It is probably the most shocking statement you could make about the Bible — that God never promised an inerrant (without error in today’s scientific sense of the word) Bible.
The Chicago Statement says,”God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture.” To claim it does is to misrepresent both God and the Bible. Or, if you prefer, to give false witness.
This has been a critical issue for me personally. Those who insist on modern standards of perfection for the Bible cannot defend such a definition. They find themselves doing semantic gymnastics and creating long elaborate explanations for the kind of thing I discussed in my first post, “Semantics and Shipwrecks: How What You Believe About the Bible Could Destroy Your Faith.”
I don’t remember who told me this, or if I simply misunderstood what I was being taught, but I grew up believing that the Bible was perfect. When I learned about the process of preserving and translating the Bible, and about copying errors, and about the process of translation and interpretation that is an essential part of translation, I became thoroughly disillusioned. How was I to read the Bible in light of this? Was it still trustworthy? Were those who had taught me falsehoods about it still trustworthy? My faith was shaken to the ground.
Failure to communicate rightly about the Bible’s claims about itself and about how it came to be has and will shipwreck a person’s faith.
Cast adrift, I remember pleading with God in the shower, driving my car, watching the wind move the trees in our yard, “Please, if you’re there, find me! Help me understand.”
A book that put something firm under my feet was “Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament” by Peter Enns, an Old Testament expert. In the same way the Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, both divine and human, Enns teaches that the Bible, The Word, is both divine and human as well. Thus it should display the human characteristics of its ancient authors, and does so without losing its divine nature and its value as God’s message to us. His book gave me enough footing to begin rebuilding faith in the God of the Bible.
All of these pieces put together reassure me of a few important things (if you missed my earlier posts in this series, see the list below).
One, I don’t have to bury my head in the sand about the origin of the Bible to believe it is true.
Two, I can acknowledge apparent inconsistencies, copying errors, and methods of writing that are foreign to me as a modern reader without calling into question the entire Bible.
Three, it is absolutely critical for us to take into account the author, the intended audience, the culture, the language, and the context in order for us to understand and apply the principles taught in the Bible in our lives today. I learned this in World Literature class in college — a surface reading of an ancient text will yield only a fraction of the wealth you could mine by studying deeper. This is why so many have devoted their entire lives to studying the Bible and never considered themselves to have finished the work.
What makes the Bible significant and authoritative to you? How have you heard inerrancy and infallibility taught, and how did that affect your faith?
Earlier posts in this series about the Bible:
- Semantics and Shipwrecks: How What You Believe About the Bible Could Destroy Your Faith
- The Bible and Perfection: When Modern and Ancient Collide
- When the Bible Becomes Your Idol