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On The Inerrancy of Scripture

Fundamentalism n.
1) religious beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, regarded as fundamental to Christian faith and morals 
2) the 20th-cent. movement among some American Protestants, based on these beliefs 
3) a strict adherence to or interpretation of a doctrine, set of principles, etc., as of a social, legal, political, or religious group or system 
fundamentalist n., adj.

There's a fundamentalist church in my neighborhood that has a sign on the street-side of their building:

"Where the Bible is the Inspired, Inerrant Word of God."

I have received many emails recently about my view on the Bible.  Is it inspired?  Literally true?  How is it supposed to be interpreted?

So let's get to it.

First: The word "Inspired" can be expressed in many ways, but I think this is well stated:

Biblical inspiration may be defined as God's superintending of the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities (and even their writing styles), they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs. Inspiration means that "the Holy Spirit of God superintended the human writers in the production of Scripture so that what they wrote was precisely what God wanted written."  From Reasoning From the Scriptures Ministries.  

Second: "Inerrant" means that, since God breathed-into ("in-spired") the writings, they are in all ways, mathematical, scientific, theological, philosophical, absolutely perfect.

My "position" is this:

  • I am perfectly delighted to accept that the Scripture is Inerrant and Inspired.  
  • Most people I have met, who hold to this the most strongly, have done so apparently in order to ignore the Bible.  They do not read it, study it, meditate on it, and certainly live by almost nothing it has to say.  They worship the Bible in order to ignore it.  They know it is perfect and true, they know they "should" know more about it, but are perfectly happy to pay their $15 a week to the Pastor or Priest so he can do that for them, and they can get back to "I Love Lucy" reruns.  You can find this theme running throughout the history of man's religion: the most something is worshipped, the farther removed from one's self it becomes, and thus the less pertinent to one's everyday life.  (I had a professor once say that if your Bible is too fancy & holy to write in and mark-up, then throw it away and get one you can.)
  • I, on the other hand, have and do read, meditate on & study the Bible.  I was the "Outstanding Biblical Greek Student" of my graduating class, not that that has anything at all to do with anything.  I do not personally know anyone more familiar with Scripture than I am, not (again) that that has anything at all to do with anything.
  • And in my detailed, cross-referenced, search-the-original-texts, pray, listen, study, meditate, life-long encounter with the scriptures, I have questions.  Many questions.  And, as is my habit, I have my own answers to those questions.   

But you won't find many of those answers here.  You will, however, find many questions that I have come across, that have helped me to come to a deeper appreciation of the Bible.  I will leave it to you to come to your own conclusions.

The immature reader will find the material contained here quite threatening, as though it is a "slam" on the Bible.  I assure you it is not.  Any perceived threats come from challenging a mind-numbed so-called "faith" that actually knows (and cares) less about the Bible than the color of disk one puts in the toilet bowl.  

There are some very real, and (at least for me) profoundly important issues in our relationship to Scripture.  In my never-ending quest to get you involved in your own religion, I offer the following.

And, once again, please don't believe or accept anything that I write here as true!!!  DO THE RESEARCH YOURSELF.  FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF.  AND THEN CORRESPOND WITH ME AND TELL ME WHERE I'M WRONG.  Thank you.

Two Ignorant Views of The Bible

I have taught Bibles studies (yes, face-to-face, I wasn't always a "virtual teacher") for years.  Not surprisingly, but sadly, one of the greatest areas of ignorance I regularly find in the churches has to do with the source and history of the Bible itself.  For the average person-in-the-pews, there are 2 primary views.  And they are both wrong.

The Holy King James Error: God actually wrote the King James version of the Bible.  THIS document is the one and only, true, original Holy Word of God.  

And folks, you would be absolutely amazed, should you ever get into their world enough for them to trust you, to find out how many millions upon millions of people have this view.  

The truth is that the original documents that comprise the Bible are thousands of years older than the King James, which is just one English translation, done at the urging of (can you guess?) King James in England, around the year 1600.  This view of the Bible, while held very widely, is so completely ignorant of the truth that it needs no further comment here.

The other, though, is even more widely held, and is (if possible) even more ignorant:

The "Original Version" Myth: While the authors of the Bible were writing, God took over their hands, almost like channeling.  We have these original hand-written documents ("Autographs") locked up in museums and in the basements of the Vatican.  When God got done writing the last part of the Bible, He told people He was done ("Closed Canon"), and they published the Complete Holy Bible.

Let's look at the 2 main components of this "Original Version" myth: the Autographs and the Closed Canon.

Autographs

The simple, undisputed, plain truth is that the "Original Version of the Bible" does not exist.

There, I've said it.

We do not have Moses' handwriting.  Nor Isaiah's, Peter's, or Paul's.  The original, hand-written first edition, also known as the Autograph, does not exist for even one single word in the Bible, let alone a complete sentence, chapter or book itself.

