“Well, there have been some fairly lengthy books written laying out alleged contradictions, and some are pretty tough to sort out. This is one. But there are others.
“And I can only speak for myself, but they just don’t bother me in the least. I mean, I lose no sleep over these things, my faith is no weaker for my having read about them, and I only study them because every once in a while, I need to have a conversation like this. I mean, I see things very differently from most people.”
Stanley perked up. “You mean, there’s more? You have to explain that!”
“Okay,” I replied, “but this is personal to me. You don’t have to think this way. There’s been far too much telling others how to think when it comes to inerrancy. So I’m glad to share, but I’m not imposing. Understand?”
We paused to order dessert. I had lemon meringue pie. Stanley went for the chocolate. A serious mistake in my book. The lemon is much better.
“Here’s the deal. I’ve spent thousands of hours reading, studying, discussing, and teaching the Bible. I started in middle school — and now I write about one 1,500-word essay on the text per day, on average, for the sheer joy of teaching the Bible. I’m not normal, and I would not counsel anyone to follow my example. You have to be a little crazy …
“But there is an advantage to studying this much. I’ve gotten to know Jesus, Paul, and the other writers of the scripture really well. And I’ve been constantly — daily — amazed at the genius, the sheer brilliance of the scriptures. I see how things connect from millennia apart. I see the hand of God working to bring about this incredible, true story. I see everything fitting together is astounding ways. I see very, very well that the scriptures have been breathed out by God because I’ve read them in enough depth to be overcome by the Spirit’s work.
“A very long time ago, during the first spring break of law school — in 1976 — my friends went to the beach. But I was blessed to marry a CPA, and she was in the midst of tax season. And so I stayed home — bored out of my mind.
“So I wondered whether the canon is right. How do we know that the books in the New Testament are the same books that are inspired? So I went to our church library, checked out The Apostolic Fathers, and I read them. (My eyes were much better back then.) And then I read the Ante-Nicene Fathers. And the difference between inspired and uninspired writers was obvious. An idiot could tell the difference! It was some tough going, but a study that has served me well for decades since.
“And at that time, I barely knew the Bible. I know it hundreds of times better today — 38 or so years later. And the more I study, and the more my ideas are challenged by others — forcing me to dig deeper — the more I see the Spirit of God in the pages. He’s there.
“So my belief in inspiration doesn’t depend on some Enlightenment argument about contradictions or scientific facts. My belief in inspiration is founded in the wisdom of the text itself. Here’s one of my favorite texts —
(1Co 2:12-14 ESV) 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
“Those who have the Spirit — the more filled with the Spirit they are, the more this is true — perceive things in the inspired word that others do not perceive. If the words themselves do not shout the presence of God’s Spirit to you, then you need to check your spiritual health.
(Joh 10:3-4 ESV) 3 “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
“A true sheep of the Master’s sheepfold will recognize his voice. And I’m persuaded that you do. This is why our conversation began in tears. You hear his voice, and you want to follow his voice. And therefore, deep in your bones, you know these are the very words of God. And it’s a knowledge that transcends logic and rationality and empiricism and Enlightenment thought. It’s just true because we know it’s true, because — are you ready? — because God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
“So are there contradictions? Personally, I speak for myself and myself only, I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s not a question that I care about. What I care about is that these are the words through which God has chosen to speak to his people.
“Perhaps that means there’s a clever explanation no one has thought of. Or maybe one of the commentators’ theories is right. Or maybe Paul’s letter was miscopied very early. Or maybe the Hebrew text we have is in error on this point, and one day we’ll dig up a really old manuscript that proves Paul correct. It’s all possible. None of it’s provable. And none of it matters.
“And this is why I get a little bent out of shape — angry — when someone demands that I agree that the Bible is ‘inerrant.’ It’s to miss the point. It’s to distract from what really matters. Ask me instead whether I believe that God speaks to the church through the scriptures — not only through the scriptures, mind you. God is not contained within a leather binding! But very importantly through the scriptures? Ask whether we should dedicate ourselves to learning all we can from the text? Ask whether we should let our lives be reshaped and transformed by the Spirit, using the text — but not just the text? Ask whether I believe we do this nearly well enough? Ask a question that matters.
“Ask so as to transform us by the power of the Spirit, under the authority God gave Jesus as Messiah. The brief, very recent history of the inerrancy debate has led to nothing but division and judgment. It’s not helpful because it brings to the table a question the Bible does not address — forcing us to go to non-biblical sources for answers. It distracts us from what matters much, much more.
“Sorry for the soap box speech. I get a little wound up with coffee, lemon pie, and barbecue in me. And by the way, I’m buying. I enjoy talking about God, Jesus, and the Spirit so much, I’m happy to pay.”