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Investigating Bible verses used to prove Bible Infallibility

Well, I guess if it says it on the napkin...

Well, I guess if it says it on the napkin…

The standard response to this is that you can’t really use a conclusion as proof of itself. I agree, yet it happens. Rather than address the logical fallacy, I’d like to look at whether the Bible actually makes the claim of infallibly or inerrenacy at all.

Firstly, the obvious. The Bible is not a book so much as a collection of books. As such, it is insufficient for a single book to claim divine status of itself to make the claim that the whole collection makes such a claim. There would need to be a verse that makes the claim of the entire collection of works within the collection of works in order to claim that the Bible claims divine status of the whole Bible.

Let’s look at some verses which are frequently cited in this discussion:

“the words of the LORD are flawless” (Psalm 12:6)
This verse is part of a song about God making a promise to save some people because they were groaning with sufficient volume. There is nothing in this verse that even remotely suggests that it is talking about a written text.

“Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)
Again, this is referring to a direct word from God and mentions nothing about a text. This psalm does at least link the word of God with the Law of Moses. We now have a tenuous link of one song within Psalms supporting elements of Exodus and Deuteronomy… or at least supporting the texts referenced in those books.

“Every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5)
Agur is addressing Ithiel with words of advice to listen to God’s voice. Given the choice of name (Ithiel meaning: God is with me) it seems that the advice is for those in relationship with God to trust his words when they hear them. It also states not to add to them. Again, this is talking about direct communication from God and makes no mention of existing texts.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)
This is probably the most commonly cited verse on the topic of Biblical infallibly/inerrancy Translators sometimes use the term “inspired” instead of “God-breathed”. It really depends on whether they want to encourage a figurative or literal interpretation in their English readers. This is probably the strongest verse to state the case but it is important to remember that the reference to “scripture” is not talking about the collection of books we now call “The Bible” but most likely what we now refer to as the Old Testament. Possibly just the first five books.

So we do have a book in the Bible which claims divine inspiration (not inerrancy) for a part of the Bible which does not include itself. This is important to identify we don’t yet have any internal reason to grant the label of divinely inspired to the speaker, so his testimony of divine inspiration for the older books is, at this stage, merely a human opinion.

“If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Corinthians 14:37)
This seems to be the strongest claim in any of Paul’s writings that could be interpreted as him believing his own words to be the words of God. This demonstrates Paul’s gift of manipulative writing. He is essentially making it a test of a true prophet that the prophet endorses Paul’s teachings as divine commands.

“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 21)
This is speaking specifically of The Prophets, a series of writings in what we currently refer to as the Old Testament, though the statement itself could be applied to prophets in general. This verse is explaining that the prophets themselves did not know that the prophecies they were making were actually about Jesus and that nobody would be able to make the connection until after the events had occurred. I’ve spoken about the problems with that kind of prophecy in other posts. For now, let’s simply observe that this text is referring to a specific group of texts of which it is not itself included as even in the most liberal interpretation of the text, it does not claim itself to be prophetic.

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
A great threat to end your compilation with. This verse is frequently taken to refer to the entire Bible. Keep in mind again that the Bible was not even an idea at the time that this prophecy was written. It is possible to interpret the 2 Peter verse as supporting this book because it is “prophecy”, but only in the sense that the writer of Revelations doesn’t really know what he is talking about.

To summarise:
Old Testament verses refer to the direct spoken word of God and possibly to the Law of Moses as perfect, infallible and without error.

New Testament verses refer to The Torah and The Prophets (but not psalms or proverbs) as divinely inspired. Paul invites prophets to endorse his writings as commands from God as a test of their powers, and Revelations endorses itself.

Conclusion:
There are numerous books within both testaments which have no text claiming divine authorship or inspiration for that text, including all four Gospels. As such, any claim that the entire Bible is the Word of God, infallible, without error, or any other divine features must be supported by evidence external to the Bible. That external source would have to be infallible and without error to do so.

TL;DR:
While individual authors make several claims about their own and others’ writings, The Bible does not say that the Bible as a whole is infallible and without error.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Religious

 

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The Hidden Meaning of Jesus Washing the Disciples’ Feet

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Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

The Gospel of John tells a story not found in the other gospels which describes Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. He strips off his clothing and puts on a servants towel, he washes the disciples feet despite Peter’s objection and then has them wash each other’s feet (13:3-14). At first glance, the meaning of the story seems pretty clear. Jesus is taking the humble role of a servant and treating the young men to a relaxing foot bath and massage with some kind of vague allusion to servant leadership, right? That is certainly one way of reading it but it doesn’t explain Peter’s reluctance or his later suggestion of washing his whole body rather than just the feet. There is something else going on here which I intend to reveal.

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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Religious, sexuality

 

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Stimulating Church Growth in a Pluralistic Religious Marketplace

The American big church movement is growing. While churches in the majority are small, the top one percent of churches claims fifteen percent of church memberships, money and full time staff. The Top twenty percent claims sixty to sixty five percent(1). As large churches take a larger and larger share of the market, smaller churches struggle to keep their doors open. In this essay I will explore some factors which allow successful churches to attract new members and retain existing members to grow exponentially in a saturated and declining religious marketplace, and offer some suggestions for church leaders wanting to stimulate growth in their congregations. The main influences to church growth are church friendliness, counter cultural doctrines, service style and marketing.

