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We are now in the Fifth week in Lent, with some 18 days before Easter. But aside from last March 25’s celebration of The Annunciation, there aren’t any Feast Days left until HOLY WEEK – April 10-16, 2022. Which makes this a good time to go back and revisit “Biblical inerrancy.”
But first a note about the lead picture above. The caption – from Wikipedia – reads, “Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946.”
I’ve argued before that such snake handlers interpret Mark 16:17-18 way too literally. (The passage talks about the signs that will accompany those who believe, including “they will pick up snakes with their hands,” and drink deadly poison without effect.) Which means that such a too-literal Christian could end up dead, or at least with a nickname like “Stumpy.”
And speaking of Biblical inerrancy, back in September 2020, I posted On an old friend – and his “Bible literalism.” Since then I’ve learned even more about the topic, but also realized I didn’t “define my terms, Chump!” (Borrowing a phrase variously attributed to Socrates, Aristotle or Voltaire. “If you wish to debate with me, define your terms.”) So taking a look at Biblical inerrancy – Wikipedia, we can see first the distinction between “inerrancy” and “infallibility.” Thus some such believers “equate inerrancy with biblical infallibility; others do not.”
To me the issue is whether literalist Christians are saying there are no clerical or scrivener’s errors, whatsoever, in any copy, version or translation of the Bible. Or whether – for example – the “Biblical” computation of time is completely accurate. (The earth is six thousand years old, as opposed to the estimate of over four billion years old.) Then there’s this, from Wikipedia:
Some literalist or conservative Christians teach that the Bible lacks error in every way in all matters: chronology, history, biology, sociology, psychology … and so on. Other Christians believe that the scriptures are always right (do not err) only in fulfilling their primary purpose: revealing God, God’s vision, God’s purposes, and God’s good news to humanity.
To cut to the chase, I’d say the Bible is inerrant “in all that it affirms.” Which is pretty much what Billy Graham said some time ago, as will be seen. But first some background…
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The post Old friend … “Bible literalism started off noting we don’t have any original manuscripts of the 27 books of the New Testament. “What we do have are “copies of copies of copies.” (According to Great Courses Plus; Professor Bart Ehrman‘s lectures on The New Testament.) I also noted that to me, the Bible “proves itself” to you as a person, with what you do with it as an individual believer, how you interact with and experience God in your own life.*
I also noted some problems reading the Bible, like that Old Testament Hebrew had no vowels or punctuation. Words and sentences were simply strung together. Then there was Jesus’ way of teaching, parables. Which were both hard to interpret literally, and which could mean different things to different people. (That “clunk” was a Southern Baptist having apoplexy.)
Which brings up a website, Why is it important to believe in biblical inerrancy. Which leads to another question, “What do you mean by ‘inerrant?'” Which brings up Billy Graham helping shape the Lausanne Covenant. (The “July 1974 religious manifesto promoting active worldwide Christian evangelism.”) See Billy Graham, Evangelism,.. and Inerrancy:
We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God,* without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. (Emphasis added.)
Which brings up another problem, that a claim of “absolute inerrancy” makes it easy for a would-be convert to avoid converting. All “they” need do – to avoid coming to God, through Jesus – is find one minor error or contradiction. By making such a claim, Literalists create one of those “stumbling blocks to the weak” that Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 8:9.
On the other hand, I’d say that if some Bibles contain some minor errors, it’s only because of the human element in its transmission. As in the phrase, “garbled in transmission.” And to all of which I can say to such Literalists, “I respect your right to have that opinion, but I disagree.”
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But wait, there’s more! Which is being interpreted: Since 2020 I’ve run across even more interesting data. Like a series of lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Professor Gary A. Rendsberg. And especially his Lecture 11, on the “Biblical Manuscripts at Qumran.”
For one thing, Rendsberg mentioned some differences between the original Hebrew Old Testament and a later Hebrew-to-Greek early translation, the Septuagint. (The “earliest extant Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible.”) For example, the original Hebrew of Exodus 1:5 reads that 70 Israelites (Jacob and his family) went down to Egypt during a time of famine. The Septuagint said there were 75. So which is it?
I’d say it doesn’t really matter. The point is not something the Bible really “affirms.” Which brings up the the better view set out by John R. W. Stott. ((1921-2011.) I’ve mentioned Stott before, in numerous posts,* but he was the Anglican cleric who Time magazine ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world. He wrote Understanding the Bible, and on pages 140-143, he made three key points.
