downloadI come from a conservative evangelical background in which much emphasis was placed on the Bible as the Word of God and relatively little emphasis was placed on the Bible as a word of man. Everyone agreed that men wrote the 66 books of the Bible, but the general understanding was that the Holy Spirit through the process of divine inspiration ensured that those words we the words of God. The doctrine of inerrancy attempts to capture this idea by insisting that the Bible, though written by men, contains no errors. I no longer subscribe to this understanding of the Bible.

The more I studied the Bible as an adult, the more I became convinced that this is an inadequate understanding of the divine inspiration of Scripture. I have come to believe that the Bible is in its entirely both Word of God and word of man; not in the sense that some of it is God’s word and some of it is man’s word (this was the error of 19th century theological liberalism), but in the sense that every word in it is both a Word of God and a word of man.

An analogy can be drawn to the two-fold nature of Jesus Christ: wholly and indivisibly true God and true man. At no point do we encounter the one without also encountering the other. Thus it is with the Bible.

Here is something I ran across in The Interpreter’s Bible on Genesis:

Genesis, as the book has come down to us,is made up of many strands; and as the Exeg. repeatedly points out, those who wove them had their different ways of writing. The divine Spirit does not operate mechanically. It takes men’s separate gifts and uses these. There is a dignity of the individual and of that individual’s manner of apprehending and expressing truth which inspiration does not destroy but rather heightens. It takes the human ability and gives it wings. So of the writers of the book of Genesis it may be said essentially what George Eliot said of the supreme maker of violins:

’Tis God gives skill,

But not without men’s hands: He could not make
Antonio Stradivari’s violins
Without Antonio.

Similarly, the Word of God was written through the instrumentality of human hands.

What do you think?


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  1. mem says:

    So based on your understanding what do you say about inerrancy? You make an analogy between Christ being fully man and fully God, to the bible. However Christ was actually perfect. Are you saying the bible is actually perfectly inerrant as Christ was perfectly lawful?


    • Michael says:

      Thank you for your comment. You ask a fair question.

      As a rule, I hesitate to use the term “inerrant” because it is so heavily freighted with the polemics of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the late 19th and 20th Centuries that it is difficult to use it in any objective way; which is to say, everyone (including myself) seems to insist on understanding the word through the lens of their own preconceived notions. However, I offer two thoughts that may point in the proper direction.

      1. First, a Christological exercise when I was a student in seminary was to ask, “If Jesus played for the Boston Celtics (a basketball team), would he ever miss a shot?” The correct answer is, “Yes. He was, after all, human.” One might then object, “But he was also divine.” To which the correct answer is, “Yes, but being perfect in holiness does not mean never having to say you’re sorry.” Christ laid aside his divine powers in order to become truly man.

      2. Second, a thing can be true without being factually accurate. I can say, “the sun rose early to greet me this morning,” to communicate something true even though it is scientifically inaccurate. Similarly, a work of fiction is by definition not true in any historical sense, but may nonetheless convey profound truths.

      I know this is likely not a satisfactory answer to your question, but it is the best I am able to do without digging deep into theology. For theological reference, my view on this is more or less that of the great 20th Century theologian Karl Barth. At least as far as I am able to understand him :).


      • mem says:

        Thanks for that. I was able to familiarize myself with Karl Barth’s writings. He had s very wise way of speaking about his position on inerrancy. It seems today “evangelicals” still dont know quite what to believe that Barth taught. He clearly asserted the value of the bible but clearly stopped short of fundamentalist inerrancy. I really appreciated his view of the bible as not the Word of God, but words about the Word of God.
        So many today hold up the bible and say with awe…”This is the Word of God!”. In my view…particularly people that are cessationist, all they have is the bible. God is not allowed to communicate with them but via the bible. All else is suspect.
        It is my opinion that modern christianity has done something very similar with the bible that the orthodox jews did with the tanakh. They elevated the texts to the point of exclusion of real relationship with God. They preferred to study and pontificate and draw derivations to the point of sin..that were ultimately added back into the text as if God commanded their additions. Their obsession with the text changed the text from a tool into the central deity of their religious system. This of course was roundly condemned by Jesus when he says they search it endlessly but miss who it was addictions. To say nothing of their oral torah. Much of modern christendom has done the same thing albeit with a protestant twist. Take away the belief that God speaks and acts today in supernatural ways…take away any sense of relationship in authentic personal worship, and all that remains is to study the bible.
        I am, like Barth, convinced of strong value in the bible, but one quote that Barth made I think encapsulates the facts. “The bible is not without sin”.
        It is profound and to even consider it rocks the world of one who is an inerrantist. So it must be rejected as cognitive dissonance

        The most common retort I have heard is that “If even one word is not factually accurate in the bible then all of it is suspect…and “if the foundation is destroyed what can the righteous do?” So they conclude it must all be inerrant. It has to be…it just has to be “magically perfect”.
        I dont see why they automatically think that inerrancy is the lynchpin of their entire relationship with God. It makes it sound like their relationship is not really there at all…and instead they only have the bible.

        This view of inerrancy is perhaps the most poignant litmus test to most evangelicals. If you dont tick that box then you are literally a heretic. You become one of the Lost in their eyes. You become an outreach target so that you fall in line with the dogma.

        I sense in Barth that he was holding back big time. He was wise enough to never actually iterate what “sins” are in the bible. At the same time he had a high view of Jesus. His faith and relationship with God didnt depend on the inerrancy of the bible, but on the reality of his relationship with God. I would say his faith was far stronger and more authentic than a bibliolater.
        His view on double predestination and how Christ trumps a precreation decree was a mind bender, but intriguing.
        Like Barth, I affirm the centrality and supremacy of Christ.


      • Michael says:

        Mem. Well said.


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