Have you ever met a person who believed the earth was flat instead of round? I have—it was me. When I was very young one of my fundamentalist leaders taught that the earth was flat. In fifth grade I argued this with some of my classmates and one day I had opportunity to prove it from the Bible when our teacher asked me to do the Bible reading for the day (in the 1960s).
So I read from Revelation 7 in the King James Version:
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
This might sound like heavy stuff for fifth graders, but my interest was not in angels and seals—it was in a specific referenced fact: The Four Corners of the Earth. If the earth has corners, then it is flat and square—not round. One of my classmates suggested this might simply mean the four directions of north, south, east, and west. That never occurred to me; if the Bible say corners, it means corners.
Taking Bible Statements as Literal and Inerrant Facts
Most of us are not this extreme, but this silly example demonstrates the way many believers reach conclusions on much more serious matters. If the Bible is God’s actual revealed, inerrant truth, then every word it says must be literally true and any alternative is a lie; but this approach does not do justice to the writings–including the culture, limitations of knowledge, or intent.
Let me mention that not all inerrantists understand inerrancy the same way. The cases I discuss are from a ‘literal reading’ inerrancy which attributes inerrancy to the words. There is another understanding that accepts metaphor and other genre for what they are but insist that the message they intend is inerrant. While both forms are harmful in my opinion, my concern here is specifically ‘literal reading’ inerrancy.
Here, I will focus on four huge inerrancy issues that are very prominent in our world today.
Creation vs. Evolution
There is a fierce battle going on. In the mid-1800s, Charles Darwin released his theory of evolution which created great excitement. It also created an alarmed reaction among some believers who saw Darwin’s theory as a direct assault against God’s clear revelation of how life was created, as written in the inerrant Genesis chapter 1.
Other believers recognize that the Genesis creation stories are ancient reflective meditations on God and the human condition and not revealed accounts of how life came into being, but for inerrantists who consider these stories to be God’s actual, revealed truth, such alternative understandings are faithless accommodations to a Godless worldview.
In the 1960s, a vocal creationist initiative emerged promoting the particularly narrow Young Earth Creationism in which creation occurred in six literal 24-hour days fewer than 10,000 years ago. These creationist spend a great deal of time and energy writing books and debating against the science of evolution with what they call Scientific Creationism.
The fact is, however, Scientific Creationism is weak and ineffective while genuine science continues to discover that all areas of science impressively support an evolutionary understanding of life. This is now so clear to ordinary people that it is no more questioned than that the earth is a globe rather than flat.
Yet, Young Earth Creationists continue vigorously promoting their creationism as a vital aspect of true faith and belief in God—and everyone hears about it: who has not seen pictures of dinosaurs and humans roaming and working together?
This very public conflict makes believers look foolish. It also alienates many believers from the church and prevents unbelievers from considering the good news of Jesus that should be the church’s primary message. Believers lose, and unbelievers lose.
This creationism is incredibly harmful.
Condemnation of Gays
Inerrantists often take a few words from here and there in the Bible and create a big theological issue where no issue exists. This is what happens when one ignores the human sources of the Bible and tries to read every word as God’s revealed truth.
Perhaps the biggest conflict in the church today is acceptance vs. condemnation of LGBT individuals. It is a battle of condemnation and vitriol over what some consider a foundational issue of faith in God’s inerrant Bible. However, the Bible says nothing about LGBT issues. It mentions homosexual rapes and homosexual temple practices, but it says nothing about LGBT individuals and their relationships.
But inerrantists see a few isolated statements that reflect other concerns such as Israel’s relationship with surrounding cultures or a couple obscure terms on Paul’s lists of bad behavior, concoct a vicious anti-gay agenda, and call it a fundamental issue of faith and practice.
The tremendous harm that results is so clear that it hardly needs describing. We (who are called upon by Jesus to love people) inflict great pain and suffering on innocent people; LGBT Christians and their supporters within the church often leave the church; LGBT individuals outside the church are alienated so that the good news of Jesus is not heard; and we turn ourselves into bigots and bullies—which is not a reflection of the love of Jesus within us.
Condemnation of gays and associated minorities is incredibly harmful.
Preparing for the Rapture and Great Tribulation
Everyone has heard the sensational issues related to the theory called dispensationalism: the secret rapture, the rise of the Antichrist, the 7-year great tribulation, the mark of the beast—666, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple.
It is interesting that this teaching did not exist before the 1800s when one man—John Nelson Darby—saw the Bible as being filled with prophetic hints about end-times details. By coordinating these hints he formulated a complex scheme of end-time events. It was as though the Bible wrote the history of the future; charts and time-lines abounded.
