Contribution Post by Nathan Owens from Finding Truth
I became a Christian just before my 10th birthday, and I was regularly leading our song service, leading prayers, teaching classes, even giving short sermons before I graduated from high school. I was a Christian first – everything else was secondary. Over the years, I managed to convert several people over to the brand of Christianity that I believed in.
But two years ago, my faith in the god of the Bible was ebbing away. The more I studied, the less I believed. When I reached a stage in my doubts in which I knew I needed to talk to other Christians about it, I realized that I would need to tread very carefully. I spent several weeks pulling together all the reasons and evidences that had led to my erosion of faith, and I wrote them out as clearly and thoroughly as I knew how. When I finished, I had over 50 pages — almost 34,000 words. It was very important to me that I communicate my thoughts on this important subject as clearly as possible.
A couple of months after I had finished it and sent it out to some of my friends and family, I was really disappointed to find out that I had cited the wrong chapter and verse in a few of my scripture references. I felt that those mistakes, while fairly incidental to my overall points, still detracted from the message I was trying to present. I knew that those mistakes would allow some people to claim that I hadn’t researched well enough, or that I hadn’t taken good enough care of the subject matter. Worse, some might think that I was making up passages in order to trick people into believing false claims. My goal had been to write so perfectly that no one would be able to misunderstand the reasons for my position. But of course, I’m human… and humans make mistakes.
As far as I know, most monotheisms claim that God is perfect. And in the Bible, Jesus referred to God being perfect (Matt 5:48). So if a perfect being wanted to write us a book, should we expect it to also be perfect? The message I composed to my Christian friends was of the utmost importance to me. If I could have written it perfectly, I would have. So if God is perfect and his message is important, couldn’t we also expect it to be perfect? Wouldn’t he want to be as clear as possible?
The Nature of Inspiration
Sometimes it’s said that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God, but they were also allowed to keep their own manner of speech, etc, and that this process could have allowed a few errors simply because the men themselves were not perfect. While I would agree that maintaining their style of speech even when inspired is plausible, I think the content of their message would have to be correct if they were truly inspired. After all, 2 Peter 1:20-21 says this:
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
While this passage speaks specifically about prophecies, I would imagine that the process of inspiration is basically the same whether the inspired person is speaking an actual prophecy or just repeating a message from God. Notice that the writer points out that these prophecies didn’t come by the will of men, but were direct revelations from God through the Holy Spirit. And one of the most important passages to consider is the following from 2 Tim 3:16-17:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
This passage makes it clear that all scripture is from God, and it makes the man of God complete. It’s everything he needs. So if God is perfect, and he inspired his writers to record his exact message, and all scripture is from him and profitable, why wouldn’t it be inerrant?
Sometimes, the point is made that 2 Tim 3 is talking about the Old Testament — the New Testament had not been written yet. That’s only partially true. By the time 2 Timothy was written, many of the other New Testament books had already been penned. And 2 Peter 3:15-16 says the following:
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
This shows that Paul’s writings were considered scripture at this time. Is there any reason to think the rest of the New Testament wouldn’t also be considered scripture? Therefore, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 would also apply to the New Testament, and it’s hard to understand why the message of a perfect deity would be flawed in some way.
Despite all of this evidence, there are still many Christians who maintain that the Bible does not have to be inerrant. For them, it is only inerrant when it comes to matters of spirituality, salvation, doctrine, etc. So when it talks about matters of science or history, for example, it may not be completely accurate.
I think there are some major issues with this position. First of all, it seems to run counter to the other passages we’ve looked at. Also, in John 3:12, Jesus rightly pointed out, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” There’s no way we could know that the Bible’s teachings on Heaven and Hell, the divinity of Christ, or the necessary steps of salvation are true and accurate unless we could verify the more mundane things it claims. For instance, would you trust information on particle physics if it came from someone who had never gotten past 4th grade science? When the Bible tells us about Heaven, it’s impossible for us to sit back and say, “Yes, that’s exactly right,” because we have no independent knowledge of Heaven. We only know what the Bible has told us. And if it can’t be trusted
in more minor details, why should we believe it on things that are completely unverifiable?
