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Biblical infallibility

Problems with biblical infallibility

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Problems with biblical infallibility:

As noted in another essay, the term infallible refers to the fully trustworthy nature of the Bible, i.e. its text does not deceive the reader into falsehood.

As Wayne Jackson wrote in Evidence for Bible Inspiration: "Traditionally, Protestants have reserved the term [infallible]...to refer to the Bible as the only true source of faith and doctrine." 3 This concept assumes that accurate beliefs concerning deity, humanity, Earth and the rest of the univrse, and doctrine can be extracted from biblical passages.

The concept of infallibility implies that when a thoughtful, devout, studious, intelligent and prayerful Christian examines the Bible, she/he will not be led to believe an untruth. But different Christians are, in practice, led to believe in conflicting "truths."

bullet Liberal and conservative Christians have different sets of fundamental theological beliefs and thus develop different sets of moral truths regarding such topics as abortion, human sexuality, homosexuality, transgender persons and transsexuals, physican assisted suicide, salvation, etc. Each group bases their conclusions on their specific interpretation of the Bible. Since these positions are diametrically opposed, at least one group must have derived false beliefs from their biblical study.
 
bullet Even within the conservative wing of Christianity teachings differ greatly on topics such as divorce, hell, the millennium, rapture, salvation, the Book of Revelation, and creation/evolution, etc.. At least two Evangelical Christian companies, InterVarsity Press and Zondervan, have published books by leading conservative Christian theologians on these topics. The books take the form of debates between three, four or five experts. Each writer presents a different, mutually exclusive, point of view on a single Christian topic. Each argues that his own belief is derived from biblical passages, and thus is the only true viewpoint. Again, only one of the writers can hold correct views; the others must have derived false beliefs from their biblical study. By definition this implies that these leading theologians are either sloppy in their thinking or led to errors by the biblical text.

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One conflict over the exact meaning of "infallibility:"

Perhaps the greatest conflict over the concept of infallibility involves whether the 613 requirements and prohibitions of the Mosaic Code are still binding on Christians today. The Mosaic Code is contained in the Pentateuch which consists of the first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament).

There is no concensus on whether they are binding:

  • Only for the era in which each was written, or for all generations down to the present time, and

  • Only for the the culture to whom a given book in the Bible was given, or for all cultures everywhere?

Opinions differ:

  • Some Christians feel that both the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures are equally binding on all Christians today since they are all the Word of God, and God never changes.

  • Others feel that the Mosaic Code has been almost completely superceded by the Christian Scriptures.

  • Still others feel that the 613 requirements and prohibitions in the Mosaic Law are still valid and binding on Christians today, except for those that have been specifically superceded by individual passages in the Christian Scriptures.

For example, most conservative Christians selectively believe that Leviticus 18 and 20 which appear to condem at least some form(s) of same-gender sexual behavior as an abomination remain condemned today. Yet they believe that other Mosaic Laws, which also use the Hebrew term "toeyvah" (abomination), are no longer valid for today's Christians. Examples of the latter include prohibitions against the eating of shell fish, or wearing blends of textile materials -- like polyester-cotton mixes -- or sowing multiple species of grass seeds on a lawn.

One humorous example of Christians' being selective in their treatment of the Mosaic Code has been circulating around the Internet since 2004. It was in the form of a letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, allegedly from "Jim." At the time, she was host of a national radio program and an observant Orthodox Jew. She had cited Leviticus 18:22 as a biblical passage forbidding homosexual behavior under all circumstances. "Jim" allegedly sent her his tongue-in-cheek response:

"Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law.

I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Law and how to follow them.

1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not
Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

5. I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. The passage clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan. ..." 6

Different versions of this letter are signed "Jim" or "Anonymous."

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A second problem with infallibility:

As noted in the previous essay, the term "infallible" means that the Bible passages "never deceive nor mislead." They can be relied upon to be accurate. However, they appear to give a false view about the earth, sky, cause of rain, and the location of the Sun, moon, stars and comets.

Harper's Bible Dictionary states:

  • "The ancient Hebrews imagined the world as flat and round [disk], covered by the great solid dome of the firmament which was held up by mountain pillars, (Job 26:11; 37:18).

  • The blue color of the sky was attributed to the chaotic waters that the firmament separated from the earth (Gen. 1:7).

  • The earth was thus surrounded by waters above and below (Gen. 1:6,7; cf. Psalms 24:2; 148:4, Deut. 5:8).

  • The firmament was thought to be substantial; it had pillars (Job 26:11) and foundations (2 Sam. 22:8).

  • When the windows of it were opened, rain fell (Gen. 7:11-12; 8:2).

  • The sun, moon, and stars moved across or were fixed in the firmament (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:4,6). It was also the abode of the birds (Gen. 1:20; Deut. 4:17).

  • Within the earth lay Sheol, the realm of the dead (Num. 16:30-33; Isa. 14:9,15)." 7,8

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Related essays in this web site:

References:

  1. Barry R. Bickmore, "Does the Bible claim to be 'inerrant'?" The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, at: http://www.fairlds.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  2. Dave Miller, "Why I Believe in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures" http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/1992/4/
  3. Wayne Jackson, "Evidence for Bible Inspiration," Reason and Revelation 3, (1983-FEB), Pages 7-10.
  4. Millard J. Erickson, "Christian Theology," Baker, (1985), Page 241.
  5. Steven Ibbotson, "Biblical Authority," Prairie bible Institute, (2000), at: http://instructor.pbi.ab.ca/
  6. "Jim," "An open letter to Dr. Laura," Yurica Report, 2004, at: http://www.yuricareport.com/
  7. Jack DeBaun, "Bible Science Debunked: A brief introduction to biblical cosmology," at: http://home.nctv.com/
  8. Amazon.com has many editions of the Harper's Bible Dictionary and HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Used copies are often listed there at very low cost.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2012-AUG-01

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