THE FALLACY OF BIBLICAL INERRANCY
The Bible is the Holy Scripture of Christendom, an anthology of sacred literature, which has been transmitted from antiquity as the record of God’s progressive revelation of Himself to man. It was written by men divinely inspired and is a profound source for learning about God’s nature and His will respecting humanity. The purpose of the Bible is salvation, and its message is to be interpreted from the perspective of Jesus Christ, that is, whatever accords with His life and teachings is the true and valid Word of God. Thus interpreted, the religious discourses of the Bible are authoritative, reliable pronouncements on God and man.
The true center of Christian union is not the Bible, however; it is the living Word of God, Christ, as revealed in the written Word of God, Scripture. Apocryphal writings (near-scripture) are excluded from the same high status as the Bible, but they are still deemed useful for the study of religious concepts held during the Bible era. They are, however, of lesser inspiration than the accepted sixty-six books of the Protestant Canon. The canonical Scripture, and especially the New Testament, is the supreme standard for religious doctrine and human ethics.
Whenever God has spoken or acted in history, He has allowed certain witnesses to record profound insights concerning these revelations. These writings all taken together constitute the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. If sometimes one passage is not in agreement with another, this is just the normal variation that is found when individual witnesses are interrogated (even under oath) as to what they have observed. The truth of the historical event is never called into question; it remains true.
Taken as a whole, the Bible is a patchwork quilt loosely stitched together with little or no attempt to reconcile clashing colors and patterns. When witnesses give variant testimony about incidents, the truth is somewhere contained in their statements and must be ferreted out by accurately “dividing the word of truth.” Actually, contradictory witness is itself a proof that the original text has been transmitted intact, i.e., there has been little redactive cover-up. The old Hebrew fear of tampering with ancient scriptures protected them from much outright manipulation, and thus, their essential authenticity has been assured. Still, in many places there have been scribal changes and the insertion of glosses that must be recognized.
One must also consider the fact that some writers were deeper spiritual personalities than others (e.g., Ecclesiastes versus Jeremiah). Still others came later in the historical sequence and had a more enlightened philosophy and higher religious principles upon which to build still greater truths. This evolutionary sequence of illumination is known as “progressive revelation,” and it holds that God reveals more truth as man is able to comprehend it (John 16:12-13, 1 Cor. 13:9-10).
The living Word of God was Jesus Christ, whose Personality was a mixture of the divine and the human. Neither element was lacking. The same must be said of the Bible, which has come to be known as the written Word of God. The Bible is not perfect, but it is sufficient. It is all that man needs to find God. The Bible is a holy, venerable, life-changing Book. Its pages contain perceptions of the divine that are clearly beyond the expected capabilities of human expression. Still, the Bible is not an oracle - a verbatim speech directly from the mouth of God. It is not itself a revelation; it is a record of revelation. It is a golden treasure hidden in a common clay pot (2 Cor. 4:7).
No book has had the effect upon mankind equal to the profound influence of the Bible. And no man has touched humanity as has its greatest Personality, Jesus Christ. So, it is apparent that these two subjects, one a Book and one a Man, have much in common.
The Bible is a disclosure of God in one way, just as Christ is a disclosure in another way. Most Christians accept the divine-human combination of attributes in the Man, but they may fail to see the like composition of the Book. The old arguments of Christology occupied much of the life of the early Church, but modern-day church members tend to forget that the same kind of controversy also raged over the degree of divinity or humanity that was to be found in the canonical Writings.
Orthodox Christianity reached the well-known conclusion as to the essence of the God-Man: that He was equally human and equally divine. But the conclusion of Christendom, especially Protestant Christians, on the Bible turned out to be biased in one direction: the Book was totally divine. Thus one discovers that the Book has inadvertently been elevated to a higher status than the Man. It has become the paper idol of Protestantism.
It is time for this inconsistency to be rectified. The Bible is not a totally divine document. It is, in fact, a quite human record of the divine
element in history. The Bible speaks with unique authority in the areas of religious “teaching, reproof, correction, and moral training” (2 Tim. 3:15). It claims to be peculiarly inspired in these areas. It does not claim, however, to be an encyclopædia of all other types of knowledge.
