Does the Bible contain errors?

If you’re not a Christian, I expect you’d say the answer is ‘yes’. But how do you view the Bible if you are a Christian? Throughout history God’s people have believed that the Scriptures communicate to us truthfully. The term ‘inerrant’, first used by Augustine, yet implicit in much earlier Christian writings, is one word often used to describe the truthfulness of the Bible. The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms (Kevin Vanhoozer). In this clip, Don Carson briefly explains the term inerrancy:

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 The claim that the Bible is ‘inerrant’ in this sense, is not manufactured by humans, but made by the Bible itself:  the words of the Lord are flawless (Psalm 12:6), the law of the LORD is perfect…the statutes of the LORD are trustworthy…the precepts of the LORD are right…the ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous (Psalm 19:7-9). All your commands are trustworthy…the statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy…All your words are true (Psalm 119:86, 138, 160). All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). What Scripture says is what the Holy Spirit says (Acts 4:25, Hebrew 3:7). Although God used fallible humans to write the Bible, he is powerful enough to have done so in a way that the Bible is without error, just as God himself is (Psalm 119:137).

Christians come to this high view of the Bible, through the claims of the Bible about itself, the nature of God, and also because Jesus himself had this view. Jesus never belittled or contradicted the Scriptures, he read them and knew them thoroughly, cited them as authoritative (Matthew 4:4, 7,10, 19:4-5), stated that though they were written by men they were in fact God’s words (Matthew 22:31-32,43, Mark 12:26), distinguished them from the traditions of men (Mark 7:8-13), and submitted himself to them (Luke 22:37). We can come to know Jesus through hearing or reading the Bible, even if we haven’t fully grasped the Bible’s significance. Yet as we grow to know and trust Jesus, the Living Word (John 1:1-14), we learn to fully trust the Bible for what it is – God’s written Word.

Christians will read all kinds of books, yet only the Bible do we recognise as God’s inspired and inerrant word. As Augustine said ‘I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the [manuscript] is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what is said, or I myself have  failed to understand it.’ This approach is not intellectually unsound, rather a humble acknowledgement of a God whose wisdom is greater than any of us.

God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It can penetrate and transform us. We can remain hardened to God’s truth, presuming to know better than him, increasingly alienating ourselves from him, or we can humbly submit to God’s powerful truth and experience the freedom and joy of growing to know him more and being changed by him. This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2).

UPDATE: In  this short video , GK Beale gives a short answer to the question: Are there contradictions in the Bible? (He refers to the Augustine quote above and gives an example of a seemingly difficult passage in Mark 1).

 Some online references for further reading:
 The inerrancy of Scripture (Kevin Vanhoozer)   
The truthfulness of Scripture: Inerrancy (Michael Horton) 
Responding to some common arguments against inerrancy (Bart Barber)
Various articles on Inerrancy (Monergism)  
Scripture: the evangelical view (Jim Hamilton) 
Inerrancy of the Bible: An Annotated Bibliography (Mark Dever) 

Some books for further reading:
  Christ and the Bible (John Wenham)  
   Scripture and Truth (Carson and Woodbridge)  
Inspiration (Hodge and Warfield) 

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8 responses to “Does the Bible contain errors?

  1. There are clear evidences there have been corruptions of the original manuscripts; additions, subtractions, and modifications. And if you take a step back and try to examine the bible from a neutral perspective, it is clear there are out and out errors in it. I do not mean a perspective devoid of faith in God, just a perspective of being willing to ask questions about the bible without forcing facts to fit into a preconceived notion of inerrancy.

    Yes, there are logical explanations that can be provided to explain away any of the “seeming” errors in the bible, whole books of them exist. These explanations are based on logical possibilities, but not logical probabilities. The problem with explaining these errors away is that once you end up with a string of many of these logical possibilities, some dependent upon each other in fact, you end up with something highly unreasonable to believe. Not impossible, but highly unreasonable. And the more people have come to understand about history, archaeology, and science, the longer the odds for traditional inerrancy become.

    That is not to say the bible cannot be seen as inspired, even infallable in providing what a person needs to be a Christian. But the process of writing, transmitting, and canonizing was a very human one, just as is formulating a modern sense of inerrancy is today. I think defenses for inerrancy like what Grudem and Carson provide are unnecessarily defending something that is really indefensible in this day and age.

