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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Divine Inspiration & Biblical Inerrancy: The Failed Hypothesis

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The Bible, comprising both the Old and New Testaments, is the primary religious text

for humanityís largest religion. It is the number one bestselling book of all time, having

been translated into virtually every language and distributed to nearly every culture around

the world. It is consulted daily by millions of people for inspiration, guidance, comfort

and instruction. Many who revere the Bible believe its writings to have been inspired

by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, the god of Judaism and Christianity. The words of

the Bible are the words of this god. It is without error because the god which inspired

the words of the Bible cannot err. But, is an inerrant Bible really what we find when

we read its pages? Is the claim of biblical inerrancy, a text completely without error

regarding all matters upon which it speaks, scientifically, historically and theologically,

clear and accurate? Or, when we read the Bible, do we find a text at odds with expectations

created by the assertion regarding its divine authorship?

God is described by many believers, taking their clues as to Godís character directly

from the scriptures, as, among other things, infinite and perfect , unchanging, almighty,

all wise, absolute, working all things according to His own immutable and most righteous will,

for His own glory, and abundant in truth. This god has sovereign dominion over his creations,

including human beings, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever the god pleases.

The deityís knowledge is infinite and infallible and thus many believers maintain that the

Bible itself, a product of this deity, is likewise without error.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, formulated in October 1978 by more than 200

evangelical leaders, declares on behalf of a large number of believers: ìHoly Scripture,

being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible

divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's

instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires;

embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promisesFurthermore, ìBeing wholly and

verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what

it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its

own literary origins under GodÖî This Protestant affirmation of the Bibleís inerrant nature

is reflected in Catholicism. The Catholic Church also states, the ìÖholy mother Church,

relying on the belief of the Apostles, holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments

in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under

the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on

as such to the Church herselfFurthermore, ìIn composing the sacred books, God chose

men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with

Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything

and only those things which He wanted. Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired

authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows

that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without

error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writingsÖî

The conclusion about the inerrancy of the Bible across Christendom seems self-evident

if the nature of the god which is believed to have inspired the writing of the Scriptures

is accepted. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, incapable of error, committed to the truth

in all matters, then surely his book ñthe only words this deity bothered to have put

into printóis equally without error. The divine inspiration of the Bible is foundational

to the belief that it is without error ìin all matters that it touchesIt is the nature

of god as an omniscient, omnipotent and infallible character himself which drives the faith of

those who profess biblical inerrancy. Inspiration means that the diverse authors who composed

the various texts of the Bible were each given direct divine knowledge about God, creation,

human history, the future, and any other topic on which they wrote. The authors were given

a knowledge that they could not have had outside divine inspiration. The deityís inspiration

affected the will, the intelligence and all the executive faculties of the writer. And

while inspiration did not render the authors as merely instruments which moved pen and

turned pages for god, their own personality and experiences were allowed to come through

in what they wrote, nonetheless they wrote exactly what came from the mind of God, recorded

without error. The Bible is also thought of as a manifestation

of God; a God who is perfect and without blemish. In the Old Testament God is revealed personally

to various individuals. Adam, Abraham, and Moses are all said to have spoken with God.

When Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets bearing the 10 commandments,

his very skin and hair shone because he had been talking to God. God is also believed

to have come in the flesh, in the person of Jesus, and as such was a perfect, sinless

human being. The Bible, a manifestation of God in the written word, is itself perfect

and without error as were his other manifestations. Belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible

and biblical inerrancy has a long history. Augustine, one of the early Church theologians,

declared: ìOf [the canonical books of Scripture] alone

do I most firmly believe that their authors were completely free from error. And if in

these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to the truth,

I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has

not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it...î

Echoing this belief in the Middle Ages, Anselm wrote,

ëFor I am sure that if I say anything which is undoubtedly contradictory to holy Scripture,

it is wrong; and if I become aware of such a contradiction, I do not wish to hold to

that opinionAnd, similarly, Thomas Aquinas affirmed, ëIt

is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy ScriptureFor

Aquinas the Word of God, the Bible, never errs but is instead ëinfallible truthí

And this belief in the inerrancy of the Bible held through the Reformation as well. Martin

Luther asserted that not only had the Scriptures ìnever erredthey ìcannot errThe

reasons Luther gave were many, but mainly, he believed, the Bible was the very mouth

of God and God cannot lie. So, if God inspired authors to write the words of the Bible, the

authors themselves could not have erred, thus the Bible is inerrant. John Calvin, too, maintained

inerrancy of the biblical texts. For Calvin, the Bible was ìthe eternal and inviolable

truth of GodThe character of God as explained by those

who believe in him, and the claim of inerrancy of the biblical text which this god caused

to be produced, create a sort of hypothesis which can be checked for validity. If such

a god exists, and he is responsible for the inspiration of a text without error, what

might we expect ñor not expectóto find in the pages of this document? Should there be

an expectation not to encounter conflict between what the Bible records as Godís activity

in the creation of the universe, the solar system, planet earth and life upon it and

what modern science has discovered? Should there be an expectation to find a historically

accurate account of how the nation of Israel came to occupy the land upon which their nation

was built? Do the discoveries of archaeology support these stories? What if the Bible has

stories most readers would consider better suited for children including things like

magically talking animals, people made of sand or salt and magicians doing all sorts

of fantastic tricks? Would such stories conform to, or be at odds with expectations for the

Bibleís content based upon what has been said about the nature of the Bibleís authorship

and divine inspiration? Consider a leisurely walk across a field.

In crossing the field, suppose a person comes across a stone and then wonders how the stone

came to be in the field. They might answer that the stone arrived there after millions

of years under the earthís surface, having been subjected to enormous geological events.

Certainly the person would not conclude that this stone was somehow unique in the sense

of its origins. It wasnít constructed in a factory and shipped to its current location

in the field. The stone is like many others the hiker has discovered on walks in many

different fields. It is not exactly the same as other rocks, but it is unmistakably a rock.

But suppose this person finds instead a watch in the field. Would this person, given what

is told of watchmakers and watches, conclude that it, too, was the product of natural forces?

A watch is distinct from stones because it has within it the clues of an intelligent

designer. It sits apart from the multitude of stones scattered upon the ground and meets

the expectations of someone familiar with watchmakers who comprehended the watchís

construction and designed its use. It isnít a stone which bears its own marks of origin.

It is a watch which origins are with a watchmaker. But before opening the cover of the Bible,

many who promote belief in the divine inspiration of its books say expectations CANNOT be brought

to a reading of the biblical texts the way a person uses knowledge of watches to conclude

that a watch was manufactured by a watchmaker. How can anyone predict what god can or will

do, they ask? Why would god fulfill human expectations? Itís not that anyone is asking

this god to perform a certain way IN ORDER to fulfill certain expectations. Thatís backwards.

The expectations brought to a reading of the Bible were created by the definition of what

and who God is, and that the Bible inspired by this deity is without error. Just as there

is an expectation for watchmakers to make watches and not stones, descriptions of Godís

nature as an all-knowing, all-powerful being and his involvement with the creation of an

inerrant biblical text create an expectation that the Bible really be without error and

not riddled with problems. It is impossible to approach the Bible neutrally

if it is provisionally granted that there is a god, and that this god is all-knowing,

all-powerful, incapable of producing error and is ultimately responsible for what was

recorded in the pages of the Bible. Expecting to find inerrancy, some readers are disappointed

by what they find when reading the Bible. Far from an inerrant document, some readers

are faced from the very first pages with errors of scientific fact, historical incongruities

and archaic, difficult passages. It doesnít seem at all like the work of an omniscient,

omnipotent deity. What is it that some readers find in these supposedly sacred scriptures

which have turned them not into Bible Believers, but Bible Skeptics?

While the claim is that the Bible was authored by an omnipotent, omniscient God and, as a

result, is without error, historically, scientifically, and in every other conceivable way, actually

opening the cover the Bible and reading it reveals a great number of problems which give

rise to doubts about its supposed divine authorship. For example,

Internal Contradictions How many officers did Solomon employ for the

construction of his famous Temple? Was it 3,300 as stated in 1 Kings 5:16 or 3,600 as

recorded in 2 Chronicles 2:2? Who purchased the field with the money given

to Judas for his betrayal of Jesus? Did Judas himself buy the field as reported in Acts

1:18? Or did the chief priests pick up the money that Judas threw at their feet and use

it to buy the field as given in Matthew 27:6-7? Absurdities

Occasionally, the Bible reads more like a childrenís story than it does a sober record

of human history and Godís interaction with humankind. Many readers have problems taking

the Bible seriously when they read within the first few pages of the book a story about

a talking snake. A little further and readers encounter a talking

donkey and then a talking bush. Historical Errors

The biblical story of the Hebrew escape from Egyptian bondage is fraught with numerous

historical errors and absurdities not the least of which is the number of people leaving

under Mosesís leadership. The Bible reports that 600,000 men of military age ñupwards

of 20 years of ageñleft Egypt in the exodus. If women of the same age, children and the

elderly are figured in, the population of Hebrews leaving northern Egypt numbered nearly

2 Ω million; virtually the entire population of Egypt at the time according to historical

research! And this population supposedly grew from a scant 70 persons in a mere 400 years!

