Biblical Inerrancy: The Search for Certainty in an Uncertain World

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I had originally planned to do something else this week, but there wasn’t enough support to pull it off. Instead, I thought I’d focus on a broader topic that I hope will bring discussion on both sides, that being biblical inerrancy combined with a few thoughts about postmodernity.

First, biblical inerrancy. I had an interesting conversation with an older lady from our church today having to do with a Bible class where I mentioned the topic of inerrancy. She did not like what I had said about it, but wasn’t even sure what the word I used was. Since then, she has not been back to any of the classes I taught, but she jokingly said that was not the reason. I tried to explain something about what I had said, but she just ended the conversation with something like, “I’ve just always believed God preserved his word in that way and there’s nothing you can say that will change my mind.” This is a typical response from many in Churches of Christ. I have always believed this and I won’t even consider the possibility of things being otherwise.

Let me define my understanding of what the current belief is among Evangelical Christians regarding inerrancy. It primarily concerns the New Testament, but could by extension be applied to the Old Testament. It is the belief that at least for the books regarded as Scripture, whatever the original author wrote in the original manuscript was inerrant, i.e. there were no errors as regards facts, truth claims, spelling, or anything else. They were pristine and perfect. For a fuller definition see this link. This was primarily a response to the fruits of a few hundred years of Textual Criticism, which is the study of the thousands of copies of portions of the New Testament written in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, as well as many more copies in translations such as Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian, and Old Slavonic, to name a few. I choose not to go into detail here, but I have had both an introductory graduate course in the field as well as an advanced graduate course in the field, which was a guided study under the tutelage of a well-published expert in the field. I say all this just to let you know that if you have questions, I can most likely give you a sufficient answer.

The results of this field of New Testament study showed that there were thousands of differences in manuscript copies of the writings of the New Testament, and this just in the Greek copies. Although the vast majority of these can be reconciled as minor spelling problems, unintentional errors, etc., there are plenty of significant ones. In fact, though for a long period, the purpose of the field was to establish what was the “original text” as written by the author, the move recently has been more toward understanding how the various manuscripts functioned in their historical church settings, realizing that the history of the text is so complicated that establishing the “original text” is not an achievable goal.

All of this is background to why the need for such a belief. For most evangelicals, as well as Churches of Christ, not to believe this is tantamount to not being a faithful Christian. However, one of the main problems I have with this belief is that it is not based in fact or reality. Before you are turned completely off, try to hear me out. The belief is focused on how God must have (or even should have) preserved his word, though no Scripture supports this belief—the Bible does not say this about itself. Even the facts of history do not bear out this belief. The belief is based on documents that we do not have. We do not have the original manuscripts from the original authors’ pens. If it were so important to God for us to have the original text, surely he would have either preserved these originals or he would have preserved an exact copy of them if what we need was the original text as it came from the hand of the authors. We have no such originals or exact copies; every manuscript we have contains at least a few errors, or at least a few uncertainties, even in the shorter books like Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, and especially Jude. The belief is in a phantom text for which we have not a shread of proof. We cannot prove that Paul did not misspell a word here or there. We cannot prove that one of the gospel writers did not get a placename wrong or a detail mixed up. We don’t know exactly what Jesus taught on divorce (for more on this see a previous posting). What we have is thousands of copies of manuscripts, all with a certain amount of differences and errors. We don’t have an inerrant text. So why do we need to believe in something we don’t have? From the evidence, it is clear to me that God does not work to preserve his text in the way that this belief suggests. Instead, he relied on us clumsy, imprecise humans to copy his text down through the ages. Why is this such a problem for us? For me the heart of the matter is a need for certainty.

Let me explain. From my understanding of church history, part of the problem came up during the evolution debate and the “monkey trials” in the last century. This was part of a larger problem of “liberal” biblical scholarship that tried to challenge the credibility and reliability of Scripture, especially regarding certain beliefs such as creation and the resurrection. As a generalization, Evangelical Christianity, rather than attempting to give a serious argument to the questions, entrenched in their beliefs and made them a test of faith rather than trying to explain them and deepen them. So, rather than deal seriously with the criticism, we felt threatened and just decided we wouldn’t play anymore; we would create our own rules. Part of this was the need for certainty when it came to Scripture. If people were challenging its credibility and reliability based partly on the results of Textual Criticism, let’s just refuse to deal with the questions by pushing back to a time when nothing can be proven, i.e. the time of the original writings, and say that they were inerrant. Any scholarship, without the original documents in hand, could not prove otherwise. So if there were problems in the text, that was the result of copying errors and none could be attributed to a problem in the original manuscript. It was a great move in some ways as there was nothing that could challenge it.

