My First Steps Towards Believing the Bible Was Not Inerrant

bible inspired word of god

I grew up in a religious faith that taught me the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. The word “inspired” meant that that the Bible was the word of God; that holy men of old who wrote the Bible were told by the Holy Spirit exactly what to write. Some of my pastors believed in the dictation theory. The authors of the Bible were mere automatons who wrote what God dictated to them. Other pastors believed that men wrote the Bible, thus their writing reflects their personality and culture. God, through some sort of supernatural means, made sure that human influence on the Bible was in every way perfect and aligned with what he wanted to be said.

The inspiration got complicated when dealing with the question of WHAT, exactly, was inspired. Were the original manuscripts alone inspired? If so, there’s no such thing as the inspired Word of God because the original manuscripts do not exist. Were the extant manuscripts inspired? Some pastors believed that the totality of existing manuscripts made up the inspired Word of God, and some pastors believed that certain translations — namely the King James Version — were the inspired Word of God. Regardless of how they answered the WHAT question, all of them believed that God supernaturally preserved his Word down through the ages, and the Bibles we held in our hands were the Word of God.

The word “inerrant” meant “without mistake, contradiction, or error.” Some pastors, knowing that every Bible translation had errors and mistakes, said they believed the original manuscripts were inerrant, and modern translations were faithful, reliable, and could be depended on in matters of faith, practice, morality, and anything else the Bible addressed. Of course, these men were arguing for the inerrancy of a text they had never seen, and there is no evidence for its existence. Whatever the “original” manuscripts might have been, their exact wording and content are lost, never to be found.

The word “infallible” meant incapable of error in every matter it addressed. Thus, when the Bible spoke about matters of science and history, it was always true, and without error. No matter what scientists and historians say about a particular matter, what the Bible says is the final authority. That’s why almost half of Americans believe the Christian God created the universe sometime in the past 10,000 years.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution that prided itself in turning out preacher boys. My three years at Midwestern reinforced everything I had been taught as a youth. Every professor and chapel speaker believed the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I was a seedling and Midwestern was a controlled-environment hothouse. Is it any wonder that I grew up to be a Bible thumper; believing that EVERY word in the Bible was straight from the mouth of God? If ever someone was a product of his environment, it was Bruce Gerencser.

I left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a ministerial career that took me to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.  I stood before thousands of people with Bible held high and declared, THUS SAITH THE LORD! For many years, I preached only from the King James Bible. I believed it was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God for English speaking people. Towards the end of my ministerial career, I started using the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and after that I began using the English Standard Version (ESV).

Many of my former Fundamentalist colleagues in the ministry and congregants trace the beginning of my unbelief back to my voracious reading habit and my abandonment of the King James Bible. One woman, after hearing of my loss of faith. wrote to me and said that I should stop reading books and only read the B-I-B-L-E. She just knew that I if I would stop reading non-Biblical books, my doubts would magically disappear. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

As I pondered my past and what  things ultimately led to my loss of faith, two things stood out: a book on alleged Bible contradictions and the differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions of the King James Bible.

As I studied for my sermons, I would often come across verses or passages of Scripture that didn’t make sense to me. I would consult various commentaries and grammatical aids, and usually I was able to reconcile whatever it was that was giving me difficulty.  Sometimes, however, I ran into what could only be described as contradictions – competing passages of Scripture. In these times, I consulted the book on alleged contradictions in the Bible. Often, my confusion would dissipate, but over time I began to think that the explanations and resolutions the book gave were shallow, not on point, or down-right nonsensical. Finally, I quit reading this book and decided to just trust God, believing that he would never give us a Bible with errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I decided, as many Evangelical do, to “faith” it.

For many years, the only Bible translation I used was the 1769 edition of the King James Bible. I had been taught as a child and in college that the original version — 1611 — of the King James Version and the 1769 version were identical. I later found out they were not; that there were numerous differences between the two editions. (Please read the Wikipedia article on the 1769 King James Bible for more information on this subject.)

