Inerrant, infallible, inspired

I’m re-running this post with some more thoughts.  Even though I believe that the original writings of the Bible were without error, God-breathed and incapable of error, those views aren’t required for belief in God or the resurrection.  You can take a minimal facts approach and see that even if there were slight discrepancies in the accounts about Jesus that the resurrection could still be true.   

Just look at key facts that virtually all historians agree on, such as the following, and realize that his resurrection is the best explanation for those facts.

  • Jesus really lived and was killed on a Roman cross.
  • Jesus’ disciples believed He rose from the dead and appeared to them.
  • Paul believed that Jesus appeared to him.  Even skeptics concede that Paul wrote most of the books attributed to him, including Romans, Galatians, I & II Corinthians and others.
  • Jesus’ brother, James, was a skeptic who converted after Jesus died.

There are skeptics who endorse alternatives to the resurrection (e.g., Jesus’ body was stolen, it was ripped up by dogs, the swoon theory, etc.).  These folks unwittingly  give a lot of support for the resurrection: They show that the historical facts are so strong that one must concede that a real person named Jesus lived and died on a Roman cross and the body did not stay in the tomb. 

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bible5.gifClaims of Biblical inerrancy, inspiration and infallibility apply to the original writings.  I have researched countless difficulties and found answers that satisfied me.  Some are tougher than others.  Some things are in the Job category (as in, I’m not capable of understanding them or God doesn’t need me to understand them). 

I learned enough about the book to be comfortable that God “wrote” it, and I trust that if there is something in the 1% that appears to be a contradiction then either there was a translation error or – much more likely – there is something I’m just not understanding properly.

In short, after working through enough difficulties with satisfactory answers I tend to give God and his Word the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure this thrills him to no end.  I say that tongue-in-cheek, because on the one hand He certainly doesn’t need the Neil-seal-of-approval but on the other hand He does love it when we exercise faith.  Not blind faith, not faith despite the evidence, but faith grounded in the truths He has revealed to us.

Are there passages in the currently published Bibles that don’t belong?  Perhaps.  The ending of Mark and the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery are not in the earliest and best manuscripts. 

Also, some verses sometimes lose a little meaning in certain translations.  For example, when Exodus 21:22-25 is properly understood it is a pro-life passage, yet pro-choice people will use a poorer translation (for that passage) such as the RSV because it supports their position. 

These issues don’t bother me that much because they show that the system works: We have so many copies of ancient manuscripts and different translations that it possible to figure out what the originals said.  The exceptions are limited and we can show why they are exceptions. 

But on most of what really matters there is no debate.  Every version I’ve seen says, “Love your enemies.”  There are 100 clear passages saying that Jesus is the only way.  That is plenty for me.

I know enough of the Bible and the difficulties to have great faith (trust in evidence) that God inspired the originals.  And I have faith in the copying and translation process so that I can read the Bible with confidence.  For difficult or controversial passages there are plenty of ways to resolve issues on the essentials.  But on the non-essentials I don’t lose sleep. 

If people want to have church meetings to debate how often to serve communion, whether to use wine or grape juice, etc., I say go ahead and have a swell time.  Just don’t make me participate. 

We can read the Bible with confidence that God has transmitted his Word to us accurately.  Sometimes the words inerrant and infallible are too loaded with various meanings to be helpful, so I like to emphasize that the original writings of the Bible turned out just the way God wanted them to.

0 thoughts on “Inerrant, infallible, inspired”

  1. Hi Neil,
    YES, we’ve found an area of disagreement! Yes, communion should be served with wine and weekly! Uhm… OK, I will take my soap box to another corner on that one! 🙂

    Seriously, good piece. I just read an article on Dan Wallace’s take on the inerrancy of Scripture and see if I can’t find the link. He is a professor at DTS and does an excellent job of discussing the issue.
    Blessings

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  2. Here is an interview with Dan Wallace about the subject, this will take you to part 3, you can get to parts 1 and 2 via this link

    http://dtsalumni.blogspot.com/2007/10/interview-with-dan-wallace-part-3-of-3.html

    And finally, I found Dan’s take in inerrancy
    http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4200

    Hope this helps as well. I planned on doing a post on this later in the week, but who knows when I will get to it since my computer crashed at the church. 😦
    Blessings

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  3. Hold on Neil. You say “earliest” and “best” like they are the same. Who says earlier is necessarily best? As I recall Codex Sinaticus[the source of a lot of the modern questioning of the text] was”rescued’ when it was about to be burned by the monks on Sinai. Obviously, they held it in high regard! {please note sarcasm}. Since we don’t have one original manuscript copy, I can see this happening: copy made without the passage, THEN a corrected copy made later WITH the passage. Ommission is not uncommon in ancient manuscripts. Remember at the time the faith was underground. After John wrote it copying didn’t go into mass production. For many years there probably were only a handful of copies. If a passage was ommitted by mistake, someone certainly would try to have it corrected.