The problem occurs when you have people of intelligence, who did not grow up as Christians or left the Christian faith for some reason, who know there are problems and are unwilling just to believe something that is unproveable, and perhaps unnecessary. Is there another, more satisfying explanation that could answer critics and accord with faith? I say, “yes.” The original documents could have contained errors, but could still communicate truth. Let me illustrate by way of analogy. We have, since the invention of the printing press, been able to make countless identical copies of writings. We have come a long way from the time of individual people handwriting copies of the Bible or anything else. Yet I would challenge anyone to show me any recently published book, that has used all the modern technology of spell check, grammar check and numerous editors, that does not have a single typographical error, grammatical error, or for that matter, factual error. My own experience has proven that the first two are in evidence in every book I have ever read and postmodernity has taught us that the latter one is true because every “fact” is still told from a certain point of view and is not unbiased. This includes science textbooks, history books, novels, and many other varieties of literature. And yet no one would deny that these published works communicate reliable truth.

In my opinion, it is the need for certainty, on both sides of the issue, that drives our beliefs. On the Christian fundamentalist side, it is the need to believe in a certain, inerrant text, which seems to amount to idolatry, that is a belief in the text more than a belief in God so that the Bible supplants God as the ultimate object of faith. On the other side, that of unbelief, perhaps as a result of Evangelical Christianity’s belief in inerrancy, nonbelievers are certain that if the text does contain errors, it cannot be a source of truth and so cannot be said to accurately portray God, Jesus or the like. I will reiterate that this is a standard up to which even contemporary publications have failed to hold. Yet we rely on them nonetheless as sources for truth and learning.

A final note on certainty, to open this discussion up even farther, is my observation on the current political divide in the United States. We are uncertain about so many thing in this age of postmodernity that we seem to want to grasp onto whatever we have that is certain. I think that many of our bitter fights have to do with this grasping for any certainty we can find. It is in the thought that drives us, on both sides, namely, “I may not be completely correct in what I know or believe, but I am certain that you are wrong.” And so we home in on that certainty that the other person is wrong, all the while refusing to grapple with the uncertainties in our own position. It is so much easier this way, yet it is so much more detrimental. We don’t grow and we grasp for something that will not satisfy. And so we attack and so we dehumanize and we fail to ever really try to learn from others and see the merits in what they are saying.

These are just some of my thoughts. Let me know yours. It is through genuine dialogue that we all grow.

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27 Responses to “Biblical Inerrancy: The Search for Certainty in an Uncertain World”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks Duane. I hope some will respond to the discussion of biblical inerrancy. I don’t have anything to add to your well-worded explanation. I just appreciate it.

    As to the “need for certainty” I also appreciate your observations on how this carries over into other areas of our culture. If I remembered how to do the html tags, I’d refer you to Juvenal’s very first post back in the old days that defined liberal/conservative along these very lines. You can go back in the archives if you wish.

    So much to do. Maybe I can comment for real later – where I actually think and come up with something to add!!!

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Nice article, Duane. To me it seems ironic, this need to logically explain faith. So that it’s not faith or belief but knowing and certainty. I think many Christians are raised to fear doubting or questioning the Bible. You mentioned the way postmodernity has taught us that texts can’t be written without some errors or bias, but it’s also taught us that our own biases influence the way we see texts. Which seems to me just as big a problem because it is so very hard to see my own biases, much less think about them while I’m reading.

    A not so unrelated question: Did you happen to read the article, “Jesus Without the Miracles” in a recent Harper’s? It discusses the book of Thomas, I think? Just wondering what a scholar thought of the article.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Since I referred to Juvenal’s first political posting, I thought I’d better go back and look at it myself. (It is from February 28, 2005, the 1st day for this blog, titled, “1 State, 2 State.”)

    His theory shares a lot of common ground with yours, Duane, but his take on the political chasm is a bit different, too. He argues that it is less a lack of willingness on both sides to think/dialogue, but more of a different perspective on the meaning of “truth.”

    Here’s part of what he wrote:

    …the problem is that liberals and conservatives have completely different ideas about what kind of a thing Truth is.

    Conservatives have an atomistic view of Truth. There are things which are right, and things which are wrong. The rightness or wrongness of these things cannot be changed; a wrong thing will always be wrong, a right thing will always be right. Similarly, the rightness or wrongness of things doesn’t depend on anything outside themselves; a right thing is right in any context, and likewise for wrong things. Therefore, conservatives want to hear a political candidate say what he thinks are the right things, and display his or her devotion to doing them regardless of what other facts might arise. To fail to do so is spineless waffling.

