A believer questions scriptural inerrancy

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Only a double-decker, supercharged idiot can NOT see the obvious intelligent design of all organic living flora and fauna. AND, for me, the Shroud of Turin is the epitome and personification of the solid proof of Jesus Christ. BUT, that is where it STOPS. I have read the Bible twice from cover to cover and must conclude that anyone who believes every word is the literal word of GOD is completely irrational. There ain't no way. It fills up my spiral notebook with tons of gross contradictions (it is absolutely loaded). AND THEN, it is replete with insanely ludicrous, hilarious, goofy tales and stories. I mean where do you want to start? With the foreskin marriage requirement, the village perverts demand for GAY sex from the traveler at the front door, Jesus cussing out a barren fig tree, etc. In the whole, Mother Goose is more believable! So, how do you legitimately reconcile the logical brain GOD affords normal people with this absurd, flat out ludicrous pap in concert with a mountain of contradictions? To do so insults our Creator and commits the ultimate blaspheme. Should you choose to answer, please don't do so by quoting some Biblical, stone age goat herder. (USA, male, over 60).

A note to the reader: I had to leave the above rant intact because the tone is an important part of this question. (I often pare down the questions for the reader’s sake.)

Answer: Greetings, brother… and I’m not afraid to call you that. First, you have identified yourself as a Christian. Second, you acknowledge the design characteristics of creation mentioned in Romans 1:18-25. Third, you are open to the possibility that a single artifact could contain an image of Jesus, and fourth, you have a sense of God’s honor — that is, you are careful not to blaspheme or insult him. Amen to all that! Your native sense about God and your faith in the historical Jesus will take you a long way… it’s just that I do not understand how you arrived at saving faith without the Bible.

You see, the “classical” thought about God is that he revealed himself in two ways: first, we learn of his power and divinity through creation (a fact which you’ve picked-up) — and we call that his general revelation. But God also revealed himself through Scripture. We call this God’s special revelation… and logic demands that the two will never be in contradiction.

Now, I’m an old duffer like you, and I’ve spent decades studying God with foci on history, philosophy, science — a lot of extra-biblical disciplines. But I have also studied the Bible continuously through those years… and here’s the thing: although many people have pointed out “contradictions” in the Bible, I’ve never found one that could stand. So, I’m more than a little curious about the contents of your spiral notebook… because it’s not just me or religious nut-cases who believe that Scripture is the Mt. Everest of ancient documents. That’s the consensus understanding of the biblical manuscripts even among atheistic scholars.

People with your list of complaints (and we see these quite a bit) often do not understand what it takes for something to be a true contradiction, how to perform literary criticism, how to apply hermeneutics (the technique of interpreting Scripture) — and they often don’t understand what the biblical manuscripts purport to do. So, at this point, I’m going to ask you something that may feel insulting… but that’s not what I’m trying to do. My only purpose here is to give you some perspective.

The first-century believers knew the doctrines of Jesus Christ first hand — and some of their discussions made it onto the written page! The Gospel of John and the letter to the Romans are good examples of this. After the first generation of believers died, scholars began studying, sharing, commentating — and sometimes even disagreeing — on what they wrote. But this is no problem: this is the process of scholarship — and it is one of the great mechanisms for keeping God’s word alive. Now, a debate may sound like a fractious enterprise, but robust arguments and rebuttals protect the integrity of God’s information. Truth wins in the end.

Now, we have a record of all this activity in the scholars’ documents (which you can verify with ease on the internet) — and it shows the data traveling from the embryonic Church right into our homes — into our Bibles! So here’s my “insulting” question: Considering that we have a two-millennia-long trail of documents that were vetted by the day’s smartest people, and that the bright light of history was shining down on the process, and that the scholastic consensus throughout history has been that the Bible is reliable… is it reasonable to think that all these scholars were wrong? … but that you got it right? Or do you think that you might be using a flawed algorithm to sort through the data?

Your specific items-of-complaint are the historical narratives of people behaving badly… sort of like in a newspaper. You may not like what those people did… but this has nothing to do with whether or not they did those things or whether the Bible is rational. For instance, the foreskin story fits in with what we know about ancient Jewish faith and practice, so without evidence to refute it (and the burden is on the refuter to provide evidence), why would you challenge it? In fact, I’m not sure why any of these historical narratives bother you.

However, if you still think that the narratives are false (and therefore, that God’s word is not inerrant) there’s a process for establishing that position: First, to earn the right of reputation, you must see what the scholastic community has to say about the issue because someone might have already covered your idea. If no one has, you are still responsible for addressing every reasonable affirmation of the story you are trying to refute — so you must dig in and learn the arguments. Then, if all these scholars have not dissuaded you, you must gather the evidence that will support your refutation thesis, and only after that, you may make your pitch. A person who knocks things down without doing the legwork is a crank, not a scholar — and his postulations carry no weight.

What I’ve found interesting in your particular situation is that you've placed great faith in the Shroud of Turin — an artifact that may have the image of Christ — while discarding the Bible… which does have the image of Christ… and this is a tell. You look at the Shroud with eyes of faith, but read the Scripture looking for Mother Goose… which you’ve found!

A mere two readings of the Bible is not enough to pass a final judgment on it. You must be in the word continually — praying and studying — and with the attitude that this is the stuff God wants you to know. In my opinion, it would be downright illogical of God to create beings like us who are optimized to read and write and not leave some written instructions. Furthermore, this same God would be able to preserve these as his special revelation to humankind… or else he would be incompetent… and certainly not omnipotent.

I’m not sure what you were looking to do with this question… other than shooting one across our bow. But we won’t change course. If the Bible is not God’s special revelation to humankind, then we should put away the accouterments of ministry, go home… and try to live honorable lives on our own.

Let me close with a quote from the goat herder Melanthius. Please note that I have bowed to your goat herder restrictions. He is a character in Homer’s Odyssey — not the Bible — and the story takes place more toward Greece’s Classical Age than in the Stone Age.

“The goatherd Melanthius answered, ‘Not a chance,
my lord — the door to the courtyard's much too near,
dangerous too, the mouth of the passage cramped.
One strong man could block us, one and all!’”

I’m concerned that the “one strong man” who blocks the doorway to God’s word is you… and all I can do is plead that you give Scripture some more prayerful readings.

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