The Bible “Guarantees” It, Or Your Money Back

May 25, 2011

The Bible was supposed to guarantee it.

I promise I’m not talking about Harold Camping again.  But he said the Bible “guarantees” that May 21st was the day of judgement.  Now, those billboards all over the country stand there, making the Bible out to be a liar.  If I were the Bible, I’d sue Harold Camping for defamation of character.

The good thing about this whole fiasco is it almost got everyone’s minds off of the whole heaven and hell debate…almost.  I don’t think that one’s going away any time soon.  In fact, I think the fight over hell is just heating up.

Judgement Day, heaven and hell, it’s all just part of a two-thousand year argument people have had about how trustworthy the Bible is (or how trustworthy are we with it).  The result of that debate?   Words like “inerrancy” have become like fighting words for evangelicals.  Words like “allegory” are like the worst sort of curse words.

Harold Camping believed the Bible guaranteed May 21 was the day.  It makes me wonder, just how can we know what the Bible guarantees…

Fifteen Minutes of Infallibility

Jesus once called Peter “Satan.”  Strong words from the Son of God.  Come to think of it, none of the gospels portray Peter as all that awesome or wise.  He’s kind of a stumbling, bumbling boob of a disciple.

We don’t get too far into the book of Acts before Paul is getting up in Peter’s grill about circumcision, which Paul also boasts about.  Peter was being a jerk, and he knew it.

Peter was never a perfect guy.  Actually, he had a real propensity for being an idiot, albeit a lovable one.  Which is why when we get through the gospels and Acts and get to Peter’s letters and he says something out of the blue like, “then Jesus went to hell and preached to the spirits there,” my response is always…

“Wha…?”

Why did he have to say that?  No one else mentions it.  And how does Peter know this?  Did Jesus whisper in his ear, “Peter, you would not believe what hell is like.  It’s even worse than I thought.”

I like almost everything else Peter says.  But part of me wonders if Peter got that one right.  I mean, he wasn’t the sharpest stick his entire life, but for fifteen minutes, he was able to get it together and write a perfectly infallible little memo, straight from the mind of God?  That’s what you have to believe if you want to be an evangelical with a “perfect” Bible.

That’s our first problem with the Bible.  Do we have the faith to believe that the mind of God could really come through a guy like Peter?

Lost in Interpretation

Okay, so it’s not the biggest deal in the world whether Jesus really went down to hell to have a conference call with Satan’s minions.  But saying that Saturday was going to be the end of the world when it wasn’t was a big deal.

Granted, the logical leaps taken to conclude that Saturday was the day were astonishingly absurd.  They took “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years” to mean that with the Lord, a day is literally a thousand years.

The funny thing is Jesus even got mad at his disciples for taking him too literally. The King of Kings was a big fan of allusion, allegory, parables, metaphors, similes, analogies, hyperbole, and other non-literal language.  Unfortunately, most of his audience didn’t take “Basic Literary Devices 101” in college, so it was lost on them…and a lot of modern day fundamentalists.

That’s our second problem.  Even if every word is straight from God’s mouth, we just miss the point.  We ignore the gospel and get stuck on some silly detail, like the day of the Lord’s return.

Speak Loudly and Carry A Bigger Stick

Human history has a way of repeating itself.  In the beginning, Man finds stick.  Man finds stick useful.  Man figures out how to hurt other man with stick.  Man finds iron.  Man finds iron useful.  Man figures out how to hurt other man with iron.

That’s how it goes with nearly every human discovery.  We harness a new resource, then figure out how to screw someone else with it.  And then we found the Word of God.  Man figures out how to hurt other man with Word of God.  Word of God work much better than stick…

What’s become clear to me watching the church over the last ten years – the dawn of the “emergent” church, the debate over “post-modernism,” the fresh debate over heaven and hell, the not quite end of the world – is that Christians love the Bible.  We find it beautiful, awe-inspiring, hopeful, gut-wrenching, redeeming.  We all absolutely love the Bible…

…but we love being right more.

Being right is our idol, our god.

And that’s why we draw a line in the sand over so many things. That’s why we fight over so many things we maybe can’t know.

Okay, talk to me!  How infallible is the Bible to you?  Is the Bible right, and we just don’t know how to use it?  Or does the way we use the Bible just prove our own depravity?

45 responses to The Bible “Guarantees” It, Or Your Money Back

  1. Good morning, Matt,

    Please elucidate on this one for your more stupid readers. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand what you’re talking about in this post. I’m just too dense.

