Monday, October 29, 2007

INERRANCY REDUX

One thing we DO know for sure is that god didn’t create the Xerox machine. For centuries the process of copying precious manuscripts was assigned to early scribes and monks working in Scriptoriums in small abbeys across the Greek world. We ALSO know that there are no original manuscripts of the bible preserved today.

So how, then, did we get from the original author(s)’s writings to today’s version(s) and how do we determine the accuracy?

Imagine one copy manually transcribed from an original by hand.

Now imagine that process occurring many times over… tedious, laborious copying. We’re talking copies OF copies OF copies OF copies, etc. -- created by these scribes and monks of indeterminable ability in the hopes that their copies would one day be spread to all cities. They were transcribed with feather and ink onto baked clay tablets, on sheepskin parchment, on papyrus reed, and later on calfskin. In essence, we’re all relying on copies of original manuscripts that are long since gone. And the “sources” of our bible were also copies, not of the original manuscripts, but of copies. You get the picture.


Read more...


It is said that the copying was done with great and conscientious care. Really? Well, I’m sure that most of them TRIED real hard.

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (author of several books on textual criticism including 2005 bestseller
Misquoting Jesus ) contends that these errors multiplied over many centuries pose more than just an exercise in translational gymnastics. To paraphrase from a lecture series at Stanford University, Ehrman concludes that due to the errancy of omission, intention ("reconciling inconsistencies"), language barriers, and undeniable mistakes there are more errors in the New Testament alone than there are words in the New Testament. Read that sentence again. That should be enough to make even Billy Graham stop and say, WTF?

Despite Ehrman’s certainty that of the hundreds of thousands of errors/changes among the copied manuscripts – most were insignificant, although, the very meaning of a number of critical passages have been forever altered or fabricated. This takes contradiction and error to a whole ‘nuther level. Further, Ehrman contends, “The King James was not given by God but was a translation by a group of scholars in the early 17th century who based their rendition on a faulty Greek text.” You may not agree with both parts of that quotation but you cannot disagree with the last.

It's pretty safe to say that 99% of us could not read the bible in its original Greek text form. But the fact is indisputable; we do not have an accurate bible based on the copies and partial copies made over the centuries.

So how COULD we know what He meant if we don’t know what He said to begin with? And my question doesn’t even consider the legitimacy of the original tales shoe horned in to encapsulate a divine story.

A better question would be: Why is god such a terrible communicator?

This is a question that must be asked. The conveyance of an omnipotent being’s message should carry a little more cogency and less controversy than what was passed on to us. How can a god fail to convey his message to all peoples without error, dispute, or miscommunication? If god wanted me (or any human ever for that matter) to follow him, believe in him, and worship him -- it stands to reason that he wouldn’t have allowed this problem to proliferate.

"The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred." George Bernard Shaw nailed that quote. We have copies of stories of mostly unknown, ancient origin -- translated, altered, fabricated, misinterpreted, and nicely bound for us to take at face value. With a message so imperative that a false interpretation means the pits of hell fire for us -- I can definitely understand Pascal’s Wager. It’s a roll of the dice. Maybe that should be the definition of faith?
If we define inerrancy as free from error, infallible I think we have some issues to deal with. All we would need to find is one error to prove the hypothesis that the bible is, in fact, errant. If this is proven, the bible could not possibly be the Inerrant Word of God and would result in a book created by human (read: fallible) beings many hundred years of years ago. Makes sense, right?

Well, what do we define as an error? See, I’m one step ahead of the semantics game! If we use the same source to define error then we could conclude that any deviation from accuracy or correctness from the original manuscripts constitutes an error. Do you not believe that the bible you have on your nightstand contains deviations from accuracy?

With emotional attachment, many will still cling onto the idea of an inerrant bible while conceding translational inadequacies. This baffles me.

But understandably, most would continue the argument pointing out that despite perceived errors the truth is preserved. To quote the great Kip Dynamite, "...like anyone can even know that."

Did god then inspire an errant bible? Did god not understand that an errant bible would mar his message? And again, how do we know WHAT the truth is meant when we don’t know WHAT was originally written? I am not aware of similar textual criticism in the Qur'an but I’m confident that it exists. But if I were to say, ‘Look, it is proven that the original manuscript of the Muslim holy book is filled with thousands of errors!’ I would wager that most would easily dismiss it as another religious fairy tale. I think it’s time we consider that the Christian bible is a close relative.

Can an accurate bible contain contradictory messages?



