Essay about errancy

From: Gough, Joshua <>
Date: Mon Feb 02 2004 - 11:01:12 EST

Greetings all,

I know not all here are biblical inerrantists, but I wanted to post an
essay I wrote summarizing my current doubts regarding biblical inerrancy
and solicit feedback. Any input appreciated. Thanks!




My experience with Fundamentalist Christianity

Question: Do you believe in The Bible?

Answer: I believe in the 'bull', but I don't 'buy' it.

I began attending a church in Alpharetta, GA in December of 2002 with a
good friend of mine. We began going after briefly attending a Methodist
church near his apartment. The new church we went to was a "community"
church and as part of their profession of faith they state that they
believe the Bible is without error. I didn't really worry about this
very much for a while. I simply enjoyed fellowship and community with
people and greatly benefited from the life lessons learned from many of
the stories about Jesus Christ. I could say in these respects "Jesus
saved me." But, a few weeks ago the sermon series began to be about the
validity of this faith from an historical perspective. The pastor would
say things about how Christianity was different from all other religions
because it was based upon what was seen and heard by men. I will not
address whether I find tenable the proposition that Jesus Christ
actually did rise from the dead in this essay. Rather, I will discuss
what leads me to unbelief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

First, some definitions are in order. Biblical inerrancy is the belief
that the Bible is the inspired word of God. This means that espousers of
Biblical inerrancy believe that the Bible and all of its words in its
original languages were inspired directly by the will of God, the
creator of the universe and sustainer of all life. They hold that this
God worked through the hands and minds of human beings to produce a
document that in its final 66- book canon is without a single error.
Everything it teaches is correct and the final authority on all matters.
From this belief, inerrancy believers derive their entire worldview of
life. This includes finances, relationships, scientific paradigms, etc.

Included in this belief is that the four canonical gospels, Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John are historical eye-witness accounts that portray
the miraculous birth, earthly mission, crucifixion and atoning death,
resurrection, and heavenly ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. One cannot
escape the pervasive influence of this belief upon the entire western
world in particular, and by extension to the rest of the earth. This
inerrant belief in the gospel accounts means that while each gospel
tells different details about Jesus, that all of these details can be
harmonized into a cohesive and logically flawless document. Again, I
will not attempt to argue whether or not Jesus of Nazareth actually came
back from the dead, but I will call into serious question the
proposition that these four documents are as claimed inerrant historical
witness. With that in mind, consider the rest of this essay in that
light: Does the evidence presented lend itself to belief that these
accounts are an absolutely infallible recollection of history, or could
they be something else? What that something else is I will not attempt
to definitively conclude. It could be that they are the best
recollection of rumored or seen events; it could be fiction; it could be
based on history, but embellished for political and theological

My first serious doubt about the Bible's inerrancy comes from the
accounts of the crucifixion contained in the books of Matthew and Mark.
I present below the narratives as translated in the NIV:

Book of Matthew, Chapter 27 verses 45 through 54:

The Death of Jesus

45From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the
land. 46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi,
Eloi,[3] lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you
forsaken me?"[4]
47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling
48Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine
vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49The rest
said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."
50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his
51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to
bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52The tombs broke open and
the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They
came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the
holy city and appeared to many people.
54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the
earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and
exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son[5] of God!" I

Book of Mark Chapter 15 verses 33 through 39:

The Death of Jesus

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth
hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi,
Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you
forsaken me?"[3]
35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's
calling Elijah."
36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and
offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah
comes to take him down," he said.
37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And
when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry
and[4] saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son[5] of

According to Biblical scholars, the book of Mark was written first 1.
Notice how similar the account is in both books. Notice that in Matthew,
there is a line about tombs opening and many saints coming out of these
tombs after Christ's resurrection and then being seen by many in
Jerusalem. After seeing these miracles, the centurion cries out that
this was the Son of God. However, look at Mark's earlier account. It
says that when the centurion saw his cry and saw how he died he said he
was the Son of God. There is no mention of him being terrified. The
words are changed a little bit as well.

Now, first of all, we are told that these accounts are without error and
are completely in harmony with one another. But, the words are not the
same. We can reasonably believe that different authors might word things
slightly different as to the narrative, but when recounting the actual
words of people in the events, should we not hold them to a higher
standard? Apologists will say that the Holy Spirit worked within the
personalities and styles of different writers to construct these
accounts, but I for one cannot accept that a personal style can allow
for the changing of a man's spoken words. Notice that the words of Jesus
are identical. Why should these words be identical and others not?
Besides, the rest of the narrative is virtually identical except for
this account of an earthquake and of dead saints rising and being seen
by many.2 Notice also that the dead saints are said to come out of their
graves after the resurrection prior to the account of the resurrection.

The writer of Matthew knows he needs to lend more to this account to
make it spectacular. He inserts details about an earthquake and dead
saints resurrecting to bolster the account and then provides the
centurion's response, not to the sight of Christ's death, but of the
events surrounding it. Do we read about these saints in Paul's writings?
No. Why not? Is not the resurrection of many saints seen by many much
more incredible workmanship of God than the resurrection of one man?
Remember, when giving evidence to bolster an account, you use the
evidence that will most likely persuade your listeners. If Paul knew
about these many saints, why did he not use them to bolster his account?
If he did not know about them, then how did later writers learn of them?
Furthermore, why did Mark not know about them and Matthew did? If Mark
was written between 65 and 70 AD, how could word of many risen saints
seen by many people and of an earthquake not reach him at this time?
Furthermore, if Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit, why would the Holy
Spirit choose not to reveal this to him? If God truly wants all to
believe in his Son Jesus Christ, why did he not reveal al the details
until later? These are all questions for inerrancy believers to answer,
but I've not seen any reasonable response.

