Is the Bible Inerrant? It is Not and Here’s Why

Much of the problem of baggage among those who believe in Jesus is due to an incorrect understanding of the nature of the Bible. Many Christian traditions teach that the Bible is the absolute word of God: authoritative and inerrant.

Holy Bible

God Said It and that Settles It

Some years ago, a popular phrase, often seen on bumper stickers, stated:

‘God said it! I believe it! That settles it!’

The theory of how this works varies. Some believe God essentially dictated the words to the various biblical authors, while others believe the words are those of the authors but that God revealed the content; either way they believe the Bible is revealed knowledge. The claim is also made that the Holy Spirit somehow protected the Bible from any error.

This understanding leads to claims about the Bible expressed in such terms as biblical authority and biblical inerrancy. Biblical authority means that everything the Bible says is true and binding on us. Biblical inerrancy means that the Bible is true in every detail so that there are no contradictions between the Bible and history, between the Bible and other knowledge, or within the Bible itself.

Destructive Conclusions from Inerrancy

I believe commitment to these understandings of the Bible create terribly destructive results, such as ideas of what God is like:

• God is a god of wrath
• God ordered wars and genocide
• God demands the death penalty for a wide range of offences
• God particularly despises homosexuals
• God torments his enemies in hell for eternity

This is a god of anger, hate, and violence; I don’t think I am interested in following this god. This god also does not tally with the insight into the Father that Jesus gives us in the Gospels.

There are many more negative ramifications that arise from this commitment to the Bible as revealed knowledge throughout. In our day, one such issue results in divisive battle lines between some believers and the rest of us over creation and evolution.

Because of the first chapters of Genesis, certain Christians insist that the entire idea of evolution is a lie and a conspiracy. We are told that evolution is not science at all and that the creation was a special project of God, in which God created the species’ separately, and that mankind was also created separately.

Another issue is patriarchy, which sees a very specific biblical order for the family in which women are subject to men and cannot make their own decisions–especially spiritual ones–and cannot provide leadership; this is very demeaning to women. Children are also very restricted. Men are dominant in every area of life. This often leads to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

The Nature of the Bible

If the Bible is not revealed knowledge, then what is the nature of the Bible?

Let us consider the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the story of a people who felt they had a special relationship to God from the time of Abraham to the time of the return from Babylonian captivity—a period of about 1500 years. It is a collection of books that includes history, wisdom, poetry, and the preaching of bold prophets in times of crisis.

I do not believe the Old Testament books are fraudulent or valueless, but neither are they a collection of revealed knowledge. Instead, they are books written by people who felt strongly about their identification with God and who wrote within the limitations of their eras, their cultures, and their understandings of God.

Some things in the Old Testament are particularly difficult to accept. Do you struggle with accepting parts of the Old Testament as God’s truth? Next time, we will discuss the nature of the Old Testament.

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This entry was posted in authority, baggage, Bible, inerrancy, Old Testament. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Is the Bible Inerrant? It is Not and Here’s Why

  1. Pingback: The Old Testament Writers and God | Jesus Without Baggage

  2. John Bussone says:

    But Jesus said that all of the Scriptures, Genesis – Malachai, point to me. You study[c] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. Jn. 5:39

    I am all for removing the Bible from an equality with the Trinity which it seems at times some are doing, but I don’t know if I want to lower it as far as you have taken it.

    John Bussone

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    • Hi John, thanks for sharing your perspective; I find it perfectly acceptable! The problem for me is the postition that the Old Testament writings are ‘God’s authoritative, inerrant word’. You and I are probably close enough in our thinking that the difference doesn’t matter much. Thanks again and have a great day! ~Tim

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  3. This is a very important subject. I have a post on my site about it too specifically focusing on some wife-sister narratives (for ref: http://www.christianevolution.com/2013/06/bible-inerrant-wife-sister-narrative-genesis.html ) and it got lots of debate on facebook. I find that once someone can accept that the Bible is not inerrant it opens a whole new world which can be challenging, scary, and quite exciting.

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    • Hi Eric,
      Thanks for the kind words! I had read your post you mention (through Google+ I think) and I now follow your blog by RSS. I think belief in inerrancy is a major block to understanding the Bible. I look forward to interacting with you!

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  4. Pingback: Problems of Biblical Inerrancy | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. Michaeleeast says:

    The Bible is thought by scholars to be a collection of writings by various writers throughout history.
    The writer is not necessarily the person who received the revelation.
    And it may not have been written down for hundreds of years.
    “The water takes on the color of the container.”
    This is a Muslim saying about revelation.
    It means that the revelation is colored by the character of the prophet.
    This is my understanding of the Bible.

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  10. Tiffani says:

    Great thoughts. Just as you said, I’ve come to realize that “biblical authority” and “inerrancy” and “divine inspiration” tend to mean different things to different people.

