A Second Look at Biblical Inerrancy

Photo Credit: Sunshine Lady ! via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Sunshine Lady ! via Compfight cc

In a previous article entitled, Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy, I pointed out some reasons why I no longer believed that the Bible is without error. I expanded on an illustration popularized by biblical scholar, Bart Ehrman, showing how the accounts of the resurrection in the four gospels differed in their details. My conclusion then was that because of these discrepancies, it is difficult for me to think of the Bible as free from errors.

A reader, whom I shall call Kevin (not his real name), wrote in and said:

It seems that you easily find discrepancies on the MINUTEST details of their respective accounts, which is not the central message or truth that they want to record.  They wrote to prove that there was such a thing as a RESURRECTION that happened.  They or I are not interested on the number of women who were there.

Let me give you and illustration.  Supposed I sent you to Zamboanga in September 2013 to cover the Zamboanga war with 3 other reporters and the 4 of you sent the following report of the same incident that happened at the same time and same location:

Reporter 1:  An army from 8 IB fired his armalite rifle to the MNLF and killed 2 of them.

Report 2:  A Soldier from the Philippine Marine fired his AK 47 and killed 3 MNLF rebels.

Report 4 :  A Policeman from Zamboanga Police killed 4 MNLF rebels with his .45 pistol

Report 4:  A government trooper by the name of Juan de La Cruz fired his guns and I am still verifying how many were dead.

Apparently, the 4 of you were giving me different versions of the report. BUT WILL THAT MAKE YOU DENY THAT THERE WAS REALLY A WAR IN ZAMBOANGA?  I sent you to Zamboanga to tell us that there is a WAR going on there and how it happened. You do not have to be accurate on who fired , what gun and how many were hit.

In the case of these 4 GOSPELS, the CENTRAL ISSUE is the RESURRECTION which the 4 of them recorded.

You mean that because they do not corroborate with each other, then it is false or hoax?  If 4 liars will corroborate to tell a lie, it is still A LIE. Even if what they wrote are perfectly the same. Equally correct is when these 4 gospel writers intended to write a hoax, they should have written it perfectly the same.

Here is my response: You seem to think that my opinion of the gospel is that it’s a DELIBERATE hoax. That is not my view at all.

The main point of my article was not to show that the resurrection story is untrue. The main point was to highlight the fact that the discrepancies make it impossible to claim that the Bible is inerrant.

Going back to your example of the 4 reporters, you may not be interested in who fired and how many were hit but surely, not all of us can be correct. If I say that the Philippine army fired first, and reporter 2 said that the MILF fired first, we cannot both be correct at the same time. One of us has to be wrong.

Now, if one of us is wrong, you cannot say that the 4 accounts that we have are without error — which is what Christians (at least, some factions) claim, not only for the 4 gospels but for the entire Bible.

Unlike your war example, the gospels are not firsthand accounts of the eyewitnesses themselves. It is generally accepted among reputable Bible scholars, Christian ones included, that the earliest gospel, Mark, was written more than 30 years after the event. Matthew and Luke followed 10 or 20 years later, and John followed another 10 years later.

So if we were to rewrite your example in these terms, it would go like this: It is now September 2043 (30 years after the 2013 Zamboanga War). A writer named Mark comes to interview me, knowing that I was an eyewitness. So I tell him about what happened to the best of my ability and memory.

Mark would possibly have other sources as well, and he uses all this material to piece together his story of the Zamboanga War. So now we have the Zamboanga War according to Mark.

Ten years later, two other writers named Matthew and Luke also hear stories about the Zamboanga War. They’ve read Mark’s book, but some parts do not exactly jive with the stories they have heard from other sources. So they want to set the record straight and write their own versions, but they copy heavily from Mark since he was the first to ever publish the complete story anyway. Needless to say, some details don’t match.

Ten or twenty years later, another writer from some other part of the world, named John, comes up with his own retelling of the Zamboanga war. He never saw the other 3 guys books but decided to write his own account based on his own sources, knowledge and interpretation of the events.

So there you have it — 4 books about the Zamboanga War which are not deliberate hoaxes, but not entirely accurate as well. You may say, well the point was, there WAS a war. And yes, I will grant you that. But that is an entirely different point from the one I’m trying to make.

