Inspired or Inerrant?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 states “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, of reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (NRSV). This scripture is interesting because it not only offers guidance for how Christians should use the Bible, but it also serves as an example of how the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, based on the translator. While the NRSV translation above is widely accepted as the “correct” translation, the footnotes of the NRSV offer another alternative to the first phrase: “All scripture inspired by God is also useful…” This alternative translation is completely viable given that the Greek text on which this translation is based does not include the verb “is.” Therefore, when translating into English, we must insert the verb “is” into the sentence, meaning that the translator, or translation committee, has to decide where it should be placed. The translation given in the NRSV states that the scripture IS inspired by God, while the alternate translation gives a slightly different meaning, saying that WHEN scripture is inspired by God is useful for teaching, etc. This implies that not all scripture is inspired by God, or that the interpreter of the scripture must be inspired by God to find the fullest meaning of the scripture. Even if we assume that the NRSV translation is the most accurate, which I do, it does not say that scripture was dictated by God, rather that it was inspired by God.

So what does it mean to say it is “inspired” by God? Early Christians believed the Holy Spirit to be present both in the writing of the scriptures and in the interpretation. This implies that God was present while the original authors were writing the text and is present now when Christians read and interpret the text. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Bible is inerrant, but that God was influencing the authors and helps us to interpret the text in a way that is best applicable to our lives today. Early theologians like Origen and Chrysostom believed in an allegorical interpretation of the Bible, rather than a word-for-word interpretation. This allows for texts written thousands of years ago to apply more easily to modern society. For example, while the first seven chapters of Leviticus give clear and detailed instructions about how to prepare sacrifices to God as part of worship and penance, it does not apply to modern-day worship. Rather, we can use these texts to more fully understand the importance of Christ’s sacrifice as fulfillment of this duty for all Christians.

Given the known history of how the Bible was canonized and has made its way to us, I find it hard to believe that every word of the Bible is a perfect reflection of God’s intent. Through textual criticism, we can see that while it may not be correct to take every word and phrase as perfect truth, it is possible to find God’s inspiration in the overall meaning of the scriptures. God’s inspiration, therefore, can be defined as the way in which God is revealed to us through the text. That is to say, how we find guidance for how to live our lives today is revealed to us through God’s inspiration to both the authors of the text and those who are reading and interpreting the text today.

Of course, the most important thing we can do when interpreting scripture is to ask God for guidance. Each time we open the Bible for study or devotion, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts and minds to find the truth reflected in God’s word. While I stated earlier that I do not believe in an inerrant Bible, I do believe in an inspired Bible. God’s truth and guidance can be found throughout scripture if we put a little work into interpreting and studying the text. Using historical knowledge, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and a little bit of logic and reasoning, God is revealed to us in new and sometimes unexpected ways. It is my prayer that you can continue to find truth and inspiration in the Bible, and through this methodology, you can find new inspiration applicable to your daily life.

In Christ’s Love,
Minister Logan J. Smith