    I think the phrase “biblical authority” is problematic to the extent that it suggests that the biblical text itself is the foundation of knowledge, and that all other experience and knowledge gained is subservient to it (thus, the human origins debate).

    However, I don’t think we have to give up the idea of biblical authority itself as long as we start from the foundation that Jesus “expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3, NLT). Looking at it this way, all the OT, including and especially the stories of OT violence, should be seen through lens of the Gospel and Jesus’ teachings.

    I can’t say I’m sure what that means for how to interpret those stories (I’ve read a lot of different ideas about that, some of which make more sense than others), but it does make me more comfortable with affirming the divine inspiration and even the authority of all of scripture, even the parts that prick (and sometimes downright sear!) my moral sensibilities.

    I’m not sure I can believe the Bible is just ordinary literature, yet claim Jesus as my savior. It seems to me that divine inspiration of the Bible and belief in the incarnation must go hand-in-hand.

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    • Tiffani, I really like your observation, ‘The phrase “biblical authority” is problematic to the extent that it suggests that the biblical text itself is the foundation of knowledge, and that all other experience and knowledge gained is subservient to it (thus, the human origins debate).’

      I agree.

      I think the bible is ordinary literature, but the New Testament tells an extraordinary story about an extraordinary person from the memories of his earliest followers. Even if the Bible is not inspired in some way, I trust the reaction to Jesus from his earliest followers.

      I know this is not enough for everyone, and that’s okay.

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  11. Andrea says:

    Within one language there is so much room for interpretation of Biblical passages, especially when they are read out of historical context. So imagine how much room for error there is for a translation from languages as incredibly different as ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and modern English!! Hell is one good example of a blatant misinterpretation that has lead Christian scholars and poets like Dante Alighieri to believe that there is a place of eternal punishment. I prefer to commune with God through private worship, like how Jesus said in the Bible so many times, emphasizing the vitality of praying in private. Cherry-picking is necessary, but I do my best not to just pick and choose the parts I “like” best, but the ones that match what God tells me through prayer.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I think you are absolutely right about the languages, Andrea. Your comment on ‘cherry picking’ resonates with me. I am often accused of cherry picking passages according to my desires instead of using more objective criteria. There is no other book in the world that believers think we should accept without some sort of analysis and discretion.

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      • Andrea says:

        Thank you! After all, the Bible of today is not really “the” Bible, there are many many millions or billions of Bibles, all made from paper and ink in big factories around the world, and all those material things are in no way representative of God’s divinity. When I read my copy of a particular translation of the Bible, I look at it for the man made material object it is and try to decipher through man made corruptions in the story. At the same time, I think it’s beautiful to read about how Luke, Mark, and the others could all have such different perspectives on the same scene that unfolded before them. Perhaps that was meant to be, to show us that different expressions of the same truth are still the truth and that we need not condemn our sisters and brothers for interpreting Biblical passages differently from how we ourselves do. What blessed men and women, to have actually seen and spoken with the real flesh Jesus / Yeshua!

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  12. freec78 says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog, John. While I’m at odds with some of the foundation that you have built upon, I love that you state your point and debate those with differences in a congenial, open manner. Very much a reflection of the Christ I follow in that regard.

    I am a proponent of the Bible as the inerrant, authoritative Word of God. That being said, I believe we must interpret the scripture in the context it was intended rather than taking a wooden, literalistic approach. You seem to agree on that point.

    I can see no way around the inerrancy and authority of the Bible without completely denouncing verses like 2Timothy 3:16 or John 1:1 among others. In apologetic discussions, I have been countered with the question of whether you can trust a document that claims itself as an inerrant authority…that’s for each individual to decide and, for me, where faith comes in. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Applying this truth (assuming you believe it is true) when I arrive at junctures where my world view doesn’t align with that of the bible gives me a compass to follow rather than a dice to roll.

    Lastly, I believe that a faith (any faith) in absence of a firm, authoritative foundation that the believer can stand on to be infallible is a faith in peril. Without such a foundation, that faith will become a diluted, convoluted mess subject to personal whims, world views and perceptions of the truth. Believe me…the Bible does NOT align with what many of my personal desires would like it to say. (Thankfully so). Without confidence in it’s inerrancy, I would have long ago bent it to meet my desires.

    Thanks again for sharing your view and fostering open and congenial debate on your site. As I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s a rare find among faith based sites. It’s rare that I read the comments on a similar post at other sites without finding swords drawn three posts in…

    Standing Firm on the Authoritative and Inerrant Word,

    Shane in Arkansas

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Shane, I am glad that you stumbled upon my blog; I hope you continue to visit and participate. Thanks for the comment on my discussion with those who disagree with me as being congenial and open. This is exactly what I strive to do.