  2. Thanks for your response Jay. I know many think as you do. If I read you correctly you consider that the Bible could well be inspired by God, and even infallible in providing what we need to be a Christian, but falls short of being without error. One question your position raises in my mind, is what basis do you have to draw the line you do between what parts are without error, and what parts are? Does not your position require you to become the ultimate authority in judging what parts are right and what parts are wrong?
    Another reason I would find your position difficult to accept is that inerrancy is not something manufactured by Carson, Grudem, or anyone else, but it is the view Scripture presents about itself. As Carson mentions in the clip there are Christians in every period of history who have held a view that we would call inerrancy – that the Bible as given by God is without error. They are simply affirming the Bible’s own claims about itself.
    The implications of taking your position are significant. I think Packer is right when he says: Any degree of skepticism about the portrait of Christ, the promises of God, the principles of godliness, and the power of the Holy Spirit, as biblically presented, has the effect of enslaving us to our own alternative ideas about these things, and thus we miss something of the freedom, joy, and vitality that the real Christ bestows. God is very patient and merciful, and I do not suggest that those who fall short here thereby forfeit all knowledge of Christ, though I recognize that when one sits loose to Scripture this may indeed happen. But I do maintain most emphatically that one cannot doubt the Bible without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness–that is, the inerrancy–of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God. (Truth and Power, 55).Thanks again for your comment

  3. Hi Kevin

    Thanks for inviting me to your blog. As you know from our conversation recently, as a minister also but from a slightly different tradition maybe, I firmly believe that the bible has numerous errors, not only of fact, but also of a moral and ethical nature.
    Kevin: No Problem Andrew, it’s an open blog anyone is free to comment, even those like you who disagree with me. Since you raise a variety of questions, it seems easiest if I respond to each in bold below each of your points.

    Andrew: There are many, many examples, but if we look even at the words of Jesus, to a passage like Mark 4:31 “It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth”, we find that the words of Jesus are apparently in error. The mustard seed is not “the smallest of all the seeds on earth”. That I would read as a factual error.
    Kevin: This point of yours tries to push the Bible into an absurd literalism it doesn’t claim for itself.
    The definition of Inerrancy in the article above is: ‘that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms’. Jesus is not trying to make a point about gardening here, he is clearly using metaphorical language to teach us something about the Kingdom of God. When the Bible uses poetic or metaphorical language, we should take it for what it is. The mustard seed was the smallest of all agricultural seeds in Palestine, and is a powerful and valid illustration for the point Jesus is making: the kingdom of heaven is like something that is small and unimpressive that has an impact far greater than its initial size may indicate.

    Andrew: A moral error, in my mind, would be issue of slavery, for instance.
    Exodus 21:7
    “7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. “
    So it seems that slavery is accepted in the scriptures, even to the point where people sold their daughters to another. Which we today would view as always being completely unacceptable, surely. What would we say if someone in our churches sold their daughter to another man?
    And slavery in the bible is not a pretty picture.
    Exodus 21:20-21
    “20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.”
    So you can kill your slave, and not be punished!
    Kevin: We agree that these are not endorsing a practice for our churches. The laws governing slavery in the OT addressed two main specific problems. Firstly: a fellow Israelite who had got himself into financial distress could sell himself into a temporary slavery in order to pay for debts or raise capital (Lev 25:39-55; Deut 15:12-18). There were very strict rules that governed his or her treatment, and it was limited to a maximum of 6 years. The second main type of slavery addressed the issue of how to handle prisoners of war. These too were governed by strict laws, and slaves were not to be mistreated. The phrase ‘is his property’ above refers to the financial situation, and was not a description of how the person was to be viewed or treated. The verse indicates a slave’s life was considered valuable, and an owner who killed his slave would be punished. Foreigners (including slaves) were not to be wronged or oppressed in any way (Exodus 22:21-24; 23:6-9). These laws should be understood in their context in the Ancient Near East, they were moderate and temporary compared to other practices of the time. They should not be pushed beyond their context.

    Andrew: And slavery is quite acceptable in the new testament too.
    Colossians 4:1 “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”
    In fact, it would seem that this is written to Christian masters, surely, who would read this letter.
    Kevin: NT slavery is in a different context both to OT slavery and the present day. None of the NT writers make a frontal attack on slavery in the Roman world, however they address both slaves and masters about how to live a godly life within the social structures of the day. Many have argued that by calling people to follow Christ who himself endured unjust suffering, they were in fact much more effective in changing unjust political systems over the long term. In addition, Roman slavery was different to New World Slavery which Christians such as Wilberforce later actively opposed. Here are two quotes describing slavery in the Roman Empire: ‘1st-century slaves were generally well treated and were not only unskilled labourers, but often managers, overseers…doctors, nurses, musicians, skilled artisans. There was extensive Roman legislation governing the treatment of slaves. They were normally paid for their services and could eventually expect to purchase their freedom’ (Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, TNTC, 124). ‘In the first century Roman Empire, there was not a great difference between slaves and the average free person. Slaves were not distinguishable from others by race, speech or clothing. They looked and lived like most everyone else, and were not segregated from the rest of society in any way. From a financial standpoint, slaves made the same wages as free labourers and were therefore not usually poor. Also, slaves could accrue enough personal capital to buy themselves out. Most important of all, very few slaves were slaves for life. Most could reasonably hope to be manumitted [freed] within ten or fifteen years, or by their late thirties at least’ (Tim Keller, Reason for God, 110).

