No matter what one’s faith tradition teaches regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, the implications of that view are huge. In fact, how a Christian understands Biblical inerrancy effects their faith immensely. Without going into too much detail, I would like to take a moment and consider some of these implications. Because I am a Protestant Evangelical, we will spend most of our time considering the implications of those perspectives. We will also be limiting our discussion to generalizations for the sake of space.
From the Catholic perspective, Scripture and church tradition are of equal value. Both are inerrant and have ultimate authority. THat being said, a devout Catholic is not free to question anything. The Catholic Christian is caught in a vicious cycle for if they have a problem with church tradition, they must turn to Scripture. But, Scripture can only be rightly interpreted through church tradition.
The Orthodox Christian has things quite a bit easier. While tradition and Scripture both have authority, their inerrancy is up in the air and up for debate. For her, if she has an issue with church tradition, she is free to question and even speak out against it for it is not free from error. And Since Scripture is primarily emphasized in a liturgical setting, she is even free to think outside of that box as well.
At this point, cut and dried implications end. Without a consensus view on inerrancy, Protestants are at a true disadvantage. The only agreement among Protestants is over which Bible to use (which translation is a different matter entirely, and we are not going to go into that here).
Within Protestantism, there are three general schools of thought on the inerrancy of Scripture. There are those who take an all-or-nothing approach in that if there is one error, then the whole thing is false and therefore not worth our time. A second view states that the Bible is only inerrant in the message that it conveys. It may have errors in history or science but still accurately and perfectly points people to God. The third view denies inerrancy completely. We will look at each view in a separate article.
The implications of the all-or-nothing approach are some of the most clear. But not all of them are necessarily for the better.
On the plus side, holding this view of the Bible gives one the most clear image of authority. The Bible truly does become the final authority in all matters. Not a word of it can be questions and not a word overlooked.
Sadly, often accompanying this position is a dogmatic adherence to literalism. The Bible tends to become less about its message and more about the fact that it happened.
Along with this literalism comes a neglect of the varying literary forms employed by the Biblical authors (or Author). When the Bible says that God has a “righteous right hand,” He must literally have a right hand, for example.
This view also tends toward proof-texting and marginalizing of some passages of Scripture. The problem is, this creates tensions within the text that weren’t previously present. For example, in one place we see a call to separate from pagans and apostates and in another we see Jesus eating, drinking, and partying with these very people.
Let me be very clear at this point: this is not how it always happens. There are some truly Godly men and women who hold to an all-or-nothing view of Scripture. I am also not saying that this view doesn’t have its advantages. To hold the Bible in this esteem is commendable, but one must also be cautious that they don’t reduce the Bible to a list of chapter and verse propositions, prose, and truth-claims to the neglect of the overall picture that God is trying to paint.