The Apparent Inerrant Word Of God


Geoff Trowbridge,

I am always interested to read articles such as yours on the New Testament,
(
http://www.qtm.net/~trowbridge/NT_Hist.htm)
as I have a keen interest in the NT. I am not an expert on the subject but
it appears to me that you have missed several key points.

1. The NT is part of God's revelation to man. He will make sure that
although we do not read the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, we will know exactly
what he intended to communicate when he spoke. God promises that the
disciples will be able to recall what Jesus said in John 15 (?) (I do not
have a Bible in front of me). This point relies entirely on faith in God.
However, in my opinion the NT is ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS without faith in God.
Incidently, it is remarkable (for eg) that the more archeologists reveal
about the
time of Acts, the more they are made aware of the accuracy of Lukes
writings. Doesn't that back up the promise of God to preserve accuracy?

2. The people who were responsible for copying the scrolls believed the
above. They meticulously copied the scrolls with great reverence for God,
supremely concerned that they should not introduce error.

3. Ancient scrolls discovered at Qumran showed that OT scrolls copied in a
similar way to NT scolls had remained virtually unchanged over nearly 1000
years.

4. "Sifting through the scores of different English versions of the New
Testament" is irrelevant to the discussion. Translations may vary alot in
the words they use but the meaning is essentially the same. We have the NT
in Greek, the language in which it was written, no translation was involved.
Even if there were innacuracy in English translation, it proves nothing
about the original. There are numerous other non-biblical texts of a similar
era whose accuracy is never questioned.

5. The unity of the NT books in historical record and teaching is astounding
considering the variety of authors and contributors. This is only amplified
when the Old Testament is also considered, spreading across 1500 years,
different cultures, 40 different authors and yet the clear purpose and unity
is evident after even a brief reading.

6. The number of copies within a few hundred years of the originals of the
NT are numerous compared to other ancient manuscripts. If other ancient
manuscripts were treated with the same suspicion that the NT is treated
with, historians would have no confidence in their understanding of any
historical events.

I hope you will consider these points.

==============================================
David


Hello David,

Thanks for your comments. I wish to address the points you have made, but for starters, it will probably be useful to affirm my reasons for creating this site in the first place.

Primarily, it is because the apocryphal NT literature is a fascinating body of work and provides more than a few insights into the development of the canonical bible. The "Introduction" page that you have taken issue with is merely a brief explanation as to why examination of these texts is necessary. The secondary (and perhaps equally important) reason is that a complete understanding of how the Christian bible developed is irreconcilable with the fundamentalist doctrine of "infallibility."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to attack anyone's faith, and I am personally quite content with my own faith as a Christian. The more I study Chistian origins, the stronger my faith becomes. But the concept of biblical inerrancy has nothing to do with faith. This fundamentalist view reduces the bible to little more than a cold, rigidly defined rulebook which, if thumped loudly and often enough, assures you of a one-way ticket to Heaven. This view is more concerned with following the wording of the texts than following Jesus; more effort is spent memorizing scripture than developing a relationship with God. Jesus had a word for this. It was called "Pharisaism."

That having been said...

<<The NT is part of God's revelation to man.>>

This may be nitpicking, but right away we need to clarify something. The bible is revelatory only inasmuch as it relates the experiences of those who directly received the revelations. But nothing in the bible can transfer those revelations directly into the mind of the reader. By definition, revelation can only be directly between God and man. Anything else, while perhaps truthful and inspired, is nonetheless only testimony of God's revelation to someone else.

<<He will make sure that although we do not read the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, we will know exactly what he intended to communicate when he spoke. >>

It's really quite easy to refute this claim. Look around you. There are literally hundreds of Christian denominations in this world, each claiming to know "exactly what He intended to communicate...," each in complete conflict with the others. Yet all are using essentially the same bible.

<<in my opinion the NT is ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS without faith in God.>>

I wholeheartedly agree 100%.

<<Incidently, it is remarkable (for eg) that the more archeologists reveal about the time of Acts, the more they are made aware of the accuracy of Lukes writings. Doesn't that back up the promise of God to preserve accuracy?>>

I have never claimed that the life of Jesus recorded in the New Testament wasn't historically accurate; in fact, it's the best historical record we have of the period. But this has little to do with an imagined "promise" by God to preserve a written record. God sent us His living word in Jesus. That was His promise. The texts are merely human attempts to codify the living word.

<<The people who were responsible for copying the scrolls believed the above. They meticulously copied the scrolls with great reverence for God, supremely concerned that they should not introduce error.>>

Actually, this is only true of the Jewish scribes who maintained the OT scrolls. For them, copying was a ritualistic task involving steps of purification, etc. The NT, on the onther hand, was mostly recorded by Gentile scribes who had no such traditions. The incidence of errors in copying was, admittedly, relatively low. But a glance at the footnotes at the bottom of every page of a modern English translation will show you that variations could, and did, often occur.

<<Ancient scrolls discovered at Qumran showed that OT scrolls copied in a similar way to NT scolls had remained virtually unchanged over nearly 1000 years.>>

I'm not sure how you arrived at this conclusion. The Dead Sea Scrolls showed us that the Masoretic text had survived relatively unchanged for a few hundred years afterward, but that is not surprising, since the Jews canonized and preserved their scripture in the first few centuries C.E. using the Masoretic text as the standard. Prior to that, there were extreme variations in the circulating texts, most notably with the Septuagint, which was the source always quoted by the NT writers.

<<"Sifting through the scores of different English versions of the New Testament" is irrelevant to the discussion. Translations may vary alot in the words they use but the meaning is essentially the same. We have the NT in Greek, the language in which it was written, no translation was involved. Even if there were innacuracy in English translation, it proves nothing about the original.>>

You're correct, of course, but you misinterpreted the context of my statement. I was merely demonstrating the inherent subjectivity of translation, to the end that the original writers introduced their own subjectiveness when rendering the Aramaic words of Jesus in written Greek.

