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June 30, 2015


You can't really dispute the point that the books of the Bible are cobbled together from myriad fragments and forgeries and copying errors and politically motivated revisions etc. Modern Bible scholarship is close to unanimous on this point, with both theistic and atheistic historians agreeing.

Therefore, I guess you have to say God himself directed all the accidents and forgeries and interpolations etc., and that God guided the Council of Nicea and spoke to the Bishops there via his Holy Spirit.

John, as a person who has read all sorts of biblical scholars, from liberal to agnostic to bible-believing, I can say that your first paragraph is patently false. It is A) false that Biblical scholars on the whole believe this, and B) false that they believe books in the Bible are forgeries or copying errors on the whole.

There is a basic consensus that from textual critics (people that study the original manuscripts) that we have the original books that were written, especially in the New Testament. Some scholars believe certain Pauline books might be two of his letters spliced into one. Some other scholars believe that a couple of Pauline epistles are forgeries. No one believes that any of the books in the NT were cobbled together as myriad fragments. No one. I have no idea where you are getting that one from.

There is no proof anywhere that the NT documents were ever revised in a significant way from when originally written. You have to analyze the documents themselves and invent revisions in order for them to exist (in that respect). Nowhere do we see evidence of major revisions in the manuscripts themselves from earlier manuscripts. You do see some revisions centuries later in the manuscript tradition. Most revisions to the text were that the scribe thought something was copied wrong and tried to correct it. You have a few added passages here and there, but those kinds of things generally come centuries after the autographs were written. Scholars have traced those kinds of things and weeded them out. So some revisions were there, but the thing is, there are so many manuscripts that we know what they are.

99 percent of copy errors are completely insignificant. The ones that are significant, for the most part can be figured out 95 percent of the time with very little doubt, or they don't significantly change meaning. These are basically just facts John Moore. Except for a couple of verses in the NT were there is a little uncertainty, we have the original documents as they were penned. We could even use the early church father's quotes to come to the same text in Greek if needed.

Let us say that we grant your thesis that there are revisions. Let's say we include those revisions that we know are there in the text. For instance, we know that the passage of the woman who had committed adultery in John was added on in the 7th century and is not in earlier manuscripts. Let's say that we leave the 'politically motivated' revision in.

Does that significantly alter the story of John?

Not really.

So basically, the revisions are not really that significant on the whole and don't change the theology or overarching story that much.

I'm sorry, but it sounds as if you really do not know too much about modern biblical scholarship. I do not mean to sound rude.

As a challenge, can you list a politically motivated revision in a passage somewhere in the NT? Use the English Standard Version. See if you can find one. Do a little research online. Let's see if your claim stands up.

And the challenge is not that serious. We don't have the original manuscripts, we have thousands of handwritten copies of them. There are so many, that we can compare them together and easily reconstruct the originals. As to whether or not they are inerrant, we do not know what this person means by inerrant, so it would be impossible to answer the question without more information. But we do basically have the originals, so that's not a question.

The response is simple.
"Good for you, now prove it."
If his standard of the ability to say something is "proof" then he can apply his own standard to his rant and provide proof that "the Bible is replete with errors."
"What you are not entitled to is a misrepresentation of the facts."

Actually, given the proliferation of copies, we can:

a) be relatively certain by virtue of comparison of what the originals actually said.

b) see that they were actually copied with incredible fidelity. The vast bulk of textual variants are extremely minor. Those that aren't minor can all be accounted for; we know what the error is and how it was made.

c) know that the originals have not bee intentionally distorted because we have so many copies to verify them with. Compare this to the history of the Koran. At one point it was observed that copy errors were in the Koran. So all the copies were collected, a singe edition produced to serve as authoritative, and all the copies that were collected destroyed. Hence, except now for one or two that have been found and somewhat sequestered for fear of scholars' lives, there are no copies left to verify the edition that exists today.

d) see that the variants that exist along with the extraordinary abundance of copies and fragments have resulted in intensive scholarship done to analyze, catalog, and reproduce findings on the history of the biblical text.

