However, many of these Christians unknowingly fight for a doctrine that, in every way, is a product of a culture’s influence on the way we read the Bible.
I’m talking about inerrancy.
If there’s one thing I don’t want to do with the Bible, it’s to let secular culture tell me how to read a divinely inspired document. I am 100% committed to listening to the guidance of the promised Holy Spirit. While I am aware of the influence of my culture on how I read the Bible, I want to let the Spirit speak through scripture rather than letting my culture determine what I can and cannot believe.
Inerrancy has unintentionally allowed the standards of our culture to determine how we use the Bible, creating a demand on scripture that would only make sense for a modern science or historian.
When I first saw his post, I hesitated to link to it because I have my own thoughts about inerrancy that I wanted to share with any link to his post. It’s one of those doctrines that’s so delicate and complicated, that I dare not let anyone read into my own story based on a link that I share.
Does Inerrancy = True?
The primary problem with inerrancy for me is that it has been equated with the truth of the Bible. If you’re not 100% on board with inerrancy’s terms and categories, then you’re a godless liberal who is “deceiving the sheep.”
I’m sure someone will offer to “pray” for you.
I completely affirm the truth and trustworthiness of the Bible, but the concept of inerrancy troubles me. It’s incredibly hard to have a conversation about the Bible in which I both affirm the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible and distance myself from the term that many equate WITH those concepts.
For many Christians, inerrancy is the only option if you’re going to accept the Bible as trustworthy. However, there are many traditions who affirm the teachings of scripture and view it as authoritative without affirming inerrancy.
In fact, I would argue that inerrancy came into being for the wrong reasons.
The Flawed Origins of Inerrancy
What we know of early church history is that the early Christians were trying to explain Jesus in a culture dominated in many ways by Greek categories. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Christianity to the Greeks was the idea that God would fully reside in a human body.
The incarnation was a non-starter that sent many Christians veering toward Gnosticism, a handy heresy that divided spirit and body into separate realms.
As Christian thinkers hammered out the nature of the incarnation, they used Greek words and ways of thinking, but they did not let Greek culture determine what they believed about God and the incarnation of Jesus.
In the 1800’s, the Enlightenment had challenged what many Christians believed, and a large part of Christian thinkers began to use the Enlightenment’s scientific categories for reading the Bible. Everything in the Bible had to be tested and proven, and if it could not be scientifically proven, then it was ditched.
We know that the Bible says it is God-breathed and useful for training us in righteousness, but it was hardly intended to be sliced and diced by the Enlightenment’s methods. We can look back in retrospect and see that the scientific approach was bound to rip the Bible apart. It’s a true document, but it’s also an ancient document that wasn’t designed to answer the questions of modern thinkers who imposed their own standards on it.
How could Christians demonstrate the supernatural origins and authority of the Bible in a scientific age?
Faith wasn’t going to cut it for the liberal Christians who dismissed the Bible as a series of myths invented by clever storytellers.
The Christians who called themselves fundamentalists arrived at a solution: the Bible could be proven divine since it was inerrant, completely without error. What other ancient document could boast such a thing?
Instead of pointing the doubters to Christ, the fundamentalists pointed them to the Bible.
By allowing the philosophy of the day to determine the way they spoke about the Bible, the Fundamentalists shifted Jesus away from his primary place as Lord of all and slipped the Bible above him. That’s why you’ll often find churches today who inadvertently affirm the trustworthiness of the Bible over the person of Jesus.
The Impossible Wager of Inerrancy
Inerrancy states that any kind of error in the Bible renders the entire book false and made up. If the entire Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then everything single verse must be 100% true and reliable.
The primary problem with inerrancy is that it has the wrong priorities. Rather than making Christ our one and only foundation, inerrancy makes an error-free Bible the one and only foundation of our faith.
The passion of Christians in their debates about inerrancy and the accuracy of the Bible testify to the consequences of this kind of thinking. Permitting one error in the Bible isn’t just annoying, it’s a disaster for the faith of many.
The impossibility of inerrancy is that we’re so far removed from the events described in the Bible and composition of each book and letter that we can’t possibly prove the truthfulness at the scientific level that inerrancy demands. I believe that the Bible is true, but not because of inerrancy or because I have 100% certainty about the events it describes.
My faith is built on the person of Christ, the only way, truth, and life, the only foundation for our faith, and the one central focus on the scriptures. Paul wrote, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 3:11.
I can’t point you to one verse in the Bible and say, “I know for certain that this is wrong.” At the same time, proving the “reliability” of the Bible according to the standards of inerrancy is a fruitless quest.
I’ll talk all day about the presence of Christ in my life and the ways that scripture has continually guided me to the truth, but I will not live as if my faith hinges on proving every little detail of the Bible. That’s simply not our goal.
The scriptures point us toward the trustworthiness of Christ rather than the trustworthiness of their composition.
Inerrancy and Biblical Idolatry
I affirm the historical accuracy and the divine inspiration of the Bible.
I believe the writers of the Bible were truthful.
Could there be a discrepancy over the date of an Israelite king because a writer misunderstood how the rise and fall of kings were dated? (I spent a 3-hour class in seminary addressing this very issue.)
Rather than answering that question, I want to know if a detail like that really matters. If it does, then we need to ask why we think it matters.
Inerrancy demands this level of accuracy because it’s seeking a way to scientifically prove that the Bible is inspired by God.
I do not affirm the word inerrancy because it compromises the Christian faith to the standards of secular scientific thinking. It takes our devotion and worship away from Christ and substitutes a second-rate god that breeds fear and paranoia, threatening to crumble our faith in God with every scientific report, literary device, or historical discrepancy.
This second-rate god demands that we spend our lives worrying about the chronology of the Hebrew kings, the findings of archeology, the age of the earth, and the chronology of the gospels.
This second-rate god drives wedges between the people of God as we fight each other in the name of protecting this false “foundation” of our faith.
On its own, the Bible is incapable of giving life, peace, or healing. It only can give a fragile certainty that must be defended tooth and nail.
That we feel compelled to fight for this god suggests that we may have lost sight of the true foundation in scripture. Our faith rises and falls on the person of Christ alone. We trust that the Bible is true and reliable, but we don’t have to meet a modern, scientific standard in order for Christ to be Lord.
I hate the word inerrancy because it creates a super supernatural standard for truth that the Bible never set up.
I hate the word inerrancy because it clouds the ways that the Bible actually is true.
I hate the word inerrancy because it binds the Christian faith to a set of standards that were never intended for the people of God and that are completely foreign to the centuries of Christians who have gone before us.
I hate the word inerrancy because it has become a way to determine who’s in and who’s out, even though few actually understand what it means or where it came from.
I hate the word inerrancy because it provides a flimsy, easily combustible foundation for the people of God.
I hate the word inerrancy because it takes the focus of our faith away from Christ and places it in a book.
It’s time to stop fighting for inerrancy and to start living as if everything in the Bible is true.
When we see the words of scripture come true in our own lives, we’ll have all of the proof we need that the Bible is reliable.