Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Option of Inerrancy

There are a bunch of reasons for that: theological (what would it say about God if his word was incorrect?), anthropological (isn’t the idea of the pot telling the potter that he got it wrong somewhat problematic?), even Christological (Scripture is affirmed as both divine and human, like Christ, and to use the latter to argue for the flawed nature of the former could pose substantial problems for our view of Jesus - which is evident when you find people saying that Jesus, in his humanity, made a mistake about the historicity of Adam). But inerrancy also matters because it rules out what I call “the option of errancy” when interpreting Scripture. Put simply, this is the idea that if you don’t believe Scripture is inerrant, then when faced with a biblical “difficulty” (whether a genuine challenge or, more commonly, something you as an interpreter don’t like), you can always say that the Bible is mistaken on that point. You may claim that you don’t want to use it - and that may be true - but if needed, you know the option of errancy is sitting in your back pocket, like a Presidential veto, as a last line of defence.  
It works like this: Why did God command the Israelites to destroy Canaanite cities? Maybe he didn’t. Maybe they only thought he did. Why did God say such fierce (and, frankly, offensive) things in Ezekiel? Maybe he didn’t. How can we follow a God who sentences people to hell forever? Maybe he doesn’t. Shouldn’t we believe in a historical Adam, since Paul did? Maybe Paul was wrong. But didn’t Jesus strongly imply the garden story was historical? Maybe Jesus was wrong, too. Why will Jesus return as the one who treads the winepress of the fury of God Almighty? Maybe he won’t. And so it continues.  
If you don’t have the option of errancy, on the other hand, you have to do some serious thinking about the parts of Scripture you don’t like. What do the conquest stories, or the doctrine of hell, teach us about divine holiness, human sinfulness, wrath, judgment, and the gospel? How can we balance our understanding of scientific evidence with biblical affirmations about creation? (I’m thinking a series on this might be needed this Autumn; I’ve staved it off for a year, now.) What does the triumphant warrior Jesus depicted in Revelation do for our Christology, or our eschatology, or for that matter our prayer life?

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