<<The unity of the NT books in historical record and teaching is astounding considering the variety of authors and contributors... >>

You're arguing here for the veracity of the canon based upon the fact that the included texts display unity of theme and purpose. But of course they do; theme and purpose were among the criteria used by the assemblers of the canon in selecting texts for inclusion. The argument is circular.

<<If other ancient manuscripts were treated with the same suspicion that the NT is treated with, historians would have no confidence in their understanding of any historical events.>>

A true historian must constantly reevaluate their views of the past, particularly in the face of new evidence. The aprocryphal NT literature is one such example. Thus, my site was created and our discussion has ensued. :-)

Being raised Protestant myself, I once bought into the idea of "sola scriptura" (only the scriptures)--the idea that all truths can be derived from the book we call the Bible, which apparently was lowered down from Heaven on a rope in a nice, leather-bound volume. The problem is that a book written by fallible human beings is a very poor foundation for your faith, and it nearly destroyed mine. It doesn't take a genius to see that obvious mistakes and contradictions exist in the Bible, and attempts by apologists to explain and/or reconcile them are simply acts of denial. Many denominations will avoid this issue by arguing that only the "original" texts were inerrant and infallible, which irregardless of fact is completely irrelevant, since we have no original signatures of any of the bible books. And even if we did, we must also grant that the developing Catholic church had the inspiration to select exactly which texts were the infallible ones in creating the canon... and few would argue that the early Catholic church didn't make a few huge mistakes in other important areas.

This sort of talk isn't harmful. What Christians, particularly fundamentalists, must realize is that CHRIST, not the Bible, is the ultimate source of truth, and that the Bible, while imperfect, is the greatest TOOL that we have to bring you to Christ. Instead, people prefer to worship the book instead of the risen Lord. This sort of "bibliolatry" leads only to confusion and intolerance (if you're not sure what I mean, check out www.christiangallery.com). I can only hope that our site can educate enough people to open a few eyes, and eventually rescue the Bible from fundamentalism.

Hope this helps to clear up my position. I'd be happy to discuss it further. Thanks again and God bless,
Geoff and Heidi Trowbridge


Hi again Geoff

Without laboriously picking through what you have said I will try and group
together my main points.

I think it will help to clarify what I mean by "faith".
Faith is belief and reliance on something that is unseen. Christian faith is
centred on two key historical facts
1. Jesus' death
2. Jesus' resurrection
The record of these events is found (as you know) in the New Testament,
written down by eye witnesses who realised how life changing the knowledge
of these events is.


Now, although faith is an "inner" thing and therefore in the sense that it
is an
individual characteristic, is subjective, that does not mean that it is not
objective, in the sense that it relies (entirely) on objective fact. What
the apostles were doing in their day (and the same applies today) was not
just to appeal to the people to have faith, but rather directing them to
have faith IN something specific - i.e. Jesus' death and resurrection. This
carries through to our day in the written record of these testimonies.
If, as you affirm, these records are subjective and subject to
interpretation making them also open to error, how can I know for sure that
these events have occurred? If I cannot be sure that these events occurred,
then I have no faith at all (or at least no basis for faith, which amounts
to the same thing). Please look at 1 Corinthians 15 verses 12-19. You cannot
surely undermine any part of the NT without undermining (or casting doubt
on) all of it.

This may explain the characteristic which you label as fundamentalist
(Defending the Bible to the letter, explaining apparent contradictions etc),
as these people are defending the basis of their faith (which is
incidentally what those people are doing when they attack the
fundamentalist). If however these same people represent the Bible as nothing
but a cold and rigid rule book then they have missed the point. My
understanding of faith as described briefly above does not necessitate this
cold and rigid understanding of the Bible which you describe. Far from it,
if Jesus died to give me a relationship with God and he did rise from the
dead as proof of who he was, then this will affect me in a vital and
refreshing way. You cannot separate fact from relationship. For example, the
relationship I have with my wife, is not independent of the facts relating
to that relationship. If I did not see her willingness to relate to me
through the facts of what she did, I would begin to doubt that the
relationship was all that it should be. The fact of the marriage vows she
made enhance the relationship, they do not destroy it.

At the same time the Bible does give instructions for a way of life. These
are not simply a rule book, but a reflection of God's character and
therefore show us how to please the God who has saved us.

If eye witness accounts are not the basis of your faith then what is? If you
regard the NT as subjective and unreliable, then what in contrast would you
regard as being reliable and objective and from God himself?



<<There are literally hundreds of Christian denominations in this world,
each claiming to know "exactly what He intended to communicate...," each in
complete conflict with the others. >>

This is a sweeping statement which is not true. For a start, many
"denominations" which although have a loose association with Christianity,
do not strictly adhere to what the Bible says - they would not say that it
is innerrant and would BY THAT open themselves up to all sorts of
interpretations. Secondly, some who say they do adhere to the Bible
contradict this by appealing to some higher authority - such as an
organisation or individual. Thirdly, different denominations does not equate
to difference of opinion on central truths/beliefs. In fact many
denominations would agree wholeheartedly with the main beliefs of other
churches - separating only on issues such as organisation or method - which
is not explicitly spelled out in the Bible.

