A few months back I was embroiled in a rather lengthy discussion on the inerrancy of scripture vs. the progressive view of scripture on my blog. It basically ended up being a platform for one individual’s “orthodox” view that scripture HAD to be inerrant in order to be of value. As I tried to peel back the problems inherent to this thinking, he finally asked me if I believed Jesus had to have been inerrant? It’s a good question and reflects the struggle the early church had with understanding who Jesus was. There was not a unanimous consensus for half a millennia. Was Jesus infallible? Does Jesus claim to be? Honestly, I don’t know. Nothing really leads me to believe he was or by necessity needed to be. His argument on inerrancy of scripture, and now, Jesus himself, hinged on the belief that one cannot have certainty of faith without an inerrant text, or at least an inerrant leader…at least that is my understanding of the way the discussion began. The implication of his reasoning is that one cannot have “absolute truth” without an inerrant source. I find that not to be the case at all and I would question the definition of “faith” implied here. Is inerrancy necessary for conveying truth? I don’t think so. As I have already explained, we learns truths all the time from errant sources. It is part and parcel of the human condition.
We haven’t delved into the historical-critical method of scripture study, nor have I wanted to because I think the discussion was getting over long, and getting nowhere, but we must realize when theologians like Wayne Grudem talk about inerrancy of scripture they mean “that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” In other words, we do not have in our possession any “original” manuscripts, yet the claim of inerrancy only applies to the original documents. I wonder what an inerrant version of our Bibles would look like. What would have to be rewritten, what would be dropped off? What passages are missing, etc.? So, in lieu of actually possessing an inerrant text, we are in reality forced to make due with something that, contains not a few problems. Does the fact that we do not have an inerrant Bible prohibit us from having faith in God or Jesus? People have been getting by for centuries without one just fine.
Now things do get problematic when Grudem and others claim that the original mss were inerrant, yet tell us the compiled Greek and Hebrew texts we now have are a 99% accurate reflection of the original inerrant texts. I say problematic, because scholarship over the last 3 centuries has uncovered many problems and contradictions within the mss’s. These are commonly known and most seminarians will encounter them in their first year of school. This is where I find Grudem, Piper, Hodges and others to be dishonest. They were and are aware of the difficulties found within scripture, yet refuse to honestly acknowledge them, instead going to great lengths to excuse, minimize or attempt to harmonize them. In the process they are giving us something different from the Bible we do have. And all in an effort to bolster a hypothetical principal rather than the truth. Believing the Bible “has to be inerrant” does not make it so. I would also wonder why, if an inerrant text was so important to having faith, why God did not preserve an inerrant text for us. You need to realize that God breathing himself into something does not make it inerrant. He breathed into Adam, and he was anything but perfect.
As to Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross, my friend has provided only two basic alternatives, again falling back on the “all true or nothing is true” argument. Either Jesus had infallible, absolute knowledge of heaven, or he knew nothing: just making a wild guess, hoping for the best. In his scenario, Jesus had to have “special, absolute knowledge of truth, something beyond how mere humans learn truth, i.e., parents, schooling, life experiences observations and spiritual encounters. No, without an inerrant, absolute knowledge of eternal truths, for him, basically Jesus has nothing to offer. He’s no better than any other peddler of religion.
Which brings up an interesting aspect of his Biblical ontology: Either the Bible is all true, or it is basically worthless as a reliable guide to right relationship with God.
“As a human product, the Bible is not “absolute truth” or “God’s revealed truth,” but relative and culturally conditioned. To many, “relative” and “culturally conditioned” mean something inferior, even negative. But “relative” means “related”: the Bible is related to their time and place. So also “culturally conditioned” means that the Bible uses the language and concepts of the cultures in which it took shape. To use a nonbiblical example, the Nicene Creed uses the language of fourth-century Hellenistic philosophy to express the convictions that mattered most to the Christians who framed it. It is not a set of absolute truths, but tells us how they saw things. So also the Bible tells us how our spiritual ancestors saw things—not how God sees things.”
— Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity
What modern evangelical theology does is straightjacket God with an inerrant Bible. In a sense, the Bible is above God, he is beholding to it and bound by it. But I believe God to be bigger than the Bible. I believe Jesus’ reinterpretation of scripture and Paul’s selective quoting (leaving out some very negative stuff in his quest to include the Gentiles) aligns with this belief. The quest for an inerrant Jesus or an inerrant text, mirrors the old heresy of Docetism, that Jesus only appeared to be human, that humanity is of a lower plane of existence and that Jesus as spirit existed above mere flesh.
Just how human Jesus was is best left for a future discussion. Peace.
Link to previous discussion on inerrancy: