Problems with Biblical Inerrancy

August 9th, 2010 / 39 Comments

The Bible functions as key resource for helping me understand something about God and about life in general. But the errors I have discovered in the Bible prompt me to take care in how I think and talk about Scripture.

As a young person, I wanted a clear and unambiguous foundation to speak truthfully about God. This desire shaped the way I viewed the Bible. It seemed obvious that I should affirm the Bible to be absolutely inerrant: I wanted the certainty inerrancy seems to provide. I thought I needed an inerrant book to battle the errors I encountered in life.

Absolute biblical inerrancy makes sense. It makes sense, that is, if we begin with a particular view of biblical inspiration and a particular view of God. I had these views as a youngster.

If God can do anything and if God truly loves us, God would apparently want to deliver an absolutely clear and inerrant written revelation. Therefore, the Bible must not have any errors whatsoever. This was my view of the Bible as a young person.

Then I started reading the Bible carefully.

Instead of a crystal-clear, unambiguous, and inerrant biblical text, I found ambiguity and errors of various sorts. Through careful study and conversations with biblical scholars, I found no strong reason to continue to regard the Bible as absolutely inerrant.

I could not deny the Bible itself. It has errors. I could not honestly say otherwise. To be honest with myself, therefore, I had to admit the Bible contained errors.

Errors in the Bible

Let’s consider just these ten errors in the Bible:

1. Jesus curses fig tree and it withers immediately (Matthew 21:18-20).  Jesus curses this same fig tree and it does not wither immediately.  The disciples observe it withered the next morning (Mark 11:12-14; 20-21).

2. Mark records Jesus as quoting from Isaiah (Mk. 1:2), when the words are actually from Malachi (3:1).

3. Matthew records a quote and credits it to Jeremiah (Mt. 27:9), when the majority of the quote is actually found in Zechariah (11:12, 13) not Jeremiah.

4. Jesus heals one demon-possessed man (at Gerasenes/Gergesenes/Gadarenes) and sends the demon into the pigs (Mark 5:1-20). But in Matthew’s story of the same event, Jesus heals two demon-possessed men (at Gerasenes/Gergesenes/Gadarenes) and sends the demons into the pigs (Matthew 8:28-34).

5. Most Bibles have no verse 24 of Romans chapter sixteen. The text skips from verse 23 to verse 25. Some kind of error occurs here.

6. Those that died in Numbers 25:9 are 24,000; whereas 1 Corinthians lists 23,000 for the same event.

7.  Jesus tells the disciples to take a staff on their journey as recorded in Mark 6:8, but Matthew records Jesus as telling the disciples not to take a staff on that journey (10:9-10).

8.  2 Samuel says that God incited David to take a census (24:1-2); 1 Chronicles says that Satan induced David to take that census (21:1-2).

9.  Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds (13:31-32).  However, the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds.

10. Matthew says that Judas hanged himself (27:5), while the writer of Acts says that Judas died after falling headlong and bursting open (1:18).

This is only a short list of biblical errors or inconsistencies.  This list is sufficient to make my point, however. After all, any difference, inconsistency, or error would mean that we could not strictly call the Bibles we read absolutely “inerrant.”

I’ve found many more errors in the Bible since my youth. I’m not saying that most of the Bible is false. That isn’t the case. But I also want to be clear that a significant number of errors exist. Honesty demands that I be frank about this fact.

Missing Autographs and Divergent Manuscripts

The errors I’m talking about here don’t even include the significant differences in the oldest biblical manuscripts from which we derive our current Bibles. Many Christians don’t know that the Bibles we read today did not come directly from original manuscripts or “autographs.”  Those originals no longer exist.  We only have copies penned many generations after the originals.

In fact, scholars over the centuries have translated various bits and pieces of ancient Bibles to construct the Bibles we read today. These bits and pieces were copied centuries after the Bible was originally written.

In addition, those ancient manuscripts from which our Bibles come sometimes differ.  Most differences are minor. But some are of greater importance. 

For instance, look at the end of Mark’s gospel.  Some ancient manuscripts end at verse eight of the last chapter.  Other manuscripts include verses nine through twenty.  Even others include an extra verse after verse fourteen.

Or take the story of the woman caught in adultery.  This story is usually located in John 7:53-8:11 in our contemporary Bibles. But the story itself is not included at all in most ancient manuscripts.  Those old manuscripts that do include the story place it in varying places in the Gospels.  If it were a matter of only including material from the oldest manuscripts available, the story of the woman caught in adultery would not be included in our bibles today.