I've tried. I'll be open to hearing reasoning from others, but only if
they are open to hearing what I have to say and what I have read. I
often hear from Bible believing Christians that I have to have an open
mind and an open heart to believe in Jesus. What I want to now ask in
return is can you have an open mind for just 2 or 3 weeks to examine in
the same detail that I have the counter-claims to your beliefs? Just
take a few minutes a day to step away from Ravi Zacharias and William
Lane Craig and the likes of other apologists.

Do as I did and take Ravi Zacharias seriously. Zacharias says reality is
grounded in either/or logic.3 Well, either the bible is without error or
it is not. It's that simple. It is not both without error and with
error. Take the challenge and do this. Read the articles on and engage in debate with non-Christians and
ex-Christians, but take them seriously just as I have taken you all very
seriously for over a year. Read the works of Richard Carrier, Jeffrey J.
Lowder, Ed Babinski, and Robert Price. Also go to places like to read William Lane Craig and other
bible-defenders. Make it even.

Take these people as seriously as you take yourselves when you look at
Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, and any other ism. Use the
exact same standard of evidence that you use in evaluating claims in
your everyday experience. Do you believe that God is unchanging and
infallible? If so, why does he not perform miracles as he did many
thousands of years ago? Why do you doubt groups like the Heaven's Gate
Cult and the Raelians who claim to have been inspired by God? What is
your rationale for believing the claims of one group of superstitious
people who lived in a superstitious culture with competing Gods and
pantheons of deities 2,000 years ago and not believing in the claims of
few today who make similar claims?

Today, we scoff at what we call "outlandish" claims of the lunatic
fringe, but when Christianity is the mainstream after once being itself
a lunatic fringe, why do we scoff at those who scoff at us? Something is
just not right there. I assert that it is the very traditions of men
that Jesus himself criticized in the gospel accounts. As a people, we
are unwilling to critically examine our own belief structures to the
point that our examination might ultimately lay waste to such

The same people who will look at Muslim writings and claim that
development of miraculous accounts did not appear until later therefore
we cannot trust them will write that miraculous accounts in Christian
gospel stories that didn't appear until later are still true. I spoke to
a pastor at an event last week who when I asked him questions about
Matthew's account simply told me that if miracles are possible God can
do anything, including shaking tombs and reanimating bones into physical
beings that can sit in their tombs for 3 days then bust out like
slinkies and stroll around Jerusalem. I told him if I believe in
miracles, then what rationale do I have to disbelieve in Hindu miracles?
He said the false religions have demonic activity. There is angelic
activity and demonic activity all around. Someone told me I should ask
him, "Well do demons heal people?"

I know some reading this want to close their eyes and close their minds
and it may cost me friends or at the minimum acquaintances. I wanted
very much to do the same thing and did for many months while reading
these criticisms. But, believing falsehood never makes it true. I can
believe all I want that I can jump off a building and fly away safely,
but it simply will not happen. I can believe all I want that I can walk
across water, and likewise it will not happen. Welcome to the desert of
the real. But, even in a desert you may come across a very real oasis
and from it you may drink.

This is the question I leave you with: why does Matthew modify the
crucifixion scene as he does and what do the biblical apologists say
about this and what do biblical critics say about this? If you persist
to believe without examining, then you have violated Paul's admonition
to give a reason for the hope that is within you. Take this as seriously
as your church is telling you to take it. Do not take the words of men
at face value. This includes my words, so investigate them yourselves.
Attending church I have been told that it is rational to believe in
Christianity's literal, historical portrayal of a miracle-working Jesus,
his atoning death, resurrection, spectacular ascension, and coming
judgment of all.

The story of Jesus may indeed be the greatest story ever told, because
Jesus represents the embodiment of truth. If the story is not completely
historical as fundamentalist doctrine demands, then we must consider the
crucifixion account in a new light:

Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified by the mob. On the cross, Jesus,
symbolizing the truth, is left there hung out to dry. One criminal with
him mocks him and his claim that he is the messiah. The other recognizes
him as being innocent. Now, 2,000 years later, when for centuries the
historicity of this event has been argued, if indeed it is false, then
it would be the religious defenders and mob of unquestioning followers
who represent the man on the right, mocking the truth. And, it would be
the doubters, the seekers of ultimate truth, those who cling not to the
traditions of men and not to the mob who hold up the truth and are
mocked, spit on, and scorned. These would be the ones upon whom a real
Jesus would look and say, "Well done."

Again, I reiterate: what is it that the apologists say and the critics
say about in particular the miraculous portents at the time of the
crucifixion in the Matthew 27 account and their conspicuous absence in
the earlier-written Mark? Which explanation meets your standard of
evidence that you apply to the religious claims of all other faiths and
to everyday events in your life of today?

Question: Do you believe in the Bible?

Answer: I believe in the 'bull', but I don't 'buy' it.


Josh Gough
Web Developer
Epidemiology Program Office (Mailstop C08)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA 30333
Voice: 404-639-0541
Fax: 404-639-4198

Received on Mon, 2 Feb 2004 11:01:12 -0500

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