A few years ago I was having coffee with two women. One of the women was talking about how hard it had been on her and her husband for years of struggling to conceive a baby. The other woman, who had four kids, opened her mouth and said, “Well you know what Paul says in the Bible: Women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty…. Do you think you have been saved? Have you confessed your sins to him and accepted him into your heart? This is one of the great oppressions that the Church has done and has continued to do; it uses the Bible as a weapon. In the case of the woman who was struggling to get pregnant, it wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t able to at that time (which she did a few months later!). Christians have used the Bible to validate slavery, to deny women equal rights, and slaughter people just because they didn’t agree with their mission.
David Fitch, in his great book The End of Evangelicalism? describes what he calls the master-signifier of the inerrant Bible. He explains that what those who angrily fight over that belief don’t realize is that they might have also fallen into an inerrant interpretation. An Inerrant Bible often leads to an empty belief in an inerrant interpretation. Much violence has happened because we have wielded our narcissistic over-certainty against one another. These people have failed to even understand what an actual inerrant Bible might look like. It would not look like the Bible they held, but the original manuscripts that they have yet to retrieve. What happens when people don’t understand the Bible, or they pick and choose verses out of it, is that they take it out of context and spiritually abuse someone (like the woman I had coffee with).
While I very much affirm the inerrancy of those original manuscripts (and think we have an extremely trustworthy version of those today), what I do fear is the isolation and egocentricity of the inerrant interpretation. If there is anything that the great theologians of the 20th century (Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann) have taught us, it is that theology and reading the Bible are meant to be done in community. Everyone has a voice. Everyone should be heard. The Bible very much teaches dependency upon the other resources of the body. Transformation always happens when we bump up against something that is not us. This might mean that we learn to love somebody who we do not see eye-to-eye with at all, or that they have something to teach us, something to offer us. The idea of welcoming the stranger is prevalent throughout the whole Bible. The Bible was not meant to be a weapon against others but something that liberates us and draws us closer to one another.