No mistakes? Really?

Have you ever been in one of those conversations about the Bible? You know, the kind where someone claims that the Bible is "without error"? I used to get into those, but have for some years found better things to do. Perhaps you're one of those "someones."

But it's not a bad question. Is the Bible inerrant? Is it trustworthy? Does it have mistakes?

Have you ever been in one of those conversations about the Bible? You know, the kind where someone claims that the Bible is "without error"? I used to get into those, but have found better things to do for some years. Perhaps you're one of those "someones."

But it's not a bad question. Is the Bible inerrant? Is it trustworthy? Does it have mistakes?

Before we can answer the question, we need to ask one: What do you mean by inerrant? Is it that the basic message of the Bible reliable? Or is it that every word is accurate? Or, as some Orthodox Jews hold, is every letter given directly to Moses by God? Or is the Bible reliable in its basic "spiritual" teaching, while not historically reliable? Or are we taking only about the "original manuscripts" and not what we can hold and read?

It's a swamp. And it's a swamp that I don't want to enter. Been there, done that, and don't like it. No good thing comes from it.

Nevertheless, I was thinking of this question again while reading Esther. It's a great story. But this time, I read in a text used by the Roman Catholic and a few other denominations, one that comes from Greek, not the Hebrew that's the source of most Protestant Bibles.

This was my first time through the "Greek version," and here's what I found: Esther in either version is a fascinating story, but in the Greek-source text, it's even more interesting. The names are somewhat different, which is to be expected from a different language. The story line is the same, but the Greek version is much more dramatic, with many details missing from the Hebrew. It's great reading.

But the question comes: Both are recognized by major Christian bodies as scripture. But by most commonly used definitions, they can't both be right. They don't say the same things. Which is the "inerrant word of God"?

The problem is bigger than Greek vs. Hebrew Esther. Even if we stay with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, there are many places where a word may be questioned. There are a good many of these, though as a percentage of the whole, they are a tiny number. But they are undeniably there. So how do we defend inerrancy?

I don't.

First, the Bible never claims it is without error.

Second, the little detail kinds of errors are irrelevant, and make no difference in anything of substance.

So can we depend on the Bible? Is it "true"? Yes and yes.

First, we have to ask what is the purpose of the Bible? Why does it exist and what can we reasonably expect from it?

The answer is simple: The Bible exists to reveal God and enable us to know him. Everything else is secondary. It is not a history text, though it contains many historical accounts. Neither is it a science text or even a textbook on theology.

The essential literary form of the Bible is narrative. A story. Contained within that story are poetry, history, teaching, and more. But they are all a part of the narrative.

So what's the point?

The point is that God went to great lengths to reveal himself to us, to give us information about himself, so that we might know and relate to him.

If we argue about points of theology, about historicity, about young- or old-earth creation, and miss knowing the God revealed to us, we have missed the point.

For the early church, their conversation had one focus: Jesus. In Jesus we can know God. In Jesus we find the culmination of God's revelation of himself.

Our conversation, therefore, needs to be about Jesus, not old earth, not inerrancy, not anything that takes the place of Jesus. While perhaps not unimportant matters, those questions are far down the list.

So, we read Esther - the Hebrew or Greek version - to see a wonderful account of God's acts in protecting and rescuing his people, about God's faithfulness. And we see the same God's rescuing actions and faithfulness come to life in Jesus.

Let's forget the silly arguments and talks about Jesus. In him there is life, and in him there is good news.

18 Comments

I am trying to find what I cannot, which is the fundamentals of "truth". All I get are Sunday School stories. Take Satan, eg. Where did he come from? If God created him, did He not know what would result? In Milton, Satan has the best line, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven!" Well, of course!" Who wants to be a serf for eternity? So who can explain these improbables to me? My wonderful minister cannot, and even Dr. van Tyl was not forthcoming. Hopeful, Rob

Very good post Mr. Baden. I especially like the observation that God seeks to reveal Himself to mankind through what is written. My own observation is that God holds Himself responsible to give accurate information about Himself or risk becoming a subjective entity defined by humankind's whims and fantasy. The Jewish pentateuch especially presents The Deity as absolute. From the exacting details given in constructing the Tabernacle to the arduous laws and ordinances governing Jewish daily life, God goes to great pains to reveal Himself absolute
and keenly aware of all that is happening in the space-time continuum. With this revelation recorded in written form as well as all recognized scripture that ensue there can be no mistaking who God is for the risk of ignorance is too high.

