I get so frustrated when I see Christians wrestle and try to make sense of inconsistencies in the Bible, rather than accepting the inconsistencies and acknowledging that the claim that the Bible is “inspired and infallible” isn’t entirely accurate.
Perhaps they are afraid that if the Bible (or their current assumptions and notions about it) crumbles, so does their worldview, their faith, their God. But if God – and faith in him – are dependent on the preservation and perfect understanding and infallibility of a 66-book human-compiled package of ancient texts, then our God and our faith are pretty weak.
God – and faith in him – exist outside of the Bible.
The preservation of the scriptures is both a gift and a curse. A gift, because some of them tell us in great detail of God’s love toward the world, and His salvation and future for them. A curse, because of all the twisted ideas, preconceptions, cultural influences, personal and cultural biases, and the systemizing tendency of humanity.
Many spiritual or religious forms of knowledge or enlightenment start out as edifying, and end up centuries later as oppressive religious systems. Martin Luther led many Roman Catholics into greater spiritual freedom and understanding through use of the Bible. Centuries later, our access to the Bible is frequently used to enslave, unfairly judge, control, support self-righteousness or inflict shame, and instill fear in others. Just as the Roman Catholic Church system was touted as the only true way – or source of the truth of God – in its “greatest” day, so the modern Bible system (including human interpretations of and teachings about the Bible) is touted as the only accessible truth of God today. Those questioning this system are often viewed as heretics or lukewarm Christians.
Humanity is always trying to codify God – to box him up into something small and neat enough that can be contained by our three-pound brains, or, in this case, by our Bibles of similar weight.
The trouble is, when we make God fit into that box, he ceases to be God. If a god at all, the three-pound god is a false and finite one.
Have you ever wondered why certain scriptures – even those quoted in the Bible, such as the Book of Enoch – were left out of the Bible? I have.
Have you ever been frustrated that original words and meanings in the Bible have been reinterpreted (intentionally or not) to have a meaning less offensive to Evangelicals or other Christians? I have.
Take Psalm 82, in which the original Hebrew uses the word elohim, which, despite desperate attempts at denial or reframing of the meaning from some Bible scholars, pretty undeniably refers to multiple “gods” (or divine beings) – a divine council.
God takes His stand in the congregation of the divine among the gods He judges
Modern texts go something like this:
God takes His stand in His own congregation;
He judges in the midst of the rulers.
How long will you judge unjustly
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah.
Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy;
Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
They do not know nor do they understand;Psalm 82, NASB
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are sons of the Most High.
“Nevertheless you will die like men
And fall like any one of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth!
For it is You who possesses all the nations.
While in a sense, “rulers” is correct, in that divine beings have been appointed as rulers, it is not true to the original Hebraic text. It also leaves the implication in modern readers’ eyes that this Psalm is referring to human rulers, rather than heavenly ones. Honestly, I think Christian apologetics would make more sense if we were to blame other “gods” for the injustices of the world (as Psalm 82 does), than to say “God just lets Man run his course.”
I understand why the thought of multiple “gods” frightens many Christians, especially when the assumption is common among Christianity that any “god” who exists must be equally powerful or worthy of worship as the God of Love manifested through Jesus Christ. I would argue that a heavenly being does not deserve reverence or worship by virtue of its power, but by virtue of its character and consistency in that character. Only the God of Love fits that bill.
According to the scholarly book The Unseen Realm which I accessed for reference a while ago, there was likely a level of heavenly beings higher than that of angels, but below God, and the word elohim was used to refer to various heavenly beings – not only God, but these rulers or members of his divine council. These were likely the “sons of God” or “sons of Heaven” mentioned in various scriptural texts, and the spiritual rulers of various nations. When Israel turned to worship other gods, it was essentially turning to worship these other, less loving and holy spiritual rulers of the earth.
The Unseen Realm carefully dissects scripture and depicts a heavenly council on earth in the early days of the garden, in which it was likely the norm for Adam and Eve to see (and perhaps interact with) heavenly beings. This is why it was not a surprise for a brazen, shiny creature to be speaking to Eve in the garden.
As we see, the “sons of God” were capable of messing up themselves, other people, and the planet. They were not on the level of purity or consistency of the God of Love, as made manifest through Jesus Christ.
These rulers are mentioned in multiple contexts, including in Ephesians 6, the famous chapter discussing spiritual warfare. But the God of Israel – the ruler over them – is the God who demonstrated His love to us through Jesus Christ, and is the only God worthy of worship.
Why was it problematic for the Israelites when they worshiped other gods aside from the God of Israel? Well, not only was that worship of evil rulers a slap in the face to the God of Love, but it was also an invitation for oppression and control from more corrupt spiritual rulers. As we see in Psalm 82, God is judging the other spiritual rulers for their lack of justice, and their oppression of the downtrodden.
