Biblical Inerrancy Part 1: The Scriptures Are God Breathed…But So Are You!

bible2“Do you believe the the Bible is inerrant?” a

person asked me recently.

Wow,” I thought, “that’s a tough one.

Authoritative?  Yes

God inspired? Yes

The “word of God” (small w) that reveals “the Word of God” (Big W)?

Absolutely!

But inerrant?  Infalliable?  Without any error or bias possible?  When people are involved?  Whew!

I responded that I believe what the Bible says about itself including 2 Tim 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Unfortunately my biblical response was not biblical enough for my inquisitor.

“Steve, if you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant we can ‘t even discuss the matter anymore. We would just be talking apples and oranges.”

And that was that…

But the more I contemplated the question, “Do you believe the Bible to be inerrant?” I came to the realization “the question” was just not a very good question.

 

The Wrong Question

Biblical inerrancy is a hot topic.  In fact here is a whole ministry industry rising up of “watchmen” prepared to defend the “truth” that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.

It is a loaded question however with demarcation lines and camps formed based on how one responds to the litmus test, “Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?”

When Jesus was asked direct questions (like I was) he often gave some fuzzy answers.  I think what we perceive as fuzzy answers by Christ though are in fact great responses to really bad questions.

Consider:

The Bible is a collection of 66 books written over 1500 years by at least 40 authors.  The books include historical accounts, poetry, proverbs, personal letters, church letters, prophecy, and apocalyptic writings.

Now, the largest book in the Bible,  clocking in at a whopping 150 chapters,  is The Psalms; a book of songs and poetry. 

If you had just read a book of poetry and someone then asked you if that book of poetry was infallible, how would you respond?

See what I mean?

…the question is just a bad question.

Did the poem inspire you?

Did the poem transform you?

Did the poem connect you to God?

These questions make sense.  These questions draw out an answer consummate with the experience one would encounter with the text.

Is the poem inerrant?  Not so much.

When was the last time you you watched a sunset, visited an art gallery, or toured an ancient cathedral and thought, “Wow, this is inerrant.”

The way some Christians regard the Bible is the way John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Dead Poets Society cautioned his students in regards to the way they approached poetry.  At one point in the film after opening a textbook by J. Evans Pritchard, Keating begins plotting the poems of Shakespeare and Byron on a graph according to the rhyme, meter and cold logic of Mr. Pritchard for all the students to see.

The kids are bored and uninspired!

dead-poets-society-still

Keating then stops abruptly, drops the chalk, and addresses the students :

Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard.

We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry.

I mean, how can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? I like Byron, I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it…

Armies of academics going forward, measuring poetry. No, we will not have that here. No more of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. Now in my class you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world…we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race…

…And the human race is filled with passion.

I realize of course that many portions of the Bible are literal accounts of real historical events. (I’m totally down with that) But can Christians of good conscience have differing opinions on whether a passage is literal, metaphorical, or part of a larger archetype that God is trying to communicate without the body of Christ tearing itself apart over it?

Can we not call a person we share the Lord’s Table with a heretic because the way they perceive an event that happened 4000 years ago may be slightly different to yours?

Can we?

 

The Bible is “God-Breathed” but so are you!

One of the arguments for those that make Biblical inerrancy a foundation of their faith is the idea that because Paul refers to the scriptures as “God Breathed” than it must follow that the Bible is infallible as God is infallible.

The fault with that logic is that the scriptures are not the only thing that the Bible mentions as being “God Breathed”:

 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

God took stuff of Earth, mixed it with stuff of Heaven, breathed his Life into man and created a being capable of bearing his image.

Beautiful!

However, I don’t know about you but my being “God Breathed” has not conferred upon me inerrancy nor infallibility…at least not according to my wife.

bible-Sunlight

But consider something else: our “God Breathed” nature does seem to give us the same attributes the scriptures are described to possess in 2 Tim 3:16.

Isn’t it interesting that people…us… are called to teach one another the nature of God’s Kingdom, to bring loving correction at times, and to train ourselves and others in the things that bring righteousness and life to the world.

The Bible is, in fact,  a lot like us. It’s:

* Wonderful and weird

* Merciful and violent

* Exciting and boring

* Inspiring and terrifying

Yet through it all the Spirit of God weaves through the Bible revealing the nature and person of God, first through the prophets, and then later, clearly and fully through his son Jesus.

So is the Bible inerrant and infallible?

Sure…

…if we are! 🙂

Peace,

Steve

6 comments

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  • You hit on a lot of my own thoughts about this topic. I think it’s a mistake anytime a person makes claims about the Bible that the Bible doesn’t make about itself. Inspired doesn’t mean inerrant; in fact, it would be difficult to make such an assertion and be able to back it up, convincingly, because the very word allows for an amount of diversion from 100% accuracy. Even if the Bible was truly inerrant, it raises the question; so what? If the Bible is inerrant, does that mean it is all equally applicable to our life, today? Without a proper historical context, one could believe the entire Bible is equally applicable to us today. Unfortunately, the modern church tries to do just this…except for the really extreme laws, which would be entirely unacceptable in our modern world.

    The other thought i had is pertaining to the authority of the Bible. To a degree, it is true that the Bible is authoritative. However, the book is not the source of the authority; God is. Even if God did give all authority to the book (which we know was only given to Jesus), we’re faced with the question; so what? Does that mean it is our role to be the enforcer of its authority? No. Authority is reserved for God, Himself and He has not deputized any of us. I think all of this combined really highlights some major key issues the church faces today and is to the source of much of the mess the church finds itself in today.

    • Steve

      Reply

      Yes Kevin, I have been thinking about the nature of “authoritative”. Things are only authoritative to the degree that we allow them to be. My parents, my boss, my country’s laws and constitution, and God are things I allow to speak authoritatively into my life…but I can choose to ignore it if I want. I believe the Bible is authoritative for certain reasons primarily the faith in it that I have that it reveals who God is through the life of Jesus Christ. But others won’t view it that way.

  • Sherry

    Reply

    Your post was perfect, thank you Steve. One of my favorite priests here in the Bay Area said; “the scriptures may contain error, but the scriptures do not teach error.”

    • Steve

      Reply

      Thanks Sherry…I love that quote

  • Could not agree more that it’s a bad question and one I no longer spend time contemplating, other than to read excellent comments like yours. I just have a hard time believing God wants us to spend a lot of time debating topics like this when there’s so much good work to be done. Thanks for another excellent post.

    • Steve

      Reply

      Hey Bob, thanks! Yes, I think Jesus was always trying to get his followers to keep the “Main Thing” the main thing! 🙂

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