Donald Morgan, author at Infidels.org, compiled a lengthy list of potential problems that everyone must examine for themselves. I would love to comment on each of his listed inconsistencies, but as you will see, the list is exhaustive. I challenge you to read through these inconsistencies and prayerfully consider the ramifications.




15 comments:

Evie said...

This is an important question. Since the question of God's existence cannot be conclusively settled one way or the other,the next question becomes, "how can we possibly know anything about the creator, if that entity exists?" Adherents of various religions point to their favored holy texts as the inspired ones. My current position is that whatever human beings think we know about god, we're probably dead wrong.

Since the bible has problems with textual integrity and coherence, and since the Christian concept of god is contradictory, I'm sure that Christians do not have it right. I doubt that anyone else does either. Therefore, I'm atheistic with regard to the existence of a personal deity. I'm open, theoretically, to the possibility of an entity somewhat along the lines posited by deism, but, for all practical purposes, I've settled on atheism until I'm given good proof to change my position.

Jared said...

Well put. I rather agree with the phrase 'settled on atheism'.

We didn't start this blog to attack Christianity. We started it in the hopes that solid dialogue would result.

We're looking for answers. We're open-minded. We're fervent in the belief that this is the most important question of our existence. And to ignore these questions would be ignorance.

Yet the answers are not available (or maybe not forthcoming) outside of what can be recited from the bible.

And like you said, we must settle for what is the most reasonable and logical rather than roll the dice on a faith that cannot reconcile major inconsistency.

Pastor Gavin said...

Hello,

I'd like to take a stab at one possible response to your question.

It is easy to see that various monks and copiers did make mistakes when copying the Bible. If you open a Greek New Testament you actually have piles of footnotes that talk about typos and additions. The King James Bible (the one that some fundamentalist Christians say is the only true translation of the Bible) actually comes more from the Latin than the original Greek and has some passages in it that are definitely later additions, especially one that clearly defines the Trinity. Goodness, the Gospel of Mark has two endings. A shorter one that ends with people being horrified at Jesus' apparent resurrection and a longer one that ties up loose ends (and talks about being bitten by snakes). The longer ending for Mark is not original. And many Christians' favorite story from the Gospel of John (Jesus and the woman who was going to be stoned for adultery) is also a later addition. Most English Bibles actually mention this in their footnotes.

Most pastors from most denominations have to learn Greek and some Hebrew in Seminary as part of their training. And they learn about these inconsistencies as they study this. But these inconsistencies don't really affect the message of scripture.

It is hard for a thinking person, Christian or otherwise, to read the first two chapters of Genesis and believe that they don't contradict each other in their specifics. But you know that the early Jewish scribes who put together the Torah were thinking humans who could clearly see that these two creation stories had contradicting facts in them. So it is clear that these two creation stories weren't put in Genesis to tell us exactly how the earth was created, they were put in there for another reason. And to discover this reason we need to look at other creation stories from the time and we will see that these creation stories contradict the other creation stories in some key areas. In other creation stories of the time, the creation of the earth is an accident or comes from evil spirits. But in the Torah creation is done by God and it is good. This is the theme of Genesis 1, not the order of days as the earth was created.

Many of the contradictions of scripture come not from scripture itself but from Christians trying to make scripture something it is not: a history book, a science book, a description of exactly how the world is going to end, etc...

I'm sorry I rambled on a bit much here. There are a few other thoughts I could add, but I doubt people want to read much longer so I'll sign off here. I do enjoy discussion and feedback on anything I say here. Though I am a Christian and a believer, I very much respect what you are doing with this blog as you are truly trying to seek truth, and because of that I think you have a leg up on many Christians I know who are very closeminded. Thanks.

Evie said...

Pastor Gavin:

Thanks for your thoughtful response. In discussing the editing of the Torah, you said: But you know that the early Jewish scribes who put together the Torah were thinking humans who could clearly see that these two creation stories had contradicting facts in them.. Am I correct in understanding this to mean that you read these as literal accounts, perhaps just reported from two different perspectives?

I'm a little unclear on your interpretive position, because you later say In other creation stories of the time, the creation of the earth is an accident or comes from evil spirits. But in the Torah creation is done by God and it is good. This is the theme of Genesis 1, not the order of days as the earth was created. This seems to indicate a less-than-literal understanding of the text.

I'm not trying to trick you or trap you. I know there are many schools of thought re: biblical interpretation. I just need to have a better understanding of where your inclinations lie if I'm going to engage in fruitful thought about your comments and dialog.