    Andrew: One of the other challenges with inerrancy, is that it is very difficult to find a definition that people actually agree on. What seems to happen is that some people take a very strong line, and others recognise errors in the scriptures, and they then choose a different definition. An example:
    “”Detailed Inerrantists” claim that a commitment to Scripture’s inspiration demands that the original copies of the Bible be considered without error, factual or otherwise. “Irenic Inerrantists” agree that the Bible is without error, but believe Scripture itself must determine according to its intent the scope of that inerrancy. “Complete Infallibilists” reject “inerrancy” as a helpful term for describing the total trustworthiness of the Biblical writers’ witness, substituting the word “infallible” in its place. “Partial Infallibilists” believe that the authors’ intended message is in error at points, but their witness to the gospel is trustworthy and authoritative.” (This is a quote from yet another source in a helpful article on inerrancy : http://www2.luthersem.edu/ctrf/JCTR/Vol06/Perry.htm)
    Kevin: Having a variety of definitions for inerrancy simply means we have to think carefully about which is best, just like we do about most things in life. The definition I used above, as I mentioned is: ‘that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms’. Many use a definition fairly similar to this, and it seems to me to fit best with the Bible’s own claims about itself.

    Andrew: Much is claimed for inerrancy because of what the bible says about it. But in reality, how does that prove anything at all? If I write a book, and then claim in that book that the book is inerrant, surely that proves nothing at all? It’s a kind of circular argument, which is self-referencing. It’s a little like saying, “You can trust what I say, because I am telling you that you can trust what I say.”
    Kevin: I agree, there are many books and people that make truth claims. We don’t unthinkingly take them all at face value, we evaluate them. There are many ways we can ‘test’ the reasonableness of the Bible – such as comparing it to other ancient historical records, considering various fulfilled prophecies, examining its internal consistencies, or noting it’s continued transforming impact on so many people and cultures through history. However, to make any of these the ultimate ‘test’ would be to make that thing the ultimate authority. In the end, if the Bible really is God’s word as it claims to be, then it must be the ultimate authority and will be ‘self-authenticating’ – those who read it prayerfully and humbly with an earnest desire to know the true God will find him there. As Jesus says – ‘My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me (John 10:27).

    Andrew: And we have already seen above, and there are plenty of other examples too, in the stories around the life of Jesus, and in the old testament, of errors in the bible. (A brief Google search on something like “errors in the bible” will give a fair number of sites that give many, many examples.)
    Kevin: I’ve read many of these alleged errors, some show shallowness and a reluctance to properly consider the context, genre etc., others are more thoughtful, however none of them are new, Christians have been thoughtfully considering and addressing them for thousands of years. (A brief google search of something like ‘alleged Bible discrepencies’ will lead you to sites where such errors are addressed.) They are also addressed in many books and study Bibles. I’m happy to answer any other problem passages you’d like to raise, the only way to to it is one at a time – can’t promise I’ll always get back to you straight away, but I will try to get back to you as I am able.

    Andrew: The real question we have to ask is why are we so keen to claim that the bible is inerrant. I suspect it is because that is what we have grown up being taught, and it has created a kind of faith that relies on the bible being inerrant. So to think about the bible having errors is a scary thought for many people.
    Kevin: It’s easy to be cynical of other people’s motives, but I don’t think it’s helpful. Only God knows our hearts. For myself, I think inerrancy is important because it is what the Bible claims about itself (see verses in article above for some examples). To reject it is to think of ourselves as a higher authority than the Bible.

    Andrew: The reality is that this is not how the bible has always been viewed. Great fathers of the faith like Martin Luther, and John Calvin had no problem, apparently, with there being errors in the bible. (http://www2.luthersem.edu/ctrf/JCTR/Vol06/Perry.htm)
    Kevin: One word that concerns me here Andrew is ‘apparently’. Are you making this claim because of what others have said, or because you have thoughtfully read Luther and Calvin yourself? If you are honestly interested in what Calvin/ Luther claim, in Chapter 3 of ‘Biblical Authority’ John Woodbridge gives a convincing critique of the Rogers/Mckim influential proposal, in relation to Calvin and Luther, which would be a good starting point: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9780310447511/Biblical-Authority

    Anyway, there is much more to be said on this matter, and hopefully this blog will be a helpful tool.

    Kind regards
    Andrew Prior
    Revesby
    Kevin: Thanks again for your comments, I’m happy to reply to any further questions you have. It would make my answering easier though if you kept each comment brief and to one point, then I can answer them one at a time as I’m able.🙂

    • Thanks for the comments Andrew, I’ve responded to each of them above, feel free to let me know if you have further questions. Sorry it’s taken so long to respond, I’ve had priorities which ranked higher than this blog, and your comment raised a number of different issues. As I mentioned, if you’re able to keep future comments to one point, it will make it much easier for me to respond on a more timely basis. Thanks again.