It’s very difficult to claim the Bibles we read are inerrant when we realize the earliest manuscripts have differences.  The big differences I mentioned obviously create problems.  But even a slight difference between two ancient manuscripts – say, the difference between one having the word “for” and the other “with” – creates a problem for those who affirm absolute inerrancy. At the micro level, we find many errors and inconsistencies.

When some people raised in an Evangelical Christian community realize that the Bible has errors, they feel forced to make a choice. They can either ignore these errors and continue to claim absolute biblical inerrancy despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Or they can reject the idea that God had anything to do with the writing of the Bible.

   Wesleyan Approaches to the Bible

Fortunately, the theological tradition in which I live and affirm – the Wesleyan tradition – has important tools for overcoming the problem of errors in the Bible. It allows one to avoid choosing either of the two alternatives. It provides the basis for a third option. Let me note three tools from the Wesleyan tradition I’ve found especially helpful for making sense of errors in the Bible:

   Symbiosis not Dictation — Instead of thinking of God’s inspiration as involving unilateral dictation to the biblical writers, my tradition argues that the writing of the Bible involved both God and humans. God inspired humans, but humans – who are error-prone and not omniscient – wrote what they believe God wanted. I call this model of biblical inspiration “symbiosis.” God acts first to inspire the writing of the biblical text, but the writers respond to God in their finitude. (By the way, this symbiosis principle also applies to biblical interpretation.)

   God Gives Freedom — God does not exercise the kind of stifling sovereignty necessary to deliver a manuscript absolutely free from error. Instead, God lovingly created and continues to create free creatures – including biblical authors with freedom of their own. Because of the freedom God lovingly gives us all, creaturely errors in knowledge and action are possible.

   Salvific Inerrancy — The main point of the Bible is to help us find salvation. Scripture need not be completely error free for God to use it in this way. Instead of claiming absolute inerrancy, many in the Wesleyan tradition affirm what I call “salvific inerrancy.” The Church of the Nazarene, for instance, affirms salvific inerrancy when it believes the Bible “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.” John Wesley puts it this way: “The Scriptures are a complete rule of faith and practice; and they are clear in all necessary points.”

I believe God uses the Bible as an instrument to invite creatures to salvation. This instrument need not be perfect in all ways to be useful. The Bible need not be absolutely inerrant for God to use it inerrantly to invite us to salvation.

Given these Wesleyan tools, I have more respect for the Bible today than I had as a youngster. Although I no longer think of it as completely error-free, the Bible is my principal authority for matters of salvation. I cherish the Scriptures and trust God to use them to teach, rebuke, correct, and train me in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Bible Tells Me So

I realize more needs to be said on this subject. And there are many related subjects pertaining to the Bible that we need to ponder. I plan to write more on these subjects in the coming months.

Let this be an invitation to you to reflect with others and me on the Bible.  I am chairing a conference February 10-12, 2011 at NNU to discuss these issues. More than 40 scholars have committed to attend. I encourage you to be part of this important time of reflection.

Register soon and you’ll get a free book!

Tom

PS. Become a friend of The Bible Tells Me So conference on Facebook

 

 

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Comments

Jonathan Privett

I think wrestling through Raymond Brown’s the Birth of the Messiah helped hear the message of the Infancy Narratives and helped me set aside some issues as ultimately unimportant. The census is a problem and the birthplace and time of Jesus are problems and that’s just the start of a lot of difficult textual issues.  And yet, the Gospels tell us Jesus was born! So I sometimes wonder if the Bible becomes some kind of idol that silences serious questions as if the Bible will crack under the weight of the questions. It seems for all the issues in Bible interpretation, the Bible has been quite effective at getting the message of Jesus’ birth, life, death and crucifixion to every single generation.  Inerrant? Nope. Sufficient. Yep.  Jesus saves because the Bible tells me so quite clearly.


John King

Great article on inerrancy.  Keep up the good work.

For me another issue with inerrancy, is everything that comes after the text.  Even if there were an inerrant text, what could the relevance of its inerrancy be?  Who could translate the text into our language without errors?  Whose understanding of the text would be without error?  Whose interpreation and preaching of the text would be without errors?  None of us is without error and so, as soon was with did anything with the text, it would no longer be without error.

Additionally, the term “inerrancy” really develops its meaning in a scientific and rationalistic context.  It is a wholely inappropriate term for a collection of works that includes so many different types of literature, including poetry, prophetic visions, parables, personal letters, etc.


Chris Bean

Thanks for articulating the problem of inerrancy here, Tom. You’ve given me some very helpful tools here for having this conversation with others. Blessings!


Jeremy

Thanks, Tom; this was a nice read. I am always surprised that most folks are still so incredulous when confronted with such errors and inconsistencies and wonder how it is that they still insist on rationalizing biblical inerrancy at virtually any cost.


John Grant

Dr. Oord,
Great post. One of the things about inerrancy is that it tends to make the Bible static.  I think the perspective you outlined keeps it dynamic.  I’ve kind of been thinking about the idea that part of what we have in Scripture (particularly the NT) is a record of folks trying to make sense out the Christ event.  We learn as much by trying to grasp how they wrestled with certain issues as by what they actually say.

John


George Lyons

It seems unfortunate to me that we must have to state the obvious.

I really dislike pointing out the obvious and inescapable fact that my parents were / are not perfect. And neither are yours.

But I refuse to become preoccupied with my parents faults and failures. I admit, that as a teenager, I delighted in doing so at times.

But as I matured, I came increasingly to appreciate that my exalted childish estimate of parental inerrancy (that crumbled upon closer examination) was the problem.

Neither my childish fantasies of human perfection nor my adolescent fault-finding adequately appreciated my parents for who they really were and what they were trying to do as they raised me and my siblings.

As an adult, I came to appreciate my parents for the flawed, but adequate, parents they actually were. I prefer to celebrate that my parents gave me life, despite their imperfections. They more than adequately pointed me to God, who alone is inerrant and infallible.

A mature appreciation for the Bible will lead us to turn our eyes off the book—errant or inerrant—to Christ.

We can love the Bible for all it actually does, without making exaggerated claims that will not stand up under close study. And we can be responsible students of the Bible without pointing out its errors.

It seems (to me) futile to try to persuade five-year-olds to admit that their parents are not flawless. Their assumptions are not really about their parents finally. They are affirmations of their love for their parents and of their loyalty to their families.

And it seems futile (to me) to try to convince most average believers, who have never seriously read the Bible (much less studied it in depth) to abandon their (childish) assumptions about biblical inerrancy. Their claims are not really about the Bible, but about their willingness blindly to accept what they think loyalty to the Christian faith requires of them.

The most serious deficiency of most biblically illiterate Christians is not their mistaken and unrealistically high view of the Bible. It is that they have not grown up. If they had, we would not have this problem.

We need to rehearse the entire first verse of the children’s song that is the basis for the title of our upcoming conference:

JESUS LOVES ME, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.

The Bible is not preoccupied with the Bible. In fact, Jesus claimed that such preoccupation was a serious flaw in his most stubborn opponents (John 5:39-40).


Murray Bickel

Good article. I have witnessed the mental gymnastics some believers go through in order to “prove” that the Bible is completely inerrant. Too often people forget the fourth side of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is “Reason”. It is included with good cause. God gave us minds and expects us to use them.


Todd Holden

Tom, I think it would be extremely helpful for all of us if you could steer us in the direction of a book that will continue to help our thinking on errors in the text. I think specifically it would be helpful to read a book that explained in depth the errors in their 1st century context.

If you have a bog list, I am up for it! I am sure the rest of us are as well smile


Duane Brush

Dr. Oord, I am inclined to agree with the second half of your article, and I commend you for its clarity and precision. As an editor I struggle with words all the time, I would like to humbly suggest that the word “error” would be better replaced by “discrepancies.” Error seems to suggest a failure perhaps mental or moral. I don’t think we have enough knowledge about how and why these differences occurred to say errors were made. Obviously scribes in various times and places were working with a wide variety of source materials. We do not know if 23 or 24 thousand died in a particular battle. We don’t know if the disagreement of numbers began with conflicting counts of the dead or a slip of the pen or stylus. Many of the “errors” you cite seem to be “unresolvable discrepancies” to me. Maybe I’m nit-picking, but, hey, that’s my job.


Hans Deventer

Thanks, Tom! And I’m increasingly sad that I won’t be able to make it in February. Life’s choices ………….


William

I’ve never understood the idea of biblical inerrancy, because I’ve always understood that only God is perfect and that the Bible is the product of the Church, not the reverse; and yes, it is the inspired Word of God and contains all things necessary for salvation. As an Episcopalian, I’ve thought it was ironic that evangelicals condemn the Roman Catholics for “worshiping Mary” while they themselves “worship the Bible”. How is biblical inerrancy a possible belief, considering the history of the canonization of the New Testament?


April McNeiece

Thanks, Tom, for your insight and for helping us think about this issue.  I find myself, like the comment ahead of mine, wishing we could use a different word… “error” means something is not right, which is not a label I choose to associate with the living, breathing, Word of God.  Yes, it is a collection of literature full of inconsistencies as it has been recorded and translated and interpreted over the years, but at the same time it brings us the Good News that points us to Life through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul talks to us about God’s strength showing up in our weakness; perhaps that thought also applies here as God speaks through pages that men have recorded.  The focus should be on God’s story, not the literary details.
BTW – your post was not inerrant – you forgot to capitalize Bible in one place. But we still got the message.  grin


Joshua

Love the post, Tom … and the list is a helpful round-up for those of us looking for “errors”—especially for teaching purposes.


Jerry Kester

Tom,

I always enjoy your thoughts.  Thanks for posting them where they are so accessible.  I was thinking about Jonathan’s comment regarding Raymond Brown’s book on the infancy narratives; a topic that you and I have kicked around the block a time or two.  I haven’t read Brown’s book so this is not intended as a critique.  I’m just responding to where, from the context, the implication is headed.  It is one thing for the scripture to be incorrect in a simple matter of human error.  The writer fails to remember the correct Old Testament prophet to quote or focuses on one rather than two demon possessed men.  But don’t we have a different kind of problem when Luke starts by saying Luke 1:1-4 (NIV), “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”  If Luke is not being as careful in his investigation as he claims to be, is he intentionally leading Theophilus astray?  Error is one thing when you believe you are right – it is quite another when regardless of motive you are deceptive with the “orderly account.”
It is one thing to be mistaken and quite another to be misleading.  I don’t work in the academy where an intellectual battle of wits can be a recreational sport.  I work with people in the pew who need to “know for certain the things they have been taught.”  If Luke’s integrity can’t be trusted at the start why should he qualify as a witness in the whole?  Isn’t this always the tension when it comes to this discussion.


Curtis

Tom, I just think you just need to read Norm Geisler’s “When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties.” I’m sure he’ll solve all those problems you raised. smile

Seriously, I think this post show a “coming of age” with the Bible that many of us share. I remember I was getting close to my undergraduate graduation and I began to have thoughts about biblcal errors (something my school spoke very little of). At first it was frightening but eventually it was freeing.

I remember I used to defend the Bible through reason but would do my exegesis through faith. What I mean is, I would give all these good and hard logical “facts” and reasons why the Bible was inerrant and thus the Word of God (a term I eschew these days, thanks Barth) but when a passage or verse had problems I relied on faith. I simply believed there was a perfectly logical explanation that would save the Bible’s inerrancy. But today I have turned this on its head. I now accept the Bible on faith, I believe it is the book of the Church, the book God has graciously allowed us to have and then I do my exegesis by reason. Now I am free to discover whatever the Bible has to offer, but without worry. I still have faith that God has, is, and will use this book to in the bringing of the kingdom…errors and all.

Thanks for the post,

Curtis


Karen Winslow

Although the formation of the Bible library is much more complicated, I like to boil it down to: God HAPPENED! People told and wrote about it, in their own ways, with their own views and needs, EVENT-ually the Bible was born. WE use our reason, experience, and tradition to interpret and apply it.


Mark A. Harmon

Dr Oord,
Insightful.  I appreciate the so much the terms “symbiosis” and “salvific inerrancy” (but must be honest, I cringe a bit at the word “errors” and prefer “discrepancies”—which says more about me than I like!).

What freedom Wesleyans have to proclaim the inspired Word without always having to defend it.

I am reminded of a passage from Mr. Wesley: “I think it was in the latter end of the year 1740 that I had a conversation with Dr. Gibson, then bishop of London, at Whitehall. He asked me what I meant by perfection. I told him without any disguise or reserve. When I ceased speaking, he said: ‘Mr. Wesley, if this be all you mean, publish it to all the world. If anyone then can confute what you say, he may have free leave.’”

Dr Oord: If this be all you mean, publish it to all the world!


Craig A. Boyd

Tom:

Nice post as always. I wonder about two things for those of us raised in a Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. This may take us farther than you intend but I’d like to throw it out there anyway.

First, I think many of us in the tradition were raised with ideas about “sanctification” as a kind of “complete perfection” such that no mature Christian could ever sin/make a mistake/be in error/etc. As George points out, this is unreasonable and demonstrates a certain kind of immaturity (at least with regard to our own parents and the Bible as well). So, we may have an obsession with “perfection” – if you will.

Second, and this applies to more than just those of us in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, is the problem of modernity and its quest for certitude. The philosophical (and theological to a certain extent) problem of modernity seems (at least to me) to be the problem of certitude. If the Bible isn’t “certain,” then how can we trust it? But I think this quest for certitude is a red herring. No one will ever have the kind of certitude Descartes (or other moderns desired). Yet, we think that if we just have as “innerrant Bible” it will magically resolve all of our doubts. And so our focus shifts away from Jesus, the Author of our Salvation, to the Bible, which becomes the “author of our certitude.”


Russell Metcalfe

Thank you for these words on the truth of the Bible.  Somehow it seems important to me to understand that “truth” is not true because it is written down but rather that it is written down because it is true. The words try to convey, and by the Spirit’s help they do help us come to be persuaded of more than we can comprehend.


RD

Tom,

This is a fantastic post. And I just wanted to tell George Lyon that his comment is wonderful! What an incredible analogy to use with regard to maturity levels and understanding inerrancy issues.


Chris Reiter

I wish I could share and discuss these matters in my church.


Russ Booton

Tom:

While I like what you say here, I find myself still objecting to the term “salvific inerrancy.”  I’m not convinced that salvation is addressed with any kind of unanimity even within the NT.  It doesn’t seem to me we have the same teaching on this subject between the Synoptics, Paul, James, or the deutero-Pauline epistles (e.g. I Timothy 2:15!).  I don’t know, but I suspect that “inerrant” is an alien intrusion into Wesleyanism, from the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the early 20th century, and wonder if it is still needed.  Since such a term has the ability to inhibit investigation or the asking of questions, and has been used this way far too frequently, I question its usefulness.  I recognize, of course, the need for some kind of authority given to the primary documents of the Christian faith, their witness to the history of redemption climaxing in Christ, and the implications of that history. However, I wonder if “authoritative” or something along that line would be sufficient.


David Ackerman

Tom,

Interesting ideas, something I have not taken the time to put in writing.  I am not much of a historian of thought, but I wonder about the influences of modernism on fundamentalism, especially in the sense that people want things black and white.  I think the ancients who wrote the texts could live with a sense of mystery and paradox that modern people have a hard time with.  I also wonder if postmodern people have seen the absence of mystery and are returning to living with paradox and uncertainty.  Living with paradox does not mean we neglect the detail or the authority of the text, but that we live with a certain degree of humility and willingness to let the text stand on its own level beyond human scrutiny.


John Scott Wilson III

The errors that Oord speaks of specifically have all been proven as not being inconsistent for various reasons. (I am using the NIV Bible study and “The New Testament” by Thomas D. Lea to assist in answering his errors below.) In fact if this… list is the main list of errors then by and large the Bible is one of the most exact documents of the ancient world! Which I ascribe!

The authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit used men and women to write specific things for a specific purpose, to record spiritual truths. If we think there is an inconsistency then the problem is our being unable to discern it spiritually. Not everything in the Bible was meant to be understood completely by everyone. There is much wealth in the Scriptures which cannot be known completely until the day we are physically resurrected with our Lord in eternity.

For Oord to half-haphazardly speak of these as errors without giving the scholarly research for the reasons that the authors wrote the way they did is somewhat deceptive of him.

Here is the list of errors or inconsistencies Oord mentions along with the answers I found:

1. ANSWER: Mark provides the chronological order for the event, Matthew did not, Matthew included the events into a single story. Is everyone okay with Matthew doing that? Not all of the gospel writers wrote the stories of Jesus in complete chronological order.

2. ANSWER: Mark quotes actually from both Isaiah and Malachi but only mentioned Isaiah. Is everyone okay with that? Does the author of 2000 years ago have to explicitly say every person he quotes?

3. ANSWER: Matthew quotes actually from both Jeremiah and Zechariah but only mentioned Jeremiah. Same reason as number 2 above.

4. ANSWER: Matthew mentions two because there were two demoniacs. Mark mentions only one because Mark focuses on the one demoniac that begged to go with Jesus and Jesus conversation with him. Is everyone okay with that?

5. I find it odd that Oord mentions this but gives not explanation for what the “some kind of error” is, incredulous! ANSWER: Based on textual criticism it appears that 16:24 was not originally part of the letter as most manuscripts do not have the verse. And verse 24 from NASB is really just another closing statement: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” So if we leave it in or leave it out does that change anything doctrinally? Is everyone okay with that?

6. ANSWER: is it possible that Paul was giving an approximation? Can an author approximate a number? Is everyone okay with the author approximating a number?

7. ANSWER: Matthew says that Jesus said don’t take an “extra tunic, or sandals or a staff” while Mark says that Jesus said to take a staff. So Matthew describes Jesus stating not taking excess while Mark describes taking just a one staff. Does everyone see this? If we want to argue something as an error lets make sure we take some time to read the passage and see what it says first!

8. ANSWER: it is commonly understood that 1/2 Kings, and 1/2 Samuel describes the general history of Israel which includes both the northern and southern kingdoms and that 1/2 Chronicles describes the southern kingdom only, the kingdom that followed the line of the Messiah and the legitimate line of the kings, and describes the spiritual sense of the history. 2 Samuel looks at it from a historical perspective, 1 Chronicles looks at from the spiritual perspective. God allowed Satan to incite David because God was angry with Israel. Is everyone okay with this interpretation? Makes sense to me.

9. ANSWER: Jesus said “the smallest of all YOUR seeds” can that mean that they just didn’t have the smallest seeds yet or knew what the smallest seeds were at that time? I have to say this is pretty petty on Oord’s part.

10. ANSWER: Okay so could Judas after hanging himself had fallen down from where he had been hung and burst open? Again this is pretty sloppy argument on Oord’s part.

This list is not sufficient to make his point. And to say that there are a significant number of errors in the Bible is treading on a slippery slope, especially with all of the evidence available. The other points that Oord makes about some of the passages being out of order in some of the manuscripts is a reason to mistrust the Bible is completely misleading. Those like Oord who make these kinds of statements are attempting to subvert the Bible and instead make human traditions preeminent to the Bible. Pretty sad argument if you ask me.


Thomas Jay Oord

John,

Thanks for your extended response to my blog.  I have heard most of the “answers” you give to my list of ten problems. But I don’t think the answers you give should entirely satisfy the strict inerrantist.  They may seem helpful at first. But at least some ultimately undermine the inerrantist project.

If we take the logic that you offer in various segments below, it would seem that you are making the following highly qualified argument.

We should regard the Bible as absolutely inerrant
…but we are “unable to discern it spiritually.”
… but “not everything in the Bible was meant to be understood completely by everyone.”
… but sometimes a writer puts things in “chronological order” while another writer includes “events into a single story.”
… but sometimes a writer quotes from two Old Testament passages but only mentions one when doing so. (Joke: I slash my student’s grades for this kind of poor referencing of sources!)
… but a biblical author does not have to quote correctly “every person he quotes.”
… but one biblical author can tell a story and leave out a crucial detail (there were two demoniacs, not just one) while another author includes that detail.
… but some parts of the Bibles we read, “were not originally part of the [original manuscript] letter,” although those original parts do remain in at least some versions of our Bible.
… but it’s okay to “leave [some biblical verses] in or leave [them] out.”
… but Paul can approximate when writing the Bible instead of giving precise answers.
… but one Gospel quotes Jesus saying NOT to take a staff on a journey while another Gospel reports on the same incident and says Jesus REQUIRES a staff be taken.
… but one biblical writer rightly gives the Devil credit for some work (inspiration for a census) while another biblical writer rightly gives humans credit for that same work.
… but Jesus would only use science (smallest mustard seed) that the people knew at the time. (By the way, if you go with this logic, you should have no problem dismissing the science of Genesis and other biblical texts. You should be open to saying, “The writers just used the science available at the time so their readers could understand. We now have good reasons to think the science in the Bible is in error.”)
… but Judas could both hang himself and also die by falling down.

I list these qualifications (often using your own words) to ask this question:
After all these qualifications (some of which I affirm), what’s the use in insisting on the word “inerrant” to talk about the Bible?

“Inerrant” dies the death of a thousand qualifications!

What saddens me most about your post is you say I am attempting to “subvert the Bible and instead make human traditions preeminent to the Bible.”

This precisely what I am NOT trying to do! 

Having once affirmed absolute inerrancy myself, however, I can understand how you would interpret my essay as doing this. I hope someday you can interpret it differently.

In the meantime, I extend my hand to you in Christian love…

Tom


John Scott Wilson III

Hi brother,

I guess my main point is that you claim them as errors when they really are not errors. But then I guess I have to ask the question what do you mean by error in the Bible? The basic definition of error according to the dictionary is “the state of believing what is untrue, incorrect, or wrong.” Given that basic definition I cannot accept your opinion that the points you made are errors in the Bible. To me inerrancy, without errors, refers to the fact that what we have in Scripture is true, correct, and not wrong. If we believed differently then what is our faith based on? How can I believe the truths of Scripture if you assert that the Bible is made up of things that are untrue, incorrect, or wrong? That is my entire issue with your opinion that the Bible contains errors, you subvert the Scriptures making them null and void to knowing Christ Jesus and living by His life, because who wants to believe something that is supposedly untrue, incorrect, or wrong. Do you see the logic here? Your statement that these are errors for your points do not coincide with the biblical research as well as the plain contextual reading of Scripture. They are not errors they are misunderstandings on the part of the reader. May God give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in Christ Jesus!