It seems relevant to point out that our communication at the moment relies
on several assumptions, such as, that what we type has meaning, and conveys
what we intend, to the other. I have a purpose in writing - to discuss with
you certain issues. This is clear to each of us and we would not question it
at all. However, do you allow these basic assumptions to remain true when
you attempt to interpret the Bible?
<<You're arguing here for the veracity of the canon based upon the fact that
the included texts display unity of theme and purpose. But of course they
do; theme and purpose were among the criteria used by the assemblers of the
canon in selecting texts for inclusion. The argument is circular.>> From
this statement, although you are attempting to prove something else, you
take for granted that the theme and purpose of these books is obvious to
both me and the compilers of the canon hundreds of years ago. Why do you not
assume this in both understanding the written record, and in the
understanding that the writers of the NT had of Jesus' words when they heard
them? Surely they would not be able to miss the point of what Jesus was
saying?

It seems rather arrogant that you say you have the correct way of
interpreting the Bible, particularly as you appeal to no authority but your
own knowledge. Whilst undermining the ability that individuals have to
understand written records, you simultaneously attempt to communicate using
the very same method. I would prefer to trust a God who alone is able to
make himself known.

David


Hi again. Sorry about the delay in replying; life gets hectic at times.

<<Faith is belief and reliance on something that is unseen. Christian faith is centred on two key historical facts
1. Jesus' death
2. Jesus' resurrection
The record of these events is found (as you know) in the New Testament, written down by eye witnesses who realised how life changing the knowledge of these events is.>>


Agreed. I hope you understood from my last message that I accept the historical validity of these events without question.

<<If, as you affirm, these records are subjective and subject to interpretation making them also open to error, how can I know for sure that these events have occurred?>>

How indeed? Perhaps I could pose to you the same question. You must have some reason, outside of the biblical record, for believing the truth of these events. Believing them simply because "the Bible says so" is no different than believing that the stories of Merlin or Odysseus really happened on the basis of a written text.

The New Testament is an incredible collection of writings. It presents a very strong case for the historical validity of the accounts within, regardless of the level of "inspiration" that went into the writing process. Therefore, to claim that every single detail of the biblical writings MUST be inerrant and infallible in order to be at all useful is a dangerous position indeed, and one that practically compells you to question your faith. Why force yourself, on the basis of a questionable verse or two, to throw out the baby with the bathwater?

Think of it this way: It would be just as reasonable to argue that the testimony of a star witness in a small town criminal trial should be thrown out because at one point he accidentally stated that the character of George on "Seinfeld" was played by Danny DeVito. Such a mistake, while obviously completely wrong, does nothing to undermine the validity of the rest of his testimony. It only proves that the witness is HUMAN. Certainly the Bible can contain some level of human perspective and subjectivity and still be an indispensable resource.

Understand this: You cannot encapsulate the "logos" of God in written form. Language by nature is fallible. That's why the "logos" was incarnated in the form of Christ. ("Logos" is the Greek term generally translated as "Word" in John 1:1.) I would even go as far as to argue that the idea that we can hold the eternal wisdom of God within the pages of a book is probably quite insulting to Him. After all, this is what the Pharisees believed about the Old Testament scriptures. When Jesus came to say they were wrong, they arranged for his execution. How is the situation any different today?

<<If I cannot be sure that these events occurred, then I have no faith at all (or at least no basis for faith, which amounts to the same thing).>>

Yikes! Think for a moment about what you're saying here. You're stating that you cannot have faith without proof. This runs contrary to the very definition of faith. Proof DENIES faith. Faith comes from experiencing the risen Christ in your life. If the discovery of a biblical error here or there would cause your faith to crumble, I implore upon you to reevaluate your relationship with God. I say this from personal experience. At one time, I was ready to dump Christianity altogether because I could no longer pretend not to notice the problems with the bible. Had I done so, it would have been the greatest mistake of my life. Instead, I plunged myself into biblical study, evalutating exactly what this book was that I was struggling with. And slowly I found a Jesus that I'd never known before.

<<This may explain the characteristic which you label as fundamentalist (Defending the Bible to the letter, explaining apparent contradictions etc), as these people are defending the basis of their faith (which is incidentally what those people are doing when they attack the fundamentalist). If however these same people represent the Bible as nothing but a cold and rigid rule book then they have missed the point. >>

I've already explained why, if one finds it necessary to defend inerrancy to protect their faith, they are in a poor spiritual state of affairs. So if inerrancy is so inconsequential, why to I so feverently argue against it? Because inerrancy, like any doctrine which supresses logic, reason, and freedom of thought, is downright dangerous.

I have never met a biblical inerrist who, despite being an otherwise upstanding citizen, didn't have at least a few biblically grounded prejudices that undermined their responsibility as Christians to love one another. Those are minor cases. The extreme cases result in Christians who refuse medical treatment for their children, or handle poisonous snakes, or commit hate crimes, even including murder, all perfectly justifiable upon biblical grounds. Waving the banner of biblical inerrancy allows me to twist any passage I wish to suit my means, losing sight of the forest behind the trees.

<<If eye witness accounts are not the basis of your faith then what is? If you regard the NT as subjective and unreliable, then what in contrast would you regard as being reliable and objective and from God himself?>>

How about the fact that, even as I sit here typing this, Jesus is here with me, and God's spirit is within me? I would hope that you can say the same.

<<you take for granted that the theme and purpose of these books is obvious to both me and the compilers of the canon hundreds of years ago. Why do you not assume this in both understanding the written record, and in the understanding that the writers of the NT had of Jesus' words when they heard them? Surely they would not be able to miss the point of what Jesus was saying?>>

For one thing, Jesus himself was often frustrated by his disciples' inability to understand his teachings. And the disciples' disagreements with each other and with Paul were well attested in Acts. But most of all, if you have to ask the question, you must not have examined the apocryphal texts discussed on my site in any detail. There are substantial numbers of additional gospels and epistles that display an incredible diversity of theme and theological perspective. It's not hard to see why they were excluded from the canon. But nonetheless, assuming that the prevailing "orthodox" perspective was in fact the most accurate record of Jesus's teachings (which I believe, for the most part, it was), there was still a great number of other writers who "missed the point." It was the Catholic Christians who eventually sorted out the wheat from the chaff as the canon slowly developed.

