Ehrman on Inerrancy

I just finished Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. It was a pretty basic book but his main point raised some very good questions for me. His main beef about inerrancy is that it is a vacuous word. Almost all evangelicals affirm in their creeds innerancy but only in the autograph. But the problem, Ehrman rightly contends, is that we don’t have the autograph. For me, the only thing I thought was “now we have something to work towards.” The fact that we don’t have the autographs at least gave us something to do, but I never actually thought through what it meant for innerancy. And I haven’t thought through all the implications but one thing I know, inerrancy as its classically been defined has become for me a vacuous term. I can completely agree that the Bible is inerrant in its autograph but that doesn’t get me anywhere. In what sense then can we talk about the Bible as inerrant?

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5 responses to “Ehrman on Inerrancy

  1. I have been trying to figure that out as well. It seems to be a term that is more born out of fundamentalist/liberal fights and polemics than a deep understanding of what Scripture actually is.

    I was talking to Steve Taylor about this issue after I read that book, and he suggested the term “perfect.” He explained it much better than I could; but the basic idea is that Scirpture is perfect for the purpose for which it was written. I wrote a blog post about it after I talked to him that might help.

    Let me know when you come up with something.

  2. I have thought about this too … I have a lot of random thoughts concerning it.

    I remember freaking out about this a little bit in Bible college. That’s why they always taught us the idea of preservation of scripture as a corollary to inspiration. Of course, the idea of preservation is nice, but it is necessarily extra-biblical.

    I actually have old friends whose fear of this question has led them into the belief that not only did God inspire the Bible in the original autographs, he perfectly preserved it through the Textus Receptus … which is their back door into being King James only. What fascinates me the most about this is that it seems inspired by a desperate need for absolute certainty … the idea that if we allow for the possibility that somebody along the line may have messed up a sentence or a paragraph, then our whole theology is suspect.

    I think the loose use of the term “inerrant” may actually be a result of this same type of thinking. We want the bible to be more like a calculator than the living word of God.

    I’ve still got more stuff floating around in my head on this, but I have to get my 4 hours of sleep now. We should talk more.

  3. Prof. Leverett really challenged me on this issue when he suggested in Theo. 250 that we add to our typical statement (scripture is inerrant in the original autograph, etc. ….) “… in all that it intends to affirm.” The reason this was challenging for me is that it puts more responsibility to really investigate and understand what any particular passage actually means. It demands maturity and discernment and commitment of the reader, and particularly of leaders like teachers and pastors. We can’t just take the easy way out …

    And everyone actually uses this to some extent. For example, people no longer claim that references to “the corners of the earth” are proof that that the earth is flat. And neither should we claim that poetic descriptions of God “hanging the earth on nothing” is proof of the world being round. That’s not the point the author’s trying to make …

  4. I really think that all of you are hitting it right on the nose…as my granddad would say… =)

    I believe that as many of us are either teaching or plan to teach at some point, it is our responsibility to dig into scripture, and work to find what it is that God is pointing to through it.

    Art: I really liked what you had to say in your blog…that sometimes we have to be content with the fact that scripture doesn’t have ALL the answers. By that I mean, there aren’t any dates in the Genesis account…and is it the Psalms (granted, it being poetry) that say to God a day is like a thousand years?

    The world is going to think that we are foolish no matter what we say. We believe in our God whom they cannot see. Our faith is foolishness to them…therefore, while not trying to cop-out, sometimes we HAVE to say, “I don’t know.”

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