Partial Omniscience: Observations On Limited Inerrancy -- By: J. Barton Payne

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 18:1 (Winter 1975)
Article: Partial Omniscience: Observations On Limited Inerrancy
Author: J. Barton Payne

Partial Omniscience:
Observations On Limited Inerrancy

J. Barton Payne*

St. Louis, Missouri, 63141

“Mr. Jones, who teaches at my school, is omniscient,” says Johnny. “What, you mean he knows everything? … Well, not exactly everything; but he does have an absolutely perfect knowledge of everything he’s intended to teach, that is, third grade multiplication tables.”

Did somebody fudge in this dialogue? Theoretically, Johnny may be entitled to redefine the adjective omniscient, so that it connotes a merely partial omniscience. But since, in practice, the word normally signifies an incommunicable divine attribute of knowledge—of knowledge without deficiency of any sort—we suspect that Johnny’s assertion is a bit misleading. Similarly, if inerrancy, as applied to the Bible, has normally been understood to signify its “never wandering into false teaching”1 anywhere at all, did then Richard J. Coleman’s article in the last issue of this Journal (17:4, pp. 207-214) perhaps fudge in its advocacy of a”limited inerrancy”? Interaction with its proposals can lead to the following observations.

I. We should all appreciate Coleman’s antipathy toward H. P. Smith’s view of “limited inspiration” and the writer’s plea for the fully inspired Scripture (pp. 208, 211)—provided, of course, that one’s definition of inspiration includes its divinely guaranteed truthfulness.2 We can all appreciate his criticism of Daniel P. Fuller’s attempt to limit inerrancy within Scripture to “revealed matters” and what Coleman sees as an artificial separation by Fuller of these passages from the supposedly non-revelatory materials of holy writ (p. 209, note 9). His disapproval of former Presbyterian U.S.A. attempts to limit Biblical authority to certain kinds of subject matter, i.e., to faith and morals (p. 213; cf. note 2), separated from history (p. 208), is similarly refreshing. Finally his clarification of-the various ways in which inerrancy is currently being defined, or redefined, is helpful (cf. p. 212),3 together with the *Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary.

bibliographical detail with which his footnotes abound.

II. Yet at certain points, particularly in its criticisms of Norman L. Geisler,4 one observes that this article in favor of “Reconsidering ‘Limited Inerrancy,’” seems to becloud issues rather than clarify them. It uses Geisler’s acknowledgment, that the Bib...

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