<<It seems rather arrogant that you say you have the correct way of interpreting the Bible, particularly as you appeal to no authority but your own knowledge. Whilst undermining the ability that individuals have to understand written records, you simultaneously attempt to communicate using the very same method. I would prefer to trust a God who alone is able to make himself known.>>

There is nothing arrogant about using the mind that God has given me to seek out the truth for myself. It is quite arrogant, on the other hand, to claim that one has cornered the market on truth. I have never claimed to have all the answers. I only refute the suggestion that anyone else does. Only CHRIST is the inerrant Word of God, not the texts that have attempted to codify him.

David, you and I are not fundamentally different in our beliefs. We both accept salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Regarding the subsequent writings by pious Christians that eventually became our New Testament, you have admitted that you have not studied this process to any great extent. I have, and have found it to be a fascinating and insightful part of Christian history. I have also painstakingly arrived at a place where I am completely comfortable with both my faith as well as the legitimacy of my biblical views. I hope that you, if for no other reason than to defend your position upon scholarly grounds, actively pursue a study in biblical origins. And I am confident that, despite the surprises that are in store for you, you will find your faith strengthened in the same way that mine has been.

God bless,
Geoff and Heidi Trowbridge


Hi

><<Faith is belief and reliance on something that is unseen. Christian faith
>is centred on two key historical facts
>1. Jesus' death
>2. Jesus' resurrection
>The record of these events is found (as you know) in the New Testament,
>written down by eye witnesses who realised how life changing the knowledge
>of these events is.>>
>
**>Agreed. I hope you understood from my last message that I accept the
**>historical validity of these events without question.
>
><<If, as you affirm, these records are subjective and subject to
>interpretation making them also open to error, how can I know for sure that
>these events have occurred?>>
>
**>How indeed? Perhaps I could pose to you the same question. You must
have
>some reason, outside of the biblical record, for believing the truth of
>these events. Believing them simply because "the Bible says so" is no
>different than believing that the stories of Merlin or Odysseus really
>happened on the basis of a written text.


Perhaps you could answer the question I asked you. If the records are to be
questioned, how can you accept their validity without question? (The **
highlight your contradiction)

In answer to yours, I can say because "the Bible says so" because I believe
the Bible to be God's word.

>The New Testament is an incredible collection of writings. It presents a
>very strong case for the historical validity of the accounts within,
>regardless of the level of "inspiration" that went into the writing
>process. Therefore, to claim that every single detail of the biblical
>writings MUST be inerrant and infallible in order to be at all useful is a
>dangerous position indeed, and one that practically compells you to
>question your faith. Why force yourself, on the basis of a questionable
>verse or two, to throw out the baby with the bathwater?
>
>Think of it this way: It would be just as reasonable to argue that the
>testimony of a star witness in a small town criminal trial should be thrown
>out because at one point he accidentally stated that the character of
>George on "Seinfeld" was played by Danny DeVito. Such a mistake, while
>obviously completely wrong, does nothing to undermine the validity of the
>rest of his testimony. It only proves that the witness is HUMAN.
> Certainly the Bible can contain some level of human perspective and
>subjectivity and still be an indispensable resource.


I am not talking about throwing out the Bible because of errors found within
it. (Any differences found in the ancient documents are very minor, very
infrequent, and never affect the plain meaning of the text.) What I am
talking about is your insistance that in effect, ANYTHING the witness says
is to be viewed with suspicion as he is subjective and has personal
interests at stake. This is a fundamental difference. In this example, you
might be caricitured as a man at the back of the court room shouting "Don't
trust him!". Presumably you would also think the use of a jury pointless, as
"truth" is subjective and no group of jurors should be expected to arrive at
the same conclusion about what truth is.


>Understand this: You cannot encapsulate the "logos" of God in written
>form. Language by nature is fallible. That's why the "logos" was
>incarnated in the form of Christ. ("Logos" is the Greek term generally
>translated as "Word" in John 1:1.) I would even go as far as to argue that
>the idea that we can hold the eternal wisdom of God within the pages of a
>book is probably quite insulting to Him.

You mean that God is insulted by something he instigated himself?
Fascinating.

> After all, this is what the
>Pharisees believed about the Old Testament scriptures. When Jesus came to
>say they were wrong, they arranged for his execution. How is the situation
>any different today?


Their fault was to add to what the OT said and to thus distort it. Jesus,
although radical, was in complete harmony with the true teaching of the OT
(See Matt 6) and quoted it thoroughly.


><<If I cannot be sure that these events occurred, then I have no faith at
>all (or at least no basis for faith, which amounts to the same thing).>>
>
>Yikes! Think for a moment about what you're saying here. You're stating
>that you cannot have faith without proof. This runs contrary to the very
>definition of faith. Proof DENIES faith. Faith comes from experiencing
>the risen Christ in your life. If the discovery of a biblical error here
>or there would cause your faith to crumble, I implore upon you to
>reevaluate your relationship with God. I say this from personal
>experience. At one time, I was ready to dump Christianity altogether
>because I could no longer pretend not to notice the problems with the
>bible. Had I done so, it would have been the greatest mistake of my life.
> Instead, I plunged myself into biblical study, evalutating exactly what
>this book was that I was struggling with. And slowly I found a Jesus that
>I'd never known before.


You misunderstand. The events are not proof. It is impossible to prove that
historical events occurred. You are always reliant on those who were there.
Faith is based on these events. There is faith in God that these records are
correct, and faith in the promises that are associated with them. The events
do not undermine faith, they are the heart of it.

