The Falling Away of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson is Merely A Symptom of A Larger Issue Plaguing The Church

Assumptions, Faith and Facts

I grew up in Northern Ohio, in rather small towns. Nothing about my childhood was particularly “religious” in nature, other than the fact that I went to a Catholic school. By “religious” I mean the practice of faith, not the belief in anything. It was not until I was 16 that I became interested in “being” a Christian. I put “being” in quotes because at some level most Americans believe they are Christian, however, not nearly as many Americans attempt to live a life according to Christian beliefs. In other words, most Americans, my old self included, are cultural Christians. In academics, this type of faith is usually referred to an nominal Christianity.

Nominal Christians believe in the teachings of Christianity for the most part but their faith is one of only minimal importance. They don’t usually read the Bible for themselves. They don’t usually attend Church services except for social purposes. They don’t really understand all that Christianity teaches, nor do they really understand where some of those beliefs come from. A nominal Christian believes based on cultural assumptions that the religion is correct. They might not realize it, but the foundation of their beliefs is heavily formed from the assumption that certain truths exist. Those truths are rarely challenged. Below are some of the assumptions that the nominal Christian brings to the table.

  1. God exists
  2. Heaven and Hell exists
  3. The Bible is a series of writings that God inspired teachers and prophets to write
  4. The Bible is inerrant and trustworthy in every way
  5. The Church throughout the ages has affirmed these truths so we don’t have to investigate things

There are probably more assumptions that I personally had before really becoming a Christian but these are the ones that I already had when I started going to church. These assumptions made it easy for me to become a Christian. If I already believed in the truth of the “good book” then all I was lacking was to read it, learn it, and adjust my life to line up with it. In essence, this is the goal of most Christians. To get right with God and secure for themselves a place in Heaven.

The interesting thing about these base assumptions is that they are the same base assumptions for all variety of Christians. The baby Christian and the seasoned Christian both hold these assumptions. The same is true for a non-Christian living in the USA. Some of these 5 assumptions will be true to them. What I mean to say is that whether one grows up in the church or not, it’s likely that they will posses the same core beliefs of the faith.

Why does any of this matter?

I bring up the issue of cultural religious assumptions because they are so ingrained in our society that it’s actually difficult to convince a person that they are assumptions and not facts. But they are assumptions, not verifiable facts. I know that a number of apologetic types are offended by such a statement so I will address this claim later in the post.

The minute that a Christian begins treating these 5 assumptions as assumptions, rather than facts, then they begin the long journey towards liberal Christianity or towards rejection of faith. Additionally, the longer a person is a Christian, the more painful this journey is going to be. The longer you believe an assumption is a truth, the more difficult it will be to challenge that assumption. For many Americans these assumptions are planted firmly in them even as a child. Deconstructing a belief (assumption or true) is incredibly difficult if it was held since childhood.

To demonstrate the difficulty of belief deconstruction one only has to attend the first semester of Bible college or seminary. Bible colleges and seminaries have introductory classes called hermeneutics which attempts to teach new students how to question their beliefs in an academic method. Nearly all institutions of higher learning have recognized that these assumptions are present and sometimes they hinder the learning process. The goal of a good hermeneutics class is to teach the student to deal with the following the questions:

  1. Why do you believe that certain thing?
  2. Where does the source of that belief come from?
  3. What other interpretations can be drawn from the source material of said belief?
  4. Given the variety of sources and possible alternatives, can the belief/assumption stand?

You can usually spot a first year Bible student in your church because they have just recently learned to question and challenge the beliefs and practices of the church. They walk around at social functions and ask questions to people like: why do we look down when we pray when the Bible doesn’t instruct us to do so? They take pleasure in the fact they have discovered a new tool that allows them to better define their faith and correct possible errors in it.

This ability to challenge assumptions and reinforce the faith is critical for pastors. However, it can also be destructive. Not all people are able to deconstruct their beliefs without falling into the pit of doubt and disbelief. The road to falling away from the faith starts with the following question: if I was wrong about that one thing, how many other things am I wrong about? Once a person become aware that their beliefs are suspect because they are assumptions and not facts, the journey has truly began. This is the journey that guys like Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson are currently on.

