Today I want to do some thinking “out loud” about this question: What is so important about inerrancy? It seems to me that people want to hold on so tightly to this word, but that such a term is not helpful because it is often used dogmatically. But before I get to that discussion, let me give you a central conviction about biblical authority: I believe the Bible is authoritative, not in itself, but because of the fact that God has delegated his own authority to it. God is the ultimate authority. NT Wright says it well: “When we say ‘the authority of scripture’, then, we mean – if we know our business – God’s authority, Christ’s authority, somehow exercised through the Bible.”
With that acknowledged, how about the distinction between “God Breathed” “Infallibility” and “Inerrancy?” I first would ask about: what does the Bible actually say about itself? It claims to be God breathed. The other two terms are imposed on the Bible, so we must be honest about that reality. But, lets take them each individually.
“God Breathed” – This is what the Bible claims about itself in the area of inspiration and authority. It is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness/justice.” This gives us the foundational purpose of the Bible. It can teach us how to live lives on the Rock of Jesus. This ultimately affirms that God was involved in getting us the Word through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while allowing the original authors to express – occasion, personality, nuance, rhetoric, genre of choice, etc. Which is why Paul had the freedom to say things like “I, not the Lord,” (Corinthians) for instance. I affirm this as my primary way of understanding biblical authority.
Infallible – I am very comfortable with this term in every way while recognizing it as a theological term that we impose on the Bible to help us. As my confession of faith states in article 2: “We accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God and the authoritative guide for faith and practice.” Now, infallibility means that the Bible is true as a guide for all matters of faith and practice. This means that if the Bible teaches that this act or idea is wrong, well then it is wrong. This is quite different then the word “inerrant” however…
Inerrant – This typically agrees with the other two terms but adds something on it that I personally am not convinced of. Inerrancy imposes the belief that the Bible is “perfectly scientifically and historically accurate” (click this link to read a friend’s thoughts). I reject this completely. The Bible, in my opinion was not primarily for the purpose of recording perfect facts about science. Why do so many people try to impose the ‘scientific method’ of modernity on to a pre-modern book? If for some reason, I find that biblical cosmology is not in line with what we understand about the natural world, for instance, it does not shake my belief in the Bible’s authority. Because the Bible is not answering that set of questions. Or, if there is a historical nuance that is wrong, that doesn’t mean the Bible loses her authority either. The Bible, in most systems of inerrancy, is treated as a book that is to be read primarily in the ‘plain sense;’ and as we read the surface of the Bible, we get the facts about our world. I have a big issue with this view of Scripture, but am hospitable towards those who embrace it. I think we need to read the Bible in the genres each book/passage was written and with the questions in mind of the original authors. If we start with our modern questions, we sometimes miss the truths that ancient world was addressing under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Inerrancy, as it is popularly understood, limits this in my opinion.
What are you ideas about biblical inspiration compared to mine?
Thanks for letting me “think out loud,”
PS – For some other thoughts on this subject, see my good friend Dan Martin’s blog.
 For my complete view of the Bible’s authority read: The Last Word: Getting Beyond the Bible Wars, NT Wright