UPDATE: Our thanks to Bob Allen at Associated Baptist Press for covering this story.
On June 24, 2012 Dr. Wm. Richard Kremer of Garden Lakes Baptist Church in Rome, GA. preached a powerful message on Biblical inerrancy. So few pastors have spoken out against the fallacy of the Shorter administration’s Personal Lifestyle Statement, we felt compelled to contact Dr. Kremer and ask his permission to share this message with our readers. He graciously agreed and sent us the manuscript of the sermon as well. Dr. Kremer points the Way to Truth and Light.
You may also watch the sermon by clicking here.
Thank you, Dr. Kremer, for your wisdom, your courage and for speaking the truth.
Is the Bible Inerrant? Mark 16: 1-8; Luke 24: 1- 9
Few words in the last thirty years have caused more mischief than the little adjective “inerrant.” “Inerrant” would seem to be a perfectly fine word that when applied to the Scriptures appears to guarantee the authenticity and accuracy of the Bible. Yet I tell you plainly, the word “inerrant” has been misused and manipulated. Indeed, it would be fair to say that the sundering and destruction of the Southern Baptist Convention could be attributed to the manipulation of this single word – inerrant. This word has in fact done horrendous damage to the character of the Bible – and ruined countless lives. The cause of Christ is being damaged by its use even now. Yet “inerrant” continues to be employed frequently with reference to the Bible, usually by those who do not understand its implications. Not surprisingly, Shorter University’s new “Statement of Faith,” begins with the declaration, “We believe the Bible . . . is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.” My question to those who penned that document is, “What do you mean by that term?”
Some years ago, the late Adrian Rogers, one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, was asked exactly that question: “What does inerrancy mean?” He answered: “It means the Bible is truth without mixture of error historically, philosophically, scientifically and theologically.” The conservative scholar Paul Feinberg has offered a fuller exposition. He said that inerrancy is the claim that “when all of the facts of are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be without error in all that they affirm to the degree of precisions intended, whether that affirmation relates to doctrine, history, science, geography, geology, etc.” Give these gentlemen their due: they were at least crystal clear in their definitions. But they were making claims about the Bible that the Bible does not make for itself.
Simply put, the Bible is not a history book. It certainly contains history – a lot of history, in fact – but the Bible’s history concerns the history of humanity’s encounter with God and with the revelation of God in Christ. The Bible does not intend to offer a chronicle of historical events in the same way an account of the American Civil War is a history book. The Bible is not a philosophy book. It contains philosophy – the book of Ecclesiastes, for example, has been hailed as one of the most incisive philosophical statements ever penned. But the Bible’s purpose is not to articulate any particular philosophy. The Bible is not a science book. Those who assert that the Bible is correct in its teachings on geology grossly misinterpret the Bible’s purpose. The writers of the Scripture had no idea that some endeavor of inquiry called geology existed! The Bible makes but one clear and profound statement about the world: that God is the origin of all creation — in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth — and all reality owes God a debt for the gift of its existence. But the Bible has absolutely no interest in offering a scientific explanation for how God brought this heaven and earth into being. The Bible says WHO created the universe. It offers no explanation as to HOW this process of creation occurred. Anyone who doubts the veracity of this observation need only examine the first two chapters of Genesis. In the creation account of Genesis, chapter one, God creates everything in the world, then creates humanity last. In Genesis, chapter two, God creates humanity first, then creates the remainder of the natural order. The brilliant editor who brought those two accounts into one sacred text was fully aware of the discrepancies in the accounts – but he did not care! He was not offering a scientific explanation for how reality came to be; he was simply offering the theological observation that all that is owes its life unto God. When you try to turn the Bible into a scientific text, you misuse God’s word.
You might be wondering, ‘Dr. Kremer, why does it matter? Why even bring this topic to the fore?’ Because it matters how you use the Bible. I don’t want young people thinking they have to discard their faith because some scientist has made a discovery that seems to contradict some Biblical principle. I don’t want a scientist having to put his/her brain on ice because his/her discoveries contradict what the Bible allegedly teaches about one scientific discipline or another. A recent science professor at a local university had to leave his faculty post, complaining that the administration had instructed him on what theories concerning creation he ought to teach – even though there was no empirical data to support their claims. Why would administrators with no scientific training be trying to teach scientists how to teach science? Because, they think of the Bible as a scientific book that reveals to us the age of the earth as only six thousand years old. (Looking out on the congregation, I suspect some of ya’ll are older than that!) Essentially, this college administrator was instructing his scientist to turn a blind eye to the fossil records, to ignore the evidence of geological shifts and continental drifts, to pay no attention to the pottery shards – all of which make the point that six thousand years is but a sliver of human existence on this earth, much less the history of the earth as a whole. Again, let’s be clear on this point: when you try to turn the Bible into a science book, you misuse God’s Word.
