The Myth of Inerrancy

The Myth of Inerrancy

Perhaps it is a bad idea to write about something that one feels needs to begin with a defense, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Before I talk about why I think the idea of biblical inerrancy has limited the gift of scripture for us, I want to go on record as saying that I believe the Bible is Holy Scripture. I believe that the Bible speaks to me as an individual about how  to live my life. I believe that the Bible is important for our faith communities as we seek to find our way in this world. I believe that the Bible points me to God, and I believe that it has the power to point others to God. The Bible is the sacred book that I trust to point me to the Truth which saves my life every single day.

What is biblical inerrancy? Basically, people who say they believe that Bible is inerrant believe that it is without error. Now, there are certainly all levels of belief around this particular doctrine. Some claim that a particular version is the inerrant version while others would claim that only the original manuscripts are without error (never mind the fact that the original manuscripts no longer exist). Whatever particulars one believes about this, the basic doctrine leads us down a tricky path.

You see, if we pay attention when we read scripture, we discover that there are somethings that don’t alway add up. Stories that are told more than once have different details. Many of these details may seem inconsequential at first, but open the door to ask the question, if these stories don’t agree on what happened, which one is correct? For example, in
2 Samuel 24:1, God incites David to take a census of the people of Israel, but when the story is retold in 1 Chronicle 21:1, Satan is the one who incites David. In 1 Samuel 17:50, we read the familiar story of David killing Goliath, but in 2 Samuel 21:19, we are told that a man named Elhanan killed Goliath. As we look in the first 2 Chapter of Genesis we read two stories of creation. In the first one, humanity is the last piece of God’s creation, but in 2:4-25, we read the God created the man, then God made the trees, and plants, and animals. And finally, God created the woman. There are certainly more examples, but you get the picture — there are stories in scripture that don’t agree with one another, leaving us to wonder what to do with them.

Many of the differences don’t make a big difference in how we understand who God is or what the gospel message is. However, if you are someone who holds tightly to the belief that creation happened as we read in Genesis 1, looking at Genesis 2 for what it is, another account of creation, can create cognitive dissonance.

In the end, why does this matter. Some people believe in inerrancy and others push against the idea. So what? Since we are called to think aloud in this blog setting, my thoughts around the subject have to do with what we are able to take from scripture.

So often, the claim that the Bible is inerrant, comes with a whole other host of ideas that are problematic. First, many who claim the Bible is inerrant will also claim that it is the word of God. This belief is in direct contradiction to what we read in the Bible itself. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is the Word of God.

Second, claims that the Bible is in errant also comes with belief that the Bible is the final word on God. However, in John 14:25ff, Jesus tells his disciples that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will continue to teach them, to help them as they continue to grow and understand all that they have seen and experienced. To claim that the Bible is the end all, be all, is to deny that the Holy Spirit will continue to work among us.

Finally, advocates of Biblical inerrancy tell us that if it’s not in the Bible, it is not of God. When we say this, we reduce the revelation of God to scripture, and in doing so, we create our own idol. It is not possible for us to fully receive the essence of any human being, much less God’s essence. Why would be believe that all of God’s essence can be captured in static words on a page? We are not called to worship a book, we are called to worship God.

Ultimately, I believe that the claim of Biblical inerrancy, is made to make reading scripture easier. If there are no errors, then there is no reason to ask questions. When we don’t ask questions, we don’t face difficult answer or worse, questions that don’t have answers. All of this means, that we get to control how others read scripture, which is controlling how others understand God. And since our understanding of who God is, is how we know God, then we ultimately are able to control God.

However, when we open ourselves to the idea that human beings wrote this book, and they may have used various forms of writing, including narrative, poetry, myth, and many more, to convey their understanding of God, we open ourselves up to hard questions about the text, and ultimately, hard questions about God and how God relates to us.

It’s kind of like the difference between looking at pictures of a lion in a book and seeing a lion out in the wild. In the picture, the lion is safe — it cannot hurt us. At the same time, we have no way of seeing how it really moves, and runs, and hunts, and interacts with other lions. Encountering a lion in the wild can certainly be a scary thing — dangerous even. At the same time, it will also allow us to understand more about the lion, when we can see how it moves, hunts, and lives.

Reducing God to words on a page, makes God safe; but it also keeps us from seeing how God moves among us, how God is interacting with our fellow human beings in new ways. It may even keep us from seeing how God interacted with humans in scripture when we cling tightly to certain held beliefs.

If we claim that scripture is inerrant, and if we hold tightly to that belief and all the other ideas that come along with it, we end up worshipping the Bible, rather than worship the God that it points us too. And worse, we often end up worshipping our own set ideas of what scripture says, rather than remaining open to the idea that it may be challenging us to move beyond those ideas.

Perhaps, if we take scripture off the pedestal on which we place it – if we simply allow it to be a book that points us to God, rather than a book that we treat as if it is God, then it will elevate us as human beings to a place in which we are more near to what God intends for us.

I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it again — I believe the Bible is Holy Scripture and when I sit down to read it, I do so with the fundamental belief that it will point me toward Truth, even if not everything is factually true.

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This blog was first posted on A Blog of Bears.

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