  4. Hi there again, Kevin.
    A few answers and points following on from your questions and responses .
    Kevin: My responses in bold below yours again

    Andrew: The definition you’ve chosen to use is: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms (Kevin Vanhoozer)
    Firstly, that’s just one particular definition. But even by that standard, I would say I have shown the bible errant, in my first example. I would suggest that any reasonable person reading the Mark 4 mustard seed text would accept that Jesus believed that the mustard seed is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth”. That is part of the factual background that Jesus is using to make his case. It is an error. Jesus is mistaken, if that is a quote of his teaching. And I don’t think it is absurd literalism. Generally, we define what we mean by a word, so that we can communicate clearly. If we are all inventing what we mean by a word, it makes communication very difficult. And most English speakers would accept that inerrancy refers to something being:
    1. Incapable of erring; infallible.
    2. Containing no errors.
    If we want to change the meaning of words, we’re onto very shaky ground. Jesus made mistakes. He was not all-knowing, if this scripture is to be read literally as a quote of his words. And, therefore, we have to keep that in mind when we look at other things Jesus said. If he has made one mistake, it’s possible that he made others.
    Kevin: Your comments don’t seem to take seriously the nature of the proverbial language in the context. The mustard seed was the smallest agricultural seed in the ancient Near East, it was understood proverbially in Judaism for the smallest in size. Jesus is using proverbial or metaphorical language to make a point about the Kingdom. To expect him to technically qualify his metaphor so as not be seen as a ‘mistake’ by you is expecting absurd literalism that a ‘reasonable person’ does not expect of metaphorical or proverbial language.

    Andrew:If you’re interested, I can give you a list of some of the errors in the scriptures. And the definition you chose to use above is really unhelpful in this regard. To talk about “the original manuscript”, if I understand correctly what Vanhoozer is saying, is really an intellectual cop-out on his part. It means that if you find an error you don’t like, you simply say, “Well, we don’t have the original manuscript”. Which is obviously true, but not helpful. We have to work with what we have, and acknowledge that there are lots of factual and moral errors in the bible.
    Kevin: Inerrancy is commonly defined in terms of ‘the original manuscripts’, and has been understood this way throughout the history of the church. This can be seen for example, in the fourth century quote from Augustine above, in the writings of the Reformers, and in modern definitions. It is not an intellectual cop-out as you claim, rather it recognises the reality of a human element and possibility of error in ‘transmission’. However, such errors are minimal, as testified by the small number of textual variations in comparison to the huge number of extant manuscripts.

    Andrew: Slavery? I don’t mind when it was – it’s wrong, full-stop, in my humble opinion. You can pay someone a fair wage, look after them, let them be doctors even – whatever. But if you tell me you own someone, I will be very disappointed. I don’t feel it has ever been morally correct to own someone. And if you feel it is, or was, then I’d like to know.
    Kevin: It seems then that neither you, nor I, nor the Bible are endorsing slavery today. Wilberforce and others like him opposed slavery on the basis of what the Bible taught. But your statement leaves you with a problem: by what authority do you claim something is ‘wrong, full-stop’? If the Bible is not your authority, then what is your authority? Merely your ‘humble opinion’ – what if slavery is right in someone else’s opinion? It’s merely their humble opinion against yours, how do you decide who is right?

    Andrew: In that regard, you say, “These laws should be understood in their context in the Ancient Near East”. That is a very important point, and I agree with you. But we have to use that same thinking in regard to all scripture. We have to look at it in context. The birth narratives about Jesus, for instance, when read in their context, are probably not telling us about Jesus being born of a virgin, and receiving early visits from real wise and real poor, before fleeing the slaughter of the infants. These passages are actually, in context, probably about Jesus the new Moses (who also escaped the slaughter of infants), and comparing Jesus favourably with the emperor (in a time when virgin births were sometimes claimed for Roman emperors too). And the virgin birth idea actually has its source in a careless error the gospel writer made in quoting the Greek Septuagint, instead of the original language.
    Kevin: On what basis you claim the context of the birth narratives are not telling us about Jesus being born of a virgin? Luke, and Matthew both anchor their narrative in history, giving us the names of real places and people. They are clearly writing historical narrative. The birth narratives in their context tell us very clearly that Jesus was born of a virgin. It seems strange to me that when Jesus is clearly using metaphors like a mustard seed, you want him to be more literal, but where the context is clearly historical narrative you want to explain it in a non-literal way! 🙂
    Also on what basis do you call the quoting of the Septuagint for the virgin birth a careless error? The Septuagint was being widely used at that time and is commonly quoted by New Testament authors. To claim that as the ‘source’ of the virgin birth idea has no valid basis, when Luke for example refers to having spoken to ‘eyewitnesses’ (1:2) and ‘carefully investigated’ or ‘closely followed’ everything (1:3).

