Bible: Inerrancy

Ok, after Keith’s questions he wants to understand why I can’t see the bible as inerrant, I my as well post this for everyone to read since lots of people seem to be interested in this post.

There are a number of reasons.

1. I’m not exactly sure what we are calling inerrant. Is it the original manuscripts (which don’t exist to us)? Is it the English KJV bible? Can we point directly to a certain manuscript? Well, no because the way the bible came together is by using thousands of manuscripts and majority wins. When we say inerrant we like to point to our KJV or NASB and hold it up and say this is the WORD OF GOD. Unfortunately that specific text has been through so much translation, taken from its original language and the way we understand that is far from the way it was intended (which is why its so great to take Greek and Hebrew classes). If I was to hold to any inerrant view I think it would be a useless Endeavour because I would hold that the original manuscripts were inerrant which we don’t have.

2. An example. When Matthew quotes Isaiah about Jesus being born from a virgin he is actually quoting the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT). The original word in Hebrew doesn’t necessarily mean virgin but means ‘getting pregnant after having sex for the first time’ (or something like that). We only know this now because we can see the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures and we can see Matthew’s error. As far as I’m concerned Matthew made an error because the Septuagint made an error and that’s what he quoted. Oops.

3. For the last 3 months I’ve been doing an intense study on war and sex in the Hebrew bible. I’m having an extremely hard time reconciling the God of the OT scriptures with Christ of the NT ones. I’m having a hard time understanding how a nation that is told to be a blessing to other nations is then commanded to slaughter them, women and children and all. I’m not saying just because I have difficulties it makes it untrue, but I hope you can at least better see where I’m coming from.

4. I don’t understand how we can accept books that we don’t even know the author as the inerrant Word of God, more specifically NT texts rather than OT ones.

5. This isn’t a reason why I don’t think it’s inerrant, but it is a reason why I will challenge people in it. Inerrancy seems to breed arrogance. It gives people a sense of power and pride that results in misunderstandings and bad hermeneutics. I’m sick of people using the Bible to support their own theologies and rules and regulations. It’s been used to justify war and cruel slavery. That’s not a reason to disregard inerrancy but I think it’s a good one to challenge people on their view on exactly what inerrancy is.

6. I don’t understand the need to believe in inerrancy. Just because one can say that there ‘are no errors’ and can attempt to justify errors that show up doesn’t make it anymore inerrant than me saying that the bible has errors and me repeatedly showing examples makes it errant. I don’t think that inerrancy is fundamental nor as important as we think it is. Anyone who thinks it’s all that important I doubt they understand any other view because they are probably already labeled the person a heretic. Why is it so important to believe inerrancy? Does it make my faith weaker to not believe in it? No, I think it makes it stronger (whatever strong and weak may mean, probably a different post.

7. The bible is full of unexplainable tensions (like war, murders, opposite stories (creation, the flood), seeing God after being said you can’t see him and live, number differences, story differences, contradicting genealogies etc.) someone who believes in inerrancy HAS to reconcile every single one. To be honest most reconciliations are long shots in the dark but they don’t care because if it’s possible they believe it because the bible is inerrant. Inerrancy becomes the foundation of reconciling errors. When if you don’t believe in inerrancy you just accept the bible as it is. You accept the tensions in the text. It’s ok. What does someone who believes in inerrancy do with tension; they explain it. When maybe the point of it is to be an error. Maybe God wanted errors because constantly trying to understand these tensions helps us know more about ourselves and our creator. Only maybe.

I stayed away from examples for the most part, because that is just not my point whatsoever. We can’t solve this by going through example after example and you justifying each one. I will continue to find more tension and you would continue to study and research to come up with some kind of answer. I will nod and say oh that was a good explanation and it probably just won’t resonate with me. But it will with you, and that’s ok because you believe in inerrancy, and I don’t. Even Davis (genious philosophy prof at Tyndale) in philosophy based every single argument on contradictions in the bible based on the argument that.

1. the bible is inerrant and without error
2. it seems we have run into an error
3. there HAS to be an answer or explanation because the bible is inerrant

I can’t do it like that. It doesn’t make sense for me or my faith to accept inerrancy. Does this mean I disregard the bible as useless or redundant? Nope. Does this mean that the bible is not a good tool anymore to understand who Christ is? Nope. I love the bible and I think it is full of truth and it helps reveal Christ and God’s redemptive story. Without it we’d have some serious problems understanding our history. We wouldn’t. I will continue to teach from it and study it. I will continue to encourage people to read it and memorize it and better understand it. I just can’t come to the conclusion that is inerrant.

