What does it mean to say that the Bible is without error? For a number of people, the answer is a no-brainer: either the Bible has errors (skeptics) or it does not (Bible-believer). But is it really that simple?
Back in the 1970s, a group of evangelical scholars got together and drafted The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It was an attempt by the best conservative evangelical minds at the time to articulate an understanding of the authority of Scripture that was faithful and consistent with what the Scriptures actually teach. The framers remarkably were able to come together with a unified understanding of what inerrancy means with respect to the Bible. For example, while English grammarians may dispute the correctness of using “regardless” or “irregardless” in a sentence, such similar issues of standardization for ancient Greek grammar do not apply to the concept of inerrancy according to the Chicago framers. In other words, the New Testament was never meant to be a textbook in Greek grammar. While the Chicago Statement was largely accepted within the evangelical faith community back then, there were some rough edges.
Those rough edges are still with us some thirty years later.
In Zondervan’s latest Counterpoint series book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, we find Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the intellectual leader of the largest Protestant evangelical denomination in North America. He enthusiastically supports and affirms the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to be just as true for us today as it was back in the 1970s. Al Mohler is smart. He is articulate. He is well-read. He is passionate for the truth.
But according to Bible scholar and Ancient Near East literature expert Pete Enns, Al Mohler is also dead wrong. To those familiar with the compromises associated with liberal Protestantism, the complaint registered by Enns is nothing new, except that Pete Enns says that he is still speaking as an evangelical. Enns, formerly an Old Testament scholar at the Westminster Theological Seminary, says that the Chicago understanding of inerrancy advocated by Mohler is flawed and does not do proper justice to how the Bible truly presents itself to us.
In between the above polar opposite positions (further represented with excerpts from the book on the BibleGateway blog by Mohler and Enns) are other contributors, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, and John Franke, each who in their own distinct way think that while inerrancy is still in some sense a useful term for understanding the authority of Scripture, its definition should be carefully reevaluated in view of new challenges to our understanding of the Biblical text.
When thinking about inerrancy, there is a certain sense of nuance involved and attention to what is meant by “inerrancy“. For those who look at the Bible from afar, this may not register too much, but for those who really dive into the Biblical text, as John Paine is encouraging us to do in his recent series on Who Wrote the Bible, it becomes really important.