I graduated high school in 1969. It was the summer of Woodstock, but I knew nothing about it at the time. I spent my summer working for a burger chain, preparing for college in the fall, and having a series of meetings with two Mormon missionaries (Elders). The main point of Mormon missionaries is to encourage a person to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God for a testimony as to whether it is true.
I gather that today a person is expected to read some passages from the Book of Mormon, but I read the entire book—which I think was standard at the time. Reading it was quite a rush, and when I finished I prayed to God to let me know whether it was true. I really, desperately, wanted it to be true, but I did not receive an answer at the end of my prayer.
A Big Problem for the Book of Mormon
However, I did get something else. I happened to see a book on Mormonism by Gordon Fraser at a convenience store. I wasn’t looking for it; but I bought it. Among other things, Fraser pointed out the serious problems of archaeology regarding the supposed Hebrew population of early America claimed to be the ancestors of the native Americans, and also problems of ethnicity.
Similar challenges are found in these Wikipedia articles: Historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Criticism of the Book of Mormon, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Genetics and the Book of Mormon, and Linguistics and the Book of Mormon.
I had my answer to prayer—the Book of Mormon was not true no matter how much I wished for it to be. Interestingly, archaeology also challenges significant Old Testament claims—especially the massive number of Hebrews who are reported to have left Egypt and spent 40 years in the Sinai. There is no archaeological support for that large number. There are also serious problems with the stories of Joshua’s rapid conquest of Canaan; archaeology shows that it did not occur as written by the later Israelites about themselves.
I am not saying the Old Testament is not true at all, but we must accept that it is not completely factual and therefore certainly not inerrant.
The story goes that in 610 AD Muhammad was in the Cave of Hira when a dazzling vision of beauty and light overpowered him. He heard the word, ‘Iqra’, which means ‘read’, ‘proclaim’, or ‘recite’. But the illiterate Muhammad protested that he could not read. The angel Jibril (Gabriel) squeezed him in a tight embrace until he complied. After that, for 23 years Muhammad received and recited Allah’s messages. They came by inspiration as the need arose; he recited them, and they were recorded and became the Qur’an.
A lot of things, both good and bad, have been said about Muhammad. Several schools of Islam developed including one that is radical and violent and whose followers are often in the news. I don’t know what to think about Muhammad, but I don’t think he was an evil man or a deceiver—and he did a great deal of good. But I also think he was mistaken on many issues.
Did an angel reveal the passages of the Qur’an to him? I doubt it. But I would say that his claim of some sort of inspiration is stronger than that of biblical inerrantists. On what basis do we reject his claim and accept the much flimsier claims of inerrancy?
This is What the Lord Says
We already discussed a number of inadequate appeals to support biblical inerrancy, but there is another point to consider. The words ‘The Lord said (says)’ and ‘God said (says)’ are found more than 2000 times in the NIV text. How do we account for this? The biblical authors say so, but how did they know? Did they hear an audible voice? Did they feel a strong impression? Was it simply a prophetic literary device? Or part of a story? Let’s look at two examples.
You remember the story of King David and Bathsheba. David was fascinated with her and had her husband killed in battle so he could have her as his own wife. The prophet Nathan spoke to King David in the name of God about his deed in 2 Samuel 12:
This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’
Zechariah, a later prophet in Jewish history, states in Zechariah 7:
And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
I can relate to the immense importance of both these pronouncements; but, again, did these prophets hear the audible voice of God? Or did they feel a strong impression or simply employ a prophetic literary device? Or is this just part of a story? Does the mere fact that they are represented as speaking the words of God provide proof that the Bible contains inerrant inspiration in these cases?
I don’t think so. I would love for the Bible to be inerrant. I wish the Bible were inerrant. But my wishing the Bible to be inerrant does not make it so.
Do Inerrantists Make False Assumptions about You in Discussions?
Next time I will share 5 common false assumptions inerrantists make about me as a progressive believer. Do you think they make the same about you?
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series:
Belief in Biblical Inerrancy Must be the Second Most Damaging, Misguided Christian Belief of All
Why Do Inerrantists Think the Bible is Inerrant Anyway?
How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns: a Book Review
Did Jesus Confirm the Inerrancy and Historicity of the Old Testament?
Books and Resources on Inerrancy