Is False Scripture Useful?

Paul says to Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed…and useful” (2 Tim 3:16). So we should use it. That seems right. Recently, however, I’ve noticed some pastors and professors claiming that even if what God breathes out is flatly in error, this shouldn’t deter us from making good use of it. Scripture might be false (and no doubt is in many places), but it’s useful all the same. Our question is: Is that right?

Those who champion this brand of errancy appear to reason as follows: since Scripture is God-breathed, it is useful regardless of whether it is true. This argument raises more than a few questions. There are a few things to note. First, Paul doesn’t say that Scripture is useful simpliciter. He says it’s useful for certain things – in fact, four things:

  1. Teaching
  2. Rebuking
  3. Correcting
  4. Training in righteousness

Secondly, the text says all scripture is God-breathed and useful in these respects. (Of course, in giving her assent to this truth, the errantist implicitly relies on the fact that 2 Tim 3:16 is itself without error!) But if Scripture isn’t inerrant, then some Scripture is false. Serious questions immediately arise. How, in the most important respects, is being taught falsehoods useful? Suppose you’re trying to come to a true belief about p, and I teach you something about from the Scriptures–something factually false, let’s say. Then I’ve invited you to form your views on p based on an unsound argument. That’s hardly (alethically) useful. Indeed, wouldn’t it violate your twin epistemic duties to avoid (1) believing falsehoods, and (2) drawing conclusions based on false premises?

Or again, how can I correct one of your beliefs by appealing to a false scriptural teaching? If you believe p and I want to correct your belief (i.e., show you that it’s false), I’ll naturally find myself affirming not-p. But if not-p (my belief, teaching) is false, then p (your belief) is actually true. But then why am I correcting you? True beliefs don’t need correction. What sense does it make, then, for me to propose that your true belief can be corrected if you’ll only adopt my false one? It makes no sense.

Here’s the problem. The errantist pastors and professors rightly see that if Scripture is breathed out by God, it is useful. But they fail to grasp that it is in virtue of Scripture’s being God-breathed (and hence error-free) that it is so. The failure here is conceptual and analytical. It is a failure to see that if is breathed out by God, then is true. False Scripture is a contradiction in terms. The fact is: Scripture is useful (and should be used) because it is divinely inspired and true. By sharp contrast, if Scripture is errant, all bets are off.


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One comment on “Is False Scripture Useful?

  1. […] the past few posts (see here, here, here, and here), we’ve looked at this idea that the Bible isn’t authoritative; only Jesus is. The […]

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