The problem with the doctrine of inerrancy is not that it is wrong, but that it subtly pushes the conversation about the Bible’s reliability toward trivialities. We end up majoring on minors.
On this point, here’s a recent exchange I had with someone on Randal Rauser’s blog.
John said: Mike, Randal has a friend named Dr. Kenton Sparks who seems to believe the authors of Bible manuscripts were capable of receiving the Word of God and yet made errors when recording scripture. Here is a comment from Dr. Sparks on the subject:
“God never errs, so in all of Scripture–every page–he never errs in his discourse. However, because God accommodates his speech to us through human beings who inevitably err, there not a single page of Scripture that is entirely free of human error.” – Kenton Sparks (February 19, 2009 at 8:10 am)
If Dr. Sparks is correct, then what reason is there for us to believe prophets of God could not also make errors when teaching others what God revealed to them?
Here was my response:
Mike Gantt: I do not think that making inerrancy the focal point is helpful because it inclines the conversation toward minor issues. Keeping attention on major issues is more productive.
Let’s say that I must listen to an important speech from someone speaking French. Since I do not understand French, I am dependent on the interpreter. Is the interpreter human and therefore fallible? Yes. Does the interpreter sometimes hesitate or stammer in his delivery? Yes. Is it possible that something might get lost in translation? Yes. If, however, I focus too much on such issues I will fail to hear and understand the speech.
The real problem with Sparks’ view is that it renders the non-French-speaker with an interpreter no better off than the non-French-speaker without an interpreter. Neither can be sure what the speech was about.
The link that John gives to Andy Naselli’s blog is a helpful illustration of how far afield such debates about inerrancy can go. Kent Sparks himself participates in the comment thread that follows Andy’s post about his book.
I made a similar point in this previous post: Inerrancy Is Not the Point; The Point Is Christ