The biblical tale of the fall of Jericho also offers historical errors. Depending on the

dates given by interpreters of the text for the exodus from Egypt and the subsequent conquest

of Canaan, archaeological research has discovered the city of Jericho either did not have a

wall for the Hebrew army to topple or it was not populated at all!

Scientific Errors From the first chapter of the Bible, readers

encounter a story of creation that is wrong in nearly every assertion it makes about the

formation of the universe, our galaxy, solar system, earth and the life upon it. The story

mentions the creation of a solid canopy that acts as our sky, a barrier separating waters

below the dome ñthe rivers, lakes and seasófrom a vast collection of water above it. The entire

creative process is said, not to have covered billions of years, but instead a mere six

days. The Bible tells the story of a worldwide flood.

In the tale, all life except those aboard a large ark is snuffed out in a global deluge.

And yet, no evidence exists in the geological record to support such a fantastic story.

Failed prophecies and Questionable Ethics Readers of the biblical text also encounter

failed prophecies. For example, Ezekiel 29 states that Egypt in the not-to-distant future

of the writing of the text ñsometime in the 6th century BCE and heavily edited thereafterówould

become so desolate that no foot would walk across its cursed soil. And yet, Egypt is

one of the longest continuously inhabited nations in the world.

Problems also arise when readers encounter questionable ethics in some of the biblical

tales. When a bunch of rowdy boys outside the city of Bethel in 2 Kings fail to show

proper respect toward a prophet of the god Yahweh, teasing the man for having a bald

head, the prophet calls down a curse upon the children and God obliges, sending two

she bears out of the nearby woods to tear the boys limb from limb. Surely an all-loving

God wouldnít participate in such an abhorrent actionÖwould he?

Any and most of these problems with the biblical text exist in all human literature, from ancient

Greek myths to a randomly selected Stephen King novel, and when encountered in these

other forms most readers think nothing of them. So why is the Bible held to a higher

standard? Might that be considered unfair? The Bible is held to a higher standard not

because readers are unnecessarily critical or prejudiced, but precisely because the expectations

for the biblical text created by the assertions regarding its divine origins and claims of

inerrancy made by its adherents have themselves created this higher standard. Watchmakers

are expected to make watches; expert watchmakers are expected to make expert watches. The Bible,

so its advocates state, is NOT just another ancient book of myths and religio-political

propagandistic exaggerations or a dime store novel. It is the inerrant, unchanging, sacred

Word of God. But if the Bible was divinely inspired, its inspiration was clumsy and unconcerned

with the readerís understanding or comprehension of the text. Faced with the reality of contradictions,

absurdities, historical and scientific errors, failed prophecies and questionable ethics

found in the biblical text, how DO advocates of perfect, divine inspiration maintain belief

in the Bible as a holy book? They do so by employing apologetics. And the ones who engage

in apologetics are known asÖapologists. Given the sheer number of problems with the biblical

text, the apologists certainly have their work cut out for them. But theyíve had centuries

to refine their craft and design arguments to answer the skeptics. How good are those

arguments? Apologetics, specifically biblical apologetics,

are concerned with the defense of the Bible as the inerrant and supernaturally inspired

Word of God. The word Apologetics comes from the Greek, apologia, meaning "defensible,"

and takes its lead from the Bible itself. 1 Peter 3:15 states, But sanctify the Lord

God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you

a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Meekness and fear arenít always

found in apologetics, as defense of the Bible is a contentious and highly personal affair.

Challenges to the Bibleís authority as Godís Word is a challenge to a personís worldview

and sense of values. Biblical apologetics respond to objections raised by those skeptical

of the claim of divine authorship and inerrancy in a way which attempts, at least ideally,

to establish the objective truth of biblical inerrancy and the exclusivity of the Bible

as a divinely inspired collection of literature. All apologists work under an agenda which

includes belief in the scriptures as god given and with a particular religious view in mind.

The Bible supplies, for them, instruction and direction which guides their lives and

they see skepticism as an attack on their worldview. If their worldview is rendered

false by such criticism, apologists may fear a loss of hope, direction or purpose for their

lives. For some, it may also mean a loss of income. Because they have invested belief

in the Bible and its claims, they are driven by the command in 1 Peter to defend these

views. And defend them they do, at whatever cost.

If the claims of the apologists are true, and the Bible was authored by a divine being

with absolute knowledge and power, why are apologetics even necessary? The fact that

apologetics exist itself undermines the very claims of divine authorship of the Bible and

inerrancy. If the Bible needs defense, it is precisely because it is not clear in what

it states which requires clarification, is in error over matters of history and science

which need repair, and raises questions of authenticity, morality, and accuracy which

beg for answers. Can and would a perfect god with the character of infinite and perfect

knowledge, all wise, and abundant in truth be able to author or inspire a work which

is not clear in what it states, is in error over matters of history and science, and raises

questions of authenticity, morality, and accuracy? If such issues are found in the Bible and

require human intervention to explain them away, the Bible seems much less a work of

divine influence. Apologetics seem to admit that the Bible does have numerous faults and

cannot be trusted to be read alone. God may have chosen the very words of scripture but

he did so poorly and requires the intervention of the apologist. The apologist then must

edit, augment, alter and put correct what they believe God really meant to say!

The problem of apologetics is exacerbated by the fact that rarely does there exist a

single apologetic for any given problem found in the Bible. One apologist admits, ìIn some

casesÖthere are two or more separate comments on similar Bible passagesÖThis is due to

the multiple [apologists commenting on the same passage] and the fact that [apologists]

do not always agree on the best solution to certain difficultiesFor this apologist,

they assert it is actually a good thing to have ìa variety of solutionsî to biblical

problems so that those seeking clarification of difficult biblical passages will then be

ìable to think through for themselves which solutions best satisfy their questions

But if two opposing apologetics exist for a single problem found in the Bible, how is

anyone to decide which apologetic solution is the correct one? Is it really simply a

matter of personal choice? Is interpreting the Bible a democratic affair where the majority

rules? And why would a perfect god inspire a Bible which produces such a quagmire of

apologetics? Was the flood of Noah a local affair, or global

in scope? The answer varies by apologist. Do the mismatched numbers of Solomonís officers

in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles reflect one author including reserve officers or different standards

in officer rankings? That will again vary by apologist. The fact that various contradictory

apologetics exist for problems uncovered in the biblical text is evidence that apologists

cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible. They only thing that can agree on is that

a plain reading of the narrative is itself absurd and in need of explanation. Each apologist

operates under a personal religiously driven agenda to remove obvious and embarrassing

problems from the Bible. Apologists are nothing if not inventive in their efforts to interpret

the Bible for their own specific purposes. Faced with the reality of competing apologetics,

the apologist may argue that they are but mere mortals. Apologists are bound to make

mistakes. If there are conflicting interpretations of biblical passages, the fault is not in

the Bible but in the all-too-human, all-too-fallible apologist. But if the fault were not in the

scriptures themselves, why then did the text produce conditions which gave rise to apologetics

in the first place? The very fact that the Bible is not clear, is not infallible, is

the reason apologists exist at all. And yet, they produce as muddled, as fallible explanations

for the Bible as the Bible does with a straight reading.

Some apologists, however, see themselves as, in a modern sense, fulfilling the role of

an Old Testament prophet; speaking and interpreting, correctly of course, the Word of God. They

acknowledge competing apologetics but reject them, if they do not agree with their own,

as misguided at best, demonic attempts to confuse the faithful at worst. In other words,

while the Bible may appear to be fallible, these apologists are not! Such arrogance,

however, doesnít negate the fact that competing apologetics nonetheless exist and each is

supported by its inventor as the true interpretation of the text. Again, the fact that the text

needs to be explained by any mortal should give one doubts as to its divine nature.

