Recently, I wrote about whether or not it matters if Paul wrote the pastoral epistles. As I briefly explained, what we believe about these letters is a huge issue, particularly in how it impacts our view of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. As I wrote previously:
So, if Paul didn’t write these letters, then they would be falsified documents that would have been unwelcome in the early church.
Why? Because they would contain a lie.
More than that, they would be based upon a lie. And if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, in that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.
This last point, that you either have to embrace a subjective view of Scripture or chuck the whole thing, is fairly contentious. It is very black and white. So, I want to begin digging a bit deeper into the issue of inerrancy to help give you a sense of why I believe it truly is a matter of the utmost seriousness.
The doctrine of inerrancy is one of the most important—and one of the most misunderstood. What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant? Is it a man-made doctrine? Is it something that we have to read into Scripture, or is it something that Scripture reveals to us?
Like all the debates surrounding Scripture, like the existence of Adam & Eve, gender roles within the Church and so many others, there is another question at the heart of the issue—a question of authority. What we believe about Scripture says a great deal about who we believe to be in authority over us. If Scripture is truly what it says it is—the Word of God—then it is our ultimate earthly authority in all matters.
Before we start really digging into what Scripture says about itself, it’s important to lay a foundation for discussing the subject. And to do that, we need to understand what inerrancy does not mean.
First, inerrancy does not mean that the Bible is above critical examination. If anything, inerrancy demands that we examine the Scriptures with the utmost seriousness. If this is, in fact, the Word of God, then we must know and understand what it means to the best of our ability. Textual criticism is a discipline that is enormously helpful in gaining a greater understanding of the Scriptures, for example.
Second, inerrancy does not mean that context doesn’t matter. The Scriptures were written in a specific time and place, by more than 40 authors over a period of roughly 1500 years. Time, place and culture play a huge role in understanding exactly what was going on, as well as the purpose of why the books were written in the first place. If we ignore a text’s context, we risk misapplying it and injuring ourselves and those around us.
Thirdly, inerrancy does not mean that we ignore literary devices or genres. We always read poetry as poetry, history as history and so on. The most ridiculous arguments against the Bible’s trustworthiness come from literalistic readings; that is, ignoring literary devices like phenomenological language (meaning descriptions of natural events as they appear to the human eye—think sunrise and sunset).
Finally, inerrancy does not mean that we stick our fingers in our ears when it comes to engaging science and culture in light of the Bible. What it does mean is that we critically examine science in light of Scripture. Those things that clearly align with the Bible’s testimony can be accepted. Those that are clearly contradictory must be rejected. And for those issues upon which the Scriptures are silent, we likewise must not become too dogmatic.
Stated positively, inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in the original manuscripts. From the author of a book to the events being described, we can count on it being true. This is because inerrancy is inextricably connected to the person and character of God Himself, who never lies (Titus 1:2). And that’s really where the discussion has to start—with the character of God. If He is trustworthy in all things, His Word must likewise be true. That will be the subject of the next post in this series.