>I have never met a biblical inerrist who, despite being an otherwise
>upstanding citizen, didn't have at least a few biblically grounded
>prejudices that undermined their responsibility as Christians to love one
>another. Those are minor cases. The extreme cases result in Christians
>who refuse medical treatment for their children, or handle poisonous
>snakes, or commit hate crimes, even including murder, all perfectly
>justifiable upon biblical grounds. Waving the banner of biblical inerrancy
>allows me to twist any passage I wish to suit my means, losing sight of the
>forest behind the trees.

That is not the result of Biblical innerancy. You have used examples which
are irrelevant. The cases you quote above are cases of taking the Bible out
of context. The ones you don't quote are presumably the same.


><<If eye witness accounts are not the basis of your faith then what is? If
>you regard the NT as subjective and unreliable, then what in contrast would
>you regard as being reliable and objective and from God himself?>>
>
>How about the fact that, even as I sit here typing this, Jesus is here with
>me, and God's spirit is within me? I would hope that you can say the same.


How do you know he is? On what basis can you say that? (Note: I do not doubt
that he is, merely want to know your basis)

><<you take for granted that the theme and purpose of these books is obvious
>to both me and the compilers of the canon hundreds of years ago. Why do you
>not assume this in both understanding the written record, and in the
>understanding that the writers of the NT had of Jesus' words when they
>heard them? Surely they would not be able to miss the point of what Jesus
>was saying?>>
>
>For one thing, Jesus himself was often frustrated by his disciples'
>inability to understand his teachings.

How do you know that? Surely not from the NT? But that is part of a
subjective eye witness account. By what rule do you accept one part without
accepting the other?

> And the disciples' disagreements
>with each other and with Paul were well attested in Acts.

Yet these were resolved. That is why they are recorded.

etc

I have attempted to a large extent to provide answers to the statements you
have made. It seems to me that you have not made the same effort. You
restate you position again and again (in what is largely a patronising way)
without answering points that if true undermine you whole position. This is
dissappointing.

Sadly you cannot grasp hold of the NT as God's word. Perhaps this was
because you yourself took small parts out of the context of the whole. Many
do, and miss the point.

You have, it appears, grasped hold of Post modern ideas of relative truth
and applied them to Christianity. However, the two are incompatible. The end
result of this is to reduce all religion to just one "faith" and attempt to
empty the cross of Jesus of it's power. I sincerely hope that you do not go
this far. Perhaps the inconsistancy of your postion will convince you. You
are obviously a person who thinks, although prejudice is a powerful thing.
It is very hard in today's world to proclaim that the Bible is The Truth,
which you have perhaps found. However, if it is not the truth, you might as
well be Muslim, Hindu, Atheist or whatever suits you. What then will guide
you?

David


Greetings once again,

<<Perhaps you could answer the question I asked you. If the records are to be questioned, how can you accept their validity without question? (The ** highlight your contradiction)

In answer to yours, I can say because "the Bible says so" because I believe the Bible to be God's word.>>


There is no contradiction unless you continue to insist that reliable historical testimony can only occur with direct intervention from God. I have plenty of reasons for accepting the validity of the NT writings, including but not limited to the following:

1) The biblical accounts of Jesus's ministry and crucifixion are consistent with known extrabiblical records,
2) The early Christians would have had nothing to gain and everything to lose by perpetuating myths that painted a negative image of both the Jews and the Romans (though the Jewish threat was effectively neutralized after the war of 70 C.E.),
3) The speed with which the oral traditions spread through Palestine, then gentile Europe and Asia Minor, is not easily explained unless the traditions had some basis in fact,
4) My own experiences have convinced me that the Spirit is a genuine force in people's lives, and my own prayers and meditations upon the spirit have done nothing to dissuade me from the truth of Jesus's death and resurrection.

Note that, while all of the above statements argue very strongly for the RELIABILITY of the gospel accounts, none of them (except possibly #4) could be used as evidence that the Bible is the "infallible word of God." Perhaps the NT is 100% historically accurate. I could argue the same for a high school history book. Would that make the textbook the "eternal word of God?" The NT may very well have been written by holy, inspired men. I could say the same of Billy Graham's latest book. Does that make Graham's work "infallible" and argue for its inclusion in the canon of scripture?

<<In this example, you might be caricitured as a man at the back of the court room shouting "Don't trust him!". Presumably you would also think the use of a jury pointless, as "truth" is subjective and no group of jurors should be expected to arrive at the same conclusion about what truth is.>>

I am baffled and somewhat frustrated by this continuing misrepresentation of my position. How can I possibly be characterized as someone who would find a jury "pointless?" Quite the contrary; we all have a responsibility as spiritual "jurors" to examine the evidence before us. And again and again I have tried to impress upon you that I believe the preponderance of evidence supports the RELIABILITY but not the INFALLIBILITY of the biblical record. To compare me to an arrogant troublemaker who refuses to listen to any testimony is completely unfair. And as long as we continue to use this tired analogy, it is actually the inerrists who have no need for a jury, for they will accept any and all testimony as truth, without question, regardless of the circumstances.

<<You mean that God is insulted by something he instigated himself? Fascinating.>>

I suppose that would be fascinating if we had cause to believe it was true. But Jesus never instructed his disciples to write down his words. As far as we know, he never left any writings of his own. So what justification is there for concluding that God's intention was to run the church based upon a written text? What evidence is there that God instigated the creation of the NT? Especially when Christianity grew quite well without an established biblical canon for over three centuries. The adoption of Catholicism as the Roman state religion is what made a canon necessary, and I cannot be persuaded that the atrocities of Roman Catholicism were part of God's plan.

