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Self-Authentication of the Bible

the bible says

Most Evangelicals believe that the Bible is a self-authenticating text; that the Bible proves the Bible. No matter what external sources might say about the Biblical text, the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Even when confronted with the glaring contradictions and mistakes in the Bible, Evangelicals have a knack for explaining away these things. Take the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books contradict each other in countless places, yet Evangelicals through the use of “harmonization” somehow, some way make the narrative fit (at least to believers).

For people outside of the Evangelical bubble, this sounds irrational. In their minds, it is impossible to build a coherent narrative from the Biblical text. Too many errors, mistakes, and contradictions for the Bible to be a consistent, logical, lucid text. Haven’t Evangelicals read any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books? Surely you jest. Evangelicals are discouraged from reading books by outsiders, authors who might cause people to have questions and doubts. I was in my mid-forties before I read a book that challenged in a meaningful way my Evangelical beliefs about God’s perfect Word. By that time, I had been a pastor for almost twenty years.

Evangelicalism is a bubble, a place where every belief and practice makes sense. When you are in this bubble you think your beliefs are rational and consistent. And even when you have questions and doubts, they are quickly dispensed with trust (of God) and faith. As a pastor, I never questioned the veracity and truthfulness of the Bible. When I read things I didn’t understand, I appealed to my faith. I believed God was perfect in all his ways; that he would never lie; that the Bible was his very words, inerrant and infallible in every detail. Thus, the contradictions and internal inconsistencies I read were waved off with me saying, “Someday, God will make this clear to me. And if he doesn’t, I am still going to trust him.”

In 2008, I found myself outside of the bubble looking in. What once seemed perfectly logical and internally consistent looked, to put it bluntly, bat shit crazy. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Learning that the Bible was not inerrant and infallible dealt a death blow to my faith. My house of faith was built upon the Bible. Without a perfect Bible, my faith came tumbling down. Without the Bible holding some sort of authoritative power over me, I was then able to take a careful, critical look at the central claims of Christianity. I concluded they were not true; that they couldn’t be rationally and intellectually sustained.

When interacting with Evangelical zealots, I avoid and ignore discussions about philosophy and science. I have little interest in discussions about the existence of God or evolution. My preferred mode of attack is to challenge their beliefs about the authority and historicity of the Bible. Successfully taking a sledgehammer to their beliefs about the nature of the Bible will force them to question their sincerely held beliefs. Once the Bible loses its power over believers, it becomes possible to challenge their core beliefs. The goal, at least for me, is to help Christians move away from Fundamentalism, not turning Evangelicals into atheists. Fundamentalism kills, so I am more concerned about saving lives than I am making converts. The best way, then, to “save” Evangelicals is to counter their beliefs about the Bible itself. This approach can and does work, as many of the readers of this blog can attest.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Neil Rickert

    I think I was around age 13, when my pastor persuaded me to read the Bible. So I started reading it from beginning to end.

    I was able to maintain the inerrancy view all the way until I reached Genesis 1. After that, it was impossible to accept inerrancy.

    I did not throw it all out because of the problems of Genesis 1. But to not throw it all out required that I understand the Bible as written by fallible humans and influenced by their own culture. For Genesis 1, that would have been a pre-scientific culture. That understanding protected me from the absurdities of fundamentalism.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    Yeah. Believers in the Bible being inerrant have to throw out most modern science. And the funny thing is, they use modern medicine and get surgeries and (mostly) live in this scientific 21st century. So they are happy to accept the technology that was built from science while bitching that the covid vaccine isn’t proven, while dying taking horse paste (itself from a pharmaceutical company), while using smart phones that using geosynchronous positioning, while not believing in a round Earth!

    I think believers of the Bible being inerrant are also cautioned to not listen to atheists who doubt the Bible. To not let their faith get shaken. And too many people don’t care if they keep learning, so are not very curious, and don’t read much. Hard to believe. And why should they? They are insulated in their bubble with their friends and family all the same. I had a good friend drop me like a hot potato after I told her I wasn’t a Christian anymore. That was just one step too far past her comfort zone. My other friend who is a Bible believer is also bordering on being a Q fanatic. So I feel leery of making friends like this.

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    It’s fascinating to me the range of Christians and their beliefs. I have a couple of friends who are highly intelligent, educated, well-read people who are devout Christians. Neither is what I would describe as an inerrantist or literalist, but they do believe that many of the Biblical stories are true to some degree. Both believe in science, evolution, and both are liberal and support social justice. I actually felt bad one day when I told one of these friends, “You know the gospels were written decades after Jesus’ life, and scholars are not sure who the real authors were.” My friend said, “Aw, I thought they were written by Jesus’ friends, people who actually hung out with him.” I felt like I had told a kid the Easter Bunny wasn’t real.

    There is a place Christians can and do occupy wherein they can believe what they like from Christianity and discard, ignore, wave away as allegory, etc, the parts that are unpalatable or just flat out untrue. I lived in that space for several years. It was a place that allowed me to accept science without giving up Jesus. And then I came to a place where none of it made sense anymore. But not every person reaches that point. Many people are able to pick and choose. And as BJW pointed out, most evangelicals pick and choose the science they believe too. I guess it’s a skill that evangelicals are taught to hone.

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Bruce Gerencser