Thanks.

Pastor Gavin said...

Evie,

I do not read the Genesis creation stories as literal accounts. And I don't believe that they were designed to be read as such. Rather, what we are reading in Genesis 1 and 2 are creation myths that have much in common with other creation myths of the time, but also which have things that are unique to them.

What the "inerrant" crowd fails to take into consideration is that the Bible is not a book that was dictated down from heaven word for word. Rather it is a human book that went through a human process as it was put together. I still believe that it is from God and that it is inspired for teaching, preaching and training in righteousness. But there is a human element to it.

One reason so many Christians were so threatened by The DaVinci Code was that it talked about the human process by which the Bible came together. Many Christians had never heard this or thought about it before and were not ready to deal with the human side of the putting together of the Bible. But the book then went to an extreme by trying to come up with a relationship between Mary and Jesus that wasn't there. Most Bible scholars and even most pastors have studied the human process by which the Bible came together and we are comfortable with it because we believe that God can work through human means.

That all being said, I could never use the term "creation myth" during one of my sermons at church because people would probably throw me out as their pastor, though I've said this basic thing (without that language) to each junior high class as we go through confirmation as I try to explain to them that evolution and belief in God and the Bible do not need to contradict each other.

Pastor Gavin said...

It is hard for a thinking person, Christian or otherwise, to read the first two chapters of Genesis and believe that they don't contradict each other in their specifics.

By the way, reading over this sentence, I realize how sloppy it is, with a double negative. What I'm trying to say here is that any thinking person who reads (or puts together) the first two chapters of Genesis can obviously see that they contradict each other. Therefore, they cannot be put next to each other to tell about the history of the creation because they contradict on specifics about how the history was put together. So there must be another reason for the two creation stories to be there right next to each other.

I'm sorry if I'm still not being clear.

Evie said...

Pastor Gavin:
Thanks for your clarification. I agree that it's futile to try to read the Bible literally. And, frankly, Christians who insist on doing so just look foolish to more liberal believers as well as non-believers.

When I try to think of scriptures as being "inspired," I have to wonder why the 66 books of the canon (let's stick with Protestantism to keep things simple) are more authoritative than, say, the writings of John Calvin or John Wesley? Or the hymns of Charles Wesley? Certainly, those authors (and many others) were inspired too. And their writings have certainly stood the "test of time." I know the canonical New Testament writings are supposed
to have been derived from the original apostles, but their authenticity is not universally agreed upon, even by biblical scholars. So that's a weak argument against adding the works of later authors to the canon. Why should the canon have been closed 1,600 years ago? Are there different types or degrees of inspiration? If not, why doesn't the Holy Spirit continue to inspire modern authors? He supposedly did it throughout the OT and NT periods. Why did He stop? The world has changed a lot in 2,000 years. Surely an update is warranted. The best I can say about the current canon is that, while it may have been useful for teaching, etc., two millenia ago, it's outdated now.

Also, as much as I respect the seminary training of many pastors (my husband has two Masters degrees in biblical and theological studies, so I know what it takes), I can't help being bothered by the fact that there are so many sects within the church. We've had 2,000 years to examine the text. We've supposedly derived some uniformly accepted scholarly means for such examinations. So why can't we agree on what the Bible says and means? It's ironic that Christians, who tend to believe that truth and morals are absolute, are awfully relativistic within their own ranks regarding the most accurate interpretations and applications of both truth and morals. Until Christians can get their act together, they're going to have a hard time convincing skeptics, secularists or adherents of other religions that Christian insights are any more inspired or correct than anyone else's.

A final thought. You said: I could never use the term "creation myth" during one of my sermons at church because people would probably throw me out as their pastor. This is undoubtedly true. Yet, aren't you (and many other pastors facing the same dilemma) perpetuating a simplistic faith that keeps Christians in a state of ignorance? Perhaps they need to be challenged to grow up. Even the apostle Paul longed the time when he could wean his followers off milk and feed them meat. Perhaps the time has come to wean 21st century Christians.

Pastor Gavin said...

Evie,

I hope we haven't hijacked the thread here.

You make some wonderful points, though I'd like to take time to respond to a couple of them.

