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What do we do when the Bible is ‘wrong’?

10625007_903401446354135_8319436030620620834_nThere’s a quotation that did the rounds earlier in the year from a Peter LaRuffa, who is one of the staff at Grace Fellowship Church which is in northern Kentucky:

If, somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said 2+2=5, I would believe it, accept it as true and then do my best to work it out and understand it.

His comments came in the context of an HBO documentary Questioning Darwin which interviewed ‘seven-day creationists’ and was broadcast last February. There is no doubt that, amongst Peter’s theological peers, his comment would get a round of applause, since it expresses an unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture as the sole arbiter of truth.

The striking thing, though, is that the saying (attached to a dopy screenshot picture of Peter—he really does not look that dopy on the website!) was circulated by humanist atheists to illustrate how manifestly stupid Christians are. How could anyone with a brain say such a thing? If the Bible is wrong (and it often is) then surely the most honest thing to do is admit it—especially on the subject of creation versus evolution? The comment has also received short shrift from a good number of Christian commentators, particularly those from a ‘progressive’ perspective, as it illustrates the problem with a view of the ‘unfalsifiable inerrancy’ of the Bible. James McGrath comments on his blog:

It is less obvious for some people to see the problem when fundamentalist Christians dismiss evidence from history or science that contradicts the Bible. But it is much clearer when it is math that is at issue. Assuming we agree on a particular number system, then we can say what the correct answer is to a mathematical equation.

If the Bible is wrong about the answer, then it is wrong – there is simply no way around it…

No Christian should think that this horrific way of thinking about the Bible, math, science, history, and rationality is anything but a discrace, one that brings shame on Christianity by being associated with it.

It is rather unfortunate that LaRuffa chose this particular mathematical example, since it is one used by George Orwell in 1984 to illustrate the  suppressing of thinking and dissent that happens in totalitarian regimes.

Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, uses the phrase to wonder if the State might declare “two plus two equals five” as a fact; he ponders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true? The Inner Party interrogator of thought-criminals, O’Brien, says of the mathematically false statement that control over physical reality is unimportant; so long as one controls their own perceptions to what the Party wills, then any corporeal act is possible, in accordance with the principles of doublethink (“Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once”).

In effect, it makes Creationism look very much like a totalitarian system, controlled by a powerful social conformism to the consensus within that group.

But it is worth staying with this a little longer. Is it the case that ‘If the Bible is wrong about the answer, then it is wrong – there is simply no way around it’? Let’s do a thought experiment where do we come across this (apparently false) mathematical statement. Would we simply dismiss it as being evidently wrong? There are in fact a number of other possibilities:

It could be an approximation. 2.4 + 2.4 = 4.8, which when rounded to whole numbers make 2 + 2 = 5. This is exactly what is going on in the measurements for Solomon’s temple, where (for example) the bronze ‘sea’ in front of the temple is ‘ten cubits from rim to rim and…took a line of thirty cubits to measure round it’ (1 Kings 7.23). That makes the value of pi equal 30/10 = 3.0 instead of 3.14159. So it is ‘clearly wrong’. Or is it giving the internal diameter of the bowl, and the external circumference? Or is it just approximate?

Secondly, it could form a part of poetry. When the Beatles sang ‘Eight days a week/I lo-ooo-ove you’ no-one complained that they had their diaries wrong.

Or it could be a joke. Or in fact it could be any number of things—because we use language, including apparently mathematical language, in all sorts of ways, not just the mathematical.

In other words, if the Bible says something that looks ‘wrong’, we would be unwise to immediately say ‘it is wrong – there is simply no way around it’ too quickly without some careful thought. This is the mistake that is writ large in Liberal Protestantism. Rudolph Bultmann’s programme to ‘demythologise‘ the New Testament sprung from his conviction that ‘You cannot believe in a world of demons and angels and at the same time believe in electricity.’ Bultmann only needed to meet some of my parishioners (or even read a newspaper) to see how mistaken that view is.

This small example is touching on a much bigger question: how do we know the Bible is true? In what sense is that the case? In the end, I don’t agree with LaRuffa’s position. Perhaps he is trying to put his view of the Bible beyond any reasonable questioning, as James McGrath suggests. But perhaps he is doing something even worse—setting up another set of criteria by which the Bible’s truth is to be judged. This is the problem with all ‘apologetic’ approaches to the question of whether the Bible is true and trustworthy: we set up criteria that it must satisfy, then demonstrate that it satisfies these criteria. In doing so, we have assumed that our own criteria are themselves the measure of truth, and in doing so we displace the Bible’s very authority. This, broadly speaking, is the argument of Hans Frei’s The Eclipse of Biblical Narrativethe effect of modernism was to set up an alternative set of criteria for truth, which the Bible must now satisfy. For conservatives, it must and does pass the test; for progressives and liberals, it clearly fails. And the answer to this test is both shaped by and shapes our assumptions regarding what the Bible is and how it functions.

