"Belief in Inerrancy May Be Hazardous to Faith (PART 1) — Problems with Biblical Inerrancy" (from: Religious Tolerance.org)
Why belief in biblical inerrancy can be hazardous to one's faith:
When a person considers the Bible to be totally inerrant in its teaching of theology, morals, beliefs, geology, geography, history, etc., it may leave the person's faith vulnerable. Even one proven error could shatter their entire belief system and make the Bible seem useless.
Mark Mattison wrote:
"If in actual fact Caesar Augustus did not really order a census while Quirinius was governor of Syria [or] if it turns out there really was only one Gadarene demonaic rather than two, then the entire Bible becomes worthless and every tenet of Christian faith falls flat. If one single discrepancy emerges, it's all over. This makes Christian faith an easy target for skeptics, and drives believers to unimaginable lengths to 'defend' the Bible." 1
Fortunately, this need not happen even if the Bible, as we see it today, is shown to be errant. That is because most conservative Christians only consider the original (a.k.a. autograph) versions of Bible books to be inerrant. No such documents exist today. If an error is found, it can be attributed to an intentional or accidental error made when copying a manuscript or when subsequently translating it from Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek into English.
Problems with inerrancy:
Interpretation conflicts: Bible ambiguity is perhaps the most serious problem associated with inerrancy. Some biblical passages can be interpreted in so many different ways, there is no way to know which is the correct one. This renders the concept of inerrancy essentially meaningless.
People bring different foundational beliefs to the Bible. This causes them to reach very different conclusions about what it says. One example involves the roles of men and women:
The folks at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood believe that men and women should be restricted to very different roles within the family, church organizations, and the rest of society. 2 Typically, they view positions of leadership and authority to be reserved for males only.
Christians for Biblical Equality teach that men and women were both created in the image of God, and that the Bible intends that they function in a full and equal partnership. Talents, including the ability to preach and to lead, exist throughout both genders. 3
Both are conservative Christian groups. Both believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. Both groups are staffed with honorable, devout, intelligent, thoughtful, rational people. But both groups find many biblical passages which support their position and which negate the other group's beliefs.
Another example of ambiguity in the Bible is seen in the series of books published by Inter-Varsity Press and Zondervan. Some are: "Women in ministry: Four Views," "Two views of Hell: A biblical and theological dialog," "Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian views." Each book involves a number of leading evangelical Christian writers explaining their conflicting personal views on a specific topic. They also critique each other's beliefs as being false. Each of the authors is intelligent, sincere, serious, devout, thoughtful theologian and is quite confident that their own belief is the only one that is biblically based. Yet, the authors' conclusions conflict with each other, making the concept of inerrancy meaningless.
Another example involves the Christian faith groups in North America, which number in excess of 1,000. All or essentially all believe that their group's beliefs are based on the Bible. Many take the position that they are the "true" church. Yet their belief systems differ. There appears to be no way to resolve these different interpretations. Worldwide, the situation is even worse because there are on the order of 35,000 Chrisitan faith groups teaching different interpretations of the Bible.
Some have suggested that believers resolve biblical ambiguity by assessing the will of God through prayer. However, this appears to be unreliableaccording to a pilot study that the staff at this web site have conducted.
Translation errors due to source ambiguity: Inerrancy of the Bible refers only to the original, autograph copies of each book, as written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Hebrew is an extremely ambiguous language. Some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) may be interpreted in many different ways. At most, only one of those translations into English would be correct, and thus be inerrant. But there is no way in which we can know for certain which translation is the correct one. Consider Leviticus 18:22. According to one source, a word-for-word translation is:
"And with a male thou shall not lie down in beds of a woman; it is an abomination.”
(The word "abomination" is actually a mistranslation into modern English. The Hebrew word means something like "ritually impure". Some other examples of "abominations" are: a person eating lobster, the offering of an animal which has a blemish for ritual sacrifice, a man getting a haircut or shaving his beard, or a woman wearing jeans or slacks, a person eating a cheeseburger.) This passage is normally interpreted in English as something like:
"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (RSV)
That rendering would condemn all male-male sexual activity. Or, if the translators really wanted to stretch the meaning of the passage well beyond what the original Hebrew states, they might want to include a condemnation of lesbianism into the translation, as in:
"Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin. (NLT)
But it could be argued that an equally accurate rendering is:
"Men must not engage in homosexual sex while on a bed that belongs to a woman; it is ritually unclean"
"When a man has sex with another man, they must treat each other as equals; otherwise it is ritually unclean.”
