One of the cardinal doctrines of Evangelical Christianity is the belief that the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Every word, every syllable, every letter is without error. The Bible, according to Evangelicals, is different from all other books, in that it was divinely inspired and written by the Christian God. Some Evangelicals believe that God directly dictated the words of the Bible to the original writers. Other Evangelicals believe that God directed the writers to write in such a way that every word is without error. Thus, when Evangelicals say the Bible is inerrant, they mean that the text is internally consistent and without discrepancy, mistake, or error. In other words, every word of the Bible is true.
Ask Evangelical pastors exactly WHAT is inerrant, and they will likely give one of the following responses:
- The original manuscripts are inerrant.
- The sum of extant manuscripts is inerrant.
- Certain extant manuscript families (i.e. Byzantine, Majority, Textus-Receptus) are inerrant.
- The __________ (fill in with appropriate version) translation is inerrant. (One Evangelical colleague told me that ALL translations are inerrant.)
Some Evangelical pastors believe that God has preserved his Word without error down through history, right down to a particular translation — namely the 1769 revision of the King James Bible. Some of these pastors might say that the 1611 edition of the King James Bible is inerrant, but most of them use the 1769 revision, not the 1611. The fact that there are textual differences between the two means that one or the other isn’t inerrant. Other Evangelical pastors believe the King James Bible is inspired by God, right down to the italicized helper words inserted by translators.
Evangelical pastors, as they are wont to do, go to great — and often comical — lengths to explain the doctrine of inerrancy. Serving up theological word salads, these defenders of inerrancy wow congregants with their Trumpian theological prowess. Church members come away believing that whatever translation they are using is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Asking these members if their Bible contains errors, mistakes, or contractions brings a swift and emphatic NO! However, privately ask educated Evangelical pastors the same question and they will dance all over the place as they attempt to explain that translations are not inerrant, but they ARE faithful, trustworthy, or reliable. Some pastors, realizing that defending inerrancy makes them look like an imbecile, will say that the Bible is inerrant in matters of faith and practice. For these pastors, it doesn’t matter if the Bible is wrong about history and science. The Bible was never meant to be used as a science or history textbook. All that matters is what the Bible says regarding beliefs essential to Christian faith. Good luck trying to pin down pastors on exactly what beliefs are essential.
The original manuscripts of the Bible do not exist in any shape or form. There are thousands of manuscripts from which the various Bible versions are translated. These copies of copies of copies of copies disagree with each other in thousands of places. Granted, most of these discrepancies are minor, but remember, the standard for Biblical inerrancy — WITHOUT ERROR. This means if these manuscripts contain one error, they can not be considered inerrant. The same can be said for translations. If it can be shown that a particular translation has mistakes or internal inconsistencies — and it can — then the text cannot be considered inerrant. Whatever the Bible is or isn’t, one thing is for certain: the Bible is not inerrant. I can’t think of an intellectually honest way to argue that the text of the Protestant Bible in any of its varied forms is without error.
Knowing the Biblical inerrancy cannot be intellectually or rationally sustained, many Evangelical pastors turn to sleight of hand trickery to make it seem that the Bible is inerrant. One popular trick used is harmonization. Bart Ehrman recommends reading each book of the Bible on its own without making attempts to harmonize that book with other books of the Bible. Let each author — whomever he might be — speak for himself without reading into his words what other Biblical writers said. Of course, doing so leaves readers with books that contradict each other, with Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James each having gospels different from the other, and the gospel authors contradicting each other on matters of historical fact. This is why Christian pastors teach congregants to harmonize the Bible. Harmonization makes disparate verses “fit,” supposedly providing a cohesive, consistent text. By doing this, all the alleged textual errors and contradictions disappear — at least in the minds of Evangelical preachers anyway.
