The reason I struggle with this is because I’ve seen the idea of inerrancy be a huge hang-up for unbelievers and skeptics, and it’s hard for me to see why this is a hill to die on. It’s a difficult hill for me to die on because the idea of inerrancy doesn’t at all claim that what we have now is inerrant, though it recognizes it’s good enough to get us the vital truths. What we have is a solid representation, and through God’s Spirit, the current text is used infallibly by God to accomplish his purposes. I’ll die on that hill! But to argue that the autographs - which we don’t have access to - are without any error whatsoever seems like a Catholic version of the immaculate conception - arguing something which isn’t necessitated by the text of scripture nor has any bearing on the Bible we have now, as we don’t have access to this inerrant work. What’s more, while the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception is adhered to because they think it’s required to obtain a theological necessity - the sinlessness of Christ - inerrancy falls far short of this. Why? Because inerrancy gets you a perfect autograph which God thought was important enough to convey inerrantly, while getting you a varied copy God didn’t see fit to preserve inerrantly. The doctrine of the immaculate conception tries to get you something you need (a perfect incarnate God and savior) while the doctrine of inerrancy seems to get something we want (a perfect Bible which bolsters my confidence), and then discards it in the rubbish bin of ancient history, never to be seen again.
The second area I struggle with in regard to inerrancy as presented in the Chicago document is in regard to the limitation of human language. The document says, “We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration.” What strikes me about this is the seeming double standard we Protestants have in regard to words and images.
Prior to moving to Romania I studied Eastern Orthodoxy a little. One of the areas I tried to wrap my head around was the topic of icons. I read a number of works, including a work by Theodore the Studite. I was intrigued by their grounding of iconography in the fact that God “iconned” his image in Jesus Christ. The Westminster Confession opposes images of Jesus because, though we recognize Jesus as the “exact representation” of God’s being (Heb. 1:3), and Jesus told us that when we see him, we see the Father - we know that any imaging of Jesus or God would be to circumscribe God. We’d be limiting him and binding him in something finite, and an approximation rather than a pure representation.
But isn’t this essentially what the Chicago document is doing, just with words? The document recognizes that there was a true representation of God’s desired verbal communication - the inerrant autographs. Yet the document recognizes that we don’t have those. We have a close approximation - or perhaps “sufficient” approximation would be better in order to convey that the vital content is the same. In light of this it’s hard for me not to view the Protestant concept of inerrancy as akin to the Orthodox’s veneration of icons. Protestants criticize the Orthodox for “worshiping” icons, which are mere representations of Jesus and the Saints rather than the real deal. Yet it seems Protestants also worship mere representations if we don’t have access to the autographs. If we want to call our worship of the Bible “veneration,” and a tool, rather than a pure form, then it seems our lowering of the importance of inerrancy (the Word circumscribed in words), as well as our acceptance of icons (the Word circumscribed in images) ought to follow from this.
Where does that leave me with the question at hand - “Can we really say the Old Testament is inerrant?” The answer to that seems to be “yes.” I think we can say that the Old Testament is inerrant. God certainly speaks perfectly, and we know that his Spirit is able to equip hearers to discern what God is saying. There is no doubt in my mind that the Old Testament in the original autograph could be said to be inerrant. Some might point to the various discrepancies we have between variants, like the ones highlighted in the articles we read for this week. However, as the Chicago document points out, “We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs.” Variations don’t at all mean that the content is invalid or unknowable in its main focus.
In the end, I suppose this may be where some feel the need to die on inerrancy’s hill. If we believe we have an inerrant autograph - if we believe that the original source for today’s text is inerrant, perhaps that gives some people more confidence that today’s variant scripture has a better chance of being used infallibly. However, it seems to me that this ought to be a confidence we derive not from the text, but as a result of the Spirit’s work in us to discern the Bible. Nevertheless, as the immaculate conception and a traducian holding of the virgin birth gives some people a better hope for Jesus’s sinlessness, I suppose some feel the Bible’s confidence needs to rest in its original inerrancy. While I might believe in inerrancy, I don’t feel the need to die on that hill since I’ve never encountered an inerrant autograph, nor plan on it in the future.