Category Archives: Inerrancy

Are You Arguing Badly?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Have you ever been arguing (holding a rational discourse where you are giving evidence to support your position) with someone and realized that they are not arguing against your position at all?  Instead, they are arguing against a distorted or false version of your position.  As I’ve discussed the beliefs of Christianity and the evidence for those beliefs over the last 7 years, I’ve seen this happen frequently.

What is going on when this happens?  After all, it’s pretty hard to get going with an argument if you can’t even agree what you’re arguing about.  There could be several reasons why your opponent is arguing a different version of your position.

  1. They may not understand your position even after you’ve explained it.
  2. They may assume they know your position before asking you.
  3. They may understand your position but purposefully distort it because the distorted version is easier to disprove.

Regardless of the reason, if your opponent is arguing against a false or distorted version of your view, then he is committing what philosophers call the “straw man” fallacy.  The fallacy is thus named because it is easier to knock down a straw man than a real man.

An example might be helpful.  Recently a Muslim commented on the blog that when Christian apologists are confronted with the inconsistencies and contradictions in the New Testament Gospels, they admit the contradictions but argue that the Gospels are still inspired and inerrant because each of the Gospels still contains the same basic message about Jesus and his life.

The problem is that the Muslim has distorted the apologist’s position.  First of all, apologists typically do not agree that there are contradictions in the Gospels.  Second, when Christian apologists are discussing the differences in the Gospel accounts, they are not discussing inspiration and inerrancy at all; rather, they are usually talking about the historical trustworthiness of the Gospel accounts (see this post for more on this topic).

The trustworthiness of the Gospel narratives and the inerrancy of the Bible are two disparate topics that our Muslim commenter is confusing by mashing them together into one phantom argument that no apologist makes.  So our Muslim friend is committing the straw man fallacy.  He is arguing against a false view that no Christian apologist holds.

If you are ever arguing with someone, make sure you understand their view before you engage.  I know this can be difficult sometimes (I struggle to do it myself), but it is so important.  If you don’t engage your opponent’s true viewpoint, you will never make any progress toward understanding his point of view and then making rational arguments against it.  All you’re really doing is knocking over straw men.

How Brittle Are Your Christian Beliefs?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman wrote in his book, Misquoting Jesus, that his Christian beliefs began to fall apart when he realized that there was a mistake, an error, in the Gospel of Mark.  Now, I think that the alleged mistake is not a mistake, but let’s assume for a minute that we just don’t know for sure – maybe Mark made a mistake, and maybe he didn’t.

Is this any reason to jettison your belief in Christianity?  That has not been my reaction when I’ve been faced with many of the same kinds of difficulties in the Bible.  Why does Ehrman feel that he has to give up the whole show when he finds one error?

There are a few Christians who have been upset with me when I’ve talked about the fact that the 5,800 Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament differ from each other so that we are unsure of about 1% of the text in the New Testament.  These verses have nothing to do with any major Christian doctrine, but nonetheless they believe it is unacceptable to have any uncertainty at all.  Their faith is threatened by the science of textual criticism, even when textual criticism is practiced by conservative Christians.

Other Christians claim only the King James Version of the Bible is correct, that all the others are full of significant mistakes.  They feel their faith threatened by the other versions.

What do these people all have in common?  New Testament scholar Darrell Bock referred to these kinds of Christians as brittle fundamentalists.  They are brittle because when one of their cherished beliefs are challenged, their faith either falls apart, like Ehrman, or they retreat deep into isolation so as not to deal with anyone who disagrees with them.

I have a deep concern for the brothers and sisters who hold these beliefs.  They are majoring on the minors of Christianity.  They are making secondary things primary things.  There are certain teachings of the church that have always been recognized as the essentials, the things that form the core of our faith.

Holding on to the essentials, we need to make room for the findings of history, science, and philosophy that help us better understand our faith.  We need to be willing to learn about our faith, and maybe even change some of our secondary beliefs.  If your understanding of a Bible passage has never changed, if your understanding of a secondary doctrine has never changed, you are not growing and your Christianity may be brittle.

I have been studying the tough issues that face Christians for 7 years now, and I have had to modify several of my secondary and non-essential ideas about Christianity.  It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but what has happened to me is that the core beliefs I hold have become stronger and stronger, the more I learn.

I hope the same will happen for you.  We have nothing to fear.  We really don’t.

Is the Doctrine of Inerrancy an Essential Doctrine of Christianity?

I recently posted on the essential doctrines of Christianity, and I left out a doctrine that probably surprised many traditional Christians: inerrancy

The reason I left this doctrine out is because I was defining an essential doctrine as one that must be true for salvation.  A person does not have to believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and therefore inerrant, in order to be saved.  Many people have been saved in the history of the world without ever reading a Bible and even knowing what the word inerrant means.

