Montreal Christian Thinker

Dr. James R. White on the Inerrancy of Scripture

Dr. James R. White is a Christian apologist and the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries. He has been a New Testament Professor in the past having taught NT Greek, Systematic Theology and Apologetics. Here is his Biography.

Now that I have reviewed what Dr. White had to say on the Inerrancy debate between Dr. Mike Licona and Dr. Richard Howe, I would like to review what he had to say about Inerrancy from his 2016 presentation on this topic at Cape Town, South Africa, in 2016.

Dr James White: The Inerrancy of Scripture (part 1) 06/05/2016 Cape Town

27:45—29:00 mins

Dr. White says that there is one word that scholars would have to avoid in academia or scholarship is “Inerrancy.” Dr. N.T. Wright said “…silly American doctrine of Inerrancy.”

I note here at this point that I don’t know where James White acquired this quote from. Apparently, according to this blog by Eric McKiddie (April 19, 2012), Dr. N.T. Wright said in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperOne, 2010) that Infallibility and Inerrancy has been incorrectly misused or misframed by North American Protestantism up against Roman Catholicism and Liberalism. I do not own this book (Simply Christian), so I cannot verify this quotation in context. It seems to me that Eric McKiddie might have misunderstood N.T. Wright, but I cannot judge since I do not own this book.

White notes that “Inspiration” does not really represent the Greek Theopneustos, which actually means God-breathed. “Inspiration” comes from the Latin Vulgate and it does not really convey the idea of words of Scripture coming from God.

30:00—32:00 mins

White notes that people come up with wild ways of defining “error.”

39:15—49:00 mins

White says that he has seen a lot of difficulties in Scripture by dealing with Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, atheist scholars, etc., but that he has never seen a textual problem that caused him to provably doubt Scripture as a whole. What Jesus said about Moses or the OT, it is clear that he fully held the Scripture to be God’s Word.

52:00—56:00 mins

White does not believe in a mechanical dictation of Scripture; a form of automatic writing. God, who brought the universe into existence, is capable of guiding men of Scripture into truth and not into error. The result of Scripture is what is inspired, not the authors themselves.

Dr James White: The Inerrancy of Scripture (part 2) 07/05/2016 Cape Town

In this presentation, Dr. James White goes through the Articles (there are 19 of them in total) in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. You may click on the link to download it. I will be reviewing the Chicago Statement Articles in my next blog post.

19:45—20:45 mins

On Article 9, White notes my own understanding, that if the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write or deliver a message, that it would do so fully in the factual matters that they address. He clarifies that: “It does not follow, then, that if the Apostle Paul decides to write a treatise on Particle Physics that he would have gotten it right. He did not know what Particle Physics were, and he did not need to know those things to be used in the way that the Holy Spirit used him to give us those sections of Scripture that he was responsible for.”

So, I note here, that this is an argument that I myself make against Inerrancy; not for Inerrancy. At least, against the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, not necessarily against what I could defend Inerrancy to be, like what Mike Licona tried to do in his debate with Richard Howe.

21:40—22 :45 mins

On Article 10, White notes that this Article sounds somewhat like the original Introduction to the King James Bible, written then by the King James translators. The translators had said in their introduction that even the “meanest” translation that is faithful to the originals can be called the Word of God. I agree with this, but at the same time, I believe it can create problems for the inerrantists at times, especially for the OT.

24:30—29:00 mins

White notes that textual errors found in much later manuscripts made by scribes (comparing them to hundreds of other manuscripts and the thousands of citations found in the Apostolic and Church Fathers) is not a problem for Inerrancy, but for the Preservation of Scripture. I’ve noted this myself in one of my past blog posts. Still, in Article 10, White notes that the absence of the autographs does not impact the affirmation of Inerrancy. He notes that some argue that if we do not have the originals (that is me!) that we cannot even begin to discuss Inerrancy. He notes that it is not a problem since in all the NT manuscripts that we have (almost 6,000 NT manuscripts today), we absolutely have all the words from the originals, but that we may in reality have more words—not less words. So, in Textual Criticism, we have to determine which words or phrases were added.

