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   Print Edition: 1990-2002

Bible Inerrancy:
A Belief Without Evidence
by Farrell Till

1992 / July-August

I commend Mr. Miller for an excellent definition of the Bible inerrancy doctrine and perhaps an even better explanation of the importance of the doctrine to Christianity. Maybe it is a carry-over from my own fundamentalist background, but I have a much deeper admiration for Christians who believe in a divinely inspired inerrant Bible than those who believe in a divinely inspired errant Bible. To the latter, I can only repeat what Mr. Miller said in the foregoing article: "If the Holy Spirit is responsible for what the biblical writers wrote, and if the Bible contains errors in historical details, then the Holy Spirit is the author of error" (p. 2). As Mr. Miller effectively argued, for the Bible to be authoritative, it must be inerrant; otherwise, man is left with an impractical moral guide, for what good is a moral guide that is blemished with errors? If the Bible says X, and one can establish that X is an untruth, then how can he trust anything else it says?

Mr. Miller may have been on track in recognizing the absolute necessity of an inerrant, "trustworthy" revelation in order to give credibility and authority to a religious system, but he wandered far afield in his attempt to prove that the Bible provides Christianity with such a revelation. An entire section of his article was devoted to a discussion of "the biblical claim for inerrancy," but I have to disagree with his contention that the Bible claims inerrancy, because it doesn't. Every scripture that Miller cited in this section concerned either promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide the disciples in what they should say or claims that the scriptures were inspired of God or that prophets had spoken as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. However, to say that the Holy Spirit was sent to guide men in what to say or that men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit is not to say that whatever these men said or wrote under the direction of the Holy Spirit was inerrant. To arrive at the doctrine of inerrancy, one must go through the logical process that Miller took us through in his article. A basic premise of this process is that if the Holy Spirit is omniscient and omnipotent, then any document that he verbally inspired would have to be inerrant, because an omniscient, omnipotent deity would be incapable of error.

I would agree with Miller's logic if he could prove three things: (1) an entity known as the Holy Spirit actually exists, (2) this entity known as the Holy Spirit is both omniscient and omnipotent, and (3) this Holy Spirit verbally inspired all of the writers of the Bible in everything that they wrote. Unfortunately for Miller's confidence in Bible inerrancy, these are all very big ifs, none of which he could actually prove if his life depended on it. This underscores the major problem in the Bible inerrancy doctrine: it is based on unprovable assumptions. Any belief founded on assumptions is worthless.

Even if we grant Mr. Miller the first two of his assumptions, he would still have a very high hurdle to clear in the third one. That hurdle, of course, would be to establish the truth of the biblical claim that its writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit. A claim is only a claim and must therefore be examined before its truth can be confirmed. Mr. Miller can never prove the truth of the biblical claim of divine inspiration. Claims of divinely inspired books are almost a dime a dozen. The Book of Mormon claims to be a "latter day" revelation from God; the Avesta claims that it was divinely inspired; the Koran claims that it was revealed to man by the angel Gabriel. So what evidence can Miller give us to prove that we should accept the biblical claim of inspiration over all the many others? Christian apologists have tried to give us such proof, but Miller made no attempt to do so in his article. Like so many Bible fundamentalists, he just made the claim and expected his readers to accept it. In the publication in which his article originally appeared, he could get away with this, because the paper is aimed at a predominantly fundamentalist audience. However, more rational readers, which we believe The Skeptical Review has, will insist on much more than what Mr. Miller gave them in the reprint of his article.

Miller listed three categories of "alleged"errors in the Bible and declared that the Bible has "weathered" all attempts by skeptics to prove that these are actual errors. "(T)he Bible has consistently been vindicated," he boldly asserted, "and demonstrated to possess the unequaled characteristic of internal harmony, accuracy, and consistency."

This is typical fundamentalist rhetoric. There are hundreds of Bible scholars who would instantly reject such a claim as this, because their biblical studies have made them aware of many inconsistencies and discordant themes in the Bible text. Dozens of these have been identified and discussed in The Skeptical Review, yet Mr. Miller, who is on our mailing list, has never taken pen in hand to explain to us how that these errors aren't really errors. I have challenged him to debate the inerrancy issue, but he has never responded to my letters. One has to wonder why he refuses the opportunity to discuss in public forum a doctrine that he claims is easily defendable and at the same time absolutely essential to Christianity. Could it be that his confidence in Bible inerrancy is not as resolute as he pretends when writing to a sympathetic audience?

Miller asserts that the Bible possesses an "unequaled characteristic of internal harmony" (p. 3). This is a familiar claim that makes good sermon fodder for gullible pulpit audiences, but it simply isn't true. Admittedly, there is considerable harmony in the Bible, but there is no reason to see divine intervention in this. The so-called canonical books were selected by committees and councils of rabbis, clerics, and "church fathers," who discussed and debated various books and finally selected the ones that were to be considered "inspired" or canonical. Quite naturally, the theological themes and doctrines of these books were considered before they were selected, so a high degree of harmony and consistency of themes would be expected in a compilation that had gone through such a rigid editing process. Anyone who doubts that the books of the Bible were selected in just a manner as this should read volume one of The Cambridge History of the Bible. If he should bother to read it, Mr. Miller would find historical facts about the evolution of the biblical canon that would reduce his miracle of internal harmony to nothing but sheer ordinariness.

