Let’s not pass the inerrancy thing by because it says everything about how we treat the Bible and truth itself:
Here’s the thing. If I were to write on Facebook that God has spoken to me and declared that all my posts on Facebook are authoritative and inerrant (without error)? I bet you would have some serious questions.
Not one of you would just blindly accept that as true. In fact most of you would call me crazy and a few of you might ask me to try and prove that that happened. But I couldn’t do that and you couldn’t do that. Nobody could affirmatively say this experience of mine did not happen.
So say you were a wise person and you entertained the idea. How would you approach it? Maybe you’d hire an academic? Maybe hire someone who knew a lot about my Facebook posts. Maybe you yourself would print out everything I’ve ever written and read it word by word. You would then hold these words of mine to a predetermined standard or collective understanding of what it means for words to be inerrant. You’d look for contradictions. You’d look for times where I said something that negated a previous idea. You would see if what I said was actually true. Did I ever make scientific claims that were bogus? Could you point me to research that showed I was wrong? Because that would be a normal way to respond when someone says their words are authoritative and inerrant. (Notice that people who believe these ideas about scripture often have a hard time doing this.)
Eventually you would see some posts that might arise some questions in you. Hey Devon, we see in 2008 you had some not so nice things to say about Barack Obama. We see you talking about your Christian faith much differently than you do now. You used to post a lot of Conservative things and now you seem to post more Liberal things.
These observations would lead you to question my claims. And so you (if you believed me well) would try and think of ways that these ideas could possibly connect. But if all the words were meant to be accepted as literally true and whatever from the past was held as equally true as the post I just shared today, then the category of inerrant wouldn’t work to describe my words. Because here I say one thing and there I say another. Here I had one understanding of Barack Obama and later I had another. If it were all equally weighted, you would come to see that I have indeed contradicted myself, changed my understanding, and therefore I am not inerrant.
Now upon realizing this, would my ideas then cease to have any truth? Because my views of Obama changed would that then mean that all my words now be disregarded? No. You probably wouldn’t do that, because that would be silly. Now you would actually be free to understand what I believed was true in that season of my existence. You would be able to follow along and see the evolution of my understanding. You could observe my culture and see the ways the world around me influenced my beliefs about Barack Obama.
Perhaps you wouldn’t believe I was inerrant anymore, but you would still find ideas that pointed to truth. That represented real experiences.
Now could you give those ideas authority still? I suppose you could. But would you see that’s not really the idea? Perhaps it actually would limit you in unnecessary ways? Where you bend what’s real to fit your understanding.
Might I suggest that there is a more honest way? Rather through my words and ideas you enter into a body of testimony that leads you to challenge your own words and ideas. Perhaps by entering into my understandings you are pointed deeper into your understandings? And doesn’t that have the power to heal and change you? Even if it isn’t what you originally were told it was?
Fun to point out: the Bible never claims to be inerrant or authoritative. The authors say that God is authoritative, Paul is given authority to build people up. Governments, kings, and Jesus have authority, but never the Bible.
The word “exousia” in the Bible also means weight, power, influence. Certain things have certain powers for certain purposes.
The word inerrant never appears in the Bible in reference to the Bible. It’s says “God breathed” (the Bible says that about man and about Israel as well.) It says scripture is useful. It’s beneficial. You can use it to teach and train in righteousness. Because of course you can. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a conversation about everything it means to be human. It leads you to ask the bigger questions about God and man. It makes you wrestle with your darkest demons and rejoice your greatest victories. It’s thousands of years of what people have observed and experienced while pointing towards the same mystery. Who wouldn’t be interested in that? Who couldn’t learn from that? The Word of God is all around us. If it is true it belongs to God. Even something as riddled with error and ego and opinion as my Facebook posts have the power to inspire you towards the divine and the greater questions of our existence. But my words aren’t words we’ve been wrestling with for thousands of years. Sure they may spawn from that. But there’s something incredible about a library that generation after generation has read and learned from and challenged and debated.
These aren’t some new things I’m spewing. Go pick up a CS Lewis book or letter, or read Aquinas or the saints and mystics. The truth is in the wrestle.
To wrestle with truth is to be intimate with God. And that’s what the Bible invites us to do. Just read the Psalms. Just read the whole thing. And find yourself entering an ancient journey of understanding. One that bends, and evolves, and corrects, and challenges.
What could be more true than that?