There are heated discussions among Evangelicals regarding the Bible as the Word of God and what, exactly, that means. The argument centers on the word “inerrant.” One of the definitions of Biblical inerrancy is perfection—not a single word can be wrong. Others have defined inerrancy by stating all Biblical claims are all true because it is God’s word—His actual speech to us. After reading the Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, it seems Evangelicals are all over the pages trying to find the best definition of this term. There appears to be three general views:
1) Conservative interpretation: the Bible is without error (inerrant) and is completely trustworthy—it is God’s word in its original writings (infallible).
2) Neo-Orthodox: the Bible has some inaccuracies (errant), but is completely trustworthy—it is God’s word as His Spirit moves us to understand it (infallible).
3) Liberal interpretation: the Bible has inaccuracies and is not trustworthy, only becoming God’s word after what (they perceive) is wrong with it is eliminated.
If inerrancy implies perfection, then this infers there are no mistakes in Scripture. Nevertheless, there have been some noncritical errors (most are simple copyist errors in numbering; for example, in 2 Kings 24:8 that says Jehoiachin became king of Judah when he was eighteen, where 2 Chronicles 36:9 says he was only eight). Yet, in God’s infinite wisdom—a wisdom we will never grasp in its entirety—He chose to use human beings to write the Bible. Do you really think God was caught off guard by a copy error a scribe may have made? Doing their best to refute errors, Evangelicals are emphatic that inerrancy is attributed to the original autographical texts of Scripture solely. This gets us ‘off the hook’ in some ways, regarding the so-called errors. How can a skeptic argue with a text we no longer have, anyway? A good point to remember when dealings with critics is that small copying mistakes are very common among ancient texts. For example, corruptions in Greek classics have also been found. The secular works of Tacitus contain at least one numerical error scholars attribute to copyist’s mistake.¹ (Bible critics seem to forget this fact as they point to Scripture errors with seeming relish.)
So the question remains: why didn’t God inspire the scribes to copy the manuscripts perfectly? He could have easily done this, yet if you concede that the copies we have today of Scripture do have slight errors (small issues that do not affect major meaning), then God didn’t inspire copyists. There must be a reason. Theologian Peter Enns refers to this as the “Incarnational Model,” recognizing the Bible to be both divine and human.
God is most interested in redeeming mankind from its sinful nature, right? Is making a mistake a sin? A sin is an immoral act against God’s divine law. A mistake is a misguided action or a fact this is not correct. I am fairly confident making an honest mistake (as in a copyist’s error), is not sinning against God. Since God knows all things, He allows imperfections, as we are also imperfect. Fully human and yet fully inspired, the Bible has changed the lives of millions throughout time, and is still affecting lives today. God uses His word to regenerate and sanctify His followers. He speaks to us today through His holy word, giving us insight, peace and teaching us how to love others.
In the final analysis, we need to determine if a greater understanding of inerrancy is needed. Bible Scholar Albert Mohler seems to think Enns is asking the evangelical community to abandon Biblical inerrancy. What I think is that he’s reexamining what inerrancy means in the grand narrative of the Bible: a redemptive purpose God seeks in the restoration of humanity.
I remain unresolved in the doctrine of inerrancy not because I am unwilling to take a stand, but because I fall back on the side of grace when dealing with issues not foundational to salvation. I long for unity in the Body of Christ, and to see division in the Church over what the word “inerrant” means, bothers me. We are to love first, and some may argue that loving involves being firm in the doctrines we hold as true. Yet I think St. Augustine said it best: “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”