“Inerrancy of scripture” is commonly evoked as a bulwark behind which religious people stand proving their orthodoxy or assessing that of other people’s. Some hold this ideal for the purest of reasons. Yet, there is presumption in this phraseology. For one, it is thought to be both legitimate and necessary for all “true” believers. However, I fear tremendous danger for anyone who relies on this notion. Let me explain.
My questioning of inerrancy does not mean I hold scripture with less value than those who purport it. Here are my concerns:
What I am about to share is the difference between a relationship with God over and against a belief in a belief, which God never intended. The stakes could not be higher and damage could not be more extensive.
Let’s consider a few questions… There is a point to systematical questioning layers of presupposition underneath the philosophic position of scriptures’ inerrancy.
Obviously, proponents of Inerrancy think scripture is free of errors. Yet, are we talking about the printed versions everyone can read today or the original languages? No one could be taken seriously who suggest that the translated versions of the Bible are inerrant. Thus, two questions arise: can the average person read the original languages of the Bible fluently without aids? Secondly, do we have the “original” versions of all texts said to make up the Bible? The answer to both is an emphatic, NO!
Secondly, what is it worth if the scriptures are “error free,” but an increased number, beyond those who don’t even have them, can’t read or understand perfect original texts we don’t have? The question even sounds ridiculous… Another problem with copies of the original documents we do have: which version is “error free?” Several versions exist: Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi. Another, Textus Receptus, is revered by most inerrancy teachers and believers as authoritative: e.g. error free… Yet, this invites many arguments embattling believers in details they are not equipped to contend with?
What is meant by error free regarding scripture? Does it mean, “not missing any bit of the original text?” Or, does it mean there are no conflicting editions, which would bring all or part of an edition into question? Or does “error free” mean that even though bitty sections are missing from an original text the “gist” of the text is still communicated?
While we’re at it, we should ask what is scripture. Is it what we have as in the canon: 66 books of the Old and New Testament? Are just subcomponents of these books; interpreted as “inspired” not including the necessary grammar to make it readable? Could scripture be more than what has been put forward by scholars who we can’t say were inspired to produce their list of books, which we call the Bible? Worse yet, is the Bible a purposed misrepresentation of the “complete words of God” because it lacks certain books; lost to history or suppressed religious councils [not to be confused with the “Gnostic lost books”], which have gone unnoticed by believers and no great effort has been made to inform them of these details?
Note: Various councils consolidated a list of books that became “the Bible” as we know it. Among them were Council of Laodicea about 360 A.D.; Council of Rome 382 A.D. Hippo, 393 A.D., and finally the sixth Council of Carthage in 397 A.D.?
Scriptural evidence: we don’t have all that might have been inspired
Does the average believer know Paul wrote the Philippian church twice? Philippians 3:1 tell us, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.”
The same question could be asked of 1 & 2 Corinthians and 3 John. Preceding letters are referred to in these books. Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:19 (KJV), “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.” We have no epistle to the Corinthians prior to 1st or 2nd Corinthians yet Paul is noting here an epistle existed at one point; not just an indiscriminate personal letter to the brethren there at Corinth. In 3 John 1:9, the apostle tells us, “I wrote to the church: but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, receives us not.” We have no reference to this fellow in any other book of the NT, but yet John tells us “he wrote” the church…
So, what was contained in the former letter to the Philippians? How about the real 1st Corinthians and the real 3rd John? Are we ready to sweep aside these lost texts concluding that we have “the complete” word of God? Everything we still have from John and Paul are not questioned as to inspiration. So, why wouldn’t these other works also be inspired? We cannot assume that God intended these letters to be lost. If God meant for certain books not to be available in the modern Bible, why would He leave proof they existed?
More basis to question, what scripture is:
In 2 Corinthians 8:10 Paul writes, “I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it.” Is Paul’s opinion here what we should call scripture; an authoritative and inspired thing we cannot minimize or avoid?
In other places, we find details scholars give us concerning additions to the gospels of Matthew and John, which various collections of letters including the vaunted Textus Recepticus do not uniformly contain. Thus, we must question the claim scriptures’ inerrancy. Perfect works do not have missing texts, nor textual arguments between scraps or versions….
What does all this mean:
Proponents of the inerrancy cannot legitimately step around these questions. There are answers but the arguments will be a constant Achilles’ heel. This is one the weakening factors I mentioned early on. Inerrancy is supposed to be a stronghold “true” believers can depend on. Yet we find there are a plethora of serious questions. Add the antagonism of atheists or pagans and believers are embattled with people who have no intention of following God in an argument they cannot win.
How does inerrancy affect believers?
In religious settings, this view commonly creates an environment where people are measured in their belief or relationship to one another in direct connection to the notion of inerrancy. Nowhere in scripture is the ideal of inerrancy espoused or used as a litmus test as to whether people are following God or not.
Today believers use inerrancy apologetically as an unquestionable argumentation that their belief is legitimate in the eyes of all, including non-believers. Why do we want to get non-believers to accept something about God when He hasn’t been convicting them and working in their hearts? In this scenario, the gospel is reduced to an intellectual argument over and against a call to be what God intended: a differentiated people of His kingdom within the context of the kingdoms of men, which are under the control of the devil.
Inerrancy often stunts a maturing relationship with God. Believers become hung up on the text of the Bible itself. They study it as if the Bible is the only means of God’s guidance. A completed book thus muzzles God because it supposedly contains all of what God has to say…. People hope in the scriptures, not in the God spoken of by this collection of letters and books.
Many folks touting inerrancy base the validity of their belief on the notion that the Bible is “perfect” in one form or another. Many of the same folks talk about a relationship with God in conjunction to their belief. The odd thing about it: while inerrancy types talk of relationship with God they seem most confident in the purely philosophical argument of inerrancy.
