Why I am Not an Inerrantist – Part Five

5. Inerrancy construes the Bible as a mere repository of truth.

Inerrancy is hardly ever about error. I believe that the core concern of the inerrantist movement is that of truth. Error only enters the discussion insofar as it is assumed to be antithetical to truth. Thus, for many, the mere presence of error in Scripture suggests that Scripture’s truth is in question. This assumption itself is worth questioning. Could not error be a medium through which truth is communicated? All of this really boils down to my previous post where I discussed the problem of actually finding a standard against which biblical error/truth could be measured. Let us assume that science is a standard against which we should measure the Bible. Is there any question that the ancient Israelites were erroneous regarding the nature of the cosmos (flat earth, solid dome sky, earth surrounded by cosmic sea)? And yet, have they not been successful at using that erroneous cosmological worldview to communicate what is certainly the more important truth, that of God’s own activity and presence within the cosmos? Nevertheless, short of a definitive standard for truth or error, we will forever be debating what actually constitutes error, and thus incapable of ever really addressing the real issue of biblical truth–what I would like to do now.

I am not one who would deny that the abstract concept ‘truth’ actually exists, and that it is a meaningful concept in relation to the biblical text. Just because a concept is notoriously difficult to define and nail down does not mean that concept doesn’t exist. The significant question, as I understand it, is What is the nature of Scripture’s association with truth? I am afraid that inerrantists construe this relationship too simply, as though Scripture is merely a repository of truth or truths. Thus, one need only open the pages of the bible and one will find truth scattered throughout the pages. Maybe. But then again, the Bible gives naysayers and skeptics plenty of room to plead their case on the pages of the Bible, the book of Job being a classic example. It cannot be as simple as opening the Bible, reading something, and knowing that what you just read was error-free (thus true), because the Bible testifies  that it isn’t so (Job 42:7).

When the Bible is understood as merely a repository of truth or truths, the significant question arises as to what one is to make of conflicting truths. I believe one of the most liberating things about not being an inerrantist is giving up the false notion that the Bible doesn’t contain contradictions. The problem with the problem of contradictions in the Bible is that contradictions are the warp and woof of Christianity. Paul’s glorified reading of Abraham as the model of Christian faith demonstrates this well. “In hope, he believed against hope . . .” (Rom 4:18). People don’t rise from the dead. If this were not true, Christianity would ultimately be rendered meaningless. And yet, Christianity simultaneously declares as true that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. In hope, we believe against hope. Contradictions in the Bible are an extension of our faith. The reflect the way we live and what we we experience in life (see this video, particularly 33:50-the end). Thus, I believe it is natural to see the Bible contain and entertain contradictions. In this vein, Scripture is often described as dialogical. I believe that this is, at present, the best way we know how to approach the truth of Scripture.

Scripture’s truth is not a collection of true assertions but a dialogue of voices asserting, counter-asserting, refuting, and defending what is true.  The truth is not in any one voice, but in the world that emerges from the many voices through whom God has chosen to equip and direct us. Inerrancy does not allow us to conceive the full vision of this world because it demands that we deny much of how this world is expressed.  It defines truth, and understands our capacity for grasping it, in ways that are significantly problematic. Earlier last year, Chris Tilling wrote an exceptional post entitled Negotiating Tensions In the Bible in which he made this observation: “Truth is a multifaceted complex beast, not easily domesticated, tamed or boxed.” To quote Wayne Meeks in a lecture he gave in 2007 at Abilene Christian University, “The next time you hear someone say, ‘The Bible clearly teaches…’, please say to yourself, if not to the speaker, ‘no it doesn’t.’ The Apostle Paul knew the Bible better than any of us and he said, ‘now I know only in part.’ If the Bible ‘teaches’, it does so only through a mirror darkly until the end of time” (HT: Ben Griffith). And should either of these two quotes bother you, or should you find yourself strongly in disagreement, please consider viewing this TED video where the presenter demonstrates and concludes that “only through uncertainty is there potential for understanding.”

In the end, it really all boils down to something  David Kerr said in a recent post: “Those who read the Bible in a way it was not intended by its author do more violence to the spirit and intent of the Scriptures.” Simply put, I don’t think the human authors or the divine author ever intended us to read Scripture with the baggage of inerrancy. And that is why I am not an inerrantist.


17 thoughts on “Why I am Not an Inerrantist – Part Five

  1. Well said. We honor the Scriptures and the God of the Scriptures most by acknowledging our limited grasp of its truth. Paul threw up his hands at the end of Romans 11 because the truths he sought to reconcile evaded reconciliation. But crucially his response was not cynicism or doubt but praise of the one who is all wise. Fundamentalism and inerrancy reduce God.

  2. Nicely put. I would suggest that since you are taking the time to compose such posts that you ought to consider alertng a few more people like for instance, “jpholding” who holds reign on the topic of inerrancy at Theology Web, and at his Tekton Apologetics website, both fairly heavily travelled places. Christian moderates ought to let their inerrantist brethren know what they are thinking, instead of not letting their right and left hands know what the other’s thinking.

  3. I read every word and pondered the implications of this blog and your philosophy of what Jesus, yours and mine own savior called Truth. John said that in God there is no darkness, for He is light. Paul told the Ephesians that if they read his words they could understand his insight into the mystery because it was revealed to Him from God. With these things in mind errancy as the outlet for truth is impossible. Errancy would put us at a disadvantage to receive the blessings of Jesus prayer in John 17:20. We are those people believing in the apostles’ words which are Jesus’ words. Without that surity that we have God’s word as He has given to us (2 Peter 1:20-21) then the bible is no better than the Quran. With errancy absolute
    truth is unknowable and at worst nonexistent. A side note: Romans 4:18 deals with Abraham and Sarah being of a nonchild bearing age and believing even when nature was working against them that God has the power to do all things. It is not about believing a contradiction, neither is believing in the resurrection. Those two things are miraculous. If you would equate the three with one another then you would be drawn to the conclusion that it is a miracle that God’s going to keep His word even through the contradictions. I say none of this out of spite, but genuine concern for God’s word being upheld and the state of the errantists soul.

