The word ‘errancy’ has the power to inflame some theologians to cry “heresy!” in the face of anyone who dares to hold a non-traditional view of how the Bible came into being.
A most unfortunate consequence of the modern inerrancy debate is that for so many people it links the word errancy with heresy. If someone says that the Bible is not fully inerrant in all it presents, at least as reformed scholars define the term, then some are sure to label him a heretic. The problem is that whilst we should equate inerrancy with truthfulness, we more often equated it with error-less-ness. This might sound a little like a word game, but consider this. To speak about the Bible as truthful means that it is honest, frank, open, straightforward, ingenuous, and candid. However, to speak of it as without error implies that it is specifically accurate in all that it presents.
Those who hold that the Bible is fully inerrant in this latter sense take pains to qualify its factual accuracy. For instance, they say that the Bible’s inerrancy pertains to what is affirmed rather than what is merely reported; that it is without error in terms of what its statements meant in the cultural setting in which they were expressed; that reports of historical events and scientific matters are in phenomenal rather than technical language; and so on. Now this seems to me to be the real word game! Why all these qualifications to ‘full’ inerrancy?
Surely it is because anyone with half a theological eye can see that the Bible contains many anomalies, is written from some very human perspectives, and displays very human authorship traits.
So why not just say that the Bible is truthful, honest, frank, candid, and ingenuous and dump the concept of ‘full inerrancy’ on the scrap heap of historical reformed theology?
I believe that the reason so many still fight over this essentially Calvinistic concept is because they have linked it to the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture. The argument is that if God inspired the writing of scripture, then how can we admit that it contains anomalies and human inconsistencies? If we believe that God dictated the Bible word for word, then to admit an error would be to charge God with being fallible. However, few today hold to a dictation theory of biblical inspiration. Instead, the typical traditional statement is that God so influenced the human authors of scripture that their words were precisely those that He wished recorded. Isn’t this just another word game? What is the practical difference between this contention and the idea that God dictated the Bible?
Why do so many reformed theologians go to such lengths to preserve the idea that the Bible is free from meaningful human input, even when the biblical record itself tells a completely different story? (1 Cor. 7:12 for instance) I think it is because of an unwillingness to admit that God has not determined all things in advance. Once again, when it comes to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, we are drawn into word games.
Despite what is so often affirmed, to hold that God is sovereign does not mean that He has predetermined all things.
To say that God is sovereign merely means that He has the absolute ability to do anything, or to allow anything He wants. Because God is sovereign He can elect to allow people to partner with Him in producing the Bible and He can determine the scope and limitations of such co-authorship. If this is indeed the case, then we have no need to claim that the Bible is free from anomalies. We merely need to claim that it is what God wants it to be – truthful, candid, and ingenious.
I hold that the Bible is fully divine and fully human. Does this make it less than fully inspired? No it does not. Does this make it less than fully authoritative? Again, no it does not. I believe that the Bible is inerrant in that it is truthful, honest, frank, ingenuous, and candid. However, I do not believe that inerrancy is what defines the unique nature of the Bible. Its unique attribute is that it is the inspired and authoritative written Word of God. I have a lot more to say about this topic in my book ‘Truth is the Word’ available HERE.