However, the doctrine of inerrancy is an essential doctrine in another way.  If the Bible is not inerrant, then we lose our confidence in the doctrines that must be true for our salvation.  The Bible teaches that Christ is God, that He died on a cross for our sins, and that He was resurrected.  If the Bible has errors in it, then how can we know that these things are true?

Whenever I meet people who deny inerrancy, but they firmly believe Christ died for their sins, I ask them how they know that those verses in the Bible talking about Christ dying for their sins are true.  Maybe those are the very verses that are in error!  I have never heard a reasonable answer to this question.

Inerrancy provides the foundation for our knowing the revelation of God.  If you don’t affirm inerrancy, you can’t be sure of  the very gospel you claim to believe.  Inerrancy is the firm ground we stand on to affirm everything we believe about God.  Take it away, and you have two feet planted firmly in thin air.

Why Do We Think the Bible is the Word of God?

Below is an excerpt from Norm Geisler’s Systematic Theology Volume 1 (P. 495):

  That the Bible is the Word of God can be discerned from several biblical affirmations:

(1)     that it is God-breathed;
(2)     that it is a prophetic writing;
(3)     that it has divine authority;
(4)     that it is what God says;
(5)     that it is called “the Word of God” or the like.
The Bible Is God-Breathed
Paul declared that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
This Word, often translated “inspired” (cf. kjv), means to be spirated—breathed—from God. A kindred idea is found in Jesus’ words: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
The Nature of a Prophet
As previously elaborated, the Bible claims to be a prophetic writing (Heb. 1:1; 2 Peter 1:20–21); prophets, as mouthpieces of God, spoke only what God put in their mouths (Deut. 18:18; 2 Sam. 23:2; Isa. 59:21; cf. Deut. 4:2).
The Divine Authority of the Bible
That the Bible is the Word of God can also be determined from the fact that it has divine authority (Matt. 5:17–18); Jesus said it was exalted above all human authority (Matt. 15:3–6).
The Bible Is “What God Says”
Often the words of the authors of Scripture are equated with the words of God. For example, cross-reference Genesis 12:1–3 with Galatians 3:8, and Exodus 9:16 with Romans 9:17—it is verses like these (see chapter 13) that give rise to the statement “What the Bible says, God says.”
The Bible Is Called “The Word of God”
This very phrase or its equivalent is used many times of the Bible in part or as a whole. Second Chronicles 34:14 speaks of “The book of the law of the Lord given by the hand of Moses”; Zechariah 7:12 refers to “The words that the Lord Almighty had sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets.” (See also Matthew 15:6, John 10:35, Romans 9:6, and Hebrews 4:12.)

Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume One: Introduction, Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2002), 495.

What is Inerrancy?

Many people misunderstand the doctrine of inerrancy, so I thought I would try to clear up some of the confusion.

The doctrine of inerrancy teaches that whatever the Bible affirms to be true, is true.  Put another way, nothing that the Bible affirms is false.  Inerrancy basically means “without error.”  If the Bible teaches that Jesus was an actual historical figure who came back from the dead three days after he was killed, then we believe that really happened.  If the Bible teaches that the nation of Israel escaped Egypt through a series of miracles of God performed through a man named Moses, then we believe that really happened.

God, in essence, made sure that the truths He wanted to be communicated by the various human authors of the Bible were successfully and truthfully communicated.  Nothing the human authors wrote was false or mistaken.  Inerrancy affirms that God does not make mistakes.  Here is a simple syllogism:

  1. God does not err.
  2. The Bible is the Word of God.
  3. Therefore the Bible does not err.

If you deny inerrancy, then you admit either that God errs or that the Bible is not the Word of God.  Take your pick.

When we refer to the Bible in any discussion of inerrancy, we are always referring to the original writings in the original languages, or the autographa.  We are not referring to any copies made of the original writings.

What about errors in the copies of the Bible manuscripts? It is true that there are copyist errors that accumulated over 1,300 years of New Testament copying and 2,700 years of Old Testament copying.  These errors amount to an approximate 99% accuracy for today’s Greek New Testament and an approximate 95% accuracy for the Hebrew Old Testament.

However, Christians who believe in inerrancy don’t use these errors as an escape hatch.  We believe that the teachings of the Bible are mostly intact in our present-day translations, and the verses where scholars are unsure of the original writing are clearly marked in footnotes.

A person can learn everything they need to know about God’s revelation by reading a good modern translation.  The doctrine of inerrancy gives us the assurance that God’s Word in the Bible can be counted on.