    Liberals have an historical view of Truth. There are not things which are simply right or simply wrong; there are only Things Humans Do, and their rightness or wrongness depends on the context in which they happen to occur. *[A number of liberals, possibly including me, would take issue with this statement. They (or we) would say there are things which are simply true or simply false, but they are much, much fewer and much, much less specific than conservatives insist.]* A thing that is right in one context may be wrong in another. Therefore, to know what’s right in any particular situation, you have to examine all the relevant circumstances. To pronounce one’s devotion to a specific course of action before one knows all the relevant facts is foolish arrogance.

    [End of Juvenal passage]

    What do you think? Is the need for certainty more of a conservative viewpoint reflecting a definition of truth (black/white, right/wrong)?

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    And Mikey, I agree with you. Hebrews 11 defines faith of being “certain” of things on one level, but the whole chapter goes on to demonstrate all those times it was, in fact, being certain of something that was most illogical.

    Of course you’re a liberal, so what do you know?
    🙂

  5. Bob Lollar Says:

    Duane, part of the problem with the “need for certainty” is that with in the context of our everyday lives, the certainty principle seems to work. For example, there are basic “certainties” about fire. It consumes oxygen, it’s hot, etc… and based on these apparent certainties we are able to build furnances for our homes, or heaters-defrosters for our vehicles, and because they “seem” to work we make “certain” assumptions about fire. This can be multiplied a thousand fold in endless curcumstances and on a level that people are willing to risk their money, and even their lives; e.g. aircraft, Fedex, UPS….These “certainties” about how every day life works create a context – or maybe a better word would be an “expectation” – that we should look for “certainties” in every aspect of our lives or chaos will ensue. I know I was looking for “certainty” when I studied Greek and Hebrew.

  6. Sherry Lollar Says:

    Duane mentioned something in passing that I believe is foundational to our need for inerrancy in Scripture. That is, placing more faith in the Bible than in God. We in the Churches of Christ have come to an understanding of God that in a sense forces us to place the Bible before God. It first began with the Baconian, rational, semi-deist approach of the Campbells that was later solidified by their followers. Then the debate culture of the first two-thirds of the 20th century focused on “not doing what the denominations do” to the extent that God was push to the side. One example of this is miracles. Our rational doctrine cannot find a modern day situation where miracles can happen, and our desire to be different (not like the denominations) also leads us to the denial of modern day miracles. So, the power of God is now set aside in a modern context and we depend solely on the Bible for our facts about the miraculous power of God. We have placed God in a box where He cannot act miraculously in His world. (As an aside, this is another point of schizophrenia in the CofC – we pray to God for healing, but God does not work miracles, so we pray for the “doctor’s hands”.) Another example to think about is how God communicates with His creation. Our developed doctrine excludes that as a possibility, therefore the Bible become the “mouth of God”, leading us to view the Bible as preeminent. It becomes the only source of knowledge about God, since we cannot really know God in our world.

    Secondly, I believe that this is as much about control as it is certainty. It is human nature to need to control our surroundings. Per Al’s quote of the Juvenal’s post, it has been my experience that people on both conservative and liberal camps have an “atomistic view of Truth”. In fact, most of the – quote – liberals – unquote – I have had discussions with are atomistic as opposed to historical in their view of Truth. Whether you are discussing the Bible, the Constitution, the Humanist Manifesto, the Communist Manifesto, the Feminine Mystique, etc. – my experience is that the adherents strongly believe in the “rightness” of their interpretation/understanding of the document under discussion and they also believe in the Truth that it contains. This perception of “rightness” gives us all a strong sense of being in control of the world around us. We know the Truth and those that do not know the Truth as we know it will just have to come around to our way of thinking. So, the need to relate to God through our view of Scripture becomes our way of controlling God and fitting Him into a framework within which we are comfortable and secure.

    Sorry this post is so long, but I have been thinking about this for 35 years. One of the most liberating moments in my life was when, in college, I began to throw off the baggage of “bibliolotry” and embraced the concept that “the Bible is a Word from God, not God.” When the Bible becomes part of how God reveals himself, not the whole of His revelation, you can begin to appreciate His presence in His creation, in His people, and in your own life.

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks Sherry. Don’t apologize. I think your comment makes an awful lot of sense.

  8. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Seems like we are travelling down a road of discussion that we have been down before on this blog.

    Inerrancy. Infallibility. Certainty.

    Let me sum up…

    1. The Bible has apparent contradicitons within an individual version. (Duane’s divorce example)

    2. There are several versions of the Bible that present various interpretations of scripture and sometimes contradict one another.

    3. Even though there may be some factual errors or contradictions in the version of the Bible we choose to study, there is an overall theme in the Bible that is true.

    Here’s my problem with this line of thinking… It allows people to define their own “true” theme in the Bible.

    We’re dealing with documents that are thousands of years old that have been translated hundreds of times. With this as your base, you can pretty much use any standard for “truth” that you want.