Despite the editing process by which the canonical books were selected, the biblical text is still fraught with inconsistencies that make Mr. Miller's claim of "unequaled internal harmony" a myth that is believed only by gullible bibliolaters who haven't bothered to investigate the claim. As noted in an earlier article ("A Perfect Work of Harmony?" TSR, Spring 1990, p. 12), whoever wrote 2 Kings 10:30 obviously believed that Jehu's massacre of the Israelite royal family was the will of Yahweh, but the prophet Hosea just as obviously disagreed and pronounced a curse upon the house of Jehu to avenge the "blood of Jezreel" that Jehu shed in the massacre (Hosea 1:4). Apparently, the "inspired" prophets and biblical writers had their theological and political differences as much as modern-day religious leaders.

Any present day inerrantist would affirm with his dying breath that the book of Ezekiel was unquestionably inspired of God, yet the rabbis who made the canonical selection were of a different mind. A bitter controversy surrounded this book before it was finally selected for inclusion in the Hebrew canon. The rabbis were bothered by chapters 40-48, which contained information that was difficult to reconcile with the Torah. Ezekiel 46:6 is just one example of the problems the rabbis had to deal with in these chapters. Here Ezekiel said that the sacrifice for the new moon should consist of "a [one] young bullock without blemish, six lambs, and a ram," but the instructions for this same sacrificial ceremony in Numbers 28:11 stipulated two young bullocks, seven lambs, and a ram." The discrepancy or, if you please, lack of "internal harmony" is readily apparent to anyone who wants to see it.

At least it was apparent to the rabbis who had to decide whether the book should be considered canonical. According to Hebrew tradition, Rabbi Haniniah ben Hezekiah retired to a room with 300 "measures of oil" and worked day and night until he arrived at explanations that would "dispose of the discrepancies" (The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 1, Cambridge University press, 1970, p. 134). One wonders why such an undertaking as this was necessary to decide the canonicity of a book that exhibits "unequaled internal harmony." Could it be that Rabbi Haniniah ben Hezekiah was merely the Bible inerrantist of his day, who rather than accepting the face value of what was written spent several days searching for innovative interpretations that would make doctrinally embarrassing passages not mean what they obvi- ously were intended to mean?

I could discuss many other textual inconsistencies, but these are sufficient to demolish Mr. Miller's claim of "unequaled internal harmony" in the Bible. This claim has been preached and preached and preached from fundamentalist pulpits, but it simply is not true.

Mr. Miller placed an exaggerated importance on historical and geographical accuracy in the Bible. Again, this is a familiar inerrancy argument. Those who point to this feature in the Bible appear to be arguing that if the Bible has been proven true in some of what it says, then it must be true in all that it says. The fallacy in this reasoning is evident from the simple fact that accuracy, historical, geographical, or otherwise, doesn't constitute proof of inspiration. One can sit in a library all day long and find historical and geographical accuracy in book after book. No one would assume, however, that their accuracy meant that they had been divinely inspired. A more reasonable conclusion would be that the authors had researched their subjects or were by personal experience familiar with the history and geography of the events and places that they were writing about. Why shouldn't the same be assumed about historical and geographical accuracy in the Bible?

Despite the fact that there is undeniably some accuracy in the Bible, scholars are now convinced that many inaccuracies can be found in it. Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy report that the Hebrews, numbering as many as 2.5 to 3 million, left Egypt, wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years, and finally invaded and conquered the promised land. Most biblical scholars and archaeologists doubt the historical accuracy of this biblical story. The March/April issue of Archaeology magazine declared that neither the exodus nor the conquest of Canaan happened as recorded in the Bible. "Today's archaeologists are certainly not the first to challenge the Book of Joshua," said Neil Asher Silberman in the feature article. "Its historical reliability has been a matter of dispute for more than two centuries" ("Who Were the Israelites?" p. 22).

Bibliolaters love to preach that archaeology has provided amazing confirmation of biblical accuracy. In my written debate with Bill Jackson, he rashly asserted that "in 140 years of constant research in the lands of the Bible, archaeologists have yet to find a single fact in contradiction to what the Bible has said" (Jackson-Till Debate, p. 3), but this claim is a far cry from reality, as the edition of Archaeology cited above will verify. Speaking at an archaeological conference at the Royal Ontario Museum, Israeli archaeologist Eliezer Oren reported that "his efforts at more than 80 sites in the Sinai from 1972 to 1982 had not turned up any support for the historical accuracy of when the exodus was supposed to have occurred" (Barry Brown, "Israeli Archaeologist Reports No Evidence to Back Exodus Story," News Toronto Bureau, Feb. 27, 1988). Oren went on to tell of the discovery of papyrus notes that reported the sightings of two fugitive slaves. "They were spotted and the biblical account of 2.5 million people with 600,000 of military age weren't?" Oren asked. "This can't be explained unless you invoke miracles here, and I am a member of the department of archaeology and not of miracles."

