Inerrancy

You know, this sort of nonsense annoys me.

Those of you uninterested in religion can skip this. I’m debating Biblical inerrancy on its own terms, not slamming fundies on scientific ones.

First, if we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar. If there are errors in the original manuscripts, manuscripts that testify they were breathed out by God, one of two things must be true: either God purposely lied or he mistakenly lied. Either way this would indicate that God is capable of making or of producing errors. Needless to say, this would destroy our ability to trust any of God’s revelation and cause us to doubt God Himself.

There is zero evidence that any of the Bible was breathed out by God. I read the Torah on a regular basis. There are oblique references to a testimony but never does it claim to have been written by God. And you’d think that would be something state very clearly, no? That, like the Koran, the Bible would in first person. Or that maybe it would say, “Thus Said the Lord: In the beginning…”. But it doesn’t.

The New Testament is specifically not written by God, but by the apostles.

(Aside: The fact that the gospels contradict each other on certain points is, to me, an indicator that there was such a person as Christ. Historical sources frequently disagree. If the apostles agreed 100%, it would smell like a fiction. The same applies to the Five Books. The literal story of the Flood is a bit ridiculous — but there are so many legends from that part of the world about a flood that was survived with an ark that I have to believe something actually did happen.)

There is ample evidence that the Bible has been revised. For example, the age of the language varies. There are specific references within the Bible to legends and stories that have been lost.

Of course, there is also abundant evidence that some of its phrasing and language are contemporaneous — i.e., that parts were written about the time of the events they portray. The language of Abraham’s purchase of the field of Machpelah, for example, corresponds very closely to legal tablets recovered from that time period.

However, even if we assume the Bible is the inspired word of God, does that make him a liar if, say, evolution is a more accurate story than Genesis? No. If your child asks you where babies come from and you tell her they grow in mommies — but leave out the details of how they get in there — that doesn’t make you a liar. You’re just leaving out details they aren’t ready for or wouldn’t understand.

Consider the Israelites as they emerged from Egypt. They were barely civilized. Moses, raised in Pharoh’s house, may have been the only literate one among them. The second Moses’ back was turned, they started building idols. Can you imagine what might have happened if they’d been told the Earth was even round, let alone about cosmology and evolution? So they are told the story they need to hear, given the traditions they need to follow — and given the brains and wherewithal to discover the details for themselves.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — unless you are prepared to start making animal sacrifices twice a day, don’t start talking about biblical inerrancy. Even fundamentalists agree that sacrifices were commanded because, at that time, sacrifices were expected. No one would have believed in a God who didn’t demand them — plagues or no plagues. Once you’ve conceded that point, the entire artifice of inerrancy falls down.

In fact, no one really believes in biblical inerrancy. If they did, they’d be making animal sacrifices and avoiding menstruating women. What they believe in is Highlighter Fundamentalism — you pick the parts of the Bible you like, ignore the parts you don’t and proclaim it as the revealed word of God.

These people are using the Bible — to borrow a cliche — the way a drunk uses a lamp-post — for support not illumination.

Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God. If there are errors in Scripture, even if in the smallest detail, and these were placed there intentionally by God, how are we to maintain trust that He did not lie in other matters? When we lose trust in the Scriptures, we lose trust in God Himself and we may consequently lose our desire to be obedient to Him.

I didn’t lose trust in my parents even though, when I was a child, they simplified things I couldn’t understand.

Third, if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible. At the outset of this series I indicated a concern I felt towards those who deny inerrancy is when they indicate that the doctrine does not “feel right.” But nowhere does the Bible appeal to our feelings or our reason for its authority or inerrancy. We must submit to the Word, for it will not submit to us. We must give to the Bible the place it claims for itself. We cannot stand in judgment over it.

You’ll never get a more direct description of fundamentalism than this — the surrender of thought to authority. God gave us something far more precious than the Bible — thinking minds with which to figure out the Universe.

There are thousands of years of commentary on the Bible and just about everything we think about it and all our traditions and beliefs — Jewish or Christian — are the results of that millenia-long dialogue and not some inerrant view of the text.

You know what always strikes me when I read the Bible? I’m always struck by how, in its time, it was an incredibly liberal theology. Human sacrifice was forbidden, women were given rights, slaves were given rights, it was forbidden to cheat the poor or the stranger, charity was mandated, accidental homicide was punished by exile, not execution. This was radical thinking — centuries ahead of its time.

But there were some things that were too radical even in the Bible. The Israelites had trouble sticking to the “no idols” edict. What do you think would have happened if the Bible had demanded tolerance of gays or equal rights for women? So we were given brains and hearts and societies so that we could build on the radical liberal message of the Bible. Christ himself was a biblical revisionist, and a radical one.

The Bible is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. Otherwise, why were we given the capacity to engage in moral discussions? Blind obedience and subservience could have been inscribed in our very DNA. They weren’t.

Fourth, if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct. Admitting error in even the smallest historical detail is only the thin edge of the wedge, for we then allow the possibility that there may be error in doctrine as well. And when we allow this possibility, the Christian faith soon crumbles into a mess of subjectivity and personal preference.

So if one part of an argument is wrong, the entire argument falls apart? If the story of George Washington and the cherry tree is a myth, does that not make him a great man?

Christian (or Jewish) faith does not crumble into a mess of subjectively and personal preference if we leave Biblical inerrancy behind. On the contrary, it becomes objective. We refine the message of the Bible using facts, logic and reason. We don’t throw the message away — we perfect it using the tools that God himself gave us.

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