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radical christians & the word of god (part 2 of 3): inerrancy

Sword on a Bible

We believe in the authoritative, inerrant, infallible Word of God – and his name is Jesus.

Welcome back! In this second part of our series on Scripture we’re talking about the idea of biblical inerrancy, why many Anabaptists like myself don’t use the term to describe what we think about the Bible, why that makes some Evangelicals uncomfortable, and why this should be an issue for rich discussion and debate, not division. (If you haven’t read part 1 yet, please start here.)

Radical Reformers (or Anabaptists) tend to talk about Jesus the way Protestant Reformers tend to talk about the Bible: Jesus is our perfect, inerrant, infallible, authority. What Christian would want to argue with that? (Quite a few, apparently, but let’s move on.) Now we’re asking, what do Anabaptists believe about the actual text of Scripture? Here’s the quick answer, and then we’ll slow down and unpack it: Anabaptists believe similar things to many Evangelicals about the Bible, we just tend to use different words and concepts to describe it. You will often hear (or read) me saying things like “Anabaptists tend to say it this way or that way” because our differences are often exactly that – a matter of tendency, of where we put the emphasis in our theology rather than trying to create a different theology. Our default? Jesus is always our emphasis.

But wait! Before you read further, two warnings:
#1. Please know that this post is primarily for theological eggheads and committed Bible nerds. The next post will be more practical, honest.
#2. This post is way too long. Sorry!

So, if you’re a Bible nerd with too much time on your hands, you’ve just struck gold. Enjoy!
Otherwise – see you next time!

MY STORY

In the first post of this series I talked a bit about my experience as a Baptist pastor investigating the Anabaptist tradition. I was asked to consider pastoring a Brethren In Christ church (now called Be In Christ in Canada). Even though part of me was thrilled with what might become my new denominational home, as a transitioning Evangelical I remember being suspicious when I couldn’t find the word “inerrant” in the BIC’s statement of faith. I was beginning to fall in love with this simple family of joyful Jesus followers and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh no! I knew they were too good to be true!” Inerrancy, I had been taught, was the litmus test of orthodoxy. Look for a clear and bold proclamation of the inerrancy of Scripture in any denomination’s statement of faith and you could be more certain that they were a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching orthodox group of Christians – or so I thought. Today I’m so glad I didn’t run away from the issue or suppress my questions, and instead leaned into Scripture and the ongoing conversation around Scripture with my new Radically Reformed friends.

I remember meeting with the Bishop of the Canadian BIC at that time, Darrell Winger, to ask him about this potentially dangerous omission from the BIC statement of faith. “I’m wondering what to make of the absence of inerrancy in your doctrinal statement. Does this mean you believe the Bible is errant?” Darrell’s response was simple: “It just means we don’t think in those terms. Nothing more and nothing less.” Then he added, “But if you hang out with us for any length of time, you’ll see that we believe the Bible is breathed out by God, and as we read it together, God uses the Bible to thoroughly equip us to follow Jesus.” And that has been precisely my experience with Anabaptism.

Some Anabaptists (like the Brethren in Christ / Be In Christ) have no doctrine of the “inerrancy” of Scripture. We are not anti-inerrancy; we simply emphasize the perfection of Christ more than we highlight the perfection of Scripture. Rather, we stick to biblical language like saying all Scripture is “inspired” and “useful” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
~ From sermon notes in our teaching series “Radical Reformation” (You can listen to that series here.)

