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Is the Bible inerrant?

Three inconclusive indicators of biblical inerrancy/errancy

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Proving biblical inerrancy or errancy:

As described elsewhere on this site, proving biblical inerrancy or errancy appears to be impossible. Ultimately, these beliefs must be accepted on faith. However, if proofs are not available, at least we might be able to derive some strong indicators of inerrancy or errancy. The most promising route may be to study themes and general topics seen throughout the Bible.

We have examined twelve themes. Nine seem to support biblical errancy. Four indicators are located in one essay; five in another. The following three are inconclusive. We have found no indicators that support biblical inerrancy. If any reader knows an additional biblical theme that might indicate or prove errancy or inerrancy, please E-mail us.

The three themes listed below are described very briefly, and in general terms. We hope to expand each description into a full essay sometime in the future.

Indicator 1: Presence of accurate prophecies:

bulletPossibility 1: The Bible is God's word. Some conservative Christians believe that it was directly written by God using human authors and a type of dictation process. Others believe that it was written by humans under the inspiration of God. Either way, God prevented the authors from making errors; this would include making errors when predicting events that will happen in the future, and their outcomes. Any prophecy that appears in the Bible would thus be certain to come true, either in our past, now, or at sometime in our future.
 
bulletPossibility 2: The Bible was written by fallible humans without direct inspiration from God. Thus, the Bible would contain errors, including errors in foretelling the future. The authors might make some lucky guesses so that some of the prophecies in the Bible would come true. But, not knowing the future precisely, most of their predictions would be in error.
 
bulletWhat the Bible actually says: Various modern-day writers have counted many hundreds of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) alone. But there is no consensus about what percentage have come true:
 
bulletConservative Christians generally state that, for example, all of the 200 or so prophecies in the  Hebrew Scriptures that foretold the life of Jesus Christ came true, and that they were 100% accurate. They believe that hundreds of additional prophecies not related to Jesus have already come true.
 
bulletSkeptic Tim Callahan believes that not one "real" prediction has conclusively come true. He has very stringent rules for what defines a "real" prophecy. 1
 
bulletConclusion: Until we are able to sort out this contradiction, we will have to refrain from accepting the accuracy of Bible prophecy as an indicator of either errancy or inerrancy.
 
bulletMore info: See our menu on the accuracy of Bible prophecy

Indicator 2: Presence of Bible codes:

bulletPossibility 1: The Bible was written by God (or written by human authors who were directly inspired by God). God inserted Bible codes into the text as a sign of his presence.
 
bulletPossibility 2: The Bible was not written or inspired by God and no such codes were inserted. Alternatively, God may have influenced the writing but had decided to not leave signs of his existence.
 
bulletWhat research shows: Michael Drosnin, in his book "The Bible Code," 2 described remarkable findings of equidistant letter sequence (ELS) codes buried in the book of Genesis. These codes formed words that made a number of predictions, from political assassinations in the recent past to devastating earthquakes in the near future. The book reached the #3 spot on the New York Times best-seller list. By 1999-OCT, nine similar books had been written to promote the idea of hidden codes. Statisticians were at a loss to explain the findings. But further research indicated that codes are found with equal frequency in Genesis, Tolstoy's "War and Peace," in Melville's Moby Dick, or in any sufficiently long text. Drosnin stated to a reporter "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in 'Moby Dick', I will believe them." Shlomo Sternberg took him up on his offer; he found 13. So did Brendan McKay. He found references in Moby Dick to the assassinations of or by Indira Gandhi, Rene Moawad, Leon Trotsky, Martin Luther King Jr., Engelbert Dollfuss, Sirhan Sirhan, John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Yitzhak Rabin and Princess Diana. 3 Drosnin's apparent response to this expose was to write "Bible Code II: The Countdown" and make more profit. 4

Possibility 2 is the correct option.
 
bulletConclusion: If codes had been found uniquely in Genesis, and not in secular novels of similar length, then one might conclude that they were placed there by God. The task of inserting ELS coding would be beyond the ability of humans because only God could predict the future with the necessary degree of accuracy. If God were so intimately involved in the creation of Genesis, then one might assume that he would preserve the human authors from error. But codes such as are seen in Genesis occur in any sufficiently large text. So, either God does not exist, or he does exist but decided to not leave coded messages in the text. This test is inconclusive.

