Is the Bible always right?

Jeremy Myers posts I am Always Right, but don’t worry, those are not his own sentiments. They are an echo of Rush Limbaugh’s words but intended more as an echo of what some people claim about the Bible. They serve as an introduction to Jeremy’s forthcoming series on the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.

The Bible is always rightImage courtesy of James McGrath

I don’t yet know what Jeremy is going to say about this doctrine. But I can guess his general line from what he has recently written about the inspiration of Scripture, in a series of posts starting with How you can know the Bible is Divine Revelation and continuing to Why the KJV is an Inspired Translation, all found in Jeremy’s category Bibliology.

I had meant to respond to some of these posts, but they kept coming so quickly that I could barely keep up with reading them. That was very much worthwhile because of Jeremy’s fresh and humorous approach to exploring what it means to say that the Bible is inspired. He finds some important weaknesses in the traditional evangelical teaching about inspiration. I am not entirely convinced by his conclusion that “inspired” means little more than “inspiring”. But perhaps his position will become more clear as the series on inerrancy proceeds.

21 thoughts on “Is the Bible always right?

  1. I made that sign! It would have been nice for it to at least to have been linked to the original source, or even better for its creator to have been acknowledged in a caption or something…

  2. Pingback: Inerrancy in Poster Form | Exploring Our Matrix

  3. James, I’m sorry. I assumed Jeremy had made it for his own post. I have updated my post with an attribution and a link. I hope that is OK now. And thanks for the link, even if it is for the wrong reasons.

  4. No problem – I realized that you simply got it from him. And I know that sometimes it is hard to trace where things circulating online came from. But it was very strange when your post popped up in my reader and I saw an image I had made a few years earlier! 🙂

    Anyway, there will be more borrowable homemade images appearing on my blog today, tomorrow, and over the coming days…

  5. Well, if the question is about inerrancy I have two key problems with the doctrine.
    (1) The loss of the autographs renders it an empty box. It’s a claim we used to have an inerrant scripture but no longer possess it. For the Bible we have it is claimed only that that it is without theologically misleading error. Why claim more for the autographs?
    (2) It requires us to claim for scripture what can’t be claimed for Jesus. He mistakenly stated Abiathar was High Priest when David ate the sacred bread. Inerrantists appeal to the variant reading “in the days of Abiathar the High Priest” and claim this meant in his lifetime. This is refuted by the fact Mathew and Luke cut out the error, proving they considered it to be such.
    The first point could be answered by arguing that the Bible we have claims inerrancy for the autographs, so if our Bible is without theological error, then inerrancy follows. But the Bible doesn’t claim inerrancy, at least in so many words, that claim has to inferred from certain other statements that could be read otherwise.
    Point 2 seems to be irrefutable.

  6. Giles, thank you for your comment. I also have issues with the doctrine of inerrancy as often formulated.

    I don’t have a big problem with the mention of Abiathar in Mark 2:26. I don’t think it’s a textual error but one of the meaning of epi Abiathar archiereos, which has regularly been translated at least since KJV “in the days of Abiathar the high priest”. Some might claim that the words mean “when Abiathar was the High Priest” (as in GNT), but the Greek, like the traditional English, need not mean any more than in his lifetime. Matthew and Luke often give shorter versions of the stories in Mark, so it proves nothing that they cut out this mention of Abiathar.

  7. I decided to come back on the Abiathar question as it is the main reason I think inerrancy is untenable. Not to persuade you but to explain why I am unpersuaded.
    As I understand it, the Greek text that translates “in the days of Abiathar” is a variant amongst the early copies. Other texts read “when Abiathar was High Priest”. I think there are two copies (don’t quote me) with your preferred reading so it’s a contender, but may have been due to copyists trying to get rid of the error.
    Then there is the question as to whether this variant does in fact eliminate the error. I could say “the Vietnam war occurred in the days of President Reagan” and Reagan was indeed alive at the time but at the very least it would be an odd way of speaking. And if this is what Jesus meant he is just randomly introducing Abiathar for no good reason. One could imagine a context in which such a manner of speaking made sense but I don’t think this is one of them.
    Also it is possible as you say that both Luke and Mathew both decided to abbreviate the account by removing this phrase but given that both remove it and that it solves a problem evident even to Greek speakers (there are copies of Mark which cut it out too) I think my explanation is more plausible.
    But what convinces one doesn’t convince another. Inerrantists are convinced that if one allows for minor historical errors in the autographs as well as the copies that must undermine confidence in the Bible as an authority on matters of faith and practice. I don’t see it. To get there one must conclude that the biblical statements about inspiration entail inerrancy and I’m not persuaded they do.

