I’ve recently been wondering about what it actually means to say that the Bible is inspired, as well as what the meanings of “inerrant” and “infallible” are. It seems to me that, if “inerrant” carries with it a notion of perfect scientific accuracy, the Bible can’t be said to be inerrant in any real sense of the word.
One example of scientific inaccuracy in the Bible that I can see is the (in?)famous mustard seed parable, in which Jesus refers to the mustard seed as “the smallest of all the seeds” (Matt. 13:31-32). This is false because orchid seeds are up to 20 times smaller than mustard seeds. Likewise, the Bible says that insects have four legs (Lev. 11:20-23), and that ants are individualistic (Prov. 6:6-8). These are observably false statements.
Some of the most interesting examples of scientific error in the Bible seem to come from the cosmology of the Old Testament. Paul Seely has made the case that the “firmament” of Gen. 1:6-8 was considered by the original authors to be a solid dome surrounding the Earth that was covered by water, and in fact this is how it was interpreted until comparatively recent times (Seely 1991; Seely 1992). It seems to be a slam-dunk exegetical case, as both the historical and grammatical context make clear that the “firmament” was a solid dome of metal or crystal.
Likewise, Seely (1997) argues convincingly that the eretz of Genesis 1 was a circular continent floating on, and surrounded by, the primeval sea. If Seely is right, and it really seems like he is, then the Genesis account is contradicted by the indisputable scientific facts that the sky is not solid and the earth is not flat (or only one continent).
Some concordists might reinterpret passages like these in light of modern science, but that seems to be antithetic to what scripture says about itself. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says that scripture has only one legitimate meaning, and that is the meaning understood by the original authors who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
So, is there any definition of “inerrancy” that allows for blatant scientific errors such as these? I can understand that God may have simply met these ancient people where they were with regard to their scientific knowledge, choosing instead to use their scientific naivete to communicate important theological points. But would this really be considered inerrancy, or just inspiration?
This whole issue is compounded by the fact that the Bible doesn’t even describe itself as inerrant, instead using terms like “useful for teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16) or “led by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21), which are a far cry from truly “inerrant.” So, how should we view the Bible? @deuteroKJ and @AllenWitmerMiller, IIRC you were both involved in some capacity with the original Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I know this is a complicated and highly debated question, but I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the matter.