Updated: Aug 20, 2018
To be certain, we would not presume to have debunked those criticisms; rather we have simply acknowledged them and offered some evidence that opposes their argument. Furthermore, there are countless other arguments that can be levied against the Bible, and we will discuss those at some point in the future. For now, we want to move to the constructive side of the equation. We want to paint broad overviews on the questions, why did God reveal himself in the way that he did? Specifically, why, if we assume the Bible reveals God, are there “errors” and “contradictions?”
First, we need to consider the notion of inspiration. Inspiration refers to the transmission of ideas and words from the divine to a human in order for them to communicate to the world at large. The classic text informing our understanding of inspiration is found in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” There are different assumptions about inspiration that we have to untangle.
When most of us think of something that is “divinely-inspired” we envision a scene where the heavens open, a voice calls out to an individual, saying “pick up a pen and write this down, exactly as I say it.” Or even more, maybe that the author goes into a trance of sorts, overtaken by the inspiration and completely consumed by it.
But the library of genres, books, and authors that we find in the Bible seem to suggest this theory is inadequate. First, each author has their own style. If we take the New Testament authors for instance, the author of John (presumably John the apostle) writes in a simple for of Greek while Luke in Luke and Acts writes in a more sophisticated way. John writes with certain themes of light, darkness, and glory in mind while Luke focuses on liberation and spiritual warfare.
Second, there are the above-mentioned “errors” and “contradictions.” If God were taking control of those who were writing the Bible, you’d figure he would get it all right or at least remember to edit his work. You can Google all sorts of lists of “contradictions” in the Bible and get thousands of results. If, we believe in the robot theory of inspiration this becomes an enormous problem. But, if there are other options this not only does not present a problem, it can become a witness to the beauty of our God.
Throughout the history of the Church, most Christian thinkers and theologians have subscribed to some form of the partnership theory. This theory says that God’s “breathing” of Scripture “involved God allowing the distinct personalities, education, experiences, abilities and idiosyncrasies of individual authors to act upon him, for their writings clearly reflect these things” (Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 484).” This theory of inspiration lessens the concerns surrounding apparent “errors” and “contradictions.” Furthermore, it demonstrates a fundamental, and beautiful, truth in the way that God interacts with those made “in his image” (Gen. 1:26). God takes his partnership with us with the utmost seriousness and care. Just about everything he does in the world, he does in partnership with us, inviting us into the process. The Scriptures, even in their origins, bear witness to the beauty of Jesus. They are divine, through and through, a wellspring of truth, life, and grace recorded for our salvation. And yet they take on human flesh (John 1:14), human words, and human perspectives. Hans Urs von Balthasar reflects on God’s methods of inspiration, “God’s word regarded man’s whole existence and experience as an aspect of the mode of expression” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology: The Word Made Flesh, p. 85).
The method of God communicating Scripture simply reinforces God’s ways of grace in the world. He cooperates with us, joining us where we are, inviting us to know him deeply. He fills every part of our world with his beauty and truth. As C.S. Lewis writes, the inspiration of Scripture takes place “not by the conversion of God’s word into literature but [the] taking up of a literature to be the vehicle of God’s word” (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 187-191). God is working in our world, just as he finds it and filling it with his presence transforming it.