<<Jesus, although radical, was in complete harmony with the true teaching of the OT (See Matt 6) and quoted it thoroughly.>>

The "true teachings" of the OT must have been something very different than what was recorded in the Mosaic law; otherwise, there would have been no need for a new covenant and Jesus's death served no purpose. Jesus said that the law would remain in effect until his prophecies were fulfilled, but I believe in the Preterist view that all such prophecy came to fruition with the fall of Jerusalem a generation later. (Jesus himself was quite clear that these things would come to pass in their generation.) But all interpretation aside, if we are to remain in "complete harmony" with OT teachings today, we must return to eating kosher foods, practicing purity laws, as well as killing pagans and raping their captured wives and daughters.

<<That is not the result of Biblical innerancy. You have used examples which are irrelevant. The cases you quote above are cases of taking the Bible out of context. The ones you don't quote are presumably the same.>>

The examples are quite relevant. Do you believe that woman should never cut their hair, or wear jewelry? The bible clearly says so (I Tim 2:9), and some Christians (i.e., Pentacostals, Mennonites) accept this as infallible truth. However, most Christians (including, I would assume, yourself) are willing to compromise the inerrancy of scripture by ignoring these verses, or at least dismissing them on the basis that Paul's opinions in parts of the Pastoral letters were, in fact, quite subjective. Churches that preach inerrancy yet waffle on issues like this out of fear of alienating women are being hypocritical, plain and simple.

But even worse, those that DON'T waffle on certain issues were responsible for perpetuating slavery in the 1800's, genocide in WWII (and more recently in Bosnia and N. Ireland), and today promote racism, homophobia and the opression of women. Some even go as far as to advocate theocratic government. And every one of these positions are COMPLETELY defensible upon scriptural grounds. These are not questions of context. These are positions we have no choice but to accept if we also choose to accept an infallible Bible.

<<How do you know he is? On what basis can you say that? (Note: I do not doubt that he is, merely want to know your basis)>>

You know I couldn't possibly answer that in a few short paragraphs. But as a brother in Christ, I'm sure you understand.

<<How do you know that? Surely not from the NT? But that is part of a subjective eye witness account. By what rule do you accept one part without accepting the other?>>

There is no "rule" of thumb. Nor is it a case of simply picking and choosing which passages appeal to me personally, which many so-called "traditional" Christians seem quite fond of doing. The only "infallible" testimony in the NT is the words of Christ himself. Unfortunately, all of his words have been relayed to us secondhand. Nonetheless, the testimonies in the gospel accounts are reliable witnesses. This doesn't mean they are without contradiction, but studies of the Synoptic Problem and general textual criticism will help to resolve these and arrive at a more authoritative picture of Jesus. This is of primary importance to me, as well as other scholars who dare to search for that elusive "Historical Jesus." As for Paul (and the other epistle writers), I believe Paul was the greatest spiritual commentator ever to have lived and his work was certainly inspired. But to give his words the same authority as those of Jesus is just wrong. Paul was not Christ.

<<I have attempted to a large extent to provide answers to the statements you have made. It seems to me that you have not made the same effort. You restate you position again and again (in what is largely a patronising way) without answering points that if true undermine you whole position. This is dissappointing.>>

I'm surprised and troubled to hear you say this. I have made no effort to patronise you or your position. I have only tried to make my position clear. If I have still failed to satisfactorily answer your questions, by all means please explain where I have failed to do so.

<<Sadly you cannot grasp hold of the NT as God's word. Perhaps this was because you yourself took small parts out of the context of the whole. Many do, and miss the point.>>

On the contrary, I believe very strongly in the whole picture. It is the taking of small parts out of context that is precisely what I wish to avoid.

<<It is very hard in today's world to proclaim that the Bible is The Truth, which you have perhaps found. However, if it is not the truth, you might as well be Muslim, Hindu, Atheist or whatever suits you. What then will guide you?>>

As I've said before, my guide is the light of Christ in my life. The Bible is a tool to bring you to Christ. Jesus is the foundation. The Bible is the work of men. Jesus is the work of God. That is as clear as it gets.

God bless,
Geoff and Heidi Trowbridge


Hi Geoff


I think it may help to clarify how I see our two positions.

Yours:

You accept that Jesus died and rose again in order to save you. You have
accepted this as the way of your 'salvation' by faith. You accept these two
events (Jesus' death and resurrection) as historical facts. They are
historically true and you know this because of:

"1) The biblical accounts of Jesus's ministry and crucifixion are
consistent with known extrabiblical records,
2) The early Christians would have had nothing to gain and everything to
lose by perpetuating myths that painted a negative image of both the Jews
and the Romans (though the Jewish threat was effectively neutralized after
the war of 70 C.E.),
3) The speed with which the oral traditions spread through Palestine, then
gentile Europe and Asia Minor, is not easily explained unless the
traditions had some basis in fact,
4) My own experiences have convinced me that the Spirit is a genuine force
in people's lives, and my own prayers and meditations upon the spirit have
done nothing to dissuade me from the truth of Jesus's death and
resurrection."

These are not the only reasons but are presumably the main ones.
The Bible is not to be trusted on it's own merit, but is subject to the
critical analysis of those who study it - they may accept/reject parts
depending on this analysis.

I am sure that I have not done justice to your position but hope that it is
not innacurate.

