As described elsewhere on this site, Proving
biblical inerrancy or errancy appears
to be impossible. Ultimately, these beliefs must be accepted on faith. However,
if proofs are not available, at least we
might be able to derive some indicators
of inerrancy or errancy. The most promising route may be to study themes and
general topics seen throughout the Bible.
We have examined twelve themes. The four described below seem to indicate (but not prove) that the
Bible is errant. Five additional themes also
indicate biblical errancy. Three are inconclusive. None seem to
support inerrancy at this time. If any reader knows an additional theme that might
indicate or prove errancy or
inerrancy, please E-mail us.
In each case, we follow the same format:
We introduce the theme
We explain what the Bible would say if it is inerrant
We do the same for the case where the Bible is errant
We compare the above two cases with the actual Bible text.
We try to conclude whether the Bible is inerrant, errant or inconclusive.
The themes listed below are described very briefly, and in general terms. We
hope to expand each description into a full essay or series of essays in the future.
Note to visitors:
We have had a problem writing this series of essays.
Although our five staff represent very different religions, we are all
religious liberals. This situation appears in many groups working in the
religious tolerance/religious freedom fields. We have tried to recruit a
conservative volunteer to help with proofreading for the past 14 years without
We found it particularly difficult to explain the Bible from an inerrant
perspective. If you know of anyone who can volunteer to help us out with this
series of essays, we would really appreciate it.
Possibility 2: The Bible is errant.
Biblical authors would have picked
up the cosmologies from surrounding Pagan cultures. The Babylonians and other Pagans
believed that the earth was more or less flat with mountains around the edges that held up
the rigid dome of the sky. The sky was relatively close to the earth - close enough so that the Tower
of Babel was a threat to God's isolation. There were vents in the sky
that could be opened. Through them, God or angels could pour
water to produce rain. At the time of the destruction of
Sodom and Gomorrah, fire and brimstone (molten sulfur) were said to have
been poured. There were also drains in the earth that allowed water
to flow under the earth into a large cavern, called Sheol, where the dead lived in a sort of shadow
existence. The sun, moon, planets and stars all were pushed by angels along
the underside of the dome, once every 24 hours.
What the Bible Actually Says: The books of the Bible reflect the second
scenario. 1 None of the factors in the first possibility
are seen in the Bible.
Conclusion: One can argue from archaeological evidence that the Bible
authors picked up primitive, pre-scientific Pagan ideas about the nature of the universe from surrounding
cultures. This indicates (but does not prove) that the Bible is errant. It
is always possible to explain the cosmology of the Bible writers as
being purely symbolic in nature.
Possibility 1: The Bible is inerrant. The Hebrew
Scriptures accurately describe the cultures surrounding the ancient
Israelite tribes. The books of Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus were
written by Moses.
Possibility 2: The Bible is errant. The
Hebrew Scriptures contain many errors about the surrounding
cultures, as events, personalities and cultures were forgotten before
being recorded. The first books in the Scriptures was
written in its final form circa 900 BCE
during the reign of Josiah. This was
many centuries after the life of Moses.
What the Bible Actually Says: At the time that the
Bible was written, the authors of the
Hebrew Scriptures seem to have known little or nothing about Canaan
as it existed during the second millennium, at the time of the Exodus
from Egypt and the subsequent genocides of the Canaanites.
The Bible refers to the
presence of the Philistines in Canaan; but that society did not
arrive in the area until long after the second millennium.
The Scriptures speak of events at Beersheva and other towns which did not exist until much later
than those events.
was no mention of the strong Egyptian presence in Caanan at that
time. In fact, if the ancient Hebrews left Egypt, wandered in the
desert for 40 years, and invaded Canaan as described in the books of
Exodus and Joshua, they would not have left Egyptian-controlled
The books of the Bible reflect the second
Conclusion: One can argue from archaeological evidence that the Bible
authors had very little knowledge of the cultures present in Canaan during the second millennium BCE. This is a very strong indicator (but
not an absolute proof) that the Bible is errant.
Possibility 1: The Bible is inerrant and was created under the
inspiration of God, so that He could communicate his will to humanity. Since God has
infinite intelligence, He would have made certain that:
The Bible promotes a positive set of morals.
No internal conflicts existed in its writings.
The Bible's teachings are clear and unambiguous.
The Bible's teachings are sufficient for today.
Christians who lived in any
century would be able to discover God's will on any moral issue by consulting the Bible.
Thus Christians' concept of right and wrong would be constant with time; Christians in the
3rd century CE and the 20th century CE would hold the same beliefs about a variety of
moral questions, ranging from abortion access to
equal rights for gays and lesbians, to the
physician assisted suicide, etc. Beliefs about the nature of God,
the nature of Jesus, criteria for salvation,
Heaven and Hell, etc. would also be constant
Possibility 2: The Bible is a collection of books written by fallible
human authors, each intended to promote the personal beliefs of its writers. Thus, it would contain ambiguous passages. Since it was written over a
period of many centuries of religious change, various of its passages would strongly
conflict with others. Thus, Christians of all eras would reach different
ethical and moral conclusions from the Bible. They would also derive
different religious beliefs about the nature of God, Jesus, salvation,
Heaven, Hell, etc.
What History Shows:
Christians' belief about slavery have
the past two millennia. Slavery was condoned, regulated and approved by the writers of the
Bible. The Pentateuch contains rules from God concerning the regulation of slavery,
including under what conditions a slave owner could be prosecuted if he beat his slave to death.