That is, same-gender sexual activity between men is not intrinsically unclean, but only if it is done in the wrong location -- on a woman's bed -- or in a manner where one man is considered inferior.
Bible translators, scholars and individual believers debate endlessly over the precise meaning of individual passages such as this one. If people attribute multiple meanings to various verses, then only one (perhaps none) could be inerrant. We can try to compare a passage with other similar verses in the Bible in order to determine which interpretation is most likely. But, we have no absolutely reliable method of determining which interpretation is correct.
The inclusion/exclusion of the Apocrypha: The Bible used by Jesus, his disciples, and the early Christian movement was the Septuagint (a.k.a. LXX). This was a Greek translation from the original Hebrew. It included a number of books that are commonly called the Apocrypha. These books appear in the translations of the Bible used by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Anglican churches. They have been deleted in the translations used by Protestants and most Anglicans. One reason for their removal was a passage which implies the existence of Purgatory. Thus, the range of books in the Bible which are to be considered inerrant is open to debate among Christians. However, in any given denomination, the official canon is firmly established.
The selection of the Christian Scriptures: There were three main movements within early Christianity:
• The Jewish Christians, who formed a reform movement within Judaism centered in Jerusalem, with James -- a brother of Jesus -- as their leader;
• Pauline Christians who were mainly former Pagans who followed the teachings of Paul, and
• Gnostics who had a unique religious belief based on knowledge.
Among the three groups, there were on the order of forty gospels, probably hundreds of epistles (letters), and a few examples of apocalyptic literature similar to Revelation. All were considered authoritative by various early Christian groups.
When the bishops fixed the official canon centuries later, they selected the Hebrew Scriptures, and 27 books. The latter consisted of only four gospels, Acts, 21 epistles, and Revelation. The concept of inerrancy requires that they did not make any errors in their selection: that the authors of the 27 books that were selected were all inspired by God and written without error. This would imply that the Bishops' selection process must have been guided by God so that errant books were not chosen. The Gospel of John was almost rejected by the early Church because of its heavily Gnostic content. Revelation almost did not make it into the Bible either, because it described God in angry, hateful terms that seemed incompatible with the loving Abba (Dad) that Jesus prayed to. When Emperor Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Bible to be copied, they included The Letter of Barnabas and The Shepard of Hermes -- two books that do not appear in today's Bibles.
Author Richard Nicholson wrote:
"The Canon evolved obscurely over many centuries. Books were accepted by some and banned by others. Books accepted for centuries were rejected later. Rival church factions excluded each other's scriptures. Personality clashes and rival ambitions were responsible for the disappearance of much that scholars would like to read today." 4
The extreme animosity, political armtwisting, and banishing or exiling of non-conforming bishops would seem to indicate that the book selection process was a very human one and not inspired by God.
Grammatical errors: Biblical scholars have noted that almost every page of the Bible, whether written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek contains both spelling and grammatical errors. Although some spelling errors could be attributed to mistakes by later copyists, it appears reasonable to assume that some of the grammatical errors were in the original copy. If one assumes that the Bible is not inerrant, then one would expect errors of all types to creep into the Bible: errors in fact, errors in belief, errors in spelling and errors in grammar. But if the Bible is inerrant, one wonders why the original writings were not free of errors in grammar.
Belief in Inerrancy May Be Hazardous to Faith — Problems with Biblical Inerrancy
(NEXT WEEK — PART 2)
Humanity has thrown around the words “infinite” and “eternal” for ages. Due to our perspective we have held about as much regard for the words as we do for “beautiful” or “intelligent”. We have casually used the words for both the Creator as well as creation. With little more than our own lives and the world we live in for context we have felt comfortable with both the words and their use because telling God that we believe He is bigger than we are or that His influence is greater than the Earth or the sky we see above us is really not a stretch. Such thoughts keep God close and our ability to personalize Him is only slightly more challenged than the efforts of the ancient Greeks or Romans or Norsemen. We have become comfortable with that. So much so we try to use our primitive understanding as a definition of God and resist anything that would try to change that.
