Charles Briggs on inerrancy (Or, "A ghost of modern evangelicalism to frighten children")

posted by Kris (with a "k") pcharles-briggs

The following is an excerpt from the inaugural address at Union Theological Seminary given by Charles Briggs that was the straw to break the camel's back, i.e., get him excommunicated from the Presbyterian church.

This particular section is concerned with the doctrine (or dogma as Briggs would prefer) of inerrancy. Hold onto your seat and get your pen out. He's got some things you'll either want to underline, or cross-out. Personally, I erred on the former. Enjoy.

The fourth barrier set up by theologians to keep men away from the Bible is the dogma of the inerrancy of Scripture. This barrier confronts Historical Criticism. It is not a pleasant task to point out errors in the sacred Scriptures. Nevertheless Historical Criticism finds them, and we must meet the issue whether they destroy the authority of the Bible or not. It has been taught in recent years, and is still taught by some theologians, that one proved error destroys the authority of Scripture. I shall venture to affirm that, so far as I can see, there are errors in the Scriptures that no one has been able to explain away; and the theory that they were not in the original text is sheer assumption, upon which no mind can rest with certainty. If such errors destroy the authority of the Bible, it is already destroyed for historians. Men cannot shut their eyes to truth and fact. But on what authority do these theologians drive men from the Bible by this theory of inerrancy? The Bible itself nowhere makes this claim. The creeds of the Church nowhere sanction it. It is a ghost of modern evangelicalism to frighten children. The Bible has maintained its authority with the best scholars of our time, who with open minds have been willing to recognize any error that might be pointed out by Historical Criticism for these errors are all in the circumstantials and not in the essentials; they are in the human setting, not in the precious jewel itself; they are found in that section of the Bible that theologians commonly account for from the providential superintendence of the mind of the author, as distinguished from divine revelation itself. It may be that this providential superintendence gives infallible guidance in every particular; and it may be that it differs but little, if at all, from the providential superintendence of the fathers and schoolmen and theologians of the Christian Church. It is not important for our purpose that we should decide this question. If we should abandon the whole field of providential superintendence so far as inspiration and divine authority are concerned and limit divine inspiration and authority to the essential contents of the Bible, to its religion, faith, and morals, we would still have ample room to seek divine authority where alone it is essential, or even important, in the teaching that guides our devotions, our thinking, and our conduct. Whether divine authority extends to the circumstantials of this divine teaching or not, it is unwise and it is unchristian to force men to accept the divine authority of the Bible or reject it, on the question of its inerrancy in the circumstantials and the details of every passage.