THE LIMITATIONS OF INERRANCY

Many (though not all) Evangelicals do hold to a doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, and by that they mean that the original copies of the Old Testament and New Testament texts were so inspired by the Holy Spirit that they are without error in everything they affirm. (Note: we don’t have the originals any more, but we do have enough early copies that we can get very close to what the original manuscripts said.) These Christians believe that the Holy Spirit did not allow any human error to creep into the process of recording the original handwritten biblical texts (what are called “the original autographs”). So technically, the idea of inerrancy does not apply directly to any existing Bibles today. All Christians agree (perhaps with the exception of the KJV only tribe, but that’s another issue), the Bible you hold in your hand or read online is not inerrant. It was not copied from the original manuscripts inerrantly, it was not translated inerrantly, and while we’re at it, you the reader are not understanding it inerranty. Yet God still speaks. His gospel is still proclaimed and the Holy Spirit still illuminates our understanding and application as we study it together. The process is imperfect, but it is a process God works through powerfully. We, the recipients of Scripture, do not live the teachings of Jesus out inerrantly, but we are introduced to Jesus who lived inerrantly and died sacrificially and rose triumphantly and is still passionately involved in our lives today by the Holy Spirit.

In brief, then, it would be more accurate for those Christians who embrace biblical inerrancy to adjust their grammar to say that Scripture was, not is, inerrant in the original copies. Or maybe there is a better way of talking about the Bible altogether. (Hint: that’s where we’re going here folks.)

Many Protestants – from C.S. Lewis to Ben Witherington III to N.T. Wright (to name a few) – align with Anabaptists in pointing out the inadequacies of inerrancy as a Christian doctrine, for a variety of reasons.

I don’t call myself an “inerrantist” because
(a) that word means what it means within a modernist rationalism, which I reject and
(b) because it seems to me to have failed in delivering a full-blooded reading and living of what the Bible actually says.
~ N.T. Wright, Anglican Scholar

As a segment of Anabaptist and Evangelical scholars have always pointed out, inerrancy also puts our focus on the negative, by emphasizing what what Bible is not – errant.

The terms inerrant and infallible are modern ways of attempting to make clear that the Bible tells the truth about whatever it intends to teach us about. I much prefer the positive terms truthful and trustworthy. When you start defining something negatively (saying what it is not) then you often die the death of a thousand qualifications, not to mention you have to define what constitutes an error. I am happy to say that the Bible has three main subjects– history, theology, and ethics, and that it tells us the truth about all three.
~ Ben Witherington III, Interview with Michael F. Bird

The late Luke Keefer, an influential BIC scholar, reminds us that committed Christ-followers should not need the added assurance.

Terms like “inerrant” and “infallible” are negative terms. They declare what the Bible is not – that it contains no errors and is not capable of being at fault. There is an assumption that the Bible must be defended against certain attacks upon it. But certainly it needs no such defense against people who believe that it is the only complete, reliable, true, and authoritative Word of God.
~ Luke Keefer, Jr., “Inerrancy” and the Brethren In Christ View of Scripture

And if inerrancy is an unnecessary assurance for committed Christ-followers, it can become a distracting claim for non-Christians. When I am sharing the gospel with someone and I claim to know about Jesus because the Bible is inerrant, I end up shifting the weight of the conversation from a Person to a book. I have, in a sense, dared my conversation partner to find fault with the Bible, as though my faith stands or falls on the perfection of the text. (When in reality, even this claim of inerrancy is about a version of the text that doesn’t exist any more.) The whole enterprise of evangelism – gospel sharing – can be thrown “off centre” (which is Jesus!) and, as Ben Witherington III points out, the claim itself can die the death of a thousand qualifications. “No error? At all? Then what about…?” and off we go, talking about something interesting, but not central.

Ironically, our Buddhist friends get this better than many Christians. When Buddhists talk about their beliefs, they focus on sharing the teachings of the Buddha rather than arguing for the perfection of the Pali Canon, their earliest Scriptures. As someone who cares about evangelism, I want to do my best to keep the conversation moving toward the good news about Jesus even more than the good news about the Bible. Arguments about inerrancy do not help me help others focus on Jesus.

Another inadequacy with an emphasis on inerrancy is that it can tend to lead to word legalism. After all, if every word of Scripture is individually important, should we not honour God by staring into each word on its own? Word studies can be very helpful, but if we lean too far in that direction, our Bible study can miss the forest for the trees.