From hermeneutics to heretic

For many Bible college grads, going to school reinforced their faith. It also helped them to see that the extremism of the fundamentalist denominations is rooted mostly in assumptions and not facts. The average Bible college grad understands the variety of Christian beliefs and why so many Christians differ in their beliefs. They have not necessarily become “liberal” but they have realized that fundamentalism is dangerous because it’s foundation is laid on the fact that, that group alone holds the “true” faith. There is only one way. However, the typical Bible college graduate is still be capable of fundamentalism and extremism, though, not as likely as a Christian who did not attend Bible college. Nevertheless, most students of the Bible go on to hold beliefs that are largely in-line with mainstream Christianity and they end up leading healthy churches and ministries.

A small portion of those students go on to even higher education, usually seminary or divinity school, and they commit to an even further deconstruction of their assumptions. Many become liberal Christians, realizing that many of their previously held assumptions were not well founded and that the Bible is not very clear on some issues. By the end of seminary, many Christians have either validated their assumptions as being worthy of standing as facts or they have become even more liberal in their beliefs, having found less answers and more questions. This is why fundamentalist churches refer to seminary as “cemetery”.

A small sub-sect of seminary graduates will go on to finish a Ph.D, in which they will study a very specific field, such as textual criticism of the gospels, or semitic language and culture in the ancient near east. Many doctoral students of the Bible are either liberal in their beliefs or have drastically altered their beliefs to be almost unrecognizable from mainstream Christian teaching. Are these people heretics? Are the confused? I submit that they are neither. They simply examined their assumptions and found them to be less than factual.

The Day I Began To Challenge My Assumptions

At 23 years old, I was still full of assumptions about my faith, even though I had now been a committed Christian for 7 years. I had spent nearly all my time, since age 16, going to Bible studies, various churches, and connecting with Christians. I engaged in occasional apologetics and I read as much of the Bible as I could. I studied theological debates between denominations and I could not wait to begin Bible college. My previous education was in engineering, which was good because I had no idea how many more years I would end up in school studying the Bible. I could not have paid for any of it if I did not already have a career in engineering.

Before taking any classes I was already familiar with hermeneutical methods and how to challenge my beliefs. Just a year earlier I had read “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman and it wrecked me temporarily. It dropped on the scene of evangelical Christianity so hard that a slew of apologetic books and preachers cropped up, that made it their mission to defeat Bart Ehrman. Over-night, Bart became enemy #1. I did not see him as an enemy but as a guy that was just following the evidence, even if I thought his conclusions were misguided.

For me, the book made me question the doctrine of inerrancy, a doctrine that most Christians live or die by. Indeed, modern popular evangelical teachers have made a living out of convincing people that the scriptures don’t contain a single error, therefore it must be the word of God. I have even heard apologists say that their are only “apparent” errors in the Bible. An apparent error is just another way of saying that the problem resides on the end of the reader not the text.

The problem with that type of thinking is that the Bible does indeed contain errors and most atheists can easily point them out. There is no difference between apparent errors and errors. Apparent errors only exist if one holds that the Bible is the word of God. Yet apologists will incredulously claim that the they know the Bible is the word of God because it doesn’t contain errors. So this begins the flawed logic of circular reasoning. The Bible is said to  be the word of God because it’s free from errors, yet it’s only free of errors because it’s the word of God. It’s an infinite loop.

Rather than just thinking of inerrancy as a theological argument, which as how it’s treated in Reformed circles, I decided to just search the Bible for errors. My reasoning was that no book or person can prove a claim by merely making the claim. It’s circular reasoning. The inerrancy of the Bible should not be based on the fact that verses in the Bible claim that it’s inerrant. It should be based on the fact that I cannot actually find any errors in the Bible. In other words, let’s not start with the assumption that the Bible is the word of God and just examine it for errors.

As it turned out, the Bible contains errors. The NT misquotes the OT in a dozen or more places. the book of Chronicles changes details from stories that are recorded in Kings and Samuel. Factual errors exist such as rabbits chewing cud and the earth being flat with a “foundation” and four corners. The gospel writers get dates wrong. They contradict each other, sometimes dramatically. There is no way to harmonize the empty tomb accounts in the four gospels. The list can go on.

What to make of all these errors?

I was okay with chalking them up to human error. After all, if God entrusted humans with something, it’s going to have the fingerprints of humans all over it. This is why a lot of pastors with higher educations will state that only the original manuscripts of the Bible are inerrant. However, we don’t have any originals so that claim is unprovable. There is no way to test it unless we find originals and even then could we prove they were originals?