People like puzzles, and they like to know insider details of the future, so it was not long before Darby’s system had a large following; they were called dispensationalists. Such flights of fancy might seem innocent enough, but dispensational theology impacts people’s lives, as well as the progress of the good news of Jesus, in terrible ways.
Pressure to be constantly ready for the any-moment rapture introduces fear, insecurity, and anxiety.
Sharing the good news message of Jesus is eclipsed by the message of the secret rapture and avoiding the great tribulation.
Because the nation of Israel is key in the dispensational scenario, full support of Israel in anything they do is considered a required Christian commitment—resulting in the long-term oppression of the Palestinians that continues today.
Since, according to dispensationalism, the world will be destroyed very soon, there is little need to care for the earth, the environment, or the needs of future generations. We are no longer transforming the earth to God’s will but escaping the doomed planet and the horrible events that are about to occur.
The teachings of dispensationalism are incredibly harmful.
The Heavy Burden of Legalism
Recently, we discussed two major harmful beliefs—that God is angry and harsh, and that the Bible is somehow inerrant. Together these two lead to other harmful beliefs as we have seen. But perhaps the overriding harmful, hurtful, and counter-productive belief they produce is legalism. We will talk about this next time.
In this series:
6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm
The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God
4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People
The #2 Most Harmful Religious Belief—the Inerrant Bible
A More Realistic Alternative to Inerrancy of the Bible
4 Huge Ways Believing the Bible Inerrant is Tremendously Harmful (Today’s Post)
How Legalism Stunts Our Spiritual Growth
How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs?
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Photo Credit 2: Christian Evolution
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Have a great day! ~Tim
Nice post Tim. That section Darby may be especially enlightening to folks. And Im shocked that someone actually taught that the earth was flat in the 60’s. I personally dont buy the north, east, west, south rationalization either… Revelation is a text that was intended to be often taken metaphorically and symbolically so details like that dont matter anyway, but the 4 corners statement illustrates the writers misunderstanding of the world being round. Our modern day science gives us the luxory of catching the writers in their misunderstandings (and proves that it wasnt dictation from God).
Yes Eric, there were flat-earthers throughout the 20th century and they probably exist in small numbers today. I used to keep up with them (not as a flat-earther, myself, but from an interest in their culture and arguments), but somehow I lost contact with them. Most were American and Australian.
Personal: I sent you a couple emails last week; did you receive them? I would like to talk to you by phone about something if you are comfortable emailing me your phone number.
Another view that still lingers, believe it or not, is the earth-centric view of the universe. I kid you not. Google “geocentrism.”
I Googled as you suggested and found this wonderful website http://geocentrism.com/possible.htm.
I actually got in an argument with a modern flat-earth believer less than a month ago…I felt like I was argueing with a delusional 5 year old, but she was quite passionate in her beliefs
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Monica, that’s amazing! I wish I could have a discussion with one; my exposure has been reading and some on-line communities. Of course they are very mistaken, but their complex arguments are so intriguing.
Like creationists, they seem to have an answer for every objection in support of their perspective–but, in the end, they make no sense overall.
Exactly. My 12 year old was with me…we were outside the school and her son and mine were friends. She told me she was pulling him out to homeschool after Christmas because she was “tired of the liberal education system teaching unproven and unbiblical theories as reality”. Young earth creationism, flat earth, dinosaurs were killed off in the flood, etc. The thought of her educating kids is truely frightening
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I agree. Fundamentalist homeschooling is woefully inadequate educationally and is also isolated from the rest of the world.
Tim, all I can say is that I so very much agree with you on every single point of this! And I’m impressed by how clearly and succinctly you express the case against the harmful inerrantist position in each of these 4 cases.
Thanks Evan. I think it just demonstrates again how close the two of us are in our thinking. I am always willing to recommend your blog https://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/ to people who like my blog.
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If “inerrant” is defined as literally true and perfect, and if the Bible isn’t an inerrant document, then what is its purpose for Christians today?
(Asking for the sake of discussion, not to argue)
Good question Beth.
I can’t make a definitive statement on the purpose of the Bible is for Christians today, but I can share how it is of extreme importance to me. First, the New Testament tells us of the teachings and actions of Jesus, written from the memories of his earliest followers. This in itself is a sufficient purpose in my opinion. It is the foundation of my life.
The Old Testament books give us insight into the Jewish thinking of Jesus’ day so that we can better understand how he interacted with his contemporaries–it gives us conceptual background. However, there is much actual merit in parts of the Old Testament too. Some of the prophets are inspiring as they talk of God’s interest in the poor and marginalized. Some of the poetry of the Psalms warm the heart as good poetry often does. Then there is the philosophical reflection on why bad things happen to good people in Job. And on-and-on.
