SOME FAQ AND A STYLE GUIDE FOR NEWSGROUP ALT.BIBLE.ERRANCY
First compiled 9 May, 1999 by Viv| Last revised 7 November, 2004 | Contact: vivsmythe [AT] gmail.com
This is an introduction to alt.bible.errancy (moderated). Comments and corrections of fact are welcomed.
This FAQ will be posted to the newsgroup approximately fortnightly. NB: The newsgroup is now sadly no longer active, although it still exists. This FAQ will remain here as a resource anyway (some/many links may now be obsolete).
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Traditional Christian doctrine holds that Scripture is revealed by God to prophets (revelation), who are inspired, impelled and assisted by the Holy Spirit to record revelation accurately (inspiration) and that the Holy Spirit guides those who read the words of Scripture to understand the original revelation accurately (illumination). The early Church (and most denominations today) held that implicit in revelation, inspiration and illumination is the authority and infallibility of the Bible – that it applies to all humans everywhere, for all time, and that it is trustworthy and cannot deceive.
“If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture it is not allowable to
say, “The author of this book is mistaken;” but either the manuscript is faulty
or the translator is wrong, or you have not understood.” -(St.) Augustine
In contrast, moderate Christian theologians believe in revelation (and perhaps illumination), but not infallible inspiration, and liberal Christian theologians believe that the Bible writers were merely humans with a “high degree of religious insight”. Near the turn of the century German theologian Adolf Harnack had this classic definition of Liberal theology: “Firstly, the Kingdom of God and its coming. Secondly, God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul. Thirdly, the higher righteousness and the commandment of love.” Atheists deny any religious validity to the Bible, and view it as merely an attempt to explain the history of the Jewish people in spiritual terms.
Inerrantists extend the doctrine of infallibility to state that the Bible is totally free of error of any kind (other than insignificant copyist errors). For fundamentalists, inerrancy is not restricted to moral and religious truth. It is applied to all statements of fact in the Bible, “scientific, historical, or geographical” (Dave Miller) and the possibility of allegory is denied.
Those who reject the label “fundamentalist” because of its current negative connotations (“biblically orthodox” is becoming a favoured term) are often more willing to accept allegory in the Old Testament, but affirm the inerrancy of the New Testament as literal history.
Inerrancy of sacred texts is not a belief confined to Christianity. This is a common fundamentalist stance particularly true within the conservative wings of the world’s major religions. Since the religious texts of various religions and denominations differ greatly from one another, only one of them (at most) can be truly inerrant. The rest must be false – at least to some degree.
1. ‘Radical’ here is used in the academic sense of “pertaining to the root of the matter” rather than in the modern tabloid sense of “an extremist view of which I disapprove and you should too.” [back]
2. “Illumination” is a particularly controversial doctrine. Those modern churches with a strong priestly hierarchy deny individual “illumination” and hold that only the Church can accurately interpret Scripture, whereas many non-hierarchical Christian groups, particularly the growing Pentecostal fundamentalists, hold strongly to individual “illumination” by the Holy Spirit. [back]
Also, as other religions also have their conservative wings who believe that their particular sacred texts are inerrant, a belief in strict inerrancy promotes intolerance between the faithful of other religions. This can lead to aggression, repression and at its worst armed conflict when exploited for political purposes.Thus errantists challenge inerrancy in an effort to promote religious tolerance and ecumenicalism, also social justice – much of the modern debate between Christians regarding inerrancy was crystallised during debates regarding the abolition of slavery in the 19th century.
Many skeptics argue that inerrancy is not only a theological view in a vacuum, it also has profound political implications. Because inerrancy is an extremely conservative theological position, it tends to go hand in hand with conservative/reactionary/retrogressive views on social policy (sexuality, gender equality, reproduction, ecological conservation, separation of Church and State, freedom of religious thought and practise, etc.), justified by appeals to the authority of passages in the Bible as the only guide to moral living for all time.
Thus in debating inerrancy, skeptics are challenging the philosophical base of the politically active conservative and fundamentalist Christians.Essay: Does Inerrancy ReallyMatter?
Thus, inerrancy as the paradigm supporting this movement towards theocracy threatens the democratic rights of moderates, liberals and non-believers, as well as believers of non-Christian religions or even believers in different denominations of Christianity (disagreement amongst Christians regarding the nature/interpretation of the Bible is so extreme that some fundamentalists regard devout liberal Christians as blasphemers, the OT punishment for which is death).
Such Christian extremists also exist outside the USA, but in smaller numbers with less political clout and are less likely to have formed a militia with a state-of-the-art arsenal. Various extremists of other religions who claim the inerrancy of their sacred texts (particularly Judaism and Islam) wish to establish theocracies in other democratic countries around the world, and very few of them rule out the use of force to achieve their goals. This scenario makes some people very nervous indeed.
There are many other terms which are used more narrowly in skeptical discussion circles than in the general community e.g. agnostic and atheist.
There are also terms such as Deist, pantheist, panentheist etc which are useful background knowledge. Bookmark The Skeptic’s Dictionary at http://skepdic.com/ as a handy reference for terms you haven’t previously encountered.
More detail on these challenges – ” Problems With Inerrancy”