It’s at this juncture in biblical study that most Christians either fall away, like Bart Ehrman, or they become more liberal in their theology. Joshua Harris fell away as did Marty Sampson. I just became more liberal. I had hoped that going through Bible college would help be find answers to these problems. It didn’t. A lot of what I learned from Bart Ehrman and my own personal studies is what first year Bible students learn….. if it’s a true academic institution. Because I was only a Christian for a short number of years before academia, I was rather mold-able and capable of adapting. Others in my classes were not as flexible. Even in matters of just theology some struggled hard to adapt.

In a NT class, covering the Pastoral Epistles and the Book of Revelation, I recall having to read a short book titled “Four Views on the Book of Revelation”. I suspect most Bible colleges use this book as a primer. It’s such a widely read book now that even the newest Bibles include a study note on the 4 views to the Book of Revelation. The four views are all plausible. However, one of the older students in class (late 50’s) struggled with deconstructing his long-held view one the interpretation of Revelation. He had grown up on southern theology which was heavy on the literalism of Revelation. For him, the question was pre or post millennial, not preterism or spiritualism. He admitted that after reading the book that he could no longer support his previous belief about interpreting the book. But he didn’t know an alternative to go to. He actually looked lost. Some people cannot handle losing faith in their assumptions, even if they are insignificant ones.

For the rest of the students, we were eager to learn more. I saw few classmates fall away in Bible college, though, I heard rumblings of some here and there who quite school to either avoid the challenges or because they didn’t know what to make of things. However, I was not deterred and off I went to seminary for another dose of realism.

From Fundamentalism to Atheism

For most Christians, like Joshua Harris, growing up in a very conservative environment was a hindrance in the long run, not an advantage. Fundamentalist groups go through drastic measures to reinforce the assumptions of conservative Christian doctrines and practices. They preach that they are the only way and all others are wrong. Often, they border on the line of being a modern cult.

Fundamentalist churches create all kinds of Christian alternatives to secular things so that their adherents wont even come into contact with something that could challenge their faith. They make movies, museums, and even schools dedicated to reinforcing their assumptions and practices. My first run-in with fundamentalists was when was 18 and I discovered that entire churches only read the KJV because supposedly the other versions were corrupted. I was perplexed that large groups of people could just believe something that was so easy to disprove. Ironically, at the time I still believe that the Bible was inerrant. I had yet to challenge my own assumptions vigorously.

Most conservative Christians spend study time learning arguments that support their already held beliefs. What they do NOT do is go out of their way to study arguments that contradict their faith. Such study is dangerous. The deconversions of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson are the proof. Both Sampson and Harris have lamented the complete lack of answers to the questions that have challenged their faith.

For Joshua Harris, I am assuming his challenges came when he finally took education serious, took a break from pastoring, and attended Bible college. He went to a great academic school in Canada and soon crumbled. For Sampson I am not sure what began his journey of questioning, however, it’s clear that he is frustrated with the lack of answers.

This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.

I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth.

(Marty Sampson)

I think Sampson has struck the problematic nail on the head. So much about Christianity, we are told to believe even though it does not make sense and even though it seems to be in contradiction with the Bible. Moreover, why are so few people dealing with the issues of the Bible in a meaningful way? Why are only atheists talking about slavery, rapes, and violence in the OT?

I can feel his frustration. I started this website way back in 2012 because I wanted to spur on debate about the Bible’s problematic passages. I found few professors even in seminary that could provide sufficient answers. Few commentaries took the time to deal with problematic passages. Even academic Hebrew and Greek commentaries tended to skirt some of the deeper theological and historical issues.

How is it okay to murder innocent babies? How could a loving God send anyone to eternal hell-fire for simply not believing? Why did the gospels completely take the OT prophets and Psalms out of context every time they quoted from them? Why are so many of the NT teachings completely disconnected from OT teaching?

Luckily, my faith was never in the perfection of the Bible and I am able to follow after God without having all the answers. Sadly, fundamentalists rarely follow the same path that I did. Once the hole is poked in their dam of beliefs, the hole just grows until the dam breaks and they deconvert. I have witnessed this countless times. The reason is simple…..

A house of even modest foundations can be rebuild and reinforced. Holes can be patches and joists can be sistered. It can withstand some storms. Eventually it will either be rebuilt or it will fall. A house build of cards will eventually just topple. There is no storm it can weather. There are no patches or reinforcements. Once a single card is nudged, the whole thing falls. A slight breeze brings total destruction.