Should any cult group teach the unincarnated (“celestial flesh”) deity of Jesus - the ancient heresy of Docetism - it would be necessary to give proofs of His humanity in rebuttal. Likewise, to combat the serious heresy of bibliolatry, it is necessary to exhibit actual examples of Bible errors. Consideration of such errors need not lessen the Book’s sanctity, any more than listing the human weaknesses of Jesus would destroy His divinity. Nevertheless, the errors are there, and they must be deliberately exposed in order to formulate a realistic approach to scriptural interpretation and to refute the false doctrine of those who claim plenary inspiration, oracular revelation, and absolute inerrancy of the Bible.
The opposite viewpoint was expressed by Fundamentalists from several denominations who convened in Chicago in the year 1978. At this International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, they issued a document commonly known as “The Chicago Statement.” Article XIII of that statement reads as follows:
“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.”
Here, the Fundamentalists have taken great pains to inform the world that when they use the term “inerrant,” it need not agree with the normal dictionary definition of the term. They would have it known that mistakes, misquotations, misrepresentations, exaggerations, imprecision, inaccuracy, false viewpoints, and other evidences of fallible human reasoning and cultural limitations do not constitute “error” in the Bible.
This means that only by broad generalizations and semantic subterfuge is an arch-conservative hypocrite able to claim the distinction of being an “inerrantist.” And it is obviously with tongue in cheek that such a preacher can hold aloft the Bible to his gullible flock as a perfect oracle of God “without any mixture of error.” In the mouths of Fundamentalists, easy generalizations amount to outright falsehood, and when they attempt to force this kind of reasoning on others, they are only turning out more of the same kinds of hypocrites - in biblical terminology, traversing sea and land to make proselytes to these same delusions and both blindly falling at last into the same ditch (Matt. 23:15, 15:14). Jesus had little patience with those who used religious doubletalk, and He often thundered against them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
This being the case, the Article XIII disclaimer should be recognized as the disastrous refutation of inerrancy that it is. Accordingly, it should be subjected to closer scrutiny, so that the full impact of these generalizations can be properly understood by forcing them to account for specific examples of Bible difficulties.
First of all, the opening statement of Article XIII about the propriety of using the term “inerrancy” should be recognized as an admission that this term is foreign to Scripture and is in fact a later development in theological usage. The early creeds and statements of faith in Christendom seldom even mention the Bible, but when they do, they affirm its “authority,” not its “inerrancy.” Still, there is nothing wrong with the term “inerrant,” per se, and it would be quite acceptable for use in any setting where it fully met the definition of something completely perfect and without the slightest flaw. Obviously the Article XIII disclaimer will not allow the proper use of the term with respect to the Bible.
The next statement in Article XIII, that one should not subject the Bible to analysis by standards that do not match its usage or purpose, may be restated as follows: do not apply scientific standards because the Bible is not a book of science; do not apply historical standards because the Bible is not a book of history; do not apply psychological standards because the Bible is not a book of psychology, etc. This disclaimer is in direct conflict with the Fundamentalist claim that the Bible is an encyclopædia of truth in all areas of knowledge.
Finally, the Article XIII listing of “Biblical phenomena” that appear to be mistakes should be analyzed term by term as follows:
“Lack of modern technical precision.”
The Bible’s value of “pi” is not exact (1 Ki. 7:23).
The duration of Egyptian bondage is not precise:
400 years (Gen. 15:13)
4 generations (Gen. 15:16)
430 years (Ex. 12:40).
The Flood lasted 40 days (Gen. 7:17, 8:6).
The Flood lasted 150 days (Gen. 7:24).
Jesus was not in the grave 3 full days and nights.
“Irregularities of grammar or spelling.”
Achan stole goods from Jericho (Josh. 7:1).
Achar stole goods from Jericho (1 Chron. 2:7).
“Babel” is said to mean “confusion” (Gen. 11:9).
Actually, bab-el means “Gate of God.”
The grandson of “Moses,” not “Manasseh,”
was an idolatrous priest (Jud. 18:30, RSV versus KJV).
There was a church in the home of “Nympha,” not “Nymphas”
(Col. 4:15, RSV versus KJV). Also, this passage should
refer to “her house” rather than “his house.”
“Observational descriptions of nature.”
Rain falls through windows in the sky (Gen. 7:11).
