Monday, September 20, 2004

Biblical Inerrancy?

When I was looking for suggestions for churches to attend on my "church vacation," Andrew (not an anonymous cyber acquaintance, but my sister-in-law's boyfriend) suggested the Harvest Community Church, which is just down the road from our house.

While I appreciate Andrew's suggestion, I know Harvest is not the place for me. The first statement in Harvest's "Declaration of Faith" is this:

We believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures and that it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice (1 Cor. 2:13; II Tim 3:16-17; II Peter 1:20-21).

I've blogged about this before, but I think it is important so I'll do it again. I do not believe in the "plenary, verbal inspiration" of scripture and I cannot attend a church that does. That may seem a little strong, but I think theology does matter and this is an important issue.

The most oft-quoted verse in this regard is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NRSV):

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,b 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

It is important to note that the scripture the author of this passage (that author almost certainly not being Paul) was talking about was the Hebrew Bible, which does not precisely match our Old Testament today. The New Testament did not exist when this letter was written. How then could the author be making claims about a set of books that did not yet exist?

Further, the basic claim of those who believe the Bible is inerrant is that Bible itself says that it is inerrant and divinely inspired. As I pointed out above, the Harvest Community Church cites three Biblical references: 1 Cor. 2:13; II Tim 3:16-17; II Peter 1:20-21. Read the passage from 2 Timothy above and 1 Corinthians and 2 Peter below and tell me if you think the Bible actually makes that claim. But even then, a document's own claim of its truthfulness is hardly convincing evidence.

But people a lot smarter than me have put together very good articles on the subject. Here are two excellent sources of information from

- INERRANCY: Is the Bible free of error?
- BIBLICAL INERRANCY AND INFALLIBILITY: Description, problems & implications

Also, Maggi Dawn, an Anglican priest, university professor in the UK, and blogging star, is in the process of writing an excellent series of short articles titled, Words and the Word.

- Words and the Word (i)
- Words and the Word (ii)
- Words and the Word (iii)
- Words and the Word (iv)
- Words and the word (v)
- Words and the word (vi)

Some have said they believe the Bible is divinely inspired, if by divine inspiration you mean that God was working in the lives of those that wrote the various books of the Bible. That makes sense to me. I can believe that God was working in their lives as God works in ours. But I think the message of plenary, verbal inspiration is damaging. I believe it says that God was active in the lives of people living thousands of years ago, but now we're on our own. God spoke directly to people in great length, but no more.

I can't believe that. I believe that God continues to work in our lives and the writings of contemporary Christians can be inspired as well. They have yet to stand the test of time and lack the power of witness to events in the time of Christ, but I think God can speak to us through our contemporaries.

Marcus Borg describes the Bible as a sacrament. It is something that lets us experience God and become closer to God. But the Bible is not God. I think the idea of Biblical inerrancy takes us dangerously close to that. Biblical inerrancy leads us closer to worshipping the Bible (bibliolatry) rather than God.

I don't believe that the sum of God is wrapped up in a few thousand pages of text written down a couple of thousand years ago. God is both bigger and more complex than can be reflected in human writing. I believe that part of our legacy as Christians is that we will continue to try to understand and know God using the Biblical witness of our ancestors as the beginning of the story, rather than the end.

Other verses:
1 Cor. 2:13 (NRSV)
And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

2 Peter 1:20-21 (NRSV)
First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.



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