[ref001] Skeptical Review (Volume One, Number One) [ref002] [ref003]The Skeptical Review:
Skeptical Review (Volume One, Number One)
[ref003]The Skeptical Review: 1990: Number One: The Last
Hurrah of the Inerrancy Doctrine
Many fundamentalist Christians sincerely believe that the Bible is the
verbally inspired word of God. As believers in verbal inspiration, they see
the Bible much differently from those who respect it as a book with only
concepts and ideas that were divinely inspired. Christians who believe in the
doctrine of verbal inspiration think that God directed the writing of the
Bible on a word-by-word basis so that the authors of the original manuscripts
were protected from writing even as much as one word that might
inadvertently mislead readers or incorrectly communicate the truths God
wanted man to know.
Dr. George DeHoff, who is widely recognized in the Churches of Christ
as an authority on the subject of verbal inspiration, described its
word-by-word process like this:
If God had wanted another "i" dotted or another "t"
crossed, He would have had it done. The writers did not use one word
unless God wanted that word used. They put in every word which God
wanted them to put into the Bible, (__Alleged_Bible_Contradictions_
___Explained__, p. 23).
Other fundamentalist writers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have said
essentially the same thing. As far as they are concerned, there is nothing to
discuss. The Bible is _the_ word of God and the _only_ word of God,
whose writing he himself divinely inspired on a meticulously protected,
Certain consequences must necessarily follow the postulation of such a
rigidly defined doctrine as verbal inspiration. The most obvious of these
would be a requirement to believe that the Bible is inerrantly
perfect in every detail. After all, the God of the Bible is depicted as an
omniscient, omnipotent entity, so if an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural
being supervised the writing of the Bible on a word-by-word basis anything
at all like the process described above by Dr. DeHoff, it would have to be
that the original text of the Bible was completely free of mistakes of any
kind. A perfect God would have guided his chosen writers to produce a
With this conclusion, Christian fundamentalists have no quarrel. In
_Finding_Inner_Peace_and_Strength_ (Doubleday, 1982), Jerry Falwell claimed
total inerrancy for the Bible:
The Bible is the inerrant... Word of God. It is absolutely
infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and
practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history,
etc., (p. 26).
This is not to say that believers in the inerrancy doctrine view the Bible as a
textbook in geography, science, history, or other disciplines; it is simply a
recognition that the conclusion stated above must necessarily follow their claim
of verbal inspiration, for if God is ultimately the author of the Bible, he,
knowing everything there is to know about geography, science, history, and
all other secular subjects, would have made no errors--not even little
ones--in any of these matters.
The importance of this point has not escaped the notice of Dr. Gleason
Archer, a widely respected spokesman for the inerrancy position:
If the statements it (the Bible) contains concerning matters of
history and science can be proven by extrabiblical records, by
ancient documents recovered through archaeological digs, or by the
established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth,
then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of
religion. In other words, if the biblical record can be proved
fallible in areas of fact that can be verified, then it is hardly
to be trusted in areas where it cannot be tested, (_Encyclopedia
___of_Bible_Difficulties_, p. 23).
In this statement, Dr. Archer has made an important admission. He has
conceded that confidence in the divinely authoritative position traditionally
assigned to the Bible will be seriously compromised if erroneous information
should be found anywhere within its pages.
Obviously, then, the doctrine of verbal inspiration sets a high standard
for the Bible to meet. Some insist that it is an impossibly high standard,
because the existence of contradictions, discrepancies, absurdities, scientific
errors, and other mistakes can be easily established by anyone willing to
subject the Bible to objective textual criticism. This is our position exactly
at _The_Skeptical_Review_. Our staff writers believe the same methods of
scientific inquiry that have lifted man to his present state of
enlightenment, if applied unbiasedly to the Bible text, will disprove
once and for all the doctrine of verbal inspiration.
Future articles will examine in detail specific examples of textual errors in
the Bible, so for now I will review only briefly a few of the ones that cast
serious doubts on the doctrine of Bible inerrancy. An excellent one to begin
with would be the obvious contradiction that results when
[ref004]Exodus 12:40 is
compared to the Aaronic genealogy found in
The first passage declares that the Israelites, who were beginning their
famous journey to the promised land, had dwelt in Egypt for 430 years.
According to the genealogy in
however, the Israelite sojourn in Egypt could have lasted no more than
352 years and probably even considerably less than that.
