Opinions on faith and life

The Bible, Inspiration, and Inerrancy, Part One

2011-06-17

The Bible is probably the most famous and scrutinized writing of all time. It is no stranger to criticism and has been blamed for many things and attacked from many angles. As one person said,

No other book has been so chopped, knived, sifted, scrutinized, and vilified. What book on philosophy or religion or psychology or belles lettres of classical or modern times has been subject to such a mass attack as the Bible? With such venom and skepticism? With such thoroughness and erudition? Upon every chapter, line and tenet?

These days it seems that many (if not most) colleges and universities, including seminaries, have a keen interest in demoting, debunking, denouncing, and dethroning the Bible, and thousands of people are now spread out over the world pronouncing it fake, mythical, adulterated, plagiarizing, outdated, and even dangerous. Even professing Christians will accuse us of “Bibleolatry” if we quote it as the authoritative Word of God.

We need to step back, consider the criticisms, and refute them, so that we can move on from this constant self-doubt and get on with spiritual growth. Young people especially are forced to attend public schools where the Bible is held in derision, and we owe it to them to give them confidence in this Book of wisdom, truth, and life. But most of the debate is at a level that most people have neither the time nor the expertise to deal with, not because they aren’t capable, but because it just isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.

So what I’d like to do is collect the best quality documents on the subject and try to give a brief summary of each. I will rely mostly on an excellent site called A Christian Thinktank because the author is knowledgeable and thorough, and has wrestled with these issues and done a lot of research.

This first part focuses on the Old Testament and its place in ANE (ancient near east) thought. One common charge against the Bible is that it copied much of its material from earlier writings or traditions. The strategy is that if Christians can be convinced that there’s nothing special about the Bible, then we will have to admit it isn’t from God and carries no authority.

But neither side of this question ever seems to consider its implications: somebody thought of it first. But how can we know who it was, since all we have to go on is what was written down, and the farther back in history you go the less writing there is? Before writing (and continuing through history) there was oral tradition, so in order to know where any given idea started we’d have to take that into consideration. There is no reason to dismiss the theory that if what the Bible says about the one true God is accurate, then God did originate all these lofty ideals but they were copied and corrupted by people. So we can accuse any and all writings of being copycats, which means that this charge against the Bible does not undermine it in the least.

We might compare this to genetics: since we humans share 50% of our DNA with bananas, then obviously it isn’t the similarities that matter, it’s the differences (but then, there are people who seem to be half bananas!). And so it is with the Bible compared to other religions and philosophies. No theologian claims that every single teaching in the Bible is unique or was written down first, so this charge is really a “straw man”— an attack on an argument Christians don’t make.

Now please visit How the OT was written and go through the list of documents; I think you’ll find them a worthy use of your time. Here are the summaries or outlines from each:

  1. Before Moses:

    The data indicates a reliable stream of information, from earliest times down to at least the time of Moses. The historical particulars reflect a pre-mosaic time and indicate a fixity and reliability of transmission.

  2. Transmission of info and Revelation:

    The priesthood preserved the covenant documents and many of the legal documents related to the community. The prophetic community preserved the detailed EVENT-FLOW histories--along with the theological interpretation of those events, from the perspective of those covenant documents and commitments! The prophetic community had access to ALL the data, and even hostile kings and other prophets consistently ’brought events’ to the prophets of YAHWEH for their interpretation.

    As such, the ’company of the prophets’ constituted THE MAIN CARRIER of the historical information about the Israelite (and even pre-Israelite) community. From their abundant records and documents, the other histories (including royal annals and subsequent chronicles) were abstracted.

    What emerges from this, is an overall pattern of close control over the OT information. There are long-standing institutions--as a check and balance to one another--that are both skilled, empowered, and organized well enough to support the community and cultic information needs of the Israelite community. The pictures we get of THAT community life demonstrate a ’thick and rich’ information flow tapestry. The net result of this rich flow of usage/transmission and the stability of the protective institutions is the high degree of both 1) dissemination of the information AND 2) the relative accuracy of the usage of that information (irrespective of age of data).

  3. Special Topics/Cases:

    Hittite Treaty forms, The “Travelogues” of the Book of Numbers, Israel’s knowledge of Canaanite practices BEFORE the exodus, How did Moses get Balaam’s prophecies for inclusion in Numbers?!, The issue of ’borrowing’ laws— did Moses somehow “copy” Hammurabi?, The Atrahasis theme

  4. Wisdom Lit. and “Borrowing”:

    Israel’s borrowing from her neighbors, in areas of religion and theology, DOES NOT include “CONTENT”. Some linguistic and literary forms were okay (esp. in a ’spoof’ or ’emphatic contrast’ situation), but ’core’ beliefs of Israel— monotheism, faith vs. magic/omens, God’s surpassing wisdom, and the value of humanity— were NOT compromised in the literature.

Part Two, Part Three