“Discrediting Christ” Through Inerrancy?

Some bible critics have claimed that defenders of inerrancy “discredit Christ” by taking qualities that properly belong to Christ, and then attributing them to Scripture. For example, any true Christian will affirm that Christ is sinless and perfect. Inerrantists go one step further; they “take” this property of sinless perfection and give it of the Bible. And this, we’re told, is a problem. Well, how so?

The argument, as I understand it, goes like this. The inerrantist, by hypothesis, will endorse the following propositions:

(1)  Our faith is based on God’s Word (i.e., the Bible); and

(2)  Whatever our faith is based on is sinless and perfect.

But from (1) it follows that

(3)  Our faith is not based on Christ.

And (2) and (3) together imply

(4)  Christ is not sinless and perfect.

Thus, we “discredit Christ.” Now if our bible critic also happens to be a Christian—as is all too frequent these days—there are a few additional steps in the argument. Since (4) is false, he will say, it follows that either (2) or (3) is false given that they jointly entail (4). (2) seems pretty secure. That means our best bet is to deny (3). But (1) entails (3). Hence (1) is false. So our faith isn’t based on the Bible; it’s based on a person. Thus, the inerrancy position, ironically, is in error.

A False Premise

What shall we say about this argument? Well, for it to be a successful reductio, it mustn’t employ premises (or inference forms) the inerrantist might reasonably be expected to deny. In other words, it shouldn’t beg the question. So let’s take a look at the premises. Premise (1) is true if “our faith” refers to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This reading naturally suggests itself given the (foundationalist) “based on” language found in (1). Taken this way, what (1) tells us is something wholly unobjectionable: that the propositional basis for our beliefs (as Christians) is Scripture. And in that sense, (3) really does follow from (1)—a true premise—and is thus also true. This is because the propositional basis for “the faith”—understood as a set of deliverable doctrines—won’t be a person. It will be special revelation.

But doesn’t this pose a problem for our Christian critic? He wants to deny (3). He is therefore obliged to affirm that Christ is the propositional basis for our beliefs—a blunt category mistake. For Christ is a person, not a proposition. No doubt the reply will be: “But our faith is based on Christ. After all, we must put our personal faith and trust in Christ (say, for salvation).” Yes, of course. No one is denying that. But notice: we’re now guilty of a fallacy of ambiguity. To bait the inerrantist, the expression “our faith” is first introduced in propositional terms in (1), but then in a sleight of hand the focus illicitly shifts to a personal trust-based meaning in the reductio’s final stages. That’s fallacious.

Well then, what about premise (2)? Surely, it will be difficult to nail this premise to the inerrantist. For if “our faith” is propositionally-based on special revelation, as the inerrantist maintains, then (2) is literally incoherent. Only actions and agents are properly classified as sinful or not, morally perfect or not. The words of Scripture—the ones God breathed out (2 Tim 3:16)—can certainly express truths or, if you’re an errantist, falsehoods. They can be reasonably believed or disbelieved. What they can’t do (on pain of incoherence) is sin or refrain from sinning. You might as well claim that shapes can have tastes or that colours can be heard.

A Fatal Inference

Taking stock: since we know that (2) is false, we already know the reductio is a bust. Still, what about the overall inference from premises to conclusion? Is it valid? Well, suppose we concede, for purposes of argument, that (1)-(3) are all true in the inerrantist’s sense. How does it follow that Christ isn’t sinless and perfect? How is it that we take these attributes from Christ, if we give them to the Bible (that infamous paper Pope)? That seems like a big reach. Indeed, it is a non-sequitur. It relies upon the following invalid argument form:

(a)  My belief that p is based on A and not B.

(b)  A has property Q.

Therefore,

(b)  B does not have Q.

Here’s a simple counterexample. My belief that Jesus is God the Son incarnate is based on special revelation, not general. However, as every true Christian believes, Scripture is a divine revelation. It has that property. It hardly follows that general revelation does not (cf. Rom 1:18-20). Hello! The argument is patently invalid.

In sum: to attribute flawless (propositional) perfection to the Bible in no way robs Christ of his flawless (personal, moral) perfection. It’s a false dichotomy. When I affirm the Bible’s inerrancy, I in no way “discredit Christ.” Sometimes, I’m afraid, in our eagerness to indict the Bible, we let our zeal outrun good reasoning. If you want to believe that championing an inerrant Bible “discredits Christ,” that’s okay. We may all believe as we please; it’s a free country. But please don’t preach it. For nothing based on faulty logic ever should be preached.

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One comment on ““Discrediting Christ” Through Inerrancy?

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