If we hold to the “bright student” view of inerrancy, we have accepted the idea that an error is a possibility. It is a point that can be discussed. Perhaps we should consider it sometime, in an appropriate academic setting. This assumption of the possibility of error (although actual error is not admitted) is what sets the stage for the next development. This is where we grade the paper just like we used to—writing 100 percent at the top for the time being—but starting to take issue with this answer or that one. This is how dishonest scholars have been able to use the word infallible to mean something like “fallible.” I have heard of one fundamentalist school where inerrancy was affirmed in the same breath as a statement that the Bible contained teaching that was false. Just because we wrote 100 percent at the top of the paper did not mean that we accepted all the answers.
The Scriptures tell us that the Word of God is perfect. That Word is the touchstone; all other aspiring doctrines, teachings, claims, or truths are to be held up to it and evaluated in terms of it. This brings us face to face with something from which the modern mind recoils, even many conservatives who subscribe to “inerrancy”—the idea of ultimate authority, final authority.
The Bible is not a grab bag of infallible truths, thoughtfully provided by God so that we could have an axiomatic starting point for our subsequently autonomous reasoning. The Scriptures are authoritative. We are men, with our breath in our nostrils. We are creatures with little pointy heads. Further, to complicate matters, we are sinful creatures. We must be under a complete authority, a full authority, an exhaustive authority. And we must learn to submit to this authority of the living God (with a little more cheerfulness than we have demonstrated up to this point).
The charge, of course, will be that we have embraced obscurantism. We are opposed, they’ll say, to science, to health, or, worse yet, to good food, wholesome air, and bright sunshine. But we should remain content, whether the slander sticks or not. As creatures, we cannot function without an ultimate court of appeal. This is true of every man, believing or unbelieving, and the only choice we have is whether or not that ultimate court will be the Scriptures.
But surely it should be considered odd for Christians to deny the ultimate place to what God has said.