What’s the issue?
The question of Biblical “inerrancy” has been raised a number of times particularly in the past 50 years or so. Before answering this question, I think it’s important to simply highlight what the real issue is.
The Foundation of our Faith
The Bible forms the foundation of the Christian faith, and in fact, in one way or another it forms the foundation for the Jewish faith as well as various Christian sects, so the question of the authority of the Bible is one of the most fundamental questions we can answer. It is essential that we establish whether the Bible is an authoritative document or merely a helpful document or something less.
Real authority requires complete reliability
Another reason this question is so important is that in order for the Bible to be considered authoritative in a person’s life it must be a reliable document. If a friend isn’t trustworthy in what he or she tells you, it’s unlikely you will be willing to take advice from that person.
There are many people who might want to believe that the Bible can have spiritual authority in our lives even if it isn’t completely reliable. I can’t accept that kind of reasoning. If the Bible is unreliable in even the smallest part, then for me, it would bring into question other parts. Ultimately, it would boil down to me making a judgment call on each issue to determine if that particular claim were reliable or not. In other words, the authority would not be the Bible. I, as the final evaluator of the claims, would retain the authority for myself, and the Bible could be at best a motivational document but nothing more.
The question we must answer:
Therefore, since the Bible must be completely reliable in order to have any real authority, the question we must answer for ourselves boils down to this, “How accurate (reliable) is the Bible?”
The possible answers can be summarized in these statements:
- The Bible is completely free of any errors of any kind.
- The Bible as it was originally written was completely free of any errors of any kind.
- The Bible as it was originally written was completely free of any factual errors concerning the intended claims of the authors.
- The Bible as correctly interpreted is free of any errors.
- The Bible, correctly interpreted, is authoritative though not entirely without fault.
These are important distinctions because these statements make all the difference in understanding both what the Bible means to say and what it means for my life today. For example, apparent conflicts between the Bible and science only exist if you adopt the first two statements.
However, if you adopt the final statement, there really is no reason to trust the Bible very much because it depends on the work of the interpreter and also on the presupposition that it could be wrong in some areas.
In brief, the first option is naive and ignores the fact that minor spelling and grammatical errors exist in nearly every copy and/or translation of the Bible.
The final option is of no help because if humans have authority of interpretation and determining what is “right” and what is “wrong” in the Bible, then it loses nearly all of its authority over us.
Which option is mine? Which option is that upheld by our church?
From my personal Doctrinal Statement:
I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, divinely inspired human agents to record special revelation in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. This inspiration is such that the written words of Scripture are fully the words of God and fully the words of the human who penned them. Thus, they reflect the personalities and proclivities of the individual authors but are the completely inerrant communication of God to people. That is, the Scriptures as the authors originally intended them are entirely free from error in all matters to which they pertain. They are the final authority of faith and life (Ro 3:2, 16:25ff.; 2Ti 3:16f.; 2Pe 1:20f.).
From my church’s Doctrinal Statement:
The Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. (Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:19-21).