This is the core problem with fundamentalism. It’s built on a very rigid set of poorly researched assumptions and fundamentalists are taught that this is the only way. There are no alternatives. So, when a fundamentalist realizes they had been taught something that is incorrect, they have no alternative to turn to. They can’t turn to the liberal Christians because they are wicked non-believers; or so they were told. They rarely re-brand or re-tool themselves. They often just fall away.

This is the story of so many other Christians who have fallen away, not just Harris and Sampson.

Aleister Crowley was the child of two traveling fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren preachers. Bart Ehrman was born-again in a fundamentalist Baptist environment. Matt Delahunty was part of a conservative church; who, by they way, still believe that the devil has stolen Matt from them. Most of the guys who are on Matt’s show, The Atheist Experience, were, at one time, committed fundamentalist Christians. I worked with a number of atheists who admitted to once being “Bible thumpers”. There is no shortage of Christians turned into atheist. They usually fall away for legitimate reasons, not because the Devil stole them.

The difference between a lifelong Christian and one that deconverts is how they approach their beliefs. A fundamentalist says “this is what I believe, try and prove me wrong”. Once proven wrong they usually fold or reject the proof. A liberal Christian says “this is what I believe, but should I believe it?”

See the difference? One view doubles down on their assumptions until they are proven wrong. The other investigates their assumptions, making changes if necessary.

What does one do when they lose faith in something but don’t have an alternative explanation?

A number of my fundamentalist friends who fell away over the years went through the deconstruction that Joshua Harris speaks of. In his now famous Instagram post Harris seems to know that he no longer fits the mold of Christian belief that he’s come to understand, yet he does not know where he fits in the new reality.

“I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away,'”

(Joshua Harris)

I have read countless blogs and articles trying to rationalize Harris’ deconstruction as a product of “liberal” Regent College or postmodern theology. Others declare that he was never really saved or else he would not have fallen away.

I propose another theory. Joshua Harris is simply finding himself now that he has learned that his fundamentalist assumptions have no real foundation. He has never seriously been challenged in his assumptions until he went to school and I am sure he believed that Regent would bolster his Bible knowledge, not challenge it. Like Many Bible college and seminary students, he is wrestling with the fact that there is far more in the Bible then he was aware of and some of it is incredibly difficult to deal with.

I applaud his honestly to grapple with these issues in an honest way. I appreciate that he is willing to challenge his assumptions, even though someone with his level fame in the conservative circles will draw the ire of many. The same is true for Marty Sampson.

Finding Answers

I hope that Harris’ and Sampson’s quests for answers are long enough to lead them to something satisfying. We are not the first generation to grapple with these issues. The early church grappled with the same issues. Their writings are sometimes very helpful and other times not helpful at all. Great Christian thinkers also exist even in our own day. They usually teach at the various colleges and seminaries that happen to toss so many into deconversion. Do not be afraid to talk to them privately.

We must also talk to seasoned Christians in our local churches. I started to take my faith serious before I had a clue what was in the Bible. The people that we see on a weekly basis usually have incredible stories about the miraculous and about encounters with the divine. These stories are an absolute gift and we must provide an opportunity for them to be told.

I was in my 30s before I learned that my aunt hand-typed the original draft of the Civil Rights bill while working in a law office many years ago. I simply could not believe she was so involved in such an influential piece of history and never mentioned it. She simply said “I didn’t think anyone would care to listen to my stories”. This seems to be the case with many Christians. They definitly have a reason for the hope that is in them, we just need to ask about them and listen, without trying to fit them into our theological boxes.

Untimely, our faith is a matter of faith. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead on faith, not on fact. We believe that a benevolent God is in control of the universe on faith. We cannot prove these things beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Bible is a narrative and history of people wrestling with their own faith, a faith that was changed and adapted over the centuries. It’s not a magic book that can lead us to all truth and knowledge, as long as we just read it a certain way.

Stop The Bleeding

Quite some time ago I wrote a short piece called “The Biggest Threat to Christianity is Christianity“. In it I briefly addressed some thoughts on why people are reluctant to go to church or to explore Christianity. However, I think that Christianity has more problems than just attracting new recruits. It’s struggling to hold into existing ones.

Christians often cannot find answers to difficult questions. When they do find answers, they are usually getting them from bad sources or sources hostile to Christianity. Until the church makes a better attempt at challenging people’s beliefs and then guide them with wisdom as they explore their own faith, the church will continue to see many fall away, due to lack of answers to difficult questions.

