For some time I have been wondering how the early Christians discuss issues like inerrancy. The obvious thing to do is to collect statements from the first 3-4 centuries of Christian writing, and see what sort of attitude to scripture these have. Indeed it is so obvious that surely someone has already done this? Suggestions would be welcome!
From general reading I know that Tertullian in De praescriptione haereticorum 8 advises Christians not to argue with unbelievers using the bible. But, living at the end of the second century as he did, he had a special reason. At that period unbelievers routinely forged gospels and other texts, supposedly by apostles. The canon existed, but only in a basic form. Thus it was too easy for the malevolent to simply toss believers into a whirlpool of crooked arguments. Tertullian recommends following something easier to argue with, the united testimony of the churches that can prove their apostolic origin. His argument is pragmatic, and the Fathers tended to follow him.
Modern Christians have a specific issue in mind. Do we treat the Bible as an infallible authority on matters of history and science, or consider that those elements are incidental? (Some feel that the Old Testament and New can be treated differently on this issue).
All Christians believe that it is an infallible authority on matters of Christian teaching. Indeed it is mildly amusing to hear some people attack “inerrantists” for refusing to “accept that scripture is fallible on matters of science”, when we then find that they don’t actually believe that it is infallible in any other respect, and their argument is not with some small group but with every part of Christendom, from Jesus and the apostles down to myself!
But perhaps the real reason why we don’t find any specific comment in the early Christians is that this particular issue wasn’t one that they had to answer. This happens in other areas also, and invariably means that they make comments which tend to one side or the other, without being definitive. The question simply isn’t present to their minds, which makes them useless as a source of information on the specific question.
Maybe so. I’d like to see the evidence before I decide on this.