I here note myself, however, that this may not be literally, strictly true. Despite this, I acknowledge that we must be above 95-98% close to the originals. I will discuss this some other time. Also, White does not even talk about the original OT manuscripts and so this argument does not work for the OT autographs! The extant of the OT manuscripts are not like those of the NT manuscripts! So, this argument does not automatically carry over evenly or uniformly back into the OT texts.

31:25—33:45 mins

On Article 12, White notes that this is one major point of contention in scholarship, where we note that the authority of Scripture is limited to “spiritual, religious and redemptive themes.” White notes that he agrees that the Bible is not meant to be an extensive narrative of mankind or a science textbook. He agrees that the Bible is not meant to be “a scientific inquiry on this issue or that issue.” However, I here note that White seem to be misses the point in the creation vs evolution debate, that he does not even mention at all, by the way: that creationists often abuse the biblical text to make science fit with the textual data and use the Bible as a guide into science. White did note that some might contradict creation (i.e., Genesis) when promoting naturalism. He did not specify what kind of researcher or advocate when he said “some…” He does not even mention how creationists are concordists when it comes to Genesis 1-3. This has been a major debate for the past 50 years, not really the examples that he mentioned in this presentation. So, it strikes me as odd that he did not elaborate on this since the creation vs evolution debate is where most abuse occurs.

34:30—37:00 mins

On Article 13, White notes a problem that I will be reviewing and, perhaps, use as an example to unpack my own view at a later point: the hare (similar to the rabbit), says the Pentateuch, chews the cud as seen in Leviticus 11.3–6 and Deuteronomy 14.7. But the hare does not have divided hoofs (in the toes of ruminant mammals), so it is not permitted in Leviticus to be eaten since it is considered ritually unclean. Chewing the cud refers to being a ruminant, but in modern zoological classification, hares are not ruminants because they do not have multiple stomach compartments to regurgitate and re-chew food back into the stomach(s). So, scientifically speaking, the hare is not a ruminant. However, in the Hebrew text, it is true that hares do in fact chew the cud since they re-eat pellets that they defecate and re-digest them, but without having multiple stomachs. Or, at least, if this is wrong, then hares still appear to chew the cud due to the way that they chew their food—to the appearance of cattle. Therefore, White notes that the Hebrew Bible here is parking on an observation, they were not doing scientific anatomy, that the hare does appear to chew the cud. He notes that it was usual for the Israelites to identify which animals they were able to eat or not based on this external observation; it was not mean to be scientifically accurate. So, there is no error here.

However, I note here that I find some of these solutions arbitrary, although I agree with these kinds of solutions. The problem is that inerrantists sometimes do not agree with our views about some biblical texts where it seems at odd with modern science; and when scholars provide some solutions that appear to contradict a biblical text, inerrantists will sometimes overreact and judge those scholars as not being orthodox or true upholders of Inerrancy. This is what I despise.

41:20—43:15 mins

On Article 15, White notes that Jesus’ view of Scripture was fully the Word of God, it’s obvious. However, White notes that many people “want to get around Jesus’ view of Scripture by saying ‘well, he was a man of his age, the incarnation means that he had limited knowledge and he accepted the theories of the Jews of the day’…” In fact, I myself make this very argument and I will continue defending it for reasons I will distill at later points.

White goes on to explain that he had attended a debate where a Professor from Fuller Seminary, who was promoting the LGBT movement, ended his presentation saying that we must be free to differ from how first century Jews viewed Scripture, and to be free to think and believe differently from Paul and Jesus because we are not living under the same [socio-political, cultural?] circumstances. White did not agree with this Professor.

