Michael Kruger’s “Explanation” of Biblical Inerrancy

michael-kruger

I am always amused when theologically educated Evangelicals attempt to defend Biblical inerrancy. Michael Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, recently posted a three-minute video that purports to answer the question, Does the Bible Have Mistakes? Strangely, the blog post Kruger wrote for the video is titled, Does the Bible Make Mistakes? I thought, isn’t the Bible an inanimate object — black ink on paper? Does Kruger believe the Bible itself is an animate object? I know there are Christians who believe that the Bible has mystical, supernatural power, but Kruger, as a Fundamentalist Reformed Christian, surely knows that, according to orthodox Christian doctrine, it is the Holy Spirit that empowers (gives life to) the Biblical text. Not that I believe such a notion is true. I am just stating what Christians have historically believed about the Bible. (I have had countless Evangelicals tell me that now I am an atheist, it is impossible for me to understand the Bible.) [The title has since been changed, As Van noted in the comments, Kruger’s post is now inerrant.]

Video Link

Kruger begins the video by asserting that the Bible is the Word of God and whatever it affirms is true. According to Kruger, there are no errors, contradictions, or mistakes in the Bible. Yet, he turns right around and says that readers of the Bible must use various literary skills to “properly” understand the text. Once these skills are put to use, the errors, contradictions, and mistakes fall away.  In other words, when confronted with obvious mistakes, crack open the approved theology books and all the discrepancies will be explained away.

If someone uninitiated in Evangelical beliefs read the Bible, would they naturally conclude that the Bible is without error; that its teaching are consistent, coherent, and infallible? Of course not. Kruger is right when he mentions that many people who say the Bible has errors haven’t really studied the text. But others have. Former pastors who are now unbelievers certainly have studied the Bible from dedication to concordance. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the pastorate, I spent tens of thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible. I read scores of Evangelical (Calvinistic) theological books. Before beginning my studies I would pray and ask God to give me eyes to see and ears to hear the truth. (Many Evangelicals think that the knowledge I gained while studying the Bible magically disappeared when I deconverted.)

What kept me from “seeing” textual errors, mistakes, and contradictions was my presuppositional commitment to the Bible being without error — the Words of God. Since God was perfect, it was impossible for the Bible to be errant. It was only when I set aside my theology-driven presuppositions that I was able to see the Biblical text for what it is — a fallible collection of contradictory texts written by men.

Kruger is an educated man, so I suspect he lives with a good bit of cognitive dissonance. Surely at some level he knows inerrancy is a façade used to portray the Bible as some sort of God-inspired, God-written, supernatural text. Once inside the house of textual criticism, inerrancy is nowhere to be found, a circus mirror meant to entertain and deceive the faithful. Of course, Kruger has a vested interest in maintaining the inerrancy illusion. He’s in the business of training men for the ministry. If these preachers-to-be were told the truth about the Bible, why their home churches would gather up pitchforks and combustible materials and burn Reformed Theological Seminary to the ground, using Kruger as a quick-start fire log.

Thanks to authors such as Bart Ehrman, it is now  impossible to intellectually defend Biblical inerrancy. While in many ways, Ehrman doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been known for centuries, his books put complex textual issues in a format laypeople can understand. (You can purchase his books through Bruce’s Little Bookstore of Atheism and Humanism.)

The best antidote for inerrancy is reading Bart Ehrman. It is intellectually impossible for anyone to read several of his books and still believe that the Bible is inerrant. Remember, most Evangelical theologians agree with Ehrman on the evidence. What they disagree with is his conclusions. Sadly, many educated Evangelicals — pastors, theologians, professors — refuse to accept what is clear for all to see: that the Bible is a fallible collection of contradictory texts written by men. In many ways, these defenders of inerrancy are similar to atheist pastors, people who have invested their lives in promoting and defending Evangelicalism. Admitting that what they teach is untrue would quickly and viciously destroy their livelihood. When men have spent their lives pastoring churches or teaching seminary classes, how will they earn a living if they suddenly lose their job? So, Evangelical and atheist pastors alike continue to promote the inerrancy myth, hoping to run out the clock before they are exposed. For some of them, the personal and ethical costs are too high, so they out themselves, causing tremendous heartache and loss.

