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An Examination of the Doctrine of Inerrancy of Biblical Scriptures
Nadir Aqeel


It is hoped that this portion from the writer’s dissertation will stimulate interest in the question of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. It is also hoped that the readers will be able to appreciate the reasons for writer’s viewpoint when it is presented in the remaining portions of this dissertation.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy of the Bible has remained a theme central to all Judaic and Christian theological thinking. Throughout the ecclesiastical history this view, has either been clearly stated or tacitly presumed. As one may appreciate, in addition to the ongoing inspirations, visitations and revelations, to which the Christian saints so often have a claim, the Christian religion relies completely on the Biblical texts for the formation of its doctrine and theology. All that Christianity is today has been precipitated by the texts the world knows as Bible; hence the importance of this subject in Christian literature.

At the same time the question of belief in the Inerrancy (or Errancy) of the Bible assumes unusual importance for the followers of another great world religion. Muslims, who follow Muhammad (sws) and believe in the Inerrancy of the Qur’ān, have an altogether different approach. Not only do they strongly contest the claim of inerrancy of Bible, but also discard it as thoroughly corrupted text, and instead present the Qur’ān as the only inerrant scripture which is extant.

Qur’ānic Comment on the Scripture

The Qur’ānic passages reject the earlier scriptures as fabricated. (These passages shall be reproduced with brief notes in the later sections of this dissertation, so that the reader may have a clear concept of how the Muslims view the Old and the New Testaments).

This Tract

This piece of writing is an attempt to examine the doctrine of inerrancy of Bible as the Christians believe in it. Biblical texts shall be studied to help the readers form an opinion. For the purpose of presenting authentic information regarding Christian views we have relied on the Jerome Biblical Commentary (Ed. by Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy, 1987, New Delhi) and A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (Ed. by Fuller, Johnston and Kearns, Hong Kong 1981.) for Catholic view point A New Bible Handbook by G.T. Manley for Protestant belief, and various other authors whose reference the readers will find as they appear in this tract.

Terms and Concepts

The idea of God-inspired scripture was not one of the primordial themes of Israelite religion -- understandably so, for this religion originated among people who at first had no knowledge of writing and who existed for a long time under general conditions unfavourable to literary pursuits. Nevertheless, in the course of time the religion of Israel did become centred round the collection of books that we now called the Old Testament. ‘In spite of the centrality it acquired in Judaism, the Old Testament does not itself contain a doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.’ (Richard F. Smith F.J.: Inspiration and Inerrancy p- 2). But before we proceed ahead we owe an explanation of the term ‘inspiration’ and the phrase ‘divine origin’.

To the Jews and Christians the phrase ‘divine origin of the Scripture’ denotes the special influence of God upon the human writers of the Bible, an influence of such a nature that God is said to be the author of the Biblical books. Vatican Council I expressed it thus: ‘The Church regards them as sacred and canonical because having been written under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and as such have been entrusted to the Church.’ (Enchiridion Biblicum, Rome 1961, page 77). In the Catholic view the divine inspiration of Scripture is in the strict sense a supernatural mystery. They hold that it is a reality which can never be fully comprehended and which will always remain obscure and opaque to the human mind.

In Christian theology the words ‘inspired’ and ‘inspiration’ are frequently used both generally of any and all prompting of God’s grace in and on the human psyche and specifically of the divine prompting at the origin of the books of the Bible. The basic Latin word in this area is the verb ‘inspirare’, meaning literally to ‘breathe into, upon, or in’. Apparently not employed in pre-Augustan and Augustan writings except poetry. ‘Inspirare’ is chiefly a post Augustan word, used both in its literal meaning and in a transferred meaning, namely that of arousing a state or attitude in the human mind as in the statement: ‘His words inspired anger.’ In Tertullian, the inspirare words are already found in a transferred Christian application though only in the generic sense of the prompting of God and not in the specific sense of those prompting that led to the writing of Scripture. Early Christian Latin vocabulary used such words as ‘afflatus’, ‘inflatus’, and ‘instinctus’ -- the classical equivalents of our modern word ‘inspiration’. Gradually however ‘inspirare’ came to be generally used for that influence by which God is the source of the sacred books.

