(1) Although there is a clear distinction today between meaning and sentences, inspiration may be viewed as implying neither merely conceptual or merely verbal supervision on the part of the Holy Spirit. Inspiration in this realm of discourse applies to both content and wording, meanings and sentences.
(2) “Inerrancy” may be used most clearly for meanings which are cognitively taught by those with delegated authority as spokesmen for God, and for non-cognitive meanings relating to the speakers themselves.
(3) “Infallibility” most helpfully designates the verbal media of the Scriptures as effective communicators of the Spirit-intended meaning through the Biblical writings.
(4) All that is written in Scripture is infallible. All that Scripture teaches cognitively is objectively true. All that Scripture teaches non-cognitively is subjectively true, i.e. true of the one whose idea is expressed. This then is a plenary view of verbal inspiration; all sentences are infallible, and all meanings are inerrant for their respective purposes.
Since Rob has recently obtained permission to make available online the Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society (1958-1968), I have encouraged him to give priority to the digitization of articles such as this, which illustrate some of the early (and rather diverse) formulations of inerrancy from the founding generation of the Evangelical Theological Society1. This is particularly important, I think, because many people routinely equate the notion of “Biblical inerrancy” with its more radical proponents and, by extension, with their straw men of choice (a problem insightfully discussed by the infallible Moisés Silva in his 1997 ETS Presidential address, with particular reference to the late James Barr’s Fundamentalism). By so doing, such persons end up joining forces with their sworn fundamentalistic enemies to affirm together with them that theirs is the sole formulation of inerrancy possible. Strange bedfellows, indeed! (I mean, imagine if Jim West and the late Jerry Falwell had issued a joint statement on, well, anything.)
Our good friend John Hobbins (a notorious sectarian and communist) has caught a lot of flack for carefully nuancing his use language when it comes to such things as inerrancy and definite redemption. For instance, Doug Chaplin comments: “Of course, being John, he immediately offers an interpretation of these terms which is entirely different from anything anyone else commonly means by them.” But as I have hinted elsewhere (see here and the comments here), “Calvinism” comes in many forms, and so does “inerrancy”; thus what people commonly mean (and have meant) by such terms covers a very broad spectrum indeed. It is therefore supremely misguided to arbitrarily choose any one form and treat it as though it were the sole claimant to the broad label, while dismissing those who offer alternative formulations as trying to have their cake and eat it too. Again, such an approach makes for some excellent straw men and can accommodate every imaginable shibboleth, but it very closely borders the insufferable: it all sounds too much like a case of “I have made up my mind about (Calvinists, inerrantists, etc.); don’t bother me with the facts!” In the end, if one finds John’s formulations of inerrancy and definite redemption unrecognizable, that only speaks of one’s lack of acquaintance with (or else one’s unwillingness to recognize the very existence of) the extent and varieties of the formulation of these doctrines, and of nothing else.
I’ve been toying with the idea of blogging through some of the articles in the book Inerrancy and Common Sense in order to engage some of these diverse approaches, but the several other books I’m currently working on wouldn’t allow such an exercise until sometime after Pascha. But I do hope that as further articles from the old BETS become available, a window will be opened to a wide spectrum of learned and nuanced approaches to inerrancy, which are not exhausted by the radical views that some would make the sole representatives of the whole.
1Incidentally, contra Kevin Edgecomb’s comment here, I should like to state that the ETS is no “outfit” of miscreants—or, at any rate, it hasn’t been for most of its history. I will grant that, as Jim West mockingly suggests, the very subject of some of the articles in the latest number of JETS made one stare at the Table of Contents in disbelief. Perhaps the best of inerrantist Evangelical scholarship is behind us; I, for one, certainly hope this is not the case.