So, who are we to believe? A Catholic apologist? An Evangelical Protestant apologist? A Liberal

Christian Apologist? A Mormon apologist? Or should we let the Bible speak for itself?

For the believer in the divine inspiration and infallibility of the biblical text, this

is no small matter. But even for the skeptic the choice is important. Does one hand over

the interpretation of the Bible to an apologist who clearly has an agenda and a vested interest

in how those texts are understood? One should exercise great caution when encountering apologists.

What drives them to interpret the text the way they do? What tools do they bring to an

understanding of the text and how are those tools being used? Do apologists allow the

sciences to help them interpret the text? Do they consult with the social sciences?

With cultural anthropological studies? With geology? Astronomy? Biology? Linguistics?

Archaeology? Do they represent these fields fairly? Or does the apologist merely employ

such fields of studies to support a specific agenda, manipulating the data so that a desired

outcome is achieved? Even when the Bible is clearly in error, do the apologists acknowledge

this error, or craftily spin another magical tale to make the Bible say what they want

it to, creating the illusion of inerrancy at the Bibleís own expense?

Many apologists have tried to explain the existence of errors found in the Bible by

claiming there were no errors in the ORIGINAL manuscripts, even though some errors may have

crept in over time. What they mean is that the originally penned versions of each of

the Bibleís books were completely without error but that, over the centuries, men who

copied these books introduced minor mistakes into the text. But what gives apologists reason

to assume this original version of the Bible was itself inerrant other than their belief

that it was? No original Bible exists to check for inerrancy! And apologists canít explain

why the original version of the Bible was without error but that subsequent copies contain

them. It simply makes no logical sense. If human error was not allowed to mar the perfect

originals of Godís script, why was it allowed to deface the copies?

Some apologists may appeal to a different set of ìoriginalsî than the ones produced

by the authors of the first scrolls. Such an apologist may refer to the originals as

pre-existent and currently existingÖin the heavenly realm. This set of ìoriginalsî

would indeed be without error and remain so because they are with God in some sort of

ethereal sense. Of course, making such an appeal is as equally without evidence as claiming

the first earthly copies of the Bible were without error, but it also puts any chance

of verifying the assertion completely out of reach. The claim is on par with other fantastical

stories like Joseph Smithís mysterious Golden Plates or the New Ageís Akashic Records.

The Bible then becomes some sort of fourth-wheel in the Christian Trinity ñGod, the Father,

God, the Son, God, the Holy Spirit, and God, the Bible. For the True Believer, one not

interested in actual evidence or factual claims, making the only inerrant copies of the Bible

as mysterious and out of reach as the God which inspired them is extremely comforting.

The assertion cannot be proved, but it can be disproven either. As such, however, it

is completely useless to one not already convinced of the Bibleís inerrancy and divine inspiration.

An original inerrant Bible is exactly what one would expect were the Bible inspired by

an omniscient, omnipotent God and just such an inerrant original is what is claimed to

have existed by biblical apologists. However, if a god were interested in inspiring an inerrant

original Bible it follows that this god would be as equally interested in assuring inerrant

copies of the text. But this is not what is found. Errant copies are, however, what would

be expected for texts not under divine stewardship. Without an original Bible to verify the claim

of inerrancy, the only Bibles currently available for examination are the errant copies. Errant

copies, then, evidence not divine authorship or inspiration, but an all-too fallible human

production. Deferring to an inaccessible original version of the Bible does not help support

the claim of biblical inerrancy. While going through the biblical text, readers

cannot help but notice strange descriptions of natural phenomena which are at variance

with modern scientific understandings of our world. Referring to the sky as a solid dome,

for example, or to the sun as moving over the earth as a runner runs a race, is unexpected

if these texts were authored by an omniscient being who mustíve known the sky was a permeable

atmosphere and that the sun was stationary in relation to the earth. Such ìlanguage

of appearanceî is known as phenomenological language and is, in and of itself, not in

error strictly speaking. From a human perspective, the sky does appear as a dome covering overhead

and the sun does appear to move across the sky ñas opposed to the observer moving beneath

the sun. Apologists assert that God allowed such phenomenological language to be used

in the biblical text becauseÖwell, there never really is a reason given for why God

allowed such language to be used in the Bible other than the self-affirming reason that

God allowed it! Some apologists will point out that even today

people who know better, like weather forecasters on TV, use phenomenological language like

ìsunriseî and ìsunsetAre we to assume scientific inaccuracy when the TV forecaster

uses such words and phrases? Yes. Because the sun does not rise and the sun does not

set. These are terms of convenience and are in our language largely because they exist

in such ancient, scientifically ignorant literature like the Bible. If people knew, 3000 years

ago, that the sun does not really rise and set but that the earth turns underneath it,

they might have invented different words to describe the phenomena. This seems especially

true for those inspired by an omniscient god. It certainly is not absurd to expect that

the Hebrew authors of the Bible would have invented new words to describe what God inspired

them to write if phenomenological language would cause future confusion or doubt over

the divine inspiration of the text. Was the Bible only inspired so the Hebrews alone could

easily understand it? The Hebrews are described as the only tribe of humans whom God favored

with his presence and his knowledge. To evidence this special designation, it certainly would

have been helpful if this God had inspired unique and scientifically accurate descriptions

of natural phenomena instead of merely allowing the Hebrews to blend in with their less-favored

neighbors, merely describing things the way everyone else was doing at the time.

But the Bible, the apologists say, is not a science textbook. It neednít have been

so precise that it ignores the plain speaking and observations of the human beings writing

it. The authors were allowed to write things from their perspective, not from the perspective

of God. However, the same is true of every other, non-divinely-inspired ancient (and

even many modern) documents. If the biblical text was allowed to reflect the inaccurate

perspective of human beings ñand not that of Godís overarching perspective-- how can

the apologistóor anyone!-- tell the difference between a biblical author writing something

phenomenologically because he simply didnít know any better and a biblical author writing

something phenomenologically because God allowed him to do so during divine inspiration? The

text, written either way, would look identical so the appeal to phenomenological language

as something God simply allowed to happen but was nonetheless responsible for during

the process of divine inspiration is an empty, unsupported and self-serving assertion. How

can we know when God allowed, under divine inspiration, an author to use phenomenological

language, the apologist may be asked? When the author used phenomenological language,

will come the reply. The assertion gets us nowhere.

The use of phenomenological language certainly doesnít support the claim of divine inspiration

or biblical inerrancy. How does one distinguish between the divine inspiration of phenomenological

language when its use is perfectly natural for un-inspired works of literature?

Some apologists will argue that what looks on the surface to be errors of scientific

fact found in the Bible, are instead instances of the use of equivocal language. Matters

which were simply too complicated for the biblical authors to comprehend, but not for

the creator of the universe to understand, were inspired to be written in equivocal language

so that the ancient writers could get as close to the truth without having to actually face

it head on. Terms were inspired to be left undefined and vague for the ancient audience

until future minds encountered the text with sufficiently advanced knowledge to understand

what God was really trying to say. So, for example, the description of the sky in Genesis

1 gives the impression of a solid, domed canopy which rests above the earth, separating the

seas, rivers and lakes below the canopy from a vast, extraterrestrial reserve of water

above. And God made the firmament, and divided the

waters which [were] under the firmament from the waters which [were] above the firmament:

and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.

However, according to the apologist who invokes the inspiration of equivocal language the

Hebrew term raqiya, used in the biblical text to name the sky dome and which has its etymological

roots in objects which are solid, like tin or gold, and hammered or stretched out to

cover another object, is actually equivocal enough to allow for a later audience, educated

in the discoveries of modern science, to understand the term to really be referring to a permeable,

multi-layered atmosphere or even to outer space itself!

What such an apologetic assumes, of course, is that the ancient authors and their audience

were too unintelligent or naÔve to understand the reality of Godís revelation and so he

condescended to them, like children, tucking a deeper meaning into the text that these

more simple-minded people apparently couldnít possibly comprehend. However, it is not at

all true that the ancients had less intellectual capacity than do modern humans. Itís simply

a fact of history that they didnít have access to the knowledge that we have today. It is

not the case that ancient people were too mentally challenged to grasp and comprehend

more complicated ideas. Certainly they had as much intelligence to understand and articulate

accurately basic scientific facts as can most high school students today. The apologist

insults these ancient authors by treating them as a sort of sub-species of human, without

the intelligence to understand the basic science of the 21st century. But this simply is not

true. While the ancients may have never seen a modern automobile, they certainly had the

mental capacity to be taught the basics about the vehicle and, more, how to drive one.

