Photo by Emanuele Lattarulo on Scopio
The idea of inerrancy has honestly been a struggle for me over the past few years. Ironically, that struggle started as I delved more into apologetics. There are two key points of struggle for me in regard to inerrancy: the autographs and the circumscription.
*This is a rapid fire piece. I have so many ideas backlogged and I want to put something out each month, but I just can't bring myself to write a ton of full-length pieces. I decided to start a less formal format where I quickly lay out some thoughts I had. These pieces are often first thoughts, and should be taken with an even bigger grain of salt than pieces I've spent more time on.
Most Christians believe in some sort of progressive revelation. God didn't reveal all of himself at one time, but rather revealed more and more truths about himself and his plan over time. This seems like a clear fact considering the perfect revelation we get in Jesus, which was thousands of years in the making, but it also makes moral sense. We, as parents, don't hold our kids to the same standards we'd hold adults, as they are just learning to deal with morality and expectations. Had God given humanity immediate justice and held us to full expectations, sin would have destroyed us all. But God is gracious and patient with us.
But for those who hold to inerrancy, as my group does, this idea of progressive revelation seems to be a problem. The thinking on inerrancy is that the truth of God's word is so important, that there can be no imperfection in the words of God. God had to ensure that the Bible was not only initially transmitted perfectly, but that it was maintained perfectly - at least in regard to the main ideas (some allowance is made for grammar and syntax differences, as the Bible is undeniably errant in this regard as evidenced by a plethora of divergent manuscripts). The thinking is that what God says is so important and vital for us, that he couldn't have failed to transmit his words perfectly.
However, there's a double standard at play here. The issue is that our idea of inerrancy is applied to the syntax and data, but not to understanding. This is a problem for all Christians who hold to inerrancy, but especially for Reformed Christians who believe that God has control even over hearts and minds. What we are essentially saying is that syntactical/dative inerrancy is so important that God ensured an inerrant text, yet the content wasn't important enough that he ensured inerrant understanding. The physical Bible is inerrant, but God's communication skills are extremely errant as proven by the multitude of people who either don't believe in him, or who deviate from what he intended to convey in their various denominations and sects.
If inerrancy of the physical text is important, then certainly inerrancy of comprehension is important. If God knows how to communicate - and especially if God has control over hearts and minds - then one would expect that something like progressive revelation would not exist. God could have zapped information into brains like a pensieve, he could have communicated more forthrightly, or he could have changed hearts and minds and made the blind to see. I have to ask myself, then, why one sort of inerrancy is important to me, the syntacitcal/dative, while the other, arguably more important aspect of inerrancy of comprehension, is not.
Image by Sidharth Bhawsar on scop.io
I often read the Bible with an air of arrogance. Sometimes I elevate myself above the foolish Israelites who, even after seeing God part the red sea or deliver them from empire, still choose to rebel against this omnipotent and benevolent God. At other times I am appalled at the Ancient Near East’s barbaric practices like that of sacrificing their own children to the gods. Clearly, I am so much better than they are. But perhaps there is no greater area in which my pride is pandered than when reading about ancient peoples and idolatry. How is it that people could be so ignorant and foolish as to attempt to house their gods in inanimate blocks of wood or stone?
A few weeks ago, I read George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Towards the end of the piece Orwell said something which slapped me in the face, as he revealed to me that I, in a way, am an idolater no better than those ignorant ancients depicted in the Bible. Orwell said,
“When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meanings as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterwards one can choose – not simply accept – the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person."
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.