Sometimes we do see cases of the New Testament writers emphasizing a single word of Scripture to make their point. In Galatians 3:16, for example, the apostle Paul highlights the word “seed” in Genesis 22:18 as part of his argument. Inerrantists might argue, if Paul based an entire argument on the numerical value of the noun (seed vs seeds), then every word of the Bible must be personally and perfectly picked by God. Perhaps. But I would argue that here Paul is not building his theology around a single word (his approach to Scripture is much more robust), but is using this single word to illustrate the point he is already making. Elsewhere we see that the New Testament writers tend to quote the Old Testament more thought-for-thought than word-for-word, often following closer to the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) rather than the original Hebrew words of Scripture.  These New Testament writers chose not to quote the actual words of the Hebrew text, yet they show no signs that they fear they might be watering down the power of the message itself.

Jesus himself follows this same pattern of interacting with the Hebrew Bible. In Mark 12, Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment in the Law. This is a question about Scripture itself, so you would think accuracy would be a priority in answering. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 when he answers:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
~ Jesus (Mark 12:30)

Only here’s the thing: there is no “and with all your mind” in Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus has inserted it because it helps to emphasize the point of this passage. He is focusing more on the message of Scripture than the individual words of Scripture. And his earliest disciples followed his example.

The four canonical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were written in Greek, probably because Greek was the lingua franca of their day – the common language that would help their message spread furthest and fastest. Many people in the first century were bi-lingual, speaking their original tongue plus Greek, which is similar to how English is spoken around the world today. Jews spoke Aramaic (a language related to Hebrew), and Romans spoke Latin, but they could both communicate with each other through Greek. Now, did you catch that – Jews spoke Aramaic. Jesus spoke Aramaic. His teachings, among his fellow Jews, were in Aramaic. But the gospel writers wrote them down in Greek. Apparently, the writers of the four gospels who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to preserve the very teaching of Jesus didn’t feel the need to capture his exact words. Instead, the first written record of Jesus’ teaching is already a translation. The New Testament writers felt the radical freedom to make a practical, pragmatic, strategic decision – promote the word (or message) of Jesus rather than preserve the precise words of Jesus. There are so many missional lessons in this for us today, but I’ll have to save that for another time. For now we need to move on.

WHY INERRANCY BECAME IMPORTANT FOR SOME CHRISTIANS

So, if the idea of inerrancy only applies to the original manuscripts which we no longer have, and if Church history gives us ample evidence of error (minor, but present) in the transmission process throughout the past two thousand years, and if the process of translation is imperfect, not to mention our imperfect understanding as receivers of the message, and if Jesus and his disciples do not seem to prioritize the precise words of Scripture over the message and meaning of Scripture, then why are many Evangelicals so very much concerned that all committed Christians use the word “inerrant” to describe our contemporary Bibles? Why has “inerrancy” become the litmus test of orthodoxy for many contemporary Christians?

In the early twentieth century, conservative Christians became increasingly concerned about the slow creep of liberal Christianity, which they believed didn’t take the truth of the Bible seriously enough. Increasing numbers of liberal leaning Christians were tending to dismiss the parts they didn’t like in favour of the bits they did like, rather than see every bit of the Bible as “inspired and useful”. In 1978 a group of Christian leaders gathered together in Chicago to form a statement about biblical inerrancy. They called it “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inarrancy” (creative bunch!). They wanted to plant a flag, a clear statement of what Evangelicals believed (or at least should believe) about the Bible. Now “inerrancy” would increasingly become a clear identity marker, a code word for Christians who wanted to distinguish themselves from religious liberalism. Inerrancy became short-form for saying, “I take my Christian faith seriously!”

Two things worth noting:

#1. This was more of a North American rather than global phenomenon. British Christians, for instance, tend not to make as big a deal over inerrancy.

#2. More importantly for this article, note that most Anabaptists were not invited to this table. For the most part, we were not aware nor involved in this debate. We were not the liberals being reacted against, nor were we the conservatives fighting back against liberalism. The result is that Anabaptists have maintained a different language surrounding how we talk about the Bible which parallels neither liberal nor conservative Protestant Christianity.

