Sunday, October 3, 2010
There is (still) a lot of debate within the evangelical world about the inerrancy of Scripture, the belief that the Bible, in its original manuscripts (autographs), is flawless and completely truthful in all its propositions, claims, and all that it affirms. Now, I don't doubt this. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16) and has the Holy Spirit as its ultimate author, though it was penned in culturally conditioned ways through fallible human authors. In reality what looks like error to us is simply the result of three main phenomena: (1) It was authored by the Spirit of God, and only the Spirit within us knows and interprets and unveils to us God's thoughts. "For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). Because we are not completely ruled and renewed by the Spirit yet, in many ways Scripture seems opaque, foggy. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).
(2) God's revelation of himself remains under his lordship and at his discretion. Because he must breathe his Spirit into us to comprehend his breathed-out Word, we are at his mercy in all true wisdom we may gain. The fact remains that all Scripture comes from a perfect Mind which is infinitely beyond the reach of our finite, creaturely minds. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). Only as God chooses to enable our minds to grasp the truth of his Word can we grow in grace and knowledge. The Word is God's self-disclosure, self-revelation; and as such we can never wrap our minds around it fully to make judgments upon it any more than we can scrutinize and judge our Creator. It is as if a paper doll were to lay claim to the child who cut it! The real question for us is, under God's lordship, will we be faithfully submissive to what we do understand, while praying all the while for deeper knowledge of his mysteries? "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29, emphasis mine).
(3) There is the obvious difficulty of our cultural differences and historical distance from the times and places where the Bible was written, and this will always occlude our view of its message. For example, many (though not all) inerrantists claim that you must believe in a single, uniquely-created Adam who was the very first of all humans, if you are to accept an unerring Bible. But that opens up many other difficulties with the Genesis account which they would need to reconcile, if they accept Adam as the original progenitor of the human race. (I am simply using this as an example, not to say what I believe about Adam.) But what if the narrative about Adam's creation wasn't meant so much as to answer the hows or whens of creation, as it was to give Adam and mankind his purpose within the world--ultimately a purpose which Israel was supposed to embody. The Genesis creation accounts could've been penned (carved?) by Moses to point Israel to her identity as the divine image-bearers of God exercising dominion over the world and bringing blessing to it. This example obviously leaves out a lot of details, but I'm simply using it to point out the gaps created by cultural distance.
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Ultimately, though, while I accept inerrancy a la B. B. Warfield and the Chicago Statement, it doesn't matter that much to me. Why not? To put it simply, I don't trust the Scriptures because I believe they're inerrant. (Though because they are inerrant and infallible, we need to accept and live by all that God reveals to us therein, because they are the instrument of his rule in our lives, his words which soar above the puny "wisdom" of man.) I believe them because they revealed to me my risen Savior Jesus Christ. I came to know and believe in Jesus long before I ever knew about the doctrine of inerrancy. And because the Bible pointed me to Jesus, I kept on reading it and found living words that read me, and I found life for my soul. No other book does that. That is why I trust the Bible and rely on it: not because it fits some sort of definition of inerrancy, but because it has brought me to a knowledge of my sin and, more so, of a redeeming God of love who bore my sin on Calvary. I believe it because only its message makes sense of my life and of the world. That is why I trust it. And because I know in my heart that the risen Jesus is living and true, and that I cannot turn away from the inescapable grip his reality has on me, I take his word as trustworthy and true. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).