… an inerrant Bible doesn’t amount to much without inerrant readers who can understand and interpret it inerrantly …
Imagine, for a moment, that very soon the original manuscripts of the Bible will be discovered. They were carefully preserved and sealed in a jar. Using our technology, we managed to copy it exactly, stroke for stroke. Then the world’s best interpreters spend a few years on coming to a consensus on the best possible translation. Not long after that, every single Christian publishing company in the business mass produces the new translation and it sells very well. Does that mean that denominations would reunite and we would enter a new era of Christian understanding? No, not really. Ultimately, even if we could be certain that there are no mistranslated passages, cultural misunderstandings, or questions over what Paul meant with which word, the Bible would still find itself in the hands of people who tend to interpret it differently.
Who are the Christians that you read? The bloggers? The famous authors? Well-known pastors? Do they always have the exact same interpretation on everything? I’m guessing that there are areas where they all differ. Does that make just one of them inerrant and correct? Are all of the rest errant and incorrect? One thing I have had to learn to accept is that just because a point of view is different does not make it incorrect or invalid. That’s true of Scripture as well.
People have interpreted Scripture to be against drinking alcohol and to be for drinking alcohol. People have interpreted Scripture to be against slavery and to be for slavery. This is nothing new, and I think so long as people continue to search, they will find an interpretation that supports what they believe, or their beliefs are supported by the interpretation they happen to find. This complexity is difficult to accept. We want things to be yes or no, right or wrong, good or bad. It’s not easy to choose between yes and no, right and wrong, good and bad.
The Bible may very well be inerrant, but it is in the hands of people that most certainly are not. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Each and every one of us are to have a personal relationship with God. That means that my recovery program will be different from a person who tends to sin in different ways than I do. Were I to follow their regimen, it would be useful, but not as beneficial if I followed a plan crafted for myself. Same goes for them. They won’t get as much out of my plan as I will. Both of us might look at the same passage and see different interpretations and both of us could very easily be correct.
In my newly acquired book, it was pointed out that Americans know the story of the Prodigal Son very well, but when it came time to recall the details of the story, almost every one of them forgot about the famine. People from a country that was no stranger to famine recalled that detail clearly. By virtue of being in a land of plenty, we ignored a vital part of one of Jesus’ parables. We thought that the prodigal, wasteful son had done the equivalent of live it up in Las Vegas, lose it all, and came home because it was better to be a servant in his father’s house than homeless in the desert. They thought that hunger was more of the point and the motivator for his reconciliation.
If there is no unimportant detail in Scripture, then we have to more carefully understand how our upbringing changes how we interpret Scripture. We have to ask: Why is this here? What does that mean? Is there a cultural significance to that? Only once we understand where it is that we go wrong, how we go wrong, can we get closer to less errant reading of the Bible, but inerrancy will always be humanly impossible.