Why I Don’t Hate the Word ‘Inerrancy’

It seems to be a tribal marker, a password that clearly divides the teams into goodies and baddies.

Not only that, but many of the biblical passages people today find the most troubling, and the most likely to be “mistaken,” are also affirmed willy-nilly by Jesus and the apostles, with complete disregard for any subsequent historical-critical brouhahas that might emerge. …it’s almost as if Jesus and his followers went out of their way to affirm and validate all of the most awkward and recalcitrant apologetic curveballs in the Tanakh, just to make life difficult for post-Enlightenment Western interpreters.

I hate a number of things. Some of them are rather silly: soap operas, egg mayonnaise, cats. Some of them are deadly serious: sex slavery, adultery, cancer, human trafficking, abortion, racism. In a handful of cases, I even hate words: “moist,” “ogle,” and “pamphlet” are among the most odious. But I don’t hate the word “inerrancy.” In fact, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Perhaps that’s because I’m English. My limited experience in transatlantic dialogue suggests that the word “inerrancy” is divisive in America, up there with “Texas” and “Pelosi” in the list of words most likely to prompt expressions of luminescent ecstasy in some and enraged inarticulate spluttering in others. It seems to be a tribal marker, a password that clearly divides the teams into goodies and baddies, the mere mention of which can cause both sides to run scurrying to the barricades, whether they’re faithful conservatives contending with woolly liberals, or reflective centrists contending with mindless fundies. In the UK, however, it’s not such a contentious concept.

Question Rarely Asked
In ten years of teaching, writing, and researching theology, I’ve never once been asked whether or not I believe in inerrancy. As it happens, I do. If someone was to ask me whether, in my view, the Scriptures contain mistakes or not, I would answer in the negative. Partly this is a result of theological conviction about the divine and human components of Scripture: that when God’s words are expressed by humans, neither their human aspects (authorial personality, tone, language, mode of expression) nor their divine aspects (truthfulness, authority, clarity, reliability) are compromised. Partly it’s because I’d find it strange to tell people that the whole Bible represents the word of God, and the word of God is completely truthful, but that parts of the Bible aren’t completely truthful. (I don’t mean to say that nobody can believe all three of these things but that it would be beyond my intellectual faculties to do so.) Mostly, though, it’s because of Jesus. Put simply, based on what I read in the Gospels, I cannot imagine (if we let this rather implausible thought-experiment run for a moment) Jesus being asked whether the Scriptures contained mistakes or not, and saying yes.
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