Hello Rob,

Thanks for the comment. What specific questions are you asking? Surely something of more substance than the origin of Satan. If you care to post a question (one at a time is plenty) I will be happy to discuss it with you. But as you criticize the "Sunday School answers," please understand that your example on the origin of Satan is a Sunday School question. Nevertheless, if that's your question, I will discuss it with you.

Why do you say why this is Sunday School? This is the kind of put-down I always get when I ask serious questions. If God created Satan and God is omniscient, then God must have foreseen the results. Then why are babies incinerated in house fires, or women raped and murdered in African turmoil? How do you escape the fact that God must have thoughtfully created EVIL and inflicted upon us while knowing what would result? This is NOT a trivial question. Please do not patronize me. Rob

Hello Rob,

Welcome back. I was hoping you would return.

First, my apologies if I seemed patronizing. That was not my intent.

Second, I think you aren't asking the right question here. You answer your own question about the origin of Satan when you say God created him. In fact, there aren't many options, are there, if we take Satan as an actual being. (I do.) So the question you are asking, if I understand you correctly, deals with the origin of evil: If God created everything, then God created evil. Am I close?

This is a question attacked with mixed success by philosophers and theologians for centuries. But it is, nevertheless, a "modern" question. Ancients would have never asked it.

The question assumes that evil is a created "thing," that evil is an entity that has an independent existence and had a beginning -- as evil -- somewhere. But that's not the case. There is no objective, independent "thing" that we can identify as evil, where evil is the essence of what it is, and not a description of what it thinks or does.

What God created was beings -- you and me -- with choice. His purpose was not that we use that choice for evil, but rather that we use it to know him. But choice is choice, and we chose then and choose now against God. That's the source of evil, in my opinion: we choose against God.

The question then comes, Why does God tolerate evildoers? Why not simply wipe all the bad guys out? But the question assumes a "them and us" arrangement. There are people who do bad things -- those other guys -- and there are people like you and me, the good ones. But in fact, there are not two kinds. There are not good and evil people. We all choose against God, and the difference is only in degree. So if God were to wipe out evildoers, where would he stop? In the end, there would be nobody left. And God would have to start all over, with the same problem. Pointless.

I look forward to your thoughts on this.

For what it is worth to many. Respectfully, all reading material digested by the human mind, from wheths is came. From understanding of our inviroment, from seeking the maker of oneself, and just from seeking to make sense of life then and now.

If you cannot see that you are in a moving object with little and fragile protection from space. If you cannot see how fragile one is of the billions of cells tring to keep together to live in harmony and one should. Then there is true validility of throuhging out everything you hear, smell, and other wise.

Just a thought

Frank,

Thanks for your comments. I want to respond, but I am having trouble knowing how. I can't really understand what you have written.

I'm slow getting back==was in Santa Fe for two operas. Glorious! Your discussion was good and I take it that you claim God has given us free will, but this is not compatible with omniscience, as some religions have accepted: "The moving finger having writ--". NO one can change what God has foreseen. Unless the theory of omniscience is abandoned, we must not punish criminals, eg. Life becomes pointless, God already knows who will go to heaven. But if you toss out omniscience, then why couldn't Satan win? Is the Good vs. Evil struggle actually open-ended? Regards, Rob

Hello Rob,

Welcome back. I wouldn't mind going to Santa Fe myself, though for reasons other than opera.

Your premise is that to know is to control. It's a common argument, but I think one not supported by the world around us. It's easy to find examples where something is known in advance, and yet neither caused nor controlled by the one who knows. The fact that God knows in advance the outcome of a circumstance doesn't necessarily mean he determines that outcome. If that were the case, why has he let this world get into the mess it is? It's clearly not what he had in mind.

