The difficulties of inerrancy


I’ve just read long essay available on the site, called The Truth of Scripture, by a Professor Lattey. In the essay, the professor upholds inerrancy as a dogma, based on the inspired nature of the texts that God has given the Church the task to safeguard. He evokes many compexities involved in interpretating the Bible, but I would like to point to a striking analogy he makes and how it may apply to the so-called hard passages of the Bible.

He calls attention to the fact that human language is inherently limited by time and culture and that some statements may be fundamentally true but not so in a precisely litteral sense. For example, when we say “the sun is rising” we’ve made a statement which does correspond to reality in a general sense, or at least works pragmatically as an act of communication, but which isn’t true in a literal sense because the sun only appears to rise. And he applies the principle to the story of Joshua making the sun stand still; i.e., the sun from Joshua’s perspective may have appeared to stand still, but did not necessarially do so in a literal sense. Now to me this leaves the barndoor open to a much more figurative interpretation of the Bible than the Church officially allows, and it’s no wonder that vast treatises have needed to be written, with supplements, to guard that door!

But that broader issue is way beyond anything that I’m competent to address, and again I’d like to simply apply the principle to the so-called hard passages of the Bible. There are many places, especially in the earliest portions and beginning with the flood where God appears to committ, order or condone vast cruelty and mass killings. The general moral sense is no mystery; it all illustrates the absolute power & centrality of God. The question is (just to pluck one example), when God commands Abram to invade Canaan and annihilate the seven nations that live there, including men, women & children, what is the inspired author (Moses?) of that portion of the Bible really describing? Did the command and its fulfillment happen in a literal, factual sense, or like the above analogy regarding the sun standing still, did this only appear to happen as filtered through available languge and a human mind?


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