I’ve been having a few conversations with people recently about the inerrancy of the Bible; that it is God’s Word and therefore cannot be wrong. Anything that we do not understand is down to the Sovereignty of God and we must therefore accept it. Their views are widely informed by 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“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.”
I understand this view and having grown up in the Church and with a Christian family; I have to some extent held the view myself. I would say though that more recently my view on this has changed. Rather than focussing on why my view has changed, I would rather examine the idea of inerrancy and why I don’t agree with it.
Firstly let us clarify that the original Greek wording of “God breathed” or “God inspired” is the word theopneustos which literally does mean “God-breathed.”
From this many Christians say that as Scripture is God-breathed this means it cannot be wrong. However, no matter how much we are convinced of this view, the reality is that “God-breathed” in no language translates as infallible/unable to be argued with/inerrant.
God breathed into Adam and Eve in order that they would have life, this did not make either of them infallible or inerrant, in fact as we all very well know; they failed quite miserably…
When Paul wrote this to Timothy, had he considered his letters as “Scripture”? Probably not, so how can we be sure that the New Testament is relevant to these verses anyway.
If we believe in free will, as many of those who believe Scripture is inerrant do, how do we reconcile this free will with the idea that the authors of the Bible books are supposed to have written with complete inerrancy? They were not robot people who wrote letters/poetry/historical records etc. with glazed over eyes while God took hold of their hands and wrote the words He wanted to be written. Truly, that is not our God! One of the glorious things about our God is that is not what He does. He meets us in our own place and time and uses us, with our flaws, failings and the gifts He has given us.
Jesus did not say that He would leave us with the Scriptures; or with writings from His disciples and others to enable us to know how to follow Him and what do to. He said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
Where does this leave us in relation to the Bible? As someone I was talking about this with on Twitter said, “So should we just get rid of the bits we don’t like?” I don’t believe this is about picking and choosing what is and isn’t inerrant in Scripture, but rather recognise that the Bible is written by men (and potentially one woman, if those rumours about Hebrews are true…) with the breath of God throughout it. Rather than being legalistic about it being “all or nothing”, perhaps we should be guided by the Holy Spirit, and look to the only human being who has ever lived an inerrant life, and let that inform the way we live and the theology we hold.