In my opinion, it is like any other national literature. In an American literature text, we read many inspiring stories of leaders, heroes, and thinkers. Along with that are the entertaining stories of Mark Twain and the wisdom sayings of Ben Franklin. The awesome Declaration of Independence is also included.
None of these works is inerrant, and yet they are of great value. Why would we reject the collection just because it is not inerrant?
How exactly do you define inerrant? Free of contradictions and moral failings? Seems very few people agree on the same definition, which is why I hesitate to form an opinion about it.
Beth, I agree there is considerable variance in how people understand inerrancy, but since 1978, most inerrantist (as far as I know) refer to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy as the primary guide. You can read about the Chicago Statement at http://www.theopedia.com/Chicago_Statement_on_Biblical_Inerrancy which includes a link to the text of the statement itself.
Because the bible is written by men, using their understanding of the world and God, it is not inerrant, any more than any person on their own is inerrant. Once we have come into the Presence of God, we receive what God wants us to understand by reading the bible. This means that the inspiration is in the reader, not in its original writers. Communication from God in this way is what people usually understand as one of the actions of the Holy Spirit.
I always wondered what inerrant really meant when there have been 41,000 denominations since the time of Jesus, all with differing interpretations.
The divisions that occur in churches enter mainly through the contradictions in the bible, where those who are in authority, or who are trying to gain authority in it, are not able to listen to the Holy Spirit.
Beth, even if the Bible were inerrant (which it almost certainly isn’t), fallible humans still have to translate it and interpret it, and then disagreement creeps in!
Chas, I hear you and agree to an extent, but that’s rather a sweeping statement about the cause of church divisions! I would say that many divisions are caused by well-meaning and godly people being at different stages of their spiritual journeys, and being unable to see past the interpretations that come from their faith tradition.
I know many godly people, who show in many ways that they know and love the Holy Spirit, but who disagree over topics like homosexuality, or hell, or the role of women in church, or whether the Bible is inerrant. The position they take is the one that they’re currently led to by their conscience, their prayerful reading of Scripture, and their fellowship with other faithful people. But God has not necessarily spoken to them directly about the subject, or they have not yet been able to move past their church background.
By the way, I’m not saying I know the ‘correct’ position on any of these topics! I simply know that my own thinking is part of a process in which I believe God’s Spirit is involved, but I can never claim perfect knowledge, certainty or rightness.
Sure seems like the Holy Spirit tells people many contradictory things.
Beth, it is not the Holy Spirit who is telling people different things, but rather people aren’t able to hear the Holy Spirit, so the opinions that they form are their own.
Actually, nothing divides a church as fast as signs that the Holy Spirit is active in it, so it is evident that God provokes those who are not listening to Him, so that they cause division in the church. The implication is that those churches that divide had not been responding to Him in the way that He wanted them to do, and that people go to other places in which their talents/strengths will be better used.
Chas, do you understand the inspiration of the reader to ever be inerrant?
What you receive through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is inerrant for you, personally, at that time. It is what God wants you to understand at that time. It might not be suitable for someone else either at that time, or another. It is necessary to receive guidance from the Holy Spirit to discern whether that message is suitable for someone else. However, who is inspired by the Holy Spirit, other than someone who is in the Presence of God?
I can understand that inspirational insights we receive can be SIGNIFICANT to us; but to me inerrant seems far too much to claim.
If it is from the Holy Spirit, then I don’t think inerrant is incorrect, since it is a specific word for you, and God would certainly take into account your present status of mind in framing a particular message for you.
If I were more of a theologian, I would probably be able to better understand the very fine line between “inerrancy” and “literalism.” I do know that “inerrancy” is a very loaded word in Evangelical circles, and that it is used in many cases to support a literalist viewpoint (see Young Earth Creationism), or a particular interpretation of passages (see Dispensationalism). As I see it (again, with a limited non-professional theological understanding), a lot of the issues you raised don’t so much come from the belief in inerrancy as from the belief in a literalist approach to scripture – and a belief in the infallibility of interpretation. Thus, I do think that even those who hold to inerrancy may come around on specific issues while preserving the underlying belief.
This gets interesting too for those (like my own pastor) who believes in “inerrancy in the original texts,” meaning that translations are fallible – even the KJV (which you well know is worshiped in some circles) – and that perfect understanding and interpretation are impossible in this life.
On the other hand, as you have pointed out in previous posts, there is the additional problem that I would say is truly an issue of “inerrancy,” which is that the writers of the bible may not have written perfect truth. I might put this as the “The Blind Men and the Elephant” theory. If, rather than a literal dictation from the divine, scripture is written by men who saw God from a limited, human perspective (through a glass dimly, perhaps?), then I think one could say that there is a problem with errancy. The writers may have in fact been wrong about some things, viewed God through the lens of their own cultural baggage and assumptions, or at least changed their perspectives throughout the course of biblical history as a result of further revelation.