What do we have?  

  • Copies of copies of copies, all of them several HUNDRED years separated from the Autograph.
  • Quotations in other people's letters
  • Quotations in written sermons
  • Commentaries in the margins of texts
  • Additions, misquotes, omissions

All of this has made the Quest for the Original Bible a multi-century detective mystery.  And as time goes on we learn more, gather more, investigate more.

The picture may be blurry for the Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament"), but for the most part the Hebrews had a letter-for-letter reverence for their Scriptures.  The Dead Sea Scrolls gave us great confidence that the copies-of-copies-of-copies are at least consistent, and therefore fairly likely to reflect in large part the intent of the autograph.

When it comes to the New Testament, however, things are just a mess.  There's no other way to put it.  The copies and quotations and fragments are so littered with commentaries, omissions, and misquotes, that the "Original Greek New Testament" is only an approximate guess as to the autograph's contents.

Well, let me give you some data here.

I have a Greek New Testament.  Written in Biblical Greek.  On a good day I can actually read it.

Now, how did we get this?  The common myth is that this is just copied down from the "original".  Nothing could be father from the truth.  Here's just one page. 

That, friends, is the first 7 verses of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was The Word...."  But notice, please, the horizontal line about a third of the way down the page.  The text is above the line.  John 1:1-7.  The material below the line cites the different primary variations found in the Papyri, Unicals, Miniscules, Lectionaries....Well, let's not get too into the details.  The key points are:

  • The "Original" DOES NOT EXIST.  

  • The copies & quotations are so sloppy, so irreverent in their attention to detail, that knowing the actual "original" intent of the author is impossible.

  • So, how do we get the text at the top?  Aren't those 7 verses the "Original" Greek as John wrote them?  Nope.  So, again, where does that come from?  

Don't know?  Come on, try to guess.  Got it?  

All of the fragments and variations from the "Original" Biblical Greek are assembled and examined by an international team of Biblical Scholars.  (Not that it matters, but in the 1980's I studied personally under Dr. Fred Frances, one of the guys on the committee.)  After all the variations (well, not all, there are too many...at least the primary ones) are examined and debated, the "Original Greek New Testament" is produced by...VOTING!!

Yup.  That's right.  The scholars look at all the options and vote on what they think is most likely the "closest to the source", and then they VOTE.  Being honest scholars, they site their sources.  That's why on most of the pages in my "Original Biblical Greek New Testament" the "text" occupies 1/2 to 2/3 of the page, and the rest (the part "under the line") cites the different primary variations.

The Original Text, the one used as the basis for the English translations, is designed by Committee.

And don't take my word for it.  Do the research yourself.

 

Meaningless Differences?

If you take this information to your local pastor / priest, he will probably say something along the lines of "Well, that may be true, but these are all minor variations, like "of" or "with".  They have nothing to do with the central message."

I find this attitude very disturbing and contradictory.  These types of people are all too eager to condemn to hell people who do not worship the Bible (which, frankly, IS a form of idolatry known as Bibliolatry, but I'll not go off on that tangent) as inerrant and scientifically perfect.  Yet when presented with the simple facts of the case say "It simply doesn't matter."

Let me show you a place in the Bible where this does matter, at least to some.  A little thing known as "The Lord's Prayer", Matthew 6: 9-13.  Here's the King James Version, as recited millions of times a day:

9After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

 And here is the New International Version:

9"This, then, is how you should pray:

"‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Notice anything different?  The last part of verse 13, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." does NOT appear in the New International!  Nor the American Standard.

What's going on here?

The King James people did the best they could with what they had.  Later research discovered older, better documents / fragments / commentaries, etc that showed very clearly that...are you ready?...the last line of the Lord's Prayer, that you were taught from birth, was added by a highly motivated commentator hundreds of years after the fact.  IT CANNOT HAVE BEEN JESUS' WORD!

So, modern translations have been forced, in the name of honesty, to drop it.  I've been in a couple churches, also, that do not add that line to the end of the Lord's Prayer.  But the Lutherans (to name but one), who have made an entire career of sending people to an eternal hell because they don't "believe in the Bible", have no problem whatsoever adding this clearly non-Biblical "tagline" to the end of the Prayer.  They have freely ADDED TO JESUS' WORDS.  

Am I the only one paying attention here?

So, you are free to object: "So, what does it matter?   It doesn't hurt anyone to say that."  

I only ask you, then, to tell me the criteria by which we determine what does matter.

I am not here to do an exhaustive treatment of the variations of the source materials and where & how they affect Bible interpretation.  As always, this writing is just a sketch of a much larger subject.  But clearly there is much more going on here than we are generally told...

