Evangelicals almost universally believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, claiming that it is the verbally inspired (directly authored) Word of God, complete and fully authoritative—the believer’s sole authority for faith and practice. When some of the implications of this doctrine did not make sense to me, I began asking for clarification. My questions over the years have usually been dismissed with the admonition that one must just have faith that it is so. My observation is that the vast majority of Christians have no idea why the Bible is considered to be the Word of God other than that “it claims to be the Word of God.”
In Part II of this series, I listed what I believe are the 12 primary reasons that some Christians use as rationale for why the 66 books of the Bible are the inerrant, verbally inspired Word of God. I began examining the credibility of these claims in Part III and continue below.
3. The Bible’s historical accuracy has been never been refuted and has been repeatedly corroborated by secular historical accounts and archaeological finds.
– Accepted. The historical accuracy of the Bible is exceptionally credible. I’ve heard minor arguments against the Bible’s historical accuracy regarding issues such as population numbers that are too speculative and too unprovable either way (in my marginally educated opinion) to waste time on. There are no credible claims that the Bible is historically inaccurate that I am aware of. However, this in and of itself, does not necessitate divine authorship.
4. The Bible claims to be God’s Word.
– This claim is the most attractive and also the most insidious. Certainly, many passages in the law section and the prophets begin with some variation of “Thus says the Lord.” Peter states that prophecy was given by the Holy Ghost rather than fabricated by humans, and Paul states that all scripture is inspired by God. Jesus Himself quoted or affirmed several Old Testament passages. Here’s the problem with the proposition that “the Bible claims to be the Word of God”: The statement presupposes the outcome. A unified anthology with a single, divine author is assumed whenever someone says “the Bible says…” or “the Bible claims…” Personifying the Bible in this manner is a form of reification. Those that allow this practice do so on the assumption that God is the author of the entire anthology. This is where the logic gets circular: The Bible is God’s Word; we know this because the Bible claims to be God’s Word. Circular reasoning aside, this claim is not even close to accurate. Nowhere in the Bible can a claim be found that attributes any book to divine authorship—a concept that is far different from recording a message from God. Even if we begin with accepting Paul’s assertion that all scripture is inspired by God, the questions remain: What constitutes scripture? What is meant by “inspiration”? Using Jesus’ statement that “the smallest part of the law won’t pass away until it is fulfilled” to prove that He considered the entire Old Testament to be the Word of God is a misreading of a statement that has nothing to do with the inspiration of scripture. If the Holy Spirit empowers believers today as Jesus promised and Paul described, mightn’t the Holy Spirit inspire believers today to write or speak on occasion? I think it’s probable and would be in keeping with God’s usual practice of using humans, flawed though we are, to accomplish His purposes. While I accept that there is much truth in the books of the Bible and many of the books contain records of communication from God, I find no evidence to support the proposition that the Bible claims to be the Word of God, and therefore, must reject it.
5. Specific Old Testament prophecies have come true—more than would be mathematically probable (virtually impossible) to be a coincidence.
– Accepted. The Old Testament prophecies that have come true are too numerous and too specific to be anything other than divinely orchestrated.
6. God is presumed to be all-powerful and all-knowing—concepts corroborated by several Biblical passages.
– Accepted. At the very least, evidence from the physical creation overwhelmingly speaks to God’s power and knowledge. But we must be careful in our reasoning. If we claim to know that God is all-powerful and all-knowing because “the Bible says so, and we know that the Bible is true because the Bible was written by God,” then we’re flirting with circular reasoning again.
7. Multiple passages in the Bible indicate that God does not lie.
– Accepted. Several Bible authors affirm that God is not only honest and consistent, He is the origin of truth. The universe’s evident need for a designer, the orderly manner in which the universe operates, the universal laws of logic, and the ability of humans to reason all seem to me to be sufficient external corroboration of a transcendent truth and an Originator of truth. And let’s be realistic: if God were deceptive, we’d never know it, and we’d all be lost anyway. A truthful God is the only reasonable conclusion. A difficulty which we will examine later is how the consistency of God is portrayed through the various books of the Bible. To me, it is most reasonable to conclude that God is the ultimate standard. He is. He doesn’t change. He is what He always was and always will be.