Again, there’s more boring detail in those prior posts, but Stott’s key point is that the words of the Bible are true “only in context.” (Using the Book of Job as an example of some passages that can be taken out of context, like Mark 16:17-18. And that in turn, Scripture is without error “in all that it affirms.” (A factor not always apparent “in the so-called ‘inerrancy debate.”) And keeping in mind that the Bible often describes God in human terms, not to be taken as literally true.
For more on the “inerrancy debate,” see Fundamentalism – Wikipedia. That article noted the “Five Fundamentals” set out at the Niagara Bible Conference 1910, including the doctrine that the Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching.” Which sounds similar to the idea that the Bible is without error “in all that it affirms.”
And finally, I’d say this business of “requiring every word of the Bible to be inerrant” – without any error of any kind – brings to mind what Jesus said in Matthew 23:4. He chastised the Scribes and Pharisees, saying in pertinent part that such they “make strict rules that are hard for people to obey. They try to force others to obey all their rules. But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.” (In the “Easy-to-Read” translation.)
To me, requiring every copy and every version of the Bible to be correct in every “jot and tittle” – to say that no Bible has even the most minor clerical or scrivener’s error – is one of those “stumbling blocks” that keep potential converts away from Christianity.
More than that, it makes some people who call themselves Christian miss the whole point of Jesus’ teaching. They focus more on the letter of the law than its spirit, and as Paul noted in 2d Corinthians 3:6, “the letter kills but the spirit gives life.” So if you are such a Literalist, feel free to believe what you believe. “But as for me and my house,” I’ll follow John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
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The upper image is courtesy of Snake handling – Wikipedia. The caption reads, “Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946 (National Archives and Records Administration). Photo by Russell Lee.” I used the image in On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I, with this caption: “A snake-handler – who may answer to the name ‘Stumpy’ – ostensibly following Mark 16.” As to the validity of such practices as snake handling as a method of proving faith, see Does MARK 16:17-18 mean that Christians should handle deadly …:
This passage can be understood two ways. One way is to assume that Jesus followers are expected to handle deadly snakes… Another way to understand this passage is to be reassured that when Christians accidentally come in contact with poisonous snakes, God will miraculously protect them… Such an experience happened to the apostle Paul. After being shipwrecked and escaping to the island of Malta, Paul was bitten by a deadly snake. [Acts:28:1-6]. Additionally, the Bible tells us that we should not tempt God by deliberately placing ourselves in potential danger [Matthew 4:5-7]. (E.A.)
Further information on the “Quiverfull Movement” can be found at sites including Quiverfull – Wikipedia; What Is Quiverfull? – Patheos, part of “No longer quivering,” an ostensible “gathering place for women escaping and healing from spiritual abuse;” 5 Insane Lessons from My Christian Fundamentalist Childhood …; and/or QuiverFull .com :: Psalm 127:3-5.
Re: Fifth week in Lent. Starting with the fifth Sunday in Lent, April 3, 2022.
Re: “Lent 2022.” See Lent 2022 – Calendar Date, which said this Lenten period starts on Wednesday, March 2nd and ends on Thursday, April 14 with evening mass on Holy Thursday. (Most people think it ends with Easter Sunday.) Other notes: It is “44 days from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and another two days with Good Friday and Holy Saturday added to give a total of 46 days for Lent. But Sundays are excluded from fasting during Lent and with 6 Sundays removed from the count we get lent being a 40 day liturgical period.”
Re: “Define your terms.” As attributed to Aristotle, see Define Your Terms | Kippy. To Voltaire, see Define Your Terms – Simple Liberty. And from Socrates, see Quote by Socrates: “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
Re: Age of the earth. For the “young earth, 6,000 years old” theory see How Old Is The Earth According To The Bible? | The Institute for Creation Research. For a more expansive – between four and five billion years old – see Age of Earth – Wikipedia, with citations. (Personally, I wasn’t there.)
Re: The Bible as “without error and therefore completely true.” See Biblical inerrancy – Wikipedia. and – for that view different than mine – Why is it important to believe in biblical inerrancy.)