Additionally, if God had inspired the texts in language merely appropriate for a more

naÔve people, with the proper anticipation such an omniscient being would possess for

a more intellectually sophisticated audience in the future, why do we not find clear markers

in the Bible to such an affect? In other words, why do we not find such phrases as ìThis

is written not as it is, but only so that you will understandî or some other such marker

in the text? These phrases would certainly give evidence to support the apologistís

assertion that certain words or ideas were inspired to be equivocal in the text for ancient

audiences in anticipation of future readers with the intellectual capacity to understand

Godís greater meaning. Lacking such phrases the apologistís assertion looks rather vacant.

Apologists are right about one thing, however. Equivocal language does exist in the biblical

text. But it exists not because it was inspired to be there. Vague and undefined terms are

used because the authors themselves did not have a clear and precise understanding of

the nature of reality. They were driven, not by a lack of intellectual capacity, but merely

by scientific ignorance. When the sky, for example, was given a descriptive name which

evoked an image of a solid dome, stretched to cover the earth like an overturned tea-cup,

it was because the ancient authors clearly thought this was the nature of reality. The

use of equivocal language was not done for a later generationís benefit, for modern

apologists to stuff their own meaning into the text. Literature produced purely under

the limitations of human knowledge certainly would use equivocal language when writers

did not understand the deeper nature of a scientific reality, when knowledge was guided

by superstition, myths and legends. However, equivocal language is not something one would

expect to find in a text inspired by an omniscient deity.

As one apologetic source puts it: ìFalse religious systems often use equivocation to

twist scripture to make it say what they want it to sayBut not only the so-called false

religious systems, but even biblical apologists use this technique.

A number of apologists attempt to remove problems found in the Bible by redefining words. Many

words in the Bible have multiple meanings. For example, the Hebrew ìnaíarî can mean

ìa boy,î ìa youth,î ìa young manor even more broadly, ìchildrenMost of the

time, words with multiple meanings can be understood in the context in which they are

found, and often by helping words. So, for example, ìboyî is clearly the definition

of naíar in the story of Elisha and the Bears in 2 Kings. Here, ìnaíarî is defined by

being paired with another word, ìqatan.î ìQatanî can mean ìyoung,î ìsmallor

ìinsignificantWhen qualifying ìnaíarhowever, qatan always means ìsmallî as in

ìyoungî and so the qatan naíar in the story of Elisha are ìlittle boysî or ìyoung children

However, the apologist who is embarrassed by the story of Elishaís curse in 2 Kings,

in which God sends two bears to maul the qatan naíar, the little boys or young children,

because of an insult they leveled against Godís prophet, is motivated to change the

meaning of qatan and naíar so that the story is no longer as horrific for modern ears.

The apologist removes the words from their context of 2 Kings and imposes upon them alternate

but improbable definitions in order to rewrite the tale. So, for example, ìnaíarî is said

to indicate an older male instead of a boy or child, and ìqatanî is defined as ìinsignificant

In the hands of the apologist, the term ìqatan naíarî no longer means ìlittle boyî or

ìyoung childrenî as the context of 2 Kings clearly implies, but ìinsignificant male

The little boys in the story of 2 Kings are then transformed into a marauding band of

homeless, dangerous highwayman in the throes of the apologetic frenzy so that the curse

from Elisha and the ensuing bear attack become a reasonable and palatable outcome for such

a vicious gang of outlaws. There certainly is nothing wrong with assigning

the proper definitions to difficult words or phrases in the biblical text. The problem

with this approach comes when the goal is not to educate the reader but to obscure a

Bible difficulty, cover up an embarrassing passage, and promote a specific apologetic

agenda. Difficult passages in the Bible, even those

which appear to be in historical or scientific error, are claimed by some apologists to have

been woven into the text through inspiration of God in order to persuade readers to become

more attentive and engaged with the text. Difficult passages in the Bible, especially

those which reflect an alien time and culture, cause readers to spend more time studying

the scriptures to grasp their meaning which has a therapeutic effect, some apologists

will assert. The Greek word for disciple used in the New Testament literally means ìpupilî

or ìlearnerî and those who freely choose to immerse themselves in a deep study of the

Bible mark themselves as true disciples of God. God certainly isnít interested in coercing

people to come to belief in him by inspiring a clear and accurate text.

But how is having the best available evidence for the existence of God and his inspiration

of the biblical text--a text clear and unambiguous-- considered coercion? In the sense some biblical

apologetics may be using the word, coercion can be defined as ìcompelling to an act or

choiceUsing this definition, perhaps a clear and unambiguous biblical text could

be considered a form of mild coercion into belief in GodÖbut how can that be considered

a bad thing by biblical apologists and Christian theists? Isnít this exactly the goal they

have in mind? Isnít the practice of apologetics itself a form of coercion if it clears confusion

about the text and offers evidence for Godís inspiration of the narratives and his existence?

How is making the text clear through apologetics not coercion but a clear text from divine

inspiration is? It isnít that thereís a request for God

to write his text across the sky, on the moon, in rock formations on Mars or to ìzapî perfect

personal understanding of the Bible into everyoneís heads. A science textbook, for example, may

be difficult to comprehend because of the subject matter, but the authors of such texts

strive to write them as clearly and as free from error as humanly possible. Certainly

they are not trying to coerce anyone into learning from their textbooks but merely making

the subject matter as accessible and understandable to as many readers as possible. Translators,

too, will work extremely hard to translate texts from one language into another so that

the meaning of the original text is retained in the copies. Humans work on their own literature

to these degrees when the text is important enough to warrant such pain-staking precision

and often achieve remarkable results. Students read their texts and understand the subject

matter without encountering unnecessarily cumbersome chapters or obvious errors of fact.

And this is accomplished solely through human effort. So the question is: why isnít the

divinely inspired book of an omniscient, omnipotent God similarly as accessible as supernaturally

possible? Even though it might be expected that a book

authored by an omniscient being should be easier to understand and not require advanced

degrees in multiple languages, the social sciences, archaeology and the like, the fact

is the Bible does require its readers to dig down deeper than what is plainly on the surface

of the text. And this is to be expected, not from a book authored by an all-powerful God,

but one authored by very real, very earth-bound people who didnít have the advantage of omniscience,

who were not careful to understand their words would carry across centuries to people of

other places and other times, but instead were prisoners of their own time and place,

their own culture, unable to break free of these constraints precisely because they were

not liberated by a powerful deity inspiring a timeless document intended for all humankind.

The Bible shows all the features of literature produced out of specific ages and cultures

and thus must be approached as such, without the expectations of divine inspiration forced

upon it by its apologists. But beyond the failure of the text to meet

the simple expectation of clarity if it were indeed inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent

being, objective study of the Bible often has the opposite effect of what the apologists

intend. Many who read the Bible and study it in depth come to the conclusion that the

scriptures certainly are NOT inerrant and in fact are far from what one would expect

from a document inspired by a timeless deity. To be sure, such a study helps place the Bible

in its historical context. Understanding the political, social and religious structures

out of which the Bible was produced helps explain some of the peculiarities of the text.

However, apologists who claim a more rigorous study of the Bible leads one to a better understanding

of the Bible as Godís inerrant Word start with that conclusion already in mind and then

tailor their ìstudyî to conform to this belief. If a student is not willing to go

where studies lead, and is only interested in gathering carefully selected data to support

a preconceived conclusion ñnamely that the Bible is the inerrant word of Godóthen why

bother being a student of the text at all? Such a person might as well simply announce,

ìGod said it, I believe it, that settles itî and not waste time with the pretense

of being a student of the biblical text. Some apologists note that to have a truly

inerrant copy of the Bible in todayís world would create enormous logistical problems

for God. Each of these problems has to do with the transmission of Godís inerrant Word

as given in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek of the originals into the variety of human

language alive in the world today. According to virtually every apologist for

the inerrancy of the biblical text, the original scrolls and parchments of the biblical books

were inspired inerrant. However, they say, errors can be misunderstood to exist in the

text due to translation. Because every language has its own unique idioms, archaic terminology,

puns, euphemisms, and other forms of speech, these often do not translate well into other

languages and thus, certain sections of the Bible can seem confusing. Problems can arise

from translating these unique forms of speech into modern languages and these problems can

cause some readers to perceive errors in the text when the error is actually in the translation.

