“Infallibility and inerrancy are important for the health of the church, but are not essential for the life of the church. . . . Personally, I believe in inerrancy. However, I wouldn’t consider inerrancy to be a primary or essential doctrine for saving faith.”
When I read that a few months ago, I was shocked. I was working through Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus, and read this in the second chapter. As I worked through this section, which was an interview of Daniel Wallace, I was confronted with the teaching about how inerrancy isn’t all that. As I kept reading, I had to continually flip back and remind myself that Dr. Wallace is a professor at the conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, and that Strobel is an evangelical Christian author and former teaching pastor. Here they were, making the case that inerrancy isn’t critical to faith. Definitely a new thought for me in the 15+ years of being a Christ-follower.
Trust me -- the last thing I want to do is give a dissertation about the meaning of inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration. (Maybe someone can leave a comment with some suggested links and resources.) But here is a quick overview, given in this book:
- Inerrant: The Bible is true in what it touches.
- Infallible: The Bible is true in what it teaches (in matters of faith and practice).
- Inspired: God has done great acts in history, and He directed men to write about some of those.
Two Word Pictures
Dr. Wallace gives two images to use to help us understand the nature of these three terms.
- Pyramid: Inspiration is foundational, at the bottom. Then, infallibility is in the middle. Finally, inerrancy is at the top. Inerrancy is important but not foundational, so let’s not try to flip this pyramid over. From both atheists and ultraconservative Christians you tend to hear this, “Find me one error and I’ll throw out the whole Bible.”
- Concentric Circles: Inspiration is most important and is at the center, then infallibility. Inerrancy is a protective shell; again, it’s important but not essential to salvation.
Here are examples of how this plays out with truths from Scripture:
- Jesus was human and divine, and died for my sins. This is essential doctrine.
- Demons in the Gospels were real. It will be hard to dismiss this, but this is not essential to salvation.
I recognize that if you really wanted to auger down, someone could make the case that this could lead to a slippery slope of dismissing selective parts of scripture. That is the perspective of Charles Ryrie (author of Basic Theology, another book that I’m working through), and others. But in this process of examining my own thoughts and perspectives, my faith in the power of the gospel message has actually been strengthened. Everyone comes with their own set of biases when it comes to interpretation. The issue is whether you are willing to challenge those biases.
If you want to read more, I encourage you to buy a copy of The Case for the Real Jesus. For now, do you have any questions or comments? Also, are there any concepts or biases that you have challenged, or maybe need to examine? It’s OK to debate and disagree, of course.
Let us not fret over differences in the Gospels or other books in the Bible. The core message of the Bible is consistent, and very revolutionary. Remember that among the several hundred-thousand variants of the New Testament, there are no foundational beliefs that are in jeopardy.
To close, here is another summarizing quote from Dr. Wallace:
“Inerrancy is important, but the gospel is bigger than inerrancy. . . . The Bible wasn’t hanged on the cross; Jesus was.”