Also, vis-a-vis missing NT manuscripts: The night before posting I learned – through another Great Courses Bible lecture – that many “puns” in original OT Hebrew were lost in translation. See for example Bible Secrets Revealed, Episode 1: “Lost in Translation,” and Five Mistakes in Your Bible Translation | HuffPost. From the former, “different copies of the same Biblical books from the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t often match, [so] at the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Biblical texts existed in different versions and traditions that were still being sorted out. What this means is that it is very difficult to argue that the Bible is the verbatim ‘Word of God,’ especially when all of the ancient manuscripts contain different words.” From the latter, “In the original Hebrew, the 10th Commandment prohibits taking, not coveting. The biblical Jubilee year is named for an animal’s horn and has nothing to do with jubilation. The pregnant woman in Isaiah 7:14 is never called a virgin.” Also, “Metaphors are particularly difficult to translate, because words have different metaphoric meanings in different cultures. Shepherds in the Bible were symbols of might, ferocity and royalty, whereas now they generally represent peaceful guidance and oversight.” I may use these points in a future post.
Re: More on Deuteronomy 32:8. In the original Hebrew, Deuteronomy 32:8 said God set the boundaries “of the peoples” – the boundaries of the world – “according to the number of the children of Israel.” The same passage in the Septuagint reads, “according to the number of angels of God.” In turn, most translations in the “Bible Hub” website had 70 Israelites going down Egypt, including the King James Version that “all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls.” But “Hub” also cited Genesis 46:26, which put the number at 66, and Acts 7:14, which said “Joseph sent for his father Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five in all.”
Re: “My old friend Fred.” It wasn’t just me he “flabbergasted.” A mutual friend said he also cut off all communications with his family, and other old friends, who didn’t share his “conservative” views.
Re: “How you interact with and experience God in your own life.” That “simplistic” statement could be misinterpreted, but keep in mind that I have to “dumb things down,” just like Moses, Paul and Jesus all had to do. Also re: Interacting with God in my own life. See for example On my “mission from God,” and “As a spiritual exercise…”
Re: “Only written word of God.” But see John 10:16, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” It seems to me that God – being God – is perfectly able to reach out to other people, using other languages in other countries and cultural settings. “He” – anthropomorphism – could have other servants writing in other languages, keeping in mind that “all roads lead to Jesus.” If nothing else, this claim seems to limit God’s power…
More re: Deuteronomy 32:8. Just for some deep background: Chapter 32 comes near the end of the book, just before Chapter 33, “Moses blesses the tribes of Israel,” and also Chapter 34 on the death of Moses. “The Lord’s Last Instructions to Moses begin at 31:14, and the “Song of Moses” begins at 31. Anyway, back to Deuteronomy 32:8. Many Bible Hub translations of Deuteronomy 32:8 read that God “assigned land to the nations” or “gave the nations their inheritance.” But some translations of the passage at issue vary, from “according to the number of the sons of Israel,” to the sons of God, to “the number in his heavenly court,” and – in the Brenton Septuagint Translation – according to “the number of the angels of God.”
Re: “Stott … in numerous posts.” Type “John Stott” in the search engine in the blog’s upper right.
Also, the post On an old friend – and his “Bible literalism,” includes references to a book, “Christian Testament.” The full reference is Education for Ministry Year Two (Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Testament) 2nd Edition by William Griffin, Charles Winters, Christopher Bryan and Ross MacKenzie (1991). Page 321 of my copy has some notes on Nimshalim, as methods of interpreting parables. See also Mashal + Nimshal = Meaning/Teaching | Discipleship Curriculum: “The teaching method was simply brilliant. A fictional story (the mashal) was created by the Rabbi. This was almost always in response to something going on in their immediate world or an important principle they wanted to teach. The story would be crafted in such a way as to disguise it’s intent but also in such a way as to intrigue.” See also Mashal (allegory) – Wikipedia, about a “short parable with a moral lesson or religious allegory, called a nimshal.” (Nimshalim is the plural.)
Re: “Jot and tittle.” The link is to “Gotquestions.org,” which noted that a jot – related to our word “iota” – is the “tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the smallest.” A tittle “is even smaller than a jot … a letter extension, a pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another.”
Re: “Me and my house.” The reference is to Joshua 24:15. In the ESV, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
The lower image is courtesy of Letter Of The Law Vs Spirit Of The Law – Image Results. (From an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. (See Wikipedia.)
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