Inerrancy in the Bible and Objectively Examining One’s Own Beliefs

Continuing on Greg’s response to “Reasons for Believing the Bible is God’s Word” I’d like to examine two other points that Roger E. Olson makes that I have encountered several times when discussing the validity of faith and the Bible with believers.

In confronting the challenge of inerrancy in the Bible, Olson first seems to sympathize with the goal of Holey Books:

“If you are depending on the Bible’s alleged inerrancy (strictly interpreted as no mistakes however minor) to believe the Bible’s theological message (gospel truth), you are in deep trouble from the start.”

He continues by comparing the problem to that of text book publishing, saying that text books that are authorities on their subject will likely contain some minor errors, and that those errors don’t undermine the general validity of the overall value of the book. He claims the same is true of the Bible. Furthermore, he argues that although existing versions of the Bible contain errors, it can be believed (i.e. taken on faith) that the original manuscripts are, in fact, inerrant, and therefore the general theological meaning of the Bible can be believed to be true.

The problem with this viewpoint is in deciding what errors are allowed to be called errors. There are some clear problems that are difficult to deny. The Moabite/Midianite story comes to mind. I’m guessing Dr. Olson would agree that this conflict comfortably qualifies as an error resulting from either mistakes in preserving the originals or as a deliberate, though sloppy change. What about errors regarding what we know of the world (as opposed to problems with internal consistency)? If the Bible is to be taken literally (which I’m not suggesting Dr. Olson does) these types of errors appear regularly (i.e. creation, the flood). If they’re simply metaphor, which parts of the Bible are open for interpretation? Many Christians are willing to admit that the stories of miracles in the Old Testament can’t be taken literally, but readily latch on to the resurrection as an actual historical event. Why? There’s just as much proof to the resurrection as to the flood.

The answer, to Olson, is that Holy Spirit helps us know. He admits that it’s impossible to demonstrate that the Bible is supernaturally inspired and that belief in its truth requires faith. This is, however foolish, his (and your) prerogative to believe. But then Olson turns around and uses this belief as evidence against other holy books, claiming that only the Bible is supernaturally inspired.

“The Bible only is supernaturally inspired and authoritative for Christian belief (doctrine). Other books for which people make that (or similar) claim are, in opinion, unworthy of it as they contain not only errors but simple nonsense. Of course, I can’t prove that to their adherents, but to anyone open-minded enough to investigate them objectively, their lacking the normative dignity of the Bible is easy to show.”

Of course, the Bible also contains plenty of complete nonsense, though, to Olson, it is not disqualifying. I suggest that Dr. Olson take his own advice for investigating religious claims objectively and try John Loftus’s outsider test for faith and maybe rethink his position.

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