Anyway, as usual, a post that gives a good starting point for pondering.
Fiddlrts, you are always the thinker and I like that about you. There are a number of associated, but not identical, terms people use to describe the Bible: inerrant, infallible, inspired (plenary or verbal), authoritative. And I don’t think adherents of these positions always understand terms in the same way. But the thing implied in all these terms is that the entire Bible is God’s true revelation.
Inerrancy and literalism are connected, but often literalism is one way to approach the ‘inerrant’ Bible. Other inerrantists are less tied to strict literalism or propositional truth. They are comfortable that the Bible expresses some things in metaphor or other non-literal ways, yet they insist that whatever is expressed is true in its intent.
Would you believe I was raised to believe in an inerrant KJV? It’s true; whenever another translation came into our hands (like the RSV)–we burned it. I think most inerrantists today hold to the inerrancy of the original documents, but that is still looking at the Bible in a misguided way.
Tim, one further thought: surely anyone who claims that the bible is inerrant must have to keep all of the laws in the OT. If they don’t, then they are not obeying what they claim is the Word of God.
Hi Chas, inerrantists do believe that the whole OT is inspired and inerrant, but they just don’t believe that most of the OT laws apply to Christians. So they would say that the New covenant in Jesus’ blood replaces the Old covenant of the Mosaic law, and that Jesus fulfils in himself the law’s requirements on our behalf. And they use arguments from various parts of the NT (mainly Paul’s letters) to justify why Christians don’t need to keep (most of) the OT laws and religious practices, even though they’d say these things were entirely correct and God-given in their original context.
I’m not an inerrantist in any shape or form, but I’ve had a fair few dealings with them and they’re generally pretty intelligent and thought-through. Just wrong, in my view 😉
Well said, Evan. I have nothing to add.
I have a fundamentalist relative who believes the literal Biblical account of the Noah’s Ark story. I asked him about dinosaurs – were they present on the ark? He indicated that they had to be, and that carbon dating isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I admit I wasn’t very diplomatic in reminding him that just one of the biggest dinosaurs was as big as Noah’s Ark. And in order for that one to have a mate, let alone pairs of hundreds more dinosaur species, it’s not likely they were aboard.
Incidentally, I checked a 1889 Encyclopedia Brittanica for any reference to dinosaurs. None. So they were unheard of until after that.
Jo, discussing such issues with Young Earth Creationists is very frustrating–and fruitless as well. They have BOOKS! The arguments, explanations, and pictures are there available for any creationist to read and repeat. The fact that these books are filled with baseless presuppositions and really bad science is beside the point. It gives the creationist confidence that somewhere their leaders have answers.
By the way, there is an answer to the problem of large dinosaurs crowding the ark–tiny baby dinosaurs.
tiny baby dinosaurs sound so cute. 😀
Hi Tim it’s Patty! So glad you’re back to blogging again. Great article. As always!!
Hi Patty, I am glad to be back on board. As you know, my big health interruption of the past few months seems to be over, so I should be able to post regularly again.
I still don’t quite understand how Darwin’s scientific views can be held in a credible light when he held nothing more than a bachelors degree in theology. Darwin’s observations are extremely dated and never to into account nano-technology or the origins of genetic information. Evolution will not last the information age of the 21st Century. Natural selection acting on random mutations is simply child’s play.
Furthermore the word corner in Greek is “Gonia” derived from the word “Gonu” which means knee, its literally referring to an angle. You make the very common fallacy of thinking the Bible is to be understood verbatim as we read it in the English language – not so. Its important to understand Greek before commentating on the NT to thoroughly.
The Bible does not say that the world is 10,000 yrs old. Many theologians recognize a lapse in time from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 1:2. The expressions – void, darkness, and without form – are used elsewhere in the scripture in referring to a state of vanity or desolation. A good guess would be that it had something to do with the earth being Satans dwelling place after he was cast out of heaven.
Hi Nathaniel, you make some interesting suggestions.
I agree with you that we cannot read the English Bible verbatim because it is a translation, and something is always lost in translation. This is also true of the Gospel accounts of the words of Jesus. Since Jesus spoke in his common language, Aramaic, even the original Greek of the Gospels is a translation of what he said–so we are two languages removed from his words. I had two years of Greek in college, but I admit my Greek is quite rusty.