Frei’s solution is to remove the Bible from such criteria, and call for the Bible to be accepted in its own terms. But I think this simply replaces one set of problems with another one, and make the truth of the Bible just as untestable as Peter LaRuffa does. Instead, we need to recognise (using Anthony Thiselton’s terms) that in reading a text from another culture and another time, we are seeking to find a ‘meeting of horizons’, the horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader.

maxresdefaultResponding to the ‘errors’ in the Bible is currently at the centre of the battle for the soul of evangelicalism. ‘Progressives’ reject the kind of inerrancy expressed above because they can see the contradictions in the Bible, and on the basis of it make a plea to recognise that the Bible is not the kind of book it is often assumed to be—an ‘instruction manual for life’ or a list of propositional doctrines (which, unfortunately, is wrapped up in a lot of awkward narrative from which we need to retrieve it). Peter Enns is a good example of this position, first because he lost his job at Westminster Theological Seminary as a result of this issue, second because he is in conversation with Brian McLaren and cited approvingly by Rachel Held Evans, two notable ‘progressives’, and third because he has wrestled with these questions as an Old Testament scholar.

Peter has run a series of blog posts where a number of scholars write about their ‘aha’ moment, when they realised that the old paradigm of proposition/inerrancy would not work for the Bible, and how they came to see things differently. In response, Michael Kruger has invited some conservative scholars to respond to each of these. One in particular caught my attention: John Byron’s discussion of Mark 2.25–26.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Byron points out what is commonly noticed: that in 1 Samuel 21, David claims he is alone when asking for the bread, and Jesus seems to think his men are with him; and Jesus names the wrong high priest, Abiathar, when in fact it was Ahimelek. Byron is clear that these errors imply something significant:

The problem, however, as I pointed out to my teacher, is that Jesus got it wrong…Over time numerous passages forced me to conclude eventually that the Bible wasn’t a history book, meaning the authors were not trying to give me a blow-by-blow account from creation to the end of the first century.

Instead I came to realize that the Bible was first and foremost a theological book that contains history and uses history to direct me towards God.

In response, Craig Blomberg points out that Byron is mistaken about the mistakes. Yes, David claims he is alone—but he is clearly lying. And the phrase Jesus uses does not mean ‘in the days of’, but ‘In the section which mentions’ (the Greek word is epi). It is the same phrase Jesus uses in Mark 12.26 when he refers to the ‘passage about the burning bush.’ He concludes:

I can understand why some scholars may not be convinced by this solution.  But I am consistently amazed at how few ever even acknowledge knowing about it, much less interacting with it.  I have cited it in several of my books as have other leading evangelical  commentators, who have found it completely satisfactory.  It’s unfortunate that Ehrman, Byron and Enns never once disclose if they are familiar with it and, if they are, what objections (if any) they have to it.  Until they do, it really is inappropriate for them to claim with such confidence that they know Jesus or Mark got it wrong!

I know both John and Craig, and respect them both. I also share Peter Enns’ frustration when people treat the Bible like a car maintenance manual. But on this issue, I am with Craig; I think John has concluded too quickly that the text is wrong, and the Bible unreliable here.

We need to take the humanity of the Bible seriously. But this implies not that it is fallible and mistaken, but that it is expressed in terms particular to the human context of the time—a context where it is fine to speak briefly, approximately and in shorthand terms which would have been understood then, but (at least on a superficial reading) do not make sense to us—unless we think hard, read carefully, and take advice from others who have done their homework.

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28 Responses to What do we do when the Bible is ‘wrong’?

  1. John Byron September 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm #


    Thanks for engaging the topic. Perhaps your readers would like to read my response to Craig Blomberg and others who seem to have latched onto one point of my “Aha” moment post and missed the point of the series.

    • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Thanks for posting this John—it makes a very interesting read.

    • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

      John, I really like the ending of this piece (which as you say is not tackling the detail of exegesis):

      But let’s take a moment and address the “real” issue everyone seems to find with my “aha” moment. It’s that I suggested that Jesus got the name of the priest wrong. Those who take issue with my statement seem to imply that I am suggesting that Jesus was therefore a fallible human being. Perhaps they equate making a mistake with sin. I am not sure, but I suspect that is the case.

