You Asked for It: The Bible
July 27, 2018
By Dr. Carey Akin, Pastor of Missions
“Is the Bible inerrant? And what does this mean to us as Christians as we interact with the world?”
What a great question! If we are disciples of Jesus Christ and we believe that we are to live our lives by the word of God, then it is important to understand how we are to view the scriptures and what that should mean to me and you today as we interact with the world.
As I said in my last blog, there is not space here for an exhaustive look at the issue, but there are some basic foundational things that can be helpful to us in understanding how we are to view scripture and how it is to be used in our daily lives as we interact with the world.
I will begin with the most common verse that is referenced when speaking of this scripture. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 it tells us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This indicates that all scripture is valid, not just certain parts and that it can be used to determine the truth on what to believe and how to live. One objection to using this passage as a foundation on how to use scripture is found in the fact that 2 Timothy was not actually part of the canon (canon is defined as a set of texts which a particular religious community regards as authoritative scripture) when this passage, as well the rest of our current New Testament, was originally written down. This, however, is not a strong argument since these New Testament books, which were written by the apostles, including 1 &2 Timothy, have been found to be authoritative scripture by the church for hundreds of years through an arduous process of validation through careful research and prayerful guidance. If you wish to do further study on how the books of the Bible were canonized, there are a number of resources you can read including How We Got the Bible, by Neil Lightfoot (PhD. Duke University).
So let’s move to the actual question, is the Bible inerrant? As we look at the view of the scriptures as it has been seen in the history of the Protestant Church, the prevailing view has been that the position the Bible (the 66 canonized books in the Protestant Bible) are inerrant. However, in order to make that claim, it is important to determine how we are defining inerrant. Does inerrant mean no mistakes exist in the transmission of the text, the truth of what is said, in the letter of the law? In other words what has the church widely accepted as inerrant? One of the most widely accepted definitions of biblical inerrancy is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which has as it’s core belief that the Protestant Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching.” (Geisler, NL. and Roach, B., Defending Inerrancy).
What does that mean for you and me? It means that as Christians we believe that the whole text is true and all of the texts of the canon can be studied in order to understand who God is, what He wants us to know, and how we should live the Christian life. Simply put, I believe along with most orthodox Christians that there is nothing in the Bible that needs to be cut out, disregarded, or changed, and that all of the scriptures are of value if understood properly.
Having said that, there are a few very important qualifiers that I believe need to be added lest we turn the scriptures into merely a rule book or a legalistic document of do’s and don’ts. One very important qualifier is that scripture in isolation can be very dangerous. If one takes a scripture passage by itself, without understanding the context intended by the author, or in isolation without an understanding of the whole of scripture, then one might use scripture often to fit what one wants to believe to be true whether that is the true intention of scripture or not. This has certainly been done at different times in history, such as justification of slavery, Holy War, etc.
In other words, in order to interpret scripture accurately, we must be sure we have a great understanding of the whole of scripture and do not simply find scripture to justify our own biases.
This often means when concepts within scripture appear to be contradictory, rather than taking the easy route, and believing what we want to believe, we need to do the hard work of searching the scriptures to understand the biblical threads that run throughout scripture.
It is also important to understand the cultural context in which the scriptures were written. That does not mean we can simply say that times have changed and so the meaning of scripture is different, but it does mean when we read things such as that women are not to wear hats in church (1 Cor. 11:5), etc., we must understand the cultural meaning behind this instruction. Sometimes concepts are meant literally for all times, and the weight of scripture shows that to be true, but other times the instructions are still true in principle and might be applied differently today. For example, it is ok for women not to cover their heads in church but the intent behind why they wore hats may still provide insight into the reverence we are to have before God.
It is equally important to understand that God is one, not only when it comes to the three persons of the Trinity, but between the Spirit and His word. We should pray that the Spirit would help to reveal the greater truths of His word to us, but also realize that the Spirit will never be contradictory to His word. By this I mean, if the Word (scripture) is teaching us truth, the Spirit will not contradict that truth or vice-versa. Over the centuries many have claimed that the scriptures in this matter or that matter are no longer true based on the new truth of the Spirit. Though God may reveal a greater depth of this truth through the Spirit, His truth does not change since God does not change. (Her. 13:8)
If your head is not spinning already, let me offer you one more insight regarding God’s inerrant word, the purpose of scripture as defined in scripture is that we might be “trained in righteousness.” This means that we are to approach scripture each time as a learner and not as a know-it-all. Sometimes we believe we fully understand the meaning of a passage, but as we grow, God may have more to teach us since, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my (God) ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:9). This means that as I come to God in prayer and enter into His Holy word, I ask Him to show me who He really is not just who I think He is or who I want Him to be.
As I said, this is not an exhaustive look at the inerrancy of scripture but hopefully will give you some helpful ideas as to how to understand what is meant by the inerrancy of scripture, and how to handle scripture so that through prayer and study in humility, God can use the inerrant truth of His Word to grow you in your faith.
After studying God’s word for over 30 years now, I have found the word of God to be inerrant in His eternal truth, but I have also found that He is constantly taking me deeper in my understanding of Him and in relationship with Him, if I remain humble in heart and open to what He wants to teach me. I hope this blog might help you in some way to do the same.