As I mentioned in yesterday's post (Understanding the Other Side), I had the opportunity recently to play Devil's Advocate in a debate about biblical inerrancy.
Biblical inerrancy is a tough topic to pin down. When I think about it, I think about the idea that Bible is true and trustworthy, accurate and reliable, perfect and authoritative. I think this a great doctrine. So, how would you attack it?
Here are the four best arguments I could find to represent the anti-inerrancy side ...
The Bible is full of apparent, on-the-face contradictions.
What is Jesus' genealogy? Did Jesus feed 4,000 or 5,000 or both? How many angels were at Jesus' tomb? What were Jesus' last words? Google "bible contradictions" and you'll find a lot of people who excel at close reading and need new hobbies.
Contradictions seem to undermine claims that the Bible is perfect. Sure, we can still trust the Bible even if it has some imperfections, but where does this leave inerrancy?
The story of the Bible unravels and unfolds turn by turn. We learn more and more about God and his ways as the story unfolds. Some laws pass away (yay cheesburgers!). Some practices pass away (sacrifices for ex.). Some institutions pass away (temples and Levites).
And this raises the question: "what does it mean to say that the whole Bible is inerrant?" There are parts of it that we can learn from, but shouldn't obey. There are parts that are outright lies and errors (see Job's friends' speeches). For generations people have talked about "a canon within the canon," prioritizing some scriptures above others. But where does this leave inerrancy?
The Bible you read today didn't descend from heaven and it wasn't mined from the earth. It came to us through a long and convoluted process. This process involves transcription, transmission, canonization and (for us non-Greek-readers) translation.
Most tight definitions of inerrancy hold that the Bible was only perfect in autograph form (ie. only the first edition was perfect). After that, errors creep in. As do biases. Where does this leave inerrancy?
The last challenge has to do with the locus of authority. Is the Bible your authority or someone else? Most evangelicals would say that the Bible is the ultimate authority (sola scriptura). Inerrancy protects our capacity to trust the authority of the Bible.
But where did we get the Bible? And how do we read it?
The reality is that the early, proto-orthodox church decided on the contents of the Christian Bible (for more on this, see The Canon of Scripture by FF Bruce). And we bring our community with us when we read the Bible (try to read Romans without hearing a Luther track laid over Paul). The fingerprints of men are all over the Bible.
Where does this leave inerrancy?
Can you think of other significant challenges to biblical inerrancy?