THE ANABAPTIST APPROACH

Let me point out that Anabaptism, like Protestantism. is not a monolith. There are various strains of Anabaptists who have been influence by various other Christian groups since the birth of the Radical Reformation in the 16th century. This includes some Anabaptists who have been and continue to be influenced by Calvinism and are more classically Reformed in their approach to theology and church polity. But for the most part, Radical Reformation Christians practice a relentlessly Jesus-centred approach to everything they do, including how they read Scripture.

Anabaptists were already convinced that the Bible was trustworthy and reliable, so did not feel a doctrine of inerrancy was needed to undergird it.
~ Darrell Winger, former BIC Bishop

Anabaptists tend to stick to more biblical language to describe our understanding of the Bible. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The entire Bible is breathed out by God, or “inspired”, and because of this it is also “useful” to equip God’s people “thoroughly” for living like Jesus. These are the three points Anabaptists rally around regarding the Bible:

  1. The Bible comes from God.
  2. Therefore we should use it.
  3. The result will be that we are thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Our emphasis is less on the details of doctrines about the Bible and more on using the Bible as a gift from God for our guidance – especially as a guide to see Jesus most clearly. Our emphasis is more on transformation than information. Anabaptists are exceedingly practical, and our approach to Scripture is a perfect example of this.

The reason for this practical approach to the Bible is born out of both theological conviction and historical circumstance. For centuries, while Protestants were establishing seminaries and other schools of higher learning to debate theological details, Anabaptists were on the run, trying to avoid the persecution coming from their Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters. While the Protestant Reformers were writing systematic theology text books, the Radical Reformers were meeting in secret, hiding in caves or barns, trying to evade arrest. Early Anabaptist leaders who were theologically educated in Protestant seminaries were killed for arriving at “heresies” like believers’ baptism and their conviction regarding the separation of Church and State, which led to their refusal to fight against any State on behalf of any State. Subsequent generations of Anabaptists just didn’t have the freedom or ability to spend time involved in heady theological discussions which had become common place for Protestants. Also, Anabaptists observed that those Christians who did invest a lot of time, money, and energy in advanced theological education were also habitually missing the simple peace teaching of Jesus. Often the most educated and theologically precise Christian leaders still advocated for brutal violence against anyone who disagreed with them in significant ways.

All of this served to reinforce the Anabaptist idea that Scripture should be primarily used to lead us to Jesus our Lord, otherwise the Bible could be used to justify horrific acts of violence. Even when Anabaptists made it to North America and found relief from generations of persecution, they were never inclined to use the Bible as an academic textbook, but as a gift from God to help them keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. Today, when it comes to Christian higher education and systematic theology, Radical Reformers have a lot of catching up to do with our Protestant Reformation brothers and sisters.

As we covered in the previous post, today when many Evangelicals find out that Anabaptists don’t tend to use the word “inerrant” to refer to Scripture, they may assume we must be theological liberals (where “liberal” is one of the worst things you can say about a fellow Christian). In their minds, there are only two camps: 1) theological conservatives who uphold the inerrancy of Scripture, and 2) theological liberals who demean Christian Scripture in order to import progressive (i.e., worldly) ideas into the Christian faith apart from biblical support. For many Protestants, it never occurs to them that there might be a third option: a group of deeply committed Christians who hold the Bible in very high regard as God’s inspired gift to the Church, but who also hold Jesus in even higher regard than Scripture and who use their language intentionally to reflects this.

