Friday, August 13, 2010

The Doctrine of Inerrancy: The Details Also?

One dear Christian Brother responded to my last essay on the doctrine of “Inerrancy of Scripture” by asserting, “I do think the term inerrancy is quibbling over details that don't matter. I'm willing to be a bit more fluid in my approach and stand back a bit, confident that the miracle of Scripture will stand up under any scrutiny. It's the overall truth that matters.”

Embodied in this essay is my response to him:

In as far as the details aren't inspired, my confidence in Biblical revelation can't be very inspired. Even more importantly, I fail to take Jesus at His word. He often argued from the details:

“But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? [Exodus 3:6] He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32)

Arguing against the Sadducees, Jesus quotes Exodus to prove that the Patriarchs still live, but notice how He does this – He points to the fact that Scripture says "am" and not "was." This detail proved that Abraham is still living!

Jesus isn’t alone in placing emphasis on the details to make global points. Paul also resorted to small details to make his weighty points:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds [plural!], meaning many people, but "and to your seed [Gen. 12:7]," meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

Paul built his case on something smaller than even a word – singular usage vs. plural – to demonstrate that Christ was in view in the Genesis prophecy. By ignoring the details in favor of the big picture, we fail to even appreciate this panorama that the details join hands to produce. A message is crafted by its composite details. A change in one detail in a mathematical equation can seriously distort the end product. Of course, not all details carry the same weight, but this is a matter for careful Biblical interpretation and not a general denial of “inerrancy.” The Bible gives us no license to pick-and-choose among the details. Paul guides us away from such a stance:

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

When we deny the doctrine of “inerrancy,” we deny ourselves of the hope and confidence that’s made possible by knowing that we are indeed reading the Word of God. We also fail to remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching about Scripture:

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

When we fail to take the entire set of Scriptures as God-breathed, we fail to abide in Christ’s Word as we aught. The consequences of this are truly tragic. We condemn ourselves to dull, uninspired Christian lives, at least less robust than it might have been.

What’s the alternative to believing that the Bible is without error in its original? Believing that the Bible does have errors! Well then, how do we know what parts of the Bible we can truly trust and live by? Ultimately, it becomes a matter of human decision-making, and we thereby have placed another authority above Scripture – ourselves!

The Biblical faith was never intended to degenerate into this. However, although we don't mean to place ourselves as masters above Scripture, our philosophical commitment to disdain the doctrine of “inerrancy” has forced us onto this throne – a dubious and costly honor.

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