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Biblical inerrancy

Why we cannot prove either
biblical errancy or inerrancy

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Attempting to prove biblical inerrancy:

The term "inerrancy" means to be without error. When applied to the Bible, it normally means that the text as originally written in the author's autograph copy was free of error. A closely related belief is "inspiration" -- the concept that God guided the authors of the Bible to write their books free of mistakes. Inspiration implies inerrancy. Since God is traditionally viewed as omniscient, omnipotent and free of error, God could hardly inspire the authors to write falsehoods.

We cannot prove that every passage in the Bible is true. There are major gaps in the archaeological record. For example, there is no hard evidence that Abraham, Moses and other early Bible characters before the time of David and Solomon actually existed. There is no concrete archeological evidence that any of the major events prior to birth of David actually happened. (e.g. expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the building of the tower of Babel, the Israelites' slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, etc).

The Bible itself claims inerrancy; but those passages could themselves conceivably be in error. There are many books in the world which claim to be inerrant. But they teach different and conflicting beliefs. Thus only one at most can be truly inerrant.

It seems to be impossible to prove inerrancy or inspiration; these beliefs must be accepted on faith.  If any reader knows a proof of inerrancy, please E-mail us.

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Attempting to proving biblical errancy:

Skeptics often point to internal conflicts within the Bible. These occur where two passages in the Bible describes an event very differently. Such instances rarely seem to be conclusive. Believers in inerrancy can generally harmonize the two passages after a bit of thought. More information on harmonization.

Skeptics also have pointed to apparent conflicts between biblical passages and the archaeological record. However, such disagreements are rarely conclusive either. Quite often, the only indicator of biblical error is a lack of evidence. For example, there is archaeological evidence that Jericho and other cities in Canaan were destroyed by earthquake, fire and/or military conquest -- just as described in the Book of Joshua. But there is no broken pottery or other artifacts at the sites that can be dated to the time that the Bible says that the conquest occurred. Indeed, material from the remains of the cities has been dated well before the time that Bible implies that the cities fell. The cities appear to have been abandoned at the time of Joshua.

Such conflicts can be harmonized in a number of ways:

bulletArchaeological evidence can often be interpreted in different ways, and opposing conclusions reached.
bulletSometimes laboratory errors are made in dating archaeological evidence.
bulletMost persons who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible also believe that miracles can happen. God might have suspended physical laws at some location and over some interval of time in order for a reason known only to himself. For example, God might have altered the carbon 12/14 balance within an artifact. This would cause a carbon dating laboratory to give an incorrect age for the sample.
bulletThere might be evidence still in the ground that proves that the Bible passage is accurate. However it might not have been found yet. To quote a common expression used by biblical archaeologists: "No evidence of existence is not evidence of non-existence." Hard proof may still be waiting to be uncovered in the sands of the Middle East.

Skeptics have tried for centuries to find the "magic bullet" that will convince everyone that the Bible contains at least one error  -- either an irresolvable conflict between two biblical passages, or archaeological evidence that solidly disproves the Bible. 1 In the author's opinion, none have succeeded. If any reader knows of such a proof of errancy, please E-mail us.

Even if one apparent error exists, it can be explained away in various ways:

bulletThe original autograph copy of the book might have been inerrant, but a subsequent copyist may have introduced an error.
bulletTwo passages may seem to be in error, but this is just because nobody has yet been able to find a method that harmonizes them; a method may exist that nobody has figured out yet.

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Attempting to prove Christian beliefs are false:

Many religious concepts, from the virgin birth, to creation, resurrection, inerrancy of the Bible, etc. cannot be absolutely proven or disproved:

bulletMiraculous events may happen; so one cannot say that the virgin birth is impossible. It has not been observed in humans or other mammals in recent years. But that does not mean that it could not have happened once. Similarly, without DNA evidence, it is impossible to prove that Jesus was formed by Mary and the Holy Spirit.
bulletJesus' bodily resurrection could have happened. We have no eye witness account of the event, but no evidence of an event is not proof that the event never happened. Similarly, we have no proof that he was resurrected. The eye witness reports could have been based on mass hallucination.
bulletMany conservative Christians believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years of age. There is extensive evidence that the world was in existence before 4,000 BCE. There are structures, pottery, remains of camp-fires, and hundreds of other types of objects that have been reliably carbon dated at 30,000 BCE or earlier. However, conservative Christians do not believe that carbon dating is accurate. And so, a proof of an old earth that everyone will accept cannot be shown by carbon dating. Similarly, samples of rocks have been dated back billions of years using potassium-argon and similar radiometric dating systems. Again, conservative Christians do not believe that these are accurate measuring techniques either.

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Conclusions:

We have rejected the traditional method of examining whether the Bible is free of errors or not. We propose a different technique: to take a broad look at Biblical themes, rather than deal with individual passages. 

Proof is impossible. However, from the study of themes in the Bible, we should be able to derive many indicators that suggest that either biblical inerrancy or errancy is more likely.

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Reference used:

  1. Dennis McKinsey, "Biblical Errancy," at: http://members.aol.com/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2010. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JAN-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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