My post from yesterday on the inerrancy of scripture prompted a lot of conversation, and some of it I think deserves a follow-up response. I’ve already got a post on the Bible and the Word of God planned for next Wednesday, so I wanted to include this follow-up post today so I can keep my weekly posts on schedule.
Whenever we talk about the inerrancy of scripture, the question or counterpoint that I hear brought up the most is, “So if the Bible has errors, how can we trust it? What role can the Bible have if we can’t even trust what it has to say?”
And I think that’s a valid concern. It can be somewhat of a scary leap to admit that the Bible isn’t perfect. But I don’t think that the imperfections in the Bible are enough to cause us to mistrust it entirely.
Firstly, we trust all kinds of imperfect things and people, even recognizing their imperfections. I trust my preacher, even though he has occasionally said some erroneous things while preaching. I trust my parents, even though they made a few parenting mistakes when I was growing up. I trust the professors I had in college, even though they would often disagree with each other about things. The presence of mistakes, errors, and misunderstandings does not make something useless. In all of the examples I listed, there’s a context of reliability and relationship. The same is true of the Bible. I can trust it, even among its mistakes, because much of what I have experienced in my own life affirms the God I read about in the Bible.
Secondly, there’s faith. Faith that God can reveal himself to us, even through an imperfect medium. Faith that the God who has consistently revealed himself to me is who he says he is. Faith that God can be perfect, even if the book about him isn’t. And frankly, if we need the Bible to be perfect in order to have faith in God, then we’ve only ever had faith in a book to begin with.
Finally, and most importantly, the Bible has been affirmed by generations of Christians who recognize that the God attested to in the pages of scripture is the same God that they see working in their own lives.
For the last 2,000 years, the Church has affirmed the Bible over and over and over again as a book that is, to borrow again from Paul’s letter to Timothy, “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”
The authority of the Bible doesn’t come from its perfection as a theological document. It doesn’t gain its trustworthiness from its immaculate historical record (To the contrary, it often plays fast and loose with history in order to make a more important theological statement). The power of the text doesn’t come because God dictated each word to the chosen vessels who only served to write it down.
The authority of the Bible comes from the fact that the Church has overwhelmingly affirmed and supported that the God represented in the Bible is the God that still exists and moves in the world today. The greatest evidence for the authority and usefulness of the Bible comes from the Church. 2,000 years later, I can crack open my Bible (or tap open my Bible app), read an account of something the Hebrew people recognized God doing in their time and culture, and recognize that same God doing similar things in my life.
And that’s why I feel like I can trust the Bible, even though there are some factual contradictions in its pages. That’s why I can use the Bible to draw closer to God, even if the prophet Daniel wasn’t a historical figure. Even if God didn’t create the world in seven 24-hour periods. Even if the Hebrew people didn’t have a perfect grasp of who God was and what he wanted from them. Because even amid the textual difficulties, I see a God I recognize. Even among the historical inaccuracies, I recognize the works of God. Even with the factual inconsistencies, I am molded further into God’s image.
That’s the value of the text. That’s where the Bible maintains its credibility. It’s not a perfect book, but it reveals a perfect God, whose work continues to be attested to by Christians all over the world today.