8 Comments

  • Just a few thoughts:

    1. No offense intended Nate, but your comments on this number betray an ignorance of translation and textual criticism. It’s not just “majority” wins; more thought goes into it than that. And our translations are not THAT far from the original.

    2. It’s not impossible that the LXX be right on something the MT is different with it on. That said, there are better understandings of what Matthew is doing (which are more than just the harmonizations you seem to despise) than what you have described.

    4. I don’t see why it matters whether or not we know who wrote it…?

    5. There are a million and one doctrines than can be used to breed arrogance. The idea that Christ is the Messiah breeds arrogance in some people. But I don’t think (I hope) we can say this is a bad belief because it does that to some people.

    6. I clearly understand the other view, and what is motivating it. I believe inerrancy because I believe it is an implication about what the Bible teaches about itself, and as a Protestant Christian I am committed to believing whatever I think God teaches. Yes this is a circle; see my comments on the previous thread about circularity in epistemology if you (or anyone reading this) thinks that is fallacious.

    7. Are the unexplainable? You say they are, and then when anyone tries to explain them, you say they are just patch jobs. This seems unreasonable. Let me ask you a question: if someone came up to you and said “Your life depends on trusting me and what I tell you”, but every other word out of their mouth was false, would that be a person you would trust your life to? I know, you don’t accept that the Bible is God speaking. And if you think that when the Bible says it is God speaking it is false, then I’m not sure what more can be said. I’m committed to the principle that I believe what the Scripture teaches about X, and thats why I believe what I do about what the Scripture teaches about itself. But if you don’t affirm that principle, then the discussion has to move on to larger issues, ones which come closer to the foundation of one’s worldview. And those kinds of discussions are never pretty when they involve conflict.

    I’m not sure what more to say; I hope everyone can keep the dialogue going (not necessarily here, but in life) about this, and not prematurely shut down the possibility of their error (on either side, to be fair).

  • BTW, Nate, I want to read one of your “Books I’m Reading” selections really badly, “Exclusion and Embrace”. I hope you post your thoughts on that when you finish. I’ve heard great things about it.

  • definetely agree with Andrew here. Was about to mention about the translation thing, but I noticed Andrew caught it. Good job :P

  • Some comments from Keith’s blog:

    Andrew Fulford said…
    “unless God rectifies the situation and grants repentance. “

    You sound almost like the other JC here ;-)

    5:29 PM
    Dan said…
    Keith,

    While I am sure there are valid reasons for defending scripture, I don’t know that worry about “weakening people’s confidence in Christ” is among them. Christ dares us to disbelieve himself. He came with nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He lived a brief life and died a criminal’s death. He is “foolishness” and a “stumbling block” to humans.

    We need not even question scripture to have our confidence in Christ challenged. Are we embarassed that he came in the way he did? Of course we would deny that, but if you were a first century Jew, what would you say about Jesus without the benefit of hindsight? Here he’s this guy calling to everyone who labours and is heavy-laden, claiming that he can give them rest. How? By taking up a cross instead?! What kind of light burden is that?

    Christ challenges our faith in Christ – it seems to be His way.

    We need to be less afraid of people having their faith challenged somethimes. A faith that rests in the comforts of Sunday school assurance becomes flabby and out of shape. The saints will persevere right?

    5:33 PM
    Brian McTavish said…
    [Here I offer what I previously posted on another site]
    Nate,

    I stand behind my original post. I do not think that anyone has refuted it yet.

    Here is an analysis of the argument:

    1) The Bible is not a god

    a) the Bible has errors
    b) a god should not have errors
    c) The Bible is not a god

    I think everyone agrees with the conclusion, but it’s premise a) that everyone is questioning. You have offered ABSOLUTELY no evidence for the premise. How about this?:

    a) the Bible claims that there is no god beside God
    b) the Bible is correct in its claims
    c) the Bible is not a god

    Wow, that seems a little easier.

    It certainly seems strange to go to bizarre lengths in arguing for 1.a) when you have no proof.

    Another thought:
    “The trees danced in the night sky as the wind ran by.”

