The modern assertion of “biblical inerrancy” basically boils down to the claim by certain white Christians that “The Bible says what we say it says, and nothing else, and so you must listen to us as though we were God.”
The claim “the Bible is inerrant” can never be separated from the claim “I can read the Bible perfectly.” It’s not primarily about error or errors at all, but about authority. The Bible is the ultimate arbiter of authority. My reading of the Bible is the ultimate arbiter of what the Bible means. Therefore, I am the ultimate arbiter of authority.
Such a blunt and blatant grab for god-like power may seem a bit crude, but what else would you expect from a “doctrine” that was designed to defend and sanctify the practice of white supremacy, slavery, colonialism and the slaughter of indigenous people?
But don’t take my word for it — go ahead and read the bundle of unsupported, unsupportable assertions in contemporary inerrantists’ seminal 1978 document, the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition.”
This is also the best resource for trying to understand the inerrantists themselves — the “we” insisting that “the Bible says what we say it says.”
Keep in mind throughout that wherever the document affirms or asserts the “authority” of the Bible, what it’s actually affirming and asserting is the authority of their interpretation of the Bible, which is to say, again, the authority of them. “If this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded,” they write, it will result in “serious loss to both the individual and the Church.” Or, in other words, agree with us 100 percent, or else.
But the most revealing part of this document is the main section not-at-all-pretentiously titled “Articles of Affirmation and Denial.” This section will teach you everything you need to know about this bunch of would-be authorities. The 19 — excuse me, XIX (Roman numerals are more imperially authoritative) — “articles” each includes a raw assertion followed by a related denial.
Those denials are the important bit. Read them. But as you do, replace the phrase “We Deny that …” in each of those articles with the phrase “We Fear that …”
Or, better yet, “We Have a Terrifying, Gnawing Suspicion that …”
Or even “We Lie Awake at Night Desperately Wishing We Had Some Substantial and Convincing Response to the Claim that …”
Now you understand.
So try to manage at least a bit of pity for these poor frightened men. They’re afraid, and fear hath torment. So they’re desperately hoping that a perfect text will cast out all fear. Alas, that’s not the perfection that the text itself commends.