There is a theological tension between the sovereignty of God and the free choice (limited as that might be) of humankind. My belief is that God built a measure of freedom into us -- in a way, limiting his own sovereignty -- giving us the power to choose. His motivation for that, I think, was to give us the companion ability to love and to enter into an intimate, conversational relationship with him and each other. As control increases, opportunity for depth relationship decreases.

It's a situation where God cannot maintain absolute control and still have the opportunity for relationship that he seeks. So he relinquished a measure of control.

The question isn't about control. This is a red herring. In simplest possible terms, Is God omniscient or not? Yes or no? There is no middle ground unless one claims He is like a fortune teller--sometimes right, sometimes wrong. That's a hard sell to anyone. Again, no one can alter what He has already foreseen. There can only be free will if the future is uncertain, even to God.

Well, I don't see any "red herring." And I think there is an issue of control. After all, if God's foreknowledge locks in a given event, then there is a de facto control -- by someone. If the only one with the foreknowledge is God, and he is also sovereign and omnipotent, then he certainly must have control.

The Bible -- the primary source of our knowledge of God -- is clear about the tension between our (limited) freedom to choose, and God's sovereignty, knowledge and power. If people have no freedom to choose (and act on that choice) then in justice they cannot be held accountable for their choices. But that flies in the face of everything we know to be true. We are accountable. Even our human societies reflect that principle.

In some ways, it's a tension that's difficult to rationally resolve, but the Bible makes no attempt at philosophical discussions. What it does say is that God is relational and seeks to be in relationship with people, and shows that by demonstration. But in order to have that happen, people must have the freedom and ability to choose, either for or against God. I think there is an inherent conflict there, but that's a condition that exists in any relationship with potential for intimacy.

OK, we're not getting anywhere. Example: Are we to suppose that God was flabbergasted when Eve bit the apple? Really? IF so, fine. Then we do have free will and we constantly astonish Him. Trouble is, I haven't found anyone who thinks of Him that way. But if he knew what Eve was about to do, then she was stuck! And we have been paying for her forced move ever since. Either way, there is a major problem here, whether anyone admits it or not.

I don't think God was or is "flabbergasted" by anything, though the obtuseness of humanity might come close. I don't think any reasonable argument or scenario required that he react in that manner. There are many possible options.

Trying this from a different direction: I think you see God as bound by time, and therefore subject to the limitations of time. However, he is not in time, and exists outside of and independent of time. Because of that, he can simultaneously look at the moment of my birth, my present life as I type this, and the moment of my death, He can know everything about it, but not cause or influence it. He certainly has the ability to influence, a conclusion required by the agreed attributes, but there is no reason he is required to use that ability.

In your example of Adam and Eve, God could know what Eve was about to do and permit her to carry out the outcome of her decision. That raises no logical or philosophical issues for me. I may agree that we have paid for her action, though I would also argue that we have shown ourselves quite adept at following her lead, and a lot of our mess is of our own making. God did not control her decision and he does not control ours.

Your hypothesis is untestable since time is one of the dimensions of the Universe (I am a re tired physicist/math from Caltech). This means in turn that God exists outside the Universe (and others?). This is possible but most likely will always remain so, at least in our time. So we are left with Faith only and no logic. As I pointed out to my philosophy professor, without logic but faith only, you can believe in anything that pleases you--vampires, perhaps. This is not the way I choose to organize my life. Thanks for the discussion, anyway. Regards, Rob

Well, I think you're right: Some things are "untestable," at least in the scientific sense, and this question of God's relationship to time may well be one of them. And I think you are right on another point: God does exist outside our universe, or what we think of as reality. The concept of a parallel reality is not a new one, and has been around for a long time, in both the worlds of theology and science fiction.

But I think the existence and perhaps something of the character of God is "testable," even is by indirect means. (Incidentally, I am a retired US Air Force weather forecaster, and am hence more comfortable with a "science" that has a bit of the unknown and dark arts in it.)

In the Bible, Jesus said his followers would be characterized in certain ways. One of those was that they would heal the sick. This idea of healing sick or injured people, merely by praying in the name of Jesus, is beyond the normal power of any human being. I simply cannot tell someone with a bleeding wound to be healed, and hope to have it happen, and probably, neither can you. But Jesus did, according to the gospels, and he also said those who followed him would do the same things he did.

