Inerrancy v. Context Part I

An individual’s view of faith will depend on how they read the Bible. Do they believe that it’s totally without flaw and every word is literally true? Or do they see it as a document that must be understood and interpreted considering historical context, culture, language, etc.?  Because I believe much of the problems I see in Christianity come from, at best, a misunderstanding of Bible (and at worst, a willful misreading), over the next couple of days I want to dig into these rather diverse ideas.

A good starting point would be talking about what we mean by the term inerrancy. As noted in the opening paragraph, inerrancy is a doctrine that states the Bible is accurate and completely free of error. In fact, it goes so far as to say that the Bible does not contradict known facts. This view of the Bible is relatively new, but it has its roots in the Reformation. Sometime in that era, the Five Solae emerged. Based on the teachings of reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, they summarized the beliefs of the Reformation. The one we’re concerned with is Sola Scriptura, Latin for “by scripture alone”, meaning the Bible alone has all the necessary knowledge for holiness and salvation. Beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, people began to see many episodes in the Bible more as myth than fact and they began to question the truth of the biblical texts. This led to a backlash from conservatives who believed that once Sola Scriptura was rejected, anything could be justified. This backlash culminated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy meant to defend the doctrine against what the signatories saw as the liberalization of the scriptures. That’s a quick and dirty history of how we got where we are now.

There are problems with the doctrine of inerrancy. One of which is that it holds that every partof the Bible must be true, factual and without error or none of it is.  I like the way Rob Bell describes it in his book Velvet Elvis. Bell says that, for an inerrantist, faith is a brick wall and that,

“Each of the core doctrines for him is like an individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble. It appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole thing is in danger.”

In my opinion, any idea that can’t stand even cursory questioning is unworthy of consideration and should be rejected. Inerrancy fails this test miserably. Tomorrow, I will take up an alternative to this doctrine. Stay tuned.