    If through your study of culture and literature of Biblical times, you determine that the current translation of a particular scripture doesn’t match the tone or wording you would expect in that culture, you can discount it as a mis-interpretation or as untrue.

    Or, if you find just one fact that you think is questionable, you can bring just about any other fact in the text into question using the transitive property.

    It just seems to me that we are discounting 2 Timothy 3:16. You know the whole “all scripture is God-breathed” thing.

    God can’t lie right?

    If I have faith in God, I have to have faith in his Word as well.

    Here’s a link to an interesting site that discusses the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy.

  9. Duane McCrory Says:

    Joe,

    I really do appreciate your comments and an attempt to sum up the argument. Here’s where I think we are talking across each other and so misunderstand. We might still disagree on some point, but I know that we are not interpreting a few words the same.

    First, your definition of inspiration, “God-breathed”, as you mention in 2 Timothy 3:16, seems to mean “inerrant”, or at least is somewhat synonymous with it, if not completely. What I mean is that your understanding of inspiration leaves out the view that there are potential, for lack of a better word, “typological” errors, spelling errors, mistakes of placenames, etc. In other words, none of the authors could have possibly gotten any little detail wrong and have their documents still be “inspired.” Please clarify if this is not what you mean. I don’t know if you have in mind God taking control of a writer so that every word is written exactly how God wants it or something similar to that, but it appears that the belief in inerrancy would necessitate this.

    My view of inspiration, for what it’s worth, does not include this. I think “inspired” simply means that these people were Christians, gifted with God’s Spirit, and were able to speak for him to different communities of faith. They were still humans writing from a certain viewpoint, in a certain place and time, and within their own human limitations. They communicated reliable truth even as there might be certain unimportant mistakes that do not affect the meaning of the truth they present. I would have you reread my analogy of modern-day publishing–just because there might be unimportant errors does not mean a book does not communicate reliable truth.

    An example I would present is Paul’s belief that he will be alive when Christ returns. Take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 1 Corinthians 15 for the “we” language when discussing this event. Paul thinks he will be one of those left alive who will see the Lord in the air when he returns. Unless you hold to the preterist view, which basically suggests that Christ did return at some point during Paul’s lifetime, Paul was mistaken and this did not happen. Did this affect the truth about the gospel and Christian living which he espoused? I would think that you and I would agree that it does not. Is this a “factual” error? In a sense, yes. Paul believed something that was not true, but you can see his thought develop over time so that by the time of 2 Corinthians 4-5 and Philippians 1, not to mention 2 Timothy, he comes to understand that he will not survive until the second coming and starts to speak/write in those terms.

    On the divorce thing that we have revisited, it is impossible to know what Jesus said exactly about divorce. It is certainly possible that he said a few different things. One thing we can know for certain is that he valued marriage. That is the truth we need to know. When we are looking for “exception clauses” giving possible cases for legitimate divorce, we’ve already missed the point of the truth being communicated in all three gospels that mention Jesus’ discussion about divorce and marriage.

    Taking a further sidetrack, (sorry for the long post), we do not have any of Jesus’ actual words verbatim, with the exception of the few Aramaic words preserved such as in the scene on the cross where he says, “Eloi, eloi, lamasabachthani?” He spoke Aramaic but all of the gospels are written in Greek. We don’t have his actual words as he spoke them but translations of them into Greek. This is where we get into matters of what is inspired and what is authoritative. The Historical Jesus Movement would have us believe that unless we can actually know for certain the actual words of Jesus by tracing them back definitively to him, we cannot trust Scripture and it is therefore not authoritative. This is similar to what Old Testament scholarship does in tracing sources in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of OT), as Jahwist, Priestly, Deuteronomistic, and Elohist (the JEDP theory). They wanted to get back to the sources to establish reliable and authoritative truth because they did not believe it existed in the text as we have it.

    One last sidepoint, if you don’t mind. Luke 1:1-4 describes Luke’s purpose in writing. Part of his concern is careful investigation (1:3) so that his reader might know the “truth” or the “certainty” about what he had been taught. Luke seems to indicate there was something lacking in what his reader had available to him and Luke decided to make up for that by giving a “better” account of Jesus’ life than what was available. One of his sources was what we know as the gospel of Mark. If Luke is thereby making this evaluation of Mark, i.e. that it could be done better, then there are apparently things that could be improved, which in fact we see Luke do. (I realize I am asserting things here but there is a lot behind what I state. If you have questions as to how to learn more about what I’m stating here, I can give you references to read.)

    To sum up so far, the term “inspiration” needs clarifcation so that we are at least talking on the same level. I have attempted to do that with my understanding of the term. “Inerrancy” in my opinion is not a useful term at all. I would prefer to say that the Bible communicates reliable truth that can be trusted and leads to a saving faith in God.