One of the reasons there are so many sects of Christianity is something that is being celebrated today, Reformation Day. Martin Luther, when he rejected the authoritarian leadership of the Catholic Church started a horrible trend that when people disagree with those who have come before them they can just separate from them. Luther was right in the critiques he had of Catholicism, most modern day Catholics would agree if they looked at the critiques he had, but unfortunately what he did started a horrible wave of schism throughout the church. I'm not sure this is a good thing.

As for inspiration, I do believe in the inspiration of the scripture. I also believe that writings since the scripture have been inspired by God. I hope and pray that my preaching is also inspired by God, but I'm not about to claim that my preaching is at the same level as scripture. It is interesting to look at the famous scripture about inspiration: 2 Timothy 3:16 - "All scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." When you look at Greek sentence structure you realize that this isn't the only way to translate this scripture. And it's all due to the way you read the word "and". The way it is usually translated, the word and separates two full thoughts. First, all scripture is God-breathed. Second, all scripture is useful for teaching, etc. But in Greek "and" can work both ways and instead of referring to what is before, it could be referring to what is after. Therefore what the verse actually says is first, all scripture is God-breathed for teaching, rebuking, etc. and then all scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, etc. By reading this verse this way we are redefining what it means for scripture to be inspired. It's not inspired, period. It's inspired for something. When we treat it as just inspired we are making the scripture into an idol, something to be worshiped as a direct revelation from God. We call it the "Word of God" which is actually a title for Jesus himself. But when we see it as being inspired for something, it has a purpose to it and it has a place. When I look at other writings that I think might also be inspired, I compare them to scripture to see if they are in line with it, and if they are, I tend to believe that God has worked in the process of bringing them to us as well.

Lastly, your last comment about encouraging the simplistic faith is one that I take very seriously. I truly believe that it is my job as Pastor to move my congregation away from an authoritarian mindset. I am constantly encouraging them to check what they hear from Christian leaders (including myself) against their own prayer life and scripture. And I enjoy pointing out to them things that are different in the Bible from how they learned it. I had a long discussion with a friend, because growing up I had the simplistic faith introduced to me through Sunday School and Confirmation and when I went to college I struggled with my faith as it grew from simplistic to complex. I want people to experience the complexities of faith, and I constantly am trying to share these complexities with my congregation. But I have to be sneaky in doing so, and if I use certain code language, my congregation will automatically tune me out. So it's a fine line I must learn to walk.

Thanks for your thought that you're putting into this, I'm enjoying the discussion.r

Stacy said...

Hi Evie & Gavin...I'm glad you two are having a discussion. I'm sure I speak for Jared and myself when I say that I can't wait to jump into it, but I want to read what you've discussed first...and post trick-or-treating, well, I'm beat! Hope you both have a great night and I hope to catch up tomorrow.
~Stacy

Jared said...

Gavin - The quotes of yours below are taken out of order but it leads me to my question:

Many of the contradictions of scripture come not from scripture itself but from Christians trying to make scripture something it is not...



Rather, what we are reading in Genesis 1 and 2 are creation myths that have much in common with other creation myths of the time...



But these inconsistencies don't really affect the message of scripture.



I doubt that many skeptics will identify the inconsistencies per se as the reason that the message is marred but, rather, the poor process by which the message was communicated.

For instance, how can one look at a book like Matthew and not question the pedantic methods by which he (or whoever) crams in OT lore and incessant dream sequences to prove his parallels to Jesus and Moses? seemingly (to me at least) eager to create his own legend through clever OT prophecy "fulfillment" references.

Is it through faith that you're able to accept the preservation of Jesus' message -- without being problemed by possible ressurection myth, relevation myth, miracle myths, heaven/hell myth created within the biblical canon?

Pastor Gavin said...

Jared,

Mohammad had the same problem with scripture that you do. He was bothered by the human hand in it. So when he started his own scripture, it was direct revelation from the angel Gabriel, dictated. And Islam doesn't allow for the Koran to be translated into other languages. Actually, it can be translated, but it is not holy scripture unless it is in the original language. So, perhaps Islam solved the problem you have with communication.

As for the Christian side of things, I must say that there is a consistency in the Bible that God has difficulty communicating to God's people. Again and again, in the stories of the Bible, God's people misinterpret what God is saying and get the message wrong. So the fact that we misinterpret the Bible, I believe, puts us in good company. I believe that the problem isn't as much God's communication problem as it is human beings' listening problem. Not only do I listen poorly to God, but I listen poorly to my wife and my congregation. I do really good, actually, at listening to my seven month old girl, but she isn't using words yet and crying does a great job at getting us to listen. Perhaps God just needs to cry at us for a while.