Thus, the perceived error does not exist in the ìoriginalî version of the Bible, the

apologist will argue, but only in the translations. However, apologists seem to forget that unique

idioms, archaic terminology, puns, euphemisms and other forms of speech are present in all

human literature. They are markers which place such literature firmly in the time and culture

out of which they were produced. Apologists cannot explain how the presence of such unique

but confusing speech argues for a divinely inspired document meant to transcend such

limiting use of language. Clearer language is certainly something one would expect from

an omniscient, omnipotent being. Apologists cannot seem to explain why, if a god is responsible

for inspiring his divine intentions clearly into Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, he is not

also capable of inspiring equal clarity into translations of English, Spanish and Chinese

other than to assert it somehow causes logistical problems for the deity. Are translators somehow

closed to divine inspiration whereas the original authors were not?

Nearly all apologists acknowledge that current copies of the Bible contain errors, even if

that acknowledgement is only for the minor copyist errors that exist in the texts.

For example, in 2 Chronicles 9:25 the author states Solomon had four thousand stalls for

horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen which seems to contradict 1 Kings 4:26 which

states Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand

horsemen. Which is correct? Apologists will claim that the ORIGINAL manuscripts only had

one number, probably the FOUR thousand figure, and the apparent contradiction introduced

by 1 Kings 4:26 is merely a copyist slip of the pen.

Is it possible the two verses did, at an earlier time, agree? Itís of course possible; and,

moreso, itís probable. And if they did agree on the figure for the number of Solomonís

stalls, wouldnít a copyistís error explain the contradiction? It certainly would. Certainly

this is the actual reason why we find these sorts of errors in the Bible and in most other

works of ancient literature. Before the creation of the printing press, copies of ancient documents

were done by hand by very fallible human beings. Monks, sitting in damp quarters lit only by

natural light or candles, put quill to parchment while looking back and forth between original

scroll and the copy they were producing. Clearly minor errors like the number of horse stalls

Solomon kept could easily creep in from even the best and most attentive copyist. They

were only human, after all, and given the number of centuries that separate the original

versions of these books and the most recent copies, itís virtually guaranteed that such

errors would enter the text. But this isnít just any ancient manuscript.

This is not even one of Homerís epics, or an account of the deeds of Alexander the Great.

This is a book, originally authored by a powerful, careful, painstaking God who took the trouble

to inspire his words perfectly when first written, according to the apologists. However,

this God then, by the very fact that such errors exist, must have suddenly went inattentive

and allowed these originally perfectly inspired words to diverge into contradiction in the

copies. But why? Apologists complain that if God were to inspire

every copy of his Bible to be as inerrant as the original he would be turned into a

micromanager. This complaint doesnít travel far because, among other things, it assumes

micromanaging the inerrant copying of the worldís most important and only divinely

inspired book is somehow a waste of GodísÖtime. That, in order to have as perfect copies as

the original, God would need to work miracles. The apologistsí complaint ignores the fact

that God ñaccording to the assertionóthought it important enough to intervene in human

history and the lives of certain human beings to have his book produced but then assumes

the maintenance of its reproduction was somehow less important. If it was not defiling the

will of the original human authors to have them write the exact words God intended, why

is it violating a copyistís will to have him pay strict attention to the reproduction

of this most sacred text? Indeed, a simple error which found its way into an early printing

of the Bible was quickly discovered by non-omniscient humans and corrected by them. The so-called

ìImmoral Bibleî was published in the 16th century with Exodus 20:14 reading, ìThou

SHALT commit adulteryleaving out the ìnotî! If humans catch and correct such errors of

transmission, why not God? While some apologists acknowledge these copyist

errors in the biblical text but claim that they are minor and unimportant to the overall

message of the Scriptures. They point out that while copyists may have confused the

number of stalls Solomon may have had, they did not confuse the much greater message being

communicated through such stories. Indeed, the apologists will boast that only by a supernatural

act could God have preserved this message of Scripture through the centuries and this

consistent message is proof that God divinely inspired the biblical texts. Such apologists

who so readily claim Godís miraculous intervention in preserving the message of the Bible are

the same apologists who claim it would have been an act of coercion, or micromanagement,

for God to have miraculously intervened to keep the very words of Scripture inerrant.

Apologists are often found wanting to not only have their cake, but eat it, too.

Apologists may state that having inerrant translations of the Bible into every known

language of the world would be logistically impossible for mankind to handle. And yet,

the Bible today is the most widely translated book in human history. Without a doubt allowances

by the translators are made for the wide variety of languages and cultures in which these bibles

are produced but nearly everyone has opportunity to read the Bible in their own native tongue.

So far, the logistics involved in producing the Bible into all these languages has not

been a problem for humankind so assuring inerrancy in these translations surely shouldnít be

a problem for an omnipotent God. Error or inerrancy can exist in any language.

The stories of the Bible are the same no matter what a person's worldview or assumptions.

Either the walls of Jericho fell to Joshuaís trumpets or they did not. The story is either

historically inerrant or it is not. The story's inerrancy does not rely upon a person's language.

However and again, some apologists view inerrant Bibles appearing in every language, in every

corner of the world as an act of coercion. They envision God manipulating the hands of

every scribe copying every version of the Bible, interfering with printing presses to

assure an inerrant delivery. But the reproduction of the text to reflect exactly the words God

wanted would no more be an act of coercion than was the original inspiration of the text.

If God was careful enough to assure the inerrant delivery of his original texts, there is no

logical (or logistical) reason why he could not do the same with the copies.

Some apologists want to redefine what an error is by stating that what may be considered

an error in the mind of a 21st century reader of the biblical text may not have been an

error in the mind of the original author. We should judge the inerrancy of the Bible

by the standards of those who wrote it. For example:

In the 11th Chapter of Leviticus, verses 13 and 19 we read of a very odd classification

of animals. Odd, of course, to 21st century ears:

And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls...and the stork,

the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

The modern reader will immediately recognize the apparent error: Bats are not birds! However,

in this verse, bats are included not in a modern biological classification system, but

in an ancient one. For the biblical authors, bats and birds were classified together as

ìwinged animalsThe Hebrew word translated ìfowlî in the King James Version of this

verse is owph. In more modern translations, the word is rendered ìbirdThe ancient

Hebrews did not classify animals the way modern biologists do; there was no classification

for mammals and so the bat merely belonged to the group of animals with wings. While

the modern classification system may be a more scientifically accurate way to group

animals, grouping together animals because they have winged appendages isnít necessarily

an ìerrorHowever, an ancient classification system

which lumps bats together with birds, clearly is reflective of human invention, not divine.

These sorts of markers are the fingerprints of human authors, exactly what one would expect

if the text was not of divine origin. While such writing might not necessarily be in error,

it certainly reflects its very human authorship. Some apologists lay blame for biblical errors

at the feet of the Bible's critics. They acknowledge that the Bible isn't perfect, but it isn't

perfect insofar as it obviously wasn't written with a modern audience in mind. Skeptics raising

objections to the claim of biblical inerrancy are sometimes labeled fundamentalist atheists

who simply donít know how read the Bible properly. Apologists will insist that God

inspired the authors of the biblical books but that doesn't mean God inspired the writings

so that they would be understood by everyone. These so-called errors in the Bible highlighted

by skeptics are created by a misunderstanding of the Bible; of not reading it properly.

The question is then raised, who CAN understand the Bible? The apologist will answer, of course,

that they understand the Bible best and offer their services in guiding readers through

the difficult passages of the Bible. Never mind that apologists often disagree amongst

themselves on the best paths through these treacherous pages!

Despite the apologistís self-serving function of accusing critics of the Bible of not understanding

it in its proper contexts, the Bible is indeed a product of its own age and as such is difficult

to understand. It must be approached in its own contexts: literary, historical, cultural

and so on. Of course this is as true for the Bible as it is for any other work of ancient

literature so itís difficult to understand how an acknowledgement of these contexts does

not undermine the assertion of divine authorship. The Bible isn't easy to understand precisely

because it wasn't the product of a supernatural being. The Bible is difficult to understand

for the same reasons most ancient literature is difficult to understand. It is the product

not of a god but of human beings. A product of human beings not inspired to write the

thoughts of a divine entity but inspired by their own imaginations, inspired by the peculiarities

of their own times and cultures, written within the confines and structures of their own worlds,

separated from modern readers by thousands of years.