    John

  2. elucidate? I think I may have meant elaborate.
    jwc

    • You’re not dense. Maybe I’m being obtuse. I went to a Baptist seminary where the “inerrancy” of scripture was a key belief. So I’m just working out my struggles with the inerrancy of the Bible. 1) Is it really inerrant? Because we have a record in scripture of Peter being a very “errant” person…until we get to his letters. 2) Are we missing the point that God is trying to make in any given scripture scripture? and 3) Are we able to lay down our desire to be correct long enough for scripture to speak to us?

      • I can’t understand the stance of inerrancy. It only takes five minutes to drive a truck through the gaping holes in the argument. Inerrancy seems just another way to say “I have my interpretation and I’m gunna jam it down your throat”.

        Love this quote:

        “The King of Kings was a big fan of allusion, allegory, parables, metaphors, similes, analogies, hyperbole, and other non-literal language. Unfortunately, most of his audience didn’t take “Basic Literary Devices 101″ in college, so it was lost on them…and a lot of modern day fundamentalists.”
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      • Hi Matt,

        John here again.

        Some wag, I think it was Mark Twain, a noted skeptic, said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I understand all too clearly that give me trouble”.

        I agree with him 100%.

  3. Instead of making up some crap about it being a spiritual rapture he should have manned up and said he made a mistake. He’s giving Christianity a bad name. He could have done amazing things with $100 million that he was given.

    The positive side is that it gives me more time to plan how I’m going to fake rapture myself.
    Mike recently posted..Save The Date- End of the world is now October 21

  4. Love God, love others. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. Visit the orphans and widows and keep oneself unspotted from the world. It amazes me how easily the verses that speak the clearest get ignored over the ones that aren’t as clear as we’d like to claim. So our priorities and monies go to prove something that when all is said and done is still debatable. The longer I converse with others, the more concerned I feel God is with the “how” (as in how I treat others) on these issues than the “what.”

  5. To answer your question. “How infallible is the Bible to you? Is the Bible right, and we just don’t know how to use it? Or does the way we use the Bible just prove our own depravity?”

    It all depends on what we believe the _point_ of the bible is. It pretty much sucks as a recipe book for chicken noodle soup.

    For me the bible is a limited “portal” into the mind and heart of God. Limited ’cause it was written by men (inspired or not) and is therefore limited to their understanding of who God is.

    I just don’t see it as a code book for figuring out life’s secrets.

    I heard it described once as the story of “God’s Passionate Pursuit of a Prodigal People”. That works for me.

    • Love that “limited portal.” That was a huge revelation to me in seminary when I took a class on the Book of Hebrews. You have a guy here who has an idea of Jesus (the new Melchitzidek) that has been revealed to no one else. His gospel sounds similar, yet different from the others. We are fortunate, because we come at the end of scripture and have more information than Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, everyone in the book. We have all their perspectives put together to shape our own.

  6. “How infallible is the Bible to you? Is the Bible right, and we just don’t know how to use it? Or does the way we use the Bible just prove our own depravity?”

    Well, to me, the Bible is infallible. It is right, and we don’t know how to use it. And the way the Bible is used can prove our own depravity. Agree on all points.

    BUT, the Bible is also Logos (fact/written) and Rhema (living/spoken). I have read the same passage countless times and always gotten the same thing out of it, and then one day I will read it and God will reveal (rhema) something new – that may or may not have been there before and just revealed, or He has made it living for me at that point in time.

    I also agree with Matt that the clearest verses/instructions get ignored in the public circle (be it church or society) because we would rather tithe our herbs and spices than admit that we aren’t doing the basic love your neighbor stuff.

    I just ask God to reveal what He wants me to know, and it should line up with the rest of Scripture (not go against what we know to be true of God from ALL his Scripture).

  7. Ohhhhhhhh. No wonder i was getting angery faces in the crowds when i would through atcual seeds at them when I was preaching….I guess I took that literly…sorry…

    I need to go find my reciept for my “plow” i bought last week to plow my church floor….

    Come on really?…. can people really not tell what is literal or not?

    I stongly believe that Jesus walked on water, a man lived in a whale for a couple of days, and Adam and Eve have been the hottest poeple ever….ok scratch that last one…

    I have to believe that everything in the bible is true…maybe not all literal…but true.

    We make interpretation based on experience…and that sucks…
    Arny recently posted..Top 5 Tuesday- What is your Top 5 Bible Verses

    • Hey, to some people, having a literal 7 day creation is extremely important. To me, it’s extremely important to recognize the intended purpose of Genesis 1, which is not a science text book. Is it important whether Jonah really lived inside a fish? To some people it is, to some people it isn’t.