    Andrew: You also say “In the end, if the Bible really is God’s word as it claims to be, then it must be the ultimate authority and will be ‘self-authenticating’ – those who read it prayerfully and humbly with an earnest desire to know the true God will find him there. As Jesus says – ‘My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me (John 10:27).” Firstly, I would humbly say that’s a fairly judgemental statement to make toward people who have humbly and prayerfully read the bible with an earnest desire to know God and not found God there.
    And on another level, I think these are statements that are simply not true. You say “those who read it (the bible) prayerfully and humbly with an earnest desire to know the true God will find him there”. Well, in reality, I would suggest there are plenty of proud people who have not been praying, who have found God in the scriptures, and there are plenty of humble, prayerful people, who have not found God in the scriptures. Or who have found God in other faiths and their scriptures. But all this is very subjective, and the people I have spoken to in decades of ministry often have very, very subjective reasons for feeling they have found God wherever.
    Kevin: On what basis do you claim my statement as ‘judgemental’ and yours as ‘humble’? 🙂 I agree that people have a variety of subjective experiences. These experiences, while interesting cannot be our ultimate authority. In encouaraging people to humbly seek God I am simply saying what God says in the Bible. God promised his people in the OT: ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart’. (Jeremiah 29:13). God also says: I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My word. (Isaiah 66:2) Jesus says: ‘Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened’. (Matthew 7:7-8).

    Andrew: But factually too, the bible only took on its present form hundreds of years after some of the writings were written. So I would disagree with the statement above logically (quote: “as it claims to be.”). You seem to be saying that before it had taken shape, the bible was making claims about itself. I’m not sure what scripture you’re referring to, but the ones I think of are in any case not talking of what we call the bible. It might be helpful to look at the verses you are referring to.
    Kevin: The OT was already finalised and recognised as authoritative ‘Scripture’ in the time of Jesus. The NT books began being collated, distributed and read authoritatively in churches soon after each was writtten, yet there is no doubt the books of the Bible had ‘authority’ as Scripture before they were all colllated. This is evidenced for example in Peter who cites Paul’s letters as already being distibuted and regarded as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). If you would like to look at some of the other verses I’m referring to, see paragraph 2 in the original post above.

    Andrew: Generally, I don’t think that statement is true, or helpful. Theologically speaking, I would say that God is the ultimate authority. The bible is secondary, pointing to God, if anything.
    Kevin: What do you mean by ‘God is the ultimate authority’ – are you referring to the God of the Bible or another god? Can you honestly claim the God of the Bible is your authority, when he says himself that those who submit to him will submit to his word (Isaiah 66:2 etc.)? If the God of the Bible is not your authority, then is your god not simply one of your own making?

    Andrew: You ask about Luther and Calvin and you ask “Are you making this claim because of what others have said, or because you have thoughtfully read Luther and Calvin yourself?”. I quote from “The remaking of evangelical theology” By Gary J. Dorrien pp 19-20 (ISBN 0664258034, 9780664258030):
    “Luther freely acknowledged various factual inaccuracies and contradictions throughout the Bible. He judged that the prophets often erred in their predictions, that various prophecies in Isaiah were scrambled together, and that Moses “mixed up his laws” in a confused and disorderly way. He caught that Chronicles contained numerous inflated accounts: “When one often reads that great numbers of people were slain – for example, eighty thousand – I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed”. He noted that the Gospel writers often gave conflicting accounts of the same event, such as the denials of Peter, the time at which Jesus purified the Temple, and other details of the Passion. Luther doubted that the book of Esther belonged in the Bible… and he famously judged that the book of James … was defective in its treatment of justification.” “(He) judged that Hebrews 6:4 taught false doctrine…”
    I could go on, but I simply give these examples, which quote Luther, for example, to answer your question around my claim that “fathers of the faith like Martin Luther, and John Calvin had no problem, apparently, with there being errors in the bible”.
    I would agree with Luther here. As this father of the faith states, the bible is not inerrant. In fact, it contains theological, moral, factual, numerical and historical errors. Many of them.
    Kevin: To say that Luther ‘states the Bible is not inerrant’ is simply wrong. Where does he state that? Selectively quoting Luther out of context from a secondary source does not build a compelling case. Each of the above statements needs to be understood in the context of what Luther was arguing at the time. There are many examples of Luther’s awareness of errors by copyists, but this is different to claiming errors in the original manuscripts. The following three statements from Luther are like yours, from a secondary source, yet provide a very different perspective to that suggested by the author you mention:
    “It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself; it only appears so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites.”
    “But everyone, indeed, knows that at times [the church fathers] have erred as men will; therefore I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture which has never erred.”
    “Consequently, we must remain content with them, and cling to them as the perfectly clear, certain, sure, words of God which can never deceive us or allow us to err.”
    (Three quotes from Luther cited in John Woodbridge, Biblical Authority, 53)

    Andrew: Like Jesus, we have to look at the scriptures and disagree with some, embrace others, and try to live with our emphasis being love, rather than law.
    Kevin: Yes, we should take our view of Scripture from Jesus, but nowhere does he ‘disagree with some’, rather he cited them as authoritative (Matthew 4:4, 7,10, 19:4-5), stated that though they were written by men they were in fact God’s words (Matthew 22:31-32,43, Mark 12:26), distinguished them from the traditions of men (Mark 7:8-13), and submitted himself to them (Luke 22:37).