For example, the ancient Near Eastern authors of the biblical text did not possess the concept

of a world created from nothingness. They did not possess concepts of quantum physics

or string theory. They invented stories from their immediate surroundings, circumstances

and experiences. Theirs was a world of finite resources, struggle, nature and chaos. In

the creation story of Genesis 1, the author did not, could not, imagine his god magically

conjuring a planet ñmuch less an entire universeófrom nothing. Instead, formless water pre-exists

everything. It was from this watery chaos that God moved and brought order, and from

this water the earth arose. In turn, from the earth, God formed the world familiar to

the Genesis author. In this story, God is more a manager, less an artist. Linear, logical,

abstract ideas which permeate our Western world did not exist for the ancient authors

writing the biblical narratives. Additionally, from the overall structure of Genesis 1, it

is clear that this story is giving an explanation for the Jewish institution of the Sabbath.

The authors, already aware that their religion dictated rest on the seventh day of the week,

crafted a creation story to explain, in part, where this practice originated. Many such

origin stories, known as etiologies, exist in a variety of ancient literature. Study

of the cultural and historical contexts from which these stories arose helps bring these

facts into focus. But this is precisely true of any ancient

literature. The Bible certainly is not unique. And that is the point. For many, a deeper

understanding of not just the biblical texts but discoveries of history and modern science

actually lead them away from belief in the Bible as the inerrant word of God. How is

understanding the opening chapter of Genesis as depicting God as an administrator of chaos

in the context of ancient Near Eastern mythology, or as an etiological story regarding the institution

of the Jewish Sabbath day, rather than a historical account of creation supportive of biblical

inerrancy? Understanding the character of god or the institution of a religious practice

in this historical context does not make the creation story of Genesis any more accurate.

But if Genesis was never intended to give an accurate description of creation, and was

merely meant to describe what the authors believed about their god and why no one in

their culture was supposed to work on the seventh day of the week, how is that any more

evidence of ìinspirationî or ìinfallibilityî than a contextual understanding of the Egyptian

creation myth, or the Babylonian? An apologist may object that if copies of

the Bible were maintained as inerrant as the original, such copies would become the focus

of worship. This would then take focus away from worshipping the true creator and turn

human beings into idolaters, worshipping a book instead of God. However, such an apologist

does not explain how inerrant originals did not create this idolatry so it is unclear

how inerrant copies would. An apologist making such a claim may draw

a parallel between inerrant copies of the Bible and some other highly revered historical

document. The original United States Declaration of Independence is just such a document. It

is painstakingly preserved, held on display at the National Archives Rotunda in Washington,

D.C., in encasements made of titanium and aluminum, filled with inert argon gas. Long

lines wait to view the Declaration with patrons passing through metal detectors and under

the watchful eyes of armed security guards and electronic cameras. The Declaration is

indeed held apart from many other works of literature available in the United States

and doubtless an original Bible, should it ever have existed, would be similarly treated.

More to the apologistís point, however, even exact copies of the Declaration, made around

the time of the original, are held in high regard. These rare copies are found in various

collections, meticulously preserved, highly prized and carefully guarded. Occasionally

these exact, some might say inerrant, copies of the original Declaration go on public tour.

These tours are an example of modern security practices. Metal detectors, armed guards,

special viewing containers and electronic surveillance are in abundance at these displays.

The apologist will claim that this reverence for even a copy of the Declaration is what

is feared would follow exact, inerrant copies of the Bible. The attention is drawn to the

document instead of the author and misguided reverence is exactly what God wants to avoid

and so he allows errors to mar his otherwise perfect text.

However, what the apologist fails to realize in this extravagant, imaginative scenario

which he invents erupting around inerrant copies of the Bible, is that such caution

is taken with the Declaration of Independence and its few surviving contemporary copies

not because they are inerrant, but because they are rare. The reason the Declaration

of Independence on display at the National Archives is preserved and protected by such

extraordinary measures is because it IS the original Declaration of Independence!

Doubtless an original Bible would be held somewhere similar ñperhaps in the Vaticanóunder

similar cautionary measures. And why not? The original Bible would be rare, indeed!

The reason the few copies of the Declaration are similarly held in high regard is because

only a relatively few exist. If only a few inerrant copies of the Bible existed, they

too would likely be highly prized. However, anyone with access to a computer can read

the Declaration, word for word, copied exactly from the original without copyist error or

translation difficulties, from the National Archives website. Users can download an exact,

inerrant copy of the Declaration of Independence from a multitude of sites, or purchase a precise

duplicate from many retail stores. All of these exact, inerrant copies of the

Declaration of Independence have not caused a frenzy of attention over their existence.

There are not throngs of security-checked patrons lining up to get their error-free

copy of the Declaration at local bookstores. Purchasers online do not have their personal

information cross referenced by the Department of Homeland Security when downloading an inerrant

copy. While the original Declaration of Independence can be said to be revered, almost to the point

of worship, by many Americans, the same cannot be said of these exact copies printed from

PDF files on cheap computer paper. And the same would be true of inerrant copies

of the Bible. The focus would not be on the fact that there were copies of an inerrant

Bible, but on the fact of the inerrancy itself. In other words, having a copy of an inerrant

Bible would not cause anyone any surprise. It would be the inerrancy itself, sustained

through centuries of copying, which would be astonishing. But, isnít that what the

apologists already claim about the Bible? That it IS already inerrantÖonce the supposed

errors are explained away through apologetics. The only thing which could have maintained

inerrancy in the Bible from the originals down through all the copies would have been

divine intervention. But apologists already claim divine intervention in the originals

so why would divine intervention in the copies be any greater a problem? Inerrancy in the

copies would simply support the apologists claim of divine inspiration and biblical inerrancy!

The only thing truly inerrant copies of the Bible would do is perhaps put apologists out

of a job! The fact that numerous errors exist in the

Bible ñeven simple ones caused by copyistsóis evidence that even if inerrancy existed in

the original Bible, it was not maintained in the subsequent copies. And this is to be

expected of a Bible not under the stewardship of an omnipotent being, but is evidence, instead,

of the very human production and reproduction of the biblical texts.

Most apologists insist that the Bible was inspired by God. But some acknowledge that

it was written by fallible human beings and assert these human authors are the ones responsible

for introducing error into the text simply because they were human. In other words, when

men wrote the Bible, they included historical and scientific error because they simply did

not have the knowledge we have today. God is not responsible for this sort of error.

For instance, the author of Isaiah was like many other ancient people of his age, sharing

belief in the world as a flat, disc-shaped object. This author had no idea the earth

was a sphere and so when he wrote Isaiah 40:22, It is he who sits above the circle of the

earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in; it was under this erroneous impression that

the earth was flat. Nonetheless, the author of Isaiah was writing under the inspiration

of God, writing of Godís magnificence and awesome power. God was not inspiring the author

to write scientifically accurate prose, but merely was the inspiration for the writing

itself. In a similar manner, a man may write a poem, inspired by the love he feels for

a woman. While the woman and his love for her inspired his writing, the writing itself

belongs solely to the man. If this is true of the Bible, the very words

of Scripture can no longer be considered divinely inspired and the doctrine of inerrancy is

irretrievably lost. Clearly, passages like Isaiah 40:22 which describe the earth as a

circle, a flat, disc-shaped object, are in error scientifically. Few supporters of the

Bibleís divine inspiration would say that God inspired the author of Isaiah to write

a scientifically inaccurate description of the earth. However, such supporters may agree

that Isaiahís love and respect for God inspired him to write this passage, in the context

of the scientific naivety of his day, merely in order to express this love and respect.

What is important is the love and respect, not the descriptions of the earth as a circle

or the sky as a tent. The question is raised, then, of how this

makes the Bible any different from any other inspired literature, like a poem written from

a manís love for a woman. Such inspiration may indeed explain some of the errors in the

Bible but it does nothing to evidence the Bibleís inerrancy or the existence of God.

God neednít exist in order to explain someoneís inspiration caused by BELIEF in god. The Bible,

then, is no different from any other religiously inspired literature. And if error is merely

a product of the authorís time, Jesus is recorded as having made certain errors himself.

In Matthew 19, Jesus refers both to Adam and Eve as well as to Moses as if these were historical

persons. The science of biological evolution negates the statement Jesus made that God

created human beings, male and female, ìat the beginningjust as science negates the

statement in Isaiah that the earth is a circle. Also, since there is no historical reference

to the exodus outside of the Bible, and centuries of archaeological research has failed to turn

up evidence of the Hebrewís massive escape from bondage in Egypt, Moses was, in all likelihood,

merely a legendary figure. If such errors in the Bible are the result of human fallibility,

then were these errors by Jesus due to his own scientific and historical ignorance? But

as Jesus is believed to have been God incarnate, few evangelical apologists take this approach.

