Pages 2-4: winter 1992
A CASE IN POINT
Dr. Robert H. Countess
One ought to be able to apply the ICBI definition(s) of inerrancy to any
page or verse or phrase or word of the Scriptures and thereupon judge
whether or not the absolutist claims about inerrancy are suitable--IF, that is,
one proceeds from the Lindsell-phenomena approach. (The Van Tillian pre-
suppositionalist, by definition, will not be bothered by problems with the
The inerrancy debate, in my opinion, proceeds out of the discipline of
Systematic Theology, a highly abstract and subjective discipline--witness the
plethora of "systematic theologies" in Christianity! Instead, the debate ought
to center itself in the discipline of Exegetical Theology, especially since the
phenomena confront the student before systematics, although I must admit
that in the brainwashing approach, this order becomes reversed.
I have selected 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 for a case study. Here, Paul as-
serts with the utmost clarity whom he did and whom he did not baptize of the
believers at Corinth. What follows is my own highly literal translation:
I am thankful that not one of you did I baptize except Cris-
pus and Gaius, lest anyone might say that in my name you were
baptized. Now I did baptize also the Stephanas household.
Besides, I know not if any other I did baptize.
I chose this passage because there are no problematic variant readings in the
manuscript traditions. There are no difficult grammatical constructions; nor
are there any words whose meaning-usage is in great dispute with the obvi-
ous exception of any who disagrees with me as to the historical usage of
With the path somewhat cleared, we see "the bottom line": Paul asserted
that "I baptized none of you all there at Corinth EXCEPT for two believers,
and their names are Crispus and Gaius."
The problem for the ICBI definition of
inerrancy as a technical term possessing the characteristics of being "totally,
wholly, etc. trustworthy, true, reliable, accurate," etc. is the word
"except." I would not have selected this Pauline passage had he written, "I
baptized no one" (period!) and then had omitted the references to Crispus,
Gaius, and Stephanas.
On the other hand, as the facts of this matter apparently were, if he had
written to the Corinthian church "I baptized no one," he would have erred.
But even had he erred, I can imagine Crispus and Gaius musing in a mature
manner as follows:
CRISPUS: "Hey, there, Paul, you baptized us!"
GAIUS: (Thoughtfully) "Crispus, he apparently forgot that he
baptized us, but it is of little consequence in light of the point
he's trying to make about the centrality of Christ. This over-
sight, this lapse of Paul's memory, doesn't make us any less
baptized in Christ."
CRISPUS: "You're right, Gaius. Let's rather be glad that he
baptized so few people himself. This way they can't go around
boasting about having been baptized at the hand of the great
Now, in point of the manuscript tradition, Paul DID NOT WRITE, "I baptized
no one" (period). On the contrary, he wrote, "I baptized none of you
except Crispus and Gaius."
That is a simple assertion. Taken at face value, it is an assertion of
universal negation but having expressly two--and only two--exceptions:
Crispus and Gaius. Paul then leaves off naming the exceptions and goes on to
speak of his concern about people who would place an exaggerated emphasis
upon having been personally baptized by him.
It is only after the latter that his memory becomes jogged to the extent
that he recalls his having baptized more than just Crispus and Gaius. He
failed to include the Stephanas household. Paul then CORRECTS his earlier
universal-negation-with-only-two-exceptions assertion. He adds another excep-
tion: the household of Stephanas.
The new bottom line reveals that Paul corrected himself. In doing so, he
revealed that humanness to which we all seem to be subject: relative accuracy
and relative fallibility. This new twist is consistent with Berkouwer's remarks
on the servant character of Scripture as "relatable" to phenomena of Scrip-
ture. Paul exhibits the phenomenon of making an error in fact but then
correcting it (cf. ICBI point XIV).
The ICBI proponents cannot, I judge, treat this particular phenomenon in
1 Corinthians 1:14-16 without resorting to some sort of detour around their
absolutist, technical definition of inerrancy. I have personally confronted
several inerrancists with this passage and have universally (!) found them to
employ a most interesting circumlocution: that inerrancy does not require (1)
omniscience, nor (2) complete precision, nor (3) entire harmonizability. In a
letter to me on this passage, Dr. Gleason Archer insisted that Paul be allowed
"the liberty of expression" that we allow to each other! (Of course, I am
willing to do just that, but with that concession I also allow others to be in
error at times and to have to correct themselves.)
Archer concluded his defense of Paul (rather the ICBI's defense of their
He imparts this information in an informal manner, to be sure,
but by the time he has finished this item he has given all of the
information, and done so with accuracy.
I suggest that an analogy to this "detour-defense" might be a math student
who gives incomplete information on a test, while the teacher, when marking
the incorrect response with red ink, allows the student to redo the work and
hand it in later and has--using Archer's words-- "done so with accuracy."
In such an analogy I see both the math teacher and Archer exhibiting grace
toward an erroneous student and an apostle; in Archer's case, grace takes a
back seat to cover up.
Archer recently authored a book treating alleged errors in the Bible. What
I wish to note is that on the passage in question, this defender of a total
inerrancy appears to be content with something less than total (cf. ICBI
articles III, VI, XII, XIV). Archer avoids the precise grammar of Paul's
universal-negative-with-only-two-exceptions by means of transforming it into a
universal positive statement to which other positive additions can be made
later, and, which additions, would not point out Pauline fallibility.
