Friday, July 31, 2015

Is the Bible Really Inerrant: Part II

I continue my musing on the inerrancy of the Bible. 

Not a Science Book

The Bible is not a text book or science book though some like to use it that way. Much of the Old Testament was written according to what is called oral tradition—the Jewish method of preserving historical events. Several years ago Alex Haley wrote Roots. The story was about a black slave Kunta Kinte, Haley’s ancestor, who was kidnapped from Gambia (West Africa) and brought to America in chains. While researching the book, Haley traveled to Africa where he met with a tribal historian who told the story of Kunta Kinte’s capture. (Linda T. Wynn, “Alex Haley (1921-1992), Way Back Machine, (accessed May 2, 2014))  

This oral tradition is similar to how many of the biblical stories of old were passed down before they were eventually penned on parchment. The Bible wasn’t written to the same standard of accuracy we have today primarily because the emphasis was not as much on linear details but on telling the stories and genealogical significance.

There are numerous discrepancies in the Bible. Here are a few.

·         Two creation accounts. In Genesis 1:1-27 God created everything before man and in the second, Genesis 2, man is created before vegetation
·         Accounts of the empty tomb vary in each gospel including different numbers of angels present
·         Gaps in genealogies. Matthew 1:1-17 lists Jesus’ genealogy, but it has holes and is considerably condensed. Some of Jesus’ predecessors’ names do not appear. It’s not usual for different accounts listing the same genealogy line to omit people. Dubbed  “telescoping” by some biblical scholars, most feel they reflect differing expectations. Writers who documented these ancient biblical genealogies were not bothered by abridging them. They sometimes cut them short to emphasize a name or connection. Today we want a complete listing of all ancestors.

Regarding these inconsistencies in chronology Raymond Dillard writes in the NIV Study Bible:4
Unimportant names are left out in order to relate an individual to a prominent ancestor, or possibly to achieve the desired number of names in the genealogy. Some Biblical genealogies, for example, omit names to achieve multiples of 7: For the period from David to the exile Matthew gives 14 generations (2 times 7), while Luke gives 21 (3 times 7), and the same authors give similar multiples of 7 for the period from the exile to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). (1 Chronicles: Introduction from the NIV Study Bible,” (accessed May 1, 2012)

Not Error Free

We also need to keep in mind that biblical writings have been transcribed from ancient manuscripts. The printing press is a fairly recent invention. Prior to its arrival, biblical passages had to be hand written and copied. Despite attention to detail, checks and rechecks, transcribing errors happened.

If you have ever copied something by typing it or writing it, you know how easy it is to skip a word or line. Some copied manuscripts reflect human error. Later manuscripts may have them correct or may still include them.

Differences in interpretations as to the meanings of words in the original language also exist. In some cases, articles such as the word “the” may be left out purposely or accidentally omitted, but the meaning is still accurate. Transcribers might also switch word orders around though the meaning is still the same. (From the author's interview with Rev. Jeffrey Stewart, interview by author, April 1, 2014

Jonathan Dodson says there are two ways to look at these errors. First, meaningful but not plausible. In this case, the errors have meaning but to verify if they are correct, you hold them up against the rest of the passage to see if they make sense. What this means is that words, when translated need to be taken in context. (Jonathan K. Dodson, “What to Say When Someone Says the Bible Has Errors,” February 16, 2012, (May 2, 2014))

Second, meaningful but not plausible. These are errors that have meanings. Dodson says these account for about 1% of errors so they are very infrequent. In some rare cases translations may include additions which many scholars feel should not have be included. Some of the most ancient manuscripts and writings indicate that the book of Mark originally ended with the disciples fleeing the empty tomb after an encounter with an angel.

Many Bibles have passages ending at verse 20 which covers a visit by Jesus, following His resurrection to Mary Magdalene, His appearance to two unnamed disciples, and the commissioning of the disciples with what has become known as The Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples and the ascension of Jesus. Most Bibles today include footnotes indicating this discrepancy.