Until churches stop teaching people that there is only one way to believe or only one denomination is correct, we will continue to produce Christians who simply cannot handle having their beliefs challenged. Moreover, until we end the modern trend of pastors leading churches with zero biblical education, we will continue to see a generation of poorly equipped Christians falling away when their faith is even mildly challenged.

We have to demand more of our pastors and religious leaders than merely giving a motivating sermon on Sunday. If they are not prepared to explore the challenges in the Bible the an atheist will easily take up the role for them.

Lastly, it’s time to change the larger dialog around biblical inerrancy. Until Christian leaders address the errors and contradictions in the Bible, Christians will continue to fall away. If a believe in the Bible is predicated on inerrancy, it’s only a matter of time before that belief is challenged to the point where it dies completely. The claim of complete biblical inerrancy is simply a lazy substitute for faith.


4 thoughts on “The Falling Away of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson is Merely A Symptom of A Larger Issue Plaguing The Church”

  1. I cannot agree that the Samuel/Chronicles divergence qualifies as an “error”. That is so far removed from any and all theology as to make it absurd. I never said that the human involved in perpetuating, observing, recording, preserving, copying, or translating the text were inerrant. In fact, I do not believe I said that the Bible was inerrant. I think I merely disagreed with two of your initial postulations. The Bible is not just text on a surface whose signification is established by universally agreeable understandings of the characters used to convey it. One has to account for the human factor—the human scribe, the human copyist, the human theologian, the human archaeologist, the human translator, the human reader. Divine thought is too vast to be contained in mere words; our words and our language are creations of our mortal intellects. Since we are inferior to God, and since our minds are unable to fully fathom the essence of God, how much less would our language be able to capture rhema? As I discuss in a ( Genesis précis), humans misconstrue the Genesis 1 creation narrative as indicating a solar day. Clearly, the periods rendered as “days” mean a phase or period of time. Why? Because the sun, moon, and stars are not created until day four and without those there can be no solar day. By extension, this also means that the “light” of day one was not sunlight either. In said précis I do propose alternate “translations” and by translation I do not mean only linguistic translation but thought translation as well. After all, the person who hears an interlocutor say “elephant” does not mentally envision those eight letters on a mental screen. No, the word usually conjures a mental image of the animal. We humans translate abstract and inarticulate thought into into media of communication whether that be art, gesticulation, sound/speech, or text/symbol. Successful communication involves negotiating imperfections inherent to all media of communication. Childcare and eldercare are prime and abundant examples of compensating for major communicative disparities. Inerrancy lies not in the media of communication but in the message communicated. By way of example, both of the passages you cite are erroneous if read literally. No one person could slaughter even 1,000 people hand-to-hand combat. Not only is it presumptively beyond human capability, but it is so statistically improbable that one man could last that long in battle without being struck down himself by, if nothing else, the lucky blow of some other combatant. After all, it’s not like 1,000 soldiers line up in single file and go one-on-one with Rambo. Nope, war is chaos. But my point is that “David” is a synecdoche, a metaphor. Read literally, both accounts are utter fiction so does the extravagance of artistic license really matter? Would it change the message communicated? No, it doesn’t. The very act of writing scripture instantly enlarges its dimensions from thought to text and all text is, well, literature. Even chemistry formulae are literature and a chemist extra spacing between an F and Sr might unconsciously reveal a crucial fact not expressed in the formula–perhaps that the chemist had to pause to double check something or perhaps that the chemist paused to sneeze. One is possibly insightful, one is possibly amusing. But whichever the interpretation of such spacing irregularity, the fact remains that even something as redemonstrable as a chemical formula, when written, acquires literary properties. Scripture is no exception. It is simultaneously rhema and logos (in the Greek sense, not in the theological sense). The adventure and excitement lie in discovering the actual meaning, or as the NT observes, in “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Children read; adults reason.

    • Perhaps I misunderstood your opening statement. As I read your second comment it appears that you are advocating a position that would suggest the Bible is errant because of human involvement. However, it seems that you also believe the Bible would be inerrant in it’s theology? It seems as though the rejection of my example is because it does not impact anything theological. If I am wrong feel free to correct me.

      I am not 100% sure how a discussion of creation is not in order but why not. I’ll take the low hanging fruit.