What person would deny their relationship with their parents? This says nothing of quality. Your friends would confirm the connection. The rest of your family would do the same. Even people in the community would attest to the association. We don’t have to espouse a belief that there is a relationship connection for there to be one. Belief doesn’t make a relationship. The whole argument of scriptures’ inerrancy is a huge denial of relationship. At one point Jesus stated, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you would practice lawlessness.’” Can you imagine being one of those, one who read the scripture, practiced it, even did miracles “in the name of God” to then be told by God, “I never knew you.” Belief in inerrancy cannot bring us any closer to God.
Jesus further confronts the idea of justification by the “right” beliefs arrived at by an authority in certain documents when He said to the Pharisees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me,” (cf. John 5:39).
Is it a stretch to see that God revealed Himself outside of scripture? The bible tells that God has done so, (e.g. Noah, Cain, Enoch and so many others). Why would the God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, change from revealing Himself to people just because we now have a consolidated written form of revelation? One, W. Carl Ketcherside makes my point:
It cannot be denied that thousands of people in the world, both Jews and Greeks, were in covenant relationship with God before one word of the New Covenant Scriptures was ever written…* Many had no idea there would ever be a compilation of such letters. They simply believed that Jesus was the Messiah and God’s Son, and pledged allegiance to Him…and simply put their trust in the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
The divine agreement, the covenant that established their relationship with the Father of all mercy, was inscribed by the Holy Spirit upon the walls of the inner chambers of their being. It was written in terms of love, a dynamic so powerful that it not only transformed their lives but completely altered the world in which they lived, not vice versa.1
*Note: A high percentage of early believers were illiterate. The only heard a reading of a couple of the apostles letters if any at all. How on earth were they able to affect the world of their time with so little of what we call the Bible? How ere they able to “mature” in Christ with “the written word?”
Scripture itself never makes the claim that God suddenly stopped speaking to people after Revelation. Religious people want a fence, a box, and a clear differentiation like an include/exclude device because many are not in relationship with God and they have lost the ability to discern.
Scripture isn’t a static place at which to arrive. The Bible is mere dots on a page until the Holy Spirit brings revelation. The scripture is a door we enter and progress beyon as God guides. God is the be-all-end-all. For the inerrancy-of-scripture folk, they have a hard time relating to others without the reservation of, “Do others believe like I do?” Relationship presuppose mistakes, misunderstandings, weakness, and perhaps being taken advantage of… It also presupposes connection, times of intimacy, imputation of value, warmth, and variety… These are tough realities for the unmitigated stoicism of religion: belief in a belief.
Scripture is sufficient to bring us unto Christ. God, the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit are able to mature us in Him and bring us into all truth, to recall all the things that Christ taught… Scripture is eminently valuable. However, it is FAR less valuable when it is placed above all other means with which God intends to teach and guide us. Scripture can become total evil in the hands of men who would “rightly divided” it in their own strength. History stands as a testament to this happening more than not.
The position of the inerrancy of scripture is a lazy mental assent at best. On other levels it is pure heresy, embattling believers in indefensible labyrinth of entanglements far away from the real spiritual battle. Since this belief is dogma, believers are continually forced into an arena to allegedly defend their faith, which is dependent on this view instead of their relationship with God. Thus, belief is always reduced to provability against the attacks of curbside philosophers or raving idiots. Further, many believer come to think of faith in Jesus as only verified by the attacks of nonbelievers (a defensive reality) rather than being a contrasting alternative whose basis of authority is in acts, happenings and outreach that cannot be explained away or replicated by nonbelievers (a offensive reality).
When Jesus healed, when He delivered people of demons, when He spoke hidden things in people’s lives, when He annihilated the reductionism of the religious, when He loved the unlovely and those who did not love Him; this stood with an authority and credibility mere sophists would kill to have or cover up. In fact, they did both. The unbelieving world must deal with the great works of God, if indeed His followers allow Him to work through them. Many believers place their entire function around a “finished” book and static theology that does nothing. They have muzzled God isolating Him to what they can squeeze from the pages in letters He inspired.
Our relationship with Jesus is not founded in what scripture says. These can only confirm and strengthen what we have with God, if indeed we have it. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…” John 14:12a (NASB). This was not merely spoken to the lot immediately following Him in that moment. It speaks to us as well. Why stoop to trying to prove God and prove belief to those who have no intention of following Christ just so we can feel at home in their dominion. Christ taught about a very here-and-now kingdom that up until the 2nd century turned the world upside down. It expressed itself in realities the world did not want to deal with but could not deny.
Lets go back to the simplicity of gospel of knowing Christ and being His kingdom. Lets contrast arguments of belief in a belief with the undeniability of a relationship. Lets dump mental assent and live in what God continues to say in conjunction to what He has already given us. Lets live in the reality that God is able to lead us personally into all truth whether we have every scrape He inspired or not. Lets learn to discern truth from error instead of dividing into groups thinking ours to be the right one because of some subjective claim of “orthodoxy.” Lets be real instead of religious. Lets allow growth, questions, maturity and so forth happen in an organic symbiosis between God, His followers and our collectively following of Him.
1The Death of the Custodian: The Case of the Missing Tutor; Chapter 9. The Freedom of Maturity, see: http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/wcketcherside/tdotc/chap9.html
Thanks to Marc White of http://walkworthy.org/wordpress/, Kyle Knapp of http://www.tuesdaytogether.us/, Gary Jaeckel, Jon Zens, Keith Giles of http://subversive1.blogspot.com/, Gary Peterson and Terry Rousseau for feedback, suggestions and advice on how to shape this article.