I kept noticing over the last week or so that some rather unfortunate things were being said in other threads about the Biblical doctrine of Inerrancy. I'm collecting these unfortunate remarks together and will respond to them here in order to encourage more conversation on the topic. However, I've also learned in past discussions not to take anything for granted, so adding to excerpts of Pope Pius XII provided by SDG, and of Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Jerome, Augustine, & St. Gregory provided by Ryan H., here's some other thinkers to help lay the groundwork for this discussion. I consider this stuff elementary, but might as well begin with it.
RC Sproul -
No one can understand a contradiction because a contradiction is inherently unintelligible. Not even God can understand contradictions. But He can certainly recognize them for what they are - falsehoods. The word contradiction comes from the Latin "to speak against." It is sometimes called an antinomy, which means "against law." For God to speak in contradictions would be for Him to be intellectually lawless, to speak with a forked tongue. It is a great insult and unconscionable blasphemy to even suggest that the Author of truth would ever speak in contradictions. Contradiction is the tool of the one who lies - the father of lies who despises the truth.
There is a relationship between mystery and contradiction that easily reduces us to confusing the two. We do not understand mysteries. We cannot understand contradictions. The point of contact between the two concepts is their unintelligible character. Mysteries may not be clear to us now simply because we lack the information or the perspective to understand them. The Bible promises further light in heaven on mysteries we are unable to understand now. Further light may resolve present mysteries. However, there is not enough light in heaven and earth to ever resolve a clear-cut contradiction.
1. Paradox is an apparent contradiction that under closer scrutiny yields resolution.
2. Mystery is something unknown to us now, but which may be resolved.
3. Contradiction is a violation of the law of noncontradiction. It is impossible to resolve, either by mortals or God, either in this world or the next ...
The Bible is called the Word of God because of its claim, believed by the church, that the human writers did not merely write their own opinions, but that their words were inspired by God. The apostle Paul writes: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). The word inspiration is a translation from the Greek word meaning "God-breathed." God breathed out the Bible. Just as we must expel breath from our mouths when we speak, so ultimately Scripture is God speaking ...
Christians affirm the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible because God is ultimately the author of the Bible. And because God is incapable of inspiring falsehood, His word is altogether true and trustworthy. Any normally prepared human literary product is liable to error. But the Bible is not a normal human project. If the Bible is inspired and superintended by God, then it cannot err.
Yet some propositions may seem to contradict one another, though they may be both true, but in different senses or respects, or times: as, man was immortal in paradise. But these two propositions must be referred to different times; as, man before his fall was immortal, but at the fall became mortal. So we may say now, man is mortal, or man is immortal, if we take these propositions in different respects; as, man is an immortal creature as to his soul, but mortal as to his body. A great variety of difficulties and seeming contradictions, both in Holy Scripture and other writings, may be solved and explained in this manner.
In ordinary usage the word impossible generally implies a suppressed clause beginning with the word unless. Thus it is impossible for me to see the street from where I sit writing at this moment; that is, it is impossible to see the street unless I go up to the top floor where I shall be high enough to overlook the intervening building. If I had broken my leg I should say "But it is impossible to go up to the top floor" - meaning, however, that it is impossible unless some friends turn up who will carry me. Now let us advance to a different plane of impossibility, by saying "It is, at any rate, impossible to see the street so long as I remain where I am and the intervening building remains where it is." Someone might add "unless the nature of space, or of vision, were different from what it is." I do not know what the best philosophers and scientists would say to this, but I should have to reply "I don't know whether space and vision could possibly have been of such a nature as you suggest." Now it is clear that the words could possibly here refer to some absolute kind of possibility and impossibilities we have been considering. I cannot say whether seeing round corners is, in this new sense, possible or not, because I do not know whether it is self-contradictory or not. But I know very well that if it is self-contradictory it is absolutely impossible. The absolutely impossible may also be called the intrinsically impossible because it carries its impossibility within itself, instead of borrowing it from other impossibilities which in their turn depend upon others. It has no unless clause attached to it. It is impossible under all conditions and in all worlds and for all agents.
"All agents" here includes God Himself. His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say "God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it," you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words "God can." It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.
Especially relevant at this point are those Scripture texts that indicate the total truthfulness and reliability of God's words. "The words of the LORD are words that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times" (Ps. 12:6, author's translation), indicates the absolute reliability and purity of Scripture. Similarly, "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him" (Prov. 30:5), indicates the truthfulness of every word that God has spoken. Though error and at least partial falsehood may characterize the speech of every human being, it is the characteristic of God's speech even when spoken through sinful human beings that it is never false and that it never affirms error: "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent" (Num. 23:19) was spoken by sinful Balaam specifically about the prophetic words that God had spoken through his lips.
With evidence such as this we are now in a position to define biblical inerrancy: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.
This definition focuses on the question of truthfulness and falsehood in the language of Scripture. The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth, and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true.
It is important to realize at the outset of this discussion that the focus of this controversy is on the question of truthfulness in speech. It must be recognized that absolute truthfulness in speech is consistent with some other types of statements, such as the following: 1. The Bible Can Be Inerrant and Still Speak in the Ordinary Language of Everyday Speech ... 2. The Bible Can Be Inerrant and Still Include Loose or Free Quotations ... 3. It is Consistent With Inerrancy to Have Unusual or Uncommon Grammatical Constructions in the Bible ...
One reason for the hermeneutical turbulence was publication of Anthony C. Thiselton's The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein ... Thiselton transformed the search for propositional truth into a search for subjective human bias. From the 1960s, home Bible studies had pooled the ignorance of untrained Christians as each participant shared "what the passage means to me." That sort of approach was not to be the basis for discussions at meetings of evangelical theologians ...
If Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Son of God, then his attitude toward Scripture will provide the best answer to the question of inerrancy. A full discussion can be found in John W. Wenham's Christ and the Bible. Several points are summarized here. First, Jesus consistently treated the historical narratives of the Old Testament as straightforward records of fact ... Second, Jesus often chose as the basis of his teaching those very stories that most modern critics find unacceptable ... Third, Jesus consistently adduced the Old Testament Scriptures as the authoritative court of appeal in his controversies with the scribes and the Pharisees ... Fourth, Jesus taught that nothing could pass from the law until all had been fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-20) and that Scripture could not be broken (John 10:35). Finally, Jesus used Scripture in his rebuttal to each of Satan's temptations ... Jesus does not seem to have made any distinction between the validity and accuracy of revelatory versus nonrevelatory (historical, incidental) matters. His attitude, as recorded in the Gospels, seems to be an unquestioning acceptance. Harold Lindsell points out that even liberal and neoorthodox scholars, who themselves deny biblical inerrancy, agree that Jesus viewed the Scriptures as infallible ...
The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this member, namely operative power. Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ.