Is the Bible Inerrant?
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I am going to take a point of view which is not very popular to the orthodox Judeo-Christian faith. I begin this commentary giving the reader my point of view—not to sway the reader, but to be honest from the very start where my thoughts lie. My reasoning behind this move is simple: I am not attempting to influence anyone with subterfuge, but rather through mere fact alone. It is up to the reader to decide whether my points have merit.
I have read the Bible more times than I can count. I have read it as one would read a book—from front to back, and I have read it in segments. Obviously I favor certain sections more than others and am far more familiar with those favored areas of scripture. Of late, I tend to read the Bible more as a reference book. That may not be what is considered an “appropriate” use of the Bible, but historically it seems to fit best. What is the Bible if not a reference book?
Is the Bible Inerrant?
My personal belief is that the Christian Bible and the ancient Jewish texts which comprise part of the Old Testament are divinely inspired scripture, neither inerrant nor infallible. I also hold to the belief that these compilations of scripture are in no way the sum total of all divinely inspired scripture which was written for the benefit of mankind, but rather only that which survives. Scripture itself, through various authors, point this fact out quite clearly. One only need to go to Joshua 10:13 and we find reference to a mysterious book called Jasher. (The Septuagint translation renders sefer hayashar in both cases as 'Book of the Just'.) Joshua then quotes from Jasher 88:64 (It must be understood that the Bible was not given chapter and verse until Jerome of Stridonium transcribed the scripture into the Vulgate circa 382AD. Then later beginning in the 13th Century when it was broken down into chapters by Italian Dominican biblical scholar Santi Pagnini, and then even later in the 16th Century when numerical verse was added by William Whittingham.)
Jasher is mentioned again and quoted at greater length in 2nd Samuel 1:18-27. This passage is from Jasher 56:9, “Only teach thy sons the bow and all the weapons of war, in order that they may fight the battles of their brother who will rule over his enemies.”
By no means is Jasher the only book mentioned in the Old Testament. There is also mention of a Book of Statutes written down by Samuel (1st Samuel 10:25), Samuel the Seer, Nathan the Prophet and Gad the Seer (1st Chronicles 29:29). These last three books detail the reign of King David. In 2nd Chronicles 9:29 we have mention of the Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and Visions of Iddo the Seer. It is clear through the context the books were read and studied by the Kings and prophets of that day. Where they divinely inspired? There is no way to know for certain, but their mention in the Bible should lend some credence to their import.
Is the Bible Inerrant?
Is the Bible Inerrant?
There are more books which are mentioned in the Old Testament and allusions to many more letters written in the New Testament which are now lost to history, but I won’t belabor that point here. The main point I raise is with the inerrancy or infallibility of what it is we call the Bible. Exactly what is inerrancy and why has it become such a sticking point with Christians? If the Bible as we know it today is without error, I suppose we need to discuss just what level of error we are referring to. Are we referring to typographical error, linguistic or grammatical error, or is it something deeper?
This from Wikipedia on Biblical Inerrancy:
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a positional statement formed by more than two hundred evangelical leaders at a conference in Chicago in October 1978. This conference was sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). It’s design was to defend the position of Biblical Inerrancy against what was seen as a trend towards more “Liberal” conceptions of Scripture. It appears from their statement that the signatories assert that since there are no extant original manuscripts of the Bible, those which exist cannot be considered inerrant. The signatories also maintain that the existing manuscripts are faithful copies of the original manuscripts.
Pope Leo XIII (1810 – 1903) in his encyclical, Providentissimus Deus (On the Study of Holy Scripture) reaffirmed the decisions of the Council of Trent (convened between 1545 – 1563) and emphasized that the Bible in all its parts was inspired and that a stated fact must be accepted as falling under inspiration, down to the most insignificant item; that is, the whole Bible is the Word of God.
Mr. H. Chaim Schimmel, a lawyer versed in both Talmudic and secular law and the author of, “The Oral Law” asserts that Judaism had never promulgated a belief in the literal word of the Hebrew Bible, hence the co-existence of the Oral Torah. His reasoning here is obvious; if there is a written, inerrant version of the Bible then an Oral version must be said word for word exactly the same way without mistake. Since the origins of Jewish history were only made orally until the time of Moses, this would place Jews in an uncomfortable position. Additionally according to Jewish tradition, the Oral Torah was passed down orally in an unbroken chain from generation to generation until its contents were finally committed to writing following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans. The Oral Torah was transcribed into the Mishnah, compiled between 200-220 AD. Thus we are left with a host of different opinions on the matter.
Is the Bible Inerrant?
Can the question be tightened somewhat to hone in on what the true point is? Is Biblical Inerrancy the same as Biblical Infallibility? A dictionary definition of the two words, Inerrancy and Infallibility are slight. Inerrant would mean that there are no errors whereas Infallible would mean that there can be no errors. Thus it would seem that Infallibility would be closer to what most people are referring to when they talk about the inerrancy of the Bible.
Still it is interesting that even the most ardent supporters on the Evangelical side are only taking the inerrancy only so far as the transcription of the text. Pope Leo XIII (Not an evangelical by any means) brought that standard higher by proclaiming the Bible to be the Word of God. Based upon these notions, the average Christian is left with the misimpression that the Bible is indeed the Inerrant Word of God. Quite plainly, this is a complete falsehood and it is yet another impediment placed between God and man. Let me explain.
When Constantine the Great convened the first of what was to eventually become seven Ecumenical Councils in Nicaea (modern day Iznik, Turkey), these various bishops from the Empire began to put together what would not only become the official Christian religion, but they would also tackle what was to be the Bible used to guide the faith.
In approximately 367 AD, Athanasius, an early church father, came up with a list of seventy-three books for the Bible which he believed to be divinely inspired. This list was finally approved by Pope Damasus I in 382 AD, and was formally approved by the Church Council of Rome in that same year. Later Councils at Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) ratified this list of seventy-three books. In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Toulouse reaffirming this canon of seventy-three books. In 419 AD, the Council of Carthage reaffirmed this list, which Pope Boniface agreed to.
Much later in the year 1546, the Council of Trent in response to Martin Luther having removed seven of these New Testament books from the official canon of scripture, reaffirmed the original St. Athanasius list of seventy-three books. Reformation leader, Martin Luther, disdained the New Testament books of James so much that he called it, “… an epistle of straw.” These books which Luther disdained and removed were called “Luther’s Antilegomena” or written texts whose authenticity or value is disputed. These seven disputed (by Luther) texts included Hebrews, James, Jude, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, and Revelation. Additionally, he removed the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache. Both the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache are two books which I have read a number of times and more Godly works one will not find within the Canonical scriptures.
Much older books which had once been considered a part of the Hebrew Scriptures were later removed based primarily upon the same type of political winds which had faced those in the early to mid-fourth century with Constantine the Great and the latter Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. It is important to remember when dealing with church history, that one is also dealing with political history as well; the two were usually one and the same.
The Book of Enoch was one book regarded as Holy Scripture by the Essenes and was carefully preserved in the Qumran Caves along the Dead Sea in Israel. It wasn’t until the Council of Jamnia in approximately 90 AD (twenty years after the destruction of the Temple and still in the early years of the Diaspora) that Enoch was excised from the list of Hebrew books. This council was dominated by the Pharisaic line. (The particular sect which Christ regarded some as “white-washed tombs.”)
Regardless its removal, Christ quoted from the Book of Enoch. That He could quote from the book indicates to me that He had not only read it, but was familiar enough with it to recall it from memory. The exact quote he used was worked into His “Sermon on the Mount.” Matthew 5:5 is an exact quote of Enoch 6:9. “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
Again it is important to point out that we possess copies of the Book of Enoch which date to 250 BC. These copies have been verified as to their content and veracity against the Ethiopic copies of Enoch in use by that sect of Christianity since the time of the Apostles. Enoch did not quote Christ, Christ quoted Enoch. The early Christians prior to Constantine had embraced the book, but the Jews had already rejected it. Constantine did not quibble with the Jews over what should be included in the Old Testament, satisfied enough with their work at the Council of Jamnia.
However an early church father named Tertullian in the Early 3rd century AD commented on the Jewish rejection of the Book of Enoch as follows, “Since Enoch, in the same Scripture, also taught about the Lord, then it should not be rejected by us… but it appears that the Jews rejected it specifically for that reason, just like they do almost every other part that foretells Christ.”
Indeed, it is true that the Jews corrupted their own scriptures to take Jesus out of the Old Testament. One example is Psalm 22:16. It reads “They pierced my hands and my feet.” That is what the Septuagint and Syriac versions say. Christians take this as a prophecy about the crucifixion of Christ. But the Jewish Bibles say “Like the lion my hands and my feet.” Which is correct? To answer the question, we should look to the oldest manuscript evidence, which is the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls favor the Christian version. They also favor the inclusion of Enoch as part of divinely inspired scripture.
Is the Bible Inerrant?
Clearly Christians seem to be in a quandary as to just how we are to regard the Bible. We’re told by well meaning pastors and teachers that it is the literal Word of God, but clearly it is not. If there is any error or deviation found within scripture being held to such a standard, God is then made out to be a liar. We can rationalize that the error rests with man and his own evil intents to pervert the Word, but then where does that leave God? He is mighty enough to make certain His words are given to us in sixty-six complete books, enduring over thousands of years by many different human authors, but He can’t stop a translator or political ruler from, corrupting what He so carefully planned? That is an incongruity not worthy of the one we call God Almighty.
Perhaps the inerrancy is in the fact that the Bible will teach one about who Christ is and what He is to do for all of us. Well that certainly is a possibility, but again the Council at Jamnia was convened in 90 AD. The letters and the Gospels which went on to make up the New Testament were still floating about the Empire in no cohesive form; there was in effect no written New Testament at that point. All we had is what was available of the Old Testament and as we’ve already seen, that was being controlled by both religious and political forces with their own agendas; any reference to Jesus Christ as the Messiah was excised.
Is the Bible Inerrant?
The first canon of scripture was compiled by an early church father named Marcion of Sinope in approximately 130 - 140 AD. It comprised eleven books of the New Testament and nothing at all from the Old Testament as Marcion was convinced the god of the Old Testament was not actually god. He regarded the theology of the Old Testament as incompatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding God and morality. Marcion believed that Jesus had come to liberate mankind from the authority of the god of the Old Testament and to reveal the superior God of goodness and mercy whom he called the Father. Paul and Luke were the only Christian authors to find favor with Marcion, hence Luke’s is the only Gospel in Marcion’s canon.
This brings us back to the inerrancy of the Bible question. Marcion was later declared a heretic and his writings were burned, but this occurred after his death. During his lifetime, his beliefs were gaining in popularity. Was his version of the canon without error or was the canon later compiled by the Ecumenical councils the one which must be regarded as inerrant? Perhaps it was the truncated canon which Martin Luther compiled which was inerrant. Of course the Eastern Orthodox Church which split from mainstream Catholicism in the twelfth Century might have the actual inerrant Bible. Then again it could be the Ethiopic Christians and their texts which (unfortunately for Western Christianity) includes the Book of Enoch.
In 1881, the King James Bible first published in 1611, was revised. That there was need of revision at all would give anyone regarding the Bible as the Inerrant or Infallible Word of God pause. Never-the-less there was a revision and it was expansive. In the New Testament alone there were more than 30,000 changes made. Over 5000 of these changes were made on the basis of what were considered better Greek manuscripts. Of course this begs the questions as to exactly what was being read between the original publication in 1611 and the revised version introduced in 1881. Were the readers being fed lies for two hundred seventy years?
Exactly where in the Bible itself does it say that it is the Word of God? Specifically, it does not. Again, there was no Bible as we understand it back when the New Testament letters and the Gospels were being written. It is clear that the Apostles had no idea they were writing letters which would one day make up the canon of scripture. They were writing to churches and to various people because it was far more efficient to do so. These letters could be copied and passed around and the new churches could learn from the Apostles in this manner without the Apostles actually having to be on hand in person. That their words became the basis of the New Testament was certainly of God, but the words written were of those men in a relationship with their Creator.
John 1:1-2 explains quite clearly just who the Word of God is, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
I believe we get tripped up with the usage of the word, Word. We tend to think written word when applied to the Bible because it is in fact written. But the actual Greek word for Word is Logos. This is from Wikipedia:
Logos (/ˈloʊɡɒs/, /ˈlɒɡɒs/, or /ˈloʊɡoʊs/; Greek: λόγος, from λέγω lego "I say") is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.
Ancient philosophers used the term in different ways. The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to refer to "reasoned discourse" or "the argument" in the field of rhetoric. The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the Universe.
Under Hellenistic Judaism, Philo (ca. 20 BC – AD 50) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy. The Gospel of John identifies the Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos), and further identifies Jesus as the incarnate Logos.
Although the term "Logos" is widely used in this Christian sense, in academic circles it often refers to the various ancient Greek uses, or to post-Christian uses within contemporary philosophy, Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.
We mustn’t forget that God Almighty and Jesus Christ are one and the same. Christ is the personification of God, comprehensible to us in our humanity. The Bible is quite clear that. “No one has seen God.” – John 1:18. In God reducing Himself to an essence by which He could interface with us, the Christ became necessary. In as much as we human beings are both flesh and spirit, so too is Christ. God’s Word (Christ) was made flesh and dwelt among us. There is many reasons for this which have been covered in previous commentaries, but it has to do with covenants and Authorities. God could only redeem us by becoming one of us and this He did through the personage of the Christ. Marcion was almost correct, but he got sidetracked by not knowing who the enemy really is. It was an honest mistake and the enemy has done their utmost to wipe this knowledge from the face of the earth.
Inerrancy, Infallibility, Literal; the Bible is a compilation of stories and the recitation of events which together give us a picture of who God Almighty is and who we are to Him. The Book of Enoch as well as the Book of Jasher coupled with the knowledge of how Moses learned of his origins have led me to conclude with near certainty that the Book of Genesis is but one story handed down through one group of people. Jasher is a parallel account and has more information in some areas and less in others. It is not unlike two different brothers telling the same story to their own children around a campfire in separate locations. The essential story is the same, but certain details will be amiss.