Enter modern science and the context of the words begin, whether we like it or not, to change dramatically! Now grains of sand can no longer be seen as merely ‘small’. Now we can move our understanding and perceptions into more precise and intricate building blocks only to find that each has more confounding components. We think of microbes, then molecules, atoms, quantum particles and maybe that is only the beginning. A measurement that is larger than mankind’s thoughts of infinity seems to fill our understanding of just one grain of sand as it sparkles on our fingertip. And then we look outward …
The context of us and the world we live in stretches. The scale of things quickly reduces us to the imperceptible; hardly larger than the atoms hidden beneath us. The distance just keeps stretching: our planet, the moon and its orbit, our place in the solar system circling our sun, the outer reaches of our solar system, our ‘local’ neighborhood of stars, our galaxy, the ‘local’ neighborhood of galaxies, our galactic cluster, the cluster of clusters, stretching fields and spheres of superclusters finally filling a universe that is reaching beyond our ability to see or guess at. Then astronomers and physicists guess anyway, “Why just one? Maybe there are more universes beyond our own and maybe clusters of universes and superclusters of clusters and …”
Is it any wonder that ‘modern’ man looks inward and then outward and says, “Wow! Infinity is REALLY big! Eternity is must be REALLY long!” at which point they have a new context for the words. Infinity becomes TOO big for our provincial idea of God to handle. “How can the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob encompass the entirety of infinity? How can I believe (if He IS that big) that He can still take notice of me and my small life?”
We find ourselves in the midst of a paradigm shift of the spirit and we wonder, “How can it be?”
It helps a little to realize that Infinity hasn’t changed, only our conceptions of it. Our old conceptions limited our understanding of how the words applied to God but our old conceptions didn’t change who or what God is. As our understanding of the infinite changes we have to remember that our understanding of God has to change as well. While the questions get bigger as our understanding expands it doesn’t change that it has always been an infinite and eternal God that has heard our prayers. The difference now is how much more wondrous that has become.
Oh Lord, my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art*
It’s okay to ask, “How can this be?” We have always asked that. It is also okay to stand in awe when no answer is forthcoming.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”
Click here for Mr. Newman’s website
I first learned about Thomas Merton when I skipped chapel at my Christian high school. I started to meet weekly with a kindhearted Bible teacher who looked through my cynicism and saw a desire for a deeper spiritual life. I’m grateful for those conversations—especially the day he told me about a book written by Merton called No Man Is An Island. As I started reading it, I was excited to find a monastic writer with piercing insights into my own inner life and a Christian mystical tradition markedly different from the subculture around me. It was providential timing: I was slipping into depression that would last for years, and Merton quickly became a friend and guide through a spiritual wilderness. So today, in honor of his birthday and his lasting impact on the wayfarers and mystics among us, here are seven reasons why evangelicals should read Thomas Merton:
(2) Merton can introduce you to the larger Body of Christ. A sola scriptura ecclesiology easily leads to an iconoclastic view of history. Or to say it another way, if you skip over two thousand years and use Acts as a blueprint to recreate a pure church, your cloud of witnesses will be on the small side. That’s the tradition I grew up with, and it left many people feeling untethered. Reading Merton introduced me to saints and philosophers, medieval mystics, the desert fathers, and many other men and women who are now a sustaining spiritual heritage.
(2) His writing integrates spirituality with psychological wisdom. As a teenager in high school, I remember reading “I must decrease; he must increase” as a life motto. Misunderstanding this text contributed to a distorted sense of self-worth; this wasn’t a time for somber self-denial—it was a time to learn what it means to relate, to have adventures, to grow into my own beating heart. As a contemplative, Merton knows the inner life, and he writes about spiritual transformation in a way that can keep us from pursuing the right thing in the wrong way.
(3) He doesn’t sacrifice beautiful language to write faithfully. Much contemporary evangelical writing (and blogging) relies too heavily on “Christianese” and vague truisms. Merton has the mind of a philosopher, the heart of a mystic, and the voice of a poet. His writing is engaging and precise, and he uses imagery and artful language that people from any background can appreciate.
(4) He makes room for darkness and doubt. At the end of my first quarter at Fuller I was in a tumultuous crisis of faith; depression and theology mixed in unhealthy ways. Many of Merton’s prayers became my own during this time, and I could hold onto to God’s hand even as I doubted its reality.
(5) His writing is intelligent, but he puts rationality in its place. A life of faith is more than the mind only, and God can be approached in many ways. Merton interacts deftly with both theology and philosophy, but his ultimate goal is to always push his readers towards prayer and sustainable spiritual practices.
