Bible Errors and Losing Faith

Common Sense

By Dr. Christopher Plumberg

See also: Bible Errors and Young Earth Creationism

Last week, I discussed how the argument over the age of the earth has no bearing on the inerrancy of the Bible. Having dissected this objection thoroughly, let me address the second common objection to Biblical inerrancy: "the Bible doesn't make sense." Examples of claims which "don't make sense" can be found all throughout Scripture: as one person once told me, "snakes don't talk [Genesis 3], blood sacrifice makes no sense [Leviticus 17 and Hebrews 9], Noah's ark could have not happened [Genesis 6-9], people do not live to be 960 years old [Genesis 5:27], days don't stand still [Joshua 10], the Red Sea could have not parted [Exodus 14], [and] there is no way Moses could have done all those tricks [e.g. Exodus 4, 7-11]" (I've included the references if you want to look these stories up for yourself).

To those with this kind of objection to Biblical inerrancy, I would pose the following question: how do you know? What proof could you possibly have that these assertions are true? For example, neither you nor I have seen the sun stand still in the sky (or, equivalently, the Earth stop rotating). But what does our limited experience have to do with what can or cannot happen? I have also never personally met the Emperor of Japan. Does that mean that he does not exist? Of course not, and to claim this would be viewed as absurd by any thinking person. These arguments are just as wrong-headed. Simply because we've never heard a snake talk, or seen a person live to be 960 years old does not imply that it is impossible that this could happen. This a fallacy known as a non sequitur, which is Latin for "it does not follow." The conclusions simply do not follow from the premises.

All these things seem to fly in the face of reason and logic — but do they? I would argue that there is something else going on here: "reason" and "logic" are terms which add a certain emotional forcefulness to our conclusions. If we talk about how the Bible flies in the face of what we would naturally expect, there is nothing particularly impressive or disturbing about this. If, however, we instead say that the Bible flies in the face of our own "reason" and "logic," we sound much more confident and feel much more justified in our pronouncements against Scripture. But this makes clear where the problem really lies: instead of accepting that the Bible really may be free from errors, many have instead chosen to assume (without justification) that their beliefs are free from errors. And this is just arrogance: the simple fact that something makes no sense to one person does not entail that it makes no sense at all. They are not objectively evaluating the evidence; they appear to have already decided in their mind that the Bible is wrong and they are out to prove it. This is decisively backwards: our beliefs should be dictated by the evidence, not the other way around.

So what is the right approach for handling difficult passages in Scripture? In addressing apparent errors or miraculous events in Scripture, many people believe that the decisive evaluation of such passages should be conducted by means of extra-biblical documentation, i.e., without any appeal to Scripture itself as a set of reliable, historical documents. In other words, they demand that the claims of Scripture be validated by external confirmation (e.g., "scientific proof" or "secular sources") before they are willing to believe. This approach, however, fails on at least two counts. First, denying legitimacy to any evidence for any miraculous biblical event, such as the Resurrection, which does not come from outside the Old and New Testament documents, is certainly the wrong approach. These documents were written by people who were convinced by the evidence (in many cases, their own first-hand experience) that Jesus really had risen from the dead. So limiting acceptable accounts of the Resurrection to those given by people who did not believe in the Resurrection is like choosing to believe in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, only if it is confirmed by the very sources which in fact deny it! In other words, the New Testament was only formed well after all of the Gospels had been written, so all of the Gospels were independent (and mutually consistent) views of the same events. In fact, the Gospels were included in the New Testament, precisely because they were already the best and most accurate accounts of what had happened. So restricting oneself to extra-biblical sources asks the wrong question entirely.

Second, this approach effectively begs the question: if one refuses to include in the evidence for the Resurrection of Christ the testimony of Scripture itself, then one has already attributed to non-Scriptural sources a higher degree of reliability than Scripture, implying that Scripture is not a completely reliable source — which is the very point that is under contention! In other words, one cannot argue that Scripture is unreliable because it contains accounts of miraculous events like the Resurrection, and then assert that the Resurrection did not occur because the Scripture is unreliable. By this reasoning, one could just as easily assume that extra-biblical sources ought to be judged by the standard of Scripture, rather than the other way around. One must of course be sure that Scripture does not conflict with any well-established facts (like 2+2=4), but the conviction of the impossibility of the Resurrection is certainly not one of them.

Have such biblical "errors" driven you away from faith in Christ? If I may ask, what happened that led you to do this? In my own walk with the Lord, my wrestling with doubts about the reliability of Scripture did not happen in a spiritual vacuum. At the same time as I found myself giving up belief in an error-free Bible, I also found myself wrestling with other profound issues and dealing with sin in my own personal life. Is it possible that something else has contributed to your departure from Christian faith? For some people, temptation can obscure their spiritual understanding; for others, it could be a season of deep pain or hardship. I do not know your personal story, but I would respectfully ask you to consider whether there may have been other contributing factors to your unbelief than simply intellectual misgivings.

First Corinthians 1:18 says that "the word of the cross [i.e., the Gospel] is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (NASB). The Bible actually predicts that what it says will not make sense to those who do not believe; by saying that these things "make no sense," the doubter is really just confirming what Scripture has already told us. As a scientist, I deal regularly with hypotheses which may or may not be true. If I want to argue against a particular hypothesis, I must provide sound reasoning and evidence to support my claim. Simply saying that that hypothesis "makes no sense" is unacceptable to a scientist, and it should be unacceptable in Christianity as well. I am not exercising blind faith in continuing to believe what the Bible teaches; as a scientist and as a Christian, I am just going with the best evidence and reasoning. I hope that you will do the same.

Image Credit: Viktor Vasnetsov; "Temptation"; Year; Public Domain

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | History-Apologetics

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Published 10-27-15