Many Evangelical pastors know the Bible is not inerrant. Privately, they will bitch and complain about Bible thumpers such as Ken Ham, David Barton, Jerry Falwell, Jr, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, James Robison, Jim Bakker, and Bob Gray Sr. They wish these men would shut the darn, freaking, heck up.* *Approved Baptist curse words used. (Please read Christian Swear Words.) However, when these very same swearing preachers enter their pulpits on Sunday, they sing a different tune, leading congregants to believe that the translations they hold in their hands are the inspired, inerrant, infallible Words of God. These liars for Jesus know that telling people that the Bible contains errors, mistakes, and contradictions would lead to conflict, unrest, membership loss, reduced offerings, and perhaps even unemployment. If there is one thing I learned as an Evangelical pastor it is this: congregants want certainty. When they read their Bibles, church members want/need to feel/know that what they hold in their hands consists of the very words of God. Without this assurance, people will lose faith in the Bible/God/Jesus/Church. Can’t have that. There is a kingdom to build, an empire to maintain. Doing so requires people of great faith, even if their faith is built upon a lie.
If you are interested in reading further about Biblical inerrancy, I encourage you to read one or more of New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s books. Countless Evangelical pastors have done so and now know, if they didn’t know already, that inerrancy is a house of cards. They may not admit this publicly, but when safely meeting behind closed doors with their ministerial colleagues, these men of God speak great lamentations of woe over the pervasive ignorance found among those who believe the Bible is inerrant. However, until they tell their congregations the truth about the Biblical text, what do they expect? Congregants look to their pastors to educate them about the Bible. Most Evangelicals go through life with a borrowed theology — often whatever their pastors believe. Knowing this, Evangelical pastors should speak the truth concerning the Bible and encourage people to study the inerrancy issue for themselves. What better way to do this than starting a Bart Ehrman Book Club. Let me suggest several of his books that will drive a stake in the heart of the brain-sucking doctrine of Biblical inerrancy:
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are
Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior
How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament
Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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“Trumpian theological prowess” = ha!
Nice article, Bruce.
Bruce, this is an excellent article. What’s funny is that as a child, I always wondered why there were 2 versions of the Genesis Creation story, why there were 4 gospels outlining Jesus’ life yet all were somewhat different (particularly John), yet I was always told that all were told from different people’s perspectives. It didn’t quite sit right with me,but I buried my doubts for a long, long time as I was indoctrinated 6 days a week from 5th-12th grade with Southern Baptist church on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, and Independent Baptist Christian School during the week (complete with 3 days of Bob Jones University approved Bible class curriculum and 2 days of chapel service). Those types of questions were not encouraged, and my child’s mind finally gave in to the pressure of “if all these adults are saying that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, that must be true”. In college I took a History of Christian Thought course and these beliefs were challenged, which set me on the road to eventually becoming an atheist. It’s amazing what happens when someone reads books outside their proscribed religion and when they start contrasting and comparing religions. Suddenly, no religion seems “right”, “correct”, or “true” and all sound equally ridiculous. Fairy tales and legends.
But, funny thought about swearing. My very proper Southern Baptist grandmother used to say “I’ll Swanee” whenever she wanted to swear until one day she realized (I’m not sure how, probably reading something by James Dobson or listening to Jim Bakker or whatever pastor/televangelist she was following at the moment) that swearing in and of itself was wrong. After that, she did not use any substitute swear words and would not allow any of us in the family to use substitute swear words around her. A girl at my church and school who was from an equally devout family said that saying “I swear” even was a sin, and that calling someone a “fool” was a sin. But she was allowed to say the word “fudge” as her substitute swear word, so I’m not sure how that all was rationalized out.
Now I swear at will. I even like learning swear words from other languages. I let my teen kids swear in front of me too, though I don’t like it if they swear at someone (like saying “fuck you”).
Unfortunately I was raised with the NIV that had some translation discrepancies to harmonize some difficult passages. I did not find out until later though. I never could get over the differences between the gospels though even when they were suppposedly talking about the same event
When I moved to TN I was introduced to the KJO crowd. I was perplexed at their stance, however I was not one to research where our scriptures truly came from prior. I started studying about it because I take my daughters education in all things seriously and I knew I would have to have an answer for her if she asked about it. I have learned a great deal and really enjoy the topic. I read the book by James White on the subject and found him very informative. His information is valuable because he even speaks and teaches koine Greek. I just borrowed the new age translations by G A Riplinger, because I like to hear both sides of the argument. I got to page 59 and had to put it down. It is full of incorrect information, many partial quotes taken very much out of context to support her view, conspiracy theories galore, and she has no degree in religion or history and doesn’t know Greek.
