‘The Bible is as rich as life. It does not document one faith; it is an arena in which possibilities of faith vie with each other for the depths of the divine’ (Philosophical Faith and Revelation, by Karl Jaspers, cited in Law, Inspiration, 212).
In light of this quote, here are four more problems, as I see them, with the doctrine of inerrancy.
- The doctrine of inerrancy cannot safeguard an objective interpretation of the Scriptures, and even undermines it. Why is this so? When the Bible is read through the eyes of the ‘faith commitment’ of inerrancy, it is inevitable that one then seeks to explain away the contradictions and tensions found therein, to harmonise - even though the Bible is as Jaspers says. The difficulties of the harmonisation agenda can be clearly seen by reading a representative book that attempts just such a thing: H. Lindsell’s, The Battle for the Bible. In it he attempts to reconcile the contradictions in the Gospel accounts concerning when the cock crowed in relation to Peter’s denials of Jesus. In his harmonisation, Lindsell ends up having to say, in the name of harmonisation, that Peter must have denied Jesus six times! However, not only does this detract the reader from what each Gospel is trying to say, but also ends up invalidating all of the Gospel accounts!
- Given the truth of Jaspers words, it is also important to assert that different parts of Scripture are inspired in different ways. This means that there is no one formulation for interpreting Scripture. Instead, the Bible needs to be approached with different interpretive strategies depending on what is being read as well as why. For more on this see Goldingay’s two complementary books, Models for Scripture and Models for the Interpretation of Scripture. The doctrine of inerrancy puts the Scripture into one straitjacket (in which it does not fit), in such a way that variety of interpretation is inevitably neglected.
- The doctrine of inerrancy also promotes ‘misleading expectations’ (Models for Scripture, 278) regarding the content in nature of Scripture. Having come from a Fundamentalist background and my then affirmation of inerrancy, it was an extremely difficult process for me to start reading the Bible more intelligently, with all of my critical faculties. My faith itself came into question, something that forced me to reanalyse my doctrine of Scripture. I suspect that the Ehrmans and Funks of this world exist precisely, or at least partly, because of the promotion of the doctrine of inerrancy. The doctrine is so fragile because it doesn't measure up to reality.
- This ‘misleading of expectations’ manifests in another way. It encourages evangelism to treat the honest and serious questions of many people in a flippant way and demand that, in order to become Christian, some have to turn off their brains. This comes to the fore all the more clearly in the doctrinal statements of many organisations and churches which place the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture right at the top. This is a travesty!