Section 2: The Bible
Week 1: The Bible Is Authoritative
Day 3: The Bible Is Truthful, Even in the Details
Ps. 12:6, Prov. 30:5
If the Bible is made up of God’s own words and God is always truthful, then we know everything the Bible says must be true, even in the tiniest details. This truth is often referred to as the doctrine of inerrancy. Now right off the bat, let’s be clear on what inerrancy doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean we have to take everything the Bible says literally. Some of you just got little edgy. Before you decide to burn me at the stake, let me explain.
Language Is Flexible
Imagine you’re watching a football game and the announcer tells you “it’s raining cats and dogs out there.” You get up close to the TV so you can get a good look, but you’re pretty sure you don’t see any cats and dogs. Was the announcer’s statement false?
Or imagine your friend just bought a new house and he tells you he needs some help moving a couple of pieces of furniture. You’re not thrilled about the prospect of losing part of your Saturday, but you agree to help because it’s just a couple of pieces of furniture. When you get there, though, you find out you have to help him move a couch, a love seat, and chair. “A couple” literally means two, and you clearly had to help him move three pieces of furniture. Did your friend lie?
Those examples are reminders that language is flexible. There are times we say something, but don’t intend to be taken literally. We sometimes use figures of speech to heighten the emotional or rhetorical impact of what we’re saying. And we often use phrases like “a couple” rather loosely. So when you had to help your friend move three pieces of furniture instead of two, it probably wasn’t a big deal. You knew he didn’t literally mean two pieces of furniture. He meant you weren’t going to be moving furniture all day. And since you didn’t lose your entire Saturday, he was true to his word.
Not Everything in the Bible Is Meant to Be Taken Literally
It’s no different with the Bible. When we say the Bible is truthful even in the details, we mean that whatever God intended to convey in any given passage is necessarily true. Depending on the context, God may or may not have intended to be taken literally.
Consider Jesus’ teaching. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus tells a story about a man who planted a vineyard and then rented it out. The owner sends a servant to collect the rent, but the tenants beat him and send him back without any money. The same thing happens to every servant the owner sends. So he sends his own son. The tenants, however, decide to kill the son because they think it means they will get to take ownership of the vineyard (Mt. 21:33-46, Mk. 12:1-12, Lk. 20:9-19).
Was Jesus telling the story of an actual vineyard owner whose son was tragically murdered? No. How do we know that? It’s a parable, and parables aren’t meant to be taken literally. Jesus was figuratively referring to Israel’s rebellious history and foreshadowing his own death. If we understand Jesus to be recounting an actual event, we’re missing the point. It’s the same with any other biblical passage that isn’t meant to be taken literally.
Everything the Bible says is true. We just need to make sure we understand what it is actually trying to saying.
Skim the book of Revelation.
Do you think all of the imagery is meant to be taken literally? If some of the imagery is meant to be taken symbolically or figuratively does that mean it has no meaning? What does that teach you about the doctrine of inerrancy?
Want to Dig Deeper?
We discussed the doctrine of inerrancy in today’s reading. When it comes to inerrancy, skeptics often raise questions about whether the Bible gets historical details right. We take a closer look at that issue in the second topic in the Digging Deeper section titled “Is the Bible Historically Reliable?”