Just as the “sons of God” desired to control and mistreat humanity – demonstrated in their taking for themselves the “daughters of men” before the flood – so the spiritual rulers desire to own, use, and oppress God’s children on earth today. It seems that some of them have cleverly done so through the fears, threats, and shaming of organized religion.
Today, Christians make the same mistake of following other gods, but in a way unique to our modern world. Today, Christians worship the Bible – and other forms of oppressive, systemized religion – over God Himself. They listen to their popes, priests, pastors, and theologians with reverence and awe, while doubting and quenching the voice of the Spirit within. They worship politics and money, touting them as virtuous and spiritual causes.
The spiritual rulers of this world have had to find more subtle ways to steal some of the worship of God’s flock for themselves, and to keep them in oppression. They employ men to use all the Christian buzzwords, books, and boxes – the Bible, worship services, religion, theologies – to keep God’s beloved in bondage. They cause things once pure and good to be twisted for evil purposes. They ensure that the people are afraid of leaving that bondage – afraid that they’ll even be leaving God himself if they do so. Afraid that if they rethink the place and purpose of the Bible, they’re rethinking the place and purpose of God Himself. Afraid that if they question the system, they are questioning God Almighty.
Fear is a powerful motive, which keeps good people from doing the right thing – or even knowing the right thing.
But is fear from God?
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.1 John 4:18
When we are motivated by fear, we must realize that the source of that fear is rarely, if ever, the God of Love.
But what if having the courage to question oppressive religious systems meant questioning the evil rulers and dark spiritual forces of this world?
As demonstrated so many times in the scriptures, God is not the sort of God who just abandons His people for good because they abandoned Him. And He’s certainly not the sort of God who turns away people who seek Him, or those with questions. Jesus demonstrated this so clearly in His teachings and conversations.
To question the Bible – all of it, parts of it, the purpose of it, interpretations, teachings, or translations of it, and which pieces apply to us today in which ways – is not to question God. But it may be to question the false god(s) with whom we were raised, and whom we were taught to worship.
In fact, I think it’s really dangerous when Christians make the sort of ultimatums to questioners and “unbelievers” that in order to be true Christians, they must accept all the Bible as literal and inspired, or even read it every day. If they dare to partially or wholly believe in evolution (or even not to consider evolution contradictory to the Bible) – or to see some of the early books in the Bible as more metaphorical or illustrative – then their entire belief in God must necessarily crumble. When we enforce these teachings, we make children stumble as they are seeking to enter the kingdom of God, by telling them that they can only believe in the God of Love who sacrificed Himself if they also believe in a literal six-day creation and the flood.
The Bible – What it Is and Isn’t
The Bible is Historically Informative
Like many ancient texts, the scriptures in the Bible give us keen insight into many ancient cultures, customs, and beliefs.
The Bible is Spiritually Informative
Within the Bible, we see a picture (both positive and negative) of the heavenly landscape and its interaction with earth.
We also see the ultimate story of God’s redemption plan – and events leading up to it – laid out in meticulous detail. Additionally, there is found within many of the texts a confirmation of the law written on our hearts: love God and your neighbor.
The Bible is a Reminder of God’s Love
The Bible contains passages which reassure us of God’s love and compassion for the world, and His desire for unity with it. I would not make this claim about all of the passages included in the biblical canon (and would suggest that some things attributed to God may have really been the work or commands of other evil gods or spiritual rulers, which got mashed together with God’s teachings and commandments, because biblical scholars were afraid of the notion of multiple “gods”), but we do see the God as manifested through Jesus demonstrating his love in scriptural text.
The Bible is NOT a Science Book
While there are passages in the Bible which refer to scientific phenomena and are scientifically accurate, there are other passages which, if taken literally or as science lessons, would be grossly inaccurate. Geocentrism is an example of the ways things can go wrong when the Bible is purported to be making a scientific claim which it is not (or cannot).
Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;Ecclesiastes 1:5
And hastening to its place it rises there again.
The sun does not move, but the poetry of this verse describes the sun as moving in the sky. We could doggedly claim that the Bible is 100% literal and infallible, and that it clearly literally states that the sun moves, and therefore we are going to deny scientific claims to the contrary. But isn’t it wiser to admit that the Bible a) isn’t right about everything, and/or b) doesn’t always have the purposes or meanings we intend for it?
The Bible is NOT a Rule Book for Christians
Jesus made it clear that he was giving the disciples these new commandments: love, spreading the good news, and believing in him, the one God had sent. Even prior to his new commandment of loving one another, he had summarized all the law and the prophets under one word and principle: love.