This genealogy, along with its parallels in
Chron. 6:1-3 and
establishes that Moses was the great grandson of Levi. Kohath, the
grandfather of Moses, had already been born when Jacob took his sons
and their families into Egypt,
If we assume that Kohath was only a suckling infant in his mother's arms
when he was taken into Egypt and if we further assume that his last act
on earth at the age of 133
was to sire Amram, the father of Moses, then the very latest date of
Amram's birth would have been around 134 years into the Israelite sojourn.
If we then make similar assumptions about the birth of Moses, i.e., that
Amram sired him just before dying at the age of 137 years
this would mean that Moses could have been born no later than 272 years
after the Israelite sojourn began. Since Moses was only 80 years old
when Jehovah (Yahweh) called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt
the sojourn could have lasted no longer than 352 years.
But to allow even 352 years for the so-journ would require total
abandonment of common sense. For one thing, the custom of listing
sons in the order of their births in Jewish genealogies suggests that
the Bible writers understood that both Kohath and Amram had younger brothers
so Kohath was probably older than an infant when he was taken into Egypt.
If he did live to be 133, he undoubtedly fathered Amram, Moses' father,
long before he died, because, it is completely unreasonable to assume
circumstances of birth anything at all like those theorized above. The
aged Abraham fell on his face and laughed when Yahweh told him that he
would soon father a son. "Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred
years old?" Abraham asked,
By the same token, we can ask if it is reasonable to believe Kohath and
Amram were able to father children when they were well past the age
In the final analysis, however, whether the sojourn lasted as long as 352
years doesn't really matter. The genealogical data in
6:16-20 clearly indicate the belief in an Egyptian sojourn substantially
shorter than 430 years, so that puts this Bible passage in unequivocal conflict
Genesis 15:13, and [ref019]
Acts 7:6, all of which teach that the sojourn lasted at least 400 years.
There is an obvious contradiction in the Bible text.
A hundred articles like this one would not be enough to discuss the
numerous other textual contradictions in the Bible. Many of the same events
from Hebrew history reported in the books of Samuel and Kings were also
recorded by the writer(s) of the Chronicles, and the two accounts often vary
significantly in reporting key details. There are contradictions in the
genealogical records in the Bible, in the synoptic gospels (especially their
accounts of the resurrection of Jesus), in the Christology of the New
Testament epistles. In a word, the Bible is a veritable maze of
irreconcilable contradictions. Yet fundamentalist preachers never tire
of proclaiming the Bible to be a perfectly harmonious, inerrant record
of God's dealings with man.
Traditionally, purveyors of the Bible inerrancy doctrine have profited
from the ignorance, superstition, and gullibility that characterize societies in
which mystical religions thrive, but recent discoveries and developments in
biblical archaeology and criticism, coming in an age of increased scientific
enlightenment, have cut deep inroads into territory once firmly held by the
forces of inerrancy. Early Christian apologists, for example, claimed that not
just the original Bible autographs were inspired of God but also all copies and
translations that scribes and linguists had transmitted to later generations.
Such a position was sustainable in a time when illiteracy was commonplace,
Bible manuscripts rare, and textual criticism all but nonexistent, but with the
discovery of Bible manuscripts unknown to previous generations of
Christians, the invention of the printing press and the ensuing proliferation of
vernacular translations, the contributions of archaeology and higher criticism
to the field of Bible research, and the advent of public education, the
absurdity of this belief became so obvious that it could not survive.
Today, not even the staunchest fundamentalist would dare claim that
all copies and translations of the Bible have been divinely protected
After losing this decisive battle, the defenders of inerrancy retreated to
the only high ground left for them. They found refuge in claiming that at
least the original autographs of the Bible were inspired of God and so by
necessity inerrant. Since none of the original autographs had survived the
passing of the centuries, perhaps the inerrancy advocates thought that they
had at last set up an impenetrable line of defense. After all, if there are no
original autographs in existence, how could anyone possibly prove that they
were not inerrant?
The fallacy in this line of reasoning should be obvious to anyone who
has even rudimentary skills in critical thinking. Logicians call it the
argument from ignorance. The fact that one cannot disprove an assertion
does not prove the truth of the assertion, since the absence of negative
evidence by itself is never conclusive positive evidence. The theist who
says, "You cannot disprove the existence of God, so it must be true that
God does exist," is guilty of the argument from ignorance. One could just
as well argue that a failure to disprove the existence of elves must mean
that elves do exist, and with that kind of logic one could prove just
about any fantastic claim.