You are right that the Bible does not say the world is 10,000 years old, but that is the indefensible claim of Young Earth Creationists; other creationist admit the earth is vastly older than that. The gap theory of Genesis 1 is an intriguing theory; I am aware of a number of scenarios that gap advocates embrace for that period.
Regarding Darwin, I don’t see how his lack of an advanced degree in theology would impact his ability to study and theorize on the origins of life any more than if he were studying electricity. While his observations on random mutations and natural selection are still important in evolutionary thought, evolutionary theory has gone far beyond that today. A burgeoning area of science that confirms the general accuracy of evolution is genetics. In comparing and studying the genetic material from the genomes of different species, amazing connections are made to explain how evolution works.
With regards to Darwin I would agree that his lack of education in the field doesn’t necessarily preclude him from making sounds observations, but my point is that a person with his credentials would probably be laughed off the stage in today’s scientific community. Simply from a scholarly point of view, his opinion is not credible due to the fact hat he has never received proper education in the field which he is studying.
The process of natural selection acting on random mutations is the very heart of the theory of evolution, to dismiss such ideas as side-thoughts is to dismiss the very foundation of what evolution is built upon. With the rise of molecular Biology the fundamental question which scientist are now studying is whether its mathematically feasible for random mutations to account for the complexity of life as we now see it today. When it comes to an unguided process such as bind mutations, the odds of getting functional DNA sequences as opposed to non-functional sequences is 1 to 1 trillionth. Thus the estimated time for one new biological novelty, at the very least is somewhere around 93 million years as opposed to the 3 million years that evolutionist would lay claim to, the odds are so astronomical and impossible that no amount of time would make it feasible
Nano technology has also been a stumbling block for evolutionist, discovering irreducibly complex machines in the cell like the flagella motor are leading scientist to believe that random mutation and natural selection simply can not account for such complexity, only intelligence can. Behind the scenes many scientist like renown chemical evolutionary theorist Dean Kenyon are beginning to convert to Intelligent design because the evidence is so overwhelming
Nathanael, the creationism I oppose is specifically Young Earth Creationism. There are other believers who embrace an evolutionary understanding of the development of life guided by God. I have no argument with them.
However, the Young Earth Creationists are the ones who proposed the argument of Intelligent Design, based on non-evolutionary, direct creationism. There are some impressive points in ID that can be considered apart from YEC, but I think the primary purpose of YEC use of ID fails at the claim that the simple cannot evolve into the complex, so there must be a designer. If this is the case, what accounts for the existence of a complex designer?
Darwin’s theory was based on the Scientific Principle and the recent findings on DNA are fully in agreement with the theory. They show that all lifeforms on earth have descended from one common ancestor. The astonishing simplicity of the basic structure of DNA and its ability to produce an effectively infinite number of variations, each of which produces a valid lifeform, is surely the best evidence that there is for the existence of God.
Hi lovely Tim!
While I’m completely against any form of inerrancy you could think of, I think that most of the things you mentioned here are a result of LITERALISM which isn’t a logical consequence of inerrancy.
I think that concerns about evolution are far wider than the text of Genesis.
There are many scientists who go far beyond the data and make metaphysical statements (such as our being the product of a random unguided process) which are philosophical in nature.
And if you reject them (by believing in a guided evolution or even being agnostic about the issue) you get bullied.
As for Israel, I completely agree: https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/on-the-pain-of-being-driven-out-of-ones-own-land/
And yes, belief in inerrancy prevents Conservative Evangelicals from getting at the core of Christ’s teaching who emphasized that God does not issue arbitrary commands:
Hi Lothar, I agree that inerrancy and literalism, while closely associated, are not the same thing. Literalism is an interpretive approach to the Bible; inerrancy is the claim that the Bible is without error when interpreted correctly.
However, I believe the presuppositional commitment to biblical inerrancy creates misguided beliefs no matter whether the interpretation is literal or otherwise. The Bible is not God’s revealed word but a mixed product by writers who felt a strong connection to God, so the value of biblical stories and statements vary and cannot be considered propositional truth.
I agree with you.
But what are we to say to Evangelicals who tell us that if we consider the Bible in this way, we cannot know anything at all about God?
I recommend sending the literalists to the website I’m linking. Whether the letter truly was written to Dr. Laura isn’t all that important. It poses some interesting challenges for the literalists, along with providing some laughs! It’s called, “Why can’t I own a Canadian.”
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Jo, that post link is hilarious and straight to the point. Thank you so much for sharing it; I wish every Leviticus-legalist could read it..
Lothar, I think if their minds are made up on the matter we have no obligation to say anything to them.
