What does it mean to say the Bible is inspired by God? In some theologies, this phrase means the Bible cannot be in error.
Matt Perman, the author of the article linked above, elaborates, "The process of inspiration extended to every word of every book of the entire Bible." Evidently, if the Bible says "the", it's a true "the".
The great proof text for inerrantists is 2 Timothy 3:16.
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
It is odd that the doctrine is based on a single verse that contains only half of a sentence. To the credit of Perman, he does include verse 17, the remainder of the sentence.
so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
But as we'll see below, he ignores the plain meaning of this phrase.
The second great proof text of inerrantists is 2 Peter 1:21.
because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Again it's not a complete sentence. I don't know what that says about inerrantists, but.
Now, before I go any futher, I want to state that I've never met Matt Perman, I don't know anything about him other than this one web page, and I only selected the page at random from a Google search. So I'm not saying anything about him personally. However, if he is accurately presenting the case for inerrancy (and judging by past conversations with other inerrantists, I think he is), I've got some issues with the doctrine.
According to 2 Timothy 3:17 there is a reason that all Scripture is God-breathed and therefore without error. In the context of 2 Timothy 3, Paul is talking about the peril of apostasy (false teaching) and the need for protection from it. In order to stand firm in Christ and the truth, we must have a solid foundation, since many will oppose the truth (v. 8), "evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (v. 13), and "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (v. 12). If the Bible contains errors, it is not a solid foundation. Therefore, the entire Bible is God-breathed so that we may "teach, correct, reprove, and train in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." If all Scripture is not God-breathed and inerrant, the man of God is not adequate, and certainly not equipped, for doing the work of God. The standard for our beliefs must be fully backed by God's authority, or it will fall, and we will go with it.
First, Perman presents the "work of God" as nothing more than professing the right doctrines. This is impossible to reconcile with the teachings of Jesus himself, whose message was centered on bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
- Luke 4:18-19
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
- Luke 10:2-9
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
- Matthew 25:34-40
For Jesus, faith was nothing if it did not make itself known in our actions. He was not impressed with the Pharisees' extensive knowledge of the fine points of Scripture. For followers of Jesus, faith is a verb.
The early church understood the meaning of "social gospel," even if they never used the phrase. When trouble arose because some of the hungry were not being fed, the disciples took action:
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
- Acts 6:1-4
Did you catch that? Being "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" was an essential qualification for distributing food to widows. God's people need to be equipped for much more than the intellectual side of faith.
Ignoring all this, Perman continues:
If only parts of the Bible are infallible we are even worse off--how are we to determine which parts are true and which are not? We would be free to make Christianity whatever we want it to be. And if one believes, for example, that the Bible is inerrant when speaking on spiritual matters but not on historical matters, a major problem is encountered--if the Biblical writers were incorrect in their historical picture, considerable doubt would be cast upon their trustworthiness in other areas that we cannot verify. In fact, many of the Bible's teachings on "spiritual truth" would be meaningless if certain events were not real, historical, and factual.
This goes well beyond the text of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The Scriptures are "useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." Nowhere does it say the Scriptures are useful for lessons in history or science. In fact, reading the Bible as a science or history book distracts from its message, the story of God's redeeming love.
Perman's first example is in fact a good counter-example:
For example, in Romans 5:12-21 Paul contrasts Adam's disobedience and its consequences (sin and death) with Christ's obedience and its consequences (salvation). If Adam was not a literal, historical individual, Paul's point would be meaningless.
On the contrary, Paul's point is that Adam represents all of us. Because of human sinfulness -- our own sinfulness -- we all must live with the consequences of our actions, but because of Christ, we have been justified wholly apart from our efforts. Paul is not speaking of Adam as a historical individual, but as "a type" (verse 14). Paul states twice that the free gift is "not like" the transgression, because the sinful nature is within each of us, but our justification comes from Christ alone.
That's not the only place the New Testament writers saw typology or allegory in the Jewish Bible. Here's Paul's take on Isaac and Ishmael:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.
- Galatians 4:22-26
"This is an allegory." Does that mean that Paul thought these were not real people? No, but neither does it mean that he thought the historical information was the meaning of the text. For Paul, it was the symbolism that mattered.
The author of Hebrews saw symbolism in Israel's temple, a shadow of what Christ would bring:
They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
- Hebrews 8:5-6
This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right.
- Hebrews 9:9-10
Again, the anonymous author is not denying the historical temple, but at the same time he recognizes that its significance is in its symbolism.
If the writers of the New Testament -- those men who were inspired by God -- read the Bible allegorically, it seems to me that we would be wise to follow their example.
So if two gospels don't agree about some historical point, such as whether Jesus answered Pilate's questions during his trial (John 18:33-37) or not (Matthew 27:12-14), or whether Jesus cleansed the temple at the end of his ministry (Luke 19:45-48) or the beginning (John 2:13-22), maybe it's because the intent was not to write a newspaper report or a chronology of his ministry. Maybe there's a deeper meaning for us too, if we are willing to read the Bible as a book of theology.