    Now I could argue that the above statement is not a god on the basis of scientific fact that trees are unable to perform the physical function of dancing and that wind cannot run. From that I can draw the conclusion that the above statement has errors. Would that be very useful? I would be holding the statement up to a standard that is foreign to the purpose for which it was written. (It seems any “error” that can be found in the Bible dissipates in a similar fasion).

    Does anyone in the world suggest we should do that for the Bible? That is not what inerrancy holds (at least for non-crazy people).

    Now suppose that we consider the statement: “the Bible is not the word of God.” This statement is vague, so we’ll need unpack it. Let’s say we mean this:

    “The Bible is not accurate in all that it says.”

    Still we find that “says” is too vague. We could mean it in the sense that would place dancing trees under a scientific microscope. Let’s try this:

    “The Bible is not accurate in all that it INTENDS.”

    This seems to be what we’re discussing. I.e. the writers of Scripture may have (in some cases) actually intended to communicate one thing, but were inaccurate in what they intended to communicate. Alright, let’s accept this for the moment. Now let’s consider where the Bible is accurate:

    “The Bible is accurate in none of what it intends.”

    Here is an absurd belief that not even atheists accept, so let’s modify it:

    “The Bible is accurate in some of what it intends.”

    Alright, let’s work with this one. Now we have a claim where we are saying that the Bible is accurate some of the time but not all of the time. Now the question that rises is, “how do we know WHEN the Bible is accurate or inaccurate?” We need another standard to adjudicate between scriptural inaccuracy. Suppose we try science, or philosophy, or psychology. What we would find is that each of these disciplines have their own discrpancies and problems. Thus, in order to take one or some of them, we would need to do so BY FAITH. Now the question that arises is “are we better off taking these things by faith than the Bible itself?” (especially when we have failed to offer a single irresolvable error in the Bible).

    Now let’s suppose we try the more emergent method of finding an adjudicating standard:

    “My standard is Jesus.”

    Now that sounds very nice, in fact quite pious, but it is so horribly vague that we’ll have to unpack it to find out what it means.

    “My standard is the propositional communication that I directly have with the person Jesus Christ.”

    Well, this sounds quite lovely. It also means that you should begin to write your own scripture since you are clearly more inspired than the authors of the holy writ. Let’s try something else:

    “My standard is the love relationship I have with Jesus Christ.”

    Well this sounds even more lovely. In fact it almost sounds more pious to our postmodern ears. Out with the text, in with the feeling. It might even work wonders to sway Charismatics such as myself who place a high value on personal relationship with Jesus. However, we are trying to find a standard that can adjudicate concerning accurate or inaccurate propositions. Thus this statment says nothing concerning what we’re looking for. Let’s try the most lethal option:

    “My standard is Jesus, who is in heaven. One day I will go there and will have access to that standard. Until then, I’m not sure what’s right or wrong in the Bible.”

    Here is a statement that seems not only pious, but (to woo the ears of postmoderns) HUMBLE. Well let’s consider it. Now we admit that the Bible communicates some things about Jesus, so we have to ask, is the Jesus that the Bible talks about the Jesus that we’re talking about? If so then it seems we are doing an interesting thing with the propositions communicated in the Bible. We are accepting them as correct in describing the person Jesus Christ. But why would we do that? What is motivating us to accept certain propositions as correct? It seems this is the belief that is motivating that:

    “Generally speaking (though not 100% of the time) the Bible is accurate in what it communicates.”

    Here’s the huge problem with this statement: it has no backing. You need to take it by faith. You can’t find a scripture passage that supports it. If we deny that the Bible is correct 100% of the time on the basis that we don’t need to accept it scripturally or whatever, then it logically follows that we must also reject the “less than 100% but somewhere above 50%” thesis. Oh-oh, we’re on a slope and starting to slip down fast!

    Now, the question is where to we pull in the reins? We could say we’re closing shop at the “the Bible is correct most of the time” thesis. In order to do this (and I can’t think of any other way) we must do so BY FAITH. So we are digging in our heels in the by-faith ground, when we were so upset when the 100%-ers did that just a minute ago. Hmm… that seems unfair.