(6) His interest in Buddhism shows us effective interfaith dialogue. Towards the end of his life, Merton was noticing strong parallels between his own Catholic spiritual practices and Zen. Rather than run from them, he entered more deeply into conversation, attending conferences, befriending Zen monks, and writing on the topic. This is not a hazy pluralism—he maintains the particularities of his Christian faith even as he explores the similar monastic practices of the Other.
(7) He makes contemplative life seem not only possible but necessary. More than anything, Merton shows us that being a contemplative is not an escape from the world—it is a choice to enter one’s heart and life deeply, to engage culture even while resisting it with an active practice of prayer.
In this whirling modern world, I’m grateful for Merton’s words. If you’re interested, start with Thoughts in Solitude or New Seeds of Contemplation. Whether you read him or not, know that the life of prayer he wrote about is available to us at all times—whether God feels close or decidedly absent. And on a day like today, let us pray for that Trappist monk, and all who pray with him:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
The people in the advertising industry know very well that in order to sell things that people don't really need, they must convince them that those things will add something to how they see themselves or are seen by others; in other words, add something to their sense of self. They do this, for example, by telling you that you will stand out from the crowd by using this product and so by implication be more fully yourself. Or they may create an association in your mind between the product and a famous person, or a youthful, attractive, or happy-looking person. Even pictures of old or deceased celebrities in their prime work well for that purpose. The unspoken assumption is that by buying this product, through some magical act of appropriation, you become like them, or rather the surface image of them. And so in many cases you are not buying a product but an "identity enhancer." Designer labels are primarily collective identities that you buy into. They are expensive and therefore "exclusive." If everybody could buy them, they would lose their psychological value and all you would be left with would be their material value, which likely amounts to a fraction of what you paid.
What kind of things you identify with will vary from person to person according to age, gender, income, social class, fashion, the surrounding culture, and so on. What you identify with is all to do with content; whereas, the unconscious compulsion to identify is structural. It is one of the most basic ways in which the egoic mind operates.
Paradoxically, what keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn't work: The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming.
Of course, in this physical dimension that our surface selves inhabit, things are a necessary and inescapable part of our lives. We need housing, clothes, furniture, tools, transportation. There may also be things in our lives that we value because of their beauty or inherent quality. We need to honor the world of things, not despise it. Each thing has Beingness, is a temporary form that has its origin within the formless one Life, the source of all things, all bodies, all forms. In most ancient cultures, people believed that everything, even so-called inanimate objects, had an indwelling! spirit, and in this respect they were closer to the truth than \ we are today. When you live in a world deadened by mental abstraction, you don't sense the aliveness of the universe | anymore. Most people don't inhabit a living reality, but a conceptualized one.
But we cannot really honor things if we use them as a means to self-enhancement, that is to say, if we try to find ourselves through them. This is exactly what the ego does. Ego-identification with things creates attachment to things, obsession with things, which in turn creates our consumer society and economic structures where the only measure of progress is always more. The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part. Some economists are so attached to the notion of growth that they can't let go of that word, so they refer to recession as a time of "negative growth."
A large part of many people's lives is consumed by an obsessive preoccupation with things. This is why one of the ills of our times is object proliferation. When you can no longer feel the life that you are, you are likely to try to fill up your life with things. As a spiritual practice, I suggest that you investigate your relationship with the world of things through self-observation, and in particular, things that are designated with the word "my." You need to be alert and honest to find out, for example, whether your sense of self-worth is bound up with things you possess. Do certain things induce a subtle feeling of importance or superiority? Does the lack of them make you feel inferior to others who have more than you? Do you casually mention things you own or show them off to increase your sense of worth in someone else's eyes and through them in your own? Do you feel resentful or angry and somehow diminished in your sense of self when someone else has more than you or when you lose a prized possession?
BUY the BOOK:
A NEW EARTH — Tolle
(Click Here for Tolle's Website)
---Zen Dream by Roie Galitz
I just finished reading an essay by Alan Watts entitled, "What is Zen?" Comically, the commentary below made my belly smile like a Buddha!
"So it is Zen that, if I may put it metaphorically, Jon-Jo said, 'the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives, but does not keep.' And another poem says of wild geese flying over a lake, 'The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, and the water has no mind to retain their image.' In other words this is to be—to put it very strictly into our modem idiom—this is to live without hang-ups…”