    Thanks again for your comments and questions. I hope my answers are helpful.
    Kind regards as always
    Andrew Prior
    Revesby

  5. Hi again, Kevin.
    I hope you’ve had some great Christmas services, and that you will be having some rest over the next while. My services are over, and I have some time off in January, which I’m looking forward to.
    I’m not quite sure how you want to use these thoughts, but I guess for anyone reading this blog, they can simply look above, and see the context.
    Kevin: Hi Andrew, we’ve had a great Christmas thanks. Hope your time away is restful. My responses below yours again in bold.

    Kevin’s first comment regarding the proverbial language of the mustard seed:
    Andrew : I don’t think it’s acceptable to read statements that are factually incorrect as proverbial, without good reason. If there is some proverb that makes this point, and it looks like Jesus was referring to it, I would find this a stronger case.
    Kevin: Some such as JA Sproule argue that Jesus is correct here because his reference is to ‘garden-variety’ seeds:
    http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/NTeSources/NTArticles/GTJ-NT/Sproule-MatMustard-GTJ-80.pdf (a similar approach is adopted by WH Mare http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/NTeSources/NTArticles/GTJ-NT/Mare-MatMustard-GTJ-68.pdf )
    While these approaches are worth considering, I think Snodgrass’, comments in his comprehensive guide to the parables are helpful: ‘In both the Jewish and Greco-Roman world mustard seeds were proverbially known for their small size even though other seeds such as the orchard or cypress were known to be smaller…Since we are dealing with proverbial use, anxiety about issues of accuracy are out of bounds. (Kyle Snodgrass ‘Stories with Intent’, 220, see p662 note 200 for examples from Jewish literature.)

    Kevin’s statement regarding the definition of inerrancy:
    Andrew : I think if you look at my references in an earlier post here, you will see that there have been, over the years, and are, numerous definitions of inerrancy, depending on the beliefs of particular groups of Christians, and they range from very loose to incredibly strict understandings of inerrancy. And I would suggest that to be fair, inerrancy is a little like pregnancy – you either are or you are not. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, or almost inerrant. The scriptures have plenty of errors, of moral, textual, theological, factual, numerical and historical nature. And if they have even one error, they are by definition, not inerrant. I find the writings and thoughts of the reformers of some interest too, but they were not inerrant either, and so I must also test them. It’s important to remember that the bible was not written by God. It was written by men. Fallible men. (Sadly, no women that I’m aware of.) I don’t personally see the textual accuracy which we see on the whole as proving God’s involvement in the process. Rather, I would say, the scribes were extremely careful in their copying, because of their respect for the text.
    Kevin: It seems we agree in a few areas. We both recognise there have been various ways inerrancy has been understood or defined. However, I think it’s fair to say as Carson does in the short video in the post above, that in every period of church history, there have been Christians who’ve held to a view that we would call ‘inerrancy’, that is they’ve understood that the Bible speaks truthfully in what it affirms, without error as originally given by God.
    We also agree that the human authors of Scripture were fallible, as were the reformers and other Christian authors. However, the Bible distinguishes ‘God’s word’ or ‘Scripture’ from other writings by God’s poeple. Scripture was ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Scripture does not come from the interpretation or will of humans, rather ‘men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:20-21). So although the human authors of Scripture were fallible, God’s Spirit enabled them to write with complete truthfulness when they were writing Scripture.

    Kevin’s statement regarding slavery. “It seems then that neither you, nor I, nor the Bible are endorsing slavery today”. :
    Andrew : The bible does endorse (definition: approve openly) slavery. If I say to my congregation, “Treat your slaves well. Allow them to study, and reward them for good work”, then, without some further clarification, I would say I am endorsing slavery. Even Jesus has opportunity when he talks about slavery, apparently, to speak out against it, but I can’t think of examples of his doing so, even when he is actually mentioning slavery.
    But the bible definitely accepts and I would say endorses slavery. Leviticus 25:44-46 is an example.
    44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.
    In fact, there seems to be a racist nature to this slavery even.
    Kevin: I don’t think it’s valid to take verses from Leviticus as ‘endorsing slavery today’. It is part of the bigger question of how the OT law applies to Christians today. Jesus tells us he came not to ‘abolish’ the Law or the prophets, but to ‘fulfill’ them (Matthew 5:17). The OT clearly has continued importance for Christians, yet Jesus’ ‘fulfilment’ of them in his life, death and resurrection, changes the way we apply them. eg. The OT had various food regulations, Mark 7:19 tells us Jesus declared all foods clean, the OT had a priest and sacrificial system, yet Hebrews describes how they are no longer necessary because of Jesus’ perfect priesthood and once for all sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18). In Acts 15, the Jerusalem council determined it was not necessary to order Gentile Christians to be circumcised and keep all the the law of Moses. The new covenant makes the old covenant ultimately obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). Thus, the OT has continued significance in warning/ instructings us (1 Corinthians 10:11), showing us God’s character, pointing us to Jesus, etc. yet the way we apply the OT (including slavery laws) is obviously different this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    Kevin’s further point raised under the slavery issue: a very interesting and challenging one: “But your statement leaves you with a problem: by what authority do you claim something is ‘wrong, full-stop’? If the Bible is not your authority, then what is your authority?”
    Andrew : This is probably too big a question to discuss here – it’s a vast subject. But a simple answer which is relatively practical in many situations, is the golden rule, which is found in many religions, including Christianity. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc2.htm). Treat others the way you would want them to treat you, or some variant thereof.
    Your point is still a good one, and some issues are very difficult to decide (like whether to give a child or an adult the only available transplant organ without which one of them is likely to die, perhaps). But very often, the golden rule is sufficient, and that certainly is the case for me when it comes to slavery, no matter what the bible has to say condoning and accepting slavery as it does.
    Kevin: In trying to pick and choose which bits you agree with (like the ‘golden rule’) aren’t you saying that your ultimate authority is you, rather than the Bible?