It’s an incorrect presupposition to assume there was one single original manuscript from which all copies sprang. Rather, there were many ancient copies in circulation. It’s estimated that there were between 13,000 and 24,000 ancient manuscripts of the Bible. If there was only one manuscript, and all copies came from that and were copies of copies, then the errors would be astronomical.

Because multiple copies were being used and copied, this actually decreased the number of errors. Experts estimated there are somewhere around 150,000 discrepancies in the Bible. This sounds like a lot until you consider that many include the same inconsistencies multiple times. The majority of these are due to spelling errors and changes in grammar over the years.”

As you can see there is much to think about when we talk about inerrancy. My next posting will continue my look are "inerancy."  Stay tuned.  I welcome your comments.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Is the Bible Really Inerrant? Part I

This week I continue my look at the Bible and popularly held beliefs among evangelical protestants. I was taught through my Southern Baptist upbringing that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. To even consider anything else would be blasphemous. Today I hold a different belief though I know others who remain convinced that there are absolutely no flaws in the Bible.

Jimmy Carter, former president and conservative Christian held a different perspective.

He wrote:

When we go to the Bible we should keep in mind that the basic principles of the Bible are taught by God, but written down by human beings deprived of modern day knowledge. So there is some fallibility in the writings of the Bible. But the basic principles are applicable to my life and I don't find any conflict among them. — Jimmy Carter  (“President Jimmy Carter Authors New Bible Book, Answers Hard Biblical Questions,” March 19, 2012, (accessed May 2, 2014)

Several years ago when I was working as an admin assistant/volunteer coordinator for a women’s mission, the non-profit at that time required prospective volunteers to sign a statement of belief. Part of that document included a paragraph indicating applicants believed the Bible was the inerrant word of God.

A prospective volunteer who was a biblical scholar balked at signing the agreement because of its wording. He didn’t believe the Bible is without errors. When I raised this concern with the executive director of the charity, she asked my husband Jeff, who holds a Master of Divinity degree, to look over the statement and give his input. He agreed to do so and concluded that he also had an issue with the terminology.

Previously, the director and I had considered revising some of our criteria including the fact that we only allowed volunteers who professed to follow Christ to volunteer. Now this. We went back to the proverbial drawing board to determine what we felt were non-essentials for volunteer involvement. 

The result was that we decided that only those who were going to be in leadership and teaching positions needed to sign a statement regarding their profession of faith. We also changed the wording of the volunteer agreement to say that the Bible is the inspired word of God rather than the inerrant word of God. We never used the term inerrant again.

Direct Dictation

The term inerrant is a bone of contention among many churches and believers. Some from more conservative persuasions believe it is sacrilege to state that the Bible has errors. Those holding this viewpoint seem to feel God practically stood over the shoulders of authors of all biblical passages dictating word for word what they transcribed.

There are a few cases where this did happen. For instance, in Exodus 20:1-17 the Lord told Moses precisely what to inscribe on the stone tablets and these became what are known as The Ten Commandments.

In Jeremiah 26:2-6, God told the prophet Jeremiah precisely the words to say to the people of Judah. “This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’”

You’ll find passages in Isaiah and other places where God dictated to directly the prophet. The book of Revelation, for instance, came by word of Jesus Christ through an angel who told the apostle John what to transcribe. In most cases this is not how the Bible came to be written. Pastor Richard Kremer notes, “Few words in the last thirty years have caused more mischief than the word inerrancy.” (“Pastor Blasts Biblical Inerrancy,” July 5, 2012, Bob Allen, (accessed May 2, 2014)

Proof that the divine dictation method is not the manner in which most of the Bible came to be written can be seen in the variations, style and more. Like the detective who studies the evidence to make his case, we will look at various components to gain a better understanding of what went in to making the Bible what it is. By doing so, we will help prove the case against inerrancy to show that our scripture is not from direct dictation but rather that it came through various sources and means to be written down.