Lifespan of Bible patriarchs:

bulletPossibility 1: The Bible is God's word. God prevented the authors from making errors. One theme in the Bible is that Adam and some descendents for a few generations had lifespans of many centuries. Adam, Seth and Methusela lived 930, 912 and 969 years respectively. 5 "According to the Torah, Terah had died at the age 205, Abraham at 175 and Isaac at 180." 6 Some conservative Christians believe that Adam and Eve's lifespan might have been infinite except for their sin, and that as the effects of sin permeated all of creation, everyone's lifespan got progressively shorter until it reached today's "three score years and ten." (BTW, I reached this milestone on 2006-DEC-20, and so am currently living on borrowed time).
 
bulletPossibility 2: The Bible was written by fallible humans without direct inspiration from God. Thus, the Bible would contain errors, including errors in lifespan. Many myths and legends from around the world tell of distant ancestors who survived for centuries. The Biblical stories might have been picked up these myths from nearby cultures and applied them to their own culture's ancient heros. People who lived at the time of Adam, Abraham, Solomon etc. would have actually had a lifespan which was normal for those without modern medical treatment -- i.e. perhaps 30 years. It would have been extremely rare for a person to reach their 90s, let alone live for centuries.
 
bulletWhat archeology says: Specialist forensic archeologists can estimate the age at death of a person on the basis of their bones. For children and youth, this can be done by measuring the length of long bones and examining which teeth have erupted. Estimates become much less accurate beyond the age of 30. Tooth wear is one method of estimating age. Unfortunately, it is dependent on the type of food that the person ate during their lifetime. This measuring technique would be useless if applied to skeletons from the time of Abraham, etc. We only have a rough idea of their diet. Also, if degeneration set in due to original sin of Adam and Eve, one would expect that teeth might have been much more resistant to wear in ancient times. So tooth wear of a 900 year old might resemble the that of a 60 year-old today.

"Soilheap" writes:

Another method is to use the changes which occur at the pubic symphsis (the joint at the front of the pelvis). This is generally ridged in the young adult, and becomes progressively smoother with age (other changes are also taken into consideration). However, this part of the skeleton is rarely preserved in ancient skeletons, and the method is very difficult to use accurately when it is. 7

There is a technique that has been used on dinosaur bones. Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies at Bozeman, MT, practices what he calls "destructive paleontology." He shaves off very thin slices of dinosaur bones and examines them under a microscope. He is able to detect annual growth rings, much like those of trees. The precise age at death of the dinosaur can be determined by simply counting the rings. We can find no record of this technique having been used to estimate human age at death. However, it may have potential. 8

In summary, there is no way to prove disprove extreme longevity in people who lived thousands of years ago. However, research in the future may make this possible.

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Related essay on this web site:

bulletFour indicators (and no proofs) of Biblical errancy.
bulletFive indicators (and no proofs) of Biblical errancy.

Conclusion:

The three indicators above are currently inconclusive; none supports either the inerrancy or errancy of the Bible. More study is needed.

References

  1. Tim Callahan, "Bible prophecy: Failure or fulfillment?," Millennium Press, (1997), Page 6. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  2. Michael Drosnin, "The Bible Code," Touchstone Books, (1998). Read reviews or order this book.
  3. Brendan McKay "Assassinations foretold in Moby Dick," (1977), at: http://cs.anu.edu.au/
  4. Michael Drosnin, "Bible Code II: The Countdown," Penguin Books, (Reprinted 2003). Read reviews or order this book.
  5. See: Genesis 5:5, Genesis 5:8 and Genesis 5:27,
  6. Ismar Schorsch, "Parashat HaShavua," 1997-NOV-29, at: http://learn.jtsa.edu/
  7. Sue Anderson, "Skeletons in the cupboard: what a human bone specialist can tell from your bones," Spoilheap, (1993) at: http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/
  8. Peter Calamai, "Dinosaur hunters finding new clues in those old bones," Toronto Star, 2006-APR-08. Page F4.

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or Home page > Christianity  > Bible TopicsInerrancy > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-APR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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