The earth is flat (Job 11:9, Ps. 65:8, 103:12).
The earth is set on pillars (Job 9:6, Ps. 75:3).
Heaven is like a tent (Ps. 104:2, Rev. 6:14).
Heaven is a solid canopy (Ex. 24:10, Rev. 4:6).
The sun moves across the earth (Job 9:7, Eccl. 1:5).
The stars are concealed by covers (Job 9:7).
The stars are small lamps (Rev. 12:4, 6:13).
(A third of the stars in the heavens can rain down
on the earth without destroying it.)
There is an underworld region (Job 11:8, 10:21, Isa. 14:15).
There is a bottomless pit (Rev. 9:1, 20:1, Num. 16:30).
Lightning is heavenly fire (Gen. 19:24, 1 Ki. 18:38).
Man was made from dust (Gen. 2:7, Ps. 103:14).
A man thinks with his heart and loves with his bowels.
There are only three races of man: Semitic (Near Eastern),
Hamitic (African), and Japhetic (European).
Rabbits chew the cud (Lev. 11:5-6, Deut. 14:7).
Bats are birds (Lev. 11:13,19, Deut. 14:11,18).
Poison is in a snake’s tongue (Job 20:16, Ps. 140:3).
Blood is life (Gen. 9:4, Lev. 17:14, Deut. 12:23).
The Bible assumes that the world is as it has always been.
It has the same weather and the same plants and animals.
(The vast geological ages proposed by scientists would
seem incredible to the ancient mind.)
“The reporting of falsehoods.”
The existence of legendary animals was accepted by all the ancients, including the Hebrews. These creatures included flying snakes, dragons, satyrs, cockatrices, unicorns, Levi- athan, Behemoth, two-headed cherubs, four-headed cherubs, and giants.
The Jerusalem church passed on the Jewish falsehood that Christians are forbidden to eat blood or an animal that has been strangled (Acts 15:28-29). (This should preclude the eating of netted fish, which normally die by suffocation, while retaining their blood.)
False views of Deity need not be accepted:
God causes evil (Isa. 45:7, Deut. 32:39).
God sends evil spirits (1 Sam. 16:14, 19:9, 1 Ki. 22:23).
God hardens hearts in sin (Ex. 10:1, 14:4, Rom. 9:17-18).
God punishes for parental sin (Ex. 34:7, Num. 14:18).
God repents of evil intentions (2 Sam. 24:16, Jonah 3:10).
God slaughters innocents (Gen. 6:7, 22:2, Num. 31:17-18).
God approves lying deception (Ex. 5:1, 1 Sam. 16:2).
God favors the Jews over the rest of mankind (racism).
Pagan gods are real (Ex. 18:11, Jud. 11:24, Ps. 82:1,6, 89:5-7).
Death and Hades are personalities (Rev. 6:8, 20:14).
Jude 4:5 quotes from a “scripture” that cannot be found.
“The use of hyperbole and round numbers.”
Abraham’s offspring were to number as many as the sand and the stars (Gen. 15:5, 22:17, Deut. 1:10, 10:22).
A wall fell on 27,000 men (1 Ki. 20:30).
Nineveh was as wide as a three-day walk (Jonah 3:3).
The Flood’s depth was above the highest mountain:
30,000 feet (5 miles)
There is a Lake of Fire at the “bottom” of the Bottomless Pit.
There are numerous uses of the number “40” in an imprecise manner.
Approximations include: “about 5000” (Matt. 14:21) and “about the sixth hour” (Luke 23:44).
“The topical arrangement of material.”
Unknown editions of “Sayings of Jesus” were used by writers of the Gospels and inserted into the narrative at appropriate places.
Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” is obviously equivalent to Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain.”
Akhnaton’s “Hymn to the Sun,” being a song, was rewritten and placed in the Bible’s hymnal, the Psalms, as Psalm 104.
Daniel 1-7 groups narratives, and 8-14 groups visions.
Ancient songs and sayings in the Bible are usually older than the passages in which they are contained.
“Variant selections of material in parallel accounts.”
God caused David to take a census (2 Sam. 24:1).
Satan caused David to take a census (1 Chron. 21:1).
Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:25).
Joseph was sold to Midianites (Gen. 37:36).
