One topic that invariably arises in almost every class I teach is whether or not I think the Bible is inerrant. Students who hear me lecture sooner or later figure out that I do not hold to inerrancy. For those of you not familiar with this term it is used by many Evangelicals to claim that the Bible is free from error. When I tell them "No, I don't hold to a belief in inerrancy" the next question is usually "So are you saying there are mistakes in the Bible?"
I think this is the wrong question. The problem with this approach is that it often wants the Bible to lineup with 21st century expectations. It fails to take into account the fact that the Bible was not written with us in mind and that authors were writing and working within their own historical and cultural context. This means that sometimes they did some very creative things with history that would simply not wash in our time. I will not start listing examples or reasons why I don't hold to inerrancy since this is a well worn argument. The more one studies the Bible the more you realize just how unsupportable of a claim it is. When we hold to inerrancy we end up making the Bible fit into our perceptions of what we think the Bible should be rather than standing back and discovering what it really is.
One thing that I always find bemusing is the qualification that almost everyone uses when talking about inerrancy. They state that their adherence to inerrancy is valid only in relation to the autographs. The problem with this, of course, is that we do not have any of the original documents of the Bible. Not even one! So if inerrancy only applies to them, why are we talking about something we don't have?
Defenders of inerrancy will accuse me of oversimplifying the subject, and they are right. But my purpose is not to enter in a prolonged argument.
Recently I ran across an article by Walter Brueggeman in which he discusses Biblical Authority. Rather than inerrancy, Brueggeman discusses inherency. Here is what he says.
The Bible is inherently the live word of God, revealing the character and will of God and empowering us for an alternative life in the world. While I believe in the indeterminacy of the text to some large extent, I know that finally the Bible is forceful and consistent in its main theological claim. It expresses the conviction that the God who created the world in love redeems the world in suffering and will consummate the world in joyous well being.
I like this. I think it allows us to recognize the Bible for what it is while still acknowledging that, for some of us, it is the word of God.
As I have said earlier, the Bible is complex and does not always fit our view of what it should be. But at the same time I have acknowledged time and again that what I find in the pages of the scripture are the words of life. The Bible is a mystery to me. It puzzles me, angers me, encourages me and guides me. The more I study it the more I realize how little of it I understand. And while at times I may find parts of it to be unhistorical or even contradictory, I also believe that it is inherently the Word of God. I don't mean that God spoke the words. But I do mean that God speaks to me though the Bible, sometimes in spite of it. That is the mystery and wonder of the Bible. That God somehow speaks to us through what is often a very human book. In spite of everything I know about the Bible it is also inherently the Word of God.