    Kevin’s question “On what basis [do] you claim the context of the birth narratives are not telling us about Jesus being born of a virgin?”
    Andrew : In my thoughts on this issue, I tried to be diplomatic and also honestly aware that there is much that we don’t know in this universe, by saying things like “The birth narratives about Jesus, for instance, when read in their context, are probably not telling us about Jesus being born of a virgin”. I used the word “probably” purposely. I respect the fact that there are other understandings, but I would maintain, for instance, in reference to the old testament quotation used to support the virgin birth idea in the new testament, that we should be using the Hebrew, and not the Septuagint, as the Hebrew is the earlier, more original source. A case can certainly be made for the gospel writers making historically-based statements. But I would humbly disagree with you when you state that “They are clearly writing historical narrative.” Their writings are varied, including some probably historically-based statements, as well as sections that are apocalyptic literature, parable, and fiction even, where, for instance, we have records of happenings where there were no witnesses.
    Kevin: Just because there are places where Jesus speaks in parable, doesn’t detract from the overall nature of the gospels as historical narrative. What sections would you claim are fiction, and on what basis?

    Andrew: That said, after looking at various arguments on this matter, I choose the argument I have put forward. (Not my own argument, I add, unnecessarily, but the argument of many scholars.) So for instance, referring to some of the birth narratives, we see allusions to the old testament stories surrounding Moses. The Israelites go to Egypt, Jesus goes to Egypt. Moses, the rescuer, is saved from death as a child when many other children are killed by Pharaoh. Jesus, the rescuer, is saved from death as a child when many other children are killed by Herod. The Israelites are called back from Egypt. Jesus is called back from Egypt. Etc, etc. I am not aware of any historical and contemporaneous record of the killing of the infants by Herod, for instance. And for me, that is not the point. The point is: Jesus is the new Moses, come to rescue his people, and set them free.
    Kevin: I have no problem with seeing parallels between Jesus and Moses, but they do not give us any valid basis to explain away the virgin birth. I agree that Jesus comes to rescue us, as the angel said to Joseph ‘you shall call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is able to save us from our sin, because he was both God and human – born of a virgin through the Holy Spirit. Unlike any other human he lived a sinless life and was able to be the perfect sinless substitute to save all those who would turn and trust in him. If you don’t think Jesus was born of a virgin – what do you claim he came to rescue us and set us free from, and how does he do that?

    Kevin: “On what basis do you claim my statement as ‘judgemental’ and yours as ‘humble’?” :
    Andrew : I really wasn’t trying to be unkind in what I said, and I apologise if it came across unkindly, but I know people who would love to be able to ‘believe’, but who for whatever reason don’t, or can’t. I was calling that thinking which says those who “read [the bible] prayerfully and humbly with an earnest desire to know the true God will find him there” judgemental, in the same way that I find it cruel to tell people that if they have enough faith, they will be healed, simply because the bible says so. It leaves those unhealed, or unable to ‘find God’, feeling guilty and judged, often.
    Kevin: I wasn’t offended by your statement, hence my emoticon :). Like you, I think it’s cruel to tell people they will be healed if they have enough faith, because though God can heal, the Bible nowhere makes a promise that he will heal all those who ask him with enough faith (if it did no true Christian would ever die, and we could still talk to the apostles face to face!) However, the Bible does make promises like those I mentioned, and I think we should take those promises seriously: ‘Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened’. (Matthew 7:7-8).
    The Bible doesn’t expect us to have perfect faith, but we can ask God for genuine growing, faith. I think we can pray like a father did to Jesus: ‘I do believe! Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

    Kevin’s statements on the scriptures and the canon:
    Andrew : I agree with some of what you say, but in reality, there was plenty of dispute about what was scripture, and what wasn’t, for hundreds of years after Jesus died, and we certainly can’t say, I don’t think, that the references in the new testament to ‘scripture’ refer to what we call the bible today.
    Kevin: Yes there was no doubt dispute, though not as much as some make out. There is evidence of the four gospels and Paul’s letters being distributed as collections very early. All the books in the NT canon were being widely used and accepted as Scripture well before any council to determine which books were in. There were no books left out that were widely accepted in all the churches, and there were no books accepted that did not alreay enjoy wide acceptance in churches.
    There are 53 references to the ‘Scripture/s’ in the NT. I think that in every case it’s clear they are referring to a canonical OT or NT book or books (eg 2 Peter 3:16 refers to Paul’s letters as Scriptures). Which references to Scripture in the NT do you think are not to canonical books and on what basis?

