How Not to Argue for Inerrancy

William Lane Craig teaches a Sunday school class in his church, Johnson Ferry Baptist, which seeks to equip Christians to know what they believe and why. There is no doubt that Craig is incredibly skilled as a teacher, and this series – called “Defenders” – is actually a great introduction for anyone wanting to learn about what Christians believe and why.

Whilst Craig’s strengths as a philosopher, theologian, teacher, and communicator are well showcased in this series, I found his section on inerrancy surprisingly weak. Granted, this series isn’t supposed to be academically highbrow, but his argument for inerrancy falls short by the standard of the rest of the series itself.

Very basically Craig gives a two step argument for inerrancy. The first step runs like so:

(1) Whatever God teaches is true.
(2) Jesus is God.
(3) Therefore whatever Jesus teaches is true.

The second step builds on this:

(4) Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
(5) Jesus taught that the scriptures are inerrant.
(6) Therefore the scriptures are the inerrant word of God.

Now, keep in mind that Craig is here addressing Christians. (1) plausibly follows from the Christian conception of God. (2) is reasonably deducted – reckons Craig – on historical grounds (prophecies, the life and claims of Christ, and his resurrection which affirmed those claims), and (3) follows by logical deduction. (4) is simply conclusion (3) plugged in as the first premise of the second step of the argument. (5) is a reasonable deduction from what we know about the life and claims of Christ, and (6) a logical deduction.

While many will quibble with one or more of the premises, I think the problem is more fundamental. Take premise (5) – Jesus taught that the scriptures are inerrant. But what does “scriptures” mean here? It can only refer to the Old Testament. Christ made no claims about any collection of writings that would be written about him subsequently. When he spoke of the scriptures he meant the Old Testament. But now consider conclusion (6). In (6) Craig wants to use “scriptures” to mean the 66 books of the Protestant canon. However, this is a different sense of the term than what appeared in premise (5). And thus what we appear to have here is a case of what logicians call the fallacy of equivocation. This fallacy occurs when a term used in an argument has one meaning in one part of the argument and then a different meaning in another part of the argument.

In Craig’s case the term “scriptures” in one part of his argument means “The Old Testament” while in the conclusion the word scripture means “The 66 books of the Protestant canon.” Whether the premises are true or not the argument is logically invalid.

There may of course be good arguments in favour of inerrancy, but this isn’t one of them.

Stephen J Graham

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Filed under Bible, Equivocation, William Lane Craig

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