Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My Bible Clearly Says . . .

Anytime the word “inerrancy” is mentioned, the subject of “woman’s place” is never far behind. Whenever women challenge the status quo, it only takes a moment for husbands and church leaders, threatened by loss of control, to begin intoning "my Bible clearly says…” in an attempt to weight their argument. Patriarchal platforms completely fall apart without the undergirding of “inerrant” scripture.

Inerrantists believe in a “literal” Bible, though only certain translations. They believe that God breathed the Scriptures into the biblical writers who then transcribed God’s words without any “mixture of error." (One would think that if accuracy were so important, an original, complete manuscript would have been preserved.)

Certainly the Holy Spirit worked in the biblical writers’ lives as they wrote, even as the Spirit works through our faith experiences today. God reveals Godself in many ways, but when words are used God speaks through people--and people are fallible. Those concerned about the influence of today’s culture upon Christianity should be equally concerned about the influence of ancient culture upon Scripture.

The human writers of Scripture were deeply entrenched in their patriarchal society, filtering information and experiences through their ancient cultural orientation. The process continues as today's Christians, trying to discern meaning about God and Christianity from the authors' already-filtered words, again filter the texts through their modern cultural orientation, further obscuring the original meaning.

The story is told of a little boy who asked his father, “Daddy, where did I come from?” The father, assuming this was a teachable moment, nervously launched into a discourse about sexuality, to which his overwhelmed son replied, “Oh. I just wondered. My friend, Josh, said he came from Denver, and I didn’t know where I came from.” Human beings cannot interpret divine meaning perfectly because of our limited human orientation.

For inerrantists it’s all or nothing when it comes to the Bible, but flaws don’t mean the Bible should be discarded. Despite cultural influences, the core of God's truth still breaks through. Author Barbara Brown Taylor says that the Scriptures have "human fingerprints all over the place," yet "for all the human handiwork it displays, the Bible remains a peculiarly holy book." One does not have to accept an "inerrant" Bible in order to discover and embrace faith in Jesus Christ.

Around 1990, while studying at Southern Seminary, I loved to wander through the library museum, gazing at the mummy and other Holy Land artifacts. One display case contained a photo of a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Isaiah, clearly showing where a scribe had omitted a sentence, then squeezed corrections above the lines and between columns. I wondered how some biblical scholars could so adamantly support inerrancy--but then I remembered that two central issues surrounding inerrancy are control and patriarchy, especially concerning women ministers.

Inerrantists insist that "my Bible clearly says..." as they quote Scripture passages to support their patriarchal stances. Similar proof-texting has been used to uphold slavery and other injustices over the centuries. Yet inerrantists are very selective when it comes to other Scripture, ignoring verses that are equally as “clear" if taken literally.

Inerrantists insist that the Bible reserves certain church leadership roles for males, only. But do they also believe that the Bible mandates that only Jews (or fishermen, tax collectors, doctors) can be disciples? Or that the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 19 - 20) was given only to the twelve?

Inerrantists cite selected verses to disallow women deacons or ministers, and require women to submit to their husbands. But they ignore other Scriptural guidelines which are equally "clear": women's silence in church (I Cor. 14), women having long hair and wearing head coverings (I Cor. 11). 

Inerrantists require strict adherence to some biblical practices, but broaden others. Unlike Jesus, inerrantists use modern transportation, technology and conveniences. Unlike in Jesus' day, modern inerrantists allow women and men to worship together and use pipe organs or synthesizers during worship.

Inerrantists object to women preaching or teaching men, but they forget that even Jesus was taught by a woman--his mother. Jesus came to earth not in "aged" form (to use Creationists' terminology), but as a newborn baby. He didn't exit Mary's womb speaking fluent Aramaic, already knowing everything about the world into which he was born. Jesus "increased in wisdom and in stature" (Luke 2: 52). We don't know a lot about Mary between Jesus' boyhood and the cross. But if Joseph taught Jesus carpentry skills, certainly Mary also nurtured and taught the very Son of God, influencing him throughout his earthly life.

The inerrancy platform obviously has no merit, largely because inerrantists apply it so inconsistently. One of its main purposes is to keep women "in their place," to retain male domination in church and home. Such a platform, designed only to maintain the status quo, is a platform built upon sinking sand.


  1. Thanks for great writing and making us all think. Another blog I am going to have to add to my reading list.

  2. f.y.i. Portions of this article were published by Associated Baptist Press (ABP) under the title: "Opinion: 'Inerrantists’ aim to keep women ‘in their place'" on April 27, 2011