So we can see that the Bible has been preserved, not by having only the originals with a handful of copies, which would actually be suspect, but by having a veritable sea of copies with traceable variants that present an amazing testimony to the power and authority of the originals, which we don't actually need because of all the traceable copies. There's no way to wipe this book out.

Mr. McSwain is arguing a point most textual scholars will not argue anymore. The textual evidence for the New Testament dwarfs any other secular ancient document. It is the most perfectly preserved book in human history. Textual scholars have determined that what we have today is more than 99% accurate to what was originally written down.

If Mr. McSwain is ready to throw out the Bible on those grounds, then in order to be consistent, he would have to throw out every other historical document we have.

That said, I would ask where he finds factual errors or contradictions in the Bible. There are many perceived "errors" in the Bible, but those can almost always be traced back to a presupposition on the part of the person (such as the supernatural doesn't exist), not actual errors in the Bible.

Taking all the variants as input, textual criticism allows you to estimate their common ancestor.

The common ancestor might be the original or not.

I, personally, am not a big fan of the word "inerrant". It dies the death of a thousand qualifications. One of my professors at grad school helped draft the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and I was frustrated as the same professor who hammered the "essential doctrine of inerrancy" one minute and on the next would instruct us on how the Gospel of Mark was riddled with bad grammar in the original Greek. If you are going to say the Bible is inerrant on the one hand and then say one of the Gospel writers made a bunch of grammatical errors on the other hand . . .

If you don't mean the Bible has no errors, even in the "originals", don't use the term "inerrant".

You can use the word "accurate", "authoritative", or "reliable", but if you're going to use the word "inerrant" then qualify the term to account for spelling errors, grammatical errors, genre (an opening Old Earth Creationist types to fudge the dating of Genesis 1-11 and to account for the historian's infatuation with rounding off the kings' reigns to 40 years), or idiomatic grammar (like the triumphal hyperbole in Joshuah where whole cities and people groups were exterminated, only to show up later in Judges and Samuel), why use the a word that means "without error" in the first place.

The Bible was not, like the Koran claims to be, dictated by God to the writer's pen. The idea that the Bible is inspired accounts for the fact that the Bible was written by men, often men who, though they may have been aware of God's inspiration upon them, were not aware as they put pen to paper that they were writing "scripture".

The Bible is increasingly shown to be historically accurate in it's accounts. The "contradictions" often cited, for example in the Chronicles and Kings, have been rectified enough to show that they are, in fact, far more accurate than the records of the pharaohs in Egypt that most archeologists use as the standard for dating the entire region.

If you're going to found your theology on the word "inerrant" then the first time someone points out to you the Mark made a mistake your faith is going to be shattered. Read the testimony of the famous anti-Bible expert, Bart Ehrman, whose books attacking the reliability of the Bible John Moore (who commented above) has obviously interacted with.

Ron, you are exactly right. What's your point?

Reading through the rest of Mr. McSwain's article we find that not only does he reject his misperceptions of what the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and infallibility teach, but he:

1) denies the clarity of Scripture

2) denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as savior (although holds onto the convention of capitalizing personal pronouns in reference to Jesus)

3) denies the imminent return of Jesus Christ

4) denies the authority of Scripture in its moral prescriptions and prohibitions

5) denies the inspiration of the Pauline epistles, and

6) denies young earth creationism. While I don't consider that last to be a hill to die on, some might.

All that being the case, I don't see much value in answering the one objection regarding inerrancy and infallibility. Mr. McSwain has bigger problems.

JBerr,that you don't know if what you have is original

If you guys really want to claim we have the books of the Bible intact as originally written by the God-inspired saints of old, then you do have to read a bit of Bart Ehrman's work or also Richard Carrier. I know it will be painful for a lot of true-believing Christians, but you can't ignore all this solid scholarship. At least you need to acknowledge their work and contest their evidence.