I was fifty years old when I walked away from Christianity. I can only imagine how difficult it might have been if I had been some sort of high-profile Evangelical who spent his life publicizing far and wide the Christian myth. In my case, I never made a lot of money from pastoring churches, so it was much easier for me to walk away. I had no retirement plan or 401(k) to worry about. I could make just as much money flipping hamburgers as I did preaching. Such is not the case for many pastors, so I understand why some educated Evangelicals continue to preach what they know is not true.

There will always be some educated Evangelicals who refuse to see the facts about the nature of the Biblical text. Regardless of what the evidence says, these defenders of the faith plan to die with their boots on and hands clutched to the inspired, inerrant Holy Bible. All the books to the contrary will not move them. A Fundamentalist worldview forces pastors and professors to believe and preach only what can neatly fit within the Evangelical box. Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) This is why countless educated Evangelicals believe the earth is 6,021 years old, that Adam and Eve, Moses, and Noah were real people, and the fantastical stories found in the Bible are really, really, really true. Virgins have babies, dead people come back to life, and sick people are miraculously healed through spoken words. While some of these Evangelicals will see the light (after all, I did), most of them will go to their graves certain in their beliefs. Until they are willing to consider the possibility of being wrong, there really is no hope for them.

After watching the video, please share your thoughts in the comment section. Did Kruger adequately defend inerrancy and give plausible explanations for the mistakes, errors, and contradictions to be interpreted so as to maintain Biblical inerrancy?

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8 Comments

  1. Byroniac

    Always enjoy your articles, Bruce. Guest articles are good, too. I really have to wonder if just hearing someone authoritative on the side of Christianity is enough for many Christians and constitutes a defense of inerrancy in their minds? Nothing he said really amounted to much in my opinion as a non-believer, but then again, I am not on his team either.

    Reply
  2. Geoff

    People who say the bible is inerrant and infallible just don’t understand the meaning of these words. If something is inerrant then it is, at a minimum, ‘free of error’.

    Nobody really believes that the bible is free of error. Given that every bible is a translation of the original, (translation of translation and a million interpretations, more like) it can never be totally true to the original wording and intent. Books of fiction that are translated from one language to another are never perfectly translated, because words vary between cultures. The best they can do is to have an honest approach, where the translator makes no attempt to do other than be true to the words of the author.

    Even Kruger himself trips over his own words. He tries to explain inconsistencies on the basis of ‘summaries’ and ‘not exact reporting of wording’. If he’d gone on longer he’d have been forced to say much of the bible simply reflects the time it was written. I’d say yes, exactly! Precisely what you’d expect from a book written by men, men who for their time were educated, but by today’s standards would, quite literally, be exceeded by most 8 year olds.

    An inerrant bible would be one written in all languages of the world, or else magically made understandable regardless of language. It would reflect ideas and concepts that are universal, varying neither according to culture nor time. It would anticipate science; there’d be reference, however oblique, to evolution. In short, it’d be so obviously inspiring and uplifting that it would have changed mankind from the day it was written. It didn’t. I wonder if the world wouldn’t be a better place if every copy of the bible in every language weren’t just consigned to the dustbin?

    Reply
  3. Brian

    When the voices come, those voices are true in a very personal sense: The voices are real. When Paul had visions on the road it would have been silly to suggest to him that he needed to have a good long lie-down and rest it out. We are inspired by our excesses and sometimes ‘knowledge’ comes in train-load arrivals; it comes so fast that we cannot even speak it though we KNOW it to be true as true. People on hallucinogens often talk about being visited by the meaning of life on their trip.
    Do they allow gross errors and contradictions? Of course they do. The emotional power of excess paints a broad stroke coloring everything with its brush. We believe the Bible is without error in its orginal writing, they say, and once that is said basically the game is over. If you listen to Hitchens debate Doug Wilson, this phenomenon is revealed regularly. Doug says, We believe and Hitchens listens with uncharacteristic patience.
    My point is that the questioning, the laying out of the facts of errors and covolutions, of contradictions, falls of ears that are deaf to that direction of the language. A good vision on the road along the way can change a man forever. My uncle had one and ended up preaching on the street and unable to sleep because of the burden he felt from God to save the lost. He spent the rest of his life on lithium.

