The Useless(?) Doctrine of Inerrancy

Disclaimer: This is still an issue that I am thinking through, so I reserve the right to flip-flop on my position laid out in this post as I study it more since I may indeed discover that some of my reasoning is based on faulty information and/or assumptions.

There has been a question floating around in my head for the past few weeks that I have been pondering and trying to answer: “Why is Inerrancy even a doctrine in the first place? It just seems a bit redundant if we believe that all scripture is “God-breathed” to say that it is also Inerrant since we believe that God does not make errors. Over the course of thinking about this I discovered a few things and would like to share them with you. Some of these I knew before and they became clearer to me as I was thinking about this, others I had not realized prior to this.

Initially my thoughts centered on trying to figure out why in the world there even exists what seems to be a redundant doctrine with Inspiration (Scripture is “God-breathed”). Isn’t it enough to say that Scripture was “breathed” out by God so that the words He intended to be part of Scripture came to be Scripture, and since God is perfect that it would therefore be without error? Why add this doctrine of Inerrancy to specify that Scripture is without errors in all areas upon which it touches? Isn’t that implied with it being “God-breathed?”

The first thing I realized is that Inerrancy seems to be in place because of a deficiency in understanding of the doctrine of Inspiration. In our times it seems quite likely for someone to take the inspiration of the Bible to be the same as the inspiration that an artist has before creating something. There may indeed be something “divine” behind the inspiration, but it is also combined with the thoughts of the artists and thus is subject to error.

In this case the solution to the problem is not Inerrancy, but to make sure people have a proper understanding of Inspiration (which may also include making sure people have a proper understanding of God). A deficient understanding of the doctrine of Inspiration is not going to be corrected by adding the doctrine of Inerrancy.

The second thing I realized was that Inerrancy seems to be used by people to support their own viewpoints, and if you disagree with them then you are accused of violating Inerrancy. As I thought about this second point I realized that this behavior likely stems from a misunderstanding of where theological authority comes from. As Protestants when asked about this we are quick to respond with “the Bible!” and nothing else, which displays an insufficient understanding of authority. In Family Biblereality many (if not all) Evangelical Protestants actually accept two sources of authority in spiritual matters: the Bible and Tradition. Or at least you do if you accept the doctrines of the Trinity, the full humanity and deity of Christ, and the New Testament canon, among others because these things are not spelled out in the Bible, but were determined by the church (in response to heresies that were also based on the Scriptures) after the documents that would eventually become the New Testament were written.

This leads me into what I find to be the reason that Inerrancy exists in the first place: Evangelical Protestants need a way to preserve the orthodox teachings of Scripture (what everyone has always believed about them) without appealing to Tradition as a source of authority (we wouldn’t want to be like those crazy Roman Catholics now would we?).

The problem with doing things this way is that I don’t see how it actually accomplishes preserving the orthodox teachings of Scripture because it sets up a subjective basis for determining whether or not something is “orthodox.” In order to determine whether or not something violates Inerrancy the first thing that has to be determined is what the passage is talking about and touching on (e.g. is it talking about an actual historical event, or is it meant to be taken metaphorically or allegorically), which means that we have to engage in interpretation, which leads to a subjective conclusion that may or may not be in line with what has always been believed. Basically it seems to turn something that is indeed objective (what has always been believed) and turned it into something subjective (an interpretation).

So, to conclude this analysis, my basic question is: “Why are defending something that can be determined objectively with something that has to be determined subjectively?” Why not just simply point to the objective evidence and say that this is what has always been believed about this passage, so this is what we believe about it, nothing more and nothing less? Or in other words, instead of adding a doctrine which doesn’t seem to really accomplish anything, why not simply acknowledge Tradition as a source of authority?

I could say much more about this topic, but I think this captures the essence of my thoughts accurately. I am not trying to deny Inerrancy. I do not think that there are any errors in the Bible. I just think that this doctrine seems to add an unnecessary layer of theological complexity, and I all for avoiding making things more complicated than they need to be.

If you have an opinion on this matter by all means share it. I just ask that you be nice, constructive, and respectful with your comment.


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