I myself felt really disappointed that Paul didn't actually write more than maybe six of his epistles. And just the fact that the gospels weren't really written until about 40 years after Christ's death, and none of the Gospel writers were Christ's disciples. And yes, the Book of Acts is just cobbled together from myriad legends and hearsay. Sorry folks, but you need to engage with the scholarly work if you want to convince anyone who isn't already convinced.

I don't need an inerrant Bible in order to learn from it. I take more of a "bottom-up" approach than a "top-down" approach. The Bible was written by men, inspired by God (if you wish), as Beethoven's Ninth was written by Ludwig van, with God's inspiration (again, if you wish). Inspiration is not necessary for us to treasure it or glean from it. This "inerrancy" requirement is a man-made doctrine, unnecessary for faith to exist.

If the biblical scripture, as it is in the original and in the thousands upon thousands of manuscripts, is inaccurate and errant, then we have no basis on which to root out faith. What is the purpose of believing in a God that is only known by falsifiable documents? Without the Word of Scripture we have no foundation for faith in God, and no root for Jesus Christ. The innerency of the Word of God is imperative for faith.
That being said, there are more documents, fragments, and copies to the New Testament books than there are to any other ancient document in history. The Word of God that we currently have on our bookshelves today is rooted in the original, though sometimes the translation may be lacking the full force or intended meaning of the original(try translation a French paper accurately into English, or any other language and you will see how difficult it is to translate any document, and French and English are much more similar to Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew).
Scholars will continue to debate on certain passages and origin theories until the earth is consumed; but there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of Gods Word when read prayerfully, carefully and as intended.

If the biblical scripture, as it is in the original and in the thousands upon thousands of manuscripts, is inaccurate and errant, then we have no basis on which to root our faith.

I completely disagree. How, then, did people believe in Christ before any of the N.T. documents were written?

I don't need an inerrant Bible (which did not exist in Christ's time) to follow his two greatest commandments.

John, Richard Carrier is a friend of Stand to Reason. He speaks to the high school kids Brett takes up to Berkeley, then they all interact with each other. As for Bart Ehrman, we've discussed him on this blog, also.

Ron, once again, we've explained to you how your argument does not hold water. The only people interested in preserving these documents in the first century would have been Christians. We have first century church fathers that start quoting scripture as early as the 90s. Supposedly some scholars recently found manuscripts from early 90s or before even (Craig Evans I believe). This means that there would have been people alive that actually went through the events that occurred, knew Jesus, and knew Paul. Do you really think they would have permitted that false epistles or incorrect gospels would circulate among the churches? Every church had elders. For instance, John, Jesus' disciple, by that time period was an elder in the Ephesian churches. Would he have allowed incorrect information to circulate throughout the Ephesian churches? What you are saying is really rather ridiculous.

John, read Bart Ehrman. Not impressed. At all. The person who you need to read is N.T. Wright. You can read the Jesus and the Victory of God and then The Resurrection of the Son of God. In his works, Wright adequately critiques Ehrman's books directly. Ehrman's arguments mostly have a philosophical basis more than any evidence (I have heard him debate N.T. Wright and he basically admits this outright). Also, he takes a lot of views about a lot of details that really are shaky at best. He definitely is hoping the outcome goes a certain way, and it skews his ability to analyze certain documents. I'm not suggesting that having a bias or a thesis makes him a bad scholar, I'm saying that he wants his thesis to come out so badly that he has to see a lot of things in a twisted light in order to make everything fit. John, you need to understand that though Ehrman is a respected scholar, there is a reason a lot of things he states are highly controversial and largely rejected. Furthermore, I stand by what I wrote above stands. If the only thing you have ever read is Bart Ehrman, then you have read the view of about .01 percent of scholarship. Not even the radical Jesus Seminar believes some things that Ehrman says. There are a host of other scholars that have come to some very different conclusions.

Amy, I think he's referring to that guy who makes the claim Jesus did not exist, not the Richard Carrier you are talking about. If that's the case, not even Ehrman takes that guy seriously. It seems he is often brought up by skeptics because they need someone with a Phd in front of their name in order to try and help validate their argument that Jesus did not exist. I think it's telling that you did not even know who he is.

