If I asked three different men to describe the perfect woman, I would get three completely different responses. The first man might describe a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed bombshell. The second man might describe a woman of remarkable intellect and drive. And the third man might describe a woman who was 100% devoted to her family. They would each have their own interpretation of what “perfect” means.
“Perfect” isn't enough.
What, then, is the real perfect woman? Is one description right and the other two wrong? Is she a mixture of the three descriptions? Or should we boil the definition of a perfect woman down to primal evolutionary functions (in which case she would be any one who was able to survive and carry on the human race)?
The term “perfect” can have a lot of different meanings and can be interpreted in many different ways. It isn't strong enough to stand on its own - it needs context in order to have any kind of practical purpose.
For the word to have any real value in our conversations, we need to clarify which interpretation of perfection we mean.
Biblical Inerrancy: The Question of Perfection
We run into this very same issue when we discuss “biblical inerrancy” - at first glance, it means that the Bible is perfect and without error. Much of the discussion on the topic centers around 2 Timothy 3:16:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (NLT)
The beginning of that verse - “All Scripture is inspired by God…” - has been dissected and analyzed and interpreted, and it is the basis of the concept of biblical inerrancy. Basically, the idea is that since Scripture is inspired by God (alternately interpreted as “God-breathed”), it is perfect.
But how do we really define this doctrine of inerrancy? Are we simply saying that the NLT (or whatever translation you prefer) that we hold in our hands has no typos? What about translation errors or discrepancies with other translations? Most Christians would agree that this definition is not accurate.
Are we saying that every sentence of the Bible literally applies to our lives? Most Christians would agree that this definition is not accurate either.
A more common definition of biblical inerrancy is that, with the exception of the parts of Scripture that are poetry or metaphor, the Bible is 100% factually accurate and should be read at face value. This is to say, for example, that since it describes the creation of the world as occurring over a period of six days, God created the world in six literal days. Within this view, there is some question about which books and passages are poetry or metaphor. (Who decides which parts are to be taken literally and which should be read figuratively?)
Taking these questions even further, there is much debate over which facts were relevant only to the particular culture in which they were written and which ones are relevant to us today. Paul writes to Timothy about not allowing women to speak in church - was that directed specifically to Timothy’s churches (were the women there causing some specific problems?) or should that be applied to our churches today as well?
On the other end of the spectrum, many Christians say that biblical inerrancy only applied to the original manuscripts - the ones written down by the original authors. They say that, as the manuscripts have been copied, re-written, and translated through the centuries, they have become riddled with errors and today’s translations are no longer very reliable.
And, of course, there are all kinds of perspectives that fit in the middle of these two extremes.
How Should We View the Bible?
I am no biblical scholar. There are hundreds of people that have devoted their entire lives to this exact question, and they all come out on different sides of the issue. If they can’t come to a resolution, I certainly can’t hope to do so in a single blog post.
But here’s where I stand:
When I read the entirety of 2 Timothy 3:16, it seems to say that Scripture is perfect for helping us understand who God is and for guiding us as we live our lives for God. I believe that, through the Bible, God has given us exactly what we need in order to know God.
Do I believe that the Bible is 100% historically true? What about the Bible’s scientific accuracy (surely I believe that the universe was created in six days and six nights!)?
I want to be completely open and honest with you. I don’t know whether or not I believe everything in the Bible is factually true.
I don’t think God audibly dictated to Paul the words that he wanted written in each of the epistles. I don’t think Genesis was intended to be a history textbook. And I don’t think Jeremiah was written as a scientific explanation of the coming-and-going of the tides.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that Genesis isn't historically accurate or that the descriptions of the sun, moon, and stars in Jeremiah are wrong (indeed, the observations of Jeremiah are remarkably prescient for that time period).
What I do know is that, even if each “day” referred to in the creation account really took place over millions of years, my understanding of God wouldn't change in the slightest.
My God and my faith are big enough to handle both literal and metaphorical interpretations, because the truth is that God, the creator of the universe, created me, saved me, and loves me. And the story of how he’s rescued me is perfect.