All posts in “Biblical Inerrancy”

“The Bible is not Sinless” – Karl Barth (Barth in Conversation)

Biblical inerrancy—the belief that Scripture is completely without error—has become a central belief of evangelicalism. I am a member of several Facebook groups, including those in the Calvinist/Reformed perspective, and I have seen time and time again when a theologian or a preacher is dismissed solely because they have a “weak view of scripture”—meaning they do not profess inerrancy. In some cases, denying Biblical inerrancy is grounds for applying that dreadfully overused term, “heretic.” It is also why so many reformed Christians resist picking up a book by my favorite theologian, Karl Barth.

The issue of Karl Barth and inerrancy is a subject I discussed briefly in my book, Karl Barth in Plain EnglishThere my purpose was to show that Barth did not profess inerrancy, that, for Barth, the Bible is “vulnerable to errors,” and ultimately that his reasons for this are worth considering. Barth offers a carefully thought-out alternative to the rigidly dogmatic way so many have professed inerrancy: he at once highly-regards the Bible as normative for all theology, yet he does not have to deem it perfect to do so.

His reasons are clear: the Bible is not the Son of God. It is a human book. As a human book, it is vulnerable to the errors of human, historical limitations. It is not a divine oracle sent down from heaven. However, it bears witness to the Word of God, and it is thus an indirect form of the Word by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Bible points beyond itself to the Word of God; it does not contain within itself the Word. The Word of God is not bound to a book, yet this human book becomes God’s Word in its witness. We depend on the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, not on the “perfection” of a book.

Continuing a blog-series about the new volume, Barth in ConversationI wanted to share an answer Barth gave to the question of Biblical inerrancy. It provides us with insight into how Barth considered the Bible to be at once authoritative in its witness to God’s Word and yet limited as a human book.

Here is the question Barth was asked:

In this connection how does Dr. Barth harmonize his appeal to Scripture, as the objective Word of God, with his admission that Scripture is, indeed, sullied by errors, theological as well as historical or factual? (CD I/2: 507-12)

Barth responds:

The Bible has proved and will prove itself to be a true and fitting instrument to point man to God and his work and his words, to God who alone is infallible. Since the Bible is a human instrument and document, bound and conditioned by the temporal views of nature, of history, of ideas, of values, it to that extent is not sinless, like Jesus Christ himself, and thus not infallible, like God. No wonder that seen from the perspective of the worldviews and the concepts of other ages; the question may arise whether we have to conclude that the Bible is not solid. I should never say such a thing, but would admit rather the occurence of certain, let us say, tensions, contradictions, and maybe if you prefer, “errors,” in its time-bound human statements. 1

There are two significant moves Barth makes here that will be important for those wanting to consider the issue of inerrancy for themselves. The first is to recognize that the Bible is an instrument; it serves a particular end. That means it is not in itself such an end. The Bible’s role is to point human beings towards the Word of God, and Barth makes an important point when he says that the Bible has proven itself worthy of this purpose. It is a “true and fitting” instrument. Therefore, it is reliable and trustworthy in its particular purpose.

But we should not make it into something it is not. The second move, therefore, is that the Bible is not the second incarnation of the Word. Surprisingly, however, I have heard it argued from inerrantist that in the Bible the Word of God “inscripturated” itself. That is nonsense. The Bible is not God-on-paper in the same way we confess that Jesus was God-in-flesh. The Bible, therefore, cannot be deemed sinless and infallible in the same way that Christ was sinless. Even if we attempt to claim that it is “perfect,” it cannot be in the same way that God is perfect. Might it be “perfect” in the sense that it is a “true and fitting” instrument to witness to God’s Word? Yes! But it is not free from errors because of its historical limitations. It remains a human book, despite being ordained by God for special use.

Barth’s doctrine of Scripture is worth examining more closely if you have concerns about the issue of Biblical inerrancy. You can read his full treatment of the Bible in Church Dogmatics I/2 but can also find helpful material in Evangelical Theology: An IntroductionBarth’s approach is a useful way forward between the form-critics of liberalism and the inerrantists of fundamentalism. Here we affirm with Barth that the Bible is reliable, true, and faithful in its witness to the Word of God, and thus it is normative in the Church and for theology. However, we confess that it is also a time-bound book, a book limited by human history. It is not sinless, therefore, but it is a suitable instrument.

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Notes:

  1. Barth in ConversationKindle Loc. 4382-4391

Is the Bible Perfect? (It Doesn’t Really Matter)

Bible perfectIn 1978 the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was published in reaction to biblical liberalism. It states that, “scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching…” 1

Biblical inerrancy has caused much debate, and there are many opposing and supporting arguments for and against its validity. Some say that the bible is perfect in every way, while others say it is inspired but fallible. It is in many ways considered “evangelical suicide” to disagree with Biblical Inerrancy.

Here, I have no interest in commenting on whether or not I believe in inerrancy. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters.

Let’s say the bible truly is perfect. So what? It’s not like you could read it perfectly.

If we could read the bible perfectly, then why do so many highly-educated people disagree over what it means? Why do so many PhD level scholars disagree so completely on things that should be obvious in a “perfect” bible?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether or not the bible is perfect. We cannot read the bible perfectly. If church history has taught us anything, it has certainly taught us this.

Karl Barth made an interesting statement that’s fitting here. In response to the Biblicalism he wrote this:

The Bible was now grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the holy Ghost. It became a “paper Pope,” and unlike the living Pope in Rome it was wholly given up into the hands of its interpreters. It was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power. 2

Barth hits the nail on its head here in calling the protestant bible a “paper pope.” It has all to often become “an instrument of human power.” Here Barth says with such brilliance what I have felt for some time now about the way we approach the bible.

Manipulation?

old_testament_lawThe bible may be perfect, and if it is, who’s job is it to interpret it? In other words, who is in charge of telling us what this perfect bible means?

If we see that there is a difference between “my interpretation” and “bible perfection” then I think we’re okay. However, we often fail in seeing this. We say things like “well, the bible is pretty clear!” But is it, really?

Here’s an easy formula for manipulation. “The bible is perfect + my interpretation of the bible is perfect = what I say, God says. Disagree with me, you disagree with God.”

There is a very thin line here with incredibly dangerous ramifications. If “my interpretation” is equal to “God’s truth”, then I can manipulate, molest, and control anyone who will listen to me in the name of “just preaching the bible.”

No one “just teaches the bible.” Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. We teach “our interpretation” of the bible. To confuse interpretation for truth is to gravely error.

One look at history and you’ll see the danger in this. Christians used the bible to promote racism and slavery in America. Hitler used the bible to justify murder, war, and all the horrors of the holocaust.

Biblical inerrancy may be correct, or it may not be, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. No one is infallible. We all have subjective opinions; we rarely ever think objectively.

So let’s just be honest with ourselves. We are all learning and growing in God. None of us have arrived at “perfect theology.”

Therefore, be willing to listen to other perspectives, and be humble in sharing your own. Have conversations, not debates. Let’s not get dogmatic here! Be willing to learn from others, to explore different ideas, and to challenge what you believe.

Learn. Grow. Explore.

Now I’d love to hear what you think. Leave me a comment below!

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A great quote on the bible can be found here.