Thomas Jay Oord

John,

Thanks for your response. I’d like to make two points (as quickly as possible) in response.

1. You ask, If we believe the Bible has errors, “then what is our faith based on?”

I’m convinced that the Bible itself calls us to base our faith in Christ. I know of no passage that says, “Your faith is based on the Bible.”  Admittedly, most of what we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. And if I thought the Bible was rife with major errors, I’d not consider the Bible my primary resource for revealing those things necessary for salvation. But ultimately, my faith is based on God in Christ, and that faith is confirmed by the Holy Spirit. For me, the Bible is a means to an end, not the end itself. And a means with some flaws does not negate the end to which it points.

2. Even if I went with the logic that the passages I point out are, in your words, “not errors” but “misunderstanding on the part of the reader,” I’d have no firmer grounds to stand than if I thought there were actual errors. If at the end of the day there are either genuine errors or we simply cannot understand them, we end up at the same place. We see through a glass darkly. I think it’s better just to admit there are errors in the Bible and regard the Bible is the principal resource (alongside other resources) to support my faith in God.

Despite our disagreement, I join you in your closing prayer: “May God give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in Jesus Christ!”

Tom


MIchael

Thank you for this post.  I once held to inerrancy but have moved away from it for the reasons you listed, and others. I like your list of 4-fold way to apprehend truth. I am currently in a conservative reformed church where common sense and experience are held to be illegitimate.  I am concerned about the wider social implications of disabling one’s ability to think critically and common-sensically.  If we can convince ourselves to believe in inerrancy or other unlikely opinions, it probably is not difficult to believe in the goodness of endless war if our patriotic religious leaders support that, or to believe that a half-term governor is of legitimate Presidential timber.  The christian right (presumably coextensive with the inerrantist community) is a large constituency for such things.  I think critical thinking and common sense, while holding to the basic faith in Jesus, is the best approach.


bill

You are correct in stating that the biblical manuscripts we currently possess contains divergent readings and outright mistakes.  This is undeniable. 

However, there are numerous ways to resolve many of the apparent issues.  For example, in your “short list” you mention the problem of the missing thousand.  This is easily reconciled by assuming that both are round numbers.

By a similar train of thought one can dispense with the so-called mustard seed problem.  Let’s allow Jesus the liberty to speak like we do, to communicate a particular point and not to dispense lessons in botany. 

As the parent said to his errant child, “I’ve told you till I’m blue in the face: clean your room.  It looks like a tornado ripped through it!  Of all the young’uns on earth you’re the most contrary.  Your granny is rolling over in her grave right now, and I’m so mad I could bust!”
Totally inaccurate, yet completely true at the same time.


John

Would our salvation be any less certain or secure if all we had were documents written by secular or non-Christian writers of the time? What if Josephus wrote a life of Christ and we had no “New Testament” but only an Old Testament and writings by Josephus?

Christ saves by what he did, not by what was recorded about him. Even from solely secular and errant resources it would be possible to learn that he died and rose again (and of course we might have oral tradition and non-canonical writings such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache).

We should no forget either the patriarchs who were saved before there was a “Bible”. It was their faith that saved them, not a written book. They found it possible to know truths about God, and more importantly, to truly know God, without having an inerrant book to rely on.

The reasoning of many inerrantists is faulty when they claim the reductio: if we cannot know that everything in the Bible is true, then we cannot know that anything at all in it is true. They start from the wrong end and assume that a subtraction from inerrancy leaves us unable to have a assured saving faith.

More proper and accurate is to start from the other end (i.e., nothing) and find out what God gives as necessary for assured salvation. When we do that we find that God gave salvation and assurance of salvation before there was an alleged inerrant Bible. Hence, God does not need (and neither do we) an inerrant Bible to accomplish his purposes.

regards,
John


Joel Clendineng

Brother, I agree with John Scott Wilson III.  All these “errors” can be accounted for.  I believe it is close to heresy to state that since “the Word was God”, referring to the written word, is not without errors, we may be saying that God himself has errors.  I do understand that what you are saying is that man messed up God’s word, but how can this be as it clearly states that me , “through the holy spirit” wrote.


Paul Van Note

Please cross #6 off your list of errors in the Bible (6. Those that died in Numbers 25:9 are 24,000; whereas 1 Corinthians lists 23,000 for the same event.)

Numbers gives a total of 24,000 who died while 1 Corinthians says 23,000 “in one day”. The other thousand could be in the days before. This only proves to me the beauty of the Bible in giving us the truth. If Numbers stated 23,000 and 1 Corinthians 24,000 I would have a problem.

