The Bible has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Before I could read, it was read to me. Unlike other children’s stories, these had a ring of truth about them for not all the stories had happy endings. In fact the tragedy of the crucifixion had me in tears. The bible was read at home, at multiple church meetings every week and at school every day.
It was on my eight birthday that I took all my birthday money, went to town and bought myself a grown-up bible. No pictures, just text. I was determined to read it all … and I made it all the way through Genesis and Exodus but somehow lost my way in Leviticus. I was determined though, for if this was in some way God’s means of communicating with us, there could not be any task more significant than getting to grips with its content. My relationship with the scriptures continued to evolve as I was exposed to different Christian movements.
Throughout this time a certain idea about the scriptures kept popping up, or was at least implied by those who taught from them. It’s the idea that the Bible is inerrant. Now for someone who loved these texts and revered them as sacred, that seemed like a perfectly acceptable idea.
Here is a summary of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
- God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
- Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
- The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
- Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
- The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited of disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
All these ideas made so much sense to me at one stage … but the problem was that I continued to read the Bible itself. In essence the doctrine of inerrancy states that the Bible is as perfect and authoritative as God is. It is therefore inerrant in all it affirms, whether it be a statement of history, of cosmology, of science of ethics or of theology. In fact, because the Bible is seen as God’s self-revelation, it becomes almost indistinguishable from God.
It is significant that the argument for inerrancy starts with a doctrine of God and a theory of inspiration. Based on these pre-formulated theories conclusions are drawn about the scriptures. So a framework is drawn in which scripture should be read. It imposes certain restrictions on how to interpret the text before one word has been read.
Would it not be more honest to start by reading the scriptures without any prejudices and then ask what the scripture reveals about itself? Inerrancy would not be the first thing that jumps out at you, neither would the idea that every statement is God’s word, for it would be obvious that the Bible contains many conversations and arguments between people who did not agree with one another. If the same literary rigor is applied to reading scripture as what is applied to any other literary reading it becomes obvious that wide variety of contradictory opinions abound just as they do in all collections of ancient literature.
So this is exactly what we’ll do in the articles to follow. We’ll look at the actual manuscripts concerned – their origins and their content. By allowing these manuscripts to speak to us directly before imposing our doctrines upon it, a very different message will start to emerge. We might reconsider the statements in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy at a later stage, but the scriptures themselves is an altogether better place to begin.
In the next article we will look at the facts about the source manuscripts … very revealing indeed.