                                          Uniqueness and Inconsistencies

As an author myself, I have submitted my works in progress to be critiqued by other writers and have, in turn critiqued their work. You never know your writing idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses until someone points them out to you. Every writer has certain words they are fond of using. Some use sophisticated words. Others use simpler language. Some like to include a lot of detail while others prefer to just keep to the facts.

It is much the same with those who contributed to the Bible. For instance, Luke was a doctor. He was interested in science, medical details, and accuracy. He was well-educated so his gospel account of Jesus’ ministry is polished and includes details other accounts omitted. John, on the other hand, was not as schooled. His words were simple and his narrative more basic.

The authors were also from different levels of society so this also came into play. There is a saying among writers, “write what you know.” Though writers can record what they don’t know, they nearly always draw on their own personal experience and knowledge and this finds its way into their stories. Paul, a former member of the Sanhedrin, was highly educated and was also a Roman citizen. Peter, a fisherman, was probably barely literate and most likely hired a scribe to help him pen his writings.

The Bible was written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It depends on the era, and the writer as to the original language in which each book was written. The writers of the Bible had different passions. There are different accounts of the crucifixion story in all four gospels, but this doesn’t mean they are inaccurate. Each author focused on what he remembered and the parts of the story that were most important to them.

My next post will continue this discussion of inerrancy.  

Note: Some of my musings about inerrancy are from my work in process called Tough Questions About God, Faith, and Spirituality. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How We Got the Protestant Bible

In my first post ever in this blog I said the purpose of this blog is for me to share where I am spiritually and allow myself the freedom to question what is commonly taught among evangelical Christians. I retain my faith in Christ and am very serious about following His teachings but I cannot blindly follow everything that has been traditionally taught because there seems to be so many issues with some of it.

One of the areas where I have been recently challenged regarding my beliefs is the Bible. I was taught, as are many other Protestants, especially those of the Southern Baptist persuasion (which is what I was raised as), that the Bible is the inerrant inspired word of God. 

Several areas of this belief has come under scrutiny by myself so I will take these one at a time in separate blog posts. I thought I would devote this particular blog post to talking about how we even got the Protestant Bible. 

Have you really given that any thought?  It didn't occur like it did with the 10 commandments with God dictating the commandments and Moses inscribing them on tablets. Each book that we have was written at a different time by a different author or author(s). I'll revisit some of this in a later post.  

I went to college as an adult and was surprised to learn when taking a religion class that the Catholic Bible and the Protestant Bible differ in the books they contain. The Catholic Bible contains more books than the Protestant Bible and these additional books include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I and II Maccabees, 

I can't recall if I have read all of these additional books but I do recall reading Tobit and Judith. I remember thinking how out of sync the book of Tobit seemed with the books in the Bible I am familiar with. The book of Judith, however, (I think I have the right book) seemed like it would dovetail well with other books in Protestant Bible. 

How did the Protestants and the Catholics end up with such different Bibles? Bear with me as I explain. I know this information can be rather dull, but I think it's important to talk about it.

The answer is canonization. The term “canon” is used to describe the books that are  considered divinely inspired and belong in the Bible. Canonization is the process these books went through by Church council to be voted into inclusion in the Bible.

The books of the Old Testament were written probably between 1000 and 100 B. C.  Books of the New Testament were written between the time of Jesus' death and the first century.  

The Septuagint, Jewish scripture  translated into Greek was revised around 100 A.D. by a group of Jewish Rabbis who excluded some sections of the Greek Septuagint  and canonized it .(15 Jewish books which were written later, between 170 B.C. to 70 A.D., and not found in Hebrew versions of the Jewish Scripture were omitted). Christians didn't adopt this revised version but continued to use the earlier, longer version. 

With so many different manuscripts floating about, canonization assured that manuscripts included would be valid and not heretical.

The first canon was the Muratorian Canon, 170 A.D. All New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John were included.

The Council of Laodicea in 363, A.D. determined that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) also affirmed the same 27 books were valid.

