This is a question I’ve raised a few times now on the blog with respect to this topic. I’m going to answer it below (or at least kick it off) in startlingly brief fashion. It will serve as a transition point into inerrancy (at least that’s how I’m thinking of it now).
I think the Bible itself answers this question – right on the heals of introducing inspiration itself. I appeal to 2 Tim 3:17 (in context with 2 Tim 3:16 below).
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
What’s the point of God’s use of human agents to give us an inscripturated revelation? There are four points, actually:
- Teaching (theological content)
- Reproof (rebuking false teaching or bad conduct)
- Correction (restoration in right doctrine and conduct)
- Training in righteousness (morality and ethics)
Pretty simple. I would suggest that all of those objectives (1) can be and were accomplished despite a pre-scientific worldview; (2) do not extend from a pre-scientific worldview (i.e., their explanation may at times be articulated from a pre-scientific worldview, but you don’t need accurate science to have these four things). You also don’t need a Bible that is devoid of historical problems or aims to teach us how to do historiography. Anyone who reads the Bible closely knows there are historical problems that await resolution, and knows there is biased historiography (the Chronicler). I would further suggest that to accomplish these ends the biblical writers can (hearkening back to crazy Ivan here) use fiction or any other literary device. The final form of the text can also pass through as many hands as providence care to have it pass. God was influencing people to produce something that accomplished HIS purposes as revealed in 2 Tim 3:17 – not ours or the intellectual standards of any particular era that was FOREIGN to the writers and their milieu.
Finally, note that the above isn’t my “permission” for limited inerrancy; it’s just a statement of reality to the effect that 2 Tim 3:17 isn’t about any of the things a discussion of inspiration and inerrancy typically gets fixated upon. God didn’t need to focus on any of these things to accomplish the goals of 2 Tim 3:17. SURELY the intent of God has SOMETHING to do with judging and defining inerrancy. Why is it that we give the human authors the benefit of this doubt in any number of passages (“Well, you have to judge what he says by his purpose”) and we hesitate to do so with the DIVINE author for the whole package? Seems quite inconsistent to me.