At some point a couple of months ago, I found online a paper by one Chuck May, who is attempting to debunk the hermeneutical practice of researching cultural context as a means of understanding scripture. In this frame, May writes, “For if we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and if it is impossible for God to lie or err (Titus 1:2), then it is impossible for the Bible to contain errors.”
I disagree. God can’t err, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Bible is without “error.”
While I think I can accept that the original manuscripts of Bible documents contained no errors, I really don’t think that’s the point of the profound notion of inspiration. My Restoration tradition has relied heavily—and rightly, I think—on scripture, but there are multiple ways to view scripture’s origin, intent, nature, and “inspiration.”
One may accept inspiration as foundational to the production of scripture, but this acceptance doesn’t necessitate believing the so-called dictation theory—that God sort of took the forearms and fingers of Moses and the prophets and the apostles and caused them to spell specific words. Instead, I incline toward the idea that God specially inhabited the heads and hearts of these men—that He inspired them, and not the words—as they wrote important concepts that He intended to be passed down through generations. It’s the concepts and the generalities, not the words, then, that are eternally significant.
As “proof” of my non-scholarly, yet sensical, theory on this, I appeal to the account of Babel. It struck me several years ago that if God had intended to rely on specific words in human language, He simply would not have allowed for a variety of languages. If we all still spoke (and wrote) the same language, translation issues would not exist. Anyone who’s studied a second language knows that translation from one language to another is often thorny; it’s simply not possible to render precise translations much of the time. Think of the English “love” and the Greek loves. Think of the French “souhaiter” or “tres joli” or “merveilleux.” Often there are multiple meanings, or more/less rich meanings, when moving from one language to another.
I take from all this that it is more important to God that we get the basic idea than that we consider specific words in a single language to have been directly inspired. If the specific words had been the crux of the thing, I don’t think He would have allowed multiple languages.
Incidentally, I’m not sure I’m going to read all of Mr. May’s paper. I was inspired by the presentations of one in whom he finds fault, and though every human is fallible, my instincts say Mr. May is the more fallible of the two.