Q & R: Is the Bible inspired after all? Brad Jersak (ft. Brian Zahnd)


I have heard you say that “The Word of God is inspired, inerrant and infallible and when he was 18, he grew a beard” (I love that).

But what DO you actually think about the Bible? What tension do you hold between “It’s not inerrant” and holding it in high regard? I realize you can have a high view of Scripture without holding to inerrancy, but sometimes you seem to use the Bible without any question as to whether the passage is actually accurate or not. I hope that makes sense. I am currently struggling with how much to “trust” the Bible. I don’t have a bad attitude toward it as I did for a while but I still struggle to know how much credence to give it.


     I’m actually writing an entire book on that right now. It won’t be out until next year but here’s a teaser.
     I believe there’s a huge spectrum between fundamentalism’s demonstrably wrong claims to biblical inerrancy and seeing the canon as a merely human religious library. I fall somewhere in that spectrum and it goes something like this:
     I would say I’m rediscovering “inspiration” and it is a LOT different than what I grew up with. I know this will be a leap for some that I don’t expect everyone to make, but here’s how I see it:

Two Registers

     I see [at least] two registers at work both in the Bible, in history and in my life. On one register, the Bible is about people doing people stuff, including writing a people’s perspective on people’s perceptions of people’s experiences of God. Very, very human, as it should be. Very muddled at times, a mix of tragedy and glory, ugliness and glory. Lots of drama and tension, crazy characters and unreliable narrators, speaking their minds through ancient worldviews, national wounds, obvious xenophobia as well as humanity’s highest hopes. And we can certainly read the Bible that way. On that one register. And we probably should on our theologically unvarnished first reading (what we call the ‘literal sense’). I’d say, taken together, even on that register, the Bible stands as the greatest story ever told. Sure, I can show you the 400+ internal contradictions in the text. So what? I can show you evidence of archaic superstitions and the tribal inclination to violence and the visions of a very ugly mid-Eastern deity. But even as purely human literature, there’s a clear and powerful story arc.
     On another register, I see something or Someone else—a Genius at work—a meta-Author weaving a long, beautiful and cohesive redemption narrative from this multiplicity of documents and genres. The scattered collection is drawn together into an epic drama. At times, the big picture is so far above and beyond the capacities, consciousness or intent of the human compositors that I must suspect a divine Weaver at work, telling and guiding the story in scarlet lines woven across a bimillenial tapestry.
     I would argue that just as the human dimensions of the Bible are transparent, so too the divine inspiration is likewise observable, though there is also something cryptic that waits to be unveiled in the punchline of Christ and the illumination of the reader. I read Genesis 3:15 or the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12 or the bizarre prophecies of Balaam in Numbers and I think, good Lord, there’s just no way that they could have sees how their own words conspire to anticipate everything.
     So when I read the diverse collection we call the Bible from that vantage point, I note that my personal history plays out in much the same way. My life is marked by a disjointed meandering of random and frequently terrible choices (the first register) AND I ALSO seen a divine Hand at work and at play, guiding my narrative behind the scenes toward something redemptive and beautiful. Seeing this register, I am inclined to read the “Good Book” more carefully, fully conscious of both the human condition at work in the text (in spades!) and also watching for how the whole mess is gathered up and fulfilled in the story of Christ, which I take to be the climax of the inspired Saga.
     To me, then, I use the word ‘inspiration’ very differently than I did as an Evangelical. I once saw inspiration as an event in the past where a biblical author had an experience with God that led them to record their oracles, supernaturally prevented from importing any errors into the product. And so I framed the question of inspiration completely wrong as, “Is the Bible inerrant or not? Is it God’s Word or not?” Today, in my view, inspiration describes a dynamic that connects this cryptic text, the specific way the Christ story (gospel) becomes the cipher that opens the book (Luke 24:13-35, 2 Cor. 3), and then how I experience the book through that lens. In other words, inspiration involves the Scriptures, the gospel message and the illumination of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2). I.e. Inspiration is NOT simply an event in ancient times or an objective product—the bound volume on my shelf. Inspiration includes the Book, the gospel but also has to be read right. And by right, I mean as a story.
     Do me (and yourself) a big favour and give me just 4 more minutes to listen to my friend Brian Zahnd’s inspired(?) way of saying all this in his poem, “Reading the Bible Right”:
Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More