I am not saying that because the details don’t match, then we ought to doubt that there was ever a war at all. I am saying that because the details don’t match, you cannot claim that the accounts are without error. I hope this, at least, is clear.

Regarding your claim that there was indeed a resurrection, let me tackle that next week.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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2 thoughts on “A Second Look at Biblical Inerrancy”

  1. a good number of liberal scholars agree that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written more later than what the conservatives think. Matthew was written at around 80 to 90 AD; Luke at around 80 to 90 AD or later; John at around 90 AD; and Mark at around 70 AD.

    And note that even those who believe on the inerrancy, agree that some writers of these books copied a major of their contents from the writer of Mark, or its source.


  2. Some General Rules of Biblical Interpretation

    Before we address the specifics of the resurrection accounts, it is good to first understand a few basics of Biblical interpretation that will aid our understanding of why some things differ in the gospels. First, it’s important to remember that a partial report is not a false report. Just because each gospel author doesn’t report every detail of a story doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate. All historians edit their accounts for various purposes and the gospel writers are no different.

    Second, a divergent account is not a false account. For example, Matthew speaks of one angel at Christ’s tomb whereas John mentions two. A contradiction? Not at all. Simple math says if you have two, you also have one. Matthew did not say there was only one angel; if he had then we would have a true contradiction. Instead, he just records the words of the one who spoke. Though divergent accounts can seem to cast doubt on the accuracy of the reporters, we must try and reserve judgment until all the facts are in.

    These two rules should be kept in mind when examining the multiple resurrection accounts.

    Reconciling the Resurrection Events

    The below represents a humble attempt to succinctly lay out a reconciliation and timeline of the gospel account records of Christ’s resurrection and his appearing over the following forty days to various individuals. For a more exhaustive treatment of the details and various explanations, please see John Wenham’s work The Easter Enigma.

    1. An angel rolls away the stone from the tomb before sunrise (Matthew 28:2-4). The guards are seized with fear and eventually flee.
    2. Women disciples visit the tomb and discover Christ missing (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1).
    3. Mary Magdalene leaves to tell Peter and John (John 20:1-2).
    4. Other women remain at the tomb; they see two angels who tell them of Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-8).
    5. Peter and John run to the tomb and then leave (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-10).
    6. Christ’s First Appearance: Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb; Christ appears to her (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18).
    7. Christ’s Second Appearance: Jesus appears to the other women (Mary, mother of James, Salome, and Joanna) (Matthew 28:8-10).
    8. At this time, the guards report the events to the religious leaders and are bribed to lie (Matthew 28:11-15).
    9. Christ’s Third Appearance: Jesus privately appears to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5).
    10. Christ’s Fourth Appearance: Jesus appears to Cleopas and companion (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32).
    11. Christ’s Fifth Appearance: Jesus appears to 10 apostles, with Thomas missing, in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43).
    12. Christ’s Sixth Appearance: Eight days after His appearance to the 10 apostles, Jesus appears to all 11 apostles, including Thomas (John 20:26-28).
    13. Christ’s Seventh Appearance: Jesus appears to 7 disciples by the Sea of Galilee and performs the miracle of the fish (John 21:1-14).
    14. Christ’s Eighth Appearance: Jesus appears to 500 on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6).
    15. Christ’s Ninth Appearance: Jesus appears to His half-brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
    16. Christ’s Tenth Appearance: In Jerusalem, Jesus appears again to His disciples (Acts 1:3-8).
    17. Christ’s Eleventh Appearance: Jesus ascends into Heaven while the disciples look on (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12).

    Conclusions

    The different perspectives in the gospel’s accounts of Christ’s resurrection are indicative of the veracity of the eye witness statements. Those who have seen something unexpected often report the details in somewhat of a frenetic and seemingly disconnected way, as they attempt to communicate the depth of what they have witnessed even while processing the events for themselves. Were the gospel writers or the disciples lying, they would have presented a uniform story. And the same critics who try to point out contradictions in the gospels would no doubt cry ‘collusion’ if they found exact verbal parallelism and a singular account of the resurrection.

    In the end, the recordings of the resurrection found in the four gospels harmonize quite well upon closer examination, and perhaps most importantly, strongly agree on the one key fact that has universal life impact: Christ is risen from the dead!”

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