What does “inerrancy” teach? A first principle: The Bible is without error. And a second like unto it: the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts.
How did “inerrancy” become a teaching of many churches? 20th century liberal academics contended that any error by 20th century standards ruled out the possibility that the Bible could be God’s Word. Conservative academics granted the premise but disagreed with the conclusion. Since then, a great deal of energy has gone into showing how what appear to be errors (what we would consider errors in our time and place) in the Bible actually don’t count.
Why is “inerrancy” so important to people who teach it? Once it is granted that a text with errors could not be written by God, the battle lines which fund an inerrancy position are drawn. For those who take this position, the Bible collapses in on itself if any error is found there.
So, Jon, you believe the Bible has errors in it? I believe that, if we are going to be forthright in our use of words in the 21st century, we should acknowledge that by current usage of the word “error” yes the Bible does include errors. I believe it is disingenuous to say to the people I work with in rural America, or any other person in fact, that the Bible is error-free.
You don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word? I believe firmly that the Bible is God’s Word, come to us from God himself.
How can you take the Bible to be God’s Word when you believe it has errors in it? The plot thickens. I think “inerrancy” historically granted far too much ground to the liberal ideology it sought to defend the Bible against. Christians historically from the time of the early church have held a very high view of the Scripture, believing it was breathed by God through human authors and sufficient to tell us all we need to know about God and godly living. My biggest problem with “inerrancy” is that it subjected the Bible, an ancient book which I believe comes from God, to an outside standard. To defend the Bible, it was decided to set it up against the measurement of the modern scientific research and contemporary reporting/writing styles to prove it is error-free by those standards. This is a fool’s errand, which is not only not possible but is also not desirable. I do not think the Bible falls apart if it is found to have what counts in the contemporary Western world as an error. This is a false premise and I reject it.
It seems that you don’t like the question: Is the Bible error-free? Bingo. We’re asking the wrong question. The reliability of the Bible is not rooted in proving it’s perfection by an arbitrary standard external to itself. The Bible is only God’s Word if it comes from God. The authority and trustworthiness of the Bible is directly related to God himself. So, in rejection of the false standard “inerrancy” is based upon, and in taking up the actual foundation of the Bible, I would say the critical question becomes: Is this the Bible God meant us to have? I say firmly and without equivocation that I believe we have the Bible God intends for us to have.
So what about the “errors” in the Bible? It’s important to realize that, at this point in the academic debate, no one is defending the actual Bible available to us as “error free.” Every “inerrantist” who isn’t a quack publishing themselves believes that only the original manuscripts were ever inerrant. This was a smart move by conservatives, because no liberal (or anyone else for that matter) can attack something not even available. It conveniently moved the discussion away from the Bible in our hands, but I think this was a fundamental error in tactics and we should keep our focus on the Bible in our hands. I agree with most inerrantists that the Bible available to us is 99% reliable, and that the 1% does not concern any major issue. The only method an inerrantist has to discover the “original manuscript” anyway is through hard textual work which matters deeply to those who reject inerrancy while believing the Bible is God’s Word.
So there are “errors” in our Bible? I don’t see anyone arguing about this. Inerrantists would want to say there are no errors in the original manuscripts, which means our Bible is highly reliable. Or they would want to say there are no significant errors in our Bible. I agree in substance to both of these issues, which really points up that “inerrancy” is a doctrine that developed for polemical reasons and is not part of the deposit of the faith.
What are we to do with a Bible that is not error-free? The Bible we have, whether we are holding it in our hands or looking at the manuscripts available to us, is likely within a percentage point of what was originally written down. The only way we discern this at a human level is through the comparison and critique of textual criticism. We should be coming back at the charge of “error” not with a refutation that there are “errors” by modern accounting in the Bible, but with careful analysis of what counts as an error, what cultural context the Bible comes from, and what genre each specific text is. The Bible comes from the Ancient Near East, not Chicago or Miami or Margaritaville. I don’t think any of these charges of “error” tear apart the fabric of Christianity or cause the Bible to fall in on itself. We have the Bible God intends us to have.
So that’s why you think “inerrancy” is careless and misguided. But why beat the drum against it? Why make it an issue when you agree with inerrancy in substance? I think this teaching does a disservice both to a high view of the Bible in our hands and to a high view of who God is and how he chose to give the Bible to us. In other words, rather than focusing on the Bible in our hands and worshiping the eternal God, we have shifted focus on to theoretical original manuscripts. No doubt there were original manuscripts, but no theory we make about them can be proven and you have to wonder whether them not being accessible to us is exactly how God intended things to be. If there were original manuscripts available, someone would be worshiping them. I think “inerrancy” aggravates our tendency to separate human from divine in terms of the Bible as well as Jesus Christ. And I think a view of the Bible only as divinely breathed, but not as divinely breathed through human means, misses how the actual God actually decided to reveal himself to humanity through humanity.
I’m tired of quizzing myself. What are your thoughts?