The argument from ignorance also disregards the burden-of-responsibility
principle of logic. This often ignored principle obligates the claimant of a
proposition to prove that his claim is true. The challenger of the proposition
is under no obligation to prove that it is not true. Accordingly, the one who
claims that inerrant autographs of the Bible once existed is obligated to prove
that they did indeed exist. To demand that those who question the inerrancy
doctrine prove that inerrant original autographs did not at one time exist is a
resort to the argument from ignorance. If a believer in Islam should demand
proof that the angel Gabriel did not inspire the prophet Mohammed to write
the Koran, even the most radical Christian fundamentalists would see the
fallacy in his reasoning, yet they cannot recognize the same faulty logic when
they apply it to their belief in Bible inerrancy.
Obviously, then, the claim that all original autographs of the Bible were
error free is a postulation that no fundamentalist can ever hope to prove.
Furthermore, this claim not only does not validate the inerrancy position, it
makes Yahweh appear even more ridiculous than some of the stories attributed
to him in the Bible, for if God (Yahweh) deemed inerrant original autographs
of the Bible necessary for the people living at the time the originals were
written, then surely he would have considered inerrant copies and
translations of the originals necessary for succeeding generations.
To argue that God (Yahweh) carefully protected the original Bible
autographs from error but then left all subsequent transmissions of
them to careless, uninspired scribes and translators is, as I said,
to make God look perfectly ridiculous. In _Inspiration_of_Scripture:
Problems_and_Proposals_, Paul Achtemeier very competently explained
the absurd implications of this last-ditch effort of Bible fundamentalists
to save their cherished inerrancy doctrine:
It has been frequently pointed out that if God thought errorless
Scripture important enough to inspire its composition, he would
surely also have further inspired its copying, so that it might
remain error free. Surely a God who can inspire error-free
composition could also inspire error-free copying. Since he did not,
it would appear he did not think our possession of error-free
Scripture very important. But if it is not important for us, why
was it important originally? (pp. 71-72).
Until inerrancy advocates can give a satisfactory explanation to the problem
Achtemeier has here identified, they would do well to cease talking about
"inerrant original autographs." Such talk only makes their position
look even more ridiculous.
We live in an age of advancing technology when Bible scholars (true Bible
scholars) are demonstrating a readiness to combine that technology with
recognized principles of scientific criticism to test old assumptions about the
origin of the Bible. Computer analyses of Biblical manuscripts have been
done that cast serious doubts on traditional theories of authorship.
Archaeological studies have completely debunked the old myth that says
the Bible is absolutely inerrant in matters of history, geography, and
science, as well as faith and practice. In a word, recent developments
in Biblical criticism have not been kind to the inerrancy doctrine.
Even staunchly conservative churches once regarded as impregnable
bastions of Christian fundamentalism have begun to count their losses. In the
April 1989 issue of the _Gospel_Advocate_, editor F. Furman Kearley described
the problem that liberalism now poses to traditional inerrancy beliefs in the
Churches of Christ:
We have college professors who speak unrebuked and un-refuted
at Christian college lectureships affirming that we must accept the
results of higher criticism. These professors reject the Mosaic
authorship of the Pentateuch and the doctrine of the inerrancy of
Scripture. They are supported by their administrators....
We have in the church today quite a number occupying prominent
pulpits and professorships who call Genesis 1 and 2 myth and reject
the universal flood clearly described in [ref020]
Genesis 6-9 and in [ref021]
2 Peter 3:1-7. I am concerned about those few who are doing such teach-
ing, but I am far more concerned by the silence of many others who
have not spoken out to refute such false teaching and to make
clear that they or their institutions oppose such, ("Unfaithful in
Little; Unfaithful in Much," p. 27).
From the sound of Dr. Kearley's lament, a genie has been released that hard-
line conservatives in the Church of Christ are going to have a difficult time
getting back into its bottle. Truth has a stubborn way of "hanging
tough," so if in this fundamentalist body half as many ministers and
college professors as Dr. Kearley implies have finally seen the truth about
the Bible's origin, the situation isn't likely to get any better for the
The principle at work here is the same as the one suggested by a
question asked in an old World War I song: "How are you ever goin' to keep 'em
down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" Apparently, a lot of preachers
are at long last beginning to see the Paree of responsible Bible criticism,
and no one is ever going to get them back down on the inerrancy farm.
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