Inerrancy FAQ

The following are answers I have posted a number of times about various issues related to Biblical Inerrancy. I will add to this list as questions come in.

1. If you don’t believe in inerrancy, where is your list of errors in the Bible? Show us the list and we’ll discuss them!

One of my main points in opposing the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is that we need to spend less, not more time discussing supposed errors and contradictions in the Bible, and more time trying to understand the Bible on its own terms. I have occasionally pointed out proposed errors, but I do so in two circumstances only: only:

1) to aid in understanding the text as we have it, and 2) to illustrate with errors that have proposed solutions, or those that I believe are so trivial that they illustrate the unimportance of most issues in this debate effectively.

We need to spend less time discussing supposed errors and contradictions in the Bible.I believe that the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy tends to force us to focus on the trivialities of the text and keeps us away from communion with God, from hearing the direct inspiration that God has for us.

2. Since you don’t believe in inerrancy do you believe that the Bible is just a human document?

No. I believe that the Bible is the result of God interacting with people, and that it has been providentially protected by God. This means that errors and contradictions are there because God permitted. God could have exercised more intense control over the process, but he did not.

I would note two types of error especially. First, there are those cases of inadvertent written error. An example would be the ages of certain kings in the records of Kings and Chronicles. These may be copyists’ errors (one proposed solution) but I don’t believe they are of concern whether they occurred in the royal records of Judah and Israel, were the fault of the compiler of Kings or Chronicles, or were committed by an early copyist. They simply have no impact on the meaning of the book. Second, there are intentional statements that we regard as errors in the modern world. An example would be the listing of bats as birds in Leviticus 11:19. (The categories used here are simply different than ours.)

I believe that God speaks to people in the cultural and historical setting in which he finds them.I believe that God speaks to people in the cultural and historical setting in which he finds them. Jesus didn’t use divine knowledge in order to spice up his parables with aircraft, for example. But I go further. I believe he speaks using the cosmology and historical knowledge of the time wherever that improves communication to the original audience. In this case we may regard something as a historical or scientific error, but correction of that error would harm communication to the original audience.

3. You have complained elsewhere that people don’t question why someone would want to teach Shakespeare, even though they don’t believe it is without error. Does this mean you regard the Biblical inspiration as on the same level with Shakespeare or other literary works?

No, not at all. What I mean is that the Bible is a valuable piece of literature even if not regarded as inerrant. The value of the Bible does not lie in being without error, but in conveying God’s message. In addition, the Bible contains great literature, which should be of valuable even if one didn’t regard it as divinely inspired.In practice, I find that I interpret most passages in the same way as other interpreters who do believe in inerrancy (provided it is the inerrancy specified in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy). I have actually been asked just what is the difference in my view by some who have compared notes on many controversial passages. I see my understanding of Biblical inerrancy not as a solution to “problems”-most of which I find very enlightening when studied-but rather an attitude. My attitude toward scripture is to listen to God speaking to a human audience. Grace regards the needs of the human audience more than a need to assert the divine attribute of infallibility. In other words, God speaks in a way in which we can hear right now even if some later generation might regard that message as flawed because of some new discovery. And you can be certain that if the Lord doesn’t return first, our current understanding of science will move so much that the way we see scripture today will seem naive and unscientific. God was gracious to speak in a way that the ancients could understand, and he’s gracious to help us understand that message now through the power of the Spirit.

I interpret most passages in the same was as other interpreters who do believe in inerrancy.

4. Do you believe that the Bible is inspired in a way that is different from other books?

Yes, I do. I believe that God has worked in inspiring the writers, in the collection and copying of the work, and continues to work in the process of translation. As a result I believe the Bible conveys God’s message in the way that he wants it conveyed.

I believe the Bible conveys God’s message in the way that he wants it conveyed.However, this argument functions in the context of Christian theology. It is commonly held that the process of bringing someone into faith in Jesus Christ is a matter of first convincing him that the Bible is true, and then using the Bible to convince him of the specific doctrines of the Christian faith. I would suggest instead that experience is first in the sharing of the good news. We first share the testimony of our experience, and when and if the sharing of our experience brings a desire for similar experience, then we share the theological expression of that experience.Our present method in the west is based on the strong cultural position of the Bible in which many people who are not active in church life or who don’t call themselves Christians still hold some sort of reverence for the Bible. This allows us to start with the Bible. The lack of success of modern Christianity with populations that lack this Biblical background I believe results from replacing a living experience of God with a set of doctrinal postulates, most of which only make sense in the context of a personal experience with God. In other words, I see this doctrinal approach as having a form of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

5. Haven’t you set yourself up as a judge over scripture? Why don’t you just accept the Bible as it is?

I believe I am accepting the Bible just as it is, and that the inerrancy approach imposes meaning on the Bible that is not there. I do not approach the Bible as I do because I lack the faith to believe God could inspire scriptures in any way he wants. I approach it that way because that is the Bible that we have.There is no such thing as “taking the Bible as it is” despite the many people who claim to do that. Their claim is simply empty. There is no such thing as “taking the Bible” apart from an interpretive framework. I believe that such a framework can be consistent with what the Bible is, or it can be completely imposed from outside, but it always requires justification. No passage of scripture was addressed to me, personally, in a specific set of my circumstances. Thus every application requires me to interpret some Biblical passage in such a way as to discover God’s guidance for me.There is no such thing as “taking the Bible” apart from an interpretive framework.I believe this is possible. I don’t believe it’s easy. I believe the responsible thing to do is for each of us to admit that we are following our best understanding, but that it is our understanding.

If you have any questions on Biblical inerrancy and related topics, please e-mail them to henry@energion.com.

Resources

  • Inspiration, Biblical Authority and Inerrancy
    Henry Neufeld’s main discussion of Biblical inerrancy and Biblical inspiration.
  • The Authority of the Bible
    Participatory Study Series pamphlet on Biblical authority, using minimal technical and doctrinal terms to provide a clear understanding of how the non-theologian can understand Biblical authority.
  • What is the Word of God?
    A more detailed examination of how inspiration functions and what the Word of God is and accomplishes. A good foundation for understanding Biblical inspiration.