Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy

Photo Credit: michaelrighi via Compfight cc
Altered image. Original photo by: michaelrighi via Compfight cc

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.

Andy Uyboco is currently having a conversation with a talking snake. You may leave a message at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

5 thoughts on “Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy”

  1. Nice article. Biblical Inerrancy is a doctrine of the Evangelical Christians which is painfully defended by the gatekeepers of their church despite their arguments are now becoming illogical and absurd in every way. Its becoming unpopular even among the Evangelical Christians particularly in the North America, where it is their stronghold primarily with the Religious Right/Republicans.

    While it is understandable that they could not easily let go of this doctrine because it would result to an identity crisis – both to the believer and the institution, to many, continuing to believe this doctrine is becoming an “intellectual suicide,” which now results to the decline of their church attendance.

  2. Having read this article after the blogs about Ravi, in which I was willing to bet dollars to donuts that you were a bart ehrman disciple, it is nice to see my assumption true. In the line of who is watching the watchdogs, have you read any criticism of ehrman and how bad he manipulates things? Try reading “Has God spoken?” By the host of the radio show “The Bible Answerman” Hank Haanagraf. Or, “I Don’t have enough faith to be an athiest”. It is hard to show all of your errancies when you only attempt to show one side. There are many logical answers to the “problems” you presented. And, intellectual suicide is not knowing all sides. One of you articles on Ravi incorrectly accussed him of confirmation bias. You really showed everyone what that really is with this article.


  3. 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!”

Comments are closed.