When Jethro explained the origins of the world to Moses, he told these stories as he had learned them from his father and grandfather and so forth. Jethro was a Midian priest who undoubtedly had brothers and sisters, a father and mother, cousins and other extended family. The male heads of households were charged with learning the stories of their origins and passing them down. Each telling of these tales by others is going to have some “drift.”
Today one might recall the popular game called “Telephone” and how so much error could occur just by passing information around the room. I don’t mean to imply the same level of error occurred in the telling of these tales—these stories were very important and were taken seriously, but that subtle changes slipped into the narrative was without a doubt. The Jews understood this completely which is why H. Chaim Schimmel takes the position he does with respect to The Oral Law. The objective of these stories wasn’t to keep the details perfect, but to impart an idea of who they were as a people and where they had come from. Thus when I see well meaning Christians try to use the Book of Genesis as a scientific treatise regarding the creation of the universe, I cringe. Genesis is by no means a scientifically accurate book nor was it ever meant to be.
Is the Bible Inerrant?
When we make the Bible into something it is not, we unwittingly take the majesty and power away from God. Jesus Christ was called the Word of God and that is exactly what He is. God in His elemental state is so far above our ability to understand in our humanity, that He had to make Himself known to us in a manner we could comprehend. This is the Christ, the Word of God. What has been written about Him and about the early church if such rises to the level of truth and edification is regarded as divinely inspired scripture. Not automatic writing, but divine inspiration. There is a difference in the two terms.
“All scripture is breathed out of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” -2nd Timothy 3:16-17
Human beings are an interesting lot. The things of a spiritual nature constantly present an obstacle which is difficult to surmount. The reason is simple: The flesh cannot understand the things of the spirit; the two are incompatible. The Apostle Paul spoke of this incompatibility in Romans 7:21-23:
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
The spiritual nature of God is simply too much for most of humanity. That is a provocative statement, but one that I have found to be true. The evidence is the level of anthropomorphism we humans engage in; we have a need to bring everything down to our level in order to understand it. Rather than rely on the truth of God, hear with our spiritual ears and see with our spiritual eyes, we turn away and remake God in our image.
For far too many years throughout human history, mankind had no written guide to explain who and what God is. Even when the written word did become available, too many were denied the privilege of reading it through either availability or inability; illiteracy was rampant throughout the world. If the Bible is indeed the Inerrant Word of God, why would God place Himself out of reach to the very people who needed Him most?
The truth is far easier to see if one listens with their spiritual ears and sees with their spiritual eyes: The true Word of God is Jesus Christ, and God’s “face” to humanity in this era are His children; Christians. As Christians, we are part of the spiritual body of Christ; we dwell now in the Kingdom of Heaven, though we are still in the body. These are spiritual concepts, however and they do not translate easily to the understanding of the flesh.
There is an old saying about how a Christian is to comport themselves among those who are not Christians: “You are the only Bible some people may ever read.” That is a powerful saying and one I have tried never to forget, but I sympathize with Paul. Personally, I tend to be far too critical and do not see the good in others and circumstances as often as I would like; I am at constant war with the flesh which impedes my ability to speak in the spirit. Regardless my deficits in the flesh, I learned long ago not to rely on the flesh for any truth; the flesh is imperfect and easily corrupted. Simple pride and ego can color the flesh and quell the spirit so subtly it is hardly noticed. It is for this reason The Law is so attractive to the flesh; it was written for the flesh, not the spirit.
As Christians we are expected to reach a level of spiritual maturity so that we can become God’s “face” to others; to usher others into the intimate relationship with God which He desires. This is a task He has left to us and whether we like it or not, it is a privilege and a precious gift. The flesh does not agree with this methodology and prefers a hierarchical structure in order to maintain control. The flesh cannot comprehend that God is always in control no matter how it may appear to the flesh. As such, the flesh creates limits and restrictions for itself preventing the very maturing which God expects of us all. The flesh will always attempt to quell the spirit.
I love reading the Bible. Obviously there are some passages that I prefer over others. But my hope and salvation is not in the Bible, it is in Christ. He and He alone is the Word of God. He and He alone is inerrant and infallible because Jesus Christ IS God. This is a spiritual concept which will never be clearly understood by the flesh. The enemy of the Spirit feeds the flesh and will continue to do so until the time which Christ finally takes over. Until that time, we Christians have a small window of opportunity to use the lives Christ gave to us to usher others into the same Godly relationship with Him we enjoy. Once our time of duality in this realm has passed for us, it will never come about again.
Is the Bible Inerrant? No, but Christ is and that is all that should matter.