  8. The Bible is 100% accurate when interpreted by God’s spirit.

    I have often thought about this, and I find that we can quickly discard a lot of intellectual theology. God never asked us what we think, or what our opinion is. In fact that is not likely to ever happen. Any sermon that starts with “I think” is destined for shipwreck.

    The Bible is certainly made up of different sorts of passages, some parables, allegory, symbolism, and some historical etc. And by his Spirit we can often discern that. The problem is that in our own minds we’ll decide what God means based on education, world-view, culture, previous experience, and feelings. That is interpretation via the soul, and it will be fraught with error.

    Worse, we can’t just take our spiritual tin-snips out and start deciding what passage or verse we should follow, and which ones to ignore. The result is dead religion, cults and at the very least error – Rob Bell.

    Back to David’s resounding theme for 2011, how can you know what God is saying if you never hear his voice? Even good teaching and Bible passages need to resound within our spirit.

    Camping should have know he was in trouble by predicting the day and hour. Paul told Timothy that false teachers get caught up in vain genealogies! I mean does anyone read the book?!?!

    I have written a lot about Bible accuracy, the tin-snipping of denominations, but here are two links to things I think are important.

    Do We Really Believe the Bible?
    http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2009/01/do-we-really-believe-bible.html

    Is the Bible True – The Tale of Two Witnesses
    http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2011/04/is-bible-true-tale-of-two-witnesses.html

    Good topic, Matt. I guess what makes me sad is the pop-theology that focuses on the everything but preaching the Gospel, and denies the power of God. Really sad.
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  9. The “reliability of the Bible” is not a 2,000 year old debate. It’s 250 at best. Innerrancy and questions of factuality are the questions of modernity, questions that were not remotely in the minds of those who wrote the Bible or its original audience. Perhaps we should take the Bible for what it is, an ancient library of how people in certain times and places experienced God, rather than what we want it to be. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about unfulfilled guarantees of revenge on one’s personal enemies list.
    Matt recently posted..Renewal Leave Update

    • While I’ll agree that the debate has taken on a new tone in modern times, I’m gonna have to say that the debate over inerrancy began when church leaders sat down to canonize the scriptures.

      • I suppose that the inerrancy “debate” is one that is perceived by those who believe that the men of the bible, and even those who canonized the scriptures, were working under their own strength/initiative/understanding. If you don’t believe that God actually engages with them (and us) through the person of the Holy Spirit, then lots of questions start to arise. Then, it suddenly matters what kind of past Peter had before he penned his letters. It is up to debate wether this scripture or that scripture should actually be believed for what it says. These questions come up because you are working by yourself, with your own strength/initiative/understanding. These questions come up because you consciously or subconsciously decide that you are above God and you decide that you want to be the arbiter of what’s true.

        But God is not like that. He DOES actually engage with us. He did with scribes (I hesitate to use the word “author” because it connotes that the men who wrote down the scriptures came up with the ideas themselves) of scripture. He did with the people who canonized the scripture. He does with us today. He meant for us to INTERACT with him through the scriptures. He meant for us actually find himself in scripture. God actually wants to converse with us while we read the scriptures. If only we will get off our high horse and bring our questions and struggles about certain scriptures TO HIM and let his Holy Spirit teach us.

        Let’s not forget from whom the Bible came, God himself. He knows what he’s doing.

  10. haha great post. This came up recently at our church…we did a series on different ways to connect to God, of course one was two pastors who viewed creation differently…once the one was able to let go of some of the things he’d been taught about creation, he was finally able to understand God better…of course that didn’t go over well with a lot of people…but to me..if it get’s you closer to God what’s the problem? I don’t agree with him, but I’m going to recognize that we worship the same God.

    I just heard a sermon by Bruxy Cavey where he was talking about how God is willing to use mediation…(moses on the mountain…or you know, the bible) but that he would rather connect with us directly. I think the bible is a tool, a beautiful, powerful one but still a tool. The ultimate goal should be a relationship with God, not a better understanding of the bible.
    Jenn recently posted..This is where I don’t talk about Rob Bell’s bookmuch

  11. Eh, the way we use the bible just shows how dumb we are.

    I have problems with the writers in the bible who said, “God said to kill this nation, etc.” Like I don’t think God said that, just what they think he said to justify what they wanted to do.

    And people say, “The bible is inspired by God.” Saying, “The bible is inspired by God” is akin to when a movie comes out and the commercial says, “Based on a true story.” But don’t people say a pastor and his sermon/message is inspired by God? Where do you draw the line of what God really has said? I don’t know if anyone has a clear answer.

    nicodemusatnite.com
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    • You have to hear the voice of God. There is no line in the Bible; it is God, or it isn’t.
      David recently posted..Yeah- Theres an App For That!