  4. As well, I would point your attention to 1 Cor 13 when Paul says he sees in part. Of course he sees in part, the full revelation has not been delivered once and for all (Jude 5). It is not about God not revealing everything in the Bible because Paul later says that he will know just as he has been fully known once the perfect comes, the perfect being the Bible. It is not Jesus or heaven because whatever the perfect is has to correspond to prophecy, knowledge and tongues. Those were all functions to show God’s divine revelation. Now, we have his full and inerrant revelation in the Bible.

    1. Eric, you need to go back through some of my posts. I do not place myself within an errantist camp. I find that inerrancy and errancy carry similar and significant problems to those who would attempt to use Scripture as a resource for truth.

      As for 1 Corinthians 13, you see in Paul’s use of the word “perfect” an allusion to the Bible. However, the word he uses is τελειος (teleios), which connotes quality, not quantity. Paul is speaking of a qualitatively different type of revelation. The present forms of knowledge Paul speaks of are qualitatively inferior to the eschatological knowledge of God–face to face.

  5. I can grant a qualitative difference and it will still make the point. Arndt and Gingrich says teleios is pertaining to meeting the highest standard in 1 Cor 13:10. Would we not both agree that the Bible is a much higher standard than prophecy, tongues and knowledge? They were temporal in the Christian dispensation but God’s word is going to exist until all things are accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

    And I apologize I did not intend to lump you with the errantist. I read through my words and I do not believe I have. But, I would ask where you clearly stand, whether being an errantist and clearly not an inerrantist. Where is the middle ground? It seems that either Jesus lied and the Holy Spirit didn’t lead the apostles into all the truth or He told the truth.

    1. No, it isn’t. Not unless you presuppose it is. Regardless, eschatological knowledge, knowing “face to face,” is of an even higher standard. So no, Paul is not talking about the closing of the canon. Moreover, canon closure was not how the first century viewed authority. See my upcoming book review. It should be posted within a day or so.

      I am neither an errantist nor an inerrantist. Both assume an external standard of error (or truth) exists against which biblical truth or error can/should be measured. If there is such a standard, I am unaware of its existence. Such a presupposition is absurd, particularly for a conservative view of Scripture.

  6. Interesting posts on inerrancy. I would describe myself as someone who strongly holds to inerrancy. I am just curious, how much time do you spend reading and studying the Bible? I only ask that because I have found that those who don’t hold to inerrancy usually don’t spend much time reading the Bible except for proof texting their own thoughts. I have found the opposite true of those disciples around me who hold to inerrancy and don’t simply offer “lip service” to biblical authority. I have found that these disciples usually spend much time reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture. I know that to be true for me.

    Have a good day and keep blogging!

    1. See my most recent post to see the way in which I actually engage Scripture. Just telling you that I do indeed read Scripture simply isn’t a sufficient response to your question.

  7. Can truth contain error? If so, why follow the Bible if it’s just another book with ‘supposed contradictions’ and error? In the prophets and in the Kings God pointed out the error of the false gods. Would He be just to hand down an errant book to His people to follow. He would be no better than those gods who are not gods at all.

    1. Eric, I have not argued that truth contains error. You are not being fair to me and to what I have written. I would be more than willing to engage you and answer your questions, but you must first demonstrate that you have read what I have written.

  8. I believe one of the most liberating things about not being an inerrantist is giving up the false notion that the Bible doesn’t contain contradictions. The problem with the problem of contradictions in the Bible is that contradictions are the warp and woof of Christianity.

    I wrote what I wrote based on this direct quote from you.

  9. That was a conclusion I drew from your words. If you weren’t saying that the Bible contains error then I apologize but don’t accuse me of not reading. That’s uncalled for.

    1. Earlier, you attributed to me the position of an errantist, which I blatantly rejected in part 4. Also in part 4, I brought into question any standard by which I would arrive at the conclusion that Scripture contains error (in the absolute sense). Because you are not being fair to what I have written, I am assuming it is because you are not reading what I have written. Would me prefer to accuse you of being an unintelligent? Read what I have written and engage it.

      Moreover, contradictions are not necessarily errors given that they are the warp and woof of life. How else could we recognize the idealistic confession of Proverbs 10:25 to be true while also confessing the somber judgments of Ecclesiastes 7:15? Do you, like Pat Robinson, want to suggest that Haiti brought this earthquake upon themselves, or that those who died in Haiti were among the “wicked” of Proverbs 10:25? Your error is in assuming that a contradiction necessarily leads to error (in the absolute sense of the term).

      If you truly believe I am wrong about this, you need to engage my arguments, not make accusations that reflect an uninformed reading of what I have written.

  10. I refuse to entertain your negative statements regarding my wishing of your declaration of my intelligence and your rude statement regarding the heretic Pat Robertson so I digress to God’s word. If His word contains contradictions then He lied when through Paul saying his words are not yes and no. This is a claim against Paul speaking a contradiction in any context one wishes to see. Jesus says God’s word is truth and that’s what Paul spoke neither yes and no at the same time. If one were to speak to you a contradiction which would you know to be true, or would both be negated for they contradict? Furthermore would you know that source to be in error for it spoke of a contradiction as both sides being true. It’s clear that contradictions will lead people into error. If God’s word does that very thing then many are being led into error.

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