In his book Philemon, Paul wrote to a slave owner about one of his
slaves. Paul had every opportunity to condemn slavery as immoral,
and to ask the slave owner to free his slave. But he apparently
believed that slavery was an acceptable institution. With the exception of Christian Reconstructionists, slavery has
been rejected by essentially all Christians today.
Beating children with a rod is condoned and
recommended in the Bible. But an increasing percentage of Christian parents have
abandoned this method of discipline. Various denominations promote
spanking, and cite passages in Proverbs about child discipline. Other Christian groups recommend child discipline without
violence, and consider beating a child with a rod to be child
abuse. They base their decision on the
Golden Rule, on non-violent teachings of Jesus. and on the
findings of sociologists that disciplining children through physical
violence results in lower IQs, and higher rates of adult depression,
violence, and criminal behavior.
Beliefs about government structure have also changed greatly. The Bible promotes
dictatorial monarchies and the divine right of kings. When a delegation of Jewish leaders
approached Moses with the request for some elements of democracy, God
killed them and their families.
Most Christians now promote democracy, in which power is shared by the people. They also value
human rights, and oppose (for example) burning some prostitutes alive as is specified in
The Hebrew Scriptures frequently promote the
genocide of others who hold different religious
beliefs. Some Christian fanatics in Bosnia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria,
Northern Ireland and elsewhere have followed these teachings and engaged in mass
murder and genocide. Most contemporary Christians promote religious freedom so that others can follow
other religions without oppression.
Christian beliefs about God, Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, and
many dozens of other theological topics have changed over the past two
millennia. For example the nature of Hell as taught by most
conservative Christians has changed over the past century from a place
of unbearable and eternal torture without any hope of mercy, to a
place where one is simply isolated from God.
There is a disturbing theme that runs through the Bible from
Genesis to Revelation. It involves the
transfer of sins: the concept that innocent people can be found guilty
of, and punished for, the sins of guilty persons. Three of many
God caused countless newborns, infants and young children to die
during the Noahic Flood because of the sinful behavior of their
The second Commandment says, in part: "... I the LORD
thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon
the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate
me." That is, if a person worships another God, her or his
children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and perhaps great great
grandchildren will be punished for the sins.
Ham, one of the sons of Noah, committed an undefined crime against his
father. Noah laid a horrendous curse. But it was not on his son Ham who was
guilty. Noah punished that Ham's son Canaan. There is no indication that Canaan was involved in
any way or even knew of the event. Still, he was to be enslaved to Shem and
Japheth and their children. Further, Canaan's descendents were to be
slaves in perpetuity.
The concept of punishing innocent people for the crimes of the guilty is
profoundly immoral by any current religious or secular system of ethics.
Conclusion: Many of the positive changes in Christian moral positions
over the past two millennia have required that we abandon some specific
Biblical teachings as being contrary to the will of God. It seems unreasonable that if God
intended the Bible to be a guide in all matters, that it would promote a standard of ethics
that is profoundly immoral when compared to today's religious and
secular moral systems.
This indicates, but does not prove, that the Bible is not inerrant.
Indicator 4: Uniformity of Christian beliefs at the present time:
Possibility 1: As in the previous example, the Bible is clear,
unambiguous, and consistent. Devout, thoughtful, serious Christians would be able to
discover God's will on any moral question by consulting the Bible. Thus beliefs about
theological and moral questions would be similar among all denominations. Devout,
intelligent, serious, careful Southern Baptist students of the Bible would reach
the same conclusions as would similar students from the United Church of Christ
or the United Church of Canada. A consensus would be simple to reach among all
Christians on the nature of God, heaven, hell, and perhaps thousands of other theological
matters. Christians would agree on all of the important ethical questions of today: access
to abortion, access to physician
assisted suicide, the death penalty, equal
rights for homosexuals, roles of women in the family, church
and society, etc.
Possibility 2: The Bible is a collection of books written by human
authors over a long time period. Each writer promoted his own religious beliefs.
Thus, the Bible
contains many conflicting passages and concepts. Conservative, mainline and
liberal Christians are able to support
their very different beliefs on theological and moral questions with
What History Shows: There is currently very little agreement among
the worlds 35,000 or so Christian
groups about the Bible's message:
Christian faith groups differ on all key moral questions: from
abortion to the role of
Many different Christian denominations hold varying ideas about religious rituals,
the nature of God, heaven, hell, salvation, etc.
An interesting example are two active Evangelical Christian agencies
which deal with gender roles:
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womenhood promotes promotes
Biblical manhood, which they interpret as requiring inequality in the
authority of men and women. They are seen as having different roles
to play. 3
Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) believes "that
the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of
men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and all economic
agencies quote at great
length from the Bible to justify their conflicting positions. They sincerely
believe that their view is correct and biblically based.
publishes a series of books in which three or four Evangelical
Christians argue what the Bible has to say about a single doctrinal
matter, such as the rapture, sanctification, salvation, the rapture,
how to interpret Revelation, criteria for divorce, etc. Each
contributor takes opposing points of view; each believes that
their view is what the Bible means. Each writes in support of his --
it is almost always a male theologian -- viewpoint and attacks all of
Conclusion: One can argue from the lack of a consensus within
Christendom that the Bible's message cannot be unambiguously determined on many topics. The Bible's
clearly teaches conflicting views on many vital matters. It
seems unreasonable that if an all-knowing God intended the Bible to be a guide in all
matters, that sincere Christians today would come to such opposite decisions over what is right
and wrong. This indicates, but does not prove, that the Bible is not