How does the inerrancy of Scripture affect the way we read our Bibles? Isaac, one of the Fellowship teachers has prepared some answers to questions that we’ve heard asked, or have asked at some point in our life! We hope that this will not only give us confidence to answer questions posed to us, but will also encourage us to “take up and read” our Bibles.
Q: Should we read the bible literally?
A: The Bible contains and involves the words and acts of God in history. It is inerrant because it is the word of God, and God cannot lie because His very nature is truth. The very fact that the bible claims to be the word of God requires it to be trustworthy. And if it is trustworthy then we have to accept the entire sum of it as God’s revelation to us. That said, we must be careful not to read every single word of Scripture literally. Words by themselves are neither true nor false since truth is instead a property of statements. And when we read statements, we need to interpret them in the context that they were made.
At the same time, truth is often expressed in figurative, metaphorical and symbolic language. God often chooses to reveal Himself to us in the simplest of terms, in ways that we can understand. Sometimes this takes the literary form of describing things/events simply as they appear (e.g. to the naked eye, the sun appears to rise from the horizon line but with the added benefit of scientific observation, we know that the earth actually rotates into the light of the sun). The exact manner in which the sun is described to be in the sky for approximately 12 hourrs each day doesn’t change the fact that it is there, God caused it to be there and that it was God who gave light to the world (Gen 1:3). Another example is Jesus’ claim to be a door (Jn 10:9). Why isn’t anyone searching for the handle? Because the instinctive meaning of that metaphor is that a door is something you have to go through, and that is the rightful focus of our interpretation.
Q: How do we resolve different interpretations of Scripture?
A: Different interpretations of Scripture do not prove that theBbible is in error. The discrepancy lies with the interpreters and not the text. The text only says one thing – or the author often only intended the text to say one thing. For e.g., the fact that I believe that only born-again Christians should be baptized (also known as Believer’s baptism) and that some of you hold to the belief and practice of baptizing infants means that one of us is likely to be wrong. But it does not in any way prove that the Bible is in error on the issue of baptism.
Q: Why does the Bible say one thing but science or history seems to indicate another?
A: Firstly, we must remember that the primary mode by which information was transmitted in the ancient world was verbal. Secondly, the degree of precision that a statement holds does not negate its truthfulness. If we were to ask somebody in this room his or her age, we would almost certainly get a number like 23. But that answer, while absolutely truthful, is not precise, because a precise answer would account for the number of months and days that the person has lived right up till today. Precision is helpful and lends itself to truth, but too much precision can be distracting or a hindrance to effective communication. Imagine if everyone were to specify precise answers to everyday questions of time, distance or measurement, to the exact level required by scientific precision. Therefore to the extent that precision is necessary for truth, especially in matters of God’s self-revelation and matters of salvation, the Bible is sufficiently precise and absolutely truthful. Also note that the doctrine of inerrancy pertains to truthfulness and not necessarily precision. What the Bible claims to be is perfect truth. While perfect precision in matters of truth is most certainly perfect truth, perfect truth does not necessarily require perfect precision.
On the issue of history, most of human history as we know it is someone’s testimony to the past. Unlike chronology, which simply lists events in succession, history narrates events, selecting and ordering and highlighting in order to make sense of what happened. Regarding the historical record available to us, our interpretation of scripture should not resemble an archaeological dig, in which we treat the bible merely as evidence to reconstruct ‘what actually happened’. Historical reconstruction is helpful insofar as it allows us to corroborate, through the historical and cultural context of the time, what the biblical author was saying. Historical reconstruction becomes a problem when recreating ‘what actually happened’ becomes more important than the actual biblical witness – ‘what the Bible is saying’.