    I would like to end by pushing everyone back to the point of claiming inerrancy. Even if the original documents were inerrant, we don’t have them. What is the reason for asserting this claim? What we have are thousands of manuscripts, thousands of versional translations from the early period, and a basis on which to attempt to recover the “original text”, which is not completely possible. That’s why modern translations included footnotes like “other ancient manuscripts/authorities do not include this verse.” The scholars who wrote that statement are indicating that they’ve made a judgment call but that there are other options avaiable. They don’t know for certain what the original text said.

    So, if we don’t know what the original text said absolutely, where is our faith? Is it in what we might have had if God had chosen to preserve the autographs? Where does this get us? He did not choose to do that. He chose to use human beings to pass the text down to us through numerous fallible manuscripts and early versional translations. We don’t have an inerrant text. Why must we believe the original was so? Could God not have passed on truth through fallible human writers such as Paul who believed he’d be around for the return of Christ but was not? He has preserved the truth for us in what we now have as the Bible, which, by the way, only existed for us since Luther, Erasmus and the beginnings of textual criticism. What about all those Christians who do not even have that type of Bible available but only have what was passed down to them in their own versional translations, such as the Coptic Church? What about the Syriac church that did not accept Jude, 2 or 3 John into their canon of Scripture? What about those churches in the early centuries that only had copies of one or two gospels? Were they saved even though they did not have Paul’s writings? Were they able to come to a saving faith in God even though they had only one copy of Mark and Luke and those had many scribal errors?

    See, when you get down to it and talk about actual people living with what they actually have, not with what they wish they could have, we are driven to rely not on a perfect text for salvation, but on the God who can work through imperfect means to bring people to saving faith in him.

  10. Duane McCrory Says:

    Sherry,

    I really appreciate your discussion about the need for control and certainty being a part of that. I don’t really have much to add to your dicussion. It is a good summation of where we have come in CofC.

    Bob,

    I like your perspective on other “certainties” in our world. One person who has given me a different understanding, one which is at least somewhat based on current scientific understanding in the sense that “natural laws” are not quite “laws” in the sense that we used to understand them, is a certain OT professor I respect. He talked about God acting in reliable ways and that being part of God’s faithfulness. It relates to what Sherry talks about when we took God out of our world and only gave him the voice of Scripture in which to act. In an attempt to restore belief in God’s ability to act in our world, part of his acting is in sustaining our universe in ways that allow for life. “Natural laws” then are not “laws” but God’s faithfulness to us in sustaining our world in reliable ways.

    I think this drives us back to dependence and not control. There is something outside of ourselves on which we rely for our very life. No matter how much control we think we have, we do not control our own universe.

    Joe,

    I just realized there’s another point for clarification that I missed. Let me quote your summation so I understand correctly.

    Joe said:
    1. The Bible has apparent contradicitons within an individual version. (Duane’s divorce example)

    2. There are several versions of the Bible that present various interpretations of scripture and sometimes contradict one another.

    3. Even though there may be some factual errors or contradictions in the version of the Bible we choose to study, there is an overall theme in the Bible that is true.

    [end Joe’s quote]

    It appears that here you are referring to English versions being in contradiction and us misunderstanding because of that. In my discussion, I am not talking about English versions at all. I am talking about Greek manuscripts of the gospels. The English translations simply present what is in our most reliable Greek manuscripts which show disagreement between Mark, Matthew and Luke in what Jesus taught on divorce. It is unclear in the Greek manuscripts of the Bible what Jesus taught on the subject with certainty, in the sense of knowing whether he talked about an exception in the case of adultery or not. My point in my previous comment was to say that we miss the point if we fail to see that what the truth is that Jesus is communicating, in my sense of “reliable truth”, is the sanctity of marriage. This comes out clearly in all three gospels without the need for understanding whether or not he presented an exception clause for divorce.

    Michael,

    I’d like to see the article in Harper’s. Is there an online version of it? I have read the Gospel of Thomas and a lot about it. I’ve even read some of it in Coptic, though my Coptic is a bit rusty. Many people who hear scholarly discussions about it wonder if it is comparable to our canonical gospels because they’re made to believe it might be. To me, all you have to do is read the text of the Gospel of Thomas, especially at the end where Peter tells Mary that she will become a man so she can enter the kingdom of God, a clear case of its misogynistic point of view, to understand how easy it was to decide that this “Gospel” was not in accord with Christian faith.

  11. Sherry Lollar Says:

    As an aside – the Queen of the vampire novelists, Anne Rice, has recently published a novel about Jesus called “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.” I read a review that mentioned that she makes extensive use of the stories about Jesus related in the Gospel of Thomas.