    Kevin’s question: “are you referring to the God of the Bible or another god?”
    Andrew : I was not aware of us discussing another god. But the point I was trying to make was that the bible is not God. In the thinking of some, the bible points to God. God is the ultimate authority, not the bible.
    And to some extent, you are correct. All our g/Gods are of our own making. We all choose to ignore the things about God that we don’t like, and we accept the things that we find acceptable, or easy, very often. Matthew 25 is a passage very few Christians actually take seriously, for example. We prefer to sing “Lord, Lord” than to give till all have enough. And according to that passage, which claims to be quoting Jesus, this giving and caring is what places us in judgement or reward. Most of us have more than 2 shirts or coats while we know others have none. And we all have the poor around us, via the internet, easily helped, while many of us maintain healthy bank balances, relatively speaking, and spend our income on what we want, while others don’t have what they need. And we close our eyes to what many of us believe God is saying, because it is simply too difficult. According to a literal reading of Matthew 25, I am not aware of meeting a single person who is not heading for judgement. (Though as you know I’m not a literalist myself). But I do believe that if Jesus was to arrive in almost any Sydney church, he would walk out again, probably weeping. And yet many of us still believe we are “right with God”. So yes, I agree with you – our g/Gods are of our own making.
    Kevin: It is one thing to recognise we all fail to perfectly follow God, but quite another to admit to following a god of our own making. The Bible frequently distinguishes between following the one true God of the Bible and following other false gods, or idols of our own making. To follow a god of our own making is to reject the true God of the Bible, do you agree?

    Kevin’s questions regarding Luther?:
    Andrew : I would suggest that the quotes we have both given don’t prove much authoritatively about inerrancy, but rather the at times confused thinking and logic of the very human reformers. It seems to me quite possible that they held logically conflicting positions at various times, or even at the same time, though I am just running with the quotes we’ve looked at.
    Kevin: “To say that Luther ‘states the Bible is not inerrant’ is simply wrong”.
    Andrew : I think I understand you to be meaning that there is not a quote from Luther that says “the bible is not inerrant”. In that, you are quite possibly correct. But I would have thought the list of errors of fact, doctrine, numbers, inflation, and prophecy in Luther’s criticisms of the bible, would have shown that is precisely the statement he is making. I don’t think his statement about the false doctrine in the books of James or Hebrews was referring to errors by copyists either. I think the errors were of a deeper nature.
    Kevin: Luther’s questions over the canonicity of some books are well known. No doubt he and the reformers had inconsistencies, as we all do. However, I think that in light of the other quotes I gave you from Luther, it is not a fair representation of Luther to claim that he said the Bible is not inerrant.

    Kevin “Yes, we should take our view of Scripture from Jesus, but nowhere does he ‘disagree with some’”:
    Andrew : Again, I humbly submit that Jesus did “disagree with some” scriptures. Exodus 2:24 might be one such example, which Jesus disagrees with in Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (from Exodus 2:24?).’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”.
    Kevin: In Matthew 5:38 Jesus is citing a law found in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. From the context in Matthew there are at least two main problems with the suggestion that Jesus is disagreeing with the Old Testament. Firstly, in the previous chapter Matthew 4, Jesus cited Deuteronomy three times as authoritative – ‘It is written…’ in each case brings an end to the argument. So it’s hardly likely he then says he disagrees with Deuteronomy. Secondly in 5:17 he tells us he came to ‘fulfill’ the law and the prophets, it doesn’t seem likely that he tells us he came to fulfill something he disagrees with. The potential problem with the OT law cited here, is not so much with what the law says, but in the way some people might use it. As Carson points out: ‘a law designed to limit retaliation and punish fairly could be appealed to as justification for vindictiveness… Jesus contrasts the people’s misunderstanding of the law with the true direction in which the law points, according to his own authority as the law’s “fulfiller” (v17). He makes no attempt to fence the law…but declares unambiguously the true direction to which it points.’ (Carson, Matthew, 148,155).
    —–
    Andrew: One of the challenges in this kind of discussion is to actually listen to what the other person is saying, fairly. And I confess that I am as prone as any to think too quickly of a response. But I believe these to be incredibly important issues, because how we view the bible impacts dramatically on how we view God, and very often, how we view others, and the world. And so I am grateful for someone open to journeying together as we attempt to draw nearer to what is true and life-bringing. Even as I acknowledge my own errancy and fallibility! So I wish you all that is good.
    I’ll be away for a while in January, but I really appreciate this discussion, time-consuming as it is for both of us. Hopefully it will be helpful for others trying to decide how to view the bible, whatever position they take finally.
    Kevin: Like you I’m errant and fallible, but I’m grateful that God’s word is not – so truth, hope, salvation and knowing God are available for humans. Happy to discuss some more as time permits when you get back.

    Kindest regards as always.
    Andrew

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