There’s another problem. Most Christians believe that other religions are false. Many Christians believe that non-Christians will be punished in some way (annihilated, sent to Hell, etc). If those things are true, and if God truly wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4), then it only follows that he would make his message as plain and accessible as possible. If the Bible contains historical and scientific mistakes, as well as internal contradictions, how is it any different than the religious texts of other religions?
Difficulties, not Contradictions
Another attitude toward Biblical inerrancy is to say that the Bible is inerrant in its entirety, but they admit that several places seem to be problematic. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article XII says the following:
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
If I understand this correctly, it basically says that the Bible is true in matters of science, but new discoveries in science can’t overturn anything the Bible says. So it’s impervious to scientific evidence. That’s awfully convenient.
Article XIV says this:
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.
In other words, the Bible might appear incorrect or inconsistent in places, but those are just problems that haven’t been solved yet. One day, those discrepancies will be understood more fully. I wonder if they feel that way about the problems in the Book of Mormon?
Article XIII says this:
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
This is one I hear a lot. We should not expect the Bible to fit within our modern ideas of accuracy. This means that since the Bible was written by ancient people, it should be understood in an ancient context. For instance, no one has been able to definitively explain why Matthew and Luke have different genealogies for Christ (or why neither of them match the genealogy in Chronicles), but we’re told that this would not have bothered ancient readers. It turns out, this claim is completely false (see here and here), but that’s what we’re told, nonetheless. Yet, isn’t this still a problem since the Bible is supposed to be inspired? I could understand why human writers would be bound within the same methods and practices of their own times, but why would God be constrained by those things? Didn’t he
know that later generations would see some of these difficulties as reasons to doubt the Bible’s inspiration? If he had inspired the Bible’s writers to record things in a more straightforward way (the same genealogy for Jesus, for instance), would ancient readers not have understood it?
It seems to me that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy only has to make these caveats because the Bible does not actually meet the standards for inerrancy that we would expect from a book written by a perfect deity.
Inerrant in the Original
Sometimes Christians will claim that the original manuscripts of the Bible were completely inerrant, so any problems in our Bibles today come from copyists and translators. Of course, since we have none of the Bible’s original manuscripts, it’s impossible to verify that claim. I won’t spend much time on this issue, because it would take us too far away from the topic at hand, but as I understand it, most scholars think that we’ve been able to come very close to what the original documents said. The fact that some passages were kept in popular translations for centuries even though we’ve now discovered that they weren’t original to the Bible only hurts the notion of inspiration, in my view. After all, what good are perfect originals if we don’t have access to them? But in the end, copyist errors can’t account for all the difficulties in the Bible, so I don’t feel it’s worth going into any further at this point.
Long Story Short
To me, whether or not the Bible should be inerrant is actually very simple. If someone tells me a story that involves breaking the laws of nature (miracles, in other words), I want to know I can trust that person completely before I accept his story. I need evidence, in other words, and the Bible seems to think that’s a reasonable standard. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he turned Moses’ staff into a serpent, then withered and restored Moses’ hand in order to prove that he really was God. When God called Gideon to deliver the Israelites from Midian, he gave at least 3 different signs in order to prove who he was (Judges 6). John 20:30-31 tells us that Jesus performed his miracles, and they were recorded, so that people might believe:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
And the author of Acts pointed out that the Bereans were noble because they consulted scriptures to test the message Paul was bringing them (Acts 17:11).
Even the Bible itself demonstrates the importance and necessity of evidence. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” That’s absolutely right. If the Bible can’t tell mundane things accurately, why should we believe all of its amazing things? Christians believe that God spoke from the top of Mount Sinai, that he walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. He sent fire from Heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel, and he parted the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites. He leveled the walls of Jericho for Joshua’s army, and he caused Samson to kill 1000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. His son walked on water, healed the sick, and defeated death. He spoke to his prophets and wrought amazing miracles through them. But now he communicates with us through a book? That’s how he chooses to communicate with us today? Either it’s just a
fable, or that book must have some amazing evidence. If God were going to send us a written message, if he were perfect, and if this message was so important that it decided the eternal fate for each of us, then that book must stand out in some way. At the very least, it should be utterly flawless. Anything less would run completely counter to every claim that’s been made about this god.