Lothar, I appreciate your bringing up the important difference between literalism and inerrancy. I edited the post for clarity by adding:
“Let me mention that not all inerrantists understand inerrancy the same way. The cases I discuss are from a ‘literal reading’ inerrancy which attributes inerrancy to the words. There is another understanding that accepts metaphor and other genre for what they are but insist that the message they intend is inerrant. While both forms are harmful in my opinion, my concern here is specifically ‘literal reading’ inerrancy.”
The fundamentalist way of interpreting the Bible is literally harmful to everyone.
These fantasies play on a psychological weakness which is then forced onto everyone else.
I cannot subscribe to their way of thinking despite their threats.
Reason and reality say that they Bible is poetry and metaphor.
I will continue to view the Bible in this way.
One has to understand HOW the Bible was written. Some of it is literal and some of it is not. Some of it is metaphorical, allegoric in nature. Hebrew text is somewhat poetic. However what is written in it is Truth. Jesus was asked in John 8:38: “What is truth”. He answered that In John 17:17: “Thy word is truth”.
The Truth of the Bible Is Metaphorical—a more than literal meaning
Poetry of the Bible
David also said in Psa 119:160: ” The entirety of Your word is truth…”
Those are literal statements.
The difficulty is that the Bible contains definite contradictions, so it cannot be God’s word, as God is perfect. Thus it cannot be the Truth, although it undoubtedly contains truth and there is certainly some great poetry in it.
Chas, I’m interested to know what you see as ‘definite contradictions’ – other than the obvious big one of the difference between the OT law and the NT. For most Christians and Jesus-followers though, that’s not a contradiction but simply a profound paradigm shift in God-human relations that centres on the redeeming work of Jesus on our behalf.
Rather than contradictions, I see discrepancies (e.g. between eyewitness reporting of particular incidents in the gospels), and differences of emphasis, and the occasional factual error (such as misquoting of the OT in Matthew’s gospel). I also see certain elements that seem likely to be symbolic though they’re presented as historical (the dead of Jerusalem coming out of their graves when Jesus dies, again in Matthew’s gospel; possibly also the star of Bethlehem).
But all these are really only problematic for a post-Enlightenment understanding of ‘Truth’. If we see truth in a much deeper, broader (and more Hebrew) sense, these passages can still convey divine truth even if they aren’t 100% factually, scientifically or historically accurate. But it does mean that the truth they convey may not bear much relation to the ‘truth’ which literalists or inerrantists read from them.
Thanks for the links, Reg. They are useful, and I especially liked the one on poetry. However, I cannot say that the Bible is metaphorical–but it contains metaphor (as well as poetry and other genre that must be recognized in order to understand it better.
I will be editing this post soon to discuss the difference between inerrancy and literal reading, as this clarification is needed. I can’t agree, though, with the statement that “What is written in it is Truth.” The Bible was written by humans, and some of them grasped some truth, but not everything in the Bible is God’s truth.
As always, I find your blog thought provoking and insightful. I like the way you are able to bring articulation to very sensitive topics. As it turns out, my recent blog entry on Ezekiel 20 turned up some surprising points that highlight some of the very same issues you are trying to address with regard to Literalism and concepts of inerrancy (try three different versions of Exodus). In any regard, I admire your clarity – you make it look easy. thanks for sharing – I look forward to your next post. Peace.
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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! You have saved my spiritual Life; I stumbled across your website as I myself am in a “spiritual crisis” and I was certain that since my way of thinking was not aligned with my church that I must be an Atheist. However I have always believed in God and Loved Jesus I just have a hard time accepting the Bible as fact. I thought that there had to be Christians who thought as I did, but unfortunately they were not in my church or in my family even. Unfortunately this has strained my marriage and relationships with family and friends since most of that circle revolves around church.
Allen, I am so sorry you are isolated from others who think about their beliefs similar to the way you do, but I think you will find that there are many of us. Many of us have gone through quite a significant crisis in working through and abandoning the religious baggage we were taught.
Some of us have been on this road for quite a while, while others are just now discovering it. You should soon realize you are in good company. I hope you continue to find support and guidance, here and elsewhere, as you make this transition.
I hope you continue visiting here, and be sure to let me know if you think I can be helpful in any way.
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Hi Tim, I agree with this a lot and disagree with it a lot, that is the human condition.:0) The confusion that started at Babble still reigns supreme and that is no more noticeable than in the language of theology. That is really my bone to pick. Theological words cause division even where it doesn’t exist. I’ve never read anywhere in the Bible where it labels itself as inherent. However, I really haven’t found any mistakes in it either. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to see them. It does give me insight into some of my own mistaken ideas about things. It gives me God’s perspective on myself and the world. It is truth. It isn’t a science book. It is the history of God’s people, past, present, and future and it’s truth is spiritual. What it does say about itself is that it is spiritually discerned. What this post confirms in me is that the best theology lies in the person of Jesus. When I examine Him, nothing confuses me. He is the living Word of God. He obeyed God so perfectly, as to be God on earth. Through Him, the Will of God was done on earth as it is done in Heaven and He did it perfectly. That’s simple, straight forward, and what I need to live my life every day.
