Re: Essay about errancy

From: Roger G. Olson <>
Date: Mon Feb 02 2004 - 16:54:51 EST


Responding to the following snippet:

"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,..."

I don't accept the equivalence of "inspiration" with "inerrancy". This
seems to be the crux of your dilemma. Maybe Matthew embellished the
story, that doesn't really bother me. I don't see how this affects the
historicity of the resurrection of Christ -- the divine Hope of all

I'm not a qualified apologist, so I don't believe I can "defend" this to
the folks, nor do I wish to. And, I'm not "agreeing to
disagree" as per a common aphorism. :-)


> 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!
> -Josh
> 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
> purposes.
> 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
> Elijah."
> 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
> spirit.
> 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
> God!"
> 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
> structures.
> 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
> Epi-X
> Epidemiology Program Office (Mailstop C08)
> Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
> Atlanta, GA 30333
> Voice: 404-639-0541
> Fax: 404-639-4198
> E-mail:

Roger G. Olson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Mathematics and Environmental Science
Saint Joseph's College
Rensselaer, IN 47978
(219) 866-6295
Received on Mon Feb 2 16:55:12 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Feb 02 2004 - 16:55:12 EST