Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bible Inerrant

I just finished reading Bart Ehrman's latest book, Jesus, Interrupted. It is a fantastic, fascinating read. One of the more interesting things about Ehrman is that he used to be a conservative, evangelical Christian, lost his faith and continues to teach Old Testament courses at UNC Chapel Hill. Another fascinating thing about Ehrman is why he lost his faith. I certainly don't want to misrepresent him, so I won't discuss his turn to agnosticism (he, too refuses to don the atheist label) but will recommend his book, God's Problem. What did not turn him away from faith was the discovery that the Bible is full of holes.

Apparently there are plenty of people in the world, plenty of Christians for whom the inerrancy of the Bible is not a sticking point. That is, they know that the Bible is not perfect but they just don't care. For them, the religion is about some other transcendent idea. For me, throughout my childhood and my adult Christian life, the Bible was flawless, every word was true and spoken to the (admittedly human) authors by God himself. On the issue of translation "errors" and additions, God's hand protected the content and guided those who compiled the canon. This view was instrumental in my own loss of faith.

Embarrassingly, it was reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code that pushed me from my seat on the fence between theism and atheism. Not to say that The Da Vinci Code convinced me by any stretch. What it did was open me up to the world of historical Biblical criticism, and in a very clumsy, hokey way, I might add. And for the record, no one book was responsible for my eventual outcome, and there was no moment in time when I realized with a flash that I was an atheist. Although if you are interested and are looking for some books on the subject, I will be happy to recommend a few of my favorites.

Enough of the distractions! After reading The Da Vinci Code, I found that the strongest link in my chain to religion was broken. I researched the issue myself and found that Dan Brown was right. The history of Christianity was full of twists and turns and drama and dark, ulterior motives. And if the Bible could not be trusted then the whole thing fell down very quickly. Why would I base my life on a text that is known to have errors?
"We don't know how many mistakes there are among our surviving copies [of the New Testament books], but they appear to number in the hundreds of thousands. It is safe to put the matter in comparative terms: there are more differences in our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament." B. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, pg 184.
I am genuinely baffled by those who continue to call themselves Christians who can acknowledge the many, many mistakes and errata in the holy books. Imagine those statistics applied to a dictionary or encyclopedia. We might continue to use the book, but we would certainly take every single item with a healthy dose of salt. And we would most definitely not make any life choices based on this flawed book. It was through this reasoning, through this break in the chain that I lost my own faith. Once I discounted the Bible, all bets were off. If there were a personal god (not to discount an impersonal, universal deity) then he/she/it had failed to make its presence known to me and by any standard I could not be expected to live my life in any particular way.

There were other fronts where I lost my faith, of course. There was the loving God vs the Cruel Universe front, the Creation vs Evolution front, the Many Exclusive Religions front, the Many Lost Religions front, among others. Faith lost to reason on each and every one. But it all started when the Bible gave way.

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