  12. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’d like to ask everyone to take it especialy easy on Joe today. He is expected to be most interested right now on the Gospel According to Vince while trying to come to terms with having to root against someone named Bush.
    🙂

  13. Whitney Says:

    Regarding Al’s comment:
    Say what you like to Joe, he’s too excited to work anyway, so give hime something else to keep him occupied.

    I never thought I’d say this but “Go Horns!”

    From what I read in Joe’s post, and I’ve been around him a few times so I feel safe talking for him (he’ll tell me if I’m wrong), I see that the problem with going around talking about Biblican inerrancy is that it allows people without a strong understanding of the scripture to develop their own interpretations of things such as:

    1) What does Christ want from us?
    2) How are we saved?
    3) What is right v. wrong?
    4) What is grace?
    5) Faith only
    6) Works only
    and on….

    I’m not talking about piano v. no piano.

    In doing so, interpretations may come to equal what a person wants them to be versus what God intended them to be.

    I don’t think the English translations are typologically perfect. We have to admit that a few words here and there are going to have been translated incorrectly. We know several translations that leave out scriptures altogether. The thing that is hard for most people to understand, however, is that God has a specific plan for us that is laid out very precisely in the scripture. I believe that this plan is inerrant!

    God’s means for us to have Salvation, however, has been interpreted in so many ways that it has become common place in most denominations to say “Jesus, come into my heart” and the believer thinks they are saved. They have justified this process with scripture using John 3:16.

    (I’m in the middle of reading F. LaGard Smith’s “Who is My Brother?” Interesting and related here.)

    Adding the discussion of Biblical inerrancy to this just fuels their fire. If the Bible can be “inaccurate” then how do we know that the plan we follow is the right one?

    As far as seeming discrepancies and just the hard to understand things of the Bible, we can try our best to find “certainty” in them when God doesn’t give us a clear answer, but God is a mystery, and I think sometmes we try too hard to understand him when maybe we weren’t intended to. Is that faith? I don’t think so. It becomes scientific, and from personal experience, there is no place for “faith” in science.

    When it comes to understanding and interpreting what God wants from us, there are things we just cannot fully comprehend. I tend to follow the better-safe-than-sorry route. I don’t know if that’s the best thing to do, but it is the best thing for me with what I have as a mere human.

  14. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Wow. I’m in Cuba and my wife is in California, but she can still read my mind and say what I wanted to say better than I can.

  15. DeJon Redd Says:

    Appreciate the discussion … But the best thing I can add is support for Joe’s Longhorns. If I were a gambler, I’d put a pile on the teasippers. Even so, I hope USC gets a whooping like LSU put on Miami.

    Now back to the excellent Biblical discussion.

  16. DeJon Redd Says:

    Congrats, Joe. What a game.

  17. Whitney Says:

    Joe is sitting in GTMO crying tears of JOY. That was an absolutely incredible game. (Of course, the dog thought I’d lost my mind when I started jumping around whooping & screaming.)

  18. Duane McCrory Says:

    Why won’t our sports columnist write a column on sports but will put a sports comment in a biblical column? I guess I just don’t understand that. Just teasing you, DeJon.

    I think what I’m needing here is a point of clarification. Whitney, I hear what you are saying about misinterpretation, I think, but I would still argue that we don’t have an inerrant text, either Greek or English, and even if we did, misinterpretation would still exist.

    For an example of the lack of an inerrant text and how that would lead to different theologies, let’s take a look at Acts 20:28. Here are the various English translations:

    KJV: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

    NIV: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (footnote on the word “God”, “Many manuscripts ‘of the Lord’.”)

    NRSV: Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (footnote on “God”, “other ancient authorities read ‘of the Lord’.” footnote on “Son”, “Or ‘with his own blood;’ Gk ‘with the blood of his Own.'”)

    You might think, “Why pick something so simple?”, but here is the point: simple changes can mean a big difference. There are two variants in the Greek manuscripts, both of which are aiming at the same purpose–clarification and making no room for bad theology.

    1. Change one is whether or not the church is of “God” or “the Lord”. The prior reading is obvious in Christian orthodoxy to mean God, the Father in trinitarian language and the latter is also as obvious to mean God, the Son. Take a look at Paul and you will see what I mean. The simple change from “God” to “Lord” is to keep people from thinking that “God, the Father” died on the cross, thereby purchasing the church “with his own blood.”

    2. The second change is more complex. Literally read “the blood of his own” is the more difficult reading as it grates against the sensibilities of those familiar with Greek grammar. “The blood of his own what?” would be the question here. While clearly saying “his own blood” changes the grammatical possibility, it necessitates the need to change “God” to “Lord” thereby keeping the father from being the one suffering.