While the first three century believers didn't have the NT wrapped up in the near bundle that we do, the NT books and Pauline letters were in circulation throughout the entire Christian world from the time of their original writing. And Christians also had the OT, the Jews with the Torah and the Greeks the Septuagint.
Also, if the Scriptures are not innerent, how do we know for sure that the "two greatest commandments" are truly the greatest? If the Word of God has been changed and modified, then surely it's possible that a medieval scholar added that to the scriptures.

Because we can't go wrong with Jesus' two greatest commandments. The inerrancy debate is just academic. If those two are all we have, we win. Nothing else is really that important.

An unfortunate tendency among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, IMO, is the tendency to elevate doctrine over behavior. That's why Jesus' words take precedence for me. They're good enough.

Mr. Shields: What words of Jesus did you have in mind? Just the first and greatest commandment, and the second which is like it, or words such as:

"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."

"I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."

It's inescapable. You have to have both doxy and praxis. Faith without works is dead; works without faith are kindling for the fire.


I think it's the same Richard Carrier.

You don't think he should be 'friends' with STR?

I read Carrier's and Ehrman's books about the historicity of Jesus side-by-side a while ago.

Carrier convincingly discredits some of the arguments Ehrman uses to support the position that Jesus lived.

I think some were the criteria of dissimilarity, coherence, and multiple attestation.

(Just to be clear: I'm not saying Jesus didn't live.)

JBerr, that's the Richard Carrier I'm talking about! Brett takes students on apologetics mission trips. They study the arguments then go interact with people who are making those arguments. Richard Carrier has spoken to the students Brett has taken to Berkeley. He's even endorsed Brett and Stand to Reason (see here).

My point to John is that that's about as far away as you can get from ignoring his ideas.


Your comment on doctrine vs behavior.

Hear Hear! Agree heartily.

Aristotle's ideas about the attributes of God vs words of Jesus?

Words of Jesus every time.

I decided to simplify my Christianity. While I understand the importance for some to need that assurance of perfection in a collection of ancient documents, there is enough there for me to understand what is required of me. The fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders. Eternity is out of my control. I am responsible to love my neighbor, and be humble about it. I want to be a better example today than I was yesterday. I mean, really, how complicated do we want to make this?

I am responsible to love my neighbor, and be humble about it. I want to be a better example today than I was yesterday.
How's that going?

Because I know that if I look to that in my case, I'm starting to feel a little bit like Isaiah. I'm a man of unclean lips and I come from a people of unclean lips.

I mean, really, how complicated do we want to make this?
Perhaps a little more complicated (or simpler) than the above.

You are saved by grace through faith.

Yes, yes, I know all that. I spent 30 years in Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches. I'm just saying I want to simplify.

And it's going fine, thank you.

A few more words from MsSwain's article

As we have it, no matter what translation you favor, the Bible is replete with errors. To pretend otherwise is your right. To say otherwise is a lie.
I love it when people say stuff like this but give no examples.

I do say otherwise.

So now, according to McSwain, I am a liar.

Not just mistaken, a liar.

What that means, because words have meaning, is that I actually am perfectly aware that the Bible has errors...that it is replete with errors. But I repeated the claim above that it has no errors with the purpose of deceiving others.

If all that is true, then McSwain should be able to provide some examples of Biblical errors that I just know are real errors but that I routinely lie about. It should be easy to do so.

But here's the thing, it's not.

Are there passages that aren't as clear as I might like them? Sure. But are there cases where it's just obvious that there is a false claim in the clear meaning of a passage? I don't know of any. And I've done plenty of intellectual slumming to try to find some.

I mean, honestly, what does McSwain have in mind? Matthew's two donkeys? Solomon's cast sea? David's payment of foreskins? The women who came to the tomb? The census of Augustus?

These are not serious challenges.

"And it's going fine, thank you."

I was being serious. How are you managing sins of lust and pride?

Greed? Laziness? Anger? Envy? Over consumption?

It's not really going all that well is it?

There's certainly nothing simple about getting all that right.