Notice: in religious debates like this one, the majority usually sets the rules of engagement. So when it comes to discussions about the Bible, if Anabaptists want to be understood by other Christians, we have to become theologically bi-lingual. We don’t talk about biblical “inerrancy”, positively or negatively. It isn’t our language. But this IS the language of the Evangelical world around us that we want to have healthy fellowship with. So let me try to unpack my best attempt to describe what is an Anabaptist approach to the doctrine of inerrancy.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states that the Bible is “to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms” and adds that “Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching.” Radical Christians can say “amen” to this. What the Bible affirms, what it means to teach, it does so perfectly. As the Statement of Faith for Tyndale Seminary, a local Evangelical seminary where I sometimes teach, says, the Bible is “the authoritative written Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, inerrant in all that it teaches” – a statement I have been happy to align with. It isn’t my primary language as an Anabaptist, but neither do I object to the idea. For Anabaptists, we are less concerned about the language of inerrancy as we are about using the Bible, Old and New Testaments, to help us see Jesus clearly and follow him faithfully.

I believe God meticulously compiled scripture as an inspired, authoritative guide to conform us to the image of Christ when read prayerfully in community.
~ Randal Rauser (randalrauser.com)

Alright, enough theory. Let’s look at some examples to better understand the differences between how Evangelicals and Anabaptists might approach this topic.

EXAMPLE #1: PAUL FORGETTING

I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)
(1 Corinthians 1:15-16)

Evangelical Commentary: Here God sovereignly inspires his inerrant Word so as to show us how God uses imperfect people to carry out his perfect plan.

Anabaptist Commentary: Here God’s inspired text shows us Paul’s faulty memory. This helps us know that God uses imperfect people to carry out his perfect plan.

EXAMPLE #2: MATTHEW & MARK MISLABELING

Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 
“They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
(Matthew 27:9-10)

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
(Mark 1:2-3)

[Note: Matthew claims to quote Jeremiah, but this quote doesn’t appear anywhere in Jeremiah. Rather it seems to be a combination of a passage in Jeremiah and one in Zachariah. Mark claims to quote Isaiah, but actually quotes Malachi, then goes on to quote Isaiah after Malachi.]

Evangelical Commentary: God’s inerrant Word is revealed through the social convention of its day, and in that day it was common practice to combine quotations and label the combined quote with only the primary prophet’s name. So this is an example of inerrancy, yet within a first-century standard. (That, or a number of other explanations as to why these are not examples of mistakes.)

Anabaptist Commentary: Here Matthew combines Scriptures because he felt the freedom to promote the meaning and message of God’s Word rather than be bound by the precise words of one passage. And Mark makes a simple and understandable mistake. Mark knew he was going to eventually quote Isaiah and forgot to credit Malachi along the way. Big deal. Happens to all of us. We can again see how God’s inspired written revelation bears the evidence of God working precisely through the imprecise styles of human authors in such a way that the main point of the text remains clear and intact.

EXAMPLE #3: PAUL’S SLANDER

One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith.
(Titus 1:12-13)

Evangelical Commentary: Paul is teaching Titus a general truth about people who are lazy and how to respond to them by using a popular quote of his day. And in one theological sense, this quote is true. Apart from Christ, all people are unregenerate and totally depraved, bound over to sin and unable to please God. We are all, in this sense, liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons. The fact Paul points this out in one nationality of people without mentioning how it is also true of all other people is inconsequential.

Anabaptist Commentary: God is teaching us all something perfect through Paul’s far from perfect advice. As Paul says elsewhere, all Scripture is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), and this passage is no exception. Paul’s morally problematic slip has been providentially included as part of the process by which God teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us. (In his book What’s So Confusing About Grace?, Randal Rauser makes this same point with respect to what are known as “the imprecatory psalms” – those psalms that vent anger and pray for calamity and pronounce curses on enemies.) God is showing us a picture of his own strength and the writer’s weakness in the same verses. So, while we should rebuke laziness and lying, we should not get caught up in culturally popular racist judgments about particular groups of people being lazy liars without exception. Paul is also caught up in a logical paradox: he quotes and affirms the truth a Cretan poet (Epimenides) who say that Cretans are ALWAYS liars. If Cretans are ALWAYS liars, then the Cretan statement that Cretans are always liars is itself a lie. But Paul not only quotes this Cretan, he says this statement is true. Perhaps Paul is being intentionally cheeky. Perhaps he is having a bad day. Either way, God is showing us through this inspired text that God uses imperfect leaders to point to his perfect gospel: a gospel that opens the doors to a new world where, as Paul tells us elsewhere:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
(Galatians 3:28)

