Last night’s class had a stimulating discussion that spilled over afterwards. This morning I wrote up something to organize and respond to the main concerns that were raised, and then thought it might also interest the readers of this blog. The page numbers are to the Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Here are seven theses on inerrancy.
1. Only the Bible is inerrant. Our interpretations are not inerrant (p. 211).
2. The Bible is inerrant in whatever it intends to affirm. But what does it intend to affirm? This is the question of interpretation.
3. The Bible often clearly affirms a historical fact (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus, the Exodus, the Fall of Adam), while sometimes it rearranges or paraphrases the historical facts to make a theological point (e.g., the different ordering of Christ’s temptations in Matthew and Luke, the slightly varied responses in the synoptics to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”).
4. The problem (or opportunity) of interpretation is how to determine when Scripture is declaring a historical fact and/or altering the details to make a theological point (p. 241).
5. We must avoid both a conservative and liberal danger. The conservative danger is to identify the inerrancy of Scripture with the inerrancy of our interpretation, and then say that someone who disagrees with our interpretation, say because they take non literally what we think is a historical event, is denying the inerrancy of Scripture (p. 69). Conservatives often make this mistake with Genesis 1. We should argue for our interpretation, while realizing that our evangelical interlocutors equally believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
6. The liberal danger is to empty the Christian faith of all meaning. The Christian faith is a historical faith, and it rests squarely upon what God has done in time and space. Once we begin interpreting the characters and events in Scripture in non-historical ways, how will we know when to stop? For example, some may say the talking snake in Genesis 3 is merely a poetic way to refer to the presence of Satan or to the temptation itself. But if there was no snake, was there an actual tree? Was there an Adam and Eve? You see how one might eventually conclude there was no historical Fall (see John Feinberg, No One Like Him, p. 613).
7. We must have Christian conviction, charity, and humility. Conviction, to emphasize the fundamental importance of the historical events recorded in Scripture. Charity, to recognize that those who read the Bible worse than they should can still believe the Bible is God’s true Word. And humility, because we might improve our reading of Scripture by dialoguing with them. Inerrancy of Scripture does not guarantee inerrancy of interpretation.