      It’s these kinds of assumptions that I think go right the heart of our understanding Jesus’ humanity. What does it mean to say that Jesus, was human? That he was God incarnate in human flesh? Does this mean that Jesus never got confused and called one of the disciples by a different name? Or that he forgot where he laid something? Did Jesus ever get so tired from travelling and teaching that miscommunicated something? Did he ever make a mistake when measuring a stone or a board? Did he ever hit his thumb with a hammer?

      I am not sure, but I suspect that for some the idea of Jesus making a mistake like those named above equates him with sinful humanity. Again, I am not sure, but I think that is what they are thinking. I do not, however, understand Jesus to be someone who, as a human, was incapable of making mistakes. Making a mistake doesn’t make him sinful, it makes him human.

      At the end of the day, I don’t know if Jesus “got it wrong” or not. I wasn’t there and my only access to the story is through what Mark tells me. My statement to my Bible College teacher was the realization of a young man who saw something new and, at the time, quite shocking.

      But I do think that the way the story is related in Mark 2 is at variance with what is presented in 1 Samuel 21. And that is where the major difference lies between me and some others. I am able to accept a Bible that doesn’t act the way I wish it did. I can accept a Bible that doesn’t always lineup with history or even itself. And when I encounter a difficulty like Mark 2:26 my impulse is not to conclude that it’s wrong. But I also don’t feel the need to explain it to fit my modern understanding of history. Sometimes I find a very reasonable explanation and other times I realize there isn’t one. At least not one that “fixes” the Bible to fit into the paradigm I have constructed.

      At the end of the day, I still consider the Bible the word of God. And it’s the mystery and the paradox of the Bible that consistently draws me into it rather than drives me away.

  2. Phill September 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for a really interesting post Ian. I’ve come to believe in inerrancy through a fairly long and difficult journey. However, I think it’s important to say, as you point out, ‘inerrancy’ is not the same as saying that the Bible must conform to our 21st century modernist understanding of history etc. So, to give one example, if John puts the clearing of the temple at the start of his gospel, whereas the synoptic gospels put it at the end – I don’t find that a problem. I think John is trying to make an important theological point by placing the pericope there – it’s not a “bare facts” approach but gives us an interpretation as well. (Not that I think a genuinely “bare facts” approach is even possible).

    I read an interesting book recently, “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism”. One thing I was really struck by was how a high view of Scripture is compatible with it coming about in a ‘human’ way, if that makes sense. If God is sovereign over the whole process, it doesn’t matter if there are redactors, scribes, and so on – God oversees the whole thing and what we end up with in Scripture is what God wants to say. Behind any understanding of Scripture is (implicitly) an understanding of God – I believe an infinite God who does not lie and is a competent communicator can inspire the Scripture he desires (cf Isa. 55:10-11). Augustine’s view of Scripture was essentially, “Scripture must be true because God does not lie.”

    I particularly like your last paragraph: too often I read people who simply assume that the Bible was wrong from a surface reading without actually doing the hard work needed to discover any alternative possibilities.

    • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

      Thanks Phill. That book is on my list of things to read!! Looks really interesting…

      The difficulty with Augustine is that he will (like all of us) have a particular view of what constitutes ‘Scripture being true’, and of course this is precisely the argument of 6-day creationists.

      The issue is: whose standard of ‘truth’?

  3. Tony Oliver September 26, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    That well known atheist and physicist Laurence Krauss, when debating with William Lane Craig a few years ago, did in fact claim that 2 + 2 = 5. His claim was made in an unsuccessful attempt to show that classical logic was wrong. Nevertheless many of Krauss’s ‘rational’ devotees rushed to defend him. I wonder how many of them would rush to defend Pastor Peter LaRuffa’s willingness to accept their master’s claim?

    • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks Tony—but I am intrigued. On what basis could we demonstrate that 2+2=5? What were his arguments?

      • Tony Oliver September 26, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

        Hi Ian,

        As I understood him, he was attempting to demonstrate that classical logic is based on a common sense view of reality, but that with the advent of modern physics, specifically quantum physics, we need to understand that reality is counter intuitive. I think his justification for claiming that 2 + 2 = 5 is that for ‘large values of 2’ then 2 + 2 does in fact = 5! His argument fails logically, because the only value of 2 is 2. 2.4 is not a large value of 2, it is a different number.

        • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

          Quite. There’s a lot of nonsense spoken about the impact of quantum physics!

  4. Chris Bishop September 26, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Excellent post Ian. FWIW I think that most of these issues are hermeneutical in nature. The so-called ‘hermeneutical gap’ where we move from what the text meant to the readers of the time, to what they should mean to us now IMHO, is where most of these difficulties originate.

    The good biblical scholar is able to take us into the minds of the contemporary readers so that the original intent and meaning is made clear but as I’m sure you know, this is notoriously difficult to achieve unambiguously.

    It must be remembered that very little in the Bible was actually written to you and me personally. It was written to individuals, groups and churches of their time. If we read the Bible only with an eye for its meaning for us then it can lead to all kinds of error.

    A recent example of good scholarship which illustrates this is John Walton’s ‘The Lost World of Genesis One’ which really helps to understand how the ancients perceived the cosmos and runs a coach and horses through the literal interpretations of 6 day creationists.

  5. Daniel Lamont September 26, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    An interesting post and I like your final conclusion. However your rhetoric concerns me. What do you mean by progressives and why, further on in your post, do you put the word in ‘scare’ quotation marks? I have noted that on a number of websites/blogs conducted by professed evangelicals there is a tendency to characterise people of different views as either revisionist s or progressive without defining what is meant. This comes close to demonizing people of different standpoints and lumps people together who may well have nuanced views. It certainly doesn’t do much for dialogue or mutual understanding and respect.

    • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

      Thanks Daniel. In fact, I think quite a few conservatives would label me as ‘progressive’ in that, for example, I would defend the equal ministry of women and think we need to take seriously the narrative form of Scripture.

      I use the term only because people like Peter Enns own it for themselves, and in inverted commas not scare anyone or suggest that it is scary, but simply to note that it is a label and not a particularly accurate description.

      Steve Chalke allies himself with ‘progressives’ but in fact I think the essence of his position is pretty retrogressive!!

      See here:

      Does that sound plausible?

  6. Justin September 26, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Very good article Ian, apart from your use of the word apologetic. You seem to be using it with a very narrow meaning – which is presumably why you put in the quote marks – but I think such a narrow understanding of apologetics is both misleading and unbiblical. Apologetics is any kind of defence whether modernist, postmodernist, rational, fideistic, incarnational, imaginative etc etc. and in this sense your own article is very clearly apologetic! I don’t want to leave the word or concept of apologetics to the conservative moderns, and I suspect you wouldn’t either.

    • Ian Paul September 26, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

      Thanks Justin…though I am not sure you’re right on this. Any ‘apologetic’ strategy i.e. one that is giving ‘reasons’ for the hope we have, in this case in Scripture, has to establish some criteria by which we judge things trustworthy. Such criteria don’t *need* to be ‘rational’, though they are in much contemporary discussion.

      I think I am right in saying that Frei rejected the idea of making any case whatever for Scripture’s trustworthiness, of any kind whatever. Scripture stands as it is, and we either take it or leave it. Another practical example: when John Goldingay was Principal of St John’s, he refused to allow the college to offer a module on apologetics, since he viewed the whole notion of offering an apologia as ill-conceived. I think he did this out of his subscribing to Breuggemann’s understanding of the OT as world-creating. As with Frei, you either accept or reject the world of Scripture; what you cannot do is make any kind of case for it.

      Does that make sense?

  7. James Byron September 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    This piece is fascinating, Ian. 🙂

    Could you explain a bit more about how biblical authority works for you? I get the concept scripture being different in kind to math, but in which case, from your POV, how can the Bible be “wrong” in some aspects while still maintaining its authority?

  8. Clive September 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    The real problem comes when people worship mathematics.

    This is real maths: (We’ll see if the internet can cope with equations)

    Let us begin by assuming that a = b (take that as the true starting point for the maths)

    If a = b then multiply both sides of the equation by a.
    This gives us a^2 = b.a

    Now add a^2 to both sides of the equation:
    So a^2 + a^2 = b.a + a^2

    This means that 2.a^2 = b.a + a^2

    Now take away 2.b.a from both sides of the equation:
    So 2.a^2 – 2.b.a = b.a + a^2 – 2.b.a

    Notice that b.a – 2.b.a is “– 1.b.a” which is – b.a.
    This means that the equation, without changing anything, becomes:
    2.a^2 – 2.b.a = a^2 – b.a

    2.a is common to both 2.a^2 and to 2.b.a so that side of the equation can be written as 2.a.( a – b )
    So: 2.a.( a – b ) = a^2 – b.a