    As the text stands, the NRSV, with the exception of adding “Son,” interprets the text more strictly and according to the better Greek manuscripts. Why mention this small change? The reason is that these changes were made with an idea of orthodoxy in mind–they were often not unintentional. Although this was a relatively easy one to work out and did not involve complex, multiple changes, and really does not change the “orthodoxy” that was already in Paul’s speech, it illustrates the point nonetheless.

    The verses mentioned as being “left out” of some newer translations were actually more properly said to be “added in” to the version (the KJV) that contains them as it was based on later Greek manuscripts in which there was a tendency by scribes to add to the text for clarification and other reasons.

    I would add as a final note the manuscript called Codex Beza, named after the guy who found, and its text of Acts. Although it is missing the pages that would contain from Acts 21 on, the text that it does contain is estimated to be about 25% longer, with all of the additions the scribe makes (or is it the scribe?), that our “accepted” text of Acts. Some have theorized that Luke wrote the first, shorter copy of Acts and then edited another copy of it, adding things to it. How plausible this theory is one is left to wonder, but it is certainly a possibility. My point in bringing up this manuscript is simply this: some church somewhere only had this copy of Acts and the gospels and used it as their “inspired” Scripture. What do we say about this church? Were they Christians? Did they believe everything correctly? Did they understand the “plan” appropriately as you mention? My answer is that God is larger than these textual issues and does not need either an original inerrant text or a contemporary inerrant text to preserve his truth. Does that make sense?

  19. Whitney Says:

    Duane,

    I think you may have misunderstood me. I didn’t say we have an inerrant text. (Remember when, because of inaccuracy, the NIV was basically considered an evil in CofCs? I’m sure that happened with just about every translation in every language.) I said (in many more words)God has an inerrant plan and will for us that he’s laid out in scripture and that has been preserved.

    My problem is with widely perpetuating the idea that we do not have an inerrant text (forgive the double negative, Dej) to those who choose to interpret the Scripture according to their own wants/needs v. God’s wants/needs. If we do so, we provide ammunition for their argument that they can interpret however they want because “the Bible can be wrong.” How do you KNOW that’s what God’s plan for us is?

    Those of us currently involved in this conversation understand your point, but you must be very, very (did I say very?) careful about starting this dialogue or you may find yourself opening a big can of worms that is self-perpetuating. Does that make sense?

    Sometimes it is hard for me to say what I mean about my faith. It isn’t logical and scientific and self-contained, so words are not really sufficient to address my stance; sorry if I’m confusing you.

  20. Al Sturgeon Says:

    This comment is NOT meant to sound snitty, so if it does, please re-read it with different tone (the tone of trying to reasonably cut to the chase).

    I think the grand summation of this debate is that everyone agrees with Duane’s take on inerrancy. Joe/Whitney’s position is to simply that we should keep it quiet.

    The reasoning is that this “truth,” when set free, will create problems and therefore should be kept safe in a can with the other worms.

    Is this correct?

  21. Jake Says:

    Duane i really liked your post. I had a discussion with Randy Harris and he talked about the “perfect 1st century church” that so many in the Churches of Christ refer to. He said that we have to get through our mind that there truly never was a perfect church, even though they were very close to the time of the diciples and even to Jesus himself. The church has always had problems and always will. Going along with that, though we can look at the writings as inspired by God in some way, they were still unfortunately written by men and can easily have mistakes, most of which are minor from what I’ve read. I enjoyed your post.

  22. Whitney Says:

    Al, you’re not correct. I didn’t say that.(Sorry if I sound frustrated, it’s just that I’m tired, bad day, still at work, and thought what I said was pretty clear. But I still love you.)

    I said you have to be careful.
    Careful and not-at-all are very different approaches. Personally, this is not a bad topic for Joe or me. But if & when you publicly discuss a topic such as this, you have to be extremely cautious to make sure your audience understands your overarching point (and I do agree with Duane’s overarching point) and doesn’t try to take from it something you didn’t intend for them to. The subject matter is one of such that if I were to present Duane’s initial post to a lot of people we know, they would end up terribly confused by it. So you have to be careful to prevent the confusion and to make sure that people don’t see this as an outlet to do anything they want based on the idea that the Bible in-and-of-itself may be inaccurate.

    Here’s how I would expect their logic to go:

    1. Discussion that the Bible may have errors
    2. Well, if the Bible has errors, can we be certain of anything (I know, I know, but the certainty concept will come into play)
    3. I guess I really don’t know exactly what God intended for me, so X, Y, & Z behaviors, well, the scripture must be wrong; they’re probably OK
    4. If you tell me that I’m wrong, I’ll just refer back to your point that the Scripture contains errors, so who are you to judge which parts are right or wrong? How do you REALLY know? You’re the one who said they could be erroneous.

    Do you see where I’m going. This is NOT my personal stance, of course. I’m just saying be careful, be thorough, and talk at a level where most people can understand what you’re talking about.

