Inerrancy Of Scripture: A Reaction To Modernism

 

I do not beleive in the inerrancy of scripture.   I fully acknowledge that my opinion and understanding may be wrong. At the same time, I would add that I have also spent many years seriously studying scripture, living as a committed follower of Christ and have not formed my opinion in a vacuum or in a hurry.

Many would say that there are serious scholars who have been able to carefully harmonize the contradictions in scripture in a way that is acceptable and thoughtful. My experience over the years has been that there are many Christians (many of who are professional clergy) who flippantly explain away contradictions and  I have not personally found even the most careful harmonization of contradictions in scripture sufficient enough for me to continue to claim that scripture is inerrant.

Before I continue I do want to clarify that I am not saying that the many contradictions are a serious threat to the authority or value or credibility of scripture but that our resistance to acknowledge the contradictions is a threat to these things. I may have a different view about the authority of scripture than some who are reading this but that is a different discussion and I don’t believe it hinges on whether or not scripture is inerrant.

Many who believe in the inerrancy of scripture also believe that has been the position of Christians since the formation of the canon.  That is simply not true.   Discussions of inerrancy did not even take place until the modern age. Before then you would find the position being along the lines that there is no false teaching in scripture but that is a long way from claiming scripture is inerrant. In addition,  some might be surprised to find that there are many great and respected theologians through out history who have believed there were (and are) inaccuracies and errors in scripture – people such as Martin Luther, John Chrsyostom, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge to name a few. The fact is that no ancient church council ever debated the issue of inerrancy, let alone announced favor of it and no traditional creed or reformed confession addresses the issue of inerrancy. In other words, the current insistence on inerrancy has its origins in late 19th and early 20th century reactions to modernism. IMO this is a false dichotomy that many thoughtful Christians refuse to accept.

In recent times, I have also begun to believe that the insistence of inerrancy in regards to scripture is a stumbling block and obstacle to what we can learn from scripture.  In addition I have also observed that the insistence of inerrancy tends to make an idol out of scripture among our communities of faith resulting in the displacement of Christ as the center.

12 thoughts on “Inerrancy Of Scripture: A Reaction To Modernism

  1. Liz Post author

    Annie – I apologize for not responding quicker.

    To answer your questions:

    Yes, I do think it is important to discover what the author intended. I think it is important to understand the original language and historical context as I think it helps us better understand the author’s intent – who he was speaking to – what was going on – what was the cultural norm etc. etc. I also believe the answer is yes, because I believe God intends to use our flawed, biased narratives of our experiences of him to reveal himself and I believe that all of our stories (not just scripture) are important to our constantly evolving understanding of God.

    It is more difficult for me to answer your second question (Do I believe that the text is as it was meant to be?) – but I would say that the answer would be yes and no.

    Yes, in that God intends for us to be human and that means that we understand from a limited, human perspective. Yes, in that I believe the purpose of scripture is to give historical accounts of human experience of God and human understanding of God. Yes, in that I believe that scripture is basically narrative and was meant to be.

    No, in that I believe that human’s tend to interpret/understand God through their own lens – their own perspective – their own culture. So, with that in mind I assume there are some things some authors probably got terribly wrong. Which is once again why I believe it is important for us to understand the historical context. For example, I don’t really believe that God ever told anyone to kill all men, women, children, infants and animals when they were at war and taking over land. I think someone either misunderstood or someone said that to justify their actions or someone was just using hyperbole to make their tribe look good (a common practice from ancient history for tribes to write exaggerated and glorious accounts). In any case, I wouldn’t think that God would want his name stamped on such a thing as we know much evil has been done and used scripture about God ordained genocide as justification.

    I hope that helps you understand where I am coming from.

    Thanks for the interaction.

    Reply
    1. Annie

      Thanks for your response. I do understand where you’re coming from now. The last paragraph is very helpful for clarification. In many ways, I think we agree. I think we do differ on some points but I understand where you’re coming from.

      I still wonder, in that case, how do you decide what is flawed/mistaken in the text?

      Reply
      1. Liz Post author

        Annie – That’s a great question and again not an easy question to answer in a way that all will find satisfying or sufficient.

        Some things that help me:

        Studying the original language and the historical context.

        Reading scripture as story rather than as precepts and principals (a huge transition for me).

        Reading and studying through a lens that says God is perfectly good and perfectly loving.

        Reading and studying through the lens of Jesus (what I know of him) as I believe he is the best revelation of God.

        Depending on the spirit of God to help me.

        Assuming there is a good chance I am wrong about a lot of what I believe about God at any given moment which I believe leaves more space in me for God to reveal to me.

        Reading and interpreting scripture within community.

        Reply
      1. Annie

        I suppose I meant “what kind of errors are we talking about” or something like that. But I think your other comment above answers the underlying question I had. You wrote

        “More importantly I believe that truth can be found in stories whether they are factually accurate or even true.”

        I agree, I think. From this, I gather you don’t think all of the stories are “factual” in that they actually happened exactly as presented? Does it matter what the author intended? What I mean is this–if for example Luke conformed to the conventions of ancient history by writing a speech for the blessed virgin mary, does that mean his account isn’t factual?

        The larger question, i guess, is do you think the text is as it was meant to be, that it was meant to have whatever flaws it has? Or has it been actively corrupted in some way–either in writing or in transmission?

        Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Thanks Jonathan – I assumed that you were just listening and letting others comment. Thanks for starting the conversation – I thought I’d take what I had said on your page and share it here to see who else might join the conversation.

      Reply
  2. Lynne

    Very well put! I’ve come to understand that the Bible isn’t to be taken literally, but its meaning is to be taken literally. I’ve also come to believe that the Bible is indeed the infallible, inspired Word of God — when its speaking the Good News of Jesus Christ and describing God’s purpose and plan, and it being understood within its original languages and historical, linguistic, and socioeconomic contexts. To believe and try to live by anything else nearly destroyed my faith.

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Lynne – You and I probably agree on more than we disagree but I wouldn’t go so far as to say scripture is infallible as that seems like another way to say it is inerrant as infallible means incapable of error.

      Personally when I think of the Word of God I don’t think of scripture or even language – I think of the person of Jesus Christ – I am even pretty sure that scripture never refers to itself as the Word of God.

      I do believe that scripture (at least a lot of it) is inspired by God but I don’t think of people writing while inspired by God to mean anything like perfection or controlled by God or infallible or inerrant. I assume that for the most part people were inspired by God and wrote what they believed God was saying and/or what they believed to be true – although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that is definitely true of all the authors. I believe that God has the ability to work through, teach us and reveal himself even through the fallibility, mistakes, misunderstandings, errors, imperfections those people may have had/made.

      More importantly I believe that truth can be found in stories whether they are factually accurate or even true.

      Reply
      1. Tim THompson

        Liz – I appreciate so much your comment about Christ as the Word of God. I think that is critically important in any conversation about the nature &/or authority of the Scriptures, and one that is often overlooked. Passages like John 1 only make sense if the “Word” is Jesus. And it’s worth noting that Jesus asserts authority over the Scriptures as well. He does that by breaking (Scriptural) Sabbath laws, but most pointedly in Matthew 5 in the “You have heard it said/but I say to you” formulation.

        I think you’re right on in linking this to the worldview of Modernity. The same shows up in the related wrangling over “Truth” as propositional vs. personal/relational. Here again, it’s most clearly about Jesus (I am the… Truth) not about “facts.” If you’re interested in that side of the conversation, I’ve written a bit about it here: http://feralpastor.blogspot.com/2007/09/talking-about-truth-with-evangelicals.html

        Reply

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