  8. Giles, I don’t want to defend a strong doctrine of inerrancy, but I don’t think this is a convincing reason to reject it.

    I checked this issue in my Greek New Testament textual apparatus. The only textual variant is that a few manuscripts, including two older ones, omit epi Abiathar archiereos completely. But this omission is very unlikely to be in the original text, as there is then no explanation of how these words were added. It is much more likely that they were omitted, perhaps by accident, perhaps out of embarrassment, or most likely because of semi-conscious assimilation to Matthew and Luke.

    The real issue with this passage is with the translation of epi. I agree with you that in the context it is more likely to mean “during the period in office of”, as in your Reagan and Vietnam example. But I don’t think a court would convict anyone of perjury for saying “the Vietnam war occurred in the days of President Reagan” because of the element of doubt and ambiguity. Similarly I don’t think you can convict Jesus or Scripture of error on the basis of this passage.

    It is of course possible that the original text had a different name which was changed by mistake to Abiathar. As you pointed out, allowing such hypotheses makes a nonsense of the whole doctrine of inerrancy. Nevertheless there are surely places in the New Testament where what the original author wrote has been lost because of copyists’ errors, and no surviving manuscript preserves the original reading. This to me is a much more powerful argument against a strong doctrine of inerrancy.

  9. Peter, thanks for the correction. It seems I have been misled about the textual variancy. If so apologies for putting you to the trouble. I hope you won’t mind if I check this when I have some time. If I don’t get back it means I haven’t found anything to contradict you.
    I still think it weighs against inerrancy. Perhaps it not courtroom proof, more like one of those cases where you say “I think he’s guilty but not beyond reasonable doubt”. But I would stress guilt is not an issue here (for me at least) as I dont see error as sin.
    I have a strong hunch that if you look at any other cases where the phrase means “in the lifetime of” they would be cases where there is some point in introducing a character and observing that x occurred in his lifetime. But that’s just a hunch.
    None of this means that I don’t think the text we have is authoritative on matters of faith and practice. Thanks again for your trouble.

  10. Actually I’m not going to double check. The fact that your apparatus states that there are just two manuscripts that omit the phrase must be what I was misremembering. And I don’t see why your apparatus would be wrong absent discovery of new manuscripts.

  11. Giles, I would like to check up on other cases of epi plus the genitive meaning something like “in the time of”. Sadly I don’t have time for this at the moment. I think it was two fairly early manuscripts, not the earliest, and a few later ones, but I don’t have the apparatus in front of me.

  12. I’d like that too! I think the cases to be looking for are not the ones that say in the days of x, which obviously will mean in the lifetime of. Rather we would need the cases that say “in the days of x the y” eg “David the King”. But I don’t expect you to do it, and I can’t.
    To me the fact that some copies of Mark left it out suggests they saw it as an error but you could say they mistakenly took it for an error, when it was just an odd way of speaking.
    Or there’s the option of preferring the manuscripts that omit the phrase, though it seems unlikely anyone would add it in.
    As always in these debates both sides have their Greek scholars, many practicing without a licence! Don’t know if you know Greek, I started it at school but made the fatal mistake of not bothering to learn the alphabet properly and thinking I could pick it up as I went along. I was wrong! Apologies for putting you to trouble.

  13. Though, come to think it, cases that read “in the days of x” would at least prove the phrase can be used in that way, which I have seen denied.

  14. The reason I’m not quite as impressed by your alternative argument against full inerrancy is that the inerrantist can simply deny the claim there are cases where we don’t have any copy that preserves the original text.
    Please don’t feel obliged to reply to and. Someone always has to bring the conversation to an end. I’ll make this my last word.

  15. Thank you, Giles. Again, I wish I had time and resources to hand to research this. While I can’t claim a licence, I have studied Greek and New Testament interpretation to MA level, and I worked for about 15 years as a Bible translator.

    Inerrantists can deny what they like, including the plain truth, but that won’t impress me.

  16. Thanks for this. I just saw your comment and read the piece. Yes it is interesting. Although a work of supererogation if you hold to my position, that it is the teaching of Jesus/the bible that’s true, not necessarily incidental historical details. But certainly there are various examples of deliberate inaccuracy in scripture, and those cases are no threat to inerrancy (provided one doesn’t think they were intended to deceive.)

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