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. 

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