It sure isn't for me. The only thing I may be getting better at is knowing what mess I make of things. Then again, I might even be deceiving myself about that.

You misunderstand me. I know I am a sinner. I know I am saved by grace through faith. I am neither a fundamentslist nor an evangelical. I don't identify as a full Progressive, but I am left of the extreme right.

I just don't need an inerrant Bible to be secure in my faith.

I'll tell you what put me over. A few years ago in church, the pastor was preaching on, I think, Jonah. To preface his teaching, he stopped to remark, "...and this really happened," as if a literal reading of the Jonah and the fish story was more important than any moral lesson that might be learned.

Ken Ham and his Creation Museums, and his YEC stance, also convinced me that adherence to a literal reading of the Bible (which implies inerrancy) was not the school to which I wanted to belong. There's more, but as someone above wisely noted, the term "inerrancy" is ill-defined; as such, I am not an inerrantist.

I'm waiting to see what conspiracy theory you will come up with to explain the NT documents, Ron. Perhaps it was a plot created by the Romans to keep the Jews off balance? Maybe they wrote all those NT letters.

Or maybe Jesus was actually just a Greek cynic philosopher who was not actually buried but eaten by dogs.

Or maybe he and his disciples had an existentialist experience 18 centuries out of time in the first century and used language to talk about Jesus like he'd risen from the dead.


I am reminded of this quote from the late Dallas Willard when confronted by people who think grace means they don't have to make an effort to be good. (because it is "impossible")

"Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action."
Dallas Willard

Good quote. I agree.


The Bible was written by men, inspired by God (if you wish), as Beethoven's Ninth was written by Ludwig van, with God's inspiration (again, if you wish).

“If you wish”?

It’s not about wishing. Without God there is no Bible. No?

As a big fan of Beethoven, to compare the inspiration of his scribblings to the Bible is, I’m sorry, stupid.

when confronted by people who think grace means they don't have to make an effort to be good

Again. Here come those people that think they can sin at will because, well…Grace. Still haven’t met one.


"Here come those people"....

Where? Where are they?

And don't you beleive that the elect can sin at will because, well, grace?

Are you one of "those people"?

Where? Where are they?

That’s what I’m asking you Goat Head. How many Christians do you know that feel they don’t have to make an effort to follow God’s Word?


Do you just like to make that up?


I see this sentiment all the time. Ever see the bumper sticker, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven"?

This attitude is rampant in American chruches. Survey after survey indicate that Christians don't act any differently than non Christians.

Look at WL's comments to Perry. Is Christianity just an arrangement to get forgiveness from an angry God or does it have a genuinely positive effect on how people live?

You never answered my question, either. Don't you think that the elect can sin at will because grace?

Goat Head 5,

Don't you think that the elect can sin at will because grace?

What makes you so special?

When you sin is it your will that you sin?

Do you sin at will?

So now you have a problem don’t you?

1. Goat Head 5 sins at will
2. Goat Head 5 is a Christian
3. Goat Head 5 believes he operates under Grace

Are you so happy with yourself that you believe you have a more severe view of sin that I do?

I hope you don’t.

Look at WL's comments to Perry. Is Christianity just an arrangement to get forgiveness from an angry God or does it have a genuinely positive effect on how people live?
I never said that Christianity is just an arrangement to get forgiveness from an angry God. But that, of course, won't bother you GH5.


Those questions were my own. Never said that you said those things.So of course it doesn't bother me that you didn't say them.


Still not answering my question. I'll take a crack at some of yours:

I'm made in the image of God. I think that's pretty special.

When I sin it is sometimes my will to sin and sometimes I sin by mistake, with good though mistaken intentions.

Do I "sin at will"? Not sure what you mean by that. See above.

Am I happy with myself? You know, some things I do pretty well and other things I'm working on.

But really, KWM, what is your point? What do you think I am saying that you disagree with? What am I saying that provokes this strong response from you?

Do I have a more severe view of sin than you? I really couldn't say. I try to have a correct view, rather than a "more severe" one.

