See Biblical inerrancy -what does it really mean? for a nicely done overview.
My comments repeated here:
My own take on the Bible as the Word of God will probably satisfy few. It is certainly not philosophically rigorous, but it has the huge advantage of being fruitful for me.
Thomas Cranmer wrote a prayer for the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
Blessed Lord, which hast caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn ,and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Thy holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our savior, Jesus Christ
And it strikes, I think, very much the right note. It leaves completely to one side the question of auricular inspiration, or the “two creation stories” in Genesis; it doesn’t care about minor variances in the accounts in the Gospels, it doesn’t even get exited about whether a particular tale in the early books reflect myth (maybe imported and adapted from another ancient civilization), or things that actually happened. Not even supposed changes in the LXX or selections for the canon are disheartening. The thing that matters most, and it matters supremely, is that the Bible as I have it has been caused by God to be written and edited, and preserved as a means by which He can communicate himself to me. It may have changed in it’s passage from oral tradition to sacred text. Stories may have been adapted and merged (or again, they may NOT have been!). But if so, that process was guided as sheep by a shepherd, until the ideas expressed were the ones God intended. Scholarship may well be interested in exactly who penned what words when, and why, but strictly speaking, those questions have no bearing on the Spiritual purpose of the Bible. By whatever means He did it, these texts are collectively the way God intended them to be.
Why does it matter? Read in this light, I find the Bible a coherent, cohesive whole, with one meta-story and many supporting tales, even tales of a few dead-ends. The personality of God as lover of His creation, as a jilted wooer of an adulterous and faithless humanity, who ultimately makes a way to bridge the gap, and heal the rift, culminating in the “marriage of the Lamb” at the end of the Revelation. I can read it for my edification, and listen with the “ear of my heart” and find conviction and leading for the renewal of my mind. I don’t have to get bogged down in whether Jonah is “just a story” – if it is a story, it is a story God wants me to hear and understand.
I am a child pulled onto his father’s lap – “Let me tell you a story…”
But that requires that I have faith in the teller, At least for me, that didn’t start with the book. Reading the book in faith confirmed that faith and helps me understand it. William Whitaker, another of the English reformers, said that prayer was essential to properly understand the Bible.
But the bigger question is why read it this way? The abstract, unreligious answer is that I must have a plumb line against which to measure my thoughts. If I do not have something solid, which I hold as authoritative, my thoughts are subject only to myself, and ultimately betray themselves as circular. If I hold my own reason up as the highest authority, I ultimately drift into nonsense. The more I read the Bible, the more appropriate it seems as that source of authority against which to measure my own soul.