So -- admittedly as an act of desperation -- when my young daughter was injured in an accident and bleeding profusely, and there was no medical facility to run to (we were not in the US), I, again, as an act of desperation, asked God to heal her, in the name of Jesus.

And we watched, in amazement, as her wound healed to the point of totally disappearing, in seconds.

That, it seems to me, demands explanation. These things cannot be ignored, and they say something important about God.

Well you are all having quite the discussion- I am a beliver but sadly I also have many questions- and I sometimes find it hard to stomach when someone simply accepts something withoutout question-

The bible- the actual book-it has been altered, disected,taken apart and put back together to suit whoever happened to be in power at that time eg Constantine and his mother. They took out what they wanted and added what they wanted to uphold control among the masses- this is a historical fact- it seems that some people simply don't want to know about these things- this troubles me-

When I read the bible I do think- is this accurate- is this really what happened - was this changed- did that person really say that etc.These are also questions that I ask God directly and I pray for the truth to be made clear for me-but seeing the big picture often has trial and error and does take time -

As for God being all knowing - I believe this to be true- however we also know that no one or no thing is perfect except God-

It's the Matrix concept- when the machines made the Matrix a Euphoria the human mind rejected it- it is checks and balances - positive and negative- there must be balance among all things-

God either knew that Eve would bite or he knew that it was 50/50 incomes free will

God created all the angels and knew that they may not all follow him for eternity- but if he did not create them in fear of one bad apple than all he rest would not exisgt either- same goes for humans-

If you do not know bad- how do you really know good-

A poor man appreaciates a financial gain and knows it's worth and is grateful- a man who has only known wealth takes it all for granted and has no idea what he has or what it takes to achive it-

It comes down to choice and how you chose to look at things-

My theory on free will is that no matter what there will always be a choice- I think that God made the universe so that one day we could scientifically prove everything- Leaving God in the dark- I think no matter how advanced we become it is still a choice- you believe or you do not

This of course does not mean having no questions-having free will means there will always be questions- and we should not be afraid to ask them- especially while talking with God

Sorry for rambling-

Truth is what you make of it. The bible says what-so-ever thou shall hold true on earth God will hold true in heaven. Long story short...You can take a phrase like "better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven" and run with it in any direction you want. However, will all reign in Hell? All history tells us that when there are to many cheifs and not enough indians mutany will revolt. The Heavenly idea of a Utopic society is more along the lines of coexsisting with devotion and adoration for each other. This is achieved only through understanding. That is why the learning never ends. The more we know the more we understand. We learn best in small increments. We don't get overwelmed in small increments. Maybe that's why all of life's lessons aren't all given to us in one day.

Rob, if you think God is outside of logic, I would recommend a few books to you. "Return to Reason" by Kelly James Clark is a good one from what I've heard, as well as "Warranted Christian Belief" by Alvin Plantinga, one of the more well-known Christian philosophers and thinkers of our day. Additionally, I would suggest something like J.P. Moreland's "Love Your God with All Your Mind." I hope I'm not too late. Also, anything by C.S. Lewis is good. A study of epistemology wouldn't be a bad idea other. Blessings to you!

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  • Trying to Walk the Narrow Road said:
      Rob, if you think God is outside of logic, I would recommend a few boo...
  • Rebecca said:
      Truth is what you make of it. The bible says what-so-ever thou shall ...
  • Alicia said:
      Well you are all having quite the discussion- I am a beliver but sadly...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Well, I think you're right: Some things are "untestable," at least in ...
  • Rob W. Hartop said:
      Your hypothesis is untestable since time is one of the dimensions of t...
  • Larry Baden said:
      I don't think God was or is "flabbergasted" by anything, though the ob...
  • Rob W. Hartop said:
      OK, we're not getting anywhere. Example: Are we to suppose that God ...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Well, I don't see any "red herring." And I think there is an issue of ...
  • Rob W. Hartop said:
      The question isn't about control. This is a red herring. In simplest ...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Hello Rob, Welcome back. I wouldn't mind going to Santa Fe myself, th...

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