Sunday, October 28, 2012

Inerrancy, Genesis and Terms of Endearment


I've had a few recent shifts in thought about the topic of biblical inerrancy, spurred on by discussions with good friends, reading the Bible and perusing various literature about said holy book.

So, to begin this off on the proper foot, I'm going to create a phrase that I will attempt to defend in the ensuing post(s?) as the way I tend to approach the Bible. This definition is more of my own musings on the topic, as many within Christendom are arguing over it and I'm nothing if not needy for more controversy.


I was raised with the idea of biblical inerrancy, and that was more or less defined by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Their "short statement" reads:
1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.
2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.
3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.
5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
Presumably, this excludes interpolations within the text by stating implicitly that if it was not divinely inspired then it carries no authority. An example of an interpolation is a word or phrase that was not in the original manuscripts (further ex. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; for a compelling conservative evangelical case for this, Philip Payne's "Man and Woman, One in Christ" pgs 217-67). But, upon reading this shorter statement, I don't find much that makes my toes curl or my scalp itch.

Interestingly, the writers also mention that inerrancy is not necessary for salvation (Article XIX), though they worry of the consequences.


How do we honestly resolve apparent tension (historical, scientific, textual) in the bible without glossing over it?


My view is one I will dub "flexible" or "open inerrancy." This means one can take into account various textual or historical errors by maintaining genre distinctions and personal witnesses. Various people viewing something from different angles resulting in various points of view on the same event does not nullify the actual event.

By this, I mean inerrancy (like evangelical) is a flexible definition and can include various options and ranges of influence. A big debate over this comes about by Mike Licona and Norm Geisler with Licona's view of Matthew 27 and the raised saints likely being not historical fact (one I agree with and support Mike). The question under the microscope is not the Bible's authority as most would suggest, but how to interpret such a strange little text within the confines of biblical authority.

An openness to expand the walls of inerrancy while maintaining biblical authority is what is necessary. We have to be personally critical to see if we can resolve issues within the text without a priori assuming that the bible is already perfect. I'm not willing to throw out the term "inerrancy" simply because other Christians claim ownership. In the same way Universalists don't get to claim Romans 5 or Calvinists get to claim Romans 9.


I've heard it repeated that if one denies a "literal" interpretation (literal being used in an inflexibly flexible fashion, or rather, what makes sense to me is literal) of Genesis that one ceases being an inerrantist. I find this quite odd. So I'll muse a bit.

I think Genesis 1-11 aren't meant to be used or abused in a scientific fashion. Given the ANE culture and the prevalence of varying views of gods (an example being used that the gods flooded the earth because the puny humans were making too much noise) comes to mind.

Genesis personifies chaos, possibly utilizing the Babylonian god Tiamat (a primordial goddess of the sea; possible reference to Genesis 1:2 and the deep). This personification is used in a way to not only assert that YHWH is greater than their gods, but that YHWH is separate from creation (v.1). Though Church Father Origen was prone to over-allegorization, he never considered a "literal" view of 6 literal 24 hour days, citing the sequencing of the creation of night and day, sun and stars. The early church didn't seem to view Genesis in the same way, so I'm concerned why modern evangelicalism feels the need to draw the line at Genesis.

For a post-creation account exhibiting YHWH's subversive power, see Elijah's experience with the prophets of Baal. YHWH is bigger than your god (1 Kings 18).

Needless to say, Genesis cannot be read "literally" because it is not a literal account. Instead, from an ANE perspective, the greater principles are quite strong: YHWH is sovereign and creation came about because of a command. Genesis is intended to be a mythic, grandiose explanation as to the creator God's desire for community and his power to bring this about.

Another issue comes about when historical aspects are put in incorrect order, or technical difficulties like the spear/sword that King Saul is killed with in 1 and 2 Samuel. These would be technical errors, but they do not detract from the truth of the statement.

To view this in the oppose way is to miss the point of the text. At this point, the issue isn't the authority of Scripture, but of interpretive method. The method I have in mind can easily account for scientific formulation while maintaining the authority of the Bible.


Maintain the bible's authority while keeping a critical eye is no easy task. In fact, I doubt I've done much to assuage the issues within the text. What about the "all or nothing" bit? Besides it being a fallacy, I don't see much of an issue. One needn't run away in fear unless they are committed to a specific view of Scripture that crumbles when challenged.

Hopefully this conversation helps. 


(postscript) re-editing this post. Things may change.


  1. I think you have made a serious breakthrough. I believe that the entire Bible is true, and some of it even happened! To read it just on a literal level is to just read the surface meaning. You miss the metaphorical, allegorical, psychological, mythical, and thus spiritual meaning of scripture. You are right that the early Church didn't take it all literally. The Catholic Church had to rethink that position, which they held during the dark ages, after Galileo. I am not trying to do some shameless plug, but I recently wrote on this here: Keep praying and studying. God bless.

    1. Hey dude.

      I wish I were involved in a major breakthrough. As I see it, I'm just scratching the outside of a massive bank vault with a stick. ;)

      Hope all is well.