If the last phrase of the Lord's Prayer is simply a lie, added by a sincere but misguided scribe, might there be more things just like it?  More lies added to the Holy, Perfect, Inerrant Bible?  And how do we find out?  Maybe all of the Gospel of John was "added" by a "misguided scribe."  And how, really, do we know?

The Much Deeper Problem

The New Testament texts we have are Greek.  Jesus was a Jew.  He didn't talk Greek.  Even in the best of circumstances, what we have is a Greek translation of Jesus' words.

What if George Bush's statements on the War on Terrorism were never available in the Original English in which they were spoken, but only Taliban translations that appear in their militant press?  How would you feel?  Would you be comfortable that you had an honest rendering of his meaning?

Well, Jesus was crucified for crimes again Rome.  And this war criminal's words are only available in a translation into the language of His enemies who executed Him.

There is a magnificent project going on as we speak, based on astoundingly detailed & profound PRE-Greek New Testament sources.  This Project, known as The Semitic New Testament Project, is attempting to discover and assemble the really original "Jewish" versions of the New Testament writings, as spoken and written by the people involved.  

In other words, there is a great amount of scholarly evidence that most of the New Testament (the Autographs) was actually written IN HEBREW AND ARAMAIC, and later translated into Greek.  Their research cannot be dismissed as quackery.

And if true, the the so-called "Original Greek New Testament" is even less reliable, and farther removed from the sources than we could ever have previously imagined.  Copies of copies, misquotes, additions, omissions, all delivered in the language of the enemy that executed the central character.

The information can be found here.  Only Serious Bible Scholars, who care about the TRUTH of the Bible, need apply.  I am a non-contributing (as in research, I'm not even remotely qualified) member of the Project.  Its research cannot be ignored any longer, at least not by an intellectually honest society.

The "Original" Bible does not exist.  But perhaps, with enough time, Dr. James Trimm can recreate it.

The Closed Canon

Canon - noun:

a) The books of the Bible officially accepted by a church or religious body as divinely inspired 
b) the works ascribed to an author that are accepted as genuine 
c) the complete works, as of an author 
d) those works, authors, etc. accepted as major or essential 

The second major component to The "Original Version" Myth is the idea that the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible and the 27 books of the New Testament were divinely ordained by some kind of "Thus Sayeth the Lord" command.  The idea is that when God got done writing the last part of the Bible, He told people He was done, and they published the Complete Holy Bible.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

It may or may not surprise you that there are literally hundreds of non-Biblical writings from the same period, dealing with Christ & God & Religion.  Scores of these are considered primary, and have been studied, categorized & published.  A marvelous site for more information can be found at http://www.innvista.com/scriptures/pseudep/default.htm

Here is just a partial listing of the primary extra-Biblical documents, known collectively as the Pseudepigrapha:

Apocalypse of Elijah

Apocalypse of Abraham
Apocalypse of Baruch

Apocalypse of Peter

Apocalypse of James
Armenian Apocrypha Relating to Adam and Eve
Ascension of Isaiah
Assumption of Moses
Baralâm Yewâsef
Book of Enoch
Book of Jasher
Book of Jubilees
Book of Life of Doukhobors
Epistle to Rheginos
Ethiopic Didascalia
Gospel of Barnabus
Gospel of Philip
Gospel of the Holy Twelve
Gospel of Truth
History of the Rechabites
Hymn of Jesus
Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas
Joseph and Asenath
Kebra Nagast
Later Christian Fathers
Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament
Celestial Hierarchies of Dionysius
New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine
New Sayings of Jesus
Odes of Solomon
Psalms of the Pharisees
Q Document
Sentences of Sextus
Shepherd of Hermas
Story of Ahikar
Syriac Apocrypha
Testament of Abraham
Testament of Job
Testament of Our Lord
Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees
Wisdom of the Plain Folk

So, if there were all of these other Gospels, Apocalypses & Epistles circulating in the ancient world, how did we actually get the Canon?

The story is long and involved.  You can research it if you like.  The bottom line, as it pertains to the Christian New Testament, is this:

The more popular a writing was, the larger its circulation.  Different criteria were developed to determine what was Canonical and what was not.  After 400 years (yes, 4 centuries), under political pressure from the civil Roman authorities, the final, officially approved Canon was voted on.  The earliest time the 27 books of the New Testament (as they exist today) were listed as the final Canon was 367 A. D. by Athanasius of Alexandria. 

And that, my friends, is how our New Testament was created: 400 years after the fact, by a committee vote.

The Really Big Problems

Let's ignore the previous material.  Frankly, it simply does not matter, at least to me.  Regardless of the history and development of the documents, we have them now, and they matter very much.  This is a part of my radical existentialist approach to religion: all of history is gone, and the only thing we can deal with is what is here and now.

So, even if we had the Autographs, and God Himself made it clear He wrote 27 (and only 27) New Testament Books and 39 "Old Testament" books, we still have very deep, profound issues to deal with when it comes to the inspiration of the Scripture.  These encompass a wide variety of topics, all dealing with our proper interpretation, which I will briefly outline here.

