You may have wondered, “Is everything I read in the Bible literally true? Is it totally accurate?” Those are actually two different questions, but they sound alike. But here is the core problem: if the Bible is only partially true, how do we know which portions to believe? We have a real problem if we have to pick and chose which portions to accept and which to consider as someone’s opinion or cultural understanding.
The Bible claims to be inspired, or “God-breathed”. It claims to be written under the supervision of the Holy Spirit, but the writers’ personalities and cultures has a part to play. After all, the writers were people too!
As I write this blog, I am attempting to be true to everything I know about Scripture, and I refer back to it to check myself. Also, I pray that God would guide me to properly convey what He wants me to write. Yet, I write in my own style and with my own quirks. So long as I still convey truth, that is OK. With Scripture, the claim is that truth was preserved throughout. In a few places, the writer will state that something is opinion. Paul does this in a few places, recognizing that God is not necessarily speaking through him (example: 1 Cor 7:12). Usually, though, the writer is claiming to be speaking for God, or accurately reporting historical events.
First, is the Bible literally true? Some of Scripture is actually “literature”. Symbols are used, or allegory. The literature is true, but the symbolism has to be taken as such, or the text may not even make sense. The phrase, “the sun rises and the sun sets” was once taken as the literal description of what happens to the sun and the earth each day. We later realized this could not possibly be literal, and realized that it was poetic instead. The argument over when something in Scripture is literal or symbolic is ongoing in some cases, but in many we can get clues from the text as to what is intended. R.C. Sprohl has done a lot of work in this area.
As to accuracy: that is very important, because we consider Scripture as an authority, not something to be picked apart to our own preferences. Once the U.S. Supreme Court justices were considering the topic of International Law versus the Constitution. Some argued that the Constitution should yield to International Law; after all, why should we consider ourselves better than the rest of the world? But one conservative justice argued, “which portions of International Law do we pick, and which do we ignore?” Some countries accept abortion on demand, and some outlaw it. So which do we choose? The problem was that of absolute standards. International Law is not pinned down, but changes as governments change their minds. The Constitution is supposedly pinned down, but as we’ve seen in modern times, even that is considered shifting and variable according to majority opinion. So we find our nation wandering, calling things “unconstitutional” when it wants something interpreted in a different way because opinions have changed. Did we just see that played out recently?
If we do that with Scripture, we get into trouble quickly. We take things out of context and try to mold them to the way we wish things were. But that only hurts us: Scripture should be our guidebook, rather than our plaything. God is far above us in His knowledge, power, and perfection, and to put our understanding above His only hurts us and leaves us wandering. Knowing that doesn’t prove Scripture to be true, of course, but it explains why the stakes are so high. We either have absolutes that will guide us, or we have just ourselves because we’ve neutralized God by our constant re-interpretations. And of course we will re-interpret in different ways with different results (you’ve certainly seen this — someone has an “agenda”, and pulls verses out of content to prove that agenda), all the while claiming we have Biblical authority on our side!
So Scripture inerrancy is vital. If it is not our standard and our guidebook, then we are the ones molding it instead. How useful is that? Without inerrancy, we really don’t have much except some nice wisdom literature. But if it is inerrant, while we may have issues and disagreements with interpretation, we have something that we can rely upon. And ultimately, that means we can rely upon it for our salvation and wonderful afterlife, secure in the assurance of an afterlife that is truly much better than the one we have lived here.