Biblical Inerrancy?

Pretty much every argument between a non-believer and Christian concerning the Bible could be reduced to this:

[Some Scripture] is a [contradiction or error] in the Bible. The Bible's obviously not the Word of God.


That's not a [contradiction or error], because of [some reason].
And on and on it goes.

The fundamental assumption, left unspoken and unchallenged in this debate, is simple: If there is an error in the Bible, then the Bible is not the Word of God.

(Interesting side note: This line of reasoning itself conflates the Bible and the "Word of God," treating them as synonymous and identical entities. In other words, it assumes that everything within the Bible is the Word of God, and everything without the Bible is not the Word of God. Although most orthodox Christians would probably agree with that, I suspect it might be overly simplistic. After all, John 1 says Jesus is the Word of God! Hopefully, I will be able to discuss thia in further detail later on.)

Given that fundamental assumption, it comes as no surprise that the standard modus operandi of Christian apologists is to demonstrate there are no errors in the Bible. Whether or not they have succeeded is debatable. (I imagine that, in most cases, the committed skeptics will detract from apologists' explanations and the committed believers will rationalize any alleged flaws. However, I should mention that, even if it is not inerrant, the Bible is the most reliable historical and scientific document of antiquity. Most - but not all - of the arguments critics present are laughably easy to refute.)

But let us consider the question: What if there is an error in the Bible? What would the implications of such an error be?

(In my mind, there are two separate issues here. One is whether the authors of the Bible were honest, deceitful, or deluded. The other is whether or not inerrancy is necessary to demonstrate reliability. I am addressing the second issue here, not the first.)

The implications would depend on many things. Which Bibles are the Word of God? Are only the autographs (original manuscripts) inspired? Are the Old and New Testaments inspired in the same manner? In what sense (if any) is the Bible the "Word of God"? Belief that the Bible is the Word of God does not (for example) signify belief that God physically wrote the Bible; to my knowledge, all Christians accept that men physically wrote (or transmitted) the Bible. In what manner did these men transmit the Bible? Were they possessed by the Spirit?

And what is the nature of the error? Is it scientific, historical, or theological? Is it an internal inconsistency? If so, of what kind?

All of these are important questions. But the most important questions, I think, are different:

What was God's purpose for His written Word?

Does the alleged error undermine this purpose?

What does the Bible say about the Word of God? (Note that the Bible says nothing about "the Bible"; it technically does not mention itself. This is important.)

What is (and was) man's role in communicating God's message?

On a fundamental level, God intended to communicate something with His word. But what did He intend to communicate? That much is obvious: the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18); the message of grace (Acts 14:3); the message of love (1 John 3:11). It is a simple, but powerful, message - a message not directly contingent upon the inerrancy of the Bible.

The Bible, though it may be inspired by God, was written by men for men. I see this as an interesting parallel with the nature of Jesus, who is the Word (John 1); Jesus, just slike the Bible, is both human and divine. (If God entrusted Himself to us, could He not also have entrusted His Word to us?)

From the perspective of apologetics, scientific and historical accuracy in the Bible are important because they reinforce the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. They demonstrate that the Bible is more than "cleverly concocted fables" (2 Peter 1:16, NET). Internal consistency is important for the same reason, especially theological and moral consistency. (Of course, orthodox Christianity is paradoxical by nature - Jesus is fully man and fully God, God is One and Trinity, etc. - and so I expect conundra to arise in Christian theology.)

Christian apologists have sought to defend that which is most difficult to prove or believe: flawlessness. I am convinced that the Word of God is flawless; I do not know whether or not the Bible, our collection of a certain sixty-six books, is.

I believe it necessary that we examine this topic more closely.