WRAPPING UP

As an Anabaptist, I care less about converting a fellow Christian away from the doctrine of inerrancy than I care about all Christians holding up Christ as the centre of Scripture and Lord of our lives. If that’s where you’re at – Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox or Anabaptist – then Jesus makes us family. Whether you end up sounding more like an Evangelical or an Anabaptist, either way, neither approach is officially “orthodox” and the other “heretical”. They are different ways that different groups of God-honouring, Bible-loving, Jesus-following Christians talk about the Bible.

It’s true, the Protestants used to burn the Radicals for being heretics and false teachers, and the Radicals assumed Protestants must be wolves in sheep’s clothing for departing so far from the nonviolent, enemy-loving, peace-making way of Jesus. Today I hope that both groups have matured, in faith, in love, and in a wholehearted willingness to fight for unity, despite our disagreements. In the end, if the cross of Christ is powerful enough to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one new body of believers (Ephesians 2:14-16), surely it can bring together Evangelicals and Anabaptists as family on mission together.

Anabaptists and Evangelicals (and other Christians) may disagree about how we talk about the Bible, but if we listen closely to each other, look past the rhetoric, and try not to kill each other, we’ll see brothers and sisters with a similar heart to honour God’s Word.

Peace,

 

NEXT POST – READ PART 3…
Radical Christians & the Word of God (part 3 of 3): Application

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Tags : BibleEvangelicalinerrancyInerrantJesusProtestantRadicalReformationScriptureWord of God

18 Comments

  1. The quick summary …we are less concerned about the language of inerrancy as we are about using the Bible, Old and New Testaments, to help us see Jesus clearly and follow him faithfully.

    Seems pretty straight forward, but is sure to keep things stirred up!

  2. Another very helpful blog. It’s all so beautifully simple, liberating and unifying – the Message about the infallible, inspired, inspiring and transforming Word of God – Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Looking forward to Part 3! Thank you, Bruxy.

  3. Hey Bruxy. As always, excellent. Interesting that you used the phrase “miss the forest for the trees”. While seeking the Lord about the bible and its proper place… (which has been a long journey), he put this phrase in my heart and mind, “we miss the story for the words.”

    Thanks brother.

  4. Hey Bruxy,

    thanks for these posts. I think the emphasis you place on following Jesus is very refreshing, and I too, sometimes don’t understand the way some of our brothers and sisters seem to regard the Bible, almost as if it’s more important than Jesus.

    That said, I have a question about the way you interpret Paul quoting Epimenides, and where that may lead us. You say that Paul is being less than charitable about Cretans[1][2]. What criteria do you use to determine whether something Paul is saying is coming from his nature as a fallible human being or from divine inspiration?

    To give an example, when Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that men that have sex with men won’t see the kingdom of God (and I’m bringing this up simply because, as you know, it’s a hot topic nowadays) how do we determine if that is coming from his (possibly homophobic) nature, or from divine inspiration?

    Please know that I’m not trying to stump you. I’m asking simply because I would like to understand how we can know that we aren’t simply superimposing our own understanding of morality on the Bible, and calling that “following Jesus.”

    Thanks.

    [1] See https://tyndalephilosophy.com/2017/04/12/are-epimenides-and-paul-in-error/ for an alternative reading of that text, even though I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion–it could simply be the case that Cretans were especially prone to lie, just like we Portuguese (my nationality) have a collective tendency to cut corners (i.e., be lazy) when working (we even have a word for it. We call it “desenrascar”).
    [2] There is a whole series examining some of your views of the Bible and inerrancy here, in case you’ve never seen it: https://tyndalephilosophy.com/2018/03/19/bruxy-on-inerrancy/ (perhaps you’ll want to interact with it).

