One of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.
This doctrine asserts that the Scriptures, in their original autographs and when properly interpreted, will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm. In other words, the Bible can be absolutely trusted as the ultimate source of truth. The late R.A. Torrey suggested that we should get rid of all denominations and start over with only two: those who believe in inerrancy and those who don’t. That’s how important he felt inerrancy was. Everyone either believes that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) or they don’t. And whether or not one believes in inerrancy means everything in a search for meaning and ultimately truth.
If the Scriptures are without error, then we have a basis for our epistemology (or our basis for truth.) If I begin with an assumption that the Scripture contains errors, then I am ultimately left to decide for myself which parts of the Bible I choose to believe and practice. And with such being the case, I will likely tend toward accepting the parts of the Bible that I like and rejecting the parts of the Bible I don’t like. With such an approach, the Bible loses its ability to correct me, which is one of the most valuable functions of the Bible.
But as important as the doctrine of inerrancy is, there is an equally critical understanding that must accompany my studies of this inerrant Bible.
For an inerrant Bible to have value, it must be studied and communicated by someone who has a clear understanding of their own personal errancy.
That is, we must keep in mind and make clear in our communication, that we are fallible people, struggling to understand and communicate an infallible Scripture. We can’t afford to mislead people, and even delude ourselves, into believing that our particular interpretation of Scripture is the infallible, inerrant Word of God.
Sadly, many people have rejected inerrancy because they rejected some interpretations of Scripture they had heard.
Interpretations are not inspired and inerrant. The Scriptures are. When we confuse the two, we degrade God’s Word.
I have various understandings concerning all sorts of Biblical doctrines, including cosmology (exactly how old is the universe?), soteriology (how do election and human responsibility work?), eschatology (is the Antichrist gay?), as well as personal Christian conduct (what is worse: drinking, dancing or voting Democrat?) My opinions on most of these issues are informed by my interpretation of Scripture. But there are others who are equally devoted to Scripture who come to different conclusions than I. So who is right? The Bible is right, always. We are all consistently wrong, about almost everything. Which is precisely why we need a Book that is without error. And why we need humility to interpret and teach it.
I have heard people say, “I just interpret the Bible literally.” Really? Then I’m assuming you believe in transubstantiation, since Jesus literally said, “This is my body.”
Interpreting the Bible is frequently challenging and should always be humbling. I am bringing my errant understanding of an inerrant Book, and it is important for me to remember which is which, so that the truth of the Holy Bible is always what shines forth.