At Holey Books, we’ve come across our share of scriptural commentary, and usually prefer to read what reasonable scholars (such as James Kugel) have to say about the various bits of scripture we talk about. But occasionally—as recently in a post about Rev. Billy Graham’s misguided views on the Dead Sea Scrolls—we have taken a look at what individual commentators on the blessed Interwebs are saying. And often it’s not pretty, regardless of their viewpoint.
Take Roger Olsen, who at the website Patheos, discusses the “inerrancy” (or lack thereof) of scripture. We don’t want to draw too much attention to this post, because there are many, many like it all across the Interwebs, and because it features some salient themes that find we keep coming back to on the site, I offer a partial commentary. Ryan will also be following up with another post on this topic.
Broadly speaking, Olsen’s post defends belief in the Bible regardless of errors in the Bible. He says faith in Jesus should be put in Jesus, not in the Bible itself:
The Bible is simply the Christmas-wrapped box that delivers [Jesus] to us. I believe in the Bible’s truth and authority because of him. But that in no way requires belief in absolute, technical, detailed accuracy of every statement of Scripture.
His suggestion that belief in “absolute, detailed accuracy” is not a requirement for faith is a good one. But ultimately his reasoning here is circular. The only evidence we have of Jesus’ existence comes entirely from the Bible. So it would be difficult, then, to express some sort of belief in him in any religious away that did not logically derive from what the scriptures say. I think the essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan put this kind of thing very elegantly in his essay/magazine piece Upon This Rock: “faith is a logical door which locks behind you,” he writes about discussing religion with evangelical Christians. “What looks like a line of thought is steadily warping into a circle, one that close with you inside.” That is the kind of circular reasoning Olsen seems to be making here.