Goat Head 5,

Do I "sin at will"? Not sure what you mean by that.

I think you do. That’s why you wrote:

When I sin it is sometimes my will to sin

So, you obviously do sin at will. So that’s cleared up. (not sure what kind of sins you commit by mistake - but it doesn't matter).

So now this question:

Do you operate under God’s Grace?

Of course you believe that.

What am I saying that provokes this strong response from you?

You say this now because you’re in a bind. You’ve found yourself in a tough spot. The spot of being a sinner that sins at will, yet still remains under the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

You can rest easy, Goat Head 5. It’s where all Christians should find themselves.

Lucky for us.


My point is that if you want to simplify your faith, Simplify it down to what's at the center: Christ crucified, not your good works.

I was objecting to what you emphasized, not denying that you believe the point you weren't emphasizing. Now that I've put it that way, you might even agree with me.

On the topic of this thread, you will probably say that you don't need an inerrant Bible to have faith in Christ Crucified either. So, you will say, the On-Topic kernel of your argument remains unchallenged (by me at least).

Fair enough. It might be harder to do without an inerrant Bible than you might think, but let's bracket that discussion for the nonce.


Let's just consider your reasons for believing that the doctrine is untrue.

A few years ago in church, the pastor was preaching on, I think, Jonah. To preface his teaching, he stopped to remark, "...and this really happened," as if a literal reading of the Jonah and the fish story was more important than any moral lesson that might be learned.
I wasn't there, but this seems like a strange hill to die on.

I think the Jonah story is one of the stories that actually did happen. It doesn't read like a parable. (While, for example, the entire book of Job kinda does.) But it's there to teach a spiritual lesson. Of course it is. Why should the two ideas be exclusive of one another?


I understand your frustration with literalism. I'm perhaps, more frustrated than you are, because literalism is so often set up as a package-deal with inerrancy.

There is no good reason to believe literalism is true, and plenty of reasons to think it is false.

At the same time, there is a pretty challenging deductive argument for the claim that inerrancy is true. (And on the other side, you have a bevy of lame objections IMO.)

If you read the Chicago Statement, you'll see that it is not committed to literalism. Inerrancy neither implies, nor is implied by literalism.

Sometimes the Bible does say things that are meant to be taken literally, e.g. Jesus rose from the dead. Sometimes it says things that are not. Jesus' parables for example.

You have to read the Bible like a work of literature, because that's exactly what it is. You have to take into account its use of symbolism, hyperbole, ellipsis, prolepsis, tension etc. No inerrantist should deny this.

But that is just to say that literalism is false, and no inerrantist should deny this.

Categorical literalism in interpretation should be a view that is seen as antithetical to inerrancy, not as linked. Thus my frustration.


You still haven't answered my question.

OK. As a Christian I am forgiven via God's grace. How does this put me in a "bind"? How am I in a "tough spot"?

You say "rest easy". Ah, now we get round to it. Resting easy is the problem for the majority of Christians. They are not putting forth the effort to live via the two great commandments and instead are "resting easy", living no differently than their pagan neighbors.

However, all this said, I still don't know what I said that you disagree with.

What is your beef with what I have said?

I've simplified my faith down to Christ Risen, and following Christ by working to do what He commanded. (Not saying I'm "earning" my salvation)

IMO, Churches are doing a terrible job of making disciples, teaching them to do what Jesus commanded.

Goat Head 5,

If you don’t understand what I have written, writing further will not make you understand either.

IMO, Churches are doing a terrible job of making disciples, teaching them to do what Jesus commanded.
I totally agree. They always have. Then again, look at the terrible sinners they have to work with.

I don't think that telling people what they should do helps with the goal you have in mind.

People know what they should do.


I tried, I did certainly try.

Unsolicited advice is almost always unwelcome, but here it is anyway.....

If you want to converse with someone, you need to answer when they ask you a question. It would also be good to, when others answer your questions, well, to take that answer in good faith.

You never did answer any of my questions. But, hey, I hope you have a good holiday, if you live in the USA.

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