    We will end up using the same arguments as the 100%-ers in order to argue that the Bible is correct most of the time. We’ll say things like it was inspired by God, it was written by people who knew Jesus, etc. The problem is, those arguments all seem to blatantly favour the 100%-ers. If divine inspiration is efficacious for 90% correctness why on God’s green earth would it not be effective enough to achieve 100% correctness? If we accept that God is indeed inspiring men to write down something that accurately represents him, it seems horribly ad hoc that God would choose to give them 90% (or whatever other percent) correctness in their being inspired. If God is doing anything whatsoever in the writing of Scripture, does it not seem obviously consistent with his character to do the job in a God-way? It seems strange for a perfect God to write an imperfect scripture. And when your basis is of a “by faith” type, then you’ve got way more problems than the 100%-ers.

    12:44 PM
    Anonymous said…
    “unless God rectifies the situation [in logical response to their turning to him] and grants repentance.”

    You sound almsot like the other JW here ;-)

    John Wesley, not Jehovah Witness…

    12:50 PM
    Anonymous said…
    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

    6:21 PM
    Keith Brooks said…
    Dan,

    But how do you know that Christ came with nothing in his appearance that we should desire him? How do you know that he lived a brief life and died a criminals death? After all, the Scriptures are full of hundreds of errors.

    Sure questions and all are fine. Im all up for conversation. But there does come a point in time where enough is enough. I want to start working on the fifth floor but people keep on questioning whether I poured the foundation.

    I agree that there are aspects of Christianity that are hard for people to accept. Lets just not create unnecessary ones.

    Keith.

    1:11 AM
    Matt said…
    Brooks i noticed you said the fifth floor is their and subliminal – Tyndale res. in their.
    But truth be told the last comment is what I wanted to say. If you say the Bible is unaccurate then Jesus could be fictional and all that. I think their is enough evidence of claims the bible makes of itself that can justify inerrancy of purpose.

    3:26 AM
    Anonymous said…
    Brooks,

    You are a sick man. Get back on the fourth floor. Sicko.

  • Nate Colquhoun I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU! you have completley forgetten the whole notion of story with regards to the Christian religion and Gods revelation to us in scripture. inerrancy is KEY to understanding and living the Christian faith. when you talk about errancy/inerrancy you are almost exclusivly talking about ‘proof texting’ which is a subject for another day but is widely rejected by the braoder evangelical church. inerrancy is key to faith because without inerrancy we can assume God had nothing to do with the transmission of his metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, to us. you should call me sometime.

    ps. i wonder where all these liberal ideas are coming from maybe you need to be more critical of your secular school, they just might have a bias that is influencing what they are teaching you.

  • I really like what Dan said in Kieths blog (way up there somewhere)

    While I am sure there are valid reasons for defending scripture, I don’t know that worry about “weakening people’s confidence in Christ” is among them. Christ dares us to disbelieve himself. He came with nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He lived a brief life and died a criminal’s death. He is “foolishness” and a “stumbling block” to humans.

    We need not even question scripture to have our confidence in Christ challenged. Are we embarrassed that he came in the way he did? Of course we would deny that, but if you were a first century Jew, what would you say about Jesus without the benefit of hindsight? Here he’s this guy calling to everyone who labours and is heavy-laden, claiming that he can give them rest. How? By taking up a cross instead?! What kind of light burden is that?

    In response to Uncle Nicky

    ps. i wonder where all these liberal ideas are coming from maybe you need to be more critical of your secular school, they just might have a bias that is influencing what they are teaching you.

    I think thats a crying shame for you to say that to Nathan. If you knew Nathans character you would know his intent isnt to get us unsaved (ha) by asking these kinds of questions. He has challenged everyone it appears who has posted. I would rather see Nathan be influenced by this secular school so that he can come to more of an understanding of the God he serves rather than him sit at Tyndale (no offence to Tyndale attendees, I really like that school) and get a one sided view on things.

    To say he should be critical of his school means he should be critical of everything he hears. Nathan is the kind of guy I would want to see challenged to the fullest because I know he would learn with the most humble intentions. Do you think hes asking these questions or making these statements to be a prick? I wouldnt like to think so.

  • Ron, im not criticizing im just asking nate to look at the source. I understand that it is good to ask the questions but it is also dangerous to take what teachers at a secular school say at face value. as well, it seems to me that nate has already made up his mind when this post was made. anyways he’s still smart and he’ll figure it out.

  • This really has nothing to do with York.
    They don’t critisize the bible all that much and when they do its usually unvalidated.

    It’s really my own studying and reading that bring up these questions.

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