We’ve all been to weddings where they play games on the groom. In one wedding I went to, they coerced the groom to declare to the bride: “My wife is always right! My wife is always right!”
Somehow that brought me to thinking about the subject of biblical inerrancy. We evangelicals like to talk about this doctrine. But I’ve often felt uneasy about it. Not that I don’t disagree with biblical inerrancy, but how people talks about it usually makes me feel like something is wrong. After some thinking about it, I think my problem with the way people talk about biblical inerrancy can be summarized into 3 points:
1. A Means of Self-Justification
When some people say that the bible is always right, they’re really using it to say that they themselves are always right. Just search around for topics like whether musical instruments should be used in worship. There are people from both camps citing biblical basis for their positions, while at the same time invoking the “biblical inerrancy” thing to support their assessments. I’ve seen church fights and church splits happen over differing biblical interpretations, with each side claiming something like “I’m convicted that the Bible is always right and it tells me that my viewpoint is right; and if you see the Bible differently, I cannot fellowship with you anymore.”
2. Shield for Anti-Intellectualism
Some people hide behind the shields of “biblical inerrancy” and “biblical authority” instead of dealing with real issues. In the book “A Christianity Worth Believing”, Doug Pagitt cited an example: “If the subject at hand is the authority of the Bible, someone invariably asks what I think about homosexuality. If the subject is homosexuality, someone invariably asks what I think about the authority of the Bible.” Doug went on to say, sarcastically, “There must some connection. It makes me wonder if people would argue about the authority of the Bible if it had nothing to say about homosexuality.” (p. 64) It seems to absolve some Christians from dealing with real-world issues in a genuine, intellectual way.
3. False Academic Pursuit
Some people spend all their time arguing for “biblical inerrancy” and that’s all they do. Robert Webber, in his book “Ancient-Future Faith”, cited an example: “In seminary I enrolled in a course on the Pentateuch. I was eagerly anticipating more insights on the exodus event and on the meaning of Israel as well as thoughtful analysis of Israel’s communal life. The message of the Pentateuch was never addressed. The entire course dealt with a defense of Mosaic authorship and the denial of the liberal source analysis of JEDP.” (pp. 45-46) Interestigly, I had a similar experience as Dr. Webber’s, but it was the other way round — I participated in a bible study of the Pentateuch led by a liberal Christian, and I was disappointed because she spent all the time trying to disapprove that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch.
That brings me back to the wedding analogy. My wife likes to joke that she’s always right. Indeed, many times she told me that if I eat a certain piece of junk food, I would get sick, and sure enough, I ate it and got sick soon afterwards. So, in response to my wife’s “I’m always right” statement, what should my proper response be? My response should be that I better be careful to listen to her next time she gives me a warning.
In the same way, biblical inerrancy is not for our self-justification, nor for our escape from reality, nor for our empty debates. Our proper response is obedience with our lives.