The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene statement of the Holy Scriptures says it best.  Scripture “given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation…..”. Does it take away from our salvation whether there were 23,000 or 23,014 or 24,000 who died of the plague.


Tom Ellison

Dr. Oord, May I use a portion of the picture showing the lighted candle on the Bible.  It will be a part of the rotating pictures on a page of our church’s website that speaks of our trust in the scriptures.  Please advise.
Thank you.


Sisterlisa

I find it also interesting that Jesus never spoke of ‘hell’ only Gehenna.


Jeffrey Nicol

The fact that the Bible does have errors scares me. Maybe it is because I am still a “youngster”. It opens up the door to so much relativity. Like, yeah you can say that you “trust God to use them to teach, rebuke, correct, and train me in righteousness.” But I can say that too, and our lives can look totally different, and they do. Inerrancy just seems so much safer to me…


Todd Richmond

Hi Tom,

While I am your friend, I do have to disagree with this article. I believe that John has nicely explained the situation.

You stated:

“Even if I went with the logic that the passages I point out are, in your words, “not errors” but “misunderstanding on the part of the reader,” I’d have no firmer grounds to stand than if I thought there were actual errors. If at the end of the day there are either genuine errors or we simply cannot understand them, we end up at the same place. We see through a glass darkly. I think it’s better just to admit there are errors in the Bible and regard the Bible is the principal resource (alongside other resources) to support my faith in God.”

This seems to be a confusing answer. I believe that it is not “either errors or that we cannot understand them”. I believe that what John was stating (and please correct me if I am wrong here John)that it is our perspective that is wrong and not the Scriptures. In other words, maybe we are reading Scripture and see what we may consider errors but in fact there are answers and we are only looking at it as errors from one perspective. If that is the case then these answers that John answered would in deed offer safer ground to state that the Bible is without error.

If there is a car wreck and you are on the opposite side of the car from me. Would it be safe to assume that we could report differently about the same wreck? If I was in front of the car and saw 2 people, and you were on the side and only saw 1 would there be an error in either of our reports or would it simply be a matter of perspective?

Just some thoughts.

Either way this stuff is very interesting, I am not convinced that there is error within the Bible. Either way I enjoy all our efforts in defending the Gospel. We are all brothers in Christ here and I only pray that we can find the truth in the matter.

Thanks for your time.

Your friend and brother in Christ
Todd Richmond


Dr. Donald W. Haynes

I rather inadvertently found several referencs to the “concerned Nazarens’ and the “emerging Nazarenes” while trying to find out more about Dennis Bratcher.  I was not aware of the theological tension within the Nazarene Church.

Many years ago I preached my first sermons in the Nazarene Church and was, like you, a biblical literalist who after much travail of soul became convinced that “the Bible is an anvil that has worn out many hammers” and can sustain any study we give it.  Jesus said, “you have heard it said of old, but I say unto you….”  Ezekiel said, “never again will the proverb be repeated in Israel…..”  Jeremiah prophesied of a day when the law of God will not be written in stone but in hearts…..”  Some chapters are identical; others are incompatible in detail.  The Word did not “become printer’s ink.  The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”  The Bible is our book about God, but it is not God or we would worship a tangible idol.

Thanks for your insights.

btw, Is the “concerned” movement in the Nazarene church really wondergin if they can any longer be Wesleyan and are they learning toward neo-Calvinism?


Hamish

The inerrancies of the Bible have messed with my devotional life ever since I became aware of them.  What keeps me sane is as Dr. Oord said it, “Salvific inerrancy when it believes the Bible ‘inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.’”  Meaning God does care about humanity finding him and learning about him just as much today as he did back then.  The story of God and his concern for us is bigger than burning bushes, 24th verse of Romans chapter sixteen, and mustard seeds.  God wants to have a vibrant relationship with humanity that is beyond facts in the bible.  God gives humanity freedom to relate to him in the Bible, in Creation, in community, and in solitude.  God’s love is all in all and abounds beyond our rationality.
Hamish


Stacie Martin

Recently I had a conversation with an individual who declares themselves as an atheist. He spoke with me about scripture and my theology, and throughout the course of the conversation the idea of Biblical inerrancy came up. He was repulsed by the idea of there being errors in the Bible and people still following scripture. He saw this as ignorance and a large part of me cannot help but agree with him. We’re not supposed to be wishy-washy with our faith, but how can we be certain on some things we follow from scripture when there can be errors? Are we not in some ways blindly following something we cannot be certain of? Should we accept a level of ignorance?


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