Those who believe in biblical inerrancy (i.e., the Bible does not contain any errors, historic, scientific, or otherwise) normally start with a theological conviction which is arrived at deductively. They believe, like I do, that God is perfect and without error. They also believe, like me, that the Bible is God’s word. Conclusion? The Bible is perfect and without error. Once this theological presupposition has been adopted, the Scriptures can be understood and interpreted in light of this belief.
The problem often arises that one creates a new hermeneutic (i.e., method of interpretation) that can manipulate the text to make it conform to this doctrine of inerrancy. Any inductive claim to error is rejected outright and interpreted in light of some sort of “inerrant hermeneutic.”
Others, however, do not approach the Scripture with such a theological presupposition. They take an inductive approach: if they believe in inerrancy, they do so because they don’t find any errors in the Scripture. This type of inerrancy is rare. Why? Because there do appear to be some issues that seem, in the minds of many, to be beyond resolution. Many of these do not believe in inerrancy simply because they have found what they believe to be errors.
As a necessary aside, I find myself compelled to say that many of those who do not believe in inerrancy do believe in the inspiration of Scripture. In fact, I know dozens of very fine and godly evangelical scholars who are completely committed to the proclamation of the Gospel and the defense of the Christian faith who are not advocates of inerrancy. In other words, a denial of inerrancy does not in any way necessitate a denial of the faith.
I believe in inerrancy. I do not believe that when the Scriptures are rightly understood there are any errors, historic or scientific. Inductively, however, I do often find myself scratching my head concerning certain passages. My theological conviction does play a part in my hermeneutic, but it is not determinative. It cannot be. I am either searching for truth or seeking to confirm my doctrine and conform a text to my presuppositions. I pray each day that it is the former.
With this in mind, I was asked the other day by a student as to what is the most difficult problem that you have found in the Bible that challenges your view of inerrancy. Without a doubt, it is the problem of Abiathar in Mark 2.26.
Here is the skinny:
When Christ was confronted by the Pharisees for allowing his disciples to eat on the Sabbath, he responded to them with this:
22 And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry;
26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”
27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
28 “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The problem is that Abiathar was not the high priest at the time of this incident according to the Old Testament. According to the account in 1 Sam 21.1-7 Ahimelech was the high priest. Abiathar was his son, who would later become high priest.
To further complicate the problem, Matthew and Luke do not include the phrase epi Abiathar archiereos, “at the time Abiathar was high priest.” For those who hold to Markan priority (i.e., they believe that Mark was the first Gospel written and used as a source by the others—which is the majority view among Evangelicals), they might respond by saying that the reason for Luke’s and Matthew’s omission was that they were correcting the error of Mark.
Dan Wallace mentions five possible reasons for the problem (source):
1. Text-critical: the text is wrong and needs to be emended
2. Hermeneutical: our interpretation is wrong and needs to altered
3. Dominical: Jesus is wrong and this needs to be adjusted to
4. Source-critical: Mark’s source (Peter?) is wrong
5. Mark is wrong
I would add one possible option to this list:
6. The Old Testament is wrong, Christ corrects it
Without going into the arguments for each or my position (and I do have my opinion), what are your thoughts here? Do you think the Bible has erred? If not, how do you explain this without sacrificing your hermeneutical integrity to an inerrant presupposition?
Why bring this up on an Evangelical theology blog? Because these are the type of issues that we need to discuss.