I (Tripp) am working on an exchange of theological research with my friend Derek, teaching English in Korea. Together, we're assigning each other the task of presenting well supported answers to popular theological questions. Answers are constrained by length and time. I present to you my Assignment #1 - Innerrancy.
How would you explain the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy to a new believer with little to no past experience with Christianity?
To be certain, before even beginning to explain the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy, a new Christian must first and foremost understand the proper place that scripture must take in their life from that first step onward. It should first be explained that the Bible is our one ultimate source. It is the primary means by which Almighty God speaks to us today, and by which he has revealed Himself to humanity throughout the course of history. It is the basis for all Christian instruction and study. It is of supreme significance and value. With these truths established, one could then begin to explain the importance of how a Christian should approach the scriptures, how they should perceive its accuracy, and why it is something that they should be able to rely on for truth without variation. This is exactly what is addressed in the doctrine of inerrancy.
The doctrine of inerrancy in the most basic terms is this: “every word… proves true” (see 2 Sam 22:31, Prov 30:5). With this comes the assurance, and thus the confidence, that scripture is without error or contradiction. With this assurance, when a Christian reads the scriptures the questions “Is this true?” or “Did that really happen?” or “Is this a contradiction to this other passage?” are not asked. There is much faith, trust, and humility in accepting this approach to any book. We as humans would typically want for there to be room for us to critique, pick and choose, and debate any written set of instruction and ideas. This in itself is a good practice when approaching any work outside of the Bible. However, concerning the scriptures, a Christian must set these instincts aside, and submit to what it says in faith and humility as a whole and sufficient work from God Himself, that requires no additions, subtractions, or revisions from us.
However, it must be clear that there remains a healthy allowance to ask “How should this be interpreted?” or “What was the intent in this passage?” By no means does the doctrine of inerrancy state that everything within the scriptures is clear, or that it is easily understood, but simply that it is trustworthy in content.
Nonetheless, it should also be noted that there are many clear truths within the Bible of which there can be no doubt (i.e. that Jesus lived without sin, that we are sinful, or that Jesus will return), and we should be able to read it, and walk away knowing such ultimate truths with confidence. We can be certain of the accuracy of the Bible’s portrayal of past occurrences and/or it’s descriptions of current states, and we can have assurance that the promises and prophesies for future events will be fulfilled. This assurance is key and clearly biblical when all scripture is seen as God’s own words (2 Tim 3:16) and one considers that God does not (Titus 1:2) and actually cannot (Heb 6:18) lie.
The dangers of rejecting the idea that the Bible is without error are severe, and new Christians should understand these dangers as they consider how they should approach this matter. Firstly, it must be considered that if they allow room for themselves to accept the possibility of error in some points it would be difficult to determine where they ought to stop in this allowance. Very quickly one could find himself distrusting whole books, doctrines, or accounts of events within the scriptures. This is especially dangerous for new Christians who are approaching the Bible for wisdom and instruction for the first time. How could they expect to glean valuable insight from an “old book” riddled with error and contradiction?
Of course, there are many good articles, lectures, and books dedicated to this matter that explain exactly what is meant by this word “inerrancy” which seems quite difficult to swallow. However, ultimately, I would direct anyone’s attention to the Bible itself on this matter. As previously mentioned, it is the “ultimate source” and the “basis for all Christian instruction”, and as with any other matter in the life of a Christian, the Bible should have some insight as to how we should view this issue. There are a number of verses, some of which I have referenced here, found within both the Old and New Testaments that lead us to believe that Scriptures are truth, and that they should be seen as truth, with no room for error. While on the other hand, interestingly enough, there is not the slightest inkling throughout the whole of Scripture to support the idea that the Bible could have error. This seems like an overly simplistic and obvious statement to basically say that the Bible does not discredit itself, but it is an interesting point to consider for anyone who does read it as their ultimate resource and yet remains uncomfortable with the idea or terms of inerrancy.
Ultimately, the doctrine of inerrancy is important because the Bible itself is of supreme importance, and a Christian is called to place themselves humbly under all that it has to say, and to be faithful to it. This doctrine is something that every new Christian should understand and appreciate about God, and His commitment to leading His followers to greater wisdom and understanding concerning their condition, His ways, His story, and His promises to us.