|Q149 : Is an Inconsistent Bible Consistent with Divine Inspiration?
Who on earth has the ability to follow the rambling explanationa you give regarding the two differing genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels? I appreciate the efforts of todays apologists to reconcile the Bible to itself, but the fact that people like you are needed in the first place says two things: 1) Perhaps the Word is not 100% consistent with itself? 2) The Bible is darned hard to reconcile and requires scholars to be able to do it ... which is awfully troubling to me.
You say that to explain the inconsistencies one needs to look at the inconsistencies from the standpoint of faith. This is merely another way of saying that one must approach inconsistencies first with the understanding that inconsistencies are not what they are, because the Bible is what it is - perfect. And since perfect means what it means, and since the bible is perfect, then the bible has no inconsistencies. I have a hard time with that logic.
This is not a court of law, where the Bible is on trial and one must accord the accused a presumption of innocence, where inconsistencies are assumed not to be inconsistencies at all. I think either the bible is 100% in harmony with itself, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, am I OK with that?
Well, perhaps I shouldn’t be, if one is going to be intellectually honest. However, I guess I am OK with that. Because if the bible is not 100% in harmony with itself I am still casting my lot with Christ. I am still a sinner. I still want fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, and I still want God to finish His Work in me. So, I will ask God in my prayer time why there are these inconsistencies. If He answers me, then fine. If He does not, I will wait on Him. But to try and tell people that inconsistencies in the Word are not inconsistencies at all, but merely misunderstandings on our part, is like saying someone to who just heard a door slam, “You did hear that. It was in your head.” Well, that is just a bit crazy.
I believe that we should approach the Word of God as a relic, and a divine one at that. We accept that it was written by human hands, and tinkered with over the ages, with volumes of text tossed out here and there. In spite of the fingerprints of human ego all over the bible, we accept that it is a divinely inspired document, yet nevertheless strangely at odds with itself in numerous passages. And we either let this convince us that God is a fraud and our faith-based house of cards comes tumbling down, or we study the Word anyway, learn what Jesus has to teach us and, with patience, allow God to reveal Himself to us through His Word, instead of relying on scholars to bend and twist logic in order to craft a finished product that is perfect and has no inconsistencies.
|A149 : by Tony Garland
The accuracy of the original manuscripts of the Bible and its nature (verbal) and extent (plenary) is a large subject and worthy of a lifetime of careful consideration. At the risk of oversimplifying the issues involved, here are a few things I would observe in reply.
If the Bible is as you describe it to be, then there is little basis for faith in Christianity and no reason for me (or you) to spend much time studying it. I say this for two reasons. First, because if I’m to determine which portions are errant and which true, I will always pick the more difficult portions to declare to be in error. This inevitably leads to the rejection of foundational teachings such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the Second Coming. You mentioned a house of cards: Christianity collapses like a house of cards if any of these foundations are in error. Second, history demonstrates that people holding the view you espouse follow a well-worn path leading to apostasy. Maybe not immediately, but that is the eventual pattern:
It is my contention that once biblical infallibility is surrendered it can lead to the most undesirable consequences. It will end in apostasy at last. It is my opinion that it is next to impossible to stop the process of theological deterioration once inerrancy is abandoned. I have said that it is a theological watershed just as the Continental Divide is the watershed for the United States and Canada. The water that flows on one side of the divide ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. The water that flows on the other side of the divide ends up in the Pacific Ocean. But once the water starts down one side or the other, it continues until it reaches its oceanic destination. Errancy and inerrancy constitute the two principles, and which one a person chooses determines where he will end up. No matter how sincere a man may be, and how carefully he guards against further theological concessions, they are inevitable once inerrancy is given up. Francis Schaeffer has told conferees at L’Abri that “the generation of those who first give up biblical inerrancy may have a warm evangelical background and real personal relationships with Jesus Christ so that they can ‘live theologically’ on the basis of their limited-inerrancy viewpoint. But what happens when the next generation tries to build on that foundation?”
— Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Biblea (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), p. 142.
You also state, “This is not a court of law, where the Bible is on trial...” Oh, but it is! The Bible is on trial before those who are seeking truth. If the Bible is in error, then it is unworthy as a reliable guide in the search for truth and misleading in its testimony of the ultimate Person of Truth (John 14:6; 18:38). The truth I’m speaking of here is objective and worthy of complete trust — even to the point of death. When we get to heaven, I don’t expect to meet a host of martyrs who paid the ultimate price of their own lives because they were motivated by a relic which had “volumes of text tossed out here and there.”
Moreover, the view that the Bible is an admixture of truth and error is also at odds with the testimony of Scripture itself, written by men under the guidance of the “Spirit of Truth.” This is also the testimony of our Lord Jesus. He certainly didn’t see the Old Testament Scriptures as a “relic” full of human errors. Consider just a small sample of passages concerning the accuracy of God’s Word:
Psalm 119:160 - The entirety of Your word [is] truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments [endures] forever.