The grammar of the text does not, however, allow for such a gracious
detouring. One inescapably must conclude that in verse 14 Paul erred when
he wrote that he had baptized no one but Crispus and Gaius. In verse 16,
Paul corrected himself by the addition of the Stephanas household. I must
insist that we readers are not aware of the error of verse 14 until we read of
Paul's correction of that error in verse 16. Without the correction, we
probably would have never become aware of the error.
What is called for by the ICBI and all would-be inerrancists is candor to
admit that the phenomenon of Pauline self-correction CANNOT comport with
the abstractly theological articles that Chicago's summit produced. It is my
contention that the ICBI articles were produced NOT in conjunction with the
phenomena of exegesis but, on the contrary, against the reality of the
phenomena of exegesis. As there has been a Realpolitik, there now needs to
be in evangelical circles a "Realexegese."
THE PROBLEM OF
THE ELUSIVE AUTOGRAPHA
The ICBI does have going for it something that cannot be overcome by
any critic: non-existent Scripture originals affirmed to be inerrant. The
inherent safety of this position is that no critic can possibly examine for
errors that which no longer exists. But a simple application of logical infer-
ence, however, can lead one to conclude that a manuscript tradition with so
many errors/problems at least seems to point out that the autographs proba-
bly partook of the same humanness--unless one insists on the presupposition
of immediate dictational inerrancy as with the Koran.
Even inerrancists themselves admit (with a few hardcore hold-outs) that
the present manuscripts possess real errors of sorts. Thus, in the final
analysis, ICBI abandons the phenomena approach when the subject of the
originals comes up and jumps to the presuppositional approach (shades of Van
Til), BECAUSE THE PHENOMENA APPROACH JUST WILL NOT WORK. Hence,
I assert, we see two radically different methods at work: (1) the phenomena
method with its powerful apologetical persuasiveness over multitudes of peo-
ple, and (2) the presuppositional method when (1) cannot be employed.
I suggest that we see here at least the problem of inconsistency if not the
problem of integrity. Integrity can be saved only, I believe, if the inerran-
cist confesses at the outset that he is going to use two different methods of
persuasion, that the implications of the two are at variance, and that if he
cannot persuade by means of empirical data, he will then ask the "per-
suadee" to assume the veracity of that which he initially said he would
demonstrate empirically. (I do not know an inerrancist who will do this!)
As a critic of the ICBI position, I do well not to criticize the autographs,
at least not beyond being willing to make a mild inference or two about them,
for why should I engage in laborious effort to justify or attack that which all
parties agree does not exist? Critics do well, I suggest, to limit themselves
solely to the present manuscript tradition.
THE CIRCULAR REASONING OF
The evidentialists in evangelical apologetics enjoy attacking the "wretched
presuppositionalists" (John Warwick Montgomery's term) for their circular
reasoning. For an evidentialist to be accused of the latter is tantamount to
being accused of being a communist. However, I have observed the following
line of reasoning amongst the ICBI folks:
Our present Bibles have errors of sorts. From these Bibles or
manuscript tradition, we have deduced and/or inferred what we
now call inerrancy. Inerrancy applies to the whole of the Bible
because Bible and God's Word are synonyms. However, this
total, entire, and complete inerrancy applies in its fullest sense
ONLY to that corpus of writings called "autographa." Unfortunate-
ly, the latter long ago perished, and we are not able to examine
them empirically to measure our theory against them. BUT we are still justified
in extrapolating from current errant Bibles back to our (allegedly) inerrant autographs.
I truly believe that I have presented a fair synopsis of ICBI reasoning.
Critics of ICBI are not all slow to point out that there is no way to
demonstrate that the extrapolation is justifiable or infallible or inerrant itself.
Theological extrapolations are no less precarious than astronomical or biologi-
cal or geographical extrapolations. The ICBI line of circular reasoning is an
example of what I have called "inferential theology" (Journal of Psychology
and Theology, Summer 1977, pp. 220ff). It is not that I fault religionists for
engaging in inferential theological activity; such activity is unavoidable. What
I do find fault with is the dogmatism that frequently surrounds such infer-
ring. Dogmatism is unwarranted by the nature of the so-called "problem of
induction." Rather, some measure of pious agnosticism is in order.
ICBI thus assumes at the outset that the autographs are inerrant. Then
ICBI extrapolates back to the autographs from a present day errant Bible
text and thereupon declares quite dogmatically that this method is justifiable
because faith requires an inerrant source of recorded revelation. (To me, this
line of circularity is reminiscent of the papal infallibility argument that re-
quires an infallible interpreter to convey an infallible Scripture. Certainly,
the logic of both positions has a tantalizing aspect, lacking, however, in
compelling logical persuasiveness.)
Of signal interest is the evangelical admissions that God can and does
work through Bibles generally regarded to have failings and errors in text.
Why cannot these evangelicals take the further step that God might even be
able to have worked from originals with failings and errors of sorts? These
evangelicals--with errant Bibles in hand--continue to preach, teach, evangel-
ize, and missionize. Why could God not have worked similarly from fallible
autographs (non-absolute documents)? This may seem to be only a rhetorical
question, but its logic impresses at least me.
(Dr. Countess's address is 120 Sagewood Circle, Toney, AL 35773.)
COMPLETE ARTICLE AVAILABLE
"A Case in Point" was excerpted from a longer paper that Dr. Countess
presented on March 18, 1983, to the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta.
The longer paper discussed and quoted several of the articles in "The Chica-
go Statement on Inerrancy."
The entire paper is available upon request. Please include a self-ad-
dressed, stamped business envelope. To receive both this paper and a copy
of Dr. Archer's letter, please affix 52› postage.
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