Guidelines for screening what was accepted included: 1) Whether the author of the manuscript was an apostle or was closely connected with an apostle 2) If the writing was well accepted by Christ followers of the time 3) If the doctrine seemed consistent with and followed orthodox teaching. 4) If it exhibited high moral and spiritual standards and it seemed that the Holy Spirit had inspired it.

It wasn't until the Reformation that Protestants decided the additional books should not be included in the Bible. The argument was that if they weren't in the Hebrew Bible then they shouldn't be in the Christian Bible. You will find them in early editions of the King James Bible. Catholics decided at the Council of Trent  in 1546 to keep the "deutero-canonical" books.

Some books that are included in the Protestant Bible which have continued to be debated as to whether they should have been included are James, Hebrews, and Revelation.

Questions or debate that arises within me because I know these facts. While doing research for this post I found some writers who assured me that without a doubt, the Bible is inspired by God and His stamp of approval is on it. They seem to feel that those who sat in on these canonization councils were at the time divinely influenced to make the choices they did. Others didn't mention that.

I have toured the Mediterranean including Florence, Italy and have seen great works of art. Some of what I have seen depicted in the religious realm was rather disturbing theologically. And much of this art was commissioned by religious leaders or people who were revered by the Church because of political and financial status. How can I be sure that those who sat on these councils to validate these religious writings were stellar Christians and not politically hungry men with their own agendas?  Some of the worst corruption I have seen has come from ancient Church leaders.  

My conclusion in this part is that I will accept what we have been handed down as valid as coming direct from God, but I do so with some skepticism because of this past history.Human imperfection and ability to sin is even evident with the most respected patriarchs in the Bible, Moses (murderer)  and David (murderer and adulterer) to name a few.

Is skepticism bad showing a lack of faith? Some Christians would tell me so and that it is coming from a dark source but  I don’t believe that is true..I think it is good and wise to keep a guarded stance. 

For further reading pleasure:

1. Protestant and Catholic Bibles, Father William Saunders,

2. How and When Was the Canon of the Bible Put Together.

3.  Why are Protestant and Catholic Bibles Different?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Christian's Spiritual Quest for Truth

When speaking about our understanding of spiritual matters, the Apostle Paul once said, "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV).

He compared our human inability to fully understand spiritual matters and God's ways to looking at our own face in a mirror or through a dark piece of glass. The picture isn't nearly as clear as we want it to be. Much of God's design for us and instructions remain obscured, though there are some people who believe they have a clear grasp on all of it. How they can be so self assured when dealing with a spiritual being who is all powerful, all knowing and far beyond our intelligence level I don't know.

Frankly. the older I get, the less sure I feel about what I was raised to believe about God, Jesus, and the Bible. This was all based on what was fed to me through my Southern Baptist and Protestant upbringing. Please don't get me wrong. I haven't lost my faith or commitment to Christ.
I think  a lot of good came from this, but I also believe some really faulty theology has been passed from one generation to the next. Some of these beliefs are a product of our culture, as well as a the off spring of the belief systems and acceptable practices during the life times of the theologians who originated them.

None of these people were perfect, so it stands to reason that not all of their teachings will be in line with what God truly intended for us.

This is my first post on this blog which will be a sounding board for my own faith journey as I take these "pockets" of beliefs and turn them inside out to see what falls out. If I find any faulty coins in them, I'll talk about it here.

I do not have a Masters of Divinity though my husband does, but I am a published author. All of us, despite our education have it within us to study and dig to ferret out the facts.

I am sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with my posts. Some may even call me a heretic and to you I say, "let me be. It's my quest for truth. If you swallow what churches teach without digging in for yourself to find the original meanings and context in which these are written, then, shame on you."

God doesn't mind people wrangling with Him. He won't strike you dead with lightening nor condemn you to hell. In fact earnest dialogue with God is very Jewish and traces back to a very ancient tradition. Abraham, Jacob, David and more all wrangled with God. He is open to it because He wants us to feel comfortable with Him and more than anything, He wants a deep and lasting relationship with Him.

You are welcome to post your thoughts and your own findings as we journey through this quest for truth together.