Abiathar fed David (1 Sam. 21:1).
Abimelech fed David (Mark 2:26).
Abiathar was the son of Abimelech (1 Sam. 22:20).
Abimelech was the son of Abiathar (2 Sam. 8:17).
Goliath was killed by David (1 Sam. 17:23).
Goliath was killed by Elhanan (2 Sam. 21:19 RSV).
The number killed at Baal Peor was 24,000 (Num. 25:9).
The number killed at Baal Peor was 23,000 (1 Cor. 10:8).
Ahaziah reigned at age 22 (2 Ki. 8:26).
Ahaziah reigned at age 42 (2 Chron. 22:2).
Two Decalogues (Exodus 20 or 34).
Two genealogies for Jesus (Matt. 1 or Luke 3).
Two versions of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5 or Luke 6).
Two versions of the death of Judas (Matt. 27:5 or Acts 1:18).
Conflicting lists of disciples.
Conflicting inscriptions on the Cross.
Conflicting accounts of the cock crowing at Peter’s denial.
Conflicting numbers of women/angels at the Tomb.
The Book of Jeremiah is completely out of sequence with parallel historical accounts.
Variations between ancient Bible manuscripts may be taken as another case of “disagreement between parallel accounts.” It must be recognized that there is no single authoritative Scripture text in existence. the inerrancy of nonexistent original writings cannot be proved; neither is it of practical use to the modern Bible reader.
“The use of free citations.”
Matthew 12:18 misquotes Isaiah 42:1.
Acts 13:21 misquotes 1 Samuel 13:1.
Acts 15:16 misquotes Amos 9:11-12.
Ephesians 4:8 misquotes Psalm 68:18.
Hebrews 1:6 misquotes Deuteronomy 32:43.
Hebrews 2:7,9 misquotes Psalm 8:5.
Hebrews 11:5 misquotes Genesis 5:24.
Jude quotes from the apocryphal Book of Enoch (Jude 14).
The defective Hebrew text of 1 Sam. 13:1 reads: “Saul was (?) years old when he began to reign; and he reigned (?) and two years over Israel.” The duration of Saul’s reign was estimated at “forty years” in Acts 13:21.
All of the above examples of acceptable deviations from actual inerrancy show how arch-conservative biblicists have tried to wriggle off the hook of their own strict doctine of oracular Scripture. However, in plainly stating these exceptions to the rule, the Fundamentalists have effectively destroyed the foundation of their basic premise, and the entire structure has collapsed into ruins. One former Fundamentalist seminary professor has recognized that Article XIII is the Achilles heel of the inerrantist creed and has made a very striking observation:
“This comment is so generous, in fact, that some strict inerrantists will live to regret it simply because it allows a large degree of critical freedom. It is difficult to think of a liberal critical opinion that could not be worded to fit into their specification.”
Clark Pinnock, The Scripture Principle, p. 234
The Chicago Statement may be the most powerful weapon in the Fundamentalist arsenal, but Article XIII allows any serious Bible student to turn this big gun around and use it against its fabricators. Take, for example, the fourfold axioms of the arch-conservatives that were put forth in the Southern Baptist Peace Committee report in 1987:
1. Adam and Eve were real persons.
2. Named authors wrote the biblical books attributed to them.
3. Miracles described in Scripture were supernatural events in history.
4. Historical narratives are accurate and reliable.
These may all be examined in the light of Article XIII with devastating impact on the inerrantist cause.
1. Adam and Eve were real persons. The concept of an original pair of ancestors is part of the mythical lore of every primitive religion. Details about the creation of mankind and the primeval state of man vary so much, however, that the legendary nature of these accounts becomes quite obvious. Article XIII makes the Bible not accountable for its incorporation of then-current fables and folklore, since this is tantamount to “the reporting of falsehoods.” Also, the observation of a corpse’s dissolution led to an “observational description of nature” that man was originally made from dust. Furthermore, since the “Adam” character is simply the hero of a parable like that of the “Prodigal Son,” then it is a case of “free citation” to make over such a fictional being into a real historical personality.
