If God were to write down his will for mankind, what would it look like? When Christians talk about God, they are talking about a supremely powerful being that is eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent. Such a being would be perfect, by definition. So if this being decided that we should have his instructions in written form, wouldn’t they be perfect? The Bible even claims that all its words are true and all its laws eternal (Psalm 119:160).
But there are many Christians who don’t think the Bible has to be inerrant. They believe that certain details may not be completely accurate due to the humanity of those who wrote, copied, and translated the Bible, but that the major aspects of doctrine are correct. This is a position that’s always been difficult for me to rationalize.
Here’s the problem: The Bible claims to be of utmost importance – it’s our avenue of salvation – and it also claims that all other avenues (religions) are dead ends. So if it has the same kinds of imperfections that other religious texts have, then what is there that would cause someone to believe it? Most Christians believe in some sort of a literal Hell. Many have tried to soften its characteristics by saying that it’s just separation from God, that Hell is “locked from the inside,” etc. But regardless of how it’s presented, the overall idea is that it’s unpleasant. In fact, if we take the New Testament at its word, Hell is a place of torture. If that’s really so, and if God really loves us all and wants us all to be saved, then his word can’t afford to be imperfect — not if it’s the avenue that’s supposed to save us.
If God’s word could have small errors, then how do we know his true word isn’t the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita? This is why most people never change their religious affiliation. When problems within their religion are pointed out to them, they can simply say that those are only minor details and are irrelevant to the overall message. They can also say “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” which is simply a convenient way of saying that they don’t have answers to the problems and don’t want to think about the consequences.
It is incredibly difficult to change one’s beliefs. Yet, if the Bible is true, then many people would have to change their beliefs in order to be saved. How can they do this rationally? What information do they need to make a clear decision about religion? Religion deals with things we don’t actually know, only what we believe. Why should our decisions about those things determine what happens to us for eternity? It’s like asking a 3 year old what they want to be when they grow up, and then holding them to it.
If we really have to make such a life-or-death decision, then we need clarity. If God wanted us to have his message, and if it really made the difference between eternal bliss and eternal torment, then there should be some way for us to recognize it. And while signs, miracles, and direct revelation would be preferable, an inerrant text would at least be better than nothing. To put it simply, if the Bible’s not perfect, then it’s not from God. Too much is at stake for it to have the same kinds of errors we would expect humans to make. That’s the position I was raised with, and it’s the position that I still hold. My future posts will be based on the assumption that the Bible must be perfect, if it’s really inspired.