What is the difference between strict and limited inerrancy? Which seems more convincing? Why? What is the significance of seeing different genres in the Bible?
The difference between strict and limited inerrancy is one of orthodoxy. Strict inerrancy simply refers to the belief in the eminent infallibility of the Bible; in other words, the Holy Scripture or, in the case of Jews, the Old Testament, IS the word of God, and must be followed. In contrast, limited inerrancy refers to the belief that the Bible represents the word of God, but should not in all cases be taken literally, especially where the strictures of Leviticus are concerned. To followers of the latter interpretation of the Bible, the text is a guide to how one should live one’s life, but is not the word of God in the strict sense that more orthodox followers believe it to be. Strict inerrancy leaves little to no room for interpretation. The Bible is the word of God, and should be accepted literally.
Which of these two “schools of thought” is the more persuasive is entirely dependent upon individual perspectives regarding religion. No one can answer for the individual student the question of which is more persuasive; hundreds of millions of people believe in strict inerrancy with respect to the Bible, just as over one billion Muslims believe in the strict inerrancy of the Qu’ran. That does not mean that you as an individual must or should agree with that interpretation of holy texts. Either you believe the Bible, as written, is the word of God, or you don’t. To many liberal or less-orthodox followers of Judaism and Christianity, the Bible is a holy text, but cannot – or should not -- be applied to everyday life in the literal sense advanced by more orthodox believers. The Bible’s stories of the Earth’s creation, of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, and of the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are inherently fantastical to many people, including many religious people. Many people have difficulty reconciling the Bible’s depiction of the history of the planet and of humanity with the theory of evolution, which is based upon scientific evidence uncovered over many years. For atheists, the resolution of the conflict is simple: there is no Supreme Being, and all physical evidence points toward the “Big Bang” theory of the creation of the universe and toward the theory of evolution. To those who adhere to a more limited concept of inerrancy, this is a very difficult conflict to resolve, as the scientific evidence cannot be ignored, but the belief in God remains absolute.
There is, however, an enormously complicating factor in a discussion such as this: the numerous versions of the English-language Bible in existence. The King James version, the American Standard version, the New Living Translation, the Revised and New Revised Standard versions, and so on, all represent different interpretations to greater or lesser degrees, and all have their adherents. Who is to say which is closer to a “truth?” Arguments about interpretations of holy texts is the stuff of which wars are started. In fact, Aramaic and Hebrew language versions are not universally accepted texts of the Bible. Those who believe that the Five Books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch, were written by Moses do not necessarily believe that the Bible should be interpreted in an absolute or strict manner. That the Bible, many believe, has many authors, including Moses, may or may not mean that it is the word of God, or that every book and every section represents the word of God. That so many versions of the Bible exist, and continue to be produced, is simply testament to the intractability of this debate. Jews, obviously, do not believe in the New Testament; Christians view the Old Testament as laying the foundation for the birth of Jesus and the growth of Christianity. Muslims view the Qu’ran as supplanting the Bible, with Muhammad representing the final prophecy, while Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) view the early 19th Century as ushering in a new holy text, as accepted by Joseph Smith. In short, with all the versions of the Bible and all the disputes about which most closely represents the word and spirit of the Lord, it is simply impossible to provide one answer to a question that has plagued billions of people over the centuries.