Paul made it clear in his letter to the Galatians that we who walk by the Spirit are not under the law.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.Galatians 5:18
I think Paul would be mortified if he were to see the damage done today by Christians’ systemization of his personal letters to the churches.
These letters were written for specific congregations, specific situations, and in specific cultures with certain understandings about customs, habits, and dress which do not apply today, at least in the exact same way.
For example, in Misreading Scriptures with Western Eyes – another excellent work which I accessed some time ago – I learned that in Paul’s day, braided hair and fine jewelry may have been seen as status symbols – emblems of one’s wealth. Braided hair may have been a sign that one had the help of a servant. It was probably seen as inadvisable (or even inconsiderate or divisive) to flaunt one’s wealth in the assembly. It’s unlikely Paul was arguing against cute hairstyles, makeup, or some boho homemade string-and-feather jewelry or cheap jewelry from the marketplace; he was arguing, most likely, against the equivalent of modern-day Rolex watches, diamond earrings, and Ferraris at church gatherings. When we are gathering together, the focus should be on our similarities, not our differences. The excessive wealth of some church members could be distracting, and might also inspire some false friendships, or even fear and intimidation among those less fortunate.
The Bible is NOT 100% Infallible, or Perfectly Preserved
You know how cults tend to shame people who struggle with the inconsistencies in their teachings? “If you have a problem with our teachings, then you’re the problem, and you need to work through it.”
Unfortunately, that is the same sort of shaming many Christians experience when they are struggling to reconcile inconsistencies in the Bible. They’re just “seeming” inconsistencies. If you have a problem with it, then you need to ask God to help you work through it and make sense of it.
This is a recipe for insanity.
I’ve always found the argument from Paul’s letter to Timothy about all scripture being “inspired” to be circular reasoning. Why would you defend a book by citing that very book, or an author by citing that very author?
When Paul wrote “all scripture is inspired,” I doubt he considered the epistles (letters to the churches) penned by himself and his contemporaries to be “scriptures.” It is more likely that he was referring to more ancient texts, such as (or even especially) the “law and prophets,” which point to the coming Messiah. He probably also was referring to texts such as the Book of Enoch. And he would be right if he meant that they have the educational purpose of showing how all things lead and point to Christ. In Galatians, Paul demonstrates the use of the Law as a tutor to lead us to freedom in Christ. Likely, this was the type of useful scripture-based teaching to which he was referring. I doubt he was saying that the Levitical law should be used to ensure that Christians don’t eat shellfish, or that homosexual Christian men don’t sleep with other men in committed, consensual relationships. Perhaps most or all scriptures have a purpose, but sometimes the purpose is to show us how bad things were, what not to do or believe, or why we need the God of Love. We shouldn’t be quick to assume that all rules presented in scriptural text ought to apply today, or were good rules, or were even rules of God and not another, wicked spiritual ruler.
These ancient texts are not intended as a rule book for Christians to follow, 1) because we follow the law of Love and are guided by the Spirit (and therefore not under the ancient Law), and 2) because those texts were only intended for the Jewish people at a certain time in history to follow. They were not even written for Gentiles.
Paul says that the scriptures are profitable. And with that I would agree. They can inform. They can show us what not to do, as well as inspire us toward good things. (So can movies, fables, and the newspaper; the Spirit can use anything to teach or guide us.) They can show us how things were, and the overall pattern of how things have changed over the ages – the liberation that Christ brought, and continues to bring.
But I don’t believe that the scriptures should ever be used for sheep-beating, or to tell Christians to just work harder to produce more fruit. I don’t believe that they should be used to create new laws or rules. We are under one law: love. And the only one who can keep that law (and kept it already) is God. Jesus has already made us complete in God’s eyes, and anything good we do hereafter should be from the heart or motivated by the Spirit, not by religious shame or fear.
If all scriptures are inspired, then there shouldn’t have been so many scriptures excluded and classified as apocryphal books. They’re still scriptures. For that matter, so are the Vedas. And the Vedas also contain a story that points to the saving work of Christ. So I guess they have a purpose too. They are “profitable” for teaching.
Having a so-called “infallible canon” is only necessary if people fear the leading of the Spirit, and fear a lack of control over fellow humans. Those who fear their fellow man or woman might find a book of rules or “official, God-breathed” texts very attractive.
Christians have long disagreed over which texts should be considered “canonical” or “inspired.” There is nothing wrong with admitting that the Bible – which is not even one singular book, but a compilation of 66 books by different authors – contains inconsistencies. That doesn’t in any way diminish the beauty or the informative nature of ancient scriptures. But yes, it may diminish our view of it as being the pope, er…the mouthpiece of God.
When in doubt about which of two conflicting points to follow, look to the example, teachings, and heart of Jesus.