I remember finding a list of the differences between the two editions and sharing it with my best friend — who was also an IFB pastor. He dismissed the differences out of hand, telling me that even if I could show him an error in the King James Bible, he would still, by faith, believe the Bible is inerrant! Over the next few months, he would repeat this mantra to me again and again. He, to this day, believes the King James Bible is inerrant. I, on the other hand, couldn’t do so. Learning that there were differences between the editions forced me to alter my beliefs, at least inwardly. It would be another decade before I could admit that the Bible was not inerrant. But even then, I downplayed the errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I continued to read about the nature of the Biblical text, but I kept that knowledge to myself. It was not until I left the ministry that I finally could see that the Bible was NOT what my pastors and professors said it was; that it was not what I told countless congregants it was. Once the Bible lost its authority, I was then free to question other aspects of my faith, leading, ultimately, to where I am today. My journey away from Evangelicalism to atheism began and ended with the Bible.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

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9 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    Bruce and other readers, were you taught that the Bible was “God-breathed”? The meaning was that God breathed the words into the scribe’s ear, and the scribe wrote the words down. Dictation but creepier.

    Reply
  2. Susannah

    I was reading, for the millionth time, Paul’s sworn statement (Romans 9:1, KJV) “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not …” when I realized that this goes against Jesus’ injunctions against swearing (neither by heaven, nor by earth, nor by Jerusalem …). So either Paul didn’t know what Jesus said, or he didn’t care. And if he didn’t know, how could he be trusted about the rest of his theology? And if he didn’t care, again, how?
    And the next thought was, “if my kids said this to me; ‘I swear it, I’m not lying!’ I’d know that they probably were lying.”
    And with that, my whole house of cards started to fall.

    Reply
  3. Kris

    Bruce, I am not sure you have heard of Farrell Till but if you haven’t you would enjoy his writings. He was a Church of Christ Minister who became an atheist.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20110208090129/http://theskepticalreview.com/

    Reply
    1. Scott

      He was a wonderful human being. His newsletter was excellent. We had him speak to our Humanist many years ago.

      Reply
      1. Kris

        He is missed to put it mildly.

        Reply
  4. Caroline

    I was brought up in a Catholic home – no Bible reading or memorizing. We were taught that Bible stories were just allegories and a guide for how to live a generally moral life. I would have been a disaster in an Evangelical home because even thought we didn’t believe that the Bible was to be taken literally there were other weird things I figured out were unlikely and hard to believe (Pugatory/ the host is the actual body of Christ – GROSS, etc.). Fortunately, my family was of the (evil !) world, and we were exposed to the good and the bad – and learned to cope and appreciate differences. I feel sorry for anyone raised in the fear-inducing environment of fundamentalist anything.,

    Reply
  5. Julie S.

    Kris, Farrell Till is from my hometown of Canton, IL. I grew up reading his frequent letters to the editor in our local paper, always arguing against the various religious happenings or topics of the time. He was very vocal, very outspoken and very educated.

    I remember the time he challenged anyone who would be willing to step forward to a debate on the Bible. A local Presbyterian minister accepted the challenge, but he was no match for Till. The local high school auditorium was full of spectators, anticipating a good “match”, but Till overpowered his challenger at every level. It was the talk of the town for months. Till made it his life mission to educate people about the pitfalls & errors of God and religion. He definitely left his mark on our community, a lasting legacy for sure.

    Reply
  6. Kris

    Julie

    I do not agree with all his arguments but he was the king of exposing inerrancy. It was a pleasure to read or listen to his debates with proponents of inerrancy. More interesting was the inerrantist who didn’t step forward such as Gleason Archer, Josh McDowell and Chuck Misler.

    Reply
  7. Daniel Wilcox

    Again, Bruce, another thoughtful article of yours shows that there isn’t one Christian religion. We used to both be Baptist, but I don’t even recognize your IBF sort of beliefs in comparison to the Baptist churches I was associated with including my time as a Baptist youth minister (At the time I didn’t think the Bible was inerrant or infallible).

    Note the extreme difference between your view of the Bible in your Baptist past with the very different view of Baptist professor James McGrath of Butler University on his website.

    In your Baptist past you probably heard that there are at least 250 different Baptist denominations. Some of them are mainly ethnically driven like differences between Swedish Baptists and German Baptists, etc., but most of separate denominations or even different churches within one denomination (such as the Southern Baptist Convention) are so incredibly different in belief that it seems they believe in completely different gods.

    Reply

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