In my last post I demonstrated that Bruxy Cavey, Doug Sider, and Darrell Winger espoused a common lie in their podcast “Inerrancy, Authority, Tradition and the Bible” when they said that that the concept of biblical inerrancy was a relatively novel doctrine in church history. We saw that Augustine, writing near the end of the fourth century, argued for the inerrancy of the Scriptures in the same way that inerrantists do today.
I wanted to share one more example of Augustine’s belief in biblical inerrancy. This one is found in his disputation with Faustus the Manichean, Book 11.
Augustine Contra Faustus
In the first chapter, Faustus’ argument for his position is laid out. He argues, to prove his position, that Paul’s own writings were in contradiction. He rejects Romans 1:3, saying that Paul was in error, but later corrected himself in 2 Corinthians 5:16. Augustine is horrified at the notion that the Scriptures could be in contradiction. He nails Faustus’ modus operandi – not willing to be corrected by Scripture, Faustus arbitrarily rejects those things which do not fit his preexisting theology.
“As I said a little ago, when these men are beset by clear testimonies of Scripture, and cannot escape from their grasp, they declare that the passage is spurious. The declaration only shows their aversion to the truth, and their obstinacy in error. Unable to answer these statements of Scripture, they deny their genuineness.”
This method is anathema to Augustine as it amounts to the rejection of the authority of Scripture. If the reader of Scripture can simply disregard as false any portion of Scripture which does not support his pre-existing belief, if there is error in Scripture, then it is the reader of Scripture who is the authority – not the Scripture itself.
“But if this answer is admitted, or allowed to have any weight, it will be useless to quote any book or any passage against your errors. It is one thing to reject the books themselves, and to profess no regard for their authority, as the Pagans reject our Scriptures, and the Jews the New Testament, and as we reject any books peculiar to your sect, or any other heretical sect, and also the apocryphal books, which are so called, not because of any mysterious regard paid to them, but because they are mysterious in their origin, and in the absence of clear evidence, have only some obscure presumption to rest upon; and it is another thing to say, This holy man wrote only the truth, and this is his epistle, but some verses are his, and some are not. And then, when you are asked for a proof, instead of referring to more correct or more ancient manuscripts, or to a greater number, or to the original text, your reply is, This verse is his, because it makes for me; and this is not his, because it is against me. Are you, then, the rule of truth? Can nothing be true that is against you?”
Augustine rightly points out that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak. If there are errors in the text, if the text teaches as true things which are not, then what defense does Faustus have if someone else comes along and accepts those texts which Faustus says are in error and rejects those which Faustus holds as true? He rightly points out the slippery slope that a rejection of inerrancy inevitably places us on.
“But what answer could you give to an opponent as insane as yourself, if he confronts you by saying, The passage in your favor is spurious, and that against you is genuine? Perhaps you will produce a book, all of which can be explained so as to support you. Then, instead of rejecting a passage, he will reply by condemning the whole book as spurious. You have no resource against such an opponent..”
Augustine, in a very straightforward way calls out Faustus as a liar when he claims to believe Paul, while rejecting some of his writing as error. Augustine spends some time demonstrating that Paul said many things which were incompatible with Faustus’ beliefs. Augustine points out that the only reason Faustus claims to believe Paul’s writings in the Scriptures when he clearly does not is because he wishes to deceive people, especially those who are somewhat ignorant of Scripture.
“So the profession which Faustus makes of believing the apostle is hypocritical. Instead of saying, ‘Assuredly I believe,’ he should have said, Assuredly I do not believe, as he would have said if he had not wished to deceive people. What part of his belief does he get from the apostle?… And to crown all this, he tries to deceive the ignorant who are not learned in the sacred Scriptures, by making this profession: I assuredly believe the Apostle Paul; when he ought to have said, I assuredly do not believe.”
Again, just as he did with Jerome, Augustine insists that any apparent contradiction or error in Scripture is the error of the reader, not the text. He explains that through careful study of the text we can discover that Scripture is united and harmonious. It is not like other books where we are free to agree or disagree, or to hold part of the text in higher esteem than another, we must submit to Scripture in it’s entirety. The result of admitting error in it is the complete destruction of it’s authority and hopeless confusion.
It is worth noting that Augustine obviously accepts the fact that there may be errors in particular manuscripts or translations, and that we can determine if there is a better reading by comparing manuscripts and translations. This is the same point inerrantists make when we say that inerrancy applies to the autographs.
“The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the successions of bishops and the extension of the Church, and, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind. If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood. In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. In other books the reader may form his own opinion, and perhaps, from not understanding the writer, may differ from him, and may pronounce in favor of what pleases him, or against what he dislikes. In such cases, a man is at liberty to withhold his belief, unless there is some clear demonstration or some canonical authority to show that the doctrine or statement either must or may be true. But in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist. Otherwise, not a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility, if contempt for the wholesome authority of the canonical books either puts an end to that authority altogether, or involves it in hopeless confusion.
…even though both quotations were not from the writings of one apostle,— though one were from Paul, and the other from Peter, or Isaiah, or any other apostle or prophet— such is the equality of canonical authority, that it would not be allowable to doubt of either. For the utterances of Scripture, harmonious as if from the mouth of one man, commend themselves to the belief of the most accurate and clear-sighted piety, and demand for their discovery and confirmation the calmest intelligence and the most ingenious research. In the case before us both quotations are from the canonical, that is, the genuine epistles of Paul. We cannot say that the manuscript is faulty, for the best Latin translations substantially agree; or that the translations are wrong, for the best texts have the same reading. So that, if any one is perplexed by the apparent contradiction, the only conclusion is that he does not understand. Accordingly it remains for me to explain how both passages, instead of being contradictory, may be harmonized by one rule of sound faith. The pious inquirer will find all perplexity removed by a careful examination.”
So, here is yet another example of Augustine arguing for the inerrancy of Scripture in the same way that inerrantists would argue today:
- When error is admitted in Scripture, men are left to reject that which does not accord with their own preferences and accept only what they find acceptible.
- If error is admitted in Scripture then the authority of Scripture is completely destroyed and we are left in utter confusion.
- If error is admitted in Scripture then the reader becomes the authority over the Scripture.
- The errantist is left without defence of his own positions because the texts he holds as true are just as easily rejected as error by someone else, while the texts he rejects as error can be held to as true by someone else.
- To claim to believe Scripture while rejecting some of it as error is hypocritical, dishonest, and deceitful.
- The Scriptures together speak “as if from the mouth of one man”. They are consistent and harmonious. Any perceived error or contradiction is the fault of the reader. Diligent study of the godly person will remove all perplexity.
It has been demonstrated that when leaders at BIC Canada, Bruxy Cavey, Doug Sider, and Darrell Winger claim that the inerrancy of Scripture is a novel doctrine they are perpetuating a lie. Perhaps they are doing so knowingly, perhaps not. Either way, the lie is exposed.
Their podcast “Inerrancy, Authority, Tradition and the Bible” was recorded, according to them, to make clear to church leaders within the BIC Canada what their view of Scripture is. Will Cavey, Sider and Winger retract their statements on the historicity of this doctrine and give the correct information to these church leaders now that it has been demonstrated that they spoke falsely? I hope they will.