The way the liberals approached the New Testament to deny its inerrancy and reliability was to simply affirm that we cannot know if the original sources for various manuscripts were truly reliable– in other words, the entire Bible is not really trustworthy or fully reliable, and the church must determine what is true and what is not.
As Iain Murray points out, “Although Jesus attributed the opening books of Scripture to Moses, it had to be recognized, they said, that the belief of Jesus was conditioned by the thinking of his time. In John 10:34, Jesus quoted part of a verse in Psalm 82 as authority for a particular truth, but in doing so, he extended the same authority to all Scripture, affirming ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). In the face of such words, the new apologetic [weakened view] could only say that all sayings attributed to Christ are not necessarily reliable.”
In other words, anything the New Testament claims as being authoritative, the liberal movement can dismiss it, saying, “Well, we can’t know that Jesus actually said that–his disciples or other writers may have inserted those sayings later and were attributing it to Christ.” This is an easy way of dismissing certain truths and rendering the Bible as having no final authority.
To support this thinking, a new phrase became fashionable and was built into the revised formulas [creeds] of the Presbyterian churches. No longer was it to be agreed that Scripture is the Word of God. The older affirmation was changed to, ‘The Word of God contained in Scripture’. But who is to tell where it is contained? And who is to recognize how much of God’s Word does Scripture contain–a verse here, perhaps, or a chapter there? Who is to judge what is trustworthy and what is not?
This position and perspective renders the Bible as unreliable and not trustworthy, since no one can really know what parts of Scripture are accurate and genuinely the very words of God by inerrant inspiration. Murray goes on to show that–
It was a short step from doubting what Christ says on the trustworthiness of Scripture to doubting everything He said. No real answer was given to this problem. Some looked for a solution by making a difference between spiritual truths and alleged history, saying, ‘We believe the spiritual truths, but we do not believe all that is presented as being historical facts’. But it is plain to see in Scripture that the meaning of spiritual truth is bound up with facts. The ruin of the human race is inseparable from the historic fall of Adam; the virgin birth belongs with the sinlessness of the Son of God; the reliability of Christ’s promises and the authority of His miracles stand together; and the bodily resurrection of those who die in Jesus is tied to the history of his rising from the grave.
Murray mentions Eta Linnemann, a teacher of the higher critical method of the Bible, who taught in west German universities. In 1990, Linneman said, “In its own eyes, historical-critical theology wants to lend assistance to the proclamation of the gospel through an interpretation of the Bible that is scientifically reliable and objective. There is, however, a monstrous contradiction between what it says it wants to do on the one hand, and what it actually does on the other. It does not further the proclamation of the gospel– in fact, it actually prevents it.”
Dr. Linnemann discovered this by coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. Liberal theology had removed the foundation of Scripture and, “if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Ps. 11:3).
Lessons to be Learned
Mr. Murray gives valuable lessons we can gain from seeing the history of the weakening view of Scripture.
1. History shows the need to watch against the misuse of words.
The misuse may be accidental or it may be deliberate. Words come to us in disguise so that we embrace what we did not intend to embrace.
Simply put, words do have accurate and specific meanings and it is dishonest and wrong to attribute to words meanings that are not connected to those words. When true Christians affirm the infallibility of the Bible, liberals cannot say the same thing, because they do not mean infallibility. As Murray says, “True infallibility can only mean verbal inerrancy.”
Willis Glover says of C. H. Spurgeon’s view on this–
Spurgeon saw very clearly that ‘inspiration’ in its traditional sense meant inerrancy. To talk about the divine inspiration of an erring record was to use the term in an entirely different sense, and this simply bred confusion. But other evangelical preferred to be confused. They answered in all sincerity that nobody believe in inspiration more strongly than they. They then imputed their own confusion to Spurgeon and accused him of being vague.
J. I. Packer, in earlier years, wanted to avoid using the word inerrancy, thinking he did not want to be associated with those who were giving needless offense to others. He later came to see he was wrong, confessing–
Once I too avoided the word ‘inerrancy’ as much as I could, but I find now that I need the word. Verbal accuracy, as we know, can be devalued. Any word can have some of its meaning rubbed off, and this happened to all my preferred terms for stating my belief about the Bible. I hear people declare Scripture as being ‘inspired’, and in the next breath that it misleads from time to time. I hear them call it ‘infallible’ and ‘authoritative’ and find that they mean only that its impact on us will keep us in God’s grace, but not that it is all true.
– to be continued