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 presuppositionalist, by
definition, will not be bothered by problems with the phenomena!)
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 [ref003]1 Corinthians
1:14-16 for a case study. Here, Paul asserts 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 Crispus 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 obvious exception of any who disagrees with _me_ as
to the historical usage of _baptizo_!
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 oversight,
this lapse of Paul's memory, doesn't make us any less baptized in
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
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_ exception: 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 Scripture. 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
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 inerrancy theory):
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
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 [ref005]verse 14 Paul
_erred_ when he wrote that he had baptized _no_one_but_ Crispus
and Gaius. In [ref006]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 [ref007]verse 14
until we read of Paul's correction of that error in [ref008]verse 16.
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
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 inference, however, can lead one to conclude that a
manuscript tradition with so many errors/problems at least seems to point
out that the autographs probably 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 people, 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
inerrancist 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 "persuadee" to assume the veracity of that
which he initially said he would demonstrate empirically. (_I_do_not
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
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."
Unfortunately, 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
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 biological 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 inferring. 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 _requires_ an infallible
interpreter to convey an infallible Scripture. Certainly, the logic of
both positions has a tantalizing aspect, lacking, however, in compelling
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, evangelize, 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 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy."
The entire paper is available upon request. Please include a
self-addressed, stamped business envelope. To receive both this paper
_and_ a copy of Dr. Archer's letter, please affix 52 cents postage.
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