Saturday, 2 June 2018

Can we trust the Bible? 2

At the end of the blog asking about the inerrancy of the Bible (can-we-still-trust-the-bible), there is an appendix with a number of apparent contradictions in the Bible. While I am not going to answer them one-by-one, I am going to mention a few basic principles that can help us see why most "Biblical contradictions" are nothing of the sort.

  1. Almost every event described in the Bible will only tell what was considered as the most relevant facts. We never tell a story including every single detail. Realising that some facts have been omitted, will go a long way to understanding many apparent "contradictions".
  2. Different parts of the Bible sometimes confirm what is written elsewhere (without meaning to) by providing missing information.
  3. Sometimes we simply do not know what information is missing. This is not a good reason to claim "contradiction".
  4. Much of the Bible is poetry. We should not read poetry as prose. Many so-called "contradictions" are simply a matter of not reading something as the genre it was meant.
  5. There are common usage of hyperbole in the Bible. This is especially true in the Hebrew parts of the Bible. An example (which I read today) is where it claims that Joab killed all the males in Edom, and then explains in the same passage how Hadad, the son of the Edomite king with some of his father's servants escaped to Pharaoh Shisak. "All" is often used to refer to "almost all" or "most" or "all that matter" or "all that they could" (1 Kings 11).
  6. In the same way, when describing what a king did, it is often referring to what his people or his high officials did or implemented. The above passage does not mean that David himself (or even Joab, leader of his army) killed every single Edomite male. But this was never understood in this way and it is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures to read it as such.
  7. Time plays a role. When somebody did not do something immediately it is often recorded as "they did not do it". E.g the women not telling the other disciples about what they saw does not mean that they never ever told anybody about it (otherwise, how could Mark even record it as happening?)! The importance of time when something happened, is often ignored by those who claim ¨contradiction".
  8. Similarly, place plays a role. What happened at one place with one group of people did not happen elsewhere (with another group of people). This is another source of many claimed "contradictions".
  9. Sometimes the Bible focus on one person (or small group of persons) without implying that they were the only ones there or that all of them reacted or acted exactly the same.  As an example, I have a book describing some parts of the life of the missionary "Praying Hyde". In it one colleague (Dr. Chapman) describe in a letter a period of prayer that he spent with this John Hyde and how it impacted himself and his work. There is no mention of anybody else. Then, in the very next paragraph, another colleague (Mr. Charles M. Alexander), who worked together with Dr. Chapman, describe to John Hyde's sister that he was at that meeting as well and that it was almost a whole day. Then at the end of the meeting, they called in a whole team of fellow workers to pray together. Are these two accounts contradictory? I trust that most people will see that it is not. But the Bible is frequently treated differently.
  10. Numbers are often rounded up or down. Similarly for time. A common example is where an event took some time and one author would record the time of the beginning of the event and the other the end or middle of the event (e.g. when did the women come to the tomb of Jesus). And of course, they did not have cell phones or wristwatches for exact time keeping. 
  11. The Bible often do not tell things in chronological order, but in geographical or topical order. This is another frequent reason for claims of "contradiction".
  12. There are some cases of textual corruption in the Bible (but the fact that we can identify them, already tells us something). However, they do not change the meaning of what the Bible actually teaches and are often just a side-note. The only two significant passages of which I know, is John 8:1-11 and the longer ending of Mark 16. For both passages James Snapp Jr ( has made a fairly strong case to their authenticity.

