Inerrancy and the Authority of the Bible

For some people, the holding or rejecting to the doctrine of inerrancy is the dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Certain evangelicals see in errancy as one of the, if not the, most important battles to be fought. Once inerrancy is given up, it is a slippery slope into liberalism and eventual apostasy.

But is it? And is inerrancy the necessary ingredient to hold onto any sense of the authority of the Bible and a faith based on biblical teachings?

What is Inerrancy?

As with any discussion, it all depends on what we mean by that. In this case, what is the definition of inerrancy that we are using? I hold to a form of inerrancy in that I don’t think God made any mistakes in providing what we need to know and follow him. But that’s not what most people mean by inerrancy.

Don Stewart gives this definition of inerrancy in an article on the Blue Letter Bible.

“Inerrancy,” or “infallibility,” means that when all the facts are known, the Bible, in the original autographs, when properly interpreted, will prove itself to be without error in all matters that it covers. These include areas of theology, history, science, and all other disciplines of knowledge—they will be in perfect accord with the truth. The Bible, therefore, is totally trustworthy in everything that it records or teaches.

Now many Christians, and even many evangelicals do not necessarily old to that definition of inerrancy. They may see the Bible as reliable in theology, but can conceive of errors regarding science or history or geography.

How Does This Fit With Biblical Authority?

This too requires us to ask the question of what we mean by authority. Some Christians almost turn the Bible into a divine figure under which we must submit. Faithfulness is, not so much to God, as it is to the book that we believe came from God.

When I speak of biblical authority, I am speaking of the authority that the Bible has to tell us about God and what God wants from us. The Bible is like a window. The value of the window is not just in itself but in the way it allows us inside to look outside at the world around us. The Bible helps us to see God and it it does it very well.

There are evangelicals who believe that if there is one mistake in an Old Testament description of a battle, then ultimately we cannot be confident that Jesus really rose from the dead. I think that is a terrible argument.

Even if the Bible did not contain the few passages that are used to describe inspiration, I would still be confident in the resurrection of Jesus. Rejecting a strict definition of inerrancy does not mean that we have to reject the reliability of the Bible.

I believe in the authority of the Bible. But I also prefer to talk about inspiration rather than inerrancy. God used normal human beings to write the various texts that make up the Bible. There was a lot of collecting and editing that went into the process. I believe God was active in that as well.

My faith does not hang on whether the Bible gets every geographical or scientific claim right. We got the book that we needed. It is enough to point us to Jesus, who the Bible itself describes as the Word of God.

I will continue to study and teach the Bible. But I will not feel excluded from “the true faith” because I may not articulate inerrancy the way they want.

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