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March 07, 2013

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Love you posts, Jim. Always a good read.

Your*

This was an excellent post Jim. Thank you.

Wouldn't you expect any text to become more reliable if you redact the contradictions? If you have to witness statements:

"The getaway car went south on Main Street. It was red."

"The getaway car went south on Main Street. It was blue."

Suppose I "redact" 50% of the alleged factual content; now both statements read:

"The getaway car went south on Main Street."

Which is likely reliable.

It seems as though if you redact the apparent conflicts, it's obvious that the statements are likely more true. This is so obvious that it makes me think I'm just missing the point. Then again, I hold that scriptures are more than reliable, so maybe I'm not your intended audience.

Nick-

I think the point is not that the text would become more reliable. That's a given for precisely the sorts of reason you mention. The point is that even with all that content removed, the major claims of Christianity are still supported by the reduced text.

I'm also an inerrantist, so I think all the alleged contradictions and errors fall flat. For all I know, JWW is an inerrantist too. What I think he's up to here is to grant critics of the text all they want and more. And then to show that it still isn't enough for them to take away the message of Christianity.

The wall I seem to come up against is folks complaining that if you find mistakes in the bible, it taints the credibility of all the accounts. The argument goes along the lines that these are the inaccuracies we've discovered, but what about all the ones we haven't? With folks who argue like that, you will find that they assume there must be problems that we don't know about on the basis of the discovered ones. Thus, the conclusion they make is that it can't possibly be reliable and there had to have been tampering somewhere along the line of transmission.

Usually, I find that a response to them along the lines of, "What other inconsistencies or inaccuracies have you come across that have troubled you?" will reveal that they have a predetermined mindset not to believe. If pressed further, they almost invariably have not read the Bible through and really have no idea of discrepancies, but they're banking their money on the skeptics. At least that has been what I've encountered...

I tend to put a little bit more weight on inerrancy than most people I've run across.

I am at least troubled by the hasty assurance that apologists sometimes make that an errant text can still be reliable. While I'm sure that is true, the challenges that have been raised thus far are so weak (they're actually downright lame for the most part) that I hardly think such haste to give up ground and retrench elsewhere is warranted.

And the stakes of giving up seem pretty high.

This is because the argument for inerrancy is valid. Which means that if the conclusion is false, one of the premises must be. But the premises all seem pretty important to me, including propositions like "God exists", "God is no deceiver" and "The Bible is inspired".

The argument from our side is that the minor discrepancies that we find within the text do not impact the central doctrines in any significant way. Of course that is true enough, but from the view of an outsider the central doctrines may not matter as much as the reliability of every jot and every tittle. If that is brought into question, they don't care if the bible is inerrant in the things it affirms as even that suddenly becomes a question of scribal errors creeping in or infusion of foreign text. As soon as there is even a sliver of doubt about the integrity of the text, everything becomes suspect. It seems to be a reaction of betrayal of trust. It is like if I told you a lie and you discover I did, then you don't trust anything I say anymore. But I find it kind of strange that these folks will trust their local paper even if in the following week it prints a retraction about some small detail they got wrong in a previous publication. Of course the usual refrain for that is that with the source being God, the bible must be held to a higher standard and the expectation is that it meet that standard.

I think the missing element here might be more along the line that we are not left just with the text to fend for ourselves, but have the Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth. Of course that often does not translate too well for those who are not Christians. Perhaps this is the limitation of apologetic and why Greg has often stated that his goals are modest...that of placing a stone in the shoe even when the person really needs a boulder dropped on the toe to get their attention. But I guess we should leave the boulder dropping to God.

Isn't it the case that texts, even if redacted, aren't the problem, but the manifold interpretations of those texts?

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