It was the worst year of my entire life!
1994 was the center of more than a year of intense pain, anguish, and depression; but I was not ill, I had a good job, and my marriage was great. It was also a time of deep grief, though all my friends and family were fine. My problem was not physical, financial, or relational. It was the time of My Spiritual Crisis and my inconsolable grieving of the loss of God.
My Spiritual Crisis
I was raised a fundamentalist and embraced it wholeheartedly. However, as I matured I began to question some things I was taught. I still believed in the complete accuracy of the Bible, but I sometimes understood it differently from what I had learned. One such issue was the creation stories of Genesis. Though I had held a literal view of the stories, I came to understand that, instead, they were written for a different purpose than explaining the way things began. I still accepted the stories as true, but in a different way. Changing my understanding did not cause me any problems.
However, soon afterwards I recalled that Paul talked about Adam in Romans 5 as though he really existed as the first human. With a shock I realized Paul was mistaken—and my long, exhausting spiritual crisis ensued instantly. I was shaken to the core. If Paul was mistaken on this point, then how could I believe anything?
For more than a year I suffered anguish and depression and grieved the loss of God. I went through the motions of life, but I felt hollow, alone, and directionless as I mourned my loss, because the Bible I depended on was not what I thought it was.
Then I discovered Jesus as the foundation of all my spiritual belief, and everything turned around. Trusting Jesus was a more solid foundation for me than trusting an inerrant Bible had ever been. I still loved and honored the Bible, but I saw it quite differently than before.
Inerrancy—a Common Way of Understanding the Bible
The Bible is very important, but there are two very different ways to approach the Bible. We all read the Bible as though through colored glasses, and the glasses we use make all the difference in grasping what we read.
The glasses represent our assumptions about what the Bible is. In fundamentalism the assumption is called inerrancy, which means that the Bible came from God himself. Every word in every book is somehow a revelation from God, and no errors or problems exist. The Bible is authoritative in every word it says, and we can trust every word of it to be true and accurate.
In addition, inerrantists believe the Bible was somehow protected by God so that only the books God revealed are collected in our current Bibles and that no authentic books from God were left out. These views are quite common among believers today, especially among evangelicals and fundamentalists.
One result of this thinking is ‘proof-texting’. Inerrantists often make a doctrinal claim of some sort and support it with scriptural references. The passages are usually not explained or even considered within their larger textual contexts. The fact that the words are in the Bible are sufficient to know that the words are true and undeniably support whatever the quoter thinks they mean.
So it is not surprising that when inerrancy is challenged, inerrantists are ready with proof texts. By far the most important one is 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
There are several problems with using this passage to prove inerrancy.
First of all, the basis for placing this book in the Bible is assuming Paul as the author; but among the ‘Pauline’ books there is none (other than Titus) that is more doubted among biblical scholars as coming from Paul. Of course, this does not bother inerrantists because they are certain God directed the inclusion of only authentic books.
Secondly, the passage does not even hint at inerrancy. God-breathed (inspired) can be understood in a number of ways, and inerrancy isn’t a likely one. I agree that the ‘scriptures’ are useful in the ways the writer suggests, but the author does not elaborate on what this means. It is a general observation, not a doctrinal one, and it only speaks to inerrancy if one already presupposes that it does.
However, there is a third devastating problem. The ‘scriptures’ to which the author refers is the Old Testament. No New Testament collection existed when this book was written, and if Paul wrote this then many of the books of the New Testament did not yet exist. The larger context clarifies the problem even further:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The recipient addressed in this letter had learned his faith (presumably about Jesus) from others who told him about it, and in addition he had known the ‘scriptures’ since infancy; this could only refer to the Old Testament. Unless the author intended to include his own personal letter in his statement, this passage is not part of the ‘scripture’ he calls ‘God-breathed’. Yet inerrantists claim biblical inerrancy based on this passage because this passage is inerrant—a circular argument.
Many ‘prophets’ claim to speak the direct word of God but have no evidence other than their own. I can say I have an inerrant message from God, but hopefully no one will just take my word for it. I suspect any person who claims inerrancy for themselves.
But this author does not claim inerrancy for himself or any other ‘scripture’. He makes a simple and reasonable statement, in a personal correspondence, that has been magnified in application far beyond its original intent.
Why Do Some Believers Teach Inerrancy so Fervently?
Later, I will discuss how thinking the Bible is inerrant causes great harm. Why would teachers of inerrancy teach such a harmful doctrine? I don’t think they do so in order to do harm; they do so because they believe it—they embrace this perspective because they were taught this way by someone else. It is part of their tradition, but it is a tradition of baggage.
Rather than castigate teachers of inerrancy, I think it is better to point out the reasons why it is misguided and to provide a better alternative. And there is a more realistic alternative to inerrancy of the Bible; we will talk about that next time.
Photo Credit: mark_turner_505 via Compfight cc
In this series:
6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm
The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God
4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People
The #2 Most Harmful Religious Belief—the Inerrant Bible (Today’s Post)
A More Realistic Alternative to Inerrancy of the Bible
4 Huge Ways Believing the Bible Inerrant is Tremendously Harmful
How Legalism Stunts Our Spiritual Growth
How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs?
Photo Credit: Christian Evolution
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Have a great day! ~Tim