Why do people try to regard the Bible as a science text or a philosophy book or a history book? It is because they hold to a particular view of Biblical inspiration, a perspective that says the Bible came into being through plenary verbal inspiration. Succinctly expressed, the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration says, “God said it, and humanity wrote it down.” (Incidentally, that is how Muslims view the Koran as having come into being.) There are a few passages in the Bible that suggest plenary verbal inspiration. For example, God dictates to Moses the Ten Commandments and Moses writes them down. But think of something as simple as Psalm 16. God would have to be pretty egotistical to be dictating to David, “Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever!” Can you imagine God dictating unto David in Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Surely God is not so insecure as to bother dictating words of praise about Himself for us to write down? When the Psalmist exclaims “The Lord is my shepherd,” he is giving evidence that he has experienced the living God profoundly in the midst of his life. His spirit swells up with joy so he can share his experience of God with others. He is not simply recording a speech that God dictates into his head
Go back to the argument that scholar Feinberg offered regarding inerrancy: the Bible is inerrant in its original autographs. That’s very convenient. For no one has never seen the Bible’s original autographs. Do you know why? They don’t exist! There is not some dusty original Biblical manuscript hiding in some obscure cave in Israel. The Bible came into being over a period of centuries. Its pages originated in diverse places and in diverse times. The Old Testament existed in oral tradition for centuries, passed down from generation to generation before it was ever recorded in print. When it was printed it was preserved in a variety of places in a variety of versions. There is no such thing as an original autograph for the Bible, and to claim such a manuscript is the basis for the inerrancy of Scripture is intellectually dishonest. ‘
So, when the Shorter University statement of faith declares, “We believe in the inerrant and infallible Word of God,” is that true? Yes – yes, in a way. For when the Bible is talking about the character of God, the Bible is indeed inerrant. When the Bible is talking about the nature of redemption, the Bible is absolutely infallible. When the Bible is presenting the revelation of God in Christ, we can trust that information with perfect confidence – for such is precisely the Bible’s purpose. It is for these matters the Bible is intended to be used and consulted. The Bible is a book about redemption, and on this point the Bible is indeed inerrant. During one of our Vacation Bible School convocations a couple of weeks ago, our children’s minister Susan West-Colding asked the children why we did a pledge to the Bible. A young voice answered, “Because it tells us about God.” Yes! Yes! The Bible tells us about God, tells us about redemption, tells us about the love of Christ and how to live in right relationship with the divine. On that score the Scriptures are pristine and true.
But these subjects are concerned with an entirely different ambit than geology or geography!
Ponder for a moment the texts I read to you this morning. Think on the four versions of the resurrection. There is not a lot of difference among them as to who goes to the tomb: Matthew says “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,” Mark says, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. Luke adds the name of Joanna to the list. John mentions only Mary Magdalene. But who meets the women there? Matthew says an angel met them inside the tomb. Mark mentions no angel but speaks of a young man dressed in a white robe. Luke says that two men dressed in dazzling apparel were there to greet them. John testifies that Mary Magdalene didn’t even enter the tomb, and the only one who met her there was Jesus. In Mark’s account the women leave the empty tomb and don’t tell anyone what they have heard. In Luke’s account they go straightway and tell their news, but the apostles don’t believe them.
My point to you is this: it is precisely these small details of difference that undermine the concept of inerrancy. If God were dictating to writers the record of something as important as the resurrection, God wouldn’t be dictating differing versions to different writers. God wouldn’t have been giving conflicting accounts. Each writer reflects the different traditions, witnesses and influences to which he was exposed. The truth is, none of these accounts may have matters exactly right. But all four accounts are exactly right on their main point: God raised Jesus from the dead! All four accounts are right in saying that our God is a God of resurrection power, and that we live in hope because our God through Christ has defeated death. The fact that one version of the resurrection speaks of one angel and one version speaks of one man and one version speaks of two men and one version speaks of none — such niggling differences do not matter to the authenticity and importance of the message. The message is, our God is a God of resurrection power through whom we have hope beyond death. On this point the Scriptures are infallible.
I tell you plainly, you can find differences in the Scriptures, even with regard to the same event. For example, in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s slave, the centurion himself comes to Jesus to ask for healing help. In Luke’s version of the same healing, the Jewish elders come on behalf of the centurion to ask Jesus for help with regard to his slave. What really matters to the centurion’s slave is that Jesus had compassion on him and healed him. According to Mark, Jesus is leaving Jericho when he encounters blind Bartimaeus. In Luke, Jesus is entering Jericho when he encounters blind Bartimaeus. All that matters to blind Bartimaeus is that Jesus gave him his sight! What matters to us is that Jesus gives us our sight and has compassion on us in our weakness and in our need.
The Bible is not a science book. The Bible is not a history book. The Bible is not a philosophy book. The Bible is a book that tells us about God. Moreover, the Bible never claims perfection for its words. The Bible claims perfection only for the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the pledge that many of us have been making to the Bible since we were children in VBS years (or even decades ago) still holds true. “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart, that I might not sin against God.” That’s the Scriptures’ purpose and power. When we have lost our way in life, the Word illumines our path. When we are not sure how we should conduct ourselves, the Word is our lamp and our guide. When we are desperate for a word of encouragement, the Word offers us the way and words of life. And if we follow these words and hide them in our heart, they will lead us rightly. Of that we can be certain.
Dr. Wm. Richard Kremer
June 24, 2012