    Reply
  4. Randy

    I believe the big question here is: If you approach the Bible with zero preconceptions what conclusions will you draw from it? It’s difficult to approach it with this level of neutrality. In my atheist days I approached it with the preconception it was a book of myths. Now as an evangelical I have to be mindful of the fact that I approach it with the preconception it is 100% true. I am working on finding that balance, and studying the Bible anew after 14 years of being an evangelical Christian. It’s tough at times, and it can put you at odds with other Christians at times. Personally, I love Bart Ehrman. He may be the preeminent scholar of New Testament studies. It’s interesting that his mentor Bruce Metzger never turned away from seeing the Scriptures as inspired but Ehrman did. I find his books interesting and challenging reads.

    Personally, I love the Bible, but it is extremely difficult to defend it as infallible and inerrant. Andy Stanley has recently said as much and caught a ton of flack from evangelical circles for stating the truth. The most common argument I hear is that it is true because it says it’s true. That’s circular logic that Christians won’t allow other systems like Islam to present as a defense of their beliefs. Most Christians get the formula wrong because they’ve been conditioned since they were kids to think: “The Bible is true because I believe it.” That’s another logical fallacy that is not allowed competing religious views. The proper statement for me has become, “I can only believe the Bible if it is true.” That requires intense study and a mind that is willing to admit the possibility that the Bible may not be inerrant and infallible.

    The honest scholar of the Bible is faced with several difficult questions:
    (1) Why would God allow the original manuscripts to be lost / destroyed in history?
    (2) Why would God allow numerous contradictions and errors by biblical authors if the word is divinely inspired?
    (3) Why would God allow the Scriptures to be written in languages that are the purvey of only learned scholars today (like Ehrman) who can often struggle with interpretation and translation of ancient syntax?

    One can ignore the questions, deny the questions, or embrace the questions and their consequences. Most evangelicals reject them and rationalize them and therefore do not grow in knowledge. I’m working through them, and try to remain open minded to the ultimate results.

    In conclusion, I see the Bible as an inscrutable book for the average reader, “saved” or “unsaved.” It must be placed in it’s historical and cultural context to truly be understood. The average person in the pew is just not going to make this level of investment in a study. It is wrong to say anybody can pick up the Bible and benefit from it, even if they pick up a simpler, more modern translation like The Message or the New Living Translation. I believe that’s why the majority of believer own one or more copies of the Bible but generally only dust them off to take to church on Sunday.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      Two thoughts in response to that:

      1. One of the things that I think is frequently overlooked or at least under-considered among Christians is that the Bible isn’t, and never was, a book. It’s easy to forget, since the books are usually bound together in a single cover, but it’s actually more like the contents of a small library… and the books in that library fall under a number of different genres, styles, and historical contexts.

      And yes, I realize you’re well aware of that, but the concept of Biblical Inerrancy seems to me to require its devotees to ignore that fact, and treat the Bible as if it were a single book with a single narrative arc.

      2. I tend to view the Bible as a record of humankind seeking God, rather than a message from God to humankind. Is that because I’m an atheist, or part of why I’m an atheist? At this point, it feels like a little bit of both.

      Reply
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  6. Peter

    Interesting comment Randy.

    I toyed with the idea of the Bible being ‘partially true’ for a while. But I found it raised an inevitable difficulty, identifying which were the parts that were true?

    Ultimately this led me out of faith as I concluded that if there was an all powerful ‘God’ then we should expect that ‘God’ to keep their testimony to the world as wholly true. Some folk like scholar Pete Enns seem to be able to keep faith alive with a partially true Bible, but I could not.

    Reply
  7. Van

    He’s changed his blog title (I guess you could say that without the error it is now inerrant).

    Buy yeah, that hurt my back, as he went through those gymnastics.

    Reply

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