The doctrine of inerrancy isn’t arrived at because there are no conflicts in the text and the accounts are seamless.  Have my fellow Christians ever thought about this?

So while I myself am comfortable with the explanations, it should be easy enough to see why skeptics may be reticent to accept them.

Comments

  1. Well, the Trinity is easily proven by logic, even if it IS difficult to understand with our finite minds
    http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2010/09/trinity-proven-by-logic.html

    There are many apparent contradictions, but once actual study is done the contradictions almost always disappear. Also, only the original autographs are inerrant, knowing that copying can introduce errors.

  2. @Glenn

    Please do not use your “finite mind” as an excuse for not understanding a premise. I could make up anything and say that our finite minds just don’t understand it.

    From your website:

    This exercise in logic is to determine the truthfulness or falseness of the conclusions in the following five syllogisms. The approach to this exercise is to assume that the first premise in each syllogism is true. Sometimes scripture will be given as evidence to demonstrate the veracity of the first premise in each syllogism, regardless of the assumption given.

    You must assume that scripture is true in order to accept your exercise. This is what we consider circular reasoning. You cannot use scripture to validate itself.

    “Original autographs” must still be interpreted by the reader and are just as prone to errors as the translations.

    • zqtx,
      I didn’t give “finite minds” as an excuse – I gave it as a reason. The Bible says that God’s ways are not our ways. There are a lot of things about the world, as well as metaphysics, that are very difficult to wrap our heads around.

      My article is not circular reasoning because it was not written to those outside the Christian faith, or cults claiming to be Christians – i.e., it was not written for unbelievers.

      There are no original autographs. Again, I was making clear what inerrancy actually means. Textual criticism has determined that we have better than 99% of the original recovered accurately, and not of the questionable areas affect any Christian doctrine.

      Circular reasoning does not include demonstrating that 66 books written by numerous authors all point to the same thing. If the Bible was one book by one person, then you could say the claims within were circular reasoning, but aside from the Pentateuch, these are almost all separate authors in separate time periods writing separate books/letters, and yet all make the same appeal to being the Word of God, which means they appeal to the accuracy of what is written. Many witnesses, not just one.

  3. John,

    “The doctrine of inerrancy isn’t arrived at because there are no conflicts in the text and the accounts are seamless.”

    The doctrine of inenarrancy is arrived at because a reasoning such as this:
    Postulate 1. The Bible is the Word of God.
    Postulate 2. The Word of God is inerrant.
    Conclusion. The Bible is inerrant.

    So it isn’t a circular reasoning unless postulate 1 is reasoned from the conclusion.

    Anyway, not everyone accepts postulate 1. Others use the following reasoning:

    Postulate 1. The Word of God is inerrant.
    Postulate 2. The Bible is wrong.
    Conclusion. The Bible is not the Word of God.

    The point is how we arrive at those postulates.

  4. wiley16350 says:

    The bible is only inerrant in the original writings. The most accurate versions would be the ones written in the original languages since there would only be letter for letter copying and no interpretation involved. Translations will have and do have errors since they are based on interpretation and thought for thought translation. I would say the trinity is one God because they all have the same divine spirit that originates from God the Father (the one true God). The debatable part is in explaining if and how the holy spirit and Jesus are separate personalities from God.

    • Wiley

      I understand that, and I agree. But when Christians defend inerrancy with reference to the originals it is because they are explaining why there may be a discrepancy between names being misspelled or numbers (quantities, dates) being different, which I think is a legitimate upfront and reasonable explanation. However, theological passages have not changed.

  5. Wiley

    “I would say the trinity is one God because they all have the same divine spirit that originates from God the Father (the one true God).”

    According to Nicene Creed: “begotten, not made”.
    “originate” implies a start dismissing eternity and creation instead of mere causation.

  6. wiley16350 says:

    @Isu
    Begotten is a better word. I won’t argue that.

  7. paynehollow says:

    A couple of problems I have with the notion of an “inerrant” Bible….

    1. The Bible makes no such claim about itself, it is a human invention.

    2. Humans are prone to error which, ironically, is something the Bible DOES teach.

    Beyond that, I of course believe that ALL of God’s Ways are without error. Anything that God wants or teaches or wills must be good and true and without error, if God is good and true and without error.

    The problem is not in what we might call “God’s Word” (ie, all that God wants and teaches) – clearly a perfect God would be without error – but in human interpretations and understandings. Yes, any part of the Bible, RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD – is without error. But you can’t just ignore the human interpretation.

    Yes, the Bible says, “I want you to go in and kill all the men, women and children of that nation…” but one would be wrong to take that clear and direct teaching and apply it to everyone or to say, “You know, sometimes it is God’s will for us to kill the babies of our enemies…” It is vital to rightly understand a teaching and that brings it down to our understanding and our understanding is prone to error.

    With those caveats, I strongly endorse the notion that God’s Word is without error. But we just need to remember that it is a human belief – not a biblical one – that the Bible is “inerrant.” That is where you get into circular arguments sometimes, it seems to me.

    ~Dan Trabue

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