No One Who Claims to Believe the Whole Bible Does
No biblical inerrantist who claims to apply the Bible literally actually does. Consider these examples.
In 1 Peter 3:3 Christian wives are told not to braid their hair or wear gold ornaments or fine clothing (see also 1 Tim. 2:9). How many literalists do you know who apply that literally?
In 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 the Law is invoked to silence women in the church. They are not permitted to speak or even ask questions in the assembled congregation. Do you know of any church claiming to believe all the Bible (God said it and that settles it) who actually practices this? (Many progressives believe this passage was inserted into the letter by a later Christian scribe as a reaction to Paul’s egalitarian practice of including women in ministry and leadership; see 1 Cor. 11:5; Rom. 16:3-16; Gal. 3:28.)
In Mark 10:1-12 Jesus allows no exceptions for divorce. We know that biblical inerrantists divorce at about the same rate as the rest of us. Obviously they do not actually apply what they claim to believe. (Some progressives believe Jesus prohibited divorce in order to give Jewish wives equal footing. In Palestinian culture wives could not legally divorce their husbands.)
All of us—biblical inerrantists and non-inerrantists—give certain Scriptures more authority than others in our lives and faith communities. We all read and apply the Bible in keeping with the beliefs, ideas, attitudes, biases, worldviews, etc. that we bring with us into the interpretative process.
If we can admit this, then we can be more intentional in reading and applying Scripture. We can choose more carefully which Scriptures will have the most meaning and authority in our lives and churches. We can be more aware and purposeful about the biases and preferences we bring to the interpretation and application of biblical texts.
For example, I intentionally begin with the assumption/belief that God is good. This is how I have experienced God. So when I interpret passages that include the image of “hell,” I interpret those passages metaphorically and spiritually, not literally, because my assumption is that a good God would never torture people. To claim that God is good and God tortures people is a blatant contradiction. Inerrantists claim to believe the contradiction, because they claim to believe the whole Bible, but they really don’t, as the three examples above show.
To claim that one does not bring any presuppositions, assumptions, biases, and beliefs into the interpreting of Scripture is to be like the ones to whom Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41).
To recognize our blindness, to acknowledge all the ways our vision is clouded and distorted, is to begin to see. But to claim to see clearly, like claiming to believe and apply the whole Bible, is to remain blind.