Biblical Inerrancy?

By | April 6, 2006

I think the concept of biblical inerrancy is meaningless, or at the very least a moot point. There is no one whole complete perfect version of the bible in existence, and all the different copies that we have don’t completely agree. So it is obviously not literally inerrant. As far as being inerrant in content, the bible (and language in general) doesn’t exist outside of a context of interpretation, so even if you could argue that the content was somehow inerrant, it would be a moot point. In addition, as far as fact and figures, we should expect them to generally be true, however we should understand as well that often ancient writers were much less concerned with accuracy of details as we are today.

In addition, the bible wasn’t written to be a science book or encyclopedia, so again accuracy in some of these areas wasn’t the point of the writing. So, if we do think that there is something in the bible that doesn’t seem right from what we know in other areas, it doesn’t negate the general reliability of the bible, nor mean that it isn’t an authority in the areas for which it was written.

I do think that evangelical, conservative christians are in danger of having built altars and worshiping things other than God, such as the bible and doctrine (which I discuss elsewhere). Though these things are good, useful, important, etc., they can also be over-emphasized and/or mis-emphasized.

I agree there is a problem, if one says that part of the bible is in some way untrue, of deciding what to keep and what to throw out. Actually, we shouldn’t throw out anything, but there has to be some basis for interpreting the bible and judging it’s accuracy at different points. This is why I don’t hold to solo scriptura; I don’t think the bible can exists on it’s own because it is language and language doesn’t exists outside of interpretation.

So the discussion should be, “What is the context for understanding the bible?” What has in actuality happened when people talk about scripture alone being the perfect authority, is that they have shifted the context for interpretation from the church to each individual. Potential problems from that ought to be apparent, and one of the greatest problems which it has caused is the shattering of protestantism into thousands of factions.

So that you know that I’m not just making things up myself, Wesley came up with what’s referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is essentially a frame of reference for theological understanding. The four criteria that he used were the bible, the church (specifically historically), rational thought, and personal spiritual experience (I would include the moving of the Spirit here). All of these ought to be taken into account. If an idea is consistent with all of these, then we can have a high confidence that it is most likely true. If one of these disagree, then it ought to be re-examined, and if two or more disagree, serious doubt should be given to the idea.

On a final note, I agree that many of those holding up the bible as a sole, perfect source of Christian teaching also hold to a number of abiblical (potentially even unbiblical) ideas, but I won’t even go into that.

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  • wheniwasakidimovedtocalifornia

    kudos for bringing wesley’s quadrilateral into the discussion – i appreciated your perspective on the whole inerrancy deal. i think a lot of christians are dealing with some of the same thoughts and struggles you’ve outlined here, and the emergent church movement has dealt with a lot of that. matthew’s suggestion of reading mclaren is an excellent one; you might also try don miller’s “searching for god knows what” (AMAZING book), or rob bell’s “velvet elvis”. both books have literally changed my life and perspective on what church really is. in fact, as a result of these books, some deep thought and prayer some friends and i started a weekly gathering of folks who feel there shouldn’t be such a gap between the sacred and the secular. church really does tend to happen when we’re not in church – it goes on when we’re having drink with people we’ve helped move or at a concert or whatever. we’re actually having an artist forum this weekend for folks to come share the talents they’ve been blessed with, and it’s amazing how easy it is to invite folks who don’t want anything to do with modern christianity and just love on them without pushing an agenda. anyway, it was good to pseudo-meet you. i’m sure our paths will cross again.
    aim: goofierthanur

    p.s. would you be interested in doing contract work every once in a while? (html, xhtml, css, flash, that sort of thing) let me know.

  • miller_schloss

    Good post. I liked your Wesley’s quadrilateral comment on stout_sojourner’s site. Where can I find some more information about that method of Biblical interpretation?

  • will799

    I think this strikes a chord. It is easy to be a bibliolator. Quite frankly, the inerrancy argument is mostly a red herring. The issue is it true for its purposes or not?

    For instance, did the angel wipe out Sennacharib’s 185,000 troops (Isa 37) while they slept or not? Fundamentalists would say it was exactly 185,000. That could have been an exact figure. But if you figure an average lifespan of 50 years, 3 or 4 of them would have died in the night anyway. Plus people round things off. We say 3000 people were killed on 9/11, but that is not the exact figure, which might never be known anyway. But was the issue whether the angel killed 184,996, or 185,000, or 184,904? Absolutely not. The issue was that the city was absolutely helpless against that big of an army (or probably, for that matter, against an army of 18,500) and God delivered them. The point is not the number, it is the deliverance. The first thing you need to determine is what point was being made, not the accuracy of discrete statistics.

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