      ***** “Clearly, the periods rendered as “days” mean a phase or period of time. Why? Because the sun, moon, and stars are not created until day four and without those there can be no solar day.” *****

      Your argument goes all the back to Augustine but I don’t believe it’s correct. The creation account clearly assumes an actual day which is why on day #1 God creates light and dark and a day is calculated as “evening” and “morning”. “God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day”.

      Now, is it possible that the story was not meant as a scientific account, and therefore, should not be held to the scientific definition of a day? Sure, I would buy that. But there is no other place in the Bible where yom means anything but a day or days. Of course there are idioms like the days of unleavened bread or the days of king so and so. But that is not the same as equating yom(singular) with an unspecified and ambiguous amount of time.

      ***** “Inerrancy lies not in the media of communication but in the message communicated.” *****

      This is one of those sayings that sound wise but doesn’t really mean anything. How could one possibly “test” a hypothesis of an inerrant message unless by the information and contents of the message? How would one differentiate between the inerrant “message” of the Bible VS that of the Quran or of the Book or Mormon? Do not both claim to contain revelation from God?

      Also, if we take everything to be figurative you betray the intent of the original authors. The authors of the historical texts were not saying that David personally slew all the enemies by himself. It is implied in the story that David led his forces into battle to slay the enemies. Not just David either. Joab was also there to lead the men.

      “When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best men of Israel and arrayed them against the Syrians.” (2 Sam 10:9)

      I am not saying that all of the Bible is meant to be read literally but I am saying that the historical books of the Bible intended to record actual history, as well as a theological message. Books like Job are clearly intended to communicate a message of theology and not of history.

  2. Too long to read all the way through. However, I do see some points with which I disagree in part, especially in the area of inerrancy. I think one has to postulate that God is inerrant, but that God is inerrant *because* God is sovereign. And because God is sovereign, when God calls the things that are not as though they are, those things become according to his word. I find no contradiction or cognitive dissonance in an unchanging God and in a capricious God. Now I’m not saying that God is capricious (that was more the realm of the Romans and Greeks), but then again, isn’t God described as jealous? And jealousy (at least as we mortals understand it) can lead to some rather unpredictable decisions. And even when God had made up his/her/its mind to do a thing, there are instances in which God changed his/her/its mind.

    Two passages in particular seem to create the precondition that God is exempt from human characteristics:

    Numbers 23:19 (NIV)
    God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

    1 Samuel 15:29 (NIV)
    He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.

    But there are clear instances where God in fact changed his mind and/or altered a declared course of action. Consider these passages:

    Genesis 18:23-32 (NIV)
    Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 26The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” 29Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” 30Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” 32Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

    Exodus 32:10-14 (NIV)
    Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” 11But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

    Numbers 14:12-20 (NIV)
    I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” 13Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” 20The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.

    Numbers 16:21-24 (NIV)
    “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” 22But Moses and Aaron fell face down and cried out, “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?” 23Then the Lord said to Moses, 24“Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’”

    2 Kings 20:1-6
    In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” 2Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3“Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5“Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”

    These passages should not be (mis)construed that God is fickle, that God will always change his mind, nor that we can compel God to change his mind. God is sovereign, the very definition of which means God enjoys executive prerogative to do whatever he wants without lessening his divinity. But that having been said, there is no harm in praying for God’s mercy. Even Jesus prayed for God to change his mind: “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt 26:39 NIV). But Jesus also qualified his request: “yet not as I will, but as you will.”

    I would take issue with the position that “apparent contradictions” are the same as “contradictions.” In high school geometry we are taught that parallel lines are straight and everywhere equidistant (and by consequence never intersect). But that is true *only* of Euclidean geometry. In hyperbolic geometry, the character and definition of “parallel” is much looser and account for phenomena like asymptotes. In hyperbolic geometry, curved lines, asymptotic lines, and even skew lines are, and may be described as, parallel. And even lines which visually seem to intersect may be inspected more closely to see that there is a point of what I would call “heisenberg” discontinuity where both lines are continuous, but neither can be continuous at the same time as the other (though that is really just a theoretical thought exercise of mine; skew lines are actually just on different planes). My point is that the existence of an apparent contradiction in the seemingly universal definition of “parallel” would be same thing as a contradiction only if one confines oneself to a particular paradigm or cognitive construct. I thin that those who defend inerrancy by recasting it as “apparent contradiction” are in fact simply acknowledging that their own mortal intellect is intrinsically and immeasurably inferior to that of a deity. We homo sapiens still cannot reconcile the strong and weak forces of attraction (cosmos and atom), yet we do not relegate such things to contradiction or apparently contradiction. We know that the inability to explain the incongruence of such forces is the fault of our intellectual immaturity. So I would assert that one can maintain the inerrancy of God and assign “apparent contradiction” to the fault of our limited intellect. Like skew lines, it’s a question of perspective.