As a matter of fact I found this blog because I was searching for Steven Anderson and I found your post about him. I learned of him when researching the subject and watched the entire discussion between him and James White on you tube.
I have much faith in the word, especially after all I have learned. I recommend everyone research how we got our scriptures and why they can be trusted. Don’t just believe what others tell you. Test it so you can know for yourself.
I know both White and Riplinger. I don’t hold either of them — for different reasons — in high regard.
The fatal flaw in both Riplinger’s and White’s arguments are the presuppositions behind them — God exists, the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. They assume these things to be true (by faith). Riplinger and White are both Evangelicals, so theologically they have much in common.
I am not sure of Riplingers beliefs outside of the KJO controversy, but if she is IFB she is likely Armenian in belief where White is a reformed Baptist with Calvinistic beliefs. Those are some major differences.
I enjoy listening to him and another pastor Jeff Durbin speak even though I am not baptist or Calvinistic in beliefs.
Their core orthodox doctrines are similar. Riplinger is not an Arminian (notice spelling) but neither is she a Calvinist. Reformed Baptist pastors are , for the most part, either Fundamentalist Independent Baptists or Southern Baptists who have become enamored with the doctrines of grace.
I wasnt sure of Riplinger.
White and Durbin are definitely not IFB.
In White’s case, I know where he came from. I don’t know Durbin. White is Fundamentalist, albeit more educated than the typical fundy. I was once a Reformed/Sovereign Grace Baptist. I know some of this group’s luminaries quite well.
And with that I must go.
Interesting timing: at the moment I’m reading Ehrman’s Lost Christianities. Fascinating tale of the range and variety of early Christian beliefs, and the effort to force a single canon–to say nothing of a single interpretation of that canon–on the early churches.
Inerrancy, my ass.
Bruce, why are two of the links crossed out? The Misquoting Jesus and Lost Scriptures are crossed out. I’ve tried three different browsers, so I assume the problem is not on my end. In reply to the IT joke, no I have not rebooted yet, LOL. I look at the source code using Google Chrome and it says the CSS class for both is “broken_link” but the links appear to work now.
The links work, so I assume the problem lies with the broken link checker plugin I use. I will take a closer look tomorrow. Thanks for pointing this out.
This is one of your best and most accurate critiques in my opinion. There really are no valid arguments that can be made about what you said.
As I often say, we can’t agree on what our Constitution means and it was written “ONLY” 240ish years ago. Genesis was written thousands of years ago in a language that almost went extinct.
If you assume the original scriptures were inspired even the best Hebrew scholar probably could only fully grasp 20 percent of the original content.
I tell people that inspiration — in a supernatural sense — is a faith claim. There is no evidence for the claim that God supernaturally inspired (wrote, superintended) the 66 books that make up the Bible. Either a person believes this claim by faith, or they don’t. I don’t.
When it comes to inerrancy and infallibility, these claims are observable and testable.No one can honestly and openly read the Bible and conclude that its words are perfect and without error— either in the Hebrew and Greek or the modern translations we have.
I consider exposing people to Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books as the best way to disabuse Evangelical Christians of the irrational notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.
The verse, 2 Tim 3:16 is used to justify biblical innerancy, but depending on the translation it’s ‘God breathed’, or ‘given by inspiration of God’.
Using the first translation one could make a case that errors exist and are caused by humans (‘God breathed life into man and became a living soul, and humans make error from that breath of existence).
This is why many fundamentalists cling to one Bible version, it makes it easier to try to support infallibility… but, the mental gymnastics required to support these things seem endless even with one version. Fundamentals do a great disservice to their religion when they teach there are no mistakes, because eventually inquisitive people finally see through it, and then the trust is broken.
It’s like a salesman making impossible claims about their product. Business might seem good to begin with but their product won’t last because of reputational damage. What’s to be concluded, they’re sincere or don’t really care.