Greek has a larger vocabulary to cover the area we are considering. English and Latin use the same terms to refer both to the books and the their human writers (‘libri inspirati’ -- inspired books and ‘scriptores inspirati’ -- inspired writers). Greek, however, provides one set of words for inspired documents and another for inspired human writers. An inspired book is described as ‘theopneustos’ (God breathed) and an inspired person is defined as ‘theophoretos’ (God borne) and by ‘pneumatophoros’ (Spirit borne).

As far as Hebrew is concerned the matter of terminology is simple; there is no set of words to cover the idea of the divine inspiration of Scripture.

What does the Old Testament say of itself?

Although the Old Testament refers to the divine action of God upon the minds of the prophets (sws) , this influence was phrased in terms of the oral proclamation of a message that God had communicated to them but not stated in terms of its dictation by God which needed to be recorded in writing. We sometimes find God commanding a prophet (sws) to write (Exodus 17:14, Is. 30:8, Jer. 30:2, 36:2, Hab. 2:2) and that Isaiah (sws) referred to his own written prophecy as ‘the book of the Lord’ (34:16). But none of these expressions seem to indicate anything more than the prophet’s consciousness (sws) to a pressing duty to write. In other words, it might be true that the prophets (sws) claimed to have received divine revelation, and that God commanded them to write it down, but there is no reason to believe that the prophet (sws) actually recorded the revelation under the guidance of God and the Scripture we now have in our hands is the one so recorded. Thus, there is no indication in the Old Testament of a divine influence upon the prophetic writer which makes it obvious that God is the author of such writing. Moreover, the emphatic sentences such as ‘the spirit of the Lord came upon him’ are limited to the action and speech of the prophet (sws) and do not extend any where to the domain of writing. Thus, seemingly, the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, as it is understood in the Church today, is not mirrored in the writings of the Old Testament: it is not denied, but it is not affirmed either.

How and when did the Jews come to believe in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures?

The later sections of the Old Testament start referring to the ‘Sacred Books’ (1-Mach. 12:9). But two famous events of Jewish History were instrumental in giving final shape to the doctrine. One was the Josiah’s adoption (sws) of the Book of Covenant (2-Kings 23:1-2). The other was Ezra’s reading out (sws) to the people from the Book of the Law of Moses (sws) as something ‘the Lord had commanded to Israel,’ (Neh. 8). The later Jews merely actuated the possibilities latent in these events and from them sprang the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Old Testament.

Difference between the status of Pentateuch and books of the Prophets

Owing to the primary position which the Torah (written law) earned in the life of the Jews, it was natural that the doctrine of divine origin should first form round the Torah. According to the doctrine, which gradually took a more developed form, the Torah was caused by God before the creation of the world and was revealed to Moses (sws) by mental-oral instruction, or by delivery of the written text of the Pentateuch, or by literal dictation. This Platonic pre-existence of Torah was probably introduced by the Jews who absorbed Hellenistic ideas among whom a notable name is that of Philo of Alexandria. Thus, the Pentateuch was believed to be God’s words. (Although some exceptions within the Pentateuch were made such as Dt. Ch. 28) Under this influence the doctrine of the divine origin of the Prophets and of the writings also sprang up. Yet there was a difference in kind and quality between the Pentateuch and other books. The ‘Prophets and Writings’ were written under the influence of God but this influence was not thought to be the cause of every jot and tittle, as in the case of Torah. (Schurer E.: A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ [sws], Vol 2 page 306.) Nevertheless, the divine origin of the Prophets and writings was fully accepted.

The Christian Belief in Divine Origin of the Old Testament

The belief in the divine origin of the Old Testament is repeatedly expressed or implied in the New Testament when Jesus (sws) refers to passages in the Old Testament as words of God. The Christians have also argued on the strength of Acts 1:16, Heb. 5:12 and 1-Peter 4:11 that in the words of Scripture the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of human beings and that the words of the Old Testament are ‘oracles of God.’ The argument is reinforced by citing two more verses (2Tim. 3:16 and 2Pt. 1:21) which have become almost classic description of the involvement of God in the production of Bible.

Peter stood up... and said, ‘..this scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of David [sws] concerning Judas’. (Act. 1:16).

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2Tim. 3:16).

(to be continued)

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