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  4. So, you’re basically saying you believe the bible is the word of god because “I’m not capable of understanding” or “there is something I’m just not understanding properly” or “the original writings of the Bible turned out just the way God wanted them to” Huh?

    Hi Tyler: If you read carefully you’ll see that I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t come to those conclusions “because” of those things, but in spite of those things – because they were outweighed by evidence that I found compelling.

    Bible study tip #1 is read things in context. That habit works well with other literature as well, including blog posts. You obviously didn’t do that regarding what I wrote.

    Another good tip is not to deliberately misquote people. Fortunately anyone reading this blog can simply re-read what I wrote. I don’t try to “chase the wind” by correcting every mischaracterization on other blogs, so I’ll leave it to your intellectual integrity to decide how to characterize my views elsewhere.

    If I view lots of evidence that leads me to the conclusion that it is God’s word (fulfilled prophecies, etc.) that doesn’t mean there might be some difficult passages in the 31,173 verses.

    I think it is funny that you think that showing some humility about a document of this type would be a flaw. How about if you and your buddies get together and decide if I’m too humble or too arrogant? I’m OK either way.

    Well that’s cleared that up. Listen up everyone, the mystery is solved. Phew!

    Neil, how about some critical thinking on the matter? While writing the above piece did you once, even for a second, one tiny second, think you may be wrong?

    “I tend to give God and his Word the benefit of the doubt.” Yes, I’m sure you do. Thank you for proving my point.

    Thankfully peer-reviewed scientific papers are not approved on your ratings scale. Who knows where we’d be.

    Neil said: I didn’t realize this was a peer-reviewed scientific blog. I thought I was offering my rationale, experiences and opinions. But thanks for your charitable assessment.

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  5. because they were outweighed by evidence that I found compelling.

    I think Tylers point is simply, that this same “evidence” would not be considered remotely compelling when scrutinised by the peer reviewed process.

    Yet you are comfortable basing not merely your life in this world, but in the next on your own minority interpretation of a very, very confusing book. That is If the history of schism and counter schism of the christian tradition is viewed objectively.

    Some would consider your position a rather classic case of cognitive dissonance, not me though. I really understand.

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  6. “I think Tylers point is simply, that this same “evidence” would not be considered remotely compelling when scrutinised by the peer reviewed process.

    Yet you are comfortable basing not merely your life in this world, but in the next on your own minority interpretation of a very, very confusing book. That is If the history of schism and counter schism of the christian tradition is viewed objectively.

    Some would consider your position a rather classic case of cognitive dissonance, not me though. I really understand.”

    Hi “Mike” – I think the cognitive dissonance is in not being able to understand what I wrote. When I said, “I have researched countless difficulties and found answers that satisfied me” it was in the past tense. If you look closely you’ll see that I wasn’t offering those arguments here. I have offered them elsewhere. I was building on them here.

    Perhaps you offer the whole foundation for your worldview in every post, but I try to hit a couple things at a time.

    I hope that clears it up for everyone.

    P.S. Yes, parts of the book are confusing. Many parts are not:

    Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Romans 10:9-10 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

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  7. Hi Neil,

    My, it’s been a while since I’ve commented! I agree with this post. Dan Wallace (in The Case for the Real Jesus) said, even if there was an “un-get-aroundable” (my word) error inn the Bible, that wouldn’t negatively impact hm because, after all, only the original autographs were 100% free from error. That being said, our modern Bibles are perfectly trustworthy and anyone who says they aren’t either hasn’t read the Bible (or books on Bible difficulties) or is uisng the argument as a smokescreen to cover their sinful heart.

    Bro. Wallace also said something priceless: I would die for Christ, but not inerrancy.

    BTW, Neil, what Bible do you use personally? I use the MacArthur NASB and love it.

    And even though you’ve probably read this before, I’ll post this link from Randy Alcorn on inerrancy for everyone else (there are a number of other good articles at epm.org under the “Bible” section)

    http://www.epm.org/artman2/publish/doctrine_inerrancy/Is_the_Bible_inerrant.shtml

    Again, thank you for praying for my friend, Neil. (Please continue if you can.)

    David

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    1. Great comments, David, and thanks for the link to Randy’s site. I deeply appreciate him and his ministry.

      The first time I read through the Bible (1996) I used the Living translation. Since then I used the NIV until recently when I switched to the ESV study Bible. I’m a big MacArthur fan but I also like to have a variety of people weigh in on study notes.

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  8. My understanding of the Bible is reviewed by the Holy Spirit. Now I can’t claim to be a peer of the Spirit, but I think that is a sufficiently high authority.

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  9. I think it shows a lot of intellectual weakness when one has to distort Neil’s position into something it isn’t in order to counter it.

    Rather, dispute with him about what his positions are, not what you would like them to be.

    Finally, no one denies that the Bible is complicated, difficult, or presents challenges in various ways. But Neil has been clear that he hasn’t resolved those challenges with magical/circular thinking. Rather he has resolved them with linear/logical thinking.

    To distort his position, especially when he has been so clear, is a sign of intellectual weakness.

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