    But I would also say that inerrancy is not the same thing as superlinear or extralinear perfection. By this I mean that the first automobiles were, in every since, “perfect” but still capable of improvement. The capacity for subsequent improvement does not negate the initial state of perfection. The technical improvement of the latter works of Renoir does not diminish the perfection of his earlier works. What would it say about a perfect God to have created such imperfect human? We can hardly say that God is imperfect for designing such a frail and corrupt creature “in his image”. No, God created precise what suited his design specifications at the time. And for all we know, God created corruptible humans so that through the refinery we should become incorruptible….like God. But again, God’s sovereignty, like that of the master potter, means that God is free to experiment without any imputation of unskillfulness or error.

    Now THAT would be hard for fundamentalist minds to grasp. Those same minds would explode at the classic disputation of whether an omnipotent god could create a boulder too massive to be moved by said god. From where I stand, the disputation is ill-conceived. First, who are we mortals to presume that God must prove anything to our satisfaction? Second, what hubris it is to think that God should deign to jump through our hoops! Third, why does our cleaver disputation fail to take into account the absurdity of conflating energy and matter? The act of creation is one in which energy becomes matter. That comports with the laws of thermodynamics, but until we humans can actually explain how energy would become matter, we have absolutely no standing to raise such disputations. We can only convert matter to energy, not the other way around. If we could understand how to turn energy to matter, then we might also understand the flaw in our “apparently” cleaver logic.

    • I kinda assumed that people would disagree with errancy claim. Once upon a time I would have provided a similar philosophical argument that you provided. So I completely understand where you are coming from and I understand the desire to believe in biblical inerrancy.

      I would submit this rebuttal to your thesis. First, that inerrancy isn’t something that can be proven theologically or philosophically. If I asked you if a Charles Dickens novel had grammatical mistakes in it, you wouldn’t develop a thesis from within it’s text to show that it was grammatically sound. You would have to actually read it and inspect it for errors. Anything else would be circular reasoning. So why would you attempt to prove the Bible is inerrancy by developing a thesis from within it? Would you not have to inspect it for errors?

      Lucky for you, thousands of people already have and as it turns out, it’s not inerrant. I am the first to admit that most claims about errors in the text are actually childish and weak. However, that doesn’t mean that every example is just a matter of flawed understanding. Some of those errors that I have personally selected can be read at the following link.

      It’s not an exhaustive list but it’s enough to demonstrate my point. However, I find that most people don’t like reading articles that make them uncomfortable so I will just post one easy example of an error right now.

      2 Samuel 10:18 But the Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed 700 charioteers of the Arameans and 40,000 horsemen and struck down Shobach the commander of their army, and he died there.

      1 Chronicles 19:18 The Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death Shophach the commander of the army.

      These parallel passages are clearly in disagreement. The author of Chronicles is constantly beefing up David’s number to elevate his status. This is only one example. Clearly one of the verses is wrong. It doesn’t matter which one it is. They cannot both be correct. There are other more difficult passages that actually affect theology but that can be discussed at another time.

      To the main point of your thesis………………..

      It appears that you are attributing the cause of the apparent errors as being a product of progressive revelation. I doubt any scholar of high or low criticism would disagree with progressive revelation. However, as with the error I posted above, it’s not a matter of revelation. It’s a matter of decimal points. Was it just a copyist error? Perhaps. But this type of “error” happens so often in Chronicles that either scribe didn’t understand number or the differing numbers were on purpose. Clearly the content of Chronicles demonstrates the revised numbers were on purpose. Chronicles also tends to leave out the more embarrassing moments of David’s life or revises it.

      Genesis also contains scientific errors, such as there being a firmament. Literally the entire world believed there was a solid dome in the sky. Paul Seeley made a concise study of this which can be read at the following link.

      Also, a bunch of the OT quotes that are in the NT do not match up. This is because the NT authors primarily used the Greek Septuagint which was a poor translation of the Hebrew texts. A number of lists of these errors already exist so I will not list them here.

      Basically, my main point is this….. The Bible cannot be proven to be without error by merely quoting from it. One must locate the errors and decide if it’s a real error or a bad reading.


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