Textual Criticism and Inerrancy

inerrancy, inspiration of scriptures No Comments

The first systematic theology in America to be written from a liberal point of view was published in 1898 by William Newton Clark (1840-1912) and entitled, An Outline of Christian Theology.  Clark’s life illustrates the shift from one biblical view to another.  He was the son of a Baptist minister.  He grew up respecting the Bible.  Studies at Hamilton Theological Seminary confirmed his convictions that the Bible was the inspired Word of God and incapable of error.  He graduated in 1863 and entered the ministry.  He spent 27 years in ministry.  Early in his ministry, his views remained constant until he moved to Newton Center, MA in 1869.  Contact with liberal faculty members at Newton Theological Seminary convinced him that the Bible was not verbally inspired.
In 1880, Clark transferred to Toronto and began reading biblical criticism.  He did not resist the conclusions of higher criticism.  In 1890, he left the ministry and became professor of theology at Colgate Theological Seminary and in 1898, he wrote his systematic theology.  A summary of his views follows.
First, he affirms that textual criticism confirms our general confidence in Scripture, but slays our hope of absolute perfection.  The Bible is not inerrant (p. 107).
Second, he affirms that inspiration is not verbal, nor revelation propositional (p. 107).
Third, he states that God had inspired ideas, principles, and concepts but not words.
Fourth, he argued that the proof-text was inextricably tied to the doctrine of inerrancy (p. 107).
Fifth, he believed that the Scriptures were a very human book, complete with errors of every kind, through which God, nonetheless, still spoke (p. 108).  (The Bible in America, Nathan O. Hatch, Mark A. Noll, “Fundamentalist Use of the Bible,” by Timothy P. Weber, pp. 101-120).
Some observations concerning the above material are in order.
First, if we do not have an inerrant Bible, we do not have the truth of God’s Word today!  This is an important fact.  Inerrancy is equivalent to truthfulness.  If the Bible is full of errors, then it is unreliable and untrustworthy.  Why believe a book that isn’t true?
Second, Clark affirms that textual criticism has destroyed the doctrine of inerrancy.  The correlation between textual criticism and the veracity of scripture is important.  Who can deny that textual criticism has eroded confidence in the veracity of Scripture?  What is textual criticism?  Basically, textual criticism is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with finding and removing errors in the texts of manuscripts.  J. Keith Elliott represents the thinking of theological liberals today.  He states, “The sooner that the language of inerrancy is dropped in the context of textual criticism the better it will be for scholarship” (Perspectives on the Ending of Mark, ed. by David Alan Black, pp. 100-101). Elliott is professor of New Testament Textual Criticism at the University of Leeds.  What is the consequence of such thinking?  The Bible is a human work, not inspired of God, not inerrant.  If this is the case, how could we say that it is the word of life? (John 6:63).  Inspiration and inerrancy have a connection to salvation.  John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
Third, not only is salvation at stake in this discussion, but so is preaching.  Why preach from a Bible full of errors?  How could preaching a Bible that is not true establish faith in God in the hearts of men?  see Rom. 10:11-17.  Preaching would be in vain.
Fourth, not only would salvation and preaching be in vain, but we could not confidently claim true religion.  True religion is based upon the sure Word of God.  Destroy God’s Word and you have no foundation for true religion.  The Great Commission confirms this.  Disciples of Jesus Christ are made by teaching and preaching the Gospel (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  If we do not have a true Gospel, then, we cannot be confident that we are making true disciples of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel, the Word of God and the truth are all synonymous terms.
The doctrines of liberal theologians would destroy Christianity.