However, I think that we do have to ponder these issues more thoroughly and that it is not so clear-cut that because Jesus or Paul said one thing in one ancient, first century Jewish context that every statements they made must be carried over the intact and the same in today’s society. In fact, even in the Bible itself, especially in the OT, we see such developments and changes. Rightfully interpreting Scripture comes down to extracting principles out of Scripture and noticing how they can be transferable or not. The problem is not so much if nowadays we could legitimately do this or not, but to see that there are peripheral tensions in the very OT texts that show us that some changes in ancient Israelite and ancient Near-Eastern society called for adjustments in the Laws of Moses (esp. after the Israelites settled in the Land of Canaan and after the Solomonic Temple was destroyed), or adjustments in the understanding of what God ordained in particular contexts. In fact, the ten commandments in Exodus 20 are not black-or-white. They must be interpreted in context, and there were, and are, often nuances that must be resolved. The commandment, for instance, to not make graven images in the likeness of anything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth does not apply to the molding and graving of the Cherubim diving beings that were placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant later in Exodus. The commandment not to bear false witness does not apply, for example, to the lie of Rahab (which was not to hide evil or something bad, but to save righteous lives, i.e., the Israelite spies that were sent to Jericho in Joshua 2-6). There are changes to the Law of Moses from Exodus to Deuteronomy when comparing both books when they deal with the same content—they involve some modifications due to Deuteronomy being written at a later time period when Israel had gone through centuries of changes. The changes are not so much theological than they are practical; but still changes.

43:15—44:00 mins

On Article 16, White says that Inerrancy is not a new doctrine and that it exists since the NT and the Church Fathers. He notes that those who say Inerrancy is a new doctrine do not know what they are talking about.

However, although it might be true of some scholars, I do not fully agree with this observation from White. It seems quite clear to me that the modern view on Inerrancy is actually new, not “old” as he says, and as the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy says as well. When we find concepts of inerrancy in the NT and the Patristic Fathers (not the actual words “inerrant” or “inerrancy”), this does not prove that the statements that inerrantists make of inerrancy today is fair and accurate! Why? Because modern scholars debate historical and scientific matters today that were not in the mindset of the NT authors and the Patristic Fathers in their own time-period, and they did not have modern concerns in light of recent science. In other words, the NT authors were not concerned with our modern scientific issues and preoccupations. Therefore, we cannot use the NT and the Church Fathers as a defense for Inerrancy as it is pleaded in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. He notes that the NT authors and Fathers believed that Scripture were the very words of God “in their teaching”, or in what they taught. Precisely, that is my point, and this point does not prove Inerrancy in matters of history and science, or even in ethical issues where some ethical demands throughout the Bible are somewhat based on the ancient culture (think of violence and defensive wars in the OT and divorce and remarriage in both the OT and NT).

54:00—1:02:00 mins

Towards the end of White’s presentation, he criticized Dr. Bart Ehrman since he specializes in NT Textual Criticism, but Ehrman now appears to the public to be a specialist on everything about the New Testament; yet Ehrman sometimes shows no knowledge of the best answers given by believing scholars about some apparent contradictions in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). As an example, White gives Mark 5.22-43 (compare Matthew 9.18-26 and Luke 8.41-56) which is the story about the resuscitation of Jairus’ daughter. When comparing Mark against Matthew and Luke, there are apparent contradictions, but White offers that Matthew is “telescoping” the account of Mark; or, in other words, “abbreviating” the account as White says here at this point.

Well, let me note here at this point that this is precisely what Mike Licona was arguing in his debate with Richard G. Howe: that Matthew was streamlining, or compressing, or simplifying the accounts of the Roman Centurion and the cursing of the fig tree by Jesus! You see! Notice how Dr. James White gives the same explanation as Dr. Michael Licona, yet by using another term, “telescoping.” I wonder what a debate, or a dialog, between White and Howe would give.

White says that Mark intended to give a full account of Jairus’ daughter, but Matthew was abbreviating—and this considering that Mark’s Gospel is much shorter than Matthew or Luke. But then Matthew and Luke added much more material to Mark’s stories, and Matthew often added more speeches and conversations, including Jesus’ genealogy and birth account just like Luke did, but we can notice that Matthew still felt like he had to cut down details out of the stories.