One of my objections to inerrancy is that it is impossible to demonstrate. Lacking a perfect standard external to the Bible and also lacking perfect understanding, we are unable to actually demonstrate that the Bible is, in fact, without error. Some apologists seem to believe that if we just apply the right set of standards to all the literature before us, the Bible will stand out as inspired and inerrant as opposed to all other claimants.
The problem is that if God reveals something to you that you cannot know in any other way, by what means do you determine that it is true?
Previously I have written that determined what is an authoritative, inspired source is defined within a community, rather than in some externally objective fashion. Thus if one wanted to compare the revelations of Christianity and Islam, the Bible and the Qur’an respectively, one would need to compare the communities rather than the books. In practice the books are defined and judged by the communities involved. That sort of comparison is a daunting task, and neither of these communities (nor any others I know of) consistently seem to come out well. There is always the “everybody’s human” dodge, but that only makes it harder.
Christopher Smith discusses some issues related to this in his post Some Objections to Newman’s Anti-Rationalist Polemics. There his main concern is applying our conscience to scripture. For example, what does one do about commands to genocide in scripture? This is a question closely related to my current series on theodicy.
Referring to Newman’s claim that scripture is not to be judged by its contents, but rather by its credentials (an iffy proposition, to say the least!), Chris says:
The kind of thinking described above may resolve the problem of divinely-ordained genocide in the Old Testament for the Bible inerrantist, but it also resolves the problem of divinely-ordained unbeliever-killing for the Muslim Brother. And of course, Newman applied it selectively. . . .
I would add that if anything God commands is right by virtue of the fact that God commands it, a variation on this same statement, then how can one possibly tell the difference between divine and demonic? This is a major reason that I often equivocate (or some would probably use less charitable words) on the revelation aspect of scripture and dwell heavily on the experiential aspect. I tend to see scripture as a record of experience with God, revelatory in the sense that I judge it to be experience of the divine, but not in the sense that it provides extraordinary information that could not be acquired otherwise.
Now there must be revelation in there if people are experiencing God, but we have a very imperfect idea of what is divine revelation and what is part of what we bring to the table. On the key question here, acts of God which seem to be morally reprehensible, I would say that we need to ask just how much of all of that was what God brought to the table, and how much was the result of what humans brought with them.
I would submit that even when we have come through an experience that we say has profoundly changed us, we have only been changed a little at a time.
Chris starts his concluding paragraph thus:
Reason, of course, can lead people to differing beliefs, as well. I do not claim that reason is perfect, pure, or easy to use. . . .
Good point, and that’s why we constantly put things to the test, both of reason and of experience. When someone comes out and says, “God told me to injure or kill people for no valid reason,” we can know that it’s wrong, and by definition, if wrong, it is not God.