I call these (and more, just like them) the "Really Big Problems" because they will not go away, regardless of our view of Inspiration or Inerrancy.  The childish will take this to mean I am "trashing" the Bible, but they are wrong.  The foolish will take this to mean that the Bible does not matter, but they are wrong.  The ignorant will refuse to think about it, content in the bliss of their ignorance, and they too are very wrong.

The brave will deal with them, struggle with them, pray about them, research them, and become immeasurably richer for it.

  • "Is is is," or is it?  The fundamentalists want to have such a simple, narrow, naive approach to Sacred Scripture.  "Is means IS."  This gives them comfort (and reasons to hate, persecute & kill others) in passages like Mt 26:26, "This IS my body."  "Is is is," they say.  So what about John 15:5, "I am the vine..."  The simple point is that sometimes the Bible is speaking literally, sometimes figuratively.  How do you tell the difference?

  • Other Gospels.  Luke 1:1 "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word."  The Gospel of Luke itself refers to other gospels.  Which ones does he mean?  Should they be in the Bible?

  • What was Jesus' Scripture? John 7:38 "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Streams of living water will flow from within him.'”  The thing is, that passage cannot be found anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.  I have a Bible that prints all Old Testament passages IN ALL UPPER CASE.  But 'Streams of living water will flow from within him' is in lowercase, because that "Scripture" simply cannot be found in our Bible.

  • What constitutes Inspiration?  Acts 17:28 "For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’"  So here's a secular Roman poet who got quoted by Paul, and the phrase "We are his offspring" is now approved, certified Divinely inspired, because it appears in the Canon.  Are there other poets Paul could have quoted that also were inspired?  And wasn't the poet's writing TRUE even before Paul quoted it, Luke wrote it, and 400 years later it was voted into the final Canon?  And if THAT poet's writing was true, doesn't it mean that it is at least possible there are other writers, poets, singers, who have written TRUE THINGS that are Divinely Inspired and worthy of Canonization?

  • The moral question.  There are things in the Bible which are frankly disgusting.  Psalm 137:8 "Oh O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us— he who seizes your little babies and dashes their heads against the rocks."  Does it really, actually, seem likely to you that the God who commanded us to love our enemies inspired that?!?

  • The temporal question.  This is really, really a big one.  How are we supposed to separate what is eternally true from what is culturally true?  1 Corinthians 11:2-10 

"Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man: for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels."  

Here, Paul distinguishes between traditions and eternal truths, which he uses the angels and all of creation to attest to, that a woman who prays without her head covered should have her head shaved.  In other words, Paul's entire point (if you read it carefully enough) is that the need to cover a woman's head while praying is NOT a tradition, but an ETERNAL FACT.  If you want to say that he's wrong, and that the practice was culturally based, fine.  But you are arguing with The Bible.  And what's your criteria?  And what does that have to do with the millions who now think that all Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality were likewise cultural ignorance?

  • Opinion or Inspiration?  In 1 Cor 7:12, Paul says, "But to the rest I say, NOT THE LORD, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away."  Here Paul is very clearly stating that this is HIS OWN OPINION, not necessarily God's.  that the purpose of the "...I say, not the Lord..." disclaimer.  So, are there other passages where Paul and others are expressing their own opinion, but are not necessarily God's Word?  (Yes, there are others...See 1 Cor 7:25 as an example: "Now concerning virgins I have NO COMMAND of the Lord, but I give AN OPINION...")   In other words, does God's Word contain things that are, indeed, NOT God's Word?  How do you know?

Some, understandably, get very uncomfortable with this type of thinking.  So they retreat to "Is is is."  And so the cycle continues....But not a one of the fundamentalists has ever shaved their wife's head.

Conclusions

Yes, I believe the Bible to the the Holy, Inspired, Inerrant Word of God.

Holy in that it is a precious account of the human race's growth in God Consciousness, from a conception of a small, tribal WarLord, to a God of Universal Love for all.

Inspired in that I have confidence that Yhwh could have had this thing written any way He chose.  And He was wise enough to prevent us from having Autographs preserved in museums, where the Scriptures can be worshipped instead of read.  No, there's quite enough of that as it is.

Inerrant, in that the Bible acts like an infallible Rorschach design.  The more you look, the more you see.  And the more intense your devotion, the Bible cannot and will not fail to bring you ever deeper into a knowledge of The Divine Source of All.

Word of God, as God struggles to reach Man, and Man struggles to come to terms with God.

I have posed more questions than answers here.  That's because my answers, ultimately, only matter for me.  It is much more important that you know the issues, and (with prayer, fasting, and study) find Yhwh's witness on your own heart.

Ahyh, March 31, 2002

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