More Christians than I care to admit are giving up on the Bible. Tired of taking the time to wrestle with apparent contradictions, many are just beating a retreat. Thousands and millions of Jesus-loving people think that it's more of a cop-out to believe the Bible in the face of apparent contradictions and inaccuracies, than it is to actually research those seeming problems and attempt to resolve them: In the gentlest way that I know how, I'd like to make the case that Christians must believe that the Bible doesn't make mistakes of any kind.
A Book Wrapped In A Bow: Why the Bible Matters
Evangelical Christians are not Bible worshipers, but we love and defend the Bible because God speaks to us through it. It teaches us how to relate to God. The Bible is a gift to us, it proves to believers like me that God is not distant, is not indifferent; that instead of standing back and remaining shrouded in mystery, He gave us a book so we could know about what He's like, what he made us to be like, what the spiritual world around us is all about, and how sinful people like you and me can be reconciled to our holy Creator. Without the Bible, we don't just lose a set of doctrinal beliefs. We lose contact with our heavenly Father. We lose His generous, freely given, all-important magnificent voice. There is no devotion to God without trust in the Bible.
The Meaning of 'Does Not Make Mistakes'
When people like me say that the Bible doesn't make mistakes, we have a pretty nuanced definition of 'doesn't make mistakes.' We don't mean that the Bible is always precise: just like we don't question the accuracy of The Weather Network when it lists the times of a day's sunrise and sunset even though the sun technically neither rises nor sets, nor do we balk if someone tells you she lives five miles away when she in fact lives 4.875 miles away, we allow for things like round numbers and figures of speech. We also don't mean that copies or translations of the Bible are without mistakes. Luckily, we also have scores of ancient copies of the Bible and can usually tell when one says something different than the rest of them do. When Evangelicals say that the Bible doesn't make mistakes, we mean that the Bible is without factual error or contradiction in its original copies. For more, check out the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
What's Historical Truth Got to Do, Got to Do With It
Joshua of Nazareth (Jesus)* once asked a man, 'If I have told you earthly things and you don't believe Me, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?' (John 3.12). He had a point. Why would you accept the Bible's take on things like the nature of God, or what heaven is like, or how to be saved, (which can't be verified independently) if you can't trust it on earthly things like basic history, or keeping its story straight and not contradicting itself (which can be verified independently)? I haven't relied on BBC foreign correspondence since this post where Jack Layton [the federal Opposition Leader] was described as also being Toronto's deputy mayor, and [Industry Minister] Tony Clement was mistakenly named as a journalist for the Globe and Mail. These kinds of mistakes make their reporting doubtful. In the same way, mistakes about history and repeated inconsistencies would make it doubtful that the Bible has anything reliable to say about God, either. I won't hold the Bible to a lesser standard than what I would hold a news source to.
Taking the Messiah's Word on The Word
Joshua the Messiah (AKA Jesus) also preached and believed that the Bible doesn't make mistakes or contradict itself. If you'll hover your mouse over Scripture references in blue, you'll find that Joshua believed what the Bible said about historical figures like Abraham (John 8.56), King David and Abiathar the High Priest (Mark 2.25-26), Jonah (Luke 11.32), Isaiah (Matthew 15.7-8), and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4.27). He also believed the Bible about historical events like the events of the Exodus (Mark 12.26) and the wilderness wanderings (John 3:14), as well as the repentance of Ninevah (Luke 11.32), Noah's Flood (Matthew 24.37-38), and the creation of man (Matthew 19.4-5,8).
Joshua of Nazareth also quoted Moses' writings as the words of God in Matthew 19.4-5, crediting God with saying something that Moses actually wrote. Joshua/Jesus teaches us that all the words of the Bible, no matter the human author, should be seen as the words of God. To call the Bible contradictory and error-filled is to say that God can't make up His mind and needs to brush up on His history - maybe an appropriate view for Atheist polemicists Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens to take, but not for a Christian to hold to.
Why Giving Up Is Copping Out
I'll admit that keeping up with all the supposed contradictions in the Bible can be overwhelming; so many Atheist, Muslim, and other voices are out there shouting out new Bible contradictions or historical inaccuracies every day that doubts will understandably arise. After the first few rounds of battling off these arguments against the Bible, it easily occurs to Christians that there are too many seeming contradictions in the Bible for it to really be true - even if all of the discrepancies can be explained away somehow, the sheer number of them is too staggering to just ignore. It begins to feel like you're copping out and refusing to confront reality by holding to a view like, 'The Bible Makes No Mistakes,' with all these supposed contradictions flying around.
But giving up on the Bible out of sheer weariness is also a cop-out. Unless you've found a bona fide historical inaccuracy or contradiction in the Bible that just couldn't be worked out -however tenuously- even after a long period of research and prayer, you're just arriving at a new position without having bothered to do your homework. If you started out believing the Bible makes no mistakes, no matter what inaccuracies or problems showed up, and then moved to this position [that the Bible makes mistakes] because you felt overwhelmed with questions, you're still just as intellectually lazy as you were before, aren't you? I'm no fan of either position. But I think people who give up on the Bible think they've got things a little more together on an intellectual level, and they haven't.
So here's what I would call us to: Believe, as Jesus believed, that the Bible makes no mistakes. Accept it as the amazing gift from God that it is. Read it constantly, study it thoroughly, wrestle with it continually. But don't give up on it. Don't hold it to a lower standard than you would hold the newspaper to and then claim that you still believe what it says about spiritual matters. That's inconsistent - it's also copping out, in a way.
Here are some links to check out:
- Andy Naselli's chapter on Scripture for Don't Call It a Comeback
- B.B. Warfield: 'It Says, Scripture Says, God Says'
- Justin Taylor on The Pooh Perplex (A Satire on Literary Criticism)