I’ve read a lot of theology and it is interesting. I like knowing how others view and experience God in their lives. Just like I enjoy reading what you share in your writing. I’ve just never found a theological point of view that I agreed, 100% with, and I think it is supposed to be that way. Theology is a kind of Tower of Babble and if we were able to obtain an entrance into Heaven because we all agreed on theology, we wouldn’t need Jesus. God doesn’t want us to be able to obtain Heaven, on our own. Christians are vessels of God’s Mercy and that can’t happen if we are so capable that we don’t require Mercy. So…I’m glad that theology is so danged confusing! lol! That too is a blessing!:0)
Pam, I have never found a theological point of view I agree with 100% either. In fact, I don’t worry about beliefs I disagree with unless they are damaging to people, and I consider inerrancy to be one of those harmful beliefs.
If you are interested in how many of us react to inerrancy, you can check my page of Resources on Inerrancy and Reading the Bible at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/inerrancy/.
But ONLY if you are interested. I have no desire to ‘convert’ you to my views.
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I don’t have any desire to make people over in my image either. Good grief! One of me is enough!lol! I think any belief can be harmful when forced on another or used to control another. I think theological beliefs tell much more about the people who hold them than they teach about God. I hope my theology exposes my love for God, others, and myself. I sing hymns to my grandchildren and the youngest calls them my “God songs”. I hadn’t seen him for awhile and he said he’d forgotten my songs but he hadn’t forgotten Jesus. I want my life to be like that, a song of Jesus that is soon forgotten but leaves others with Jesus. That is the essence of eternal life.
Type at cha later, Tim.
One of me is enough, too! Thanks for the charming comment about your grandson.
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p.s. Tim, I hope you know that I comment, extensively.;0) on your posts because they interest me. It’s a compliment. I’m not trying to rewrite them, I promise.
I enjoy your comments; it didn’t even occur to me that you might be trying to rewrite them.
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Well sometimes, I can be obnoxious.:0)
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I just wanted to say thank you for your blog and articles. I have been a Christian pretty much my whole life, leaning toward the conservative side, but in the past several years I’ve really been struggling with the beliefs that I was raised with. Now that I have a child of my own, I am aware of not wanting to raise him in a manner that leaves him with spiritual baggage. I’m hoping to come to a place of clarity in the murk, but it’s scary to see things differently sometimes (not to mention fear of what other Christians think). So thanks for being here!
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Chelsea, I am glad you have found the blog helpful (assuming that you have). Many of us who were raised conservative come to a point of questioning what we have been taught to believe. I think it is great that you are protecting your child against harmful religious baggage.
But I admit, it can be scary leaving all that stuff behind.
I don’t know how anyone can read Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1:10 and not realise that
homosexual acts are sinful. The word ἀρσενοκοίταις used in 1 Timothy is unambiguous for male sexual activity. Nothing to do with prostitution or any other get out clause.
Identical twins studies prove that homosexuality is not genetic and therefore it seems likely it is a mental condition. The fact that sexual preferences can change would seem to bear this out. Type ex homosexual testimony in ‘youtube’ and you get thousands of people who testify to this.
Try this one for starters https://youtu.be/jVTTsD9o1IM
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Bob, I think all the clobber passages from the Bible to condemn gays are easily dismissed except for Romans 1; I think it can be dismissed, too, but requires deeper consideration. I do that in this article if you are interested:
My further discussion regarding Paul and homosexuality, including a three of the passages you mention, can be found here:
These articles summarize my views of Paul’s passage used to condemn homosexuality. After reading them, feel free to continue the discussion here. Thanks for the comment.
Thank you for your reply.
I read the articles and have read numerous similar articles speculating, ‘did Paul mean ordinary homosexuals’. This was why I chose to focus on the word ἀρσενοκοίταις from 1 Timothy. Many people say that scholars don’t know what it means. This would require wilful ignorance on their part if they did. The word ἄρσεν occurs 5 times in the New Testament and means male or masculine.
The word κοίτη occurs 4 times in the New Testament and means marriage bed. In three of these it is clearly a polite euphemism for sex. In the other it means the actual bed itself. Which is why I said it was unambiguous for male sexual activity. Please explain how you easily dismiss it?
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Bob, you are correct that “Many people say that scholars don’t know what it means.” The term appears nowhere else in the Greek languages other than in NT books often attributed to Paul. It very well might have been created by Paul, and we DON’T know what it means. It has been read a number of ways in past centuries; masturbation was a common understanding.
