Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why It Matters - Biblical Inerrancy

Since the Jesus Seminar seems to be on an extended vacation, Bart Ehrman stepped up this Easter season and trotted out the so-called Gospel of Judas. In his continuing campaign to deconstruct (and thus destroy) the word of God, he touts an old Gnostic piece of propaganda designed to lure people toward their teaching -- the need for a secret knowledge. Anybody with a little bit of investigation can see that the document is not a historical account, and it most certainly wasn't written by Judas in that time between kissing Jesus in the garden and hanging himself from a tree in the potter's field. But it's the attack that matters. The idea is to get people -- especially Christians -- to doubt that what the Bible says is true and accurate. Ehrman and many others want to take down biblical inerrancy.

This is nothing new. People have been trying to disprove the Bible for centuries. Any strand of hope has been clung to in order to cast doubt on the reliability of what has been handed down to us as God's word. I've dealt with many people who have tried to claim that the Bible is just a book translated from one language to another to another to another until today it looks nothing like what was originally written. Their ignorance of the fact that our Bible is translated from the original language shoots their argument before it falls off the tongue.

But most assaults on the Bible's reliability come in two forms: the Church changed the texts to make them say what the Church wanted them to say, or the original authors were unreliable. The first charge reads like a wild conspiracy theory. Many unorthodox teachers make this claim to try to prove their own anti-biblical theories. And then there are the Dan Browns of the world who flesh out a conspiracy theory about Mary Magdalene, Leonardo daVinci, et. al., call it a "code" and make bucketfuls of cash from it.

Those who claim that the authors could not have correctly transmitted God's word onto paper often point to some of the apparent contradictions in the text and claim that there are mistakes. Jennifer was discussing one of those this week. However upon further study, those apparent contradictions are not contradictions at all. They can all be harmonized with one another. At least I've never found one which wasn't easily harmonized.

People have argued with me that the Old Testament writers thought pi=3 and that different authors reported different figures for war injuries and for populations, refusing to understand that giving a rounded number instead of an exact number is not a distorting of the text. They point to differing accounts in the four Gospels, ignoring the basic human fact that different people notice different things. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all different types of people, writing to different audiences for different reasons. If the four wrote all identical texts, the charges of collusion would be rampant. And let's not forget that Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and even Jonah had no problem getting God's message accurately. Why should we think that God wouldn't make sure Peter, Paul, James and John got it right too?

Please note that holding to biblical inerrancy holds for the original documents and not necessarily the translations, which is where our conspiracy theorists pounce. Yet as great as the number of biblical manuscripts that we have, there is little doubt as to their overall accuracy.

But why does it matter? Why can't we just toss out biblical inerrancy and not worry about it? Because the Bible is our standard. Sure we have the revelation of creation around us and we have the revelation of conscience within us, but beyond that we have no way to determine whether a teaching is accurate outside of the Bible. There is no esoteric "feeling" which is not so subjective to make a true determination. If the accuracy of the Bible is in question in one place, how do you place confidence in it's accuracy in another? If Jesus' miracles are all just myth, then what is really true and how do you know? Certainly we can't be stupid enough to think that our own reason with no further revelation from God will lead us directly to Him.

If Jesus didn't walk on water, then how do we know we are saved by grace and not by works?

The fact that man argues over interpretation is irrelevent. Man will argue over the color of the sky, even if it came with a big label reading, "BLUE". Our troubles in understanding all of it is only natural for pea-brained humans trying to comprehend an infinite God. Our problem believing it is a matter of faith, or the lack thereof. But none of these compromise the truth of the Bible, nor do they undercut in any way the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Biblical inerrancy matters because once the accuracy of any part is called into question, the accuracy of all of it is then in question. It matters because Scripture is the revelation God gives of Himself. It matters because the Bible is the foundation for knowing the truth of our faith.

It matters.


Jennifer said...

Christians who refuse to admit that there are contradictions and discrepancies in the written word are playing into the hands of those who seek to refute the Gospel for their own agendas. You are handing the victory to them on a silver platter. As long as a doubter can point to an obvious discord, which you deny exists, they have won the argument. What you call harmonization is rationalization, pure and simple. I believe in the same God you do. I believe in the same Savior you do. Why can’t you admit that there are problems with the text? Again, you are making the jump from recognizing an obvious contradiction and throwing out the entire Bible. Is your faith so flimsy that you have to resort to manipulation in order to make every story in the Bible add up? That doesn’t say much for faith. And what in the HECK does walking on water have to do with grace?! How is it that everyone else in the room sees the elephant?

A Human Bean said...


I am with you totally on this one. When someone can show me a real discrepency I will change, but I have never seen one.


rev-ed said...

Jennifer - show me a contradiction. And rememeber that a contradiction means that either one side or the other must be true. I've been through the Judas accounts at your blog -- no contradiction. Harmonization simply means seeing how they come together. It's not manipulation, it's investigation. It's not rationalization, it's dealing with truth.

And yeah, if someone could show me a contradiction with no explanation, that would shake my faith in Scripture. They've been trying for over 1000 years to do it...

Walking on water and grace? If you throw out one, why not throw out the other? That's the point. If you can't trust the Bible at one point, you can't trust it at all. Toss it out. There is no way of playing pick-and-choose accurately. None. You believe it or you don't. I see no reason not to believe it. And I've looked for the reasons.

Jennifer said...

Well, we just see things differently I guess.

Gregory said...

Thanks for your post. I am in the process of preparing a sermon or two on the Da Vinci Code and will have to address the issue of the setting of the canon and the reason certain books were left out. I think your post captures a train of thought that has been missing in a lot of our churches for some time.