Bible inerrantists have a field day whenever an archaeologist makes a discovery that seems to confirm something written in the Bible. In complete disregard of archaeological studies that discredit the biblical record (like those noted above), they leap immediately to the conclusion that the new discovery confirms the truth of everything in the Bible, when in reality the discovery proves only that there is some truth in the Bible. Classical scholars once believed that the Grecian epic of the Iliad was mythology, that no Trojan War had ever occurred, that the cities of Troy and Mycenae had never even existed. Then the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, using the Iliad as his guide, discovered and later excavated the sites of both cities. When this was done, no classical scholars rushed forth to proclaim that the Iliad was completely inerrant in its original autograph or that it had been inspired by God. They were intelligent enough to realize that archaeology had proven only that there is some truth in the Iliad. Bible inerrantists, however, show no such restraint. They want to see confirmation of one biblical statement as proof that all biblical statements are true. In so doing, they show their complete lack of objectivity.

Miller asserted that "(m)any charges [of biblical inerrancy] have been advanced, but in every case the alleged contradiction or error has been successfully explained or, in those areas where adequate information is currently unavailable, sufficient alternative explanations have been presented to dispel the credibility of the charge," but the successful explanations that he alluded to have been successful only to credulously gullible fundamentalists who are determined to believe in biblical inerrancy no matter how convincing the evidence to the contrary. Just a look at the endnotes that Miller used to "support" the points he offered in defense of the inerrancy doctrine is sufficient to discredit his attempt to appear scholarly. Altogether, he cited ten different books, seven of which were published by Eerdmans, Baker House, or Zondervan of Grand Rapids, Michigan. All three are notorious for publishing books slanted to the supposition that the Bible is the "inspired word of God." One of the books was published by Jack Lewis, who was a professor of Bible and religion at Harding University when I was a student there. Since he still teaches there, I assume he has not changed the fundamentalist view of the Bible that he had when I was a student, so I would hardly expect to see anything in a book he authored except the usual inerrancy line. Two of Miller's other references came from books published by Moody press and the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, neither of which has a reputation for unbiased biblical scholarship. The tenth reference was from an article written by none other than Wayne Jackson, whose illogical fundamentalist views have been exposed so often in TSR that no further comment is necessary.

This, then, is the depth of scholarship that Miller finds on his side in the Bible inerrancy controversy, so when he says that all "alleged" Bible contradictions and errors have been "successfully explained," this is a claim that must definitely be viewed with suspicion.

As an example of an "alleged" Bible contradiction that has been "successfully explained," let's just review one that was recently noted in "The Resurrection Maze" (TSR, Spring 1992, p. 13). According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Mary Magdalene was in the group of women who were told by angels at the empty tomb that Jesus had risen "even as he said," and Luke even said that when the women heard this, "they remembered his words" (24:9). Such statements as these (aside from the fact that Matthew even claimed that the women saw Jesus, held him, and worshipped him as they were running from the tomb to tell the disciples what they had seen, 28:9) definitely indicate that the women left the tomb convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead. Despite the clarity of these statements, John's account of the resurrection had Mary saying, after she had found the disciples, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him" (20:1).

I suppose Mr. Miller would call this an "alleged" discrepancy that has been successfully explained, but how has it been explained? In my article cited above, I quoted what Gleason Archer, a leading apostle of Bible inerrantists, said to explain it:

She [Mary] apparently had not yet taken in the full import of what the angel meant when he told her that the Lord had risen again and that He was alive. In her confusion and amazement, all she could think of was that the body was not there; and she did not know what had become of it. Where could that body now be? It was for this reason that she wanted Peter and John to go back there and see what they could find out (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 348-349).
Mr. Miller may consider this a "successful explanation" of the problem, but I don't and neither does anyone else whose perspective has not been completely distorted by fundamentalist nonsense. What is there about a far-fetched, entirely speculative explanation like this that makes it "successful"? And what about all of the other inconsistencies and discrepancies that have been noted in the series of resurrection articles that TSR has published. What are the "successful explanations" to these, and why hasn't some fundamentalist who finds it so easy to defend Bible inerrancy come forth with them? We will give space to Mr. Miller or any other fundamentalist who wishes to provide the explanations.

Mr. Miller set out to explain (to an audience already predisposed to agree with him) why he believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, but all he did was show that he believes in Bible inerrancy... well, just because he believes in it. He believes that the Bible is God's inspired word for the same reason that a Moslem believes that the Koran is Allah's inspired word. It is something that he was taught to believe and that he grew up believing without ever bothering to examine the belief to see if it has any basis in fact. If he wishes to respond to this article, we will publish it.

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