More conservative apologists use a variation of this theme. While they also acknowledge

that men wrote the Bible, they still maintain that it was through direct inspiration of

God. However, God had to work through these men who were typically fallible and bound

by their own time and cultures. So, passages like Isaiah which give an inaccurate description

of the earth were indeed inspired by God directly to reveal his magnificence and sovereignty

over creation, but the inaccuracy itself was a by-product of having this writing done through

human beings. In other words, God could not, or would not, over-ride human fallibility

and so errors of scientific and historical fact were unfortunately, and unavoidably,

woven into the text. How such limitations could have bound an omnipotent beingís hand

is rarely discussed. When it is, apologists prefer to weakly assert that God simply did

not wish to coerce the writers into writing exactly what he wanted, but settled for a

close approximation. How this argues for divine inspiration or inerrancy, however, is lost.

The Bible, with such human fallibilities woven into the text, looks exactly like literature

written exclusively by human beings. Some apologists will try to rescue the inerrancy

of the bible by referring to a symbolic or metaphoric interpretation of certain, troublesome

passages. For example, the Genesis 1 story of creation is obviously at odds with the

discoveries of modern science. Some apologists will abandon a literal reading of the chapter

in favor of one that, admittedly, is probably more faithful to the original context of the

tale. These apologists will note that the author of Genesis 1 was not writing a scientific

textbook on the origins of the universe, but was instead authoring a polemic against neighboring

ancient Near Eastern polytheistic mythologies which competed with the strict monotheism

of the Yahwehist cult. These apologists will stress that the creation story of Genesis

was written poetically, and, as 1 century Christian apologist and theologian Augustine

asserted, ìNo Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative

senseÖî The error with this sort of apologetic is

that it settles on ONE type of literature that these passages may demonstrate while

ignoring other types of literature into which these biblical stories may fall. For the apologist

defending the creation story of Genesis 1, it is obvious how stressing the poetic nature

of the writing can help deflect criticism of the tale if it is read literally. In light

of modern scientific discoveries, the creation story of Genesis 1 is absurd. However, to

simply conclude the entire chapter is poetry, noting that Genesis 1 contains certain poetic

structures, is jumping too hastily to a desired but erroneous conclusion. While some passages

of the Bible are clearly metaphors, meant to be read figuratively, they nonetheless

give clues about the Hebrew worldview, which is frequently not a worldview consistent with

modern views and certainly not a worldview one would expect from an omniscient God. Genesis

1, while containing metaphor and symbolism, still contains elements of ancient Hebrew

cosmology which is scientifically inaccurate. Genesis 1 is an ancient cosmology, attempting

to explain the origin of the sky, the earth, plants, animals and heavenly bodies; in this

sense it is an origins myth. An apologist may try to divert attention away

from the chapterís scientific errors by claiming the story was not intended to be read as proto-science,

but nonetheless, Hebrew proto-scientific ideas are embedded in the text. This simply cannot

be glossed over by claiming Genesis is poetry. The imagery used in the poem of Genesis 1

is still the imagery of a scientifically ignorant ancient culture and not what one would expect

to have been inspired by an omniscient God. Certainly, if the text was divinely inspired,

this deity could have coated its message in a more accurate cosmology, satisfying both

ancient and modern audiences, providing evidence of the supernatural origin of the narrative.

As it stands, the text has all the appearances of having originated in the scientifically

ignorant mind of an all-too fallible human author without benefit of divine aid.

Genesis 1 is also a narrative, with characters, tension, plot and conclusion. It serves as

religious propaganda carefully designed to stand in opposition to other ancient Near

Eastern creation stories and legitimize Hebrew religious, political, and social values. The

author of Genesis 1 has taken an older, rival mythology from Mesopotamia, and has recast

it in a Yahweist mold. Fragments of this older Mesopotamian myth can be found in other books

of the Bible including Psalms, Job, and Isaiah. And, if Genesis 1 was originally meant merely

as metaphor and not to be taken at all literally by anyone who read the narrative, was this

important insight missed by the author of Exodus? Exodus 20:11,

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested

the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

It would seem this author wasnít aware of modern apologetics which steer away from a

literal reading of Genesis 1. Many apologists using this technique however

fail to apply this symbolic or metaphoric reading to passages which hit much closer

to home, especially for the Christian. The empty tomb, for example, may not have been

a historical reality, but a figurative answer to critics of the early Christian movement

regarding the reality of Jesusí resurrection. Itís a rare apologist who explores to possibility

of the New Testament gospel stories of the empty tomb as potential metaphor. And when

they do respond, they are as foaming at the mouth fundamentalist about the literalism

of the empty tomb as any creationist is about the historicity of Genesis 1.

In the end, referring to the Bible's symbolic or metaphoric meanings does nothing to elevate

it to that of a divinely inspired text any more than any other ancient OR modern metaphoric

literature can be considered divine based on a figurative reading. It certainly does

nothing to argue for infallibility, either, at least not objectively, as the apologist

can assign almost whatever meaning they wish to a figurative text and claim this is what

was originally intended. The creation story of Genesis 1 for example, an ancient Hebrew

monotheistic cosmology, can be interpreted symbolically to support any number of ideas,

including a reference to the Christian trinity: with God, the father, as the center of the

story, the creator, Jesus, the son, as the Word through which everything was brought

into existence, and the Holy Spirit, that which hovered over the primordial waters.

For the apologist, deciding which biblical passages are figurative and which are literal

is a highly subjective, and individualistic, exercise.

Some apologists will claim that reading and understanding the Bible cannot be done alone.

Reading the Bible properly requires reading it with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

As part of the trinity, the Holy Spirit is that manifestation of God which some Christians

claim helps to illuminate their minds as they read the Bible. The Holy Spirit leads readers

to the Bibleís truth. In the same way that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the

Bible by working through the minds of the authors who wrote it, the Holy Spirit works

through a readerís careful study of the Scriptures. As God spoke directly to the hearts of those

writing the Bible, through the Holy Spirit he speaks to the hearts of those reading it.

This all sounds good to those who already believe, but what does it really mean? How

can one test whether or not they are reading the Bible with the Holy Spirit? How does reading

the Bible with the Holy Spirit independently support biblical inerrancy? The Bible, so

the claim goes, was already divinely inspired during its production. Apparently this wasnít

sufficient enough to get the message through and so the book must be read with the authorís

help. If the Spirit had done such a poor job inspiring the original manuscripts to be free

from scientific and historical error and clear enough that most people could read the Bible

plainly, what confidence is there that the Spirit can do any better of a job inspiring

understanding of the cumbersome, defective text for individual readers today? Itís a

proposal thatís virtually irrelevant to anyone who hasnít already decided the Bible is inerrant.

Not to mention the circularity of stating that the truth of the Bible is hidden from

those who donít believe in the truth of the Bible but not from those who believe in that

truth. And, thereís the fact that different people claiming to have read the Bible under

direction of the Holy Spirit come to different conclusions about the parts that cause doubt

about inerrancy in the first place. Does one know theyíve properly read the Bible with

the Holy Spirit if they understand the days of the creation story in Genesis 1 refer to

literal 24 hour periods or if they understand the days of the creation story to be eras

of indeterminate length? Does one know theyíve properly read the Bible with the Holy Spirit

if they understand Noahís flood was merely a local affair or if they understand Noahís

flood was global? Referring to the Holy Spirit as a guide which dissolves problems found

in the biblical text is a useless suggestion for supporting the claim of inerrancy.

Errors exist in the Bible. This fact is undeniable, even for the apologist. But, a number of apologists

will argue, while the Bible does contain error, these errors do not obstruct Godís inspired

truth from coming through the pages of Scripture. In other words, the Bible as we have it today

may not be a perfect re-creation of the original, inerrant scripts, but it is sufficiently accurate

enough for readers to understand Godís meaning. But what meaning is that? When Jesus was asked

in the New Testament gospel of Matthew what he considered the greatest commandment he

answered, ìYou shall love the Lord your God with all

your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first

commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these

two commandments hang all the law and the prophets

The Law and the Prophets referred to in the passage from Matthew are the Jewish scriptures

as they existed in the 1st century CE. So, if we are to trust what Jesus said was the

inspired core message of the Bible, it was merely to love God and each other. Do we really

need 66 books to tell us that? It seems a terrible waste of time, energy, paper, ink

and space. If the Bible is to be sifted through merely for this sufficient message, what use

is the remaining material? Itís very difficult to imagine why, in addition to the brief,

inspired truth of Matthew 22, God needed to include a story about a man sacrificing his

daughter to Yahweh after a rash vow. How does that story contribute to Godís inspired truth?