Psalm 138:2 - I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
Matthew 5:18 - For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Luke 16:17 - And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
John 17:17 - Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
2 Timothy 3:16 - All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness . . .
2 Peter 1:21 - for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke [as they were] moved by the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 22:6 - Then he said to me, “These words [are] faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.
Also consider the way in which Jesus relied on subtle details of the Old Testament text in a number of His arguments (e.g., Mat. 22:31-32; 22:41-45 [citing Ps. 110:1]; John 10:31-35), and certified the authenticity of Old Testament passages which are typically discounted as being historically in error (e.g., Jonah and the whale in Mat. 12:39).
You said: “ I think either the bible is 100% in harmony with itself, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, am I OK with that? Well, perhaps I shouldn’t be, if one is going to be intellectually honest.” [emphasis mine]
Precisely! If one is going to be intellectually honest, then a moth-eaten relic full of errors does not justify faith at the level God calls for. Nor can it justify or explain the thousands of lives which have been spilled to preserve it down to our time. Nor does it provide a message which the world has any compelling reason to consider. It’s just another human production full of suppositions: essentially no different than the books of other religious movements such as the Koran.
There is also the fundamental problem that if Scripture is partly true and partly untrue, then who determines which is which? This very process transfers authority away from God’s Word to a secondary standard — a standard which is not inspired, unlike the claim Scripture makes for itself:
Once limited inerrancy is accepted, it places the Bible in the same category with every other book that has ever been written. Every book contains in it some things that are truth. And what is true is inerrant. Only two things remain to be determined once this position is acknowledged. The first is what proportion of the book is true and what proportion false. It may be 90 percent false and 10 percent true; or it may be 90 percent true and 10 percent false. The second thing that needs to be determined is what parts of the book are true. Since the book contains both error and falsehood, of necessity, other criteria outside of the book must be brought to bear upon it to determine what is false and what is true. Whatever the source of the other criteria, that becomes the judge of the book in question. Thus the book becomes subordinated to the standard against which its truth is determined and measured. If inspiration means anything, and if inspiration pertains to the totality of the Bible, then we must see what limited inerrancy means. First, it means that something outside of and above the Bible becomes its judge. There is something that is truer and more sure than Scripture and whatever it is has not been inspired of God. So a non-inspired source takes precedence over an inspired Bible. Second it leaves us in a vacuum without any basis for determining what parts of the Bible tell the truth and what parts do not.
— Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bibleb (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), p. 203.
Contrary to your assertion, it doesn’t require a scholar to reconcile the Scriptures, just diligent study as Scripture itself admonishes all believers to undertake (John 8:31; Acts 17:11; 2Ti. 2:15; 3:15).
My rambling explanationc, as you put it, was intended to illustrate the sort of insights that are to be gained by simply believing what the Holy Spirit has said through His chosen vessels. He is, after all, the Spirit of Truth Who inspired the writers of Scripture. Because of this, passages which appear to be in conflict can be expectantly plumbed for greater insight. In this particular case, one’s reward is an understanding of how God placed a curse on the Messianic line leading to Christ, yet left Christ unaffected. With your approach, I'd simply conclude the passages were contradictory and forgo the deeper insight which I’m convinced God intends as yet another revelation of His glory (Pr. 25:2).
Having found the Scriptures to be consistent and the reliable voice of the Spirit of Truth, I prefer to follow in the path of the Prince of Preachers:
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was deeply involved in the changing fortunes of the Baptists as they moved away from a belief in inerrancy. Spurgeon, who was undoubtedly the best known and most popular preacher of his age, bore witness to the traditional view of the Bible. He delivered a sermon in 1855, a part of which was devoted to biblical infallibility. He said: “Then, since God wrote it, mark its truthfulness. If I had written it, there would be worms of critics who would at once swarm on it, and would cover it with their evil spawn; had I written it, there would be men who would pull it to pieces at once, and perhaps quite right too. But this is the Word of God. Come, search, ye critics, and find a flaw: examine it from its Genesis to its Revelation and find an error. This is a vein of pure gold, unalloyed by quartz or any earthy substance. This is a start without a speck; a sun without a blot; a light without darkness; a moon without paleness; a glory without a dimness. O Bible! It cannot be said of any other book, that it is perfect and pure; but of thee we can declare all wisdom is gathered up in thee, without a particle of folly. This is the judge that ends the strife where wit and reason fail. This is the book untainted by any error, but it is pure, unalloyed, perfect truth. Why? Because God wrote it. Ah! Charge God with error if you please; tell Him that His book is not what it ought to be . . . . Blessed Bible, though art all truth.”
— Russell H. Conwell, The Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeond (Edgewood Publishing Co., 1892), pp. 574-576.
Additional resources on this topic:
- The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancye
- F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?f
- John Burgon, Inspiration and Interpretationg
- Normal Geisler, Inerrancyh
- Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest, ed., Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Responsei
- Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Biblej
- John MacArthur, You Can Trust the Biblek
- René Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripturel
- Randall Price, Searching for the Original Biblem
- John Walvoord, Inspiration and Interpretationn
- Benjamin Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bibleo