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Biblical Inerrancy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Harrison   
Sunday, 12 June 2011

Were you taught in Sunday School that we know God exists because the Bible tells us so? Were you taught that we know the Bible is true because it is the Word of God? Many atheists attempt to argue that the Bible isn't the Word of God through pointing out flaws and inconsistencies. However the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy isn't a claim made in the Bible itself. Not only is the argument for Biblical Inerrancy circular, it is also unsupported by scripture. So lets take a look at this problem in more depth.

Old Testament

The origin of the Christian Old Testament is the Jewish Torah. The Torah includes the first five books of the Old Testament. It is essentially the account of the creation of the universe and the Exodus of Moses out of Egypt. There is no consensus on the precise age of the Torah, with estimates from 900 BCE to 450 BCE.

What can be said about this scripture is that it purports to contain at least a few accounts of God directly communicating with people, although this appears to be limited to Genesis where he walks in the Garden of Eden with Adam.

Genesis 3:8: That evening they heard the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid from him among the trees. But the Lord God called out to the man "Where are you?".

This early account of the world is purported to have been written by Moses himself about 1300 BCE at Mount Sinai. How might a Jewish man raised in Egypt in the royal household come to know how the world began? Communication between God and man is actually pretty sparse in the Old Testament. Instead we have self appointed Prophets divining the Word of God, and angels appearing to people in seclusion. Moses is the archetype for this kind of Prophet of God.

The Old Testament may be an account of the Words of God, but it is not the recorded actual literal words spoken by God himself. The only instance of God clearly recording actual text is in the account of the ten commandments.

The story of the ten commandments make it appear that the laws were new and that the people of Moses were unfamiliar with them before they were delivered on stone. However, all of the morals of the ten commandments were also moral values of Egyptian society in 1500 BCE. This has been established by discovery of the "Book of the Dead" - a document buried with Egyptian dead containing a moral code in the form of a Negative Confession.

Assuming we accept the story of Moses as described in the Bible we must accept that Moses was raised by an Egyptian royal family. He would have been exposed to all the same moral injunctions as an Egyptian. It is therefore unsurprising that the moral injunctions delivered on Mount Sinai from God were a subset of Egyptian moral affirmations.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the inerrancy of the Old Testament is the fact that the Jewish people have never considered the scriptures to be inerrant. You would think that the people who originally wrote the Old Testament, and to this day have a religious conviction to it would know the most about it. If they don't hold the Old Testament as inerrant how can later traditions do so?

Even if Moses really did commune with God the resulting human works have been subject to the same effects as other ancient documents that were copied by hand. If they were inerrant they would be unchanging, but this is not what we see. Instead the Old Testament is a patchwork of older documents that have evolved over time.

New Testament

The core of the New Testament is the four Gospels. The Gospels make clear from the very outset that they are a human account of the life of Jesus. The authors do not even attempt to claim divine inspiration as they are simply reporting on the life of God on earth.

Rather than argue about whether Jesus was God or not, or over the striking lack of contemporary accounts of Jesus let us simply assume for the sake of argument that everything in the Gospels is true; Jesus was the son of God, was crucified and was resurrected. If this were all true would it lend any support at all for the doctrinal position of Biblical Inerrancy?

The Gospels are quite clear on this; they are an account written by men trying to provide a more or less objective account of the life of Jesus. Unlike the Old Testament where prophets commune with an unseen God and claim to speak for God the Gospels makes no such claim. Jesus is God, and he walked among the people.

Luke 1:3: And so, your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you. I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught.

Even if Jesus was the Son of God there is no support at all from the Gospels themselves being Infallible. Jesus himself only refers to scripture that came before him. There is no hint at all that Jesus believed there would be a New Testament born from the accounts of his life.

Where did Biblical Inerrancy come from?

We have learned that at best the Bible is a human account of the words of God. We know from the text itself that it is not a text directly authored by the big dude in the sky himself. At the very best we have a ancient book that has been heavily modified and subject to selection over thousands of years that claims to be authored by those inspired by God or the life of Jesus.

So if the Bible does not support the assertion of Biblical Inerrancy why do so many believe it does?

In essence Biblical Inerrancy began as Doctrine of the Catholic Church. Pope Leo XIII reaffirmed that the whole Bible down to the most insignificant item is the World of God in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus. This position had been espoused previously by the Council of Trent.

The modern Catholic Church appears to have a confused message. Catholic Father Barron has posted at least two videos discussing the subject. In the first he dismissed a literal understanding of the Bible as the Word of God, saying:

The Third heresy I would identify is Biblical Fundamentalism. The view that the Bible, simply read literally on the surface is the Word of God. Period. In a literalistic way. People assume that the Bible is simply literally on the surface unambiguously straightforwardly the Word of God. Well that's fundamentalism.

The Bible is not a book. It's a collection of books from a wide variety of different genre. Some are more straightforwardly historical, should be read in a more literal way, but many are not. Some are more along the lines of saga or legend. Some are poetic. Some are more philosophical. Part of the art and science of Biblical interpretation is to know those differences in genre.

So does this mean that the Catholic Church doesn't believe that God is the literal author of all of the Bible? In a subsequent video Father Barron appears to contradict his previous statement, saying:

The claim of the great tradition is that the Bible is not just a collection of books written by human authors at particular times. It is also in some mysterious sense authored by God. Now, we don't have a naive sense of this, as if God is simply dictating words to robotic human agents. No no. God works precisely through history and precisely through the physiology and so on of the authors. Never the less God is in some very real sense the author of the scripture.

So the Bible is only the Word of God in some mysterious ill defined way in which any defects can be blamed on the human authors. This may be a clever way of having your cake and eating it too, but it has no meaning. I don't mean it's only wrong. If I were to say one plus one equals three I would be wrong. The Catholic approach is more like claiming one plus one equals blue, and then blaming the confusion on the intellectual shallowness of the reader.

Why would Barron play games like this? Because he knows damn well that the Bible is brim full of internal inconsistencies, outright false statements and inhumanity substantially inconsistent with the loving God most Christians believe exists.

While the origins of Biblical Inerrancy came from the Catholics it was taken up by the Christian Conservatives in the United States, home of the Bible Belt. They have tied the Biblical Inerrancy to the future of Christianity itself, making it a core doctrine. As a result it is taught in Sunday schools across America and across the world.

But the fact remains, nowhere in the Bible is it claimed that this scripture is inerrant. God never said a word about the Bible. Those that claim to have faith in the truth of the Bible base their faith in doctrine alone, not the word of the Bible.

Last Updated ( Monday, 13 June 2011 )
 
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