      • It is God or it isn’t? Haven’t you ever heard of bias and folks skewing the outcome the way they want it to be or that justifies what was said or done?

        I’m not saying that is how it is in the Bible, but frankly, it is hard for me to imagine a thinking person NOT questioning some of the things that are written between the covers of that book.

        Each of us have to get to a place where we can live with how we see God, Jesus, the Bible, its/his intents and how to best live out what Jesus came to model.
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        • Sure, people can claim to hear God and even abuse it to manipulate people, however; that is not my point. The Bible says that “the sheep know his voice.” My point is that God has one voice, one will, and everything else is not God. Is it easy to hear God? Not in the culture we live in. And certainly it’s people that have contrived a multitude of interpretations, that is also not God’s fault.
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  12. I was talking with my student yesterday and he was commenting on how we look back on church history and see all the ways that those who came before us were wrong about stuff. But rarely do we bring that same perspective to ourselves. 50 years from now, what will our grandchildren slap their foreheads about when they talk about us?

    I have a hard time with “Biblical Inerrancy.” But at the same time, I don’t want to be flippant and just ignore the stuff I don’t like.

  13. I believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, but that each person needs the Holy Spirit to help them truly understand it. And the Holy Spirit’s explanation to me about a passage is not guaranteed to help you understand it better at all. And sometimes, the Holy Spirit decides to be silent on some things just to strengthen our faith. For instance, I still am waiting on the Holy Spirit’s revelation on what Paul REALLY meant when he said that a woman shall be saved by childbearing, because I have yet to find anything that Jesus says in the gospels to back him up on that one.

    My reasoning is this: Any being that can create everything out of nothing, whether in seven days or millions of years; any being that is one God in three persons, yet one God; any being that allows mercy and justice to co-exist without contradiction; any being that allows humanity free will and yet has ultimate control/power over all creation; any being that sets up a situation in which you need to turn left to go right can produce an inerrant book of His will and glory using errant people to transcribe and translate for Him.

    I may be wrong on this, though.
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  14. I don’t understand how people decide which parts of the Bible are obviously just literary device, and which parts of the Bible are true. The existence of a loving father-like spirit watching over us sounds pretty metaphorical to me. The idea that that father-like spirit’s son died as a sacrifice and then came back to life sounds pretty metaphorical too. Certainly at least as much as a seven-day creation. How much of the Bible do you believe a person has to think is literally true in order to count as a Christian?

    It’s interesting that you mention Jesus’ audience not taking “Basic Literary Devices 101” in college. In fact, historians and Biblical scholars (many of them Christian) believe that Jesus’ disciples were illiterate. We don’t know exactly who wrote the Gospels, but they weren’t written by the disciples, they were written much too late for that. So I don’t know if we can use the Bible to judge word for word what Jesus might have said or believed. By the time the New Testament was written, the game of Telephone had been played for decades.

    • Good questions, which I’m going to do my best to answer / refute in a concise way: I think there are very few things that are “non-negotiable” for Christians to believe. Those are the beliefs that made it into the Apostle’s Creed – which basically say God is the creator of the universe, Jesus is God incarnate and did die for our redemption. If someone claims to be a Christian, but believes those things to be metaphor, I wouldn’t consider him a Christian. Orthodox Christianity has never allowed for those doctrines to just be figures of speech.

      As for who wrote the Bible and when, the conclusions that are made that they were forgeries written centuries after Christ are very new and the evidence is hardly conclusive. That is the conclusion that many people want to make, and they find evidence to support that, but there is hardly a “consensus” on that matter. For one thing, none of the gospels mention the destruction of Jerusalem, a monumental event that probably would’ve been alluded to as some fulfillment of prophecy had any of the NT been written after 70 AD. Second, why would the authors that the NT is credited to have to be illiterate? Jesus was a carpenter’s son, yet he is able to go to the synagogue and read the scriptures. Matthew is a tax collector, a government worker. Luke is said to have been a physician. Paul was a Pharisee and was certainly literate. Our assumptions of the lack of education of ancient people, I believe, are often overreaching.

      I realize this is hardly a complete or conclusive answer to your question, so I don’t expect to change your mind with this short bit of anecdotal debate, but my point is that many people probably go too far in assuming the errancy of the Bible.

  15. If the Bible is not inerrant, than Christianity is screwed. Which parts exactly are wrong? Oh, can’t decide that? Then none of it’s trustworthy. I think it has to be all or nothing, and if it’s “all” then it’s based on faith. If it’s “nothing,” then there’s no point in believing Christianity has any merit whatsoever since the Bible is pretty much all we have.