8. Any seeming contradictions, errors, or inconsistencies are merely due to a lack of understanding by the reader.
– Rejected. I probably should have listed this as a conclusion based upon an assumption, rather than a reason for belief in a divinely authored Bible. This is the case for some misunderstood portions of the Bible, but some Christians make up absurd explanations for some egregious inconsistencies among various parts of the Bible, because their assumption that God authored all of it requires it. This is unreasonable—especially if we accept that God is consistent. I’ll list the most irreconcilable inconsistencies in a future post.
9. If God is all-powerful (and has inspired His Word), He has the power to preserve His Word.
– Accepted. As far as we are concerned, God’s power is limitless. His power is again, revealed by creation (natural things) and by the credible miracles (supernatural things) that He has orchestrated. For instance, I believe it is most reasonable to believe the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, including His resurrection. J. Warner Wallace makes a very thoroughly researched case for this as he lays out the evidence for the credibility of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I recommend that you read his articles here if you are interested in an in-depth study of this topic.
10. God wouldn’t bother to inspire His Word and then not preserve it.
– This is an interesting proposition. God created humans with the intent to have a relationship with them. He communicated with humans in various ways throughout history. Evangelicals maintain that today, He only communicates through the Bible. I think the Bible is an extremely useful collection of Books that among other things, builds the credibility of the record of the life of Jesus. I believe that God has worked through humans throughout history and continues to do so today, and it’s likely that scribes, translators, etc. have been used to further His purpose. That’s all I’m willing to say on this issue for the time being, as I don’t want to give away my conclusion too early, and my conclusion on this issue requires some lengthy caveats.
11. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the early church fathers debated the canon and finally came to a consensus on the 66 books we accept as Scripture today.
– Rejected. The canon of the Bible was a source of much consternation for several hundred years after the resurrection. It was the topic of several councils and was studiously debated by many of the early “church fathers.” The criteria they used to finally settle on the 27 books of the New Testament essentially boil down the following: the books must be authored by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle, must be commonly accepted by Christians, and must be coherent with the Judeo-Christian narrative (while being free from egregious error and blatant doctrinal contradiction). The reason that early church fathers accepted the “canon of Scripture” is that the Old Testament books were almost universally accepted by Jews (and then early believers) as scripture, and the New Testament books were accepted as scripture by the preponderance of Christians for the first three centuries A.D. The reason that Christians today accept the canon of Scripture is because the early church fathers determined it to be authoritative. Christians attribute the conclusion of the early church fathers to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but this is presumptive and misleading.
Protestants generally affirm the concept of sola scriptura—only Scripture is authoritative for faith and practice. They are quick to decry the Catholic concepts of the authority of Tradition (traditional church beliefs and practices are considered to be authoritative despite having no Biblical basis) and the Magisterium of the Church (Church fathers are guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore, speak authoritatively). Yet, Protestants, ironically, use both of these practices to determine the canon of scripture. The presumptive reasoning continues: the church fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit, Christians today are guided by the church fathers, and we can be certain that the church fathers were correct because the Holy Spirit assures us that their conclusion was correct. It all boils down to “it just feels right.”
12. Today, the Holy Spirit illumines the hearts of believers and assures us of the veracity of the Scripture.
– Rejected. I do not discount the work of the Holy Spirit, but I do maintain that it is presumptuous and disingenuous to claim that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in order to validate our feelings. Mormons maintain that the Holy Spirit validates their belief in the teachings of Joseph Smith, even while many of those teachings flagrantly contradict many biblical concepts. Therefore, “The Holy Spirit led me to believe…” is not evidence that something is true.
In Part V, I plan to look at some of the difficulties surrounding the claim that the Bible is the Word of God.