Mine:

For starters, God is in complete control of history. He is not subject to
anyone, and is also perfect in every way. Out of his kindness for mankind,
and wanting to show us his character, allowed the fall of mankind and has
since then progressively revealed to us his plan of salvation. He did this
firstly through the OT prophets (who he instructed to record what he told
them) and this culminated in the ultimate revelation, Jesus who is God
himself made man and dying to save us. The apostles were witnesses of this
ultimate revelation and wrote down their witness of the events (the Gospels)
and their explanation of the events (the NT letters). The primary criteria
used in recognising these NT writings was apostolic input and the books we
have in the present canon were recognised by the believers of the early
centuries BEFORE the councils of the 4th Century. All these did was to
recognise formally what had been used and recognised for hundreds years
already.
The writers were writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Although
with their own flavour of character, God was in control and the meaning of
what they said was directly what God intended and is therefore (as God is
perfect, and able to communicate) not subject to our own approval or
disapproval. This is what I would mean by "inspired", although the word is
misleading. (Although of benefit to many, Billy Graham is not inspired in
this
sense). The identity of the Bible writers is therefore significant, and ways
are given in the Bible to identify who is God's prohet and who is not.

This understanding of God is principly a matter of faith - faith in what he
has revealed to us and who he is. The list of reasons you gave for accepting
the truth of the events of Jesus' life are all ones I would agree with.
However they are not the primary reason for acceptance, but secondary.
Neither would any of these reasons be used as primary evidance for the
infallibilty of the Bible. That comes through a recognition of who God is
and faith in him. However, the evidence is important as this secondary
evidence does not deny the possibility that the Bible is infallable, and in
fact reinforces it.

Neither does the fact (which I acknowledge totally) that people, and
"churches" have in the past and in the present justified their immoral
actions by the Bible DENY it's infallibility. These are examples of what is
warned about in the Bible - people who distort the Bible for their own
advantage, and sometimes just through pure ignorance. The Bible sets up no
"named" organisation to be the interpreter for Christianity in the way which
for instance, the Roman Catholic church has done so. In fact it condemns the
idea of any authority other than God revealed through His Word.

With regards to the OT, let me clarify. The OT law and regulations are
understood in both the NT and the OT as a "shadow" and a "picture" of the
future. They were never the final way for people to reach God. The OT is
waiting for something better - a perfect way which came with Jesus. Of
course there were those who did not understand this, but as I have
already said, peoples' misunderstanding of the Bible does not affect what it
says. Also, the history recorded in the OT must always be interpreted by the
teaching which goes with it. God's commands to kill pagans must be
interpreted in the light of the teaching about God and his character, and
even the people of the day did not consider that these commands were
anything but specific to those situations (the command to kill women
children and livestock etc only applied to certain cities in the conquest of
Canaan for instance).

NT instructions about wearing jewellery etc are to be understood in the
context in which they are set. These are specific instructions to specific
people. What is important for us and what the writers (and God) want us to
understand is not the instruction to not wear jewellery but the issue that
is at stake. But more than that, what we understand them to mean or how we
behave in the light of them does not affect the innerancy of the NT. If I
ignore the instructions I receive with a new watch for example, that does
not therefore mean that the instructions are from that moment incorrect. You
may decide that my understanding of the commands re: jewellery is waffle -
but that does mean the Bible is now full of errors - it just means at the
very worst that I have waffled (according to you).

The clear principles taught in the NT regarding the role of women (be
careful to distinguish the Bibles teaching from the corruptions men have put
over the top of it), and homosexuals are hard to stomach in a world of
feminism and gay rights. (By the way, the NT teaching re: women was hard to
stomach in the NT times as well - it gave them too much liberty!). The Bible
clearly condemns the actions of homosexuals BUT SIMULTANEOUSLY offers
unconditional love and acceptance for any individual REGARDLESS of who the
person is. This is not an inconsistancy, but a reflection of the example of
Jesus.

The Bible has always been at odds with the shifting culture of the day. But
should the culture be the judge? Of course not.

The crux of the matter is really one of authority. I believe the Bible
primarily because it carries the authority of God. If you take away the
Bible's authority, then what you have left is indefensible. Your position
must take into account every religious/non-religious writing as surely the
Koran carries as much authority as the Bible. Also as so much weight is
place on individual "light" then every individuals view must be considered.
Who is to say (without an outside authority) that my understanding is not
better, or contains more "light" than yours?

Thankyou for your continuing responses

David


Welcome back!

<<I am sure that I have not done justice to your position but hope that it is not innacurate.>>

Your summation is both accurate and fair, though I would stress that the critical analysis of the Bible, both textual and historical, is exceedingly complex and would merit extensive discussion in a full explanation of my position.

You have also done a fine job of explaining the proper context within which to interpret the more "difficult" passages in the Bible. In fact, if more Christians would see the "big picture" of Christ's love and grace and focus less upon the confirmity to certain (sometimes irrelevant) ideals, I'm sure I would not be nearly as passionate about fighting the doctrine of inerrancy. On the whole, if you express your faith with love, respect and tolerance for those around you, be they Christians or not, it makes little difference to me whether you believe in an infallible bible.

I find myself in agreement with much of what you state in explaining your position. However, I must point out that, although you explain what "inspiration" entails and why it was an important criterion for assembling the canon, there is still no compelling reason to assume, prima facie, that the NT writers were under any sort of divine guidance in composing their works. To any disinterested reader unfamiliar with the early Catholic creeds, the Bible would be seen simply for what it is: four fairly typical historical accounts of Jesus's ministry (including Acts as the "second volume" of Luke), followed by a collection of various correspondences between the parties involved. Nowhere is there any claim that the authors write on behalf of YHWH God. In fact, the only person who ever dared claim to speak on behalf of God was Jesus, who never even instructed anyone to write down his words.

