Another post for CWR's 'Year of the Bible'
The debates around scriptural inerrancy (textual perfection—typically factually, historically or revelatory) often boil over so quickly that no real headway is made in the discussion. Too frequently, due to fear or a simple unwillingness to discuss, proponents tend to shy away from the various discussions about what to do with conflicting information on the pages of the library of books we’ve stitched together and called “the holy bible”. Rather than learning how to read the bible sacramentally, we’ve been taught to read it in order to get from it. And I believe that’s where the problem lies.
The text is not meant to be approached as a means of obtaining any "thing" necessarily. What is is meant to be however is a sacrament, a means of more clearly or fully experiencing the presence of the ever-present divine. Not as though God comes and goes, but as though our senses were perfected for a moment in time to experience him. Reading the bible in this way then makes us willing to acknowledge the human elements present on the pages we’re reading. Those human elements are what make the text "alive".
One of the most common arguments I hear when discussing matters like scriptural inerrancy is the ever-popular “if the bible isn’t all true then how can we trust any of it?”. It is this question which I’d like to address.
History has shown us what happens when a strict literal interpretation of the text is held—especially when that literal interpretation engages itself in so-called "just war" and sacred violence. The crusades happen. The inquisition happens. Westboro happens. Thankfully, there are a few proponents of inerrancy who also follow a non-violent path so that the belief itself is not completely written off.
Thankfully, most have progressed beyond a strict literal interpretation of the bible and many have even allowed for the creation narratives to be viewed as something more like poetry describing the event of creation rather than historically factual narratives. The issues surrounding trying to make scientific or historical/factual claims using the bible itself as sole evidence (sola scriptura—the text interprets the text) ought to be enough to make us rethink our position. What do we do when something scientifically observable changes the paradigm? For example, while there’s evidence to suggest that Greek scholars had posited a curved earth before Jesus’ time, it’s also safe to say that some of the Old Testament authors believed “the ends of the earth” to be a literal place. To them, it was something not beyond reach, a final place where human and God met face to face. With what we now understand about the shape of the earth, in the strictest sense then, the text is wrong when it declares “the ends of the earth”.