What is so special about the Bible? Why do we keep talking about it? Why must Christians continually point to it as the way we know what is true about God?
Is there something miraculous about scripture? If so, what?
The answer that many of us encounter, and many of us cling to, is that the miracle is the perfection of scripture itself. Some might express this in terms of “inerrancy”: we believe the Bible, at least in part, because God has kept it perfectly free from error for us. Others might more generally refer to the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, majesty of style, and consent of all the parts.
No really. Some people do. I swear.
Such lofty exaltation of scripture can come at a price, however. For example, if someone holds scripture in high esteem based on a valuation of its inerrancy and then discovers that there are historical mistakes (e.g., Luke 2), unfulfilled prophecies (Haggai, Revelation), theological disagreements (Gen 1 & 2; Mark & John), or scientific problems (all the animals in the whole world on that Ark?), this can come with a loss of confidence in God, Christianity, the church, and one’s personal faith.
Might there be another way forward?
Karl Barth argues quite strongly that, yes, there is another way forward (Dogmatics §19).
The miracle of scripture does not consist in the fact that God kept the Bible free from taint of humanness, and especially of human limitation or sin.
Instead, the miracle of scripture consists, as in the salvation of humanity more generally, in the fact that God makes himself known through what is all too human, all too limited, all too often mistaken.
… the prophets and apostles as such, even in their function as witnesses, even in the act of writing down their witness, were real, historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their action, and capable and actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word.
To the bold postulate, that if their word is to be the Word of God they must be inerrant in every word, we oppose the even bolder assertion, that according to the scriptural witness about man, which applies to them too, they can be at fault in any word, and have been at fault in every word, and yet according to the same scriptural witness, being justified and sanctified by grace alone, they have still spoken the Word of God in their fallible and erring human word.
And finally, this, which probably ends up going further than I’m entirely comfortable with, but by and large sums up some things I’ve been dancing around for years:
If God was not ashamed of the fallibility of all the human words of the Bible, of their historical and scientific inaccuracies, their theological contradictions, the uncertainty of their tradition… but adopted and made use of these expressions in all their fallibility, we do not need to be ashamed when He wills to renew it to us in all its fallibility as witness, and it is mere self-will and disobedience to try to find some infallible elements in the Bible.
In other words, this is the Bible we actually have. To demand another, an inerrant one for example, is to demand of God what God has not seen fit to give. It is to spurn the gift given and demand something better.
If God is not ashamed of an all-too-human Bible, we should not be either. This human collection of documents is the actual Bible that is the Word of God.