    1. Thank you for making me aware of this David. Very interesting.

      As for criteria of assessing Paul’s judgement of Cretans in Titus 1:12-13, I think regardless of a Christian’s view on inerrancy, this passage presents a challenge. No camp presents the easy solution – except perhaps both extremes of a non-believing camp who has no trouble writing off scripture as a purely human product on the one hand, or a hyper conservative camp on the other hand who simply affirm what Paul says here and leaves it at that (hey, I don’t know any Cretans, so it doesn’t bother me). For most of us, something inside us would simply not allow ourselves to copy Paul’s example here as it is presented. Picture a contemporary conversation between pastors that followed this pattern, and something about it seems unacceptable.

      BOB: Hey Pastor Bill, I’m having some real challenges with some unmotivated and sometimes untruthful congregants.
      BILL: I think I know who you’re talking about BOB, and you need to remember that they are _______ (fill in the blank with any race/nationality) – and all of those people are like that without exception. Even some of their own people will tell you that. So whenever someone from that race/nationality comes into your church, you’ll have to be extra hard on them if you want them to grow.

      I think because we are informed by the unifying project of the cross of Christ as detailed in Scripture (e.g., John 10:16; Ephesians 2:14-16; etc) and the current unifying ministry of the Holy Spirit within and among us knitting us together as one body, we would not see Paul’s example here as something we can copy and paste into our lives as is. We all know this based on the wider counsel of Scripture, we just differ on how to explain this one passage.

      As is often the case when something we read in the Bible seems to need more light shed on it, I would suggest informing Scripture with Scripture and turning elsewhere to see what the New Covenant approach is to identifying and separating and relating to people according to race/nationality. On this matter, even Paul himself has lots to say which seems to correct his approach to Cretans in this one instance. So, taken as a whole then, the Bible points us toward the truth, both through positive teaching and negative examples, all useful for our learning.

      On the topic of 1 Corinthians 6:9, again I would suggest the same approach of informing Scripture with Scripture. Personally, my starting place on the topic of many issues that touch on marriage and sexuality is Matthew 19, where Jesus points his conversation partners back to God’s original plan in Genesis and also talks about the value of being a “eunuch for the kingdom”.

      As the Church sorts herself out on this and other issues, we will do it all imperfectly, and therefore I would hope with humility and charity. We can we trust the Holy Spirit is helping us to see Scripture with increasing clarity, praying that in all our study, discussion, debate, and discipleship, we will be growing in the fruit of the Spirit.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Bruxy, I appreciate it.

        I think I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure if I can follow you there… It seems to me that if we regard condemnation of a group based on collective attributes, then we’d have to include Jesus (or at least it seems to me Jesus doesn’t bother much to make a distinction between good Pharisees and bad Pharisees when he rebukes them). I do think making inaccurate generalizations, especially when they’re meant to condemn, is wrong, and I can see how even accurate generalizations, even if made in the right spirit, will still be culturally insensitive, so I don’t think much good will come out of making them. 🙂

        In any case, I just wanted to say that I appreciate your effort in laying out your thoughts. You’re probably taking a lot of flack for it from more conservative circles, including accusations of being a false teacher (I’ve seen at least one).

        Not that you should care what I think, of course, and only God knows our hearts truly, but do I think you’re a brother in Christ. I appreciate how you encourage people to live their faith (not limit themselves to knowing the right things), and I especially appreciate how you give the example of living below your means so you can give more to Christ’s kingdom. That, to me, is a wonderful example of “show[ing] your faith by your works”.

        God bless you, and may we all know the Father and the Son more fully, through the Holy Spirit.

  5. What a gracious reply Bruxy. I’m so glad we are family. Every family has its own “crazy Uncle Bob” who goes overboard at family functions. But we love him anyway.

  6. I don’t think anyone would ever accuse C.S. Lewis of being a liberal, but he certainly did not affirm inerrancy. I put together three passages from his letters on my blog a while back (see https://tachesterton.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/c-s-lewis-on-the-bible-2/). There’s also a very good chapter on the subject in his book ‘Reflections on the Psalms’.