    You and I both know that if you got up and presented this in a sermon, you’d have some outrage somewhere. Unfortunate, but true.

    Jake,
    I’m with you all the way. I think the mistakes are minor. Its us humans who try to make a big deal of them.

  23. Duane McCrory Says:

    Whitney,

    I am very appreciative of your comments and I forgot to say in my first reply to you, I’m glad to see you back commenting on the blog.

    From my perspective, and this is only my perspective, but the people I see at the church who happen to be young families or young college students are hearing the questions such as the ones we raise here and are looking for at least plausible answers. Their friends in college and at work are at least raising the questions of the reliability of the Bible and they deserve to hear plausible ways of treating such questions. I think this blog is actually the perfect forum for that. We can discuss the challenges to faith and show that yes, an educated person can believe and can see positive, well-thought-out answers to the questions that are raised. I don’t think such a generation will tolerate an environment where the questions cannot even be raised. This is, of course, only a part of the church.

    There is another part of the church that cannot even handle hearing the questions and I do agree that such a group would struggle with it. I would suggest that even for them, the struggle is necessary for growth, as difficult as it might be for them. Yet in my experience, such people are not reading internet blogs such as this one. I could be wrong, but they are definitely not commenting on them.

    What is most needed, even more than genuine dialogue, is an atmosphere where both sides are loved and accepted, regardless of their current understandings on whatever topic is under discussion. I think we’ve made some progress on this in our blog here. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but we have made progress.

    Back to the struggling part and wrestling with issues, that’s why I so appreciate the liberal columnists such as Sandi and Juvenal. I certainly don’t agree with everything they write but they challenge my assumptions and force me to look at such an issue as abortion from a different point of view–that of the person who has had to consider such an option and lives with the results of such a decision. They force me to remember what I’ve always known–things are not as black and white as they seem, especially when it involves something happening in one’s own life.

    I was talking with someone today in my office who was having marital problems and it reminded me of this very thing. The person’s spouse had not been unfaithful, but something the person said reminded me of how easy it is for someone who has never had a spouse cheat on them say, “If he/she were to ever cheat on me, it would be over.” That is easy to say when it has not happened to you, but it is a lot more complicated once it has. Love is never as simple as that.

    Coming back to the idea of where such a discussion would be appropriate, I’d be curious to hear what type of situation would be a place for such a discussion. Are you thinking maybe among more mature Christians? Among people who know each other very well? Please describe what you think would be best if you don’t mind.

    Jake,

    I agree wholeheartedly about the early church and how different it was depending on one’s location. There are certainly core beliefs that were shared among all, such as what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 as what is of “first importance”, namely the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Thanks for sharing the dialogue on our blog!

  24. Whitney Says:

    Hi Duane,

    I was thinking maybe a Bible class setting where the issue could be fully examined in a way to answer questions, comments, disagreements,etc. My only reservation is that to new Christians, this might really confuse them and may not be all that appropriate.

    Like you, this blog has helped challenge my thinking in so many ways, and Joe and I have had so many long, deep conversations about the content. It’s most definitely a growing experience. I think one of the best things to happen is that we aren’t automatically reading anger or intolerance into each other’s words anymore(not Joe & I, but all of us who get involved in these discussions). Someone tell Juvenal he can come back. We’re nicer.

    Well, I’ve been a big loser since Joe’s been gone (1 month down, 5 to go!!) and spend entirely too much time online. I’m going to go watch CSI and think about how marvelous it is that they can solve a murder in one hour. Thanks for your thoughts.

  25. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Whitney. Sorry to add to your frustrations right now. I was genuinely trying to understand the problems you/Joe were having with Duane’s argument.

    And you’ve heard me preach, then read the way I think about a lot of things on this blog, so you know I appreciate your distinction. I very much try to be careful about what is said in respect to audience.

    Thanks again. Hope today is a better day for you…

  26. hypocritical4u Says:

    Religious discourse requires subjectivity acknowledging itself as such, rather than as something more. I recommend the following post: http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/objective-vs-subjective-a-matter-of-biblical-hyperbole/

  27. urbino Says:

    I think this post must have been written during my hiatus. Now that hypocritical4u’s comment has called my attention to it, though, Al said:

    I think the grand summation of this debate is that everyone agrees with Duane’s take on inerrancy. Joe/Whitney’s position is to simply that we should keep it quiet.

    The reasoning is that this “truth,” when set free, will create problems and therefore should be kept safe in a can with the other worms.

    That last bit . . . man. That’s such a huge part of society. “Open secrets” or “useful fictions” or “public fictions” or whatever we choose to call them. That’s something I spend a LOT of time thinking about.

    We always think we’re doing somebody else a favor with them, and we’re almost always not.

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