Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality, or with the social, physical, or life sciences ("The Meaning of Inerrancy," in Inerrancy, produced by The International Conference on Biblical Inerrancy).
In "Words of Faith," an award winning monthly column in the Herald of Holiness for June 1998, Dr. Rob Staples advocate s"soteriological inerrancy," but denies "epistemological inerrancy." This has become a popular position within the Church of the Nazarene.
Epistemology deals with the nature, limits, and validity of knowledge. By sweeping this issue aside, Dr. Staples takes the position of limited inerrancy - that the Bible is without error when it deals with salvation, but should not be expected to be inerrant with regard to other subjects. Here Dr. Staples has redefined "inerrancy."
This is also a form of reductionism. To limit the Creator to the domain of "religion" destroys the unity between nature and grace. God is sovereign over every sphere of life and cannot be confined to matters of salvation only.
In the field of apologetics history, nature, prophecy, and miracles have been used to confirm Scripture. If the record is not accurate at these points, how do we know it is reliable when dealing with salvation?
Francis Schaeffer said Christians do not have a problem with epistemology because truth can be objectively verified. God has revealed truth - propositional truth which can be verified. Therefore, we can operate on the basis of absolutes. Dr. Staples claims this knowledge is not important to Wesleyans. However, this position reduces Christianity to one of many options since every religion has its own way of salvation.
In his July column, "Authority," Dr. Staples concluded that the final religious authority for Christians is the gospel. Yet Paul warned against "another gospel" (Gal 1:6-9). Unless the Scriptures are accepted as our final authority (a major theme of the Protestant reformation), the content of the gospel can be changed. And in many cases today the gospel is being redefined.
If Scripture is not infallible, we will necessarily declare something else to be infallible. Tradition, reason, and experience are all insufficient authorities. We must hold to the faith delivered once for all to the saints through the writings of the prophets and apostles. A doctrine of limited inerrancy weakens the authority of Scripture.
Samuel Wakefield anticipated this position of limited inerrancy in 1862:
Some who advocate the doctrine of Divine inspiration limit it to the prophetical parts of Scripture; while others extend it to the doctrinal parts also, but not to the historical. There are many who maintain that the inspiration of the sacred writers was only occasional; that they were not always under that immediate and plenary [full] influence of the Holy Spirit which renders their writings the unerring word of God; and that consequently, as they were sometimes left to themselves, they then thought and reasoned like ordinary men. According to this notion, an intermixture of human infirmity and error is by no means excluded from the Sacred Scriptures. But if it is once granted that they are in the least degree alloyed with error, an opening is made for every imaginable corruption. And to admit that the sacred writers were only occasionally inspired, would involve us in the greatest perplexity; because, not knowing when they were or were not inspired, we could not determine what parts of their writings should be regarded as the infallible word of God. To tell us, therefore, that they were inspired only on certain occasions, while we have no means of ascertaining what those occasions were, is the same as to say that they were not inspired at all.
After taking a position for limited inerrancy, Dr. Staples then concedes that we cannot "separate the Bible's teachings about salvation from its statements about other matters and claim that the latter may contain errors, while those texts that speak of salvation do not. This would be a precarious position." Here Dr. Staples seems to be back-peddling.
If the Bible is inerrant only concerning matters of salvation, but if we cannot separate biblical teaching on salvation from others subject matters, then the conclusion is that the Bible has a single message - the message of salvation.
In a broad sense, salvation is the message of Scripture. Yet that message is set in "time and space." Would Dr. Staples argue that the Jewish exodus from Egypt depicts salvation, but the actual historical setting is unimportant? I suppose the Mormon scriptures also depict a plan of salvation, but evangelicals reject these books because they contains anachronisms and historical inaccuracies. Shall we simply focus on the salvation message in the books of Mormonism and ignore these inaccuracies as unimportant details?
I believe that God chose to reveal himself to mankind and that he inspired human writers to convey his revelation. If they did not get the message right, then God was not successful in revealing himself. It is impossible that an inerrant God could err in the transmission of truth.
At several points in his article, I feel Dr. Staples muddies the water. First, he speaks of the divisiveness that occurs when inerrancy rears its ugly head. I presume that this is epistemological inerrancy - the kind which he does not advocate.
Divisiveness did not come from the ugly head of inerrancy, it came from the ugly head of liberalism. Historically, the Church held to biblical inerrancy until higher criticism taught the Scriptures were simply the product of human evolution.
Second, Dr. Staples wants us to believe that "fundamentalism" is mostly a Calvinistic problem. Since we are Wesleyans, we should not be fundamentalists. At this point the Church of the Nazarene wants desperately to re-write its own history. As early as 1916 J. B. Chapman, editor of the Herald of Holiness, stated that Nazarenes believed in the fundamentals and then proceeded to give his list of fundamental doctrines. He raised the question whether Nazarenes are Fundamentalists, using the term as a proper noun, and then answered, "Yes, with reservations." While Chapman had reservations about certain Calvinistic tendencies among Fundamentalists, there was no reservation, however, concerning the inerrancy of Scripture. It has been claimed, however, that this was Dr. Chapman's position and not the position of the Nazarene Church. However, Dr. Staples wrote to me that his column and the one on "Authority" to follow in July, "show pretty well my position (and that of the Church of the Nazarene) on Scripture."
How can Dr. Staples write a column that speaks for Nazarenes today, but when Dr. Chapman published his statement as the denominational editor, it did not reflect the position of the church? As late as 1948 Ross Price wrote in the Herald of Holiness
Our Lord, in this argument, assumed the absolute truth of the Scripture, and its changeless, indestructible authority.... The Bible is correct astronomically, geologically, historically, medically, botanically, zoologically. meterologically, prophetically, and spiritually. It is the final court of appeals on matters of faith and practice (29 Nov. 1948).
Third, Dr. Staples asserts that Wesleyans are not concerned about whether or not the Scriptures are true. We are only concerned, he says, with how to be saved. Then he quotes John Wesley's statement that he only wanted to know one thing - the way to heaven. However Dr. Staples omits some other quotations from Wesley:
Nor does Dr. Staples quote Adam Clarke who concluded, "Men may err, but the Scriptures cannot; for it is the Word of God himself, who can neither mistake, deceive, nor be deceived" (Works, 12:132, see also Commentary, 5:11).
Dr. Staples is also at odds with Richard Watson who taught that the Bible must be factually correct in all matters about which it speaks (for example, see Theological Institutes, 1:248). It sounds like early Methodism held to "epistemological inerrancy."
Finally, Dr. Staples concludes with a very misleading statement. He said that "some people try to make the Bible say what God never intended for it to say and then come to swords over whether it is inerrant in saying it." Here he confuses the issues of inspiration and interpretation. Perhaps a few misguided fanatics claim their interpretation is infallible, but most of us believe it is the text itself which is inerrant. The Bible is not inerrant in what is does not say, but it is inerrant in everything which it does say. This was the historic position of the Church of the Nazarene