Even the Roman Catholic criteria for inspiration were not evenly applied. The Church rejected, for example, the Epistle of Barnabas as not having been written by one of the twelve, nor possibly even by Barnabas himself. Yet the Epistle to the Hebrews was accepted, despite being of unknown authorship. (Some, but not all, church leaders of the time believed it to be Pauline -- a prospect that present-day scholars universally dismiss.) And the Epistle of Jude is a complete aberration, having neither apostolic authority nor a unique message, and even containing quotes from apocryphal books (I Enoch and the Assumption of Moses) given as scripture. Even if some texts WERE divinely inspired, it seems painfully clear that the Romans lacked the proper guidance in selecting them for canonicity. And if God Himself did in fact directly intervene to guide them into the creation of an infallible canon, why did He allow the myriad of alterations to the original texts, including, for example, the alternate endings of Mark, the drastically different Western text of Acts, the Adulterous Woman in John and the Johannine Comma? Surely a God who had painstakingly arranged for an infallible text would not have permitted it to become corrupted so quickly.

Please understand that I don't doubt God's ABILITY to give us an infallible scripture if that was in fact His will. I fully appreciate and revere God's power. But given that God's infallible wisdom was incarnated in the person of Jesus, a God-breathed text becomes redundant. And unlike Jesus, the text can and does occasionally contradict itself. Did Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem or in Galilee prior to Jesus's birth? (Matthew vs. Luke) Did Jesus "cleanse" the Temple at the beginning of his ministry or near the end? (John vs. the synoptics) I know that apologists will claim that the events of both birth narratives can be interlaced to form one consistent, albeit ridiculous, storyline, and some also claim that Jesus may have stormed the Temple twice, making both accounts accurate. But these are simply efforts to twist the observations to support a preconceived conclusion. The unavoidable fact is that, while the creation of an infallible text would certainly be within God's power and providence, there is no cause to believe that God has done so. The evidence does not support such an assumption.

<<The Bible clearly condemns the actions of homosexuals>>

Uh-oh. I'm about to stray completely off-topic here, so bear with me. Since you brought this up, I can't help but address it. For the sake of continuity, let's pretend this is a totally separate thread:

-----------------<snip here>-----------------
I find it both troubling and inexplicable that the Christian community as a whole spends so much time and energy attacking homosexuality. I'm not talking about the so-called "homosexual lifestyle," which conjures up images of wild orgies and depraved one-night stands. That kind of promiscuity is sinful in any respect, whether gay or straight. I'm talking about committed, monogamous relationships between consenting adults who happen to find themselves with identical sets of genitalia. I'm talking about people who are no different than you or I except for a harmless and completely private sexual disposition.

Take a good hard look at http://www.godhatesfags.com. Kinda throws the whole "cast the first stone" lesson right out the window, huh? But these cowards would never be able to come to grips with their own sinful natures, preferring instead to attack others for the one "sin" that they can be sure they've never committed themselves. But it's not just the extremists. How much time to preachers and evangelists spend discussing, for example, adultery or divorce? Very little by comparison. Yet Jesus was very clear about the sinfulness of each of these, while he never once mentioned homosexuality, despite the fact that such relationships were more common in ancient Rome than they are today. Paul does mention it, but his words get shamefully twisted in most English translations.

Take the NIV. A prohibition against "homosexuals" appears in I Cor 6:9. The same Greek word, "arsenokoitai," appears again in I Tim 1:9 where, inexplicably, it is translated as "perverts." It turns out that both are wrong. The actual meaning in Koine Greek was "those who solicit male prostitutes." The translator who worked on Corinthians simply took advantage of the word's archaic definition and issued a blanket prohibition where none was intended. Paul's other relevant passage is Romans 1:26-7, which clearly addresses homosexual activity but speaks only of lust and turning against one's own "natural" orientation, neither of which would apply to monogamous homosexual couples. And besides all that, my bottom line is that Paul is a great teacher, but must be, as you yourself have said, placed within the context of his setting and his audience. His words do not always have the universal application nor carry the same weight as those of Jesus Christ.

Finally, there are those who love to trot out the Mosaic Law to justify their prejudices despite the 600+ other components of the Purity Code that no one would ever dream of instituting today. 'Nuff said. Anyway, that's about all I have to say on the subject. It just saddens me to see consistent, unending condemnation heaped upon innocent members of God's kingdom when there is so much genuine evil in the world that goes ignored. The Christian homosexual should be afforded the same standards of behavior that apply to heterosexuals--no more, no less.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
-----------------<snip here>-----------------

<<If you take away the Bible's authority, then what you have left is indefensible. Your position must take into account every religious/non-religious writing as surely the Koran carries as much authority as the Bible. Also as so much weight is place on individual "light" then every individuals view must be considered.>>

Although I disagree with your conclusion, I think you have hit upon the crux of the matter. Inerrancy was established as a doctrine and is vigorously defended primarily because of fear--fear that too many people with too many ideas will turn Christianity into a chaotic mess. This is the same fear that kept the Bible out of the hands of the laity for over a millenia; only the church leaders could be permitted to interpret scripture. But this sort of fear can only arise from lack of faith in the Spirit to do its work in the body of the Church. I look around and see Christians in Unitarian congregations, or perhaps not attending services at all, who are dramatically closer to the example set by Christ than most so-called "orthodox" members of specific bible-based Christian denominations. It's not a question of the "authority" vested in the Bible. The Bible is infinitely more useful as a guidebook than a rulebook. Rather it's a question of knowing Jesus, and utilizing the Bible to help us understand what we, as Christians, are called to do. When individuals inevitably see things differently, we need only ask ourselves what Jesus would say (or perhaps is TRYING to say). The Bible need not be inerrant to present a clear picture of Christ's example for us. And in those situations where the answers may not be so clear, at the risk of sounding like a Universalist, sometimes people must be left to find their own path. That's how I truly found Jesus, and no one can take that away. There's room in God's kingdom, even for heretics like me.

Cheers and God bless,
Geoff and Heidi Trowbridge


"Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter; fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ." — Will Durant

Return to the Introduction

Proceed to the Analysis of the Canonical and Apocryphal Scriptures.

Return to Geoff and Heidi's homepage