Biblical Inerrancy in a Postmodern World
If we’re re-discovering anything about ourselves in the 21st century, it may be this: We are all storytellers at heart. A relevant story told by an authentic voice captures our attention and can move our hearts, change our minds, and even redirect our behavior. Emotional and aesthetic appeal are important factors in the modern man’s decision-making process. That, we’ve seen, is rooted in a long history of storytelling.
We see this in the life of the Christian. Our personal narrative is placed high on a pedestal. To find indicators of faith, we may even ask to hear a testimony–the narrative of your life journey and how you lived in sin for a time but then turned it around as a Christ-follower. We want to know about your personal relationship with Jesus and if you are growing closer to Him. How is he leading you? Where are you experiencing Him? We use these responses to make sense of the world.
And while we love our own stories of trial and triumph, we will still agree that the Bible is the best story of all. It tells us about the God-man who defeated evil and saved us. It is an expression of God Himself. It shows us how to live our lives here on earth and paints a beautiful picture of what eternal paradise will be. As a spiritual and moral guide, the Bible is our truth.
But press further on the historicity of the Bible, and we start to get fidgety. There’s no real need to inspect its more ‘earthly’ material, we suggest. Much of it is allegorical and myth-like, so who can say what is and what isn’t real? We don’t need to defend all of its historical claims about supernatural events or locations or any of that–some of this material has been explained by modern science, and we know that’s not really the point anyway. The truth of the story is in the narrative.
So why do we insist that the Bible is ‘free from error’ in every way? How important is it, really?
Pilate’s famous question: What is Truth?
Until the 18th century, the authority of the Bible was seldom challenged. However, the ‘Age of Reason’ broke the streak. Throughout the Enlightenment period, a series of philosophers–such as Hume, Voltaire, and Adam Smith–spoke in unison against the written account: Miracles do not happen. Nature, not God or Scripture, is our guide for morality and truth.
This line of thinking rippled throughout the next few centuries and led to a logical series of so-called ‘deaths.’ Dr. John Warwick Montgomery outlines these in his lectures, Sensible Christianity. First God was killed. Next, the Bible was killed. Then, man was killed. Is Truth now wrapped in the hangman’s noose?
In Postmodernity, it can feel like it. But when we take a closer look, even committed relativists know some objective truth exists. Even they assume facts exist that correspond with reality. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to jump in their cars and follow Google Maps to the office in the morning. This line of thinking is inoperable in everyday life.
Even merely saying something like ‘all truth is relative’ or ‘everyone has their own truth,’ can’t get us very far either. This declaration immediately contradicts itself by making an objective claim about the nature of truth. We see that objective truth does exist, and that it is found outside of us–where claims correspond with facts.
Experience vs. Revelation in the Christian Life
Our personal experience and story help determine our beliefs and opinions about Truth. Each of us does have a unique story worth telling, but this inward reflection should not be equated with what we know to be objectively true. Since the fall, our emotions, motives, and even our minds have been left faulty and limited. Our experiences–though they are uniquely our own– tend to warp the truth.
Where does that leave us? In desperate need of a true revelation. We need something or someone to give us answers to the tough questions. That ‘something’ must stand up to common inspection, and its claims must line up, or correspond, with reality. This characteristic is what makes Christianity unique in comparison with the rest of the world’s religions.
Our faith rests on a historical event–namely, Christ’s death and resurrection–which can in principle be falsified if the right evidence is supplied. When we invite the non-believer to inspect the claims of Christ, we invite them to ‘check out’ the reliability of the new testament documents using common historical, scientific, and legal methods. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the reliability of the Gospels, especially when we compare them with other texts of antiquity. As C.S. Lewis notes, this pushes us to draw one of three conclusions: Either Christ was a liar (who knowingly deceived his friends and acted contrary to his teachings), a lunatic (who was clinically insane), or what he says he was: The Lord.
Christ’s High View of Scripture
What does any of this have to do with biblical inerrancy? As believers, we approach the Bible in the same manner that Christ–who has proven himself to be God–does throughout his time on earth.
When we inspect the evidence (this time, within the Scriptures), we find numerous examples of Jesus affirming the Old Testament’s historicity and authority. Jesus acknowledges Creation and Adam and Eve as a historical event which occurred ‘at the beginning,’ (Mark 10:6-9). He acknowledges their son Abel a real historical figure who lived (Luke 11:51). Likewise, He compares Noah and the flood–which He acknowledged as a historical event–with His second coming (Luke 17:27) and compares the historical occurrence of Jonah and the fish with His resurrection. When tempted by the Devil, he does not shy away prophecies of old, but instead, invokes them.
Christ does not reduce Scripture to mere legend or explain away miraculous stories as mere metaphor. He does not question the author’s intent or dismiss difficult passages due to ‘differences in culture.’ He does not even concede that only its ‘theological parts’ are inerrant. He holds it up–all of it–as the inerrant source of Truth, in all senses, for all of humanity.
In the New Testament, we find Jesus promises His disciples a full recollection of everything He has taught and done through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26-27). Through Peter, we receive these words which bring us confidence that the original autographs were written by God and transcribed by men:
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19–21)
Inerrant Word Became Inerrant Flesh
This is why we affirm Biblical inerrancy even today. He, who is the same yesterday and today and forever, revealed himself in history and proved himself to be God. All of Scripture must be an inerrant revelation because he declares it to be so.
To settle for anything less opens the door for a personal interpretation of Jesus’ life and work, which we will always turn into a self-serving, a-historical figure who ‘fits’ into our worldview. We do not have the option to pick and choose what we think makes sense. Despite the appearance of our titles, chapters, and verses, all of Scripture is one complete Word. Any omission or rejection of it throws the baby out with the bathwater.
The concept of biblical inerrancy tends to tie my head into a knot and make me feel like I’m betraying my own reason. If this happens to you too, good. We’ll both be reminded that we are broken and incapable of knowing objective truth on our accord.
Now find peace in the promise Jesus made in Nazareth among his friends and family–who knew him only as a carpenter’s son–which is still true for us today: He alone is the fulfillment of Scripture, and that He has set the oppressed free.