I was a pastor for 20 years, but I never really considered myself a theologian. When something puzzled me or interested me, I would do some research and try to find understanding. Often, I was more interested in what made people work than proving a religious point of contention. But, over the past few years there have been several things that I once held to that no longer make any sense. Inerrancy is one of those things that I no longer ascribe to. Here’s why.
For inerrancy to hold up, here are just a few of the things that must be true.
God only spoke directly to writers for 1600 years
This is what people with flat Bible beliefs believe. They would insist that writers in the 21st Century couldn’t possibly have any new revelation. There was none before that time period and none after. Of course, unless it directly copies what is said in the pages of the Bible.
Inspiration has to mean innerancy
I have often been inspired, but very rarely am I inerrant. But, to be a flat Bible person you must believe that each writer of the Old and New Testament was not only inspired, as Paul said, but they were also perfect and got it all right. Everything they wrote down must be exactly what God meant for them to say (even the bashing babies on rocks, ruthlessly killing and owning slaves, etc.)
The Apostle Paul has to be equal with Jesus
When flat Bible people take Paul’s words and make them literally the law for all times, such as women keeping silent, they are demanding a perfection out of Paul that he didn’t even acknowledge of himself. Paul certainly had a transformation and did lots of work and suffering to tell people about Jesus, but he acknowledged several times that he struggled to understand. Why would we take some of his words as infallible and ignore the fact that he said he wasn’t?
The oral tradition had to be flawless
Many people don’t know that the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were not written immediately after they happened. The four evangelists participated in the oral traditions for approximately 30 years before they wrote them down. Jesus probably died between AD 30 and 36 and the gospels were probably written between AD 66 and 110. That means every time someone said, “Remember when Jesus said that..” or something similar, they had to remember and retell it perfectly for the gospels to be inerrant and for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to record perfectly what happened and what was said. This seems way more than unlikely to me.
Jesus judgment would have to come into question
In the “fire from heaven” passage, Jesus tells the disciples to ignore what the author of I Kings said. Several times, when quoting Hebrew Scripture (OT), Jesus left off the violent parts of the scripture He was reading. Several times in the Sermon on the Mount, he directly opposed the OT Scripture by saying, “You have heard it said, but I say…” Paul also did this occasionally, but let’s focus on the one that was supposed to be perfect. Jesus quoted Scripture, but often corrected it, not just for cultural correctness but because He disagreed with the basic premise (using violence, being retributive, etc.). For the Bible to be infallible or inerrant, Jesus opinions (as quoted in the Bible) would have to be demoted or ignored.
The church didn’t realize it until recently
Biblical inerrancy was not included in any of the creeds or councils until after the reformation (500 years ago). Even by loose standards, that means that it’s only in the last few hundred years did the church officially adopt inerrancy as an official view. Many of the modern-day stances on inerrancy come from sources such as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978. The early church certainly thought Scriptures were “useful” as they were piecing together their understanding of the Divine, but there is almost no indication that anyone for the first 1500 years of Christianity would have taken this view.
The men that chose the books were perfect
To make a long story short, several groups of men got together in the 4th and 5th Century and decided what books were to be included in the Bible. To be fair, they were partially guided by what was commonly accepted at the time but try getting anyone to agree on what is accepted in your life. My point would be simply this, there have been multiple councils in the 4th, 5th, 16th and 17th centuries by fallible men (again, unless you’re going to ascribe perfection to normal people). For the books of the Bible to be infallible, they had to get it all right. For it to be inerrant, the right books have to be IN there. The book of Revelation almost didn’t make it – wouldn’t that change things if it didn’t? Are we sure they got ALL of it right through ALL the councils and revisions? Does even one convention like the Southern Baptists make perfect decisions every year. Obviously NO!
We would have to ignore some things in the Bible
The writer of Hebrews makes a special point to tell us that in the “last days” God speaks through Jesus. In other words, like many now are accepting, Jesus cleared some things up about the Law and the Prophets (OT Scripture). In the account known as the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John are brought to a place where Moses and Elijah are seen (representing the law and the prophets). A voice says “This is my son, listen to HIM!” If you believe the Bible, like flat Bible people do, this creates a contradiction for you. Why? Because Jesus brings into question Moses and Elijah’s inerrancy. If you’re going to say something is inerrant in the Bible, you must make a choice whose words you will follow.
As I said earlier, I’m not a theologian. These are just my thoughts. I no longer take the flathead approach to the Bible, yet I still read it and find it to be “useful.” I find a greater peace in wrestling with my understanding of truth that is found there than in trying to wrestle it down to a doctrinal statement that someone taught me to recite. I’m pretty sure Jesus would have never forced a flat Bible approach to the Bible, at least it doesn’t appear that way in the pages of the New Testament.
Oh wow, my book, Apparent Faith, got nominated for a Christian Indie Award in Theology for 2020!! This is quite humbling. Please help me out by voting and then spreading the word.
“Apparent Faith” under Theoloology
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