    If we believe ourselves to be Christians (broadest definitions you like, whatever) and we also believe the Bible to not be completely “truthful” or “accurate” or however you want to say it, then aren’t we limiting God? Are we really saying God couldn’t have written the Bible through the hands of sinful men? Or guided whoever it was to put the manuscripts together? Or allowed it to be translated in many different languages without human error ruining the intended message?

    Whether or not there will be a physical earthquake or a metaphorical one that indicates an obvious change of some sort at the end of the world isn’t important. I definitely think human error can come in with interpretation, but that doesn’t make the Bible inaccurate; it makes us inaccurate.

    I hope that made some sort of sense.

    • The Bible is pretty much all we have? Before Jesus returned to heaven he didn’t say, “Now I’m leaving you this book and it has all the answers.” He said, he was sending the holy spirit who would help and comfort us and teach us everything we need to know.

      • But where do you actually find that He said that? In the Bible. I’m not trying to be arguementative and I totally agree with you. My point is that all the information we have on Christianity, all our “fundamentals,” everything Christ said, are located in the Bible. If parts of the Bible are deemed untrustworthy, then all that goes down the drain. You can’t believe only “some” of it because then it’s all just guesswork.

        So, yes, Christ did say that we would recieve the Holy Spirit, but in order to actually believe that he said that, you have to believe that the first person testimony of someone who lived two thousand years ago is super accurate and/or divinely inspired. If someone can’t get passed that point, then they’re not going to believe A) that He actually said those words and B) that they have any meaning/truth/purpose. Do you see what I’m trying to get at?

        I’m not trying to argue or say anything against Christianity at all. I was strictly speaking to the debate around Biblical inerrancy and (what I would consider) the logical endpoint of the Bible actually being in error.
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        • When people argue that the Bible is inerrant, they often use 2 Tim. 3:16 which says that all scripture is “God-breathed.” Man is also “God-breathed” but definitely errant. And whose interpretation of the Bible is inerrant? When God told the young man to sell everything he had, do you interpret that to mean we are to do that too? Some people do and others don’t. When Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” I would interpret that as a stand against the death penalty. Others would not. So inerrant is kind of irrelevant when we can’t even agree what it means. So even if the scriptures don’t err, we definitely do when we read it.

  16. I’d like to read (and understand) the original writings. I’d like to see how different it is from what we have today in the “Bible.”
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  17. It is written that God’s Word does not return void (empty) but accomplishes what it was sent out to do. If there is growth, change, or renewal in your life due to God’s Word, even the parts that are hard to accept, wouldn’t that indicate its inerrancy? Just a thought. 8)

  18. WOW reading what folks have to say about the Bible and that it may contain errors answers why this world is in the shape it is. The Word of God does not contain errors! Then to think we have Pastors who would teach such just blows my mind!

    For give us Father for we know not what we are doing!!!!!!!!

  19. I think the “machine” mind of man gets in the way of divine truth. Mind lets personal emotions cloud judgement, it tries to make logic out of things that don’t follow the rules of logic.I think the bible is a mixture of divine truth and human bias. There are too many great chapters of the bible that hold significant information that were thrown out because somebody with a bigger ego didn’t like where they were leading. Doesn’t anyone else find it odd the Gospel of Mary never made it in? She told her disciple brothers that God pretty much told her to seek divine wisdom from within. So, trust yourself, trust God, and find your own truth because we are pure spirits living in a material world of illusion, so of course the only place you can trust is within yourself, which also happens to be the resting ground of God himself. Peter and Andrew were simply jealous and butt hurt that God told her-a WOMAN?! and not them. You also have to remember when Eve ate that apple and when Adam joined in they laid the foundation of lies. So, everything from the start has been a lie. God wants us to find the truth on our own. And I agree, Jesus was a poet, he didn’t mean everything literally, and even today people just don’t listen unless its what they WANT to hear. Jesus has said a lot that contradicts the way Christians think they need to worship. God knows each of us and what resources are available to us at what time. He knows the intent of the heart, which is why he told us to mind our own business and trust that he knows what he’s doing. Humans are simply all knowing energies stuck in flesh that can’t receive the message. Nothing is going to be easy to figure out, there would be no point of living on this turbulent Earth if it was easy.

  20. Perhaps you have misread Peter?

    No-one else walked on Water.

    I actually think the protestant tradition has done a hatchet job on Peter (due to his links with the Papacy) and it has entered into our culture that he was a ‘boob’. Try reading the Gospels and Acts looking for the positive Peter.

    To answer your question the bible is infallible but has to be read within the context of reason and the apostolic tradition which defined it.

  21. So our priorities and monies go to prove something that when all is said and done is still debatable. Not in the culture we live in.