Any analysis of this word would involve a great deal of speculation simply because we have no context in the language.
You also mention “The fact that sexual preferences can change would seem to bear this out” and refer to ex-homosexual testimonies. The fact is many of those who claimed a change of sexual preference have recanted, including leaders of change-therapy groups such as Exodus. It is true that many became married to women, but it is now pretty much accepted even by those who did so that it did not change their sexual preference.
Well as you might expect I completely disagree with your conclusions, especially the ‘pretty much accepted . . ‘. I know that God changes lives, He changed mine and the lives of thousands of homosexuals.
You seem comfortable with your beliefs and I appreciate your concern for those confused by the inerrant tradition. We all need to focus on Jesus and sharing the gospel. He didn’t command us to preach the ‘Bible’.
If you allow my comments to remain I shall be content with that.
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Bob, I know we disagree on this issue and that’s fine with me. But I do agree with you that “We all need to focus on Jesus and sharing the gospel. He didn’t command us to preach the ‘Bible’.” And, of course, I will let all your comments remain.
I wish you only the best!
I’m certainly not a legalist. In fact, I guess I’m what you might call an evangelical universalist. You made me laugh when you said, “…genuine science continues to discover that all areas of science impressively support an evolutionary understanding of life. This is now so clear to ordinary people that it is no more questioned than that the earth is a globe rather than flat.”
Really? Do you also believe other ‘official’ scientism narratives, like 911 and the moon landings? Please put your ego to the side and research these topics a little more…including ‘flat’ earth. There is no proof we live on a spinning globe…no measurable curvature; and every major scientific experiment designed to discern earth’s movement have failed to show any.
If you’re worried that certain truths might make believers “look foolish” – you may have misunderstood Jesus’ words in general.
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Justin, it has been a long time since I spoke with a flat earther; it’s kind of exciting! I have been reading and watching lengthy flat earth materials for decades but without much personal contact.
I am not afraid that certain truths make Christians look foolish; truth is truth. But, of course, I no longer hold to flat earth theories. Do you want to talk?
Before we talk about why you believe the earth is a spinning globe, I’d first like to know why you believe the Apollo missions were legit?
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Justin, the entire scientific community supports the reality of space exploration. We have continually received images and data from spacecraft we have sent into space. I don’t think there is an immense, worldwide conspiracy regarding these activities; I cannot imagine what the motivation for such a conspiracy might be; I believe the entire space exploration narrative holds together; and I find flat-earth arguments not to be compelling.
If you’ve researched the flat-earth theory for “decades”, you know there is no measurable curvature (things that should be well below the curvature of the earth remain viable) and that every scientific experiment (Michelson-Morely, Michelson-Gale, Airey’s Failure, Sagnac) suggest the earth is not moving at all.
It’s 2018 and we still don’t have a real picture of the globe earth (unless you believe the proven pathological occult Satanic liars at NASA…and their admitted CGI composite images)! Don’t even get me started on the ISS fakery.
It’s now been nearly 50 years since we supposedly put a man on the moon, but since then only ‘low earth orbit’. Also, NASA admits losing ALL the original moon landing footage and telemetry data. If this kind of information doesn’t seem “compelling” than you may be hopelessly lost in a self-imposed cognitive dissonance coma. It’s been repeatedly demonstrated that people are more likely to believe a big lie than small lies…especially from a trusted authority (God bless the USA).
Justin, I would not say I have researched flat-earth theory but I have read a lot over the years, and I am aware of arguments against the curvature of the earth.
The most prominent one seems to be that the spherical earth should have a specific arc over a specific distance, and that numerous measurements have been taken over long distances such as oceans and large continental water bodies and no curvature has been observed. I just don’t find these claims compelling.
I don’t recall the experiments of Michelson-Morely, Michelson-Gale, Airey’s Failure, Sagnac by name, so I can’t respond to specifics.
We have all seen photos of Earth from space, and I am aware that they are sometimes composites and involve patching with duplicate patches. But again I don’t find the argument of a conspiracy compelling. Why would a vast, worldwide scientific community make up this deception? Why would they perpetrate this ‘big lie’?
It is true we have not returned man to the moon or to Mars, but we have sent numerous unmanned probes to various places in the solar system and have data and pictures from them.
You say, ‘If this kind of information doesn’t seem “compelling” than you may be hopelessly lost in a self-imposed cognitive dissonance coma.’ Disparaging people and calling them stupid is an ineffective argument. And, by the way, I have no cognitive dissonance over these issues; that would mean that I have difficulty resolving conflicting beliefs, and that is not the case.