Inerrancy is a problem.
At least it has been for me. Maybe it has been for you. If so, this book is one of many good choices to adjust your view of the Bible. (more suggestions at the bottom of this post).
This post won’t be so much of a review of Flood’s book as an opportunity to sketch out my own theological wrestling with this idea about the Bible.
Early on one of the requirements of a Religious Studies major, a seminary graduate, a pastoral candidate, a pastor has been to write a personal doctrinal statement. I could never get myself to include the word “inerrancy” when it came to my statement on the Bible. I substituted the word “inerrancy” with the word “truth.” I wrote a positive statement regarding the Bible as opposed to a negative, polemical word for the Bible.
My early objection was threefold:
- The word “inerrancy” is inadequate.
- The word “inerrancy” is polemical.
- There were obviuos “errors” in the Bible.
Inerrancy inadequately describes the Bible
One of the first principles of a grammatical historical hermeneutic of the Bible is the need to identify the particular “genre” of the book that was under examination. As part of this elementary training regarding the study of Scripture we learn about the breadth and variety of grammatical forms in the Bible. Poetry, hymnology, allegory, parable, gospel, epistle, etc. And the first question that pops into my head is:
How can a poem be “inerrant”?
The descriptor is just wrong. Poems do not lend themselves to this category or truth and error. More problematically, if we use the term inerrant to apply to poems, then we have our first huge problem: “Hide me in the shadow of your wings” loses its literary power as we begin to ask if God truly has wings. If you guffaw at this statement saying, “What a dumb question!” then you are in tacit agreement with me.
Inerrancy is a term more suited to a geometry text where “proofs” are critical than to a diverse ancient text where we cross boundaries back into different kinds of communication forms.
Inerrancy is polemical
The word inerrancy doesn’t lend itself to wonder, it demands examination. When a critic hears a “believer” claim that there are no errors in the Bible, all he wants to do is prove the claim wrong. This approach leads to nonsensical arguments like Harold Lindsell’s in his book “The Battle for the Bible” where in an effort to harmonize two seemingly contradictory statements about the number of times the cock crows after Peter denies Jesus, decides that Peter must have denied Jesus 6 times.
Inerrancy has resulted in the defense of the indefensible, the disregarding of obvious markers of story (talking snakes), the construction of fantastical entities and places to account for the cultural deficiencies and obvious legendary and mythical genres in the text.
We do all of this to win a battle started by ourselves which is totally unnecessary.
Inerrancy ignores obvious errors
…which ironically wouldn’t be necessary if not for the presumption of the doctrine of inerrancy.
Inerrancy is the presumption that leads many to believe that the first two chapters of Genesis are history and science. When new information comes around (evolutionary theory), it becomes a matter of faith and holiness to deny the new information based on the presumption that led to a false classification to begin with. So strong is the presumption that whole new fields of “study” are invented to support the presumption that led to the misinterpretation of the text to begin with.
One of the things any student of the Greek New Testament discovers is that the Bible has grammatical errors in it. The book of Revelation is rife with them. The classic answer, which isn’t an answer, is that John was in a ecstatic state which explains the errors. The irony in that answer is humorous.
Inerrancy is Presumption
Inerrancy is a presumption. It precedes all of our reading of the Bible and it prevents any sort of attempt to read the Bible without inherent bias. It is a form of question begging, and it definitely tightens, influences, frames the interpretation. For example, one of the principles of hermeneutics for inerrantists is: Seek the “plain meaning” of the text. It was sometimes communicated this way: “If the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.” In this construction, “nonsense” might mean believing that God didn’t create the world in 6 days 6,000 years ago. Reading the word “days” in Genesis 1 in any other way than the plain sense way, is nonsense.
In his book Protestant Biblical Interpretation Bernard Ramm said: “We use the word ‘literal’ in its dictionary sense: ‘…the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical.” In arguments with church people it sometimes came across like this: Always take the Bible literally unless you cannot – if you make the Bible metaphorical you are subject to liberalism.
As a result, conversations about the nature of the Jonah story (obviously parabolic, mythical, legend) became matters of orthodoxy. The suggestion that the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” was a parable was not simply a matter of discussion, it was a matter of Biblical allegiance.
Flood makes the case for a new hermeneutic, one that is not rooted in the traps that inerrancy inevitably leads us into. I will leave you with an encouragement to read the book and this concluding summary from the book:Disarming Scripture, p. 241 (Kindle Edition)
“As morally responsible adults, we need to recognize the moral bankruptcy inherent in the narrative of unquestioning obedience and its contemporary expression in authoritarian biblicism, and instead adopt a better way of reading the Bible modeled after Jesus and his way of faithful questioning motivated by compassion.”