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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 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 and professors 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 unknown supernatural means, made sure that human influence on the Bible was in every way perfect and aligned with what he wanted to say.

Inspiration gets complicated when dealing with the question of WHAT, exactly, is 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. Are the extant manuscripts inspired? Some Evangelical pastors believe that the totality of existing manuscripts make up the inspired Word of God, and some pastors believe that certain translations — namely the King James Version — are the inspired Word of God. Regardless of how they answer the WHAT question, all of them believe that God supernaturally preserves his Word down through the ages, and the Bibles we hold in our hands is the very Words of God.

The word “inerrant” means “without mistake, contradiction, or error.” Some Evangelical pastors, knowing that every Bible translation has errors and mistakes, say they believe the original manuscripts are inerrant, and modern translations are faithful, reliable, and can be depended on in matters of faith, practice, morality, and anything else the Bible addresses. Of course, these men are arguing for the inerrancy of a text they had never seen Whatever the “original” manuscripts might have been, their exact wording and content are lost, likely never to be found.

The word “infallible” means incapable of error in every matter the Bible addresses. Thus, when the Bible speaks about matters of science and history, it is 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 in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution that prided itself in turning out hellfire and brimstone 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 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 if I would stop reading non-Biblical books, my doubts would magically disappear. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

As I ponder my past and what ultimately led to my loss of faith, two things stand out: a book on alleged Bible contradictions and a list of 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 downright 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 Evangelicals 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; and 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 KJV was 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.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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    I reasoned myself out of believing the Bible was inerrant. I have a lesbian sister-in-law who is married (I refer to them both as SILs). I saw the true love and caring between them, and could not find a reason to label their love anything other than “GOOD.” Which seems to conflict with the Bible. That was the point I picked reason over faith, I guess.

    I suspect if I had still attended church and had a really good friend circle, I might not have been open to these thoughts. But once I came to believe them, I could not go back.

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    Yes, I too believed in the inerrancy of the KJV. But then I began to read that the first written accounts weren’t lovingly preserved in temperature-controlled conditions on pristine vellum scrolls, that clearly proved they were The Word Of God and the Codex Sinaiticus was god-breathed. They were fragments, destroyed by heat, damp and mould. Transcribers had to do the equivalent of a several-thousand-piece jigsaw first. A missing bit, or one indecipherable through damp, had to be guessed at, any bit that made a woman prominent was sometimes altered cos misogyny. Victorian explorers climbed ladders into jewish document repositories, Genizas and had to sift through sackfuls of decaying documents. They found syriac fragments and since this was the language of jesus, just knew they were therefore authentic. Then there were the scammers of the day who sold forgeries to naive seekers of authentic scripture portions. Somewhere I read that the Tzar of Russia took a hand at one point and told transcribers to follow his faith-ideas as they wrote and no one dared go against him. I’ve visited medieval monastries in dark winters in the UK and wondered how monks could be accurate, no spectacles back then and freezing cold too. I always think that, bear of little brain that I am, I could have made a better, clearer instruction book than the bible, so that no one wanting to be a x-tian had any doubts about how to do so!

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    To me the biggest problem with the Bible isn’t that it needs a better editor, the nearly the entire book is morally bankrupt to a modern reader. There are a few Jesus-isms that I do find appealing and worthy of moral consideration.

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      Yes Troy, I think I agree exactly with what you say. The books that make up the bible are exactly what you would expect to find were you anticipating the writings of people who were educated to the extent that they could read and write, albeit most may have been simply dictated by less educated people, reflecting the much lower knowledge of the workings of nature, an acceptance of superstitious beliefs, a need to moderate the behaviour of largely disparate individuals and tribes, and a very primitive approach to issues of philosophy.

      I find it horrific that there are people who still think the bible has modern day relevance. Of course there are odd parts that make sense, there are a few places and events that are historically true, and as works of literature they can be interesting. But to live your life thinking it’s true is pathetic.

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    Melissa Montana

    I am nowhere near a Biblical scholar, and I know nothing about theology. But even as a believer, when I read the Bible cover to cover, it struck me as horrible history and worse literature. I can see why a Christian told you to stop reading books. If in my ignorance I can see how flawed the Bible is, what is a theologist, historian, or archeologist supposed to think? Willful intellectual blindness is the only way to keep the faith.

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      If more Christians read the Bible, there would be many more atheists. When one reads what it really says, one finds something quite different from the selection of verses that made the cut and get included in the sermons.

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    In college, I took a course called The History of Christian Thought where I learned for the first time about canonization. That shook my world. That was the second pivotal moment of deconstruction from evangelicalism (the first being the teachings of complementarianism).

    Everyone was right, going to a secular university madd me turn liberal ((snark – it took a lot longer than that for me to turn liberal, but it was a step in the process)).

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    My problems with believing that the Bible is inerrant stem from the fact that it isn’t a “book.” It’s a series of manuscripts written over a long period of time, by various authors–mostly unknown, although names have been ascribed to the authors that are mostly not accurate–for various purposes, written in many different genres. Some are poetic, some devotional, some “historical” (although ancient recordings of “history” rely mostly on what the authors think should have happened, because no real records were kept of what did), some inspirational, and some prophetic–among others. All were written by human beings.

    Many translations have been made over the centuries, in many languages. Before the invention of the printing press, copies were made by hand. Comparisons show that the scribes who copied them created their own differences, They copied wrongly, left things out, or sometimes added thoughts of their own. No “original” manuscripts exist. How could such a varied record be inerrant? It is full of contradictions.

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    I never thought, even as a self-identifying evangelical (I will not relinquish that no matter the taint of many who also claim the moniker) the Bible was inerrant. I can see how congregants that place unquestioning loyalty to whatever their pastor bellows, but educated people should know better. Especially if you’ve ever taken a serious course in Koine Greek.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Inerrancy is a fundamental plank of Evangelicalism — it always has been. EVERY Evangelical doctrinal statement makes some sort of inerrancy claim. I see no qualitative difference between the various inerrancy claims. All claim translations, manuscripts, or originals are inerrant. I’ve seen no evidence that supports these faith claim.

      I suspect many educated pastors know better, but they lie on Sundays lest congregants lose “faith” in the Bible. The average congregant believes the Bible is inerrant. It is unlikely they will ever take a Greek class.

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Bruce Gerencser