“THROUGH THE WILDERNESS,” CHAPTER 1 – HOLY SCRIPTURE: INSPIRED AND ALWAYS FACTUAL?

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8

The Bible is true, and some of it actually happened. Marcus Borg

Can Holy Scripture be inspired through the Holy Spirit without depicting reality in every respect, including all branches of physical, biological, and social sciences? For instance, what significance should we attribute to the Genesis accounts of creation when cosmological, evolutionary, and geological data argue for a much longer and more detailed picture of how the universe and life originated under God’s direction? The answer to this question of inspiration linked to scientific discoveries and theories [1] determines in large part how we view and apply Holy Scripture within our technologically based society.

Biblical Inerrancy means that Holy Scripture delivers God’s true, infallible, trustworthy, and authoritative revelation to humans. Because our perfect God cannot make mistakes or lie, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, even if filtered through human limitations, can only produce Biblical Inerrancy. Accordingly, Holy Scripture must exist totally without error.

Hebrew (Old Testament) and Christian (New Testament) Scriptures support inerrancy in the hearts and minds of some sincere Judeo-Christians. Interpretation of these passages, however, depends upon the translation of Holy Scripture used and the focus of the reference text. For instance, Psalm 12:6 from the King James Version (KJV) is often quoted to prove inerrancy: The words of the LORD are pure words: As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. On the other hand, the more modern New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) gives: The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. To my mind, promises has more relevance than words considering that Holy Scripture, which I affirm as God’s revelation, originally was written to a people who lived in a pre-scientific age.

Many people who cling to inerrancy postulate that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 confirms a literal reading of Holy Scripture: All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (NRSV). I believe science directed to exploring God’s creation and the betterment of humanity constitutes a good work in the context of inspired in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Certainly, for Christians, no area of human endeavor, including modern science, lies outside the authority and teachings of Holy Scripture; however, Biblical Inerrancy falters and confuses the situation and our understanding with attempts to make Holy Scripture a scientific textbook by using arguments inimical to science. [2]

Interpreting supposed claims in Holy Scripture for its own inerrancy opposes what we learned in grammar school: We aren’t allowed to use the same word in the definition of that word. For example, defining the color red by saying it is red or gravity is gravity makes no sense. Similarly, a statement that Holy Scripture has no errors whatsoever because Holy Scripture declares itself inerrant cannot stand the test of our God-given reason.

Proponents of Biblical Inerrancy require themselves and others to accept on faith that all humanly perceived discrepancies in Holy Scripture ultimately will be clarified through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the interim, therefore, we should not waste our time discussing any ambiguities within Holy Scripture. This fallacy falls directly into the category of blind or unenlightened and uninformed faith. I believe in the transcendence of the Holy Spirit; but, if we follow Biblical Inerrancy to its logical conclusion, “unholy” lines of investigation would be forbidden with the risk of depriving ourselves of the benefits that modern sciences, like medicine, have brought to us. Nevertheless, we must face the fact that proclaiming Holy Scripture always inerrant gives great security to some people who fear scientific advances, especially in evolutionary science.

A second attraction of Biblical Inerrancy can be termed the checklist or proof-text approach. The idea behind this tactic involves searching for various scriptural citations that purportedly address any human situation, as exemplified by murder. In the NRSV, the Sixth Commandment states: You shall not murder. The purpose of this admonition appears unequivocal; hence, Judeo-Christians can check the No box beside Murder in a theological application list and refrain from this heinous act. Further consideration suggests that checking the No box leaves open the possibility of killing other humans under some circumstances. Prime examples would be the use of lethal force in self-defense and just wars, endeavors that are killing but not murder.

The KJV renders the Sixth Commandment as Thou shalt not kill. This rendition starkly prohibits the use of deadly force even in self-defense and we see that the checklist/proof text application of Holy Scripture comes with embedded inconsistencies. Once again we must apply our intelligence to ascertain what a text really says and how it should be applied.

The third allure of Biblical Inerrancy lies in an irrational fear that may be called the Perry Mason Effect. In this old television series, Perry Mason represented defendants in criminal cases. Each episode, no matter how dire the predicament for the defendants, always resolved in their favor when Perry detected a fatal flaw in the District Attorney’s cases. Once these flaws were revealed, the prosecution’s cases collapsed like the proverbial house of cards and the defendants were exonerated. Biblical Inerrancists seem to have the attitude that, if even one aspect of Holy Scripture were shown not to have happened exactly as described, the entirety of Judeo-Christianity would fall apart, even bringing into question the existence of God.

Unquestioning belief in Biblical Inerrancy repudiates one of St. Augustine’s most liberating ideas: Judeo-Christians who believe Holy Scripture contradicts what they observe with their own eyes do not understand what Holy Scripture actually says. Keeping in mind St. Augustine’s pronouncement, Judeo-Christians attuned to our scientific and technical age can effectively deal with Biblical Inerrancy by asking and answering the following two-part question:

(a)  Did the event happen as recorded in Holy Scripture?

(b) Is the event true as recorded in Holy Scripture?

Valid two-part answers are:

(a)  Yes  (a)  No

and

(b) Yes  (b) Yes

Admittedly, some Judeo-Christians who resonate with Biblical Inerrancy have no problem with (a) yes and (b) yes yet experience great difficulty getting their minds around (a) No and (b) yes despite overwhelming non-Biblical and realistic evidence for the latter sequence being applicable to many portions of Holy Scripture. The Genesis Creation stories offer an illustrative example for (a) No and (b) Yes. Vast amounts of non-Biblical evidence oppose creation of the cosmos and life as described in Genesis; hence, (a) No seems correct. While the mechanism God used to create and maintain creation should be interesting to Judeo-Christians, the overwhelming and fundamental question about creation can be posed as, Did God create all that exists, seen and unseen, regardless of the mechanism used? We must answer with a resounding Yes; hence, sequence (a) No and (b) Yes holds without any denegation of the inspired nature of Holy Scripture.

The current mistaken, profoundly divisive, and counterproductive controversies surrounding creationism versus evolutionary science, policies to impose Judeo-Christian morality through the legal system, and how we are to deal with homosexuality furnish prime examples necessitating the utmost of our intellect, experience, and expanded rather than narrow faith—that is, our wisdom. Accepting the validity of (a) No and (b) Yes will facilitate our work in spreading the gospel message so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [3]


[1] As will be discussed in Chapter 4, rigorously obtained data lead to testable hypotheses, then to scientific theories, and subsequently to scientific laws. Scientific theories, therefore, differ dramatically from non-scientific theories based upon suppositions and inferences without supporting data. The regrettable controversy that rages between Christian proponents of the elegant theory of evolution and Christian believers in the ill-defined creation science or creationism illustrates the confusion surrounding scientific and non-scientific theories.

[2] As explained in Chapter 4, Holy Scripture and science should be regarded as complementary, not antagonistic, components of God’s realm.

[3] Philippians 2:10-11 (NRSV)

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