The Errancy of Inerrancy


I am a Christian minister. Most would, from their point of reference, label me conservative, traditional, main-stream, and orthodox. There are others (far fewer in number I think) who consider me liberal; one who cares little for the traditional and swims upstream continually. Far from being orthodox (holding correct belief) I would be in their eyes heterodox. Now it is one thing to be classified in such a way by the folks you never considered family in the first place, but when these charges come from those with whom you have prayed and broken bread – well that is a special kind of pain.

There are few words that have been more divisive and abuse-filled than the word “inerrancy.”  Do you know what that word means? Well don’t feel bad, most who use that word don’t know what it means either. Nevertheless they use it to check you out. To see if you are one of them; to check if you are in or out. It sounds so good and so certain, yet what does it mean and why do folks like me refuse to play along and just say, “I believe the Bible is inerrant?”

Two reasons: First, I try to love and appreciate the Bible as it was given to us by God. It is the Holy Spirit inspired revelation of God given over a long span of time to a specific people. God spoke in and through them within the contexts of their time and understanding. God did not write the Bible as a direct work, but he is behind its revealed message. The point of the Bible is how God reveals his redemptive love through Christ. Period.

Second, the claim that the Bible is error-less not only in the story of redemption but in everything else is extra-biblical (in that the Bible does not claim that distinction). Let me be crystal clear, the Bible is a perfect revelation of God’s redemptive love to humanity; the Bible is not a perfect science, psychology, biology, geology, history text. Even though I don’t believe the Bible is completely wrong on any of these matters, it is unsustainable to say that it is without error.

The argument is sometimes made, “If I can’t trust the Bible on everything; I can’t trust the Bible on anything.” Well how stupid is that! Of course you can trust the Bible to tell you of God’s love and provision for forgiveness and reunification. But if you want to learn about the age of the earth, the latest discoveries on Bi-Polar disorder, or the DNA of ancient hominids, then you’d be better off consulting different texts. I actually think God would have you do that. So while I trust the Bible I do not worship it. I worship God alone. Remember Jesus’ take on this: “You search the scriptures for I them you think you have life, but it is they that testify of me.” John 5:39

And there we have it. Making the Bible errorless is a form of idolatry. Idolatry, however insidious, is always the sin of putting something or someone in the place that only God should occupy. Traditional Southern Baptists knew this lesson and guarded against it. In the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message under the article on Scripture it ended with, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Thirty seven years later that line was dropped. Why? I believe that the forces that wanted to elevate the Bible needed to eliminate every rival, even if that rival is Jesus. Instead of relying upon him and seeking to understand the Bible through him, we now (according to them) don’t need to do that since the Bible cannot contain a single error on anything.

So much more could be said on the error of inerrancy, but let me add this final thought: The insecure in God’s grace naturally seek a certainty that they can control. Inerrancy for them has been a way to control their world, their denomination, their church. But God’s Spirit simply will not be controlled. God is without error; no one and nothing else can or should make that claim.


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