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Bruce, The King James Bible is Inerrant and Infallible

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Recently, a Christian man named Baptist Joshua, watched my video Better Late Than Never on YouTube.

If you have not watched this video, you can do so here:

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Afterward, Baptist sent me a polite email that I thought I would respond to in a post. I suspect more than a few readers will find my response interesting and, hopefully, illuminating.

Baptist first shared his experiences with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Some of his experiences were similar to mine, though I want to make clear that I left the IFB church movement years before I left the ministry and later deconverted. I stopped self-identifying as IFB after the Jack Hyles scandal (Please see The Legacy of IFB Pastor Jack Hyles) and my adoption of Calvinistic soteriology.

What I want to focus on is Baptist’s second paragraph:

But my main point of contact was that you stated that you, one day, realized that the Bible is not infallible. Why did you come to believe that? I maintain that the Bible (K.J.V. for English readers) is fine and has no errors or contradictions, and I have spent decades answering questions on this topic. I study the Bible and a lot of ancient history. Most of the supposed errors/contradictions believed by people comes down to ignorance of ancient customs. I would like to know what it was for you, where you came to believe it was not perfect.

Evangelicals generally believe the sixty-six books of the Protestant Christian Bible are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Inspiration is a faith claim, for which no argument for or against can be made. Either you believe, by faith, the Bible is inspired, or you don’t. I don’t. Inerrancy and infallibility, on the other hand, are empirical claims which can be tested, proved, or disproved. For much of my Christian life, I believed that the Bible was inspired, inerrant, and infallible. In the early 2000s, I stopped using the King James Bible, opting instead to read and preach from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and English Standard Version (ESV). Devotionally, I started reading The Message. By this point, I had concluded that the Bible was faithful and reliable, but not inerrant and infallible. I never doubted that the Bible was the Word of God, but I came to see and understand the deep, fallible imprint human authors made on the original manuscripts (which do not exist).

The King James Bible was first released in 1611. The KJV was primarily a revision and update of the Bishops’ Bible. Translators primarily used Erasmus’ Greek text (Textus Receptus) for translating the New Testament, and the Masoretic text for the Old, along with the Greek Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate.

In 1769, the KJV was updated, modernizing the English and fixing scores of errors and mistakes. Wikipedia states:

By the mid-18th century the wide variation in the various modernized printed texts of the Authorized Version, combined with the notorious accumulation of misprints, had reached the proportion of a scandal, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge both sought to produce an updated standard text. First of the two was the Cambridge edition of 1760, the culmination of 20 years’ work by Francis Sawyer Parris, who died in May of that year. This 1760 edition was reprinted without change in 1762 and in John Baskerville’s fine folio edition of 1763.

This was effectively superseded by the 1769 Oxford edition, edited by Benjamin Blayney, though with comparatively few changes from Parris’s edition; but which became the Oxford standard text, and is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings. Parris and Blayney sought consistently to remove those elements of the 1611 and subsequent editions that they believed were due to the vagaries of printers, while incorporating most of the revised readings of the Cambridge editions of 1629 and 1638, and each also introducing a few improved readings of their own.

They undertook the mammoth task of standardizing the wide variation in punctuation and spelling of the original, making many thousands of minor changes to the text. In addition, Blayney and Parris thoroughly revised and greatly extended the italicization of “supplied” words not found in the original languages by cross-checking against the presumed source texts. Blayney seems to have worked from the 1550 Stephanus edition of the Textus Receptus, rather than the later editions of Theodore Beza that the translators of the 1611 New Testament had favoured; accordingly the current Oxford standard text alters around a dozen italicizations where Beza and Stephanus differ. Like the 1611 edition, the 1769 Oxford edition included the Apocrypha, although Blayney tended to remove cross-references to the Books of the Apocrypha from the margins of their Old and New Testaments wherever these had been provided by the original translators. It also includes both prefaces from the 1611 edition. Altogether, the standardization of spelling and punctuation caused Blayney’s 1769 text to differ from the 1611 text in around 24,000 places.

The 1611 and 1769 texts of the first three verses from I Corinthians 13 are given below.

[1611] 1. Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels, and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I haue the gift of prophesie, and vnderstand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I haue all faith, so that I could remooue mountaines, and haue no charitie, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestowe all my goods to feede the poore, and though I giue my body to bee burned, and haue not charitie, it profiteth me nothing.

[1769] 1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

There are a number of superficial edits in these three verses: 11 changes of spelling, 16 changes of typesetting (including the changed conventions for the use of u and v), three changes of punctuation, and one variant text—where “not charity” is substituted for “no charity” in verse two, in the belief that the original reading was a misprint.

Most people who use the KJV use the 1769 revision. The 1611 version is unreadable for most modern readers. Once I understood the changes and corrections that had been made in the 1769 revision, I could no longer say with a straight face that the KJV was inerrant and infallible. I came to the same conclusion about ALL English translations of the Bible. It is impossible to conclude that the KJV or any other Bible translation is without error. Since the original manuscripts no longer exist, the same can be said about the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. This is the position taken by virtually all non-Evangelical Bible scholars. One can still hold on to the Bible being inspired by God, but inerrancy and infallibility cannot be rationally sustained. The data is overwhelming: both manuscripts and translations have scores of errors, mistakes, and contradictions. Dr. Bart Ehrman says there are over 40,000 differences in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Granted, most of these differences are minor, but when you believe the Bible is inerrant, it only takes one error to bring inerrancy tumbling down.