As for the issues of the Bible's myths, I guess I need to be a bit more clear in where I stand (not something I necessarily like to do). I like to read the Bible literally. I know, that sounds like I'm taking a fundamentalist approach, but most "literal" readings of scripture don't actually read it literally. In other words, I take the Bible at its word, but I also accept that there are different scriptures that are trying to do different things. I accept the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection. I do so by faith. I do so because of the relationship I believe I have with Jesus. I do so, sometimes, in spite of evidence or support that seems to contradict. But I don't take the first 12 chapters of Genesis literally because that isn't how they were meant to be taken. I definitely don't take Revelation literally, it's a book about worship and comfort for a persecuted people and not a road map for the end of the world. Jesus talked in parables, and parables were designed not to be pulled apart for every detail but to convey a basic truth. So I don't look at the specifics of the parables (what do the pigs represent in the prodigal son story) but rather look for the truth (God loves his children unconditionally). Therefore, when heaven and hell appear in the parables, I don't take this as teachings on heaven and hell as much as teachings on doing justice. I do believe in heaven and hell, but not in the form that most Christians do. Hell, in my understanding of theology isn't a place of fire and torment, but rather nothingness, Nirvana, if you will. And I don't believe that we're going to heaven when we die, but rather the new earth. Though I do flirt with universalism also. But there are things that our culture just has wrong. People don't turn into angels when they die and there is no rapture in the Bible... the list can go on.

The reason I can enter this conversation with you and respect you without trying to convert you is that I believe that you are seeking Truth. I believe that the journey is often more important than the destination, and I believe that God rewards people who seek Truth. What that reward might be, I'm not sure, but you are honestly seeking to understand God (or the lack of God), and that is a good endeavor. I've mentioned before, I have much more respect for a thinking atheist than for a Christian that takes everything at face value.

Pastor Gavin said...

By the way, I don't mean to overstay my welcome here. If I'm coming on strong or get too argumentative (not really in my nature), please let me know.

I am particularly annoyed by people who show up in a blog with a zinger then take off never to speak again. See my post about this very thing here So when I do enter a discussion (which is actually somewhat rare), I tend to hang around for a while and let it play out.

If I'm going on too much, please let me know.

Jared said...

On the contrary -- your insight is very intriguing.

Unproductive 'argumentation' only applies to those unwilling/able to approach the discussion with his/her own supportable answers -- which you have presented.

In fact, we're looking for regular contributors like you (regardless of belief) to add their OWN topics and ideas for discussion -- much like my favorite site --
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/

If you're interested let us know. If nothing else, we could always provide links to your blog for new discussion topics when you feel led by the holy ghost to do so.

I do have some thoughts on your last comment that I'll have to get back to later today... since now I need to go down to my local mosque to fill out an application. j/k

Jared said...

In other words, I take the Bible at its word, but I also accept that there are different scriptures that are trying to do different things. I accept the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection. I do so by faith. I do so because of the relationship I believe I have with Jesus

Let's look at this comment to illustrate what I have so much
trouble with:

How do you justify taking certain stories literally and some not?

How do you reconcile the FACT that the ideas that point to divination in the bible are actually total plagiarisms of many, many ancient Egyptian and Sumerian pagan mythologies?

The virgin birth, resurrection, and miracles were not unique to Christianity in the least.

To quote a quote from PCOM.info

"Augustus came from a miraculous conception by the divine and human conjunction of [the God] Apollo and [his mother] Atia. How does the historian respond to that story? Are there any who take it literally?... That divergence raises an ethical problem for me. Either all such divine conceptions, from Alexander to Augusts and from the Christ to the Buddha, should be accepted literally and miraculously or all of them should be accepted metaphorically and theologically. It is not morally acceptable to say...our story is truth but yours is myth; ours is history but yours is a lie. It is even less morally acceptable to say that indirectly and covertly by manufacturing defensive or protective strategies that apply only to one's own story. [John Crosssan, The Birth of Christianity, 1998, pg 28 - 29.]

Jared said...

How do you reconcile the FACT that the ideas that point to divination in the bible are actually total plagiarisms of many, many ancient Egyptian and Sumerian pagan mythologies?

Sorry, I combined two thoughts. let me restate.

How do you reconcile the FACT that the ideas that point to divination in the bible are found to have eeriely simlarly constructs as many, many ancient Egyptian and Sumerian pagan mythologies?

But I think you get my opinion.

;)