    Notice that “a” is also common to both a^2 and to b.a so the other side of the equation can be written as a^2 – b.a = a.( a – b ) which becomes:

    So: 2.a.( a – b ) = a.( a – b )

    You can see that ( a – b ) is common to both sides of the equation so we can cancel that from both sides: 2.a.( a – b ) = a.( a – b ) becomes:
    2.a = a

    a is also common to both sides of the equation so we now divide both sides of the equation by a which does this: 2.a = a becomes:
    2 = 1

    This is genuine maths. The mistake is to worship maths. (What I am actually doing is dividing by zero – but it is still genuine maths.) The problem is the worship of maths / science and then maths / science changes its mind!

    You referred to the latest arguments about the accuracy of the Bible. You referred to Peter LaRuffa but you didn’t take account of the end of his quote which said:
    “and then do my best to work it out and understand it.”
    The last bit is another way of saying that we put the Bible into context and see if it still says 2 + 2 = 5. Now I don’t like Peter LaRuffa’s quote but I do want to be fair to it.

    You also referred to current arguments about the accuracy of the Bible. It is really interesting about how those how wish to throw the Bible out are also throwing out the Science with it. The Science proves that homosexuality is MORE than just genetics. Genetics does not explain it at all. The science disproves that. The science says that condoms are not the protection they are said to be yet that is what is now proposed to be taught in schools as if it were truth. There is an incredible amount of science that is just being disregarded and argument is being prevented about the science by simply childishly calling everyone bigots.

    You referred to Peter Enns but then talked about Peter as an Old Testament Scholar.
    There is no surprise that anyone who studies the Old Testament (“OT”) comes across the question of error in Scripture. The OT is God revealed in history, whereas the N.T is God revealed on earth. The two are quite different. It is really not difficult for history to contain both moments at which what is said is truth and moments in which what happened is NOT what God wanted … BOTH are God revealed in history. The difficulty comes when Scripture in the OT becomes law today. It is then the humans that are flawed in mistakenly trying to make OT Scripture into law.

    • Tony Oliver September 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Clive,

      I’m not sure, particularly in your example, that the problem is the worship of mathematics. Your proof that 2 = 1 is an example of a mathematical fallacy in that, division by zero is subtly introduced into the argument. Division by zero is undefined (meaningless), which renders the argument invalid.

      I think the problem is that when Pastor LaRuffa says “If, somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said 2+2=5, I would believe it, accept it as true and then do my best to work it out and understand it.” he is really saying that if the Bible actually claimed that 2+2=5 then the meaning of 2+2=5 as stated in the Bible must be different from what in ordinary parlance we would understand it to mean. Or to put it another way, he is saying that he would believe the Bible’s claim that 2+2=5, but he would not know what the Bible meant by 2+2=5.

      Now I don’t know whether Pastor LaRuffa reads Hebrew, but assuming he doesn’t, if he were presented with a sentence in Hebrew and asked whether he agreed that the sentence was true, his honest response would be “I don’t know whether it’s true because I don’t read Hebrew”. If he were then told that the sentence was from the Bible, then his response, as I understand him, would be in the affirmative. And that is, I believe, the real problem. In my example he would still not know what the sentence meant, but he would believe it. Now how is that possible?

      • Clive September 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

        Dear Tony,

        I didn’t change the maths at all. So the maths stands as correct. I have voluntarily talked about the division by zero as showing why maths is not always correct.

        I am showing that it is not simply a choice between the Bible and Science / Maths. Most times the two are complimentary and we are dealing with both simultaneously. Quite often the Science / Maths is actually catching up with the Bible.

        • Tony Oliver September 28, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

          Hi Clive,

          I’m just a bit confused by your reply. You say the maths is correct, but that your example (which includes a division by zero) is there to show that maths isn’t always correct.

          By the way, I didn’t mean to imply that in your proof you ‘sneaked in’ the equivalent of a conjuror’s misdirection. You are, as you say, open about introducing the division by zero. What I mean when I say that the division by zero is ‘subtly introduced’ is that in your example an invalid process (division by zero) is hidden by the algebraic notation, leading to an error in the proof. The progression in your example would ordinarily be correct, but it becomes incorrect the moment an invalid process is introduced. Therefore I don’t agree that the ‘maths stands as correct’.

          I believe a much better example of what I think you are trying to say may be found in Bishop George Berkeley’s ‘The Analyst; or a Discourse Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician’. Or maybe I have misunderstood you completely.

