It was late, but for some reason, I was keyed up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep for a while. And so I went looking for a snack — even though my wife had thrown all my snacks out, to “encourage” me to lose some weight. Finally, I found my grandson’s stash of chocolate Teddy Grahams, and began to munch. And my phone rang.
It was Stanley. “Sorry for calling so late, but I had another question, and wondered if you’d mind talking for a few minutes.”
“Sure. I’m too keyed up to sleep. Let’s talk some Bible.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking and praying about our lunch conversation. I’ve talked to some friends. And it seems to me that you’re trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, you say you don’t care about the contradictions, and then when I bring up a particular contradiction, you always seem to have an answer
— as though there are no contradictions. How is that consistent?”
“Stanley, I’ve never said there are no contradictions or factual errors. I’ve never said that there are, either. You see, it kind of depends on how you define ‘contradiction.’ In fact, some very conservative, evangelical scholars got together to define ‘inerrancy’ not long ago, and they came up with an agreed definition — that’s 15 pages long, nearly 4,000 words! It’s called the Chicago Statement on Bible Inerrancy.
“So if someone asks you whether you believe in ‘inerrancy,’ you have to ask, ‘According to what definition?’ And if they mention the Chicago Statement, you have to agree with the whole thing!
“I figure any concept that requires that much defining, that’s not found in the Bible, and that the church has managed to do without for 1800 years is not worth spending much time on. I’d far rather spend my time in the scriptures rather than parsing through a 15-page, manmade definition.
“But the Chicago Statement does give a sense of the difficulties of claiming ‘inerrancy.’ For example, these conservative scholars say,
Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.
The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.
“Now, I agree that we should define ‘inerrant’ to allow imprecision or to interpret ancient literature by the standards of its own day — I think that’s right — but I’m not sure that the average pewsitter would understand this to be the meaning of ‘inerrant’ when the preacher speaks from the pulpit. And when we use a word in a way that varies from the ordinary understanding of the word, we are not communicating with one another truthfully.
“And so, when you ask about these supposed contradictions, sometimes the solution is in learning to read the text within its own genre. Sometimes a better definition of ‘inerrant’ solves the problem. But this becomes, to me, very distasteful. It’s an Enlightenment solution to an Enlightenment-created problem foreign to the scriptures.”
Stanley jumped in. “You keep bringing up the Enlightenment like it’s a bad thing. What on earth are you talking about?”
“I’m questioning the assumption that we have the right to judge the Bible. I deny that we may stand over the Bible and judge it by human standards. I think we should stand under the judgment of the Bible. We submit to the will of Jesus as revealed in scripture — not the other way around.
“As soon as we ask about ‘inerrancy,’ we’re kowtowing to a secular worldview that requires the Bible to meet worldly, humanistic tests of authority. And I think that’s a dangerous thing, especially when so many among us insist that the only reason we honor the scriptures as the word of God is because it passes these Enlightenment tests of rationality, non-contradiction, etc.
“I much prefer to think in terms of ‘truth.’ ‘Truth’ is a biblical concept that says quite a lot. We need to let the Bible explain itself.
“Consider these passages —
(1Co 2:12-16 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. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
(Joh 16:13 ESV) 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
(1Jo 2:26-27 ESV) I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie — just as it has taught you, abide in him.
(Heb 8:10-11 ESV) 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
(Deu 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
“There are more, but these should be enough to make the point. What we’re told — over and over — is that God will reveal ‘truth’ to his people by his Spirit in their hearts. And when we do a careful word study on ‘truth,’ we learn that the New Testament uses ‘truth’ to refer to the truth about Jesus — the gospel.
“If ‘truth’ is the truth about Jesus, and the scriptures are ‘true,’ then what makes them true?”
Stanley thought for a moment. “Well, the scriptures speak the truth when they tell us about Jesus!”
“Exactly! But it’s deeper than even that. The Enlightenment worldview says that we can learn truth rationally. ‘I think; therefore, I am.’ We reason outwards from ourselves by logic. Therefore, our own perceptions and wisdom become the ultimate tests of truth.
“But according to scripture, truth is revealed to us by God through his Spirit — and the truth is the gospel. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. True knowledge begins in Jesus. It’s something like, ‘Jesus was resurrected; therefore, I can know God’; rather than, ‘I think; therefore, I am.’ The truth answers bigger, better, truer questions.
“And this being the case, it’s hardly surprising that the scriptures are, to a thoughtful Christian, self-authenticating. They announce their own inspiration.
“To a Christian, indwelled by the Spirit, the truth of the scriptures is self-evident. The alleged contradictions are uninteresting because we aren’t looking for proof, and we are confident that whatever contradictions someone may find — should any exist — do not contradict the truth. That’s not to agree that there are contradictions, but to find the whole effort pointless — playing by the other team’s rules.”
“‘Playing by the other team’s rules … .’ I like that,” Stanley said. “If I get your point, Christians know things differently from how non-Christians know things. And this knowledge comes from God himself. One of those things is the inspiration and truth of scripture — and because you know that in your heart of hearts, deep in your bones, you no longer care about whether the scriptures pass an Enlightenment test of truth — because they’ve passed a far higher test — God himself has vouched for them by his Spirit.
“And that means that when I study my Bible, I’m communing with God himself through his Spirit. There is more here than mere rationality. The scriptures are higher and holier than that.
“So I’ll see you Sunday morning at church. Thanks.”