Can we trust the Bible? 1

Questions for those who insist on inerrancy:
1. Where in the Bible does it state inerrancy is an essential of Christian faith?
The words of Jesus Himself (unless of course this record is in error) should be sufficient:
"For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished." (Matt.5:18)
"If He called them gods, men to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be undone or annulled or broken),"(John 10:35"
And that Scripture says:
"The words and promises of the Lord are pure words,
Like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times."(Psalm 12:6) and "So I will have an answer for the one who taunts me,
For I trust [completely] in Your word [and its reliability]. ...
 All Your commandments are faithful and trustworthy. 
They have persecuted me with a lie; help me [Lord]! ... 
Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven [standing firm and unchangeable]."(Psalm 119:42, 86, 89)
Oh, but that does not include the New Testament? Paul was adamant that the gospel he proclaimed was not just his own: 
"And we also thank God continually for this, that when you received the word of God [concerning salvation] which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe [exercising its inherent, supernatural power in those of faith]."(1 Thess.2:13)
So does Peter, quoting the Old Testament:
"But the word of the Lord endures forever.' And this is the word [the good news of salvation] which was preached to you." (1 Peter 1:25)
And Peter considered the writings of Paul as Scripture already:
"And consider the patience of our Lord [His delay in judging and avenging wrongs] as salvation [that is, allowing time for more to be saved]; just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him [by God], speaking about these things as he does in all of his letters. In which there are some things that are difficult to understand, which the untaught and unstable [who have fallen into error] twist and misinterpret, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."(2 Peter 3:15-16) "
This passage also answers the question about how we can have so many different interpretations of the Bible. Our hearts are deceitful and we often twist the meaning of the Scriptures in order for it to say what God did not mean at all.
In this context Jesus said: "Heaven and earth [as now known] will pass away, but My words will not pass away." (Matt.24:35) ... if this does not refer to the written records of the words of Jesus, to what does it refer?
2. Did the early church have a Bible to believe was inerrant, or did they believe in the passion narrative and life of Jesus apart from sola scriptura?
How early? When they had the apostles living among them, they had the eyewitness testimony of the apostles themselves. But the apostles themselves depended on the truth and testimony of the Old Testament prophecies (and its fulfilment in Jesus) as a source of authority. Thereafter the church had the writings of the apostles (and of course the Old Testament throughout).
3. Did God give us a book to have a relationship with Him? If the Bible is the sole foundation for Christian thought and worldview, why is it so ambiguous that it could take a team of lawyers to read it, and still disagree on its meaning?
Yes, He gave as a book so that we can test the spirits. So that we can evaluate any teaching in the light of what He has already revealed. So that we can be equipped: "All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and is profitable for instruction, for conviction [of sin], for correction [of error and restoration to obedience], for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honourably with personal integrity and moral courage]; so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim.3:16-17). Is the Bible truly so ambiguous? Or is it too often ourselves who are looking for loopholes (like lawyers so often do) to avoid the full implications of what it teaches? Again, the Scripture itself teaches us that He also gave us the Holy Spirit to interpret it correctly. "So we have the prophetic word made more certain. You do well to pay [close] attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and light breaks through the gloom and the morning star arises in your hearts. But understand this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of or comes from one’s own [personal or special] interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Pet.1:19-21) The reason why we so often disagree about the meaning of Scripture is exactly because we think it is a matter of one's own interpretation.
4. Have you ever changed your views on a perfectly orthodox article of faith? If you were wrong about one view, and right, or more justified in the other view, how can scripture be inerrant when you held several legitimate views on the same set of biblical texts? I realize the claim is that it is the text that is inerrant, not the interpretation, but how is strict inerrancy maintained when so many theories about the same passages can be legitimately held?
What is a "perfectly orthodox article of faith"? If it is anything that would influence my salvation by Jesus Christ, then no, I have never had to change my views on this. Yes, I have learned a lot more about what it implies to know and follow Jesus, since I first believed in Him, that I did not know in the beginning. And yes, there has been many peripheral issues about which I was wrong (and some about which I am still not sure that I have it correct). How is it possible if the Bible is inerrant? Because we should use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Even from a purely human viewpoint we know that later Biblical authors considered those who wrote before as authoritative and it is reasonable that they knew the previously existing Scriptures. So they would not then on purpose write something to contradict previous revelations. What they would do, is to correct some wrong interpretation of previous Scriptures. In my case, I did not know the Scriptures well enough to always tell which interpretation does not clash with what is said elsewhere. And in my experience, almost every misinterpretation or false teaching (including some that I believed) was based on taking some passages out of context and not taking into account the whole Bible.
5. Is certainty a necessary condition for believing something is true? Consider other good beliefs we have in other matters and your certainty in them.
Faith in God is based on trust. If He is not trustworthy, I would not have faith in Him. And yes, I have to be certain that I can trust Him in order to believe that what He says is true.
6. Do you believe in Jesus because you have the Bible, or do you trust the Bible because you trust Jesus?
I trust the Bible because I trust Jesus (and the claims that He makes in the Bible). However, I would have no idea who Jesus is, except through the Bible. And if the Biblical record is not trustworthy and true, then who is it that I trust? My own idea of who Jesus is? Like the Jesus seminar always creating a new "Jesus" that fits with what I want Him to be? Not who He truly was and is! But let me continue with this line of argument... It is not necessary to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible to come to faith in Jesus. I only have to accept that the Bible is a reasonably trustworthy revelation of who Jesus was. But once I believe in Him and becomes his follower (a Christian), I also follow his teaching on the authority of the Scriptures. And then I do trust the Bible as the word of God and therefore inerrant. It is in the faithfulness and reliability of God that my trust in the inerrancy of the Bible is based.
7. If the Bible is perfect, what role does the Holy Spirit play in the formation of our faith?
Everything! The Holy Spirit is the One who originally inspired the Bible. And I can only understand the Bible through Him (2 Pet.1:19-21). But I can and should (1 John 4: 1 & 6) test the spirits to see that it is in agreement with what the Holy Spirit has revealed before (in the Scriptures). If not, I must reject it as not being from the Holy Spirit at all.