Growing up within conservative evangelicalism I always assumed that the people I went to church with thought of the Bible in the same way. More specifically, I always assumed that when Christians talked about the Bible as “inerrant” they all shared a common definition. After attending two Christian Universities and obtaining degrees in biblical studies and theology, you might say my assumptions about common definitions have been dashed. When Christians talk about inerrancy I’m finding that they might be talking past each other because definitions vary from person to person. The more recent evangelical statement on inerrancy known as “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” lays out a provisional framework that can be helpful. I do want to explain, however, that it seems as though the term “inerrancy” is often used in a way that deviates from this framework. So what’s the issue you may ask?
Let me pose a question. Does the Bible contain errors?
If you say yes then you’re probably not a Christian…I’m kidding, but let me explain. When some people say the Bible contains errors, they mean that certain literal numerical or related claims are not correct. For example, in Jeremiah 15:8 God states that, “I have made their widows more in number than the sand of the sea.” This statement is literally false and so could be viewed as containing error. The same thing could be said of Jesus’ claim in Mark 4;31, “is like a grain of mustard seed which when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth…” Sorry Jesus, a mustard seed is NOT the smallest seed on the earth so yet again we have a biblical error…depending on your definition. We could also bring up chronological inconsistencies within the gospels and conclude that errors have been made. (Compare the calming of the storm event Mt 8:23-27 = Mk 4:35-41 = Lk 8:22-25) What can we say about these so-called errors? Is the Bible not to be trusted?
I’ll let this idea hang out for a while and give you some time for further thought and feedback. What say you?