***This has been reposted from a previous blog with a few minor edits.
My philosophy professor in college, Dr. Skip Forbes, used to have a mischievous grin on his face in our college New Testament class. He would hold up his worn, leather bound Bible in the middle of class and declare, ‘This book did not drop out of heaven one day.” He would go on to explain that the Bible was the product of many people writing (or orally transmitting the accounts) over thousands of years, multiple authors, diverse cultures and several languages. The Bible, as affirmed by us Christians as the Word of God, stands as the most influential and well regarded book in the history of western civilization (and one could argue the world entire). Thinking of the Bible as the Word of God leads Christians to attribute the Bible to be inerrant in its accounting of history and events as well as infallible in the authority of the book in a believer’s life.
Wayne Grudem, author of Systematic Theology, has this definition of inerrancy: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. This definition focuses on the question of truthfulness and falsehood in the language of Scripture. The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth, and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true.” (pg. 90-91)
This definition makes sense according to the Christian perspective of God. God is holy and perfect therefore the Word that He inspires should be inerrant and true in the discussion of events and history contained therein.
I’ve heard pastors speak from the pulpit about how to handle people who say the Bible has errors. The pastor usually says something akin to this, “Well, we hand that person our Bible and say, ‘Show me where? Where are the errors?'” The pastor usually has some story about the skeptical person not being able to find an error. Of course, this challenge is based on a presupposition that is very true. Most people don’t KNOW the Bible. Most people in our society can’t name the ten commandments. Some people think the sermon on the mount has something to do with baseball. Most people in the church don’t know the Bible very well and even if they do, they have not intensely studied the text. How can they be expected to find an error if an error even existed?
Bart Ehrman is someone who has studied the Bible for a good part of his life and has entire sections committed to memory. Personally, I first heard of Bart Ehrman while listening to a podcast sermon by John Piper. Piper mentioned in passing a guy named Bart Ehrman who was from his alma mater, Wheaton College (I wonder if these two guys were perhaps classmates). Piper commended his congregation to pray for Dr. Ehrman who “had walked away from the faith.” I believe this was after Ehrman published his New York Times bestselling “Misquoting Jesus” in 2006.
Anyways, before Wheaton College, Ehrman had attended Moody Bible Institute. Ehrman claims that by all accounts he was a professing conservative, evangelical Christian. The story continues with him attending Princeton Seminary where he claims he was ready to argue with the “liberal” professors for the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. I’m assuming his “discoveries” about the Bible happened over time but he came to the place of being convinced of Biblical errors which threw him into a whirlwind of doubt. Ironically, he claims that the alleged Biblical errors are not what made him leave the faith for agnosticism but his trouble of dealing with the issue of theodicy.
I plan on writing one more blog post about my responses and challenges to Dr. Ehrman after reading his book, “Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and why we don’t know about them”. This book is not a grand work of theological, non-fiction literature and I find that he repeats himself fairly frequently in these pages, but this book’s ideas in many ways have challenged me in my Christian convictions about what I think of the Bible.
I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus Christ is divine and fully man and that He rose from the grave. I won’t be discussing those issues, per se, but will be talking about how we view the Bible as it is the Word of God.
Let me end with a question: if there were discrepancies, seemingly contradictory accounts, or difficulties in the Bible…how would this affect your Christian faith?
***A final footnote: Go back and read Grudem’s definition of inerrancy. Notice how he says, “original manuscripts” when referring to inerrancy. Most church doctrinal statements have these same words. We don’t have the original manuscripts.