Or does it? Why include the story of Elishaís calling down a curse upon a group of little

boys? Or the number of stalls in Solomonís stables? Or God coming to kill Moses for not

cutting off his sonís foreskin? What do these superfluous anecdotes do to further Godís

inspired truth? And if they donít, why are they in the Bible? They seem more like stumbling

blocks rather than stepping stones to this ultimate message.

But perhaps the inspired truth of the Bible is a bit more than what Jesus said. Perhaps

the inspired truth is more like what is recorded in Romans 5:18,

Therefore just as one manís trespass led to condemnation for all, so one manís act

of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

This is the Christian message of salvation, anchored in the belief that sin entered the

world with Adamís disobedience in the book of Genesis. While minor errors or problems

in the text may not be too large of a distraction for the message of this inspired truth to

come through the text, historical and scientific errors of the Bible are a considerable drain

on its sufficiency. If the authors of the Bible could not accurately describe the nature

of the sky, or the shape of the earth, how are readers to trust what these authors had

to say about how one manís trespass led to the condemnation of all? If the authors of

the Bible were wrong in their description of the fall of Jericho, or about a prophecy

concerning Egypt, how are readers to trust what they say about one manís act of righteousness

leading to justification and life for all? If there is no truth to the story of a worldwide

flood, what confidence is built about there being inspired truth elsewhere? And if modern

biological science is right, and humanity as a species arose from common ancestry, what

room is there for the Genesis story of human creation, the trespass of one man leading

to the condemnation of all, and the necessity for another manís righteousness to lead to

justification and life for all? Or, perhaps we just uncovered the motivation for apologetics.

The Bible IS difficult to understand. It is at times unclear, contradictory and prone

to both scientific and historical error. A tremendous amount of dedicated and focused

study of ancient customs, cultures and beliefs is absolutely required if one is to understand

the Bible on its own terms and that is exactly what is to be expected if the Bible is the

work of numerous authors and editors working with various religious and political agendas

over centuries of time; a product of a collection of books, all in turn products of their own

times and places. The Bible we encounter free of the manipulative tethers of the apologist

is the exact opposite of the Bible these same apologists claim it to be.

Some may object, ìWhy canít the Bible be both the inspired Word of God AND a product

of its own time and place? The answer, of course, is embedded in the assertion that

the words of the Bible were of such critical importance that they needed to be crafted

and woven into the text by an omniscient deity. Remember what the believers have asserted

regarding the inspiration of the Bible: that the authors working under Godís direction

were ìconsigned to writing everything and only those things which He wantedGod is

not confined to a culture or a time, according to those who believe in him. He is timeless,

existing everywhere. Thus, the expectation is set that such a god would inspire his collection

of books with words accessible to everyone, regardless of place and time. Apologists may

scoff at this idea but they do so only because they realize the Bible simply does not fulfill

this expectation. Apologists provide excuses, not explanations, for why their god did not

successfully create a book ña manual, for all humankindówhich everyone, everywhere

could understand easily. The apologists will say inspiring such a Bible would have amounted

to nothing more than coercion on the part of God, not allowing humankind to freely choose

whether or not to accept the Bible as Godís Word. But they fail to explain why they do

not consider the originals to have been a form of coercion for those who first heard

or read them. The people who wrote the first editions of the biblical books surely did

not need instruction in the language in which the Bible was written. They didnít need lessons

in cultural anthropology to understand the context of their own society. They didnít

need anyone to explain strange idioms or sly euphemisms found in the text. If an inerrant

and clear biblical text amounts to coercion, why did God allow coercion of this first audience

but none thereafter? Or the apologist may argue that the Bible could not possibly have

been written for all humanity to understand. Doing so would be logistically impossible.

It would amount to everyone having their own private version of the Bible. But, again,

why is this so? The complaint seems to be that God is limited in his power to inspire

a book that could be read and understood by virtually everyone. This is the same god,

so the apologists claim, who created the universe, who breathed life into the first man, who

flooded the entire world, who rescued millions from captivity in Egypt with great miracles

and who came to earth in the form of a man, died on a cross and then came back to life

three days later to save humankind from ultimate destruction. Yes, THAT god. It is THAT god

whom the apologists suddenly claim would not be able to inspire the kind of text which

would be accessible to all people. It was mentioned that some advocates for Godís

existence and the divine authorship of the Bible think that expectations cannot be brought

to a reading of the Bible. Bringing expectations puts human constraints on God and that simply

cannot be done with an omnipotent, omniscient being. However, these same apologists also

say that God cannot, or will not, produce an error free and clear copy of his inspired

text and claim to know why. The apologists fetter their god with all sorts of limitations

saying he cannot be expected to do this thing or another to assure true inerrancy and clarity

of the biblical text. God was forced to work within restraints. Apologists find the Bible

the way everyone else finds it: full of scientific and historical errors, contradictions, and

discrepancies. But because the apologist comes to the Bible with a preloaded belief in a

God which inspired the text, they then craft a God around these scientific and historical

errors, contradictions, and discrepancies. The god invented by the apologist is then

used to explain why such problems with the text exist. The claim is God is all-knowing;

so why does the Bible say the earth is a circle when even a child today knows itís a sphere?

Because, the apologist will say, God inspires the use of equivocal terms in the text to

accommodate the scientific ignorance of the original authors. The god crafted by the apologist

could not have inspired the use of a more accurate term, or inspired his authorís scientific

curiosity to explore the true shape of the earth the way the Greeks did. Instead, the

apologist claims God merely molded his inspired word to the ignorance of the authors he was

using to write his text. The apologists read Godís mind and explain how and why he allowed

the authors of his book to write the way they did, even though at times these inspired authors

introduced errors and unnecessary ambiguity into the text. But the apologists simply cannot

have it both ways. Either the Bible can and should be approached with certain expectations

created by definitions of the god that inspired the text and of the text itself or it cannot,

and the Bible must be allowed to speak on its own very human authored terms, including

its errors, contradictions and discrepancies. Is the Bible inerrant? No. Was it ever inerrant?

No one knows nor will anyone likely ever know. But one thing is for certain: The best way

to approach and read the Bible is by first silencing the incessant, distractive voices

of the apologists. Apologists approach the Bible in a very specific way. They come to

the Bible with beliefs about it they want validated and they will validate those beliefs

by any means necessary. How do apologists obscure understanding the Bible? First, it

cannot be understood properly if it is burdened with the belief of infallibility. Twisting

the plain words of the Bible to make it conform with the discoveries of modern science, or

by obscuring the simplest thoughts of the biblical authors by turning them into poetry

or metaphor, is another way apologists do violence and dishonor to the text of the Bible.

Postulating something for which there is no evidence or need is certain to be a waste

of time. There is absolutely no evidence that the Bible was divinely inspired, or is, or

was, inerrant. There is no need to postulate supernatural reasons for why errors exist

in the text--whether a god allowed the use of phenomenological language, inspired equivocal

terms, let copyist slips of the pen to enter the textówhen naturalistic explanations ñwhich

are successful in explaining similar features in other works of literatureówork quite well.

Driven by belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, apologists forget that the authors and audience

of the early narratives were just people, the same as anyone today, struggling to make

sense of the world and their part in it. The proper way to understand the Bible is to leave

it in the space and time in which it was composed. It cannot be dragged from its original contexts

into a 21st century context. Certainly, the Bible can speak to us in our own day, whispering

to us questions which ran through our ancestors minds; questions which still continue to puzzle

us today. But the answers the biblical authors composed for these questions are not what

are important. Indeed, many of those answers were undeniably wrong. The universe did not

take 6 days to form; there was not a single man and woman in a garden somewhere in the

ancient Near East who gave birth to all humanity; there was no garden; there was no original

sin; there was no global flood, or mass exodus from Egypt or conquest of Jericho and the

list goes on. What is important is to connect with the questions the biblical authors asked.

Where did we come from? How did we get here? Why is there suffering? How can we eliminate

it? What does our future hold? These questions are what link todayís readers with the Bible;

the answers the Bible gives are sometimes simply wrong but they give us insight into

the thoughts of those who came before us. We do not properly respect the biblical authors

if we assign them a secondary role in the creation of the text. The Bible exists as

a bridge to another place and time and we need to realize just how extraordinarily fortunate

we are to have it.

The Description of Divine Inspiration & Biblical Inerrancy: The Failed Hypothesis