The other day, Bill Ferguson raised a very common objection among those who treat Biblical inerrancy skeptically. He wrote that “taking the literalist path to studying the Bible can be a tough row to hoe.” I think he states a very common misunderstanding that speaks to the failure of the church to properly teach.
I believe the Bible is infallible and inerrant. That means where the Bible speaks with authority, the Bible is applicable and without error. Years ago, major Christian denominations came together and wrote what is called the Chicago Statement that more fully explains this. In short, parts of the Bible are apocalyptic; other parts are poetry; others are prophesy and others are prose. One must know what one is dealing with in scripture to understand how to treat a particular book of the Bible. I take Jonah literally. I believe he was swallowed by a fish. I take Daniel’s apocalyptic visions as visions.
Credit to Bill for raising Old Testament issues like a woman having to marry the man who rapes her. Usually, when skeptics use the Old Testament they go for eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabric, or stoning lying children to death. Christians, however, accept the nearly 2,000 year old doctrine of progressive revelation. In the Bible, the God who seems aloof and genocidal slowly reveals the nature of his relationship between him and us and between each of us.
The God who demands Israel wipe out its enemies is the same God who commands us to turn the other cheek in the New Testament. He is the same God who commands we love one another and is the same God who died on the cross that we might live. He did not change. He just, over time, revealed more fully his expectations.
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Christians started the abolition movement understanding this. Scripture does not champion slavery, contrary to some. Over the course of scripture, God made clear slaves are to be treated as brothers and family. With women, Paul posited the revolutionary idea that they were sons of God and of his inheritance. Women could not inherit in the Roman Empire. By proclaiming both men and women as sons and heirs, Paul was saying both stand equally before God on their own. The New Testament makes clear the Old Testament food laws, civil laws, ceremonial laws, etc. no longer applied.
The problem, though, for those who would now say God is OK with homosexuality, is that the same progressive revelation doctrine applies there. And what one sees is that while the lot of women and slaves improves, and we have a more complete understanding of our relationship with God and are called to love our neighbor, we are still called to hate sin.
While the New Testament ends the old food laws, etc., Jesus himself maintains the Levitical prohibitions on sexual immorality, to which homosexuality is connected. The punishment at the hands of man does not, but the sin is still sin. The apostolic writings double down on this. Adultery, murder, rape, lying, homosexuality, etc. are all still sins. We are now called to love the sinner, but we are not to embrace the sin.
It is not a tough row to hoe at all. Ferguson’s objections have long had easily understood answers. Unfortunately, some churches would prefer to ignore those answers. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
2 Timothy 4:3
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.