Biblical Inerrancy and Interpretation

I like to read. A former pastor of mine once said that “leaders are readers,” and that it would be good for me to read things with which I disagree. Ironically, that same pastor would write a book only a few years later and send the unpublished transcript to me for feedback… it turned out being HIM with whom I vehemently disagreed, and still do on many of his book’s claims. We went around and around for weeks, but after I finally finished reading his work, and had exhausted every one of my complaints with his many errant assertions, we salvaged our friendship and still enjoy great fellowship today. He was right – we can disagree, and still get along. The funny thing is that he is a biblical inerrantist and so am I. But his interpretation of the biblical text, I thought, was unjustified and a “stretch” at best.

I’m now reading another book with which I vehemently disagree. I refuse to name the source for fear that you may read it as well (however, if you insist, I will tell you personally) – but I will reveal its content… it seeks to reconcile the great debates of evolution and biblical Christianity by sacrificing many of the Bible’s textual claims while conforming them to modern science’s/geology’s postulated superior knowledge of the living world. This author has great difficulty with biblical inerrancy, and as I am finding out, a gross misunderstanding of the same. Here’s a quote from the book:

“The goal, for conservative readers, is always to look for some plausible interpretation of the biblical text that keeps it free from error.” – Emphasis his own.

I write in my books. Directly beside this sentence in the margin of the book, I wrote two words: “Wow. Lame.” That’s exactly how I feel about it. That’s a pretty lame definition of the literalists’ goal in interpreting the Bible. But I’m really not surprised, because it starts from the same place the author begins when approaching biblical text: science.

Science is not bad, it is good. And through it, we can understand even more clearly the intricacies with which God created this vast universe, down to the complexity in every cell of every living creature. I start with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God,” and everything else I believe is birthed from there. If God always has been, then it is perfectly logical for me to believe that He created everything we can experience in 6 literal days. And it is equally as plausible that He sought to reveal to mankind His special revelation as breathed out by the Holy Spirit and recorded by ordinary men in the 66 books of the Bible in their original texts. I see no logical contradiction there. The problem is that every pair of eyes that peruses these texts has attached to it a finite human processor (brain) which is free to interpret the text in light of its own present circumstances and historic information/experiences. When we approach the text of scripture, we should be seeking to know what God intended to convey at the time of its inscription – NOT what the text “means to me in my current situation.” The text of scripture has an intended meaning – and the only correct interpretation is God’s. All else is inconsequential.

To say that conservative biblicists want to take scientific claims and twist their interpretation of scripture in such a way that will uphold science is quite backward from what conservative interpretive theology is all about. No sir. Our goal is to discern what God intended the text to mean, and apply it to our lives. Many times, scientific discovery will help us understand where we’ve been misinterpreting the biblical texts: such as Galileo’s belief that the universe revolved around the earth (because of his faulty interpretation of Psalm 93:1), or such as various Middle-Age philosophers and explorers’ beliefs that the earth was flat (based on various places in scripture referring to the “four corners of the earth”). A literal interpretation means to read the Bible for what the original author literally intended. If his/His original intent was figurative, poetic, historical, descriptive, literal, instructive, etc., then so be it. But we never start from science (or anything else) and then “look for some plausible interpretation” which might save the biblical text from literary or factual harm.

Largely, the darwinistic approach starts not with “In the beginning God,” but rather with, “In the beginning, science/nature,” and everything else that exists can be explained from that vantage point. If that slippery ground is where many scientists and geologists want to begin (please note that there are MANY credible scientists and geologists who are also creationists), then so be it. But we can’t allow them to force their fallacious preconceptions on our worldview.

I am a little more than half way through with this book. I hope to make it to the end 🙂

 

Grace and Peace,

Tony