David Lose: Augustine's not on your side, I'm afraid

In his recent post on literal Bible reading and inerrancy, Lose formulates his third critique as follows: "Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally." His argument here is two-fold, namely that inerrancy is a relatively new doctrine in the history of the Church and most Christians across time have not been concerned with the factual accuracy of the biblical text. On these two counts therefore the doctrine of inerrancy is suspect. In defense of these assertions he cites Augustine's allegorical interpretation, which often looked past the surface details of the text to find a deeper spiritual meaning. It is a fair statement that current formulations and discussions about inerrancy are relatively recent, within the last few hundred years. But the deduction that the church before this time was not concerned about the truth of the Bible and whether it contained error is patently false. Lose claims that many theologians were  "adamantly opposed" to notions like inerrancy, and here is where he refers to Augustine's allegorical interpretation. But perhaps we also ought to let Augustine himself speak about the issue of error within the Bible, which would be part and parcel of the question of inerrancy. Here's a citation from Letter 82, paragraph 3, taken from John E. Rotelle, ed., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century:

I learned to show this reverence and respect only to those books of the scriptures that are now called canonical so that I most firmly believe that none of their authors erred in writing anything. And if I come upon something in those writings that seems contrary to the truth, I have no doubt that either the manuscript is defective or the translator did not follow what was said or that I did not understand it.

Here we see Augustine proclaim his belief that none of the authors of the Bible erred in their writing and this freedom from error extends to everything they wrote. That sounds a lot like inerrancy to me. Now it is fair to say that much of Augustine's allegorical exegesis worked around the details of the text, but even so his foundational belief is that the Bible is without error. This is a major emphasis of contemporary formulations of inerrancy, so there is historical continuity with the past on this issue, despite Lose's claims. To claim otherwise is incorrect.