          • Chris Bishop September 28, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

            I cannot see how the ‘maths is correct’. Division by zero is not allowed if it does not conform to the axiomatic basis you are working with. It is undefined and therefore cannot be used in this sense.

          • Clive September 29, 2014 at 11:39 am #

            Dear Tony and Chris,

            The maths really is correct. You have to stand away from the maths in order to talk about dividing by zero. Dividing by zero isn’t maths at all … but is reality coming back in.

          • Chris October 25, 2015 at 1:03 am #

            The math is not correct. Because math explicitly forbid dividing by zero, which is the trick employed here to achieve a false result. Stated in another way, CORRECT math always avoids dividing by zero. Since dividing by zero was used here, the math INCORRECT.

          • Ian Paul October 27, 2015 at 10:50 am #

            Chris–indeed. It is a schoolboy error and doesn’t have a great deal of relevance to the debate I think.

  9. angela September 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    I am rubbish at maths However I do understand the principle of 2+2=5 that would be “reconstitution” and “redistribution” ie 2+2=4 becomes a series of fractions which when redistributed can be reconstituted into 5 equal parts. So I would believe the bible even when it seems to be incorrect taking into account issues like difference. Nowadays a calculator would work that out to the nearest number with decimal point. But it is more about he principle of that which looks to be untrue/impossible becomes possible in a different format or place. Another way of looking at it is say I have 5 potatoes , I boil them and mash them and refill the skins to have potato left over because I have presented them in a different form.

    So I would still believe the bible for that reason. Your equations were very helpful though Clive mine was simpler though not as interesting perhaps.

  10. angela September 27, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    That should have read if I have 4 you would divide them in half then you wold leave 5 halves empty all halves mash all the remaining 3 halves plus the contents o the 5 halves mash it together and refill the 5 empty halves in equal amounts, Any one who only reads this half of the answer will be very confused and therein lies the problems of translation

  11. Michael Leyden September 27, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Hi Ian,

    this is really interesting – thanks for highlighting. A very quick (and underdeveloped) thought:

    I wonder if you maybe dismiss Frei a bit too quickly here? It seems to me (and I admit I may be wrong) that he’s not so much removing the bible from the debate about truthfulness – as I think you are suggesting here – but rather is questioning the way in which the issue of truthfulness is defined and subsequently considered. I think Frei is theologising truth – and this is actually a really important move. Truth is neither a neutral nor universal category. Truth is mediated and interpreted. What matters for Frei is the identity of those doing the interpreting, and the criteria against which the “issues” are measured – i.e. the criteria for truthfulness. Hence the importance of ecclesiology for Frei: the Bible is the Church’s book, and the Church’s ontology is Christological not Biblio-logical. (Remember, his early years were spent researching revelation in Barth). The “truth” of the Church – and moreover of all reality – is Jesus Christ (the subject of F’s other major work, incidentally). This is about much more than historicity and factuality. If truth is about these things alone then we speak only half-truth. So, for Frei the truthfulness of the Bible is that it is *scripture* – and as such is useful to teach, reprove etc. because it is commandeered by the Holy Spirit (hence “Holy” Scripture).

    The corollary of this seems to me to be that we make a fundamental mistake when we do apologetics that is instinctively about proving scripture to be trustworthy. The articulation of hope that is the content of the 1 Peter instruction is surely about Jesus – the Jesus Christ who is alive and whom I (and others) encounter in the reading/hearing/preaching of scripture, and in the life of the worshiping community.

    I recognize – more and more as my teaching career develops – that theologians/dogmaticians and biblical scholars have quite different approaches to this question, especially in the evangelical world, so forgive me if this seems like a sideways contribution!

    Hope to see you soon.

  12. Simon Hall September 29, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    Thanks for an interesting article!

    I just wonder if you are trying to have your evangelical cake and eat it at the same time.

    What you seem to be saying is that the Bible is historically and scientifically reliable, except when it isn’t, in which case it never meant to be in the first place. Which is Pete Enns’ argument all along! 😉

    • Ian Paul October 27, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      Well, I do enjoy my cake. But I think I am saying something different from both Peter and those he criticises.

      I agree with Peter, against his opponents, that the Bible is not a science text book, so when we ask questions of reliability we need to ask in the terms of the Bible and its culture, and not simply ours.

      I disagree with Peter that either the Bible or its culture had no interest in the question of accuracy or reliability, and that if it is not reliable this is no big deal.

      I have written a more recent post on this in relation to Judas’ death.

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