I grew up believing that the Bible was the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I believed in a literal 6-day creation, the talking snake, the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, Samson’s wondrous strength, Elijah flying up to the heavens in a blazing chariot of fire, and of course, Jesus and all the miracles he and his disciples performed.
I remember one bible study session when I was a young teen. The pastor declared that the scribes were so careful in copying the manuscripts that they had to purify themselves by taking a bath every time they wrote a word or a sentence. If a scribe made a mistake, the whole scroll would be burned and he would have to start all over again. So we were supposed to have very reliable copies of the original biblical texts, without errors or discrepancies.
It was later in my thirties when I began to seriously question the Bible’s authority. The verse often quoted to support inerrancy is 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But this was written before everything had been compiled into what we now call the New Testament. What “scripture” then, did Paul have in mind when he wrote those words?
I began to look at how the biblical canon (the official list of inspired and authoritative books) was developed. When I asked about it, pastors told me that early church fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit to decide which book made the cut and which book didn’t, and for a time, I accepted that. However, as I read more and more about church history, I realized that the canon was not decided in a moment of revelation, nor was it declared by a voice in the heavens. There was much discussion, debates, arguments, bullying, politics, and in the end it all came down to a matter of votes.
In fact, few people realize that even up to this day, the biblical canon is still in dispute. A Catholic Bible (like the New American Bible) contains 73 books in all while the Protestant Bible (virtually all other versions with the most popular being King James, NIV, NRSV, and the like) contains only 66 books.
Of course, growing up as a Protestant, I simply ignored the Catholic version because I thought it was plain wrong. Life is simple when you just pick a side and don’t have to think so much.
Unfortunately for me, I was not wired that way. I had to know more, because this book was supposed to be the one driving my life. It was supposed to be my guide to life on earth and even beyond. I had to know if I could really trust it.
The more I read and learned, the more that trust withered.
I delved into serious biblical scholarship and learned that no serious biblical scholar (whether Christian or not) would claim that biblical texts are without errors or discrepancies. In fact, there are thousands of discrepancies. This is common knowledge in biblical scholarship. Most errors are minor, however, and consist of spelling or grammatical mistakes. Yet, some are downright irreconcilable. For example, one only needs to read the resurrection accounts in the four gospels and see that there are glaring inconsistencies.
Mark 16 gives the story of 3 women who came to the tomb and see the stone already rolled back. They went inside and saw a young man dressed in a white robe who spoke to them. They fled and told no one about it because they were afraid.
Matthew 28 tells us that there were 2 women who came to the tomb, apparently still closed, until a great earthquake came and rolled the stone away. Then they saw an angel descend from heaven which frightened the living daylights out of the guards. The angel talked to them outside the tomb. They ran from the tomb and Jesus met them and told them to give a message to his “brothers.”
Luke 24 does not specify how many women there were. Similar to the narrative of Mark, they arrive only to find the stone rolled away, then went in and found not one, but two shining beings. The women went and told the disciples about it but no one believed them.
John 20 has Mary Magdalene all alone. When she discovers the stone rolled away, she ran immediately to Peter and another unnamed disciple (presumably John) to report the matter because she thought someone had took the body. Both disciples ran to the empty tomb and saw only the linens. Mary later sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him, thinking he was the gardener.
Now, if these stories are supposed to be true, how come they do not corroborate each other? Why didn’t God “inspire” all four writers to be a little more consistent in their details? The logical conclusion is that some of these narratives contain errors. If they contain errors, you can hardly call them inerrant. Then how can we know which parts are true and which aren’t? How can we know if ANY of it is true at all?
Aside from discrepant narratives, there are many other problems. We have none (yes, none!) of the original manuscripts of the Bible. What we have are copies of copies of copies of copies and there are numerous errors from one copy to another. There are verses which appear in some copies of the text, but not in others — which suggests that they were either added in or taken out. The last part of Mark 16 is a perfect example of this and is even documented in most Bibles if you bother to read the footnotes.
There are entire books which were not written by the supposed authors. For example, none of the gospels were written by the people whose names they bear. Some letters of Paul were most likely not written by Paul, like 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians and Ephesians. Again, these are not new claims. Bible scholars have known this for decades.
World-renowned New Testament scholar and author, Bart D. Ehrman, details many of these in his book, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (free download available at archive.org). I suggest you look for a copy of that if you are interested in these things. In the concluding chapter, he offers this thought: “I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”
And I heartily agree.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.