Does one’s view of inerrancy affect interpreting the Bible and if so how?
First of all, what is inerrancy? It is the claim that Scripture contains no human errors or is free from having mistakes of any kind. What types of errors do others suggest might be in the Bible? Well, historical errors regarding events that didn’t actually happen. For instance, were there two million Israelites in the Exodus? Critics say the record in Exodus is a mistake and if it happened, it was really 20,000. Other suggested “errors” are things like when Matthew describes Jesus’ flight to Egypt and the killing of firstborns, critics claim this never happened historically, but it’s meant only as a literary allusion comparing Jesus to Moses.
Other types of so-called “errors” supposedly in Scripture are things like errors of contradiction: liberals claim one biblical author expresses a view contrary to another. An example is critics suggest 1 & 2 Chronicles is a “retelling” of Samuel & Kings where there are not merely differences in what is focused on but contradictory historical accounts creating hugely different emphasis. Some even claim there are scientific errors where liberal critics say Scripture makes claims about how the physical world works that we now know to be false.
Rejecting inerrancy is usually for the new term infallibility. The Westminster Theological Dictionary defines infallibility this way: “The Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose.” Notice the belief in errors is still open in this view, but it allows “infallibility believers” wiggle room for a seemingly strong view of the Bible. Is this the case?
The problems play out when you start interpreting Scripture and applying it. What options are available? Let’s look at Romans 1 and the issue of homosexuality. If there are “errors” in the Bible because an author may be limited in his understanding of science or history, could it be possible that Paul might be limited in other areas? Could he assume things as true from nature and get it wrong? If you’re an inerrantist, no. But it’s open to discussion with the infallibilists. Liberal critics are currently arguing Paul’s social location and his limited understanding due to his own cultural heritage, gender and sociology show him to be in error about homosexuality. Some liberals even point out to evangelicals that if Paul made an argument from nature in 1 Corinthians 11 showing women are designed by God to have uncut hair and men to have short hair, why do they dismiss obeying and yet listen to Paul in Romans 1 on homosexuality? If Paul is in error about his argument from nature on hair, why couldn’t he get other things wrong too?
The dangers of holding to anything but inerrancy is clear. Not only is it the correct biblical position, this slippery slope can only end in doubt, distress and disbelief. No wonder evangelicals are dismissing the authority of Scripture. Inerrancy is one of the frontline defenses Apostolics must guard.