To begin our journey, it seems wise to look into some questions regarding biblical composition — questions like: who wrote the Bible; who decided which books would make it into the Bible; and what constitutes biblical Authority?

Conservative evangelicals seem to rally around the notion of biblical inerrancy, or the idea that the Bible was literally written by the Holy Spirit through chosen human beings, and that the Bible in its original texts (which are now lost to us, but are inferred from extant copies) is perfect in every way.

Channeled, so to speak.

Right off the bat, I’ll list some material I’ve quickly found on biblical inerrancy. My own thoughts and conclusions will follow.

Definition (from a well-known and disseminated statement by conservative evangelicals):

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. 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.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or 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.

[From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy]

Here is Wikipedia’s explanation of the above (which is just a snippet from a larger document):

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was formulated in October 1978 by more than 200 evangelical leaders at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, held in Chicago. The statement was designed to defend the position of Biblical inerrancy against a perceived trend toward liberal conceptions of Scripture. The undersigners came from a variety of evangelical Christian denominations, and include James Montgomery Boice, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and R. C. Sproul.

Leading inerrantists regard the Chicago Statement as a very thorough statement of what they mean by “inerrancy”. The statement elaborates on various details in Articles formed as couplets of “WE AFFIRM …” and “WE DENY …”. Under the statement inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts (which no longer exist, but can be inferred on the basis of extant copies), not to the copies or translations themselves. In the statement, inerrancy does not refer to a blind literal interpretation, but allows for figurative, poetic and phenomenological language, so long as it was the author’s intent to present a passage as literal or symbolic.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy has been compared to the Vatican Council Decree Dei Verbum, which expounds similar teachings for Roman Catholics.

Here’s an excellent resource page on the topic of biblical inerrancy. From the overview:

The word “inerrancy” is used to refer to a text that is considered accurate, truthful, and totally free of error. A text that contains mistakes is errant.

The term is often used by conservative theologians:

  • In Judaism to refer to the Torah,
  • In Christianity to refer to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old and New Testaments),
  • In Islam to refer to the Qur’an, and
  • In other religions to refer to their own holy books.

The Torah, Hebrew/Christian Scriptures, and Qur’an do not agree on many topics including the nature of God; creation and origin of life, the world and the rest of the universe; various scientific topics; morality and ethics; personal salvation; the afterlife; abortion access; equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered persons; same-sex marriage; and many other cultural matters.

Because the holy books of the world differ from each other, only one of them — at most — can be inerrant. Some people suggest that none are inerrant.

Since all of the people who are affiliated with a religion are members of minority religions, most people’s holy book cannot be inerrant. If they believe that their holy book is inerrant, they are probably wrong. Perhaps all are wrong.

And here’s a contrarian and scholarly write-up on the subject, from which I pull this concluding quote:

Is the Bible inerrant, by modern standards, in everything it asserts – even incidentally – about history, science, geography, math, and every other field of human inquiry? Was it meant to be? Our answer to these questions has been a resounding “no.” The Scriptures fulfill their intended purpose of communicating God’s word to His people, but they never claim to be something they’re not – a scientific textbook, for instance. These post-Enlightenment expectations, when superimposed upon the Scriptural testimonies, produce the most curious interpretations

My current view:

I can think of few things I’d rather believe in than a Bible (or Qur’an, or Bhagavad Gita, or any other holy scripture) that is absolutely perfect in every way. I would love to have absolute faith in a written revelation, trusting that God is speaking to humanity with crystalline clarity, devoid of any and all human contamination.

Having grown up in church, however, I’ve had occasion since early childhood to question the things that I was being asked (or forced) to accept regarding God’s Word.

Early on, I suspected that circular reasoning was being employed to brainwash the flock. Remember this little jingle they had us sing?

Jesus loves me! This I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
they are weak, but he is strong.

I would ask the question, “How do we know that this stuff is true?

The responses was always the same: “Because the Bible says so.”

If I persisted in my questioning, I would be sat down and stared at for a moment, before hearing, “You are NOT to question the Word of God, do you understand?”

What it comes down to is, we are to maintain a base belief that our given holy scripture is divinely inspired, that every word is spiritually authoritative (in some way, despite the seeming contradictions found between varying sections), and that all Truth worth knowing is contained within the pages of this book.

So, right out of the shoot, there was little or no room for questioning.

I remember being allowed (as a 7th grader) to attend an adult church class on the topic of Satan. On the first day I asked the teacher, “If God is all-powerful and we are all children of God, and we have access to God’s protection whenever we need it… what do we have to fear from such a being as Satan?”

The teacher thought I was causing problems and he kicked me out of the class, never to return.

I do, however, think that the Bible is spiritually inspired, and that there are incredible Mysteries within it. I think that it is a document that deserves deep and continual study, as it provides food for the inner being, as well as food for getting through the drama of existence. I believe it has the power to inspire us to bigger and greater things, to the extent that we are able to surrender to the highest principles contained within it (i.e., “Not my will, Lord, but Thine”). I think there are many, many layers of interpretation available within it, and that it’s actually okay to open ourselves to some of the more far-out theories — as in some of the Dispensational ideas spawned by the Plymouth Brethren many years ago — although their hyper-literalism leads me down the path of symbols, wherein I look for deeper meaning behind all the fear and trembling related to a coming Apocalypse.

I do think, in fact, that the Bible in its entirety offers a roadmap to enlightenment/salvatioin. I look forward to fleshing this out in future posts.

My own, personal bottom line is, there is no need for the Bible (or any other ancient document) to be deemed “inerrant.” Human beings were involved in writing, editing, inscribing, copying and choosing these documents for canonization. There is plenty of “saving” or “enlightening” spiritual food in them… and when all is said and done, we must individually live up to the challenges presented in these texts. We are, in short, to achieve a going home, a returning, or a reunion with That from which we first emerged — and this is not achieved by reciting some formula, or by thinking about it, or by any other shallow means of asserting our goodwill. It is achieved by fully surrendering, day by day, moment by moment, to the divine that is present within and without, self-arising, independent of external influence, transformative, beyond human corruption.

So, I won’t be taking each word from our biblical study as inerrant. I’ll be taking them as a Mystery that can only be resolved through the above-mentioned surrender — which, for me, involves a rigorous and skillful contemplative practice that leads to blissful union… and we’ll explain more about this as these posts roll by.

In the meantime… do you have any thoughts regarding the possible inerrancy of the holy book of your tradition?

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