Inerrancy: Did God Actually Say?

We are familiar with the conversation. Satan had entered into the Garden of Eden and inhabited a serpent. This serpent then began to talk with Adam’s wife Eve. The exchange began with the serpent’s seemingly innocuous query, “Did actually say ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” What seems innocent enough is in fact the hair trigger of a trap. Satan was not interested in conducting an objective survey of God’s command but was intent on destroying the crown of God’s creation workmanship, Adam and Eve. If you pay close attention to the question (found at Genesis 3:1-7) you will notice that the serpent actually misquoted God on purpose.

I wanted us to look at this passage of Scripture as a way to segue into a consideration of the doctrine of inerrancy. There are many things that could be said about this doctrine. Numerous articles and books have been written in critique and defense of this sound teaching. What can we possibly learn about the truth of inerrancy from Genesis 3? I believe the conversation between the serpent and Eve can shed light on the question of whether the Scriptures as they came from the hands of the original authors contained errors of fact regarding history, science, and theology.

Satan, speaking through the crafty serpent, asked Eve if God had in fact commanded she and her husband not to eat from any tree in the garden. Satan was challenging the veracity or truthfulness or trustworthiness of the God who spoke to Adam who in turn must have shared this command with her once she had been created (Genesis 2:15-17). Satan disrespected God by suggesting that God’s words were not trustworthy. Satan invited Eve to set herself up as judge, jury, and executioner in the matter of assessing whether God’s Word could be trusted, rested in, relied upon. Reading further in the dialogue reveals that this was Satan’s goal all along.

You may be wondering whether we are dealing with the same matter here. How is this exchange between Satan-serpent and Eve related to inerrancy? In this way: To charge the Bible with errors is to say that God’s Word can’t be trusted. The outcome is the same too. If the Bible has one error or many, we then must rely on our ability to ascertain where the errors lie so that we can avoid building doctrine out of those passages and so that we can avoid allowing those questionable portions of Scripture to influence our lifestyles. In other words, if the Bible is riddled with errors then we need to set ourselves up as judge, jury, and executioner about which sections of Scripture are error free and which aren’t.

Honestly, I am not able to ascertain how one can be a judge over Scripture and also at one the same time be subject to it. That would be an interesting exercise in spiritual-mental gymnastics! Just as Satan invited Eve to judge between the trustworthiness of his words over against the Word of God, so heading down the road to embracing either limited inerrancy (inerrancy regarding redemption but not science and history) or a full-fledged errant Bible lands us on the same ground. Accepting the idea that a righteous and holy and truthful God could communicate through error prone Scripture, as some recent “evangelical” theologians have, is to embrace lunacy and questions the integrity of our great and glorious Triune God.

God does not merely possess truthfulness. He is truth himself. Jesus said of himself that he was “the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6). Paul said, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Let’s not repeat the error of Eve in her conversation with the serpent. Let’s rest in the trustworthy God of Scripture and the Scriptures of our wholly trustworthy God.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

Jeffrey Waddington