Why I’ve Given Up on Biblical Inerrancy: Part 2

Let’s start with a little story from the book of Judges, chapter 12….that’s right, get excited!


The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.”

Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?”

Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh. ” The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time

Basically, the Gileadites were fighting the Ephraimites and when the Ephramites went to retreat along the Jordan river the Gileadites met them there. The Gileadites used the word Shibboleth as a password of sorts because they knew the Gileadite dialect lacked the “sh” sound.  Use the right word you’re safe…don’t use the right word and you’re a dead man.

Many evangelicals stand on the fords of the Jordan waiting for other Christians to cross and when the time comes to test which tribe one belongs to they ask, “Do you believe in biblical inerrancy?”  Be careful how you answer!

The term “biblical inerrancy” has become a modern-day Shibboleth among many Christians, conservative or otherwise.  The problem is that the term has no real static meaning among many groups and so the definitions that various people are working from are not understood and agreed upon.  I’m not giving up on Biblical Inerrancy because I think it is no longer an important topic, rather, I’m throwing the term out because it is functionally meaningless.  What does one mean by “error”, that’s the real question. If you hold to the notion of strong literalism being necessary for the Bible to be true and thus fully authoritative, your framework will exclude many Christians from the inerrant group.  But if you find the Bible’s inerrancy rooted in the theological accuracy and consistency of the biblical text, well that’s a different group of people too.

Is the Bible’s reliability, authority, sufficiency, etc. based upon either one of these frameworks? Regarding the nature of its content, what needs to be necessary for the Bible to be trusted?