A few weeks ago there was a conference in Baltimore where two biblical scholars, Albert Mohler and Peter Enns, each gave speeches on biblical inerrancy. Mohler claims that holding to inerrancy is essential for maintaining the truth of the Christian doctrine, while Enns claims that abandoning inerrancy is essential for maintaining the truth of the gospel. So, who’s right? Personally, I don’t like the question “Is the Bible inerrant?” Often times people think inerrancy means that there is absolutely no flaw at all in any sort of context whatsoever. On the other hand, believers of non-inerrancy are accused of believing that the Bible is “fiction” or is full of contradictions and flaws. I don’t think it’s a black and white issue so I will lay out what I believe about the Bible without directly answering the question, “Is the Bible inerrant?”
First of all, “inerrancy” did not come out of Protestant Orthodoxy. Saint Augustine was actually the first person to ever coin the term. Later scholars, such as Calvin and Luther, spoke of the Bible as being free from error. Many later popes challenged inerrancy except in the case of salvation. Later, the Princeton formulation of inerrancy was developed.
This is the view that I hold most closely to. It basically states that “The only really dangerous opposition to the church doctrine of inspiration comes either directly or indirectly, but always ultimately, from some false view of God’s relation to the world, of his methods of working, and of the possibility of a supernatural agency penetrating and altering the course of a natural process.” (Biologos)
Another thing to take into consideration is that issues concerning things such as authors, dates, and composition that are not inconsistent with the testimony of Christ or his apostles as to the Old Testament or with the origins of the books of the New Testament, cannot invalidate Scripture. Every part of Scripture was written with the culture of the time in mind. We must realize how crucial historical criticism is.
Another thing we need to consider is our own methods of interpreting Scripture can be subject to error. Some discrepancies we find can be due to imperfect copies, which can be corrected with proper textual criticism. Sometimes we may not even have all the information that we need to properly understand a certain part of Scripture. Our own presuppositions may also get in the way of this understanding.
We must never assume that the authors who wrote these books of the Bible are infallible, perfect people. The COMMUNICATION is inspired, NOT the people. The authors seemed to be very aware of this themselves. They depended on many other methods that are fallible and so sometimes they could understand that their personal judgements were wrong. So, the Scripture is still inerrant when properly interpreted for its intended use.
The last thing is we have to understand what the biblical authors were AFFIRMING, not ASSUMING. Anything that is affirmed in Scripture is free from error, but not everything that is assumed. Biologos gives a great illustration of this:
“For example, critics often point to Matthew 13:32, where Jesus refers to the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds.” From the context it is clear that Jesus was not making a botanical claim but drawing on the familiar experience of his hearers, for whom the analogy would have worked perfectly well. If every statement in Scripture is a propositional truth-claim, then there are obvious errors. A reductionistic view of language is implied at this point both in many of the criticisms and defenses of scriptural accuracy. It is unlikely that in his state of humiliation, in which by his own admission he did not know the day or hour of his return, Jesus had exhaustive knowledge about the world’s plant life. Whatever contemporary botanists might identify as the smallest seed, if it were unknown to Jesus’ hearers, the analogy would have been pointless. We have to ask what the biblical writers are affirming, not what they are assuming as part of the background of their own culture and the limitations of their time and place.”
Inerrancy is an uncomfortable and often misused concept. The most important thing is that we understand what each part of the Bible is saying in its own context instead of putting labels on it.