Leaving Inerrancy

Trying to understand what the Bible is (and is not) frequently becomes a significant stumbling block for many Christians. I know it has been for me. When I was a young Christian, I heard people say things like, “If you can find one error in the Bible, the whole thing is worthless.” Now, after close examination, what’s a believer to do who finally decides that there are several problems and inconsistencies? Well, in short, their faith can all fall apart because if you’ve been taught that the Bible is the core of your faith and has to be inerrant to fulfill that role, there’s little alternative except to either ignore the problem or watch the foundation of your faith crumble. And when it crumbles, do you completely walk away or do you struggle to find a way to rebuild your faith? From my perspective, the problem has to do with how an inerrant Bible is the center of faith for Evangelicals.

What is it about biblical inerrancy that leads Evangelicals and Fundamentalists to say “that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word?” At it’s core, it’s a foundationalist claim about what we can know. But when I see how the doctrine of inerrancy is used, it serves more as a shibboleth to determine who is in and who is out. While it is meaningful to those who accept a host of presuppositions, those presuppositions lack evidential support. At least as articulated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the presuppositions are simply ungrounded assertions. The purpose of this series will be to look more closely at problems with the doctrine of inerrancy as described in the Chicago Statement and to propose some solutions that better fit the phenomena of the Bible itself.

First off, I should probably let it be known that I’m okay with the idea the Scriptures are the norming norm for the Church. My problem is not necessarily with the Bible, but more with how it’s understood, what exactly it is, and its role in the formation of the faith community and the individuals who inhabit that community.

The place I see the biggest issues with inerrancy, as defined in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and one which I believe undermines inerrancy as a coherent doctrine, begin to show up in article VI.

We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.

There are several questions with this statement. What is meant by “the whole of Scripture?” Who determines what that is? It’s as if there were uniform agreement on which books make up the Bible. Yet Protestants and Catholics disagree on this issue and other Christian communities through history have had a variety of Canons.  If it is the “very words” that are inspired, how do you justify translations? It seems the very act of translation tells us that it’s not the words themselves that are inspired, but, at best, the message they convey. And if the very words are given by God, what does this mean for the author(s) of the biblical books?

Article VIII does nothing to help clarify this.

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

What do these two articles logically imply? I find the implication that God dictated the scriptures inescapable. If the “very words” that God wanted written is what’s in the Bible, then how can it be otherwise? And if the very words were God’s words, then how can he not have overridden the author(s) personalities? The answer, which is really nothing more than a fideistic assertion, and a weak one at that, is “The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.”

In other words: Punt.  The men who drafted the CSBI seem to recognize that this is logically incoherent, but it has to be this way, otherwise they end up with a God who overrides human agency. It also causes problems when there are multiple narratives of the same event and they don’t happen to match up in every detail.  How can this be if the “very words” are what God determined should be written? I’m not saying that we can’t learn about God from these narratives, only that they cause problems for those who hold to this particular doctrine of Scripture.

I will leave off for now, but next week, I want to look at the issue of “the original” and the “autographic text.” There are assumptions regarding what an original is that I don’t believe are consistent with the evidence we have of the phenomena of the Bible, by which I mean how the the texts actually come into being (as opposed to descriptions of phenomena in the Bible).

What roll has the Bible played in your faith? Have you run into problems that you found insurmountable? What were they? What did you do?

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