2. Named authors wrote the biblical books attributed to them. The Bible’s use of “free citation” allowed an unknown author to record the details of the death of Moses and then to include this information in the Book of Deuteronomy as though written by Moses himself! Also, ascribing the Psalms to David is a generalization that is negated by internal evidence in the psalter that lists the actual authors of in-
dividual poems (Ps. 42, 50, 72, 89, 90, etc.). Likewise, it is noteworthy that Solomon did not write all of the Proverbs for which the beginning of that book gives him credit (Prov. 1:1, 30:1, 31:1). That the Book of Daniel was not written by a person of that name in the Captivity period is evidenced by anachronistic Aramaic terms and phrases. For this reason, the Book of Daniel was not included with the other books of prophecy in the Hebrew canon. Any “free citations” in the New Testament to the effect that “Moses said so-and-so” or “Daniel said so-and-so” do not validate disputed authorship.
3. Miracles described in Scripture were supernatural events in history. Arch-conservative W. A. Criswell has taken the loophole offered by the disclaimer of “observational descriptions of nature” to posit that the Mosaic miracle of turning the Nile River into blood was likely a providential occurrence of red mud in the water. Also fitting into such a category would be the story of the sun’s standing still, the observation of antediluvian rainbows, a localized Flood’s seeming to be universal, the provision of manna, twin babies fighting in the womb, the removal of “scales” from the eyes of the blind, etc. Many miraculous elements in the Exodus narrative can be made to fit in with such a catastrophic event as the volcanic explosion of the ancient island of Thera. Also, the dry crossing of the Jordan River and the concurrent falling of the walls of Jericho are understandable as typical earthquake phenomena.
4. Historical narratives are accurate and reliable. If variation between the “material in parallel accounts,” which are by nature historical, is acceptable, then neither do the numerous chronological problems in the Bible compromise the claim of inerrancy. Actually, however, the two Fundamentalist statements are in direct contradiction. One cannot allow “variation” from historical accuracy of parallel accounts and at the same time claim that such history is “accurate and reliable.”
CONCLUSION: It is characteristic of Fundamentalists to make sweeping avowals of blanket belief such as:
“I believe the Bible from cover to cover, from Contents to Maps!”
(Note: This statement is meant to be humorous, but the inclusion of “Contents” and “Maps” as inspired Scripture is typical of the sweeping generalizations of Fundamentalists.)
“The Bible says it. I believe it. And that settles it.”
Actually, nobody believes the Bible in its entirety, else preachers would admonish drinking wine for the stomach’s sake, church members greeting each other with kisses, slaves remaining subservient to their masters, widows not getting remarried, proxy baptisms, making of vows, fasting, healing with oils and napkins, speaking in ecstatic tongues, exorcism of demons, snake handling, the execution of witches, avoiding the evil-eye curse, observation of stars to predict the births of great men, not taking an oath, not charging interest on a loan, holy gambling by casting lots, religious taxation, adherence to monarchial forms of government, women bearing children as a means to salvation, refusing to allow women to wear any jewelry or to speak in any church meeting, and the propriety of taking an enemy’s child and dashing its head against a stone. Also, a person would be warned not to visit wilderness areas, which are the haunts of satyrs, dragons, and other monstrous creatures, and to stay away from pools of water or public baths where demons lurk and strive to seduce maidens.
The problems with the Bible can be accepted if it is looked at as a map to the Destination, and not the Destination itself. One can love an object and still see its flaws, but to expand this love into an inordinate obsession as though the object were divine, is to commit the sin of idolatry - in this case, bibliolatry.
Thus, anybody can be an “Article XIII inerrantist,” but it is much more honest to admit obvious mistakes in the Bible that reflect its human authorship. Those who wrote the Scripture were inspired, but they were not robots without minds of their own. They even at times interjected so much of their own wills into the writing that, like Paul, they might candidly admit, “This is my own opinion in the matter” (1 Cor. 7:6,12,25,40, 13:9, 2 Cor. 11:17). At other points, however, they might speak with the prophetic “Thus says the Lord.”
The whole purpose of Bible scholarship is to “rightly divide the Word of truth” so as to ascertain the message of God within the Holy Book. In the end, it should be the right of every believer to interpret the Bible for himself and to accept or reject any message he hears from the pulpit. God Himself gave man the freedom to think and to choose the way for his own soul. Let no autocratic leader or authoritative creed stand in the way of this most fundamental right of mankind!