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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Religious

 

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The Significance of Children in the Teachings of Jesus

 

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)

In a humble, single room hut in the village of Capernaum, a small boy quietly tends to the animals in the lower, hay covered floor that was carved out for the animals, while in the raised family area of the hut a group of young men, guests of his father and disciples of the Rabbi Jesus, argue over which of them will hold the higher position when they’ve overthrown the Roman oppressors. The rabbi returns. His disciples run to him, demanding that he tell them the positions they will hold in his kingdom. The rabbi’s eyes scan the hut quickly as the little boy crouches low behind his goat. The rabbi smiles; he has found his answer. Pushing through the demanding young men, he reaches down and lifts the boy up to the higher level of the hut, placing him in the midst of the men, and tells them that the one of them who is most like the little boy will be the greatest; that those who cannot be like him are not fit for his kingdom. (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48, Mark 10:14-15).

 

The Synoptic Gospels each contain an account of Jesus declaring that being like a child is a requirement for entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Given that over half the world’s population consider Jesus an authority on the topic of Heaven, and a third say he is God (1), and also given the implications of being left out of the kingdom for failing to be like a child are disastrous by dominant modern interpretations, it would appear that having a correct understanding of this verse would be of critical importance. Unfortunately, those seeking to understand the meaning of this statement have left large bodies of information unused in forming their conclusions, with the result that the dominant understanding of Jesus’ statement may be incomplete. In this essay, I plan to bring together the major sources of information on the reality of what it meant to be a small child within the Roman Empire during the early part of the first century from both primary documents and archaeological evidence, in order to present four alternative readings of the phrase, and their theological applications.

These are as follows:
1) Being like a child means being vulnerable and dependant on others.
2) Being like a child means learning by asking challenging questions.
3) Being like a child means having a low status.
4) Being like a child means existing outside of the Mosaic Law.

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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Religious

 

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Sex, Marriage and Religion

 

reaching out in love

Modern society continues to be plagued by conflicting ideas about sex practices, how they relate to marriage, and what God thinks of all this. Being the good Samaritan that I am, I thought I’d help out a bit by giving the argument a Jaminological treatment. In this post, I intend to strip Western ideas of sex back to their basic components, identify the common religious assumptions, and consider how a religiously enlightened Jaminist would view sex and marriage.

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Posted by on November 14, 2010 in Religious, sexuality

 

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Interpreting the Bible: Genesis

The Bible is claimed by many to be a message from the divine being to humanity. This is an extraordinary claim which has enormous ramifications for the world if it is true. It is also arguably the most influential collection of writings in the history of humanity. How it influences us relies on how it is read, so a correct understanding of how to read the Bible and assess its claims is critical to the individual and to humanity as a whole. This essay will explore two of the dominant readings: the literal approach and the theological approach, looking specifically at how they relate to the first creation story in Genesis.

There are numerous ways to interpret the Bible. These interpretations are called readings. Because of the nature of language; there are at least as many readings of the Bible as there are readers. Each individual who picks up the collection of writings comes with their own set of assumptions, prejudices and even their own ideas of what certain words mean. This issue is magnified by the fact that the majority of people reading the Bible are reading translations which carry the assumptions and prejudices of the translators, in a canon selected by people who were again using their prejudices and assumptions to determine which books would be included, and nobody has access to the original documents which were written thousands of years ago. Another issue is that (short of divine intervention) no modern reader is able to speak with the original authors of the texts. These barriers make it difficult to know what is the best way to read the Bible.

The literal approach, also known as the historical approach and Christian Science, begins with the premise that if God intended to communicate with humanity through the written word that writing would be perfect and factual in every way. Some literal readers take this to mean that God would also protect his message through human translation, so that modern language translations can also be considered perfect and inerrant. Others prefer the idea that the original documents which have been lost were perfect and without error, and since they have been lost some minor transcription and translation errors have occurred but the message as a whole remains largely intact.

A literal approach to Genesis will seek to determine the events which happened in Genesis One by viewing the text alone, and then take meaning from that as historical events. In the literal reading, the focus tends to be on what God creates and the order in which it is created. He creates the heavens and the Earth, light, Heaven, land, plants, stars, the sun and the moon, moving animals, birds, sea creatures, land animals, and finally man and woman who would dominate all the other living things and eat all the plants. All of this he creates in six literal twenty four hour days despite creating the sun and the moon, which are our measure for a twenty four hour day on the third day of creation.

The theological approach begins by asking the question “What does the text say about God and the world?”. The issue of empirical fact is considered secondary to the message being communicated through the story. This approach treats the creation story as allegorical and makes the claim that the question of whether the story is truth or fiction is irrelevant to the message being communicated, much as with the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. Finding the theological meaning of the text requires a little more work than the literal approach because the theologian must look into the context of who is writing the story, who it is being written to, and what were the dominating ideas of reality at the time of writing, both within Israel and amongst her neighbours.

Themes and meanings that may be uncovered through a theological approach may include some of the following. God creates order out of chaos, rather than out of nothing. The ancient Jews were scared of water and the sea because to them it was a symbol of chaos and represented the demonic, the spirit of God hovering above the water shows that God is order, and separate from the chaos, and he draws the dry land itself from the chaos. The whole seven days of creation involve God separating things. This is important because the Jews have a lot of cultural beliefs about keeping things separated. The positioning of the creation of the Sun and the Moon on the fourth day, directly in the middle and the use of the terms meaning “greater lamp and lesser lamp” rather than the proper names of the Sun and the Moon is a deliberate statement that these heavenly bodies are not gods to be worshiped or which can have an effect on our daily lives, but are merely objects in the sky which produce light. There is significance that on the seventh day, God creates rest, suggesting that we work so that we may rest, rather than resting so that we may work.

By removing the need to make scripture line up with observable reality by altering one’s perception of both the language in the scripture and of external reality as a whole, the theological approach allows the reader set aside the apparent conflicts and focus on the deeper meaning. The literal approach seems to require altering the interpretation of the text to fit with observed reality, and there seems to be a high risk of missing the original intended meaning when this is done. In my own personal reflection on the ideas above, I find the theological approach far more appealing than the literal approach.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2010 in Religious

 

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