Baptist, as all Evangelical apologists do, likely has explanations for every error, mistake, and contradiction in the Bible. That’s why I don’t get into long, drawn-out debates over Bible errancy and fallibility. Evangelicals always have answers, but are they good answers? Keep in mind, for Evangelicals, the data don’t come first. Before they even read the text, Evangelicals are guided by several presuppositions: the Bible is God’s word; the Bible is inerrant; the Bible is infallible. When confronted with obvious errors, Evangelicals must, according to their presuppositions, find ways to make the text fit in the inerrant/infallible box.

As a pastor, I had a 1,000-plus-page book that addressed all the alleged errors and contradictions in the Bible. When I came across verses that seemed contradictory, I would consult this book. Most of the time, I was satisfied with the explanation, but other times I found the book’s explanations weak, incoherent, or absurd. In these instances, I put aside intellectual inquiry and appealed to faith. I told myself, “The Bible is the perfect Word of God.” Any apparent error or mistake was due to my lack of understanding, and, in time, God would make things clear to me. And if he didn’t, I would still trust him, believing the Bible was without error.

After I left the ministry twenty years ago, I began investigating the central claims of Christianity, including the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. I concluded that these claims could not be rationally, intellectually sustained. I found Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books on the nature and history of the Biblical text to be helpful in this regard. Bishop John Shelby Spong was another author I found helpful. When people want to debate me on Bible inerrancy or infallibility, the first thing I do is ask them if they have read Ehrman’s books. If not, I usually say, “Read a couple of his books, and then we will talk.”

If someone is unwilling to read Dr. Ehrman’s books, I encourage them to watch the videos produced by Bible scholar, Dr. Dan McClellan. I watch Dan’s videos almost every day, always learning something new. I wish I had been exposed to men such as Bart and Dan in my younger years as an Evangelical preacher. I suspect I would have caused a lot less harm to the people I pastored.

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I appreciate Baptist’s questions. I hope I have adequately answered them.

Saved by Reason,

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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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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    silverapplequeen

    The King James’ Bible is great poetry. That’s the beginning & the end of it. Do you expect great poetry to be “inerrant & infallible”? There are great truths in Shakespeare & his plays are beautiful poetry but nobody refers to his history plays as historical truths; it should be the same with the KJ Bible. I have never understood why people insist on taking the Bible, any Bible, as literal truth.

    • Avatar
      TheDutchGuy

      Well yeah but the Torah and the Quran are literal truth. Right? OK I’m trying to make a point that the Bible is not the only fantastic work of literature controlling people. I’d suggest the works of Shakespeare as a guiding ethic might be more wholesome, less troublesome, and less misleading for humanity than any of those “bibles”.

    • Avatar
      MJ Lisbeth

      Silverqueen—You have stated my thoughts almost verbatim. You read or see Shakespeare’s history plays for their poetry and insights into human nature. You don’t read Henry V for an exact account of Agincourt any more than you read Milton’s Paradise Lost for the story of the Fall (whether or not you believe it actually happened)—or look to Dante’s Inferno as a guide to divine or criminal justice.

      Some of KJV and even modern translations contain fine poetry, as you point out, but that doesn’t make them true, much less “infallible.”

  2. Avatar
    George

    Baptist Joshua said, “…you stated that you, one day, realized that the Bible is not infallible. Why did you come to believe that? I maintain that the Bible (K.J.V. for English readers) is fine and has no errors or contradictions.”

    In claiming that the Bible is infallible, Baptist Joshua used two words: “I maintain.” This is the same as saying “I believe” or “This is my opinion.”

    That’s the problem.

  3. Avatar
    John S.

    I get amused when modern day KJV only folks (as well as evangelicals in general) talk about the perfect inspired “66 books” of the KJV Bible, when up until the middle of the 19th century it also contained the Apocrypha. Guess it isn’t so “perfect” today after all.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I didn’t know there was a revised KJV until I was already an atheist. While the Southern Baptist church of my youth used translations other than KJV, it was still assumed that the KJV was inspired, inerrant, infallible, and literal. We laypeople didn’t know there was a revision. I suspect that had we known, most would have chalked it up to changing spelling but not changing content. And we’d have NEVER suspected the Apocrypha being included….no way. The IFB school I attended was KJV only, but the explanation was that students needed to use the same version because we were memorizing verses and all had to be the same. I wish I could free up my brain of memorized verses and hymn lyrics.

  5. Avatar
    Revival “I Lie for Jesus” Fires

    some of your first mistakes where satan led you to where you are today began here.

    questioning the infalibility of God’s Word
    and reading books written by lost blind Anti-theistic atheist authors.

    Sad…… 🙁 prayers for you to come back to Jesus who loves you and never left you.

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      If God’s word were infallible then it would be incapable of being questioned. If it can be questioned it cannot be infallible.

      Logic isn’t really your strong point I’m afraid!

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