      It also seems that, though you are an inerrantist, you do not take it to extremes as many believers do who develop unfounded and harmful doctrines. Thanks again for your visit and comment!

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  13. Chas says:

    Hi, freec78. It could be argued that you either take the Bible to be inerrant, or you have to discard it all as the works of man. If it can be shown to contradict itself (as I believe that it can) then it has to be argued that the parts that self-contradict cannot be from God, because God is perfect. The question is then: which other parts are from God and which are not. Only God can show us that.

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  14. Pingback: Is the Bible Inerrant? It is Not and Here’s Why – rb | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Anthony Paul says:

    Hi Tim:

    This is a very difficult subject for me as I believe it is also for so many others; who can’t admit that he or she has not been troubled by many depictions of God in The OT at one time or another? Having said that, I will only add that as a whole, I have enjoyed The OT very much as it has so much to offer us in its richness of poetry and symbols. I have found The Psalms, as an example, as a great source for filling in some of Jesus’ life prior to His ministry through the type of King David. The early parts of The Book of Genesis are rich in symbol and myth as regards the creation of the cosmos and of man; the question as to whether or not the story of The Fall of Man is symbolic or literal is not, in my opinion, as important as the fact that The Divinity is trying to communicate a truth to us about man’s coming on to the stage of creation… and man’s subsequent loss of innocence.

    But in any case, the purpose of this post is not for me to get into this rather complicated discussion because I believe that you have given us a lot just to think about here before going any further. What I really wanted to say will only serve to reiterate what several others have already said about this site: I have only been a part of this forum for about a week now, and I feel that I must commend you and all the others here today for the manner in which this discussion is going; I have been in and out (mostly out) of many “christian forums” in the past and I could easily see a discussion on such a difficult and potentially emotional subject descend into a mire of argument and recrimination and anger. Thank you, Tim, for presenting your ideas and discussions in such a manner as to give each of us such a non-threatening place to go in order to think through our own ideas without having those thoughts attacked and diminished in any way. Indeed, I have found the comments themselves to be a great addendum to the initial blog because of the honestly searching and well-balanced manner in which they are presented. Thank You All!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony, I really enjoy your comments, and I hope you continue with them. I am pleased that you find the comment discussions useful and civil. Fortunately, I had commenters from early on that modeled good comment interaction. There have only been very few individuals whom I had to address about their attitudes.

      I agree that the Old Testament is a rich source of excellent reading, though parts of it are mere tribal posturing. We have to keep in mind, though, that it was written by people who identified closely with God but who wrote under the limitations of their eras, cultures, and limited understanding of God.

      I am glad you found the blog and enjoy it. I look forward to your future interactions.

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  16. SteveG says:

    Thanks for this post; this is such a challenging and important topic. I’ve found Peter Enns and Derek Flood to be very helpful when navigating how to think of and interpret the Bible. The constant challenge in my mind is how to take biblical scholarship seriously and still grow in my trust and faith in God. I have a tendency to want to understand the meaning of scripture in the time and place it was written, which is good, but I can make it overly academic, making it harder to experience God’s grace and love. So often we Christians equate certainty and submission to the “plain meaning” of scripture with spiritual maturity, which sets up a pecking order that makes honest questions and learning difficult.

    Are there books you’ve read that have shaped your thinking about the Bible?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Steve, I really like both these guys–especially Peter Enns. And I agree with you on the importance of reading the Bible in context. I suggest a focus on the story of Jesus written in the gospels from the memories of Jesus’ earliest followers. In my opinion, this is the most important part of the Bible, as Jesus tells us the good news–including God’s unconditional love.

      Over the past fifty years or so, I am sure I have read many books and articles that have shaped my thinking on the Bible, though a lot of them were not specifically written to that topic. But my most important transition occurred during a severe spiritual crisis period that lasted more than a year and resulted in my discovering Jesus, rather than an inerrant Bible, as the foundation of all my belief. I write about that here:

      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/about-tim-chastain/my-spiritual-crisis/

      Today, I highly recommend Enns’ book, ‘The Bible Tells Me So’. I also have a list of articles by myself and others on inerrancy and reading the Bible (along with a link to Enns’ book) at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/inerrancy/ if you are interested.

      I hope you find these resources helpful. Let me know how else I can help.

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  17. Loren Haas says:

    Two books that have helped me in this subject are Peter Enns, “The Bible Tells Me So” and Adam Hamilton’s “Making Sense of the Bible”.
    Enn’s comes from a mostly scholarly (although very readable) approach and Hamilton is more pastoral. They come to similar conclusions as you. Our church offers these to congregants who want to learn a more nuanced view of Scripture. Highly recommended.

    Liked by 1 person

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