Why a Better View of Scripture Matters

 

Jonah

In the previous post there was a picture of the Bible. Above the Bible was a quotation by Fred Clark that says, “The doctrine of ‘inerrancy’ is often referred to as a ‘high view of scripture.’ It is not. It’s a low down dirty trick to play on the Bible and anyone who tries to read it. Inerrancy is not a victimless crime. It chases some people away from the Bible and prevents others from reading it meaningfully.”

If that quote rings a bell with you as it does with me then it probably is because you have witnessed the spiritual and intellectual devastation that advocates of inerrancy leave in their wake. Theirs is an “all or nothing” mentality that removes the Bible from its correct context and religious intention. The Bible is treated as a supportive document for the certitude of the expressed religious idea. Rather than honestly trying to understand the often complex and intricate Biblical revelation, Fundamentalism substitutes their talking points which they insist are Biblical facts; facts that the Bible itself is uninterested in proving. The outcome is they entirely miss the point the Biblical author was aiming at in the first place. Let me illustrate how this happens with a small book from the Hebrew Scriptures called Jonah.

The account of Jonah, sometimes erroneously referred to as “Jonah and the Whale,” is a good illustration of just how inerrantists miss the point. In Fred Clark’s words “prevent others from reading the Bible meaningfully.”

The book of Jonah is a parable meant to teach a lesson, it was not meant to be regarded as a factual account. In other words this isn’t history, this is religious teaching. That is how the book was meant to be understood. However, for some, this must be more than a religious lesson; it must also be history. Of this the inerrantists are certain. Their great concern then is that Jonah’s adventures must be more than a story to teach an important lesson to the Jews about the universality of God’s love. Thus these so-called “defenders of the Bible” have struggled for years to explain just how a great fish could in fact swallow a human being and deliver him up on the road to Nineveh.

So when we get to the story of Jonah the focus shifts from the meaning of the book to trying to prove the prophet really was swallowed by a whale or a really big fish. I’ve even read and heard sermons citing “real life incidents” of people going through a fish-swallowing who survived. (I doubt all of these because oxygen or the lack thereof make this unlikely.) Sure God can perform a miracle and I believe he sometimes does, but that is not the point of this story. The point is that God turned his arrogant and unloving prophet toward the vilest of people. The point is his love was extended even to the pagan Gentiles of Nineveh. What lessons might the church of today take from this book if they were not so concerned in proving that fish really do swallow people from time to time?

This then is why inerrancy is so problematic; it distracts from the actual message of the Bible. It would be  better to get the point the Bible is striving to make.  In order to do that a better view of Biblical inspiration is necessary.

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