Since I often challenge the concept of biblical inerrancy, I receive a lot of feedback from inerrantists. But often that feedback reveals false assumptions inerrantists make about me—assumptions that are sometimes the very opposite of what I believe.
Here are five common false assumptions I repeatedly receive.
Assumption 1: That I Don’t Read the Bible
It is amazing to me how often response is along the lines of ‘You should read the Bible.’ It is as though I don’t read the Bible when, in fact, I began reading the Bible when I was 8 or 9 years old and never stopped. I remember, as a child, reading the Book of Genesis in one day. I also did Bible memorization—including the entire Book of James. The Bible was important to me and still is.
I suppose some inerrantists cannot comprehend why I would read the Bible when I don’t believe it is inerrant; or they think that, if I read the Bible, inerrancy would be obvious and I would reach the same conclusions they do.
Assumption 2: That I Have No Valid Reason for Reading the Bible
Another way of saying this is, ‘If the Bible isn’t inerrant how can you trust anything in it?’ Many years ago I discovered histories and biographies. Most seemed well-informed, but none were inerrant, and I read them anyway. One thing I found was that the older a book was the more I needed to consult scholars for clarification and correction. Even though it took more work to understand them better, I didn’t throw out my books because they were not inerrant.
Much of the Bible involves history and biography—and it is old! But it also contains fiction, poetry, wisdom, myth, and metaphor. While a flat, inerrantist reading of the Bible seems to provide simple answers, understanding the Bible in context and in all its variety takes a lot more work. Scholars help, but so does simply dropping an inerrantist perspective and dealing with literary, historical, and textual contexts instead. It is more work but far more rewarding.
And it is valid, whereas the assumption of inerrancy is not.
Assumption 3: That I Don’t (or Can’t) Believe in Jesus
Part of the thinking that drives this assumption is the common complaint that if the Bible is not inerrant how can I be sure of any of it? So how can I really believe Jesus and follow him if I don’t know if what was written about him is true (inerrant)?
Well, I can say that there ARE differences in details of the gospels that really cannot be harmonized. I think some things in the gospels are not literal but are Midrash instead, which was a popular practice among the Jews of the day. I think some parts of the gospels result from the creative impact of the preaching of Jesus’ disciples rather than a literal narration of events.
However, the four gospels present a consistent portrait of Jesus, his teaching, and his actions that are compelling to me—so compelling that Jesus is the foundation of all my faith and belief (rather than an inerrant Bible which once was).
I believe Jesus tells us of a loving Father/Mother who wishes to heal us of our brokenness, alienation, and pain. Jesus tells us that it is important to love others rather than to follow legalistic rules. And I believe Jesus’ resurrection overcame the power of evil and death and provides for our own eventual resurrections.
How can someone tell me that I don’t believe in Jesus?
Assumption 4: That I Believe and Trust Only in Good Works
I think this assumption springs from my emphasis on loving others and treating them right rather than following legalistic rules from an inerrant Bible. But I certainly do not trust in good works (what does that even mean?) I believe our resurrections from death to eternal life is provided by Jesus—not good works.
But, on the other hand, how can treating people with empathy, compassion, and care be a bad thing?
Assumption 5: That I Cherry-pick the Bible for Things I Like
If you are a believer who does not accept biblical inerrancy perhaps some, or all, of these assumptions have been applied to you, as well. But I am quite sure you have been accused of this one: ‘You cherry-pick the Bible for passages that suit you.’ Or, ‘You cherry-pick the Bible for parts that you like.’ This is probably THE MOST COMMON assumption about believers who are not inerrantists and is often delivered as a judgmental accusation.
This accusation, at best, questions the sincerity of the believer; and at worst it questions the believer’s motives as it is sometimes accompanied by a proof-text from 2 Timothy 4:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (KJV)
The implication, of course, is that sound doctrine derives only from an inerrant Bible. Do progressive believers cherry-pick what they like from the Bible? Sure, there might be some who do; but it is not the general practice.
But if the Bible is clear and inerrant, shouldn’t all inerrantists agree on what the Bible says? Instead, there is a wide range of belief among inerrantists. Is that because they pick and choose or just understand the ‘inerrant’ passages differently?
How I Feel about these False Assumptions and Accusations
However, I don’t feel badly when these assumptions are expressed. I know they are not true, and I can understand an inerrantist’s need to explain my rejection of inerrancy—which can be quite puzzling to them. And I know that when these assumptions are made about me that I am in very good company. In addition, I don’t consider inerrantists to be my enemies. We will talk about that next time.
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series:
Belief in Biblical Inerrancy Must be the Second Most Damaging, Misguided Christian Belief of All
Why Do Inerrantists Think the Bible is Inerrant Anyway?
How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns: a Book Review
Did Jesus Confirm the Inerrancy and Historicity of the Old Testament?
5 Common False Assumptions Inerrantists Make about Me as a Progressive Believer
Inerrantists are My Brothers and Sisters in Jesus—Not My Enemies
Books and Resources on Inerrancy