A few days ago I posted about applying the doctrines of inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority (IIIA) of scripture to specific passages. (click here)
It was in reference to Nehemiah, chapters 1-2 and chapter 7. These passages are historical narratives. There is nothing particularly authoritative about them. They are also full of details (number counts, dates, etc).
I have no reason to believe the numbers sited in chapter 7 are not accurate, but I also don’t think that we need to insist that all the numbers are 100% accurate in order to believe the scriptures.
Without going into long discussions about obscure passages and references, the doctrines of IIIA are both often considered a litmus test of orthodoxy as well as a complicated doctrine to apply.
It is also a doctrine founded more from systematic theology than the Bible itself.
While risking being called a heretic (wouldn’t be the first time), I wonder if there is a better — and more common sense — approach. What if would say about the scriptures merely that which scripture says about itself?
For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 —
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Or, Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Or, Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Or, Joshua 1:8-9
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
From these I can conclude some pretty important things about scripture: God-breathed, useful for equipping and building up, a revealer of truth, a supreme source of ethics, trustworthy and reliable, worthy of our thoughts and meditations, full of wisdom.
In this sense I think it is infallible in terms of accomplishing that which God wants to accomplish in us — his revelation will not mislead us. Because it expresses truth, when it talks ethics it has authority. It is without any substantive error when it comes to doctrine or moral teaching.
And in terms of Nehemiah, I can say that those passages are indeed useful for teaching and encouraging and equipping God’s people.
I think to respect scripture is also to respect what it says about itself. But how we apply different genres (poetry, historical narrative, parable, law, mythology, etc) will always impact how we interpret and apply the text. Much of the Bible is narrative, telling a story of God and his people. It is descriptive more often than prescriptive.
For me, this is freeing and makes me love scripture even more — it is dynamic, powerful and true in a way no other writings are.