    Most of us Anglicans would not be in the inerrancy camp, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love the Bible. I suspect that most of us would be nodding our heads at what Lewis says in these passages.

  7. Hello Bruxy,
    I’ve been attending The Meeting House for awhile now, so the main point of this post is not new to me, though having it fleshed out like this is fascinating. I did, however, notice the sentence “All Christians agree, the Bible you hold in your hand or read online is not, technically, inerrant”, and it stood out to me. Right around when you were preaching touy series on the Radical Reformation, I was talking to a fellow Christian who was trying to convert me to his church, and he truly believed that the Bible he had, a specific translation, was the inerrant Word of God, and he wasn’t alone. Apparently there is a group of Christians that believe that a specific version of the King James is inerrant and perfect in every way. It was very hard to have a conversation, because the basic assumptions we each had were so very different.

  8. Thanks Bruxy for your detailed and thorough review of Bible inerrancy. I realize that for a number of years this was a doctrine I learned about and yet I always felt rather uncomfortable with it.

    For example, if the Bible is inerrant and we need to follow it to the letter, why don’t all the women in my church wear head coverings? And are the guys with long hair (including me at times – how long is long anyway?) somehow straying from the straight and narrow? Present company excluded, Bruxy! And sad to say, Jesus’ comments to the Syrophoenician woman seem rather uncharitable and unlikely to be considered best practice in cross-cultural interactions in our modern seminaries.

    All these and other examples to some extent or another mean we need to read the scriptures in the context of when they were written. Some truths are unchangeable – like Jesus is Lord, He is risen, we are all one in Christ Jesus (even though sometimes we live as though Jesus is bifurcated into ‘us’ and ‘them’ Christians).

    Please keep up the good work of pointing us to Jesus, and seeking to unite us around the One who was, and is, and is to come, and whose favorite go-to comfort word is Peace.

  9. Hi Bruxy,

    Thank you for these last two posts. I am a member of a Restoration Movement church where I often find myself at theological odds with my fellow brothers and sisters. I have appreciated the gracious way you have articulated difference without judgement.

    Re: this statement: “As an Anabaptist, I care less about converting a fellow Christian away from the doctrine of inerrancy than I care about all Christians holding up Christ as the centre of Scripture and Lord of our lives,” not much conversion was necessary for me to agree with everything you’ve said so far. I also very much appreciate the spirit of humility here. It’s not about being doctrinally “right,” but coming under the sovereignty of the Word made flesh and sharing his love with others.

    Thank you for giving us a great example of that very thing.

  10. Hi Bruxy,

    Your article greatly enriches our understanding of the history of our church, further enhances our collective expression of awe and gratitude to Jesus Christ, and honours the insight and courage which Anabaptists demonstrated in their unwavering affirmation that Jesus holds all authority. You wrote your post with great sensitivity to the views held by other Christians—it conveys respect and appreciation for their views as well.

    Thank you,

    Marian

  11. Thank you. Again, you have put into words what I am trying to explain to others about how I feel about the Bible.

  12. A note on inerrancy in church history. This is from Augustine, a letter he sent to Jerome, 405 AD (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102082.htm), chapter 3 “For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error”.

    Aquinas, 13th century, P.1, Q.1, A.10 (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1001.htm#article10) “Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ.”

    Martin Luther, (16th century) in a sermon on the first Sunday after Epiphany. “Natural reason produces error and heresy; faith teaches and maintains the truth; for it clings to the Scriptures, which do not deceive or lie.”

    Calvin “We may perceive how necessary was such written proof of the heavenly doctrine, that it should neither perish through forgetfulness nor vanish through error nor be corrupted by the audacity of men. . . . For errors can never be uprooted from human hearts until true knowledge of God is planted therein.”

    From just this list, it could be argued that the church has historically affirmed a basic view of inerrancy, that the bible is completely dependable and free of error. It may not be as specific as the Chicago Statement but the general idea of inerrancy is not a recent development.

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