Inerrancy Is Not the Point
And neither is denying inerrancy. Jesus is the point.
I get the history of why the debate formed. In the Enlightenment a lot of liberal theologians emerged, and I use liberal in the proper historical sense as they concluded things like that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t really happen (not that they wanted legal rights for everyone or fed the poor; that’s a new redefining of “liberal” that came later from politics).
So inerrancy emerged as the opposite extreme, a way to defend these important ideas. Not only did they affirm that the Bible was trustworthy about real-world-changing things like the Resurrection, they claimed it was true in the modernist sense (historical, scientific, etc) on everything. From there it became one of the main gatekeeper questions for whether you were a true Christian. It typically gets coupled with a hermeneutic that denies any context, doesn’t try to understand the original languages, or anything else behind the “plain meaning” that they think isn’t biased at all by their own context and presuppositions. But I want to be fair because those latter parts – the gatekeeping and the fundamentalist hermeneutic – are not inerrancy itself.
While I’m willing to say that inerrancy opens us up to a few major problems (bibliolatry, bad overly-simplistic hermeneutics, fear of academic study of Scripture, and gatekeeping, for example), I’m now convinced that inerrancy in and of itself really isn’t a problem. And neither is not supporting inerrancy.
Whether the Bible is inerrant or not answers questions like whether the number of soldiers in an army was exactly right, just an estimate, or a biased exaggeration. It answers questions like whether Jesus preached two different sermons that said similar things in different words, as precisely recorded, or whether the Gospel writers paraphrased (we know they at least translated into Greek).
In other words, it answers questions that don’t really matter in my daily life.
Which, I am convinced, is why the Bible itself never bothers to make claims about its error or lack of error on such issues or why the Church didn’t make any such claims until the Enlightenment (individual thinkers did on either side, but not the Church as a whole). What kind of claims does it make?
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIVUK)
Yes, some use the God-breathed piece to say that therefore it is inerrant, but it never says that and while it may make logical sense that an inerrant being would breathe out an inerrant work, God also breathed humanity and we all know we make mistakes. And that’s probably the best argument from Scripture for Scripture being inerrant.
Scripture is useful. That is probably the best descriptor I have for Scripture. Specifically, it is useful for discipleship. Nothing about what value it will have as a science textbook in another 1700 years when modern science develops. Ditto for history.
That text on its own can be pretty vague. It is useful for those aspects of discipleship, but discipleship to who and how do we read it? Jesus put it this way:
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIVUK)
Those he was speaking to had made an idol of Scripture, finding life in it. Many of us do this, too, those who are inerrantists and those who are not. We have spent a ridiculous time debating it and often drawing lines between those who aren’t really Christians on one side and those who are just crazy and can’t think for themselves on the other. And for what? For possibly knowing exactly how many soldiers fought in that ancient battle?
In the process, we frequently end up looking at the Bible so intensely to debate whether it is inerrant or not that we completely miss why the Bible tells us it has been given to us. The Bible is useful in discipleship to our Lord Jesus. Maybe it is also perfect in those other details, maybe it isn’t. Either way shouldn’t really change anything other than abstract academic debate, which may have its place but it isn’t what we build on our faith on. We build our faith on Jesus.