The dialog over biblical “inerrancy” (a Bible with or without “error”) is getting renewed attention lately among some circles of Christian leaders and scholars. If you’ve followed some of the top Christian blogs or ran across books or articles that tangle with this sort of thing, you might have noticed. If you haven’t, or are unfamiliar with the subject, you might benefit from this post, anyhow.
So, here’s the deal… (and give me some space to expand on this afterward)
“Error” vs. “no error” or “infalible” vs. “falible” is the wrong question regarding the Bible. To assume that this is the question to ask of the Bible is to take a posture toward the Bible that is deeply informed by an inherited paradigm, that deserves to be called into question.
Before the question of “error” vs. “no error” can even be raised, a question that goes a level deeper needs to be asked. “Error or no error, according to who?” It seems that we have been conditioned to ask questions of the biblical text inside of a paradigm that gives us categories for what we consider might constitute an error or not an error. Debate exists, for those operating on this paradigm, on what actually constitutes an “error.” Those that defend an inerrantist (no error) position seek to harmonize the contradictions between accounts of events, lack of archeological evidence, and places where it seems the author takes on a view of the universe that doesn’t accord with “modern science,” just to name a couple examples. On the other hand, others are comfortable with recognizing “errors” in the Bible, attributing them to the cultural conditioning, forgery, mis-information, embellishment, “pre-scientific” worldviews, and a range of other things at work in the author at the time of writing.
At the heart of what some call “conservative” or “liberal” ends of the spectrum, as hinted at above, there is an underlining similarity. Or we might say, in order to get to the fork in the road where I must choose an inerrant view or another view, I would have already had to travel down a road. The road of a paradigm that suggests the questions I want to ask of the text, the text is there to inform me. But what if the Bible isn’t here to answer all of my questions, what if it’s here to tell its own story, and what if that story doesn’t answer the questions we’re asking? Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions? Maybe the biblical authors didn’t care how old the earth is, or whether the Exodus account or Israel’s conquest is “history” as we would like it, or whether there were different accounts of the same events, etc.
If we find ourselves preoccupied with questions about whether the Bible maps onto what we understand about history or science or ethics or whatever, maybe we’re missing something important about the Bible – What it is, or what is isn’t, or maybe, what it ought to be to us. What it “ought” to be to us… See, that’s where the underlining paradigms come to play.