On the Inspiration of the Bible and other Books

 Deutsche Version: Von der Interpretation der Bibel und anderer Bücher.

The Bible as a solid anchor?

Fundamentalists and more generally Evangelicals believe that if God exists and is interested in human affairs, He will give us an inerrant Bible where His nature is revealed in a consistent and trustworthy manner.

We are living in a very uncertain world and I am well aware that such a faith can bring a great comfort to quite a few people who have the feeling to have found an unshakable anchor.

The Bible as a strong anchor in a deep ocean.
The Bible, firm anchor of our faith?

But when clever and intellectually honest persons are confronted with undeniable Biblical contradictions, and above else with places where God is portrayed as  being an unjust tyrant, they will most often throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater and become resentful opponents of Christianity.

Such deconversion experiences often stem from the binary way their brain has been programmed to consider the Biblical Canon: as a young pastor told me recently, if one begins to doubt the truth of details in the Old Testament, everything is called into question and it becomes impossible to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

They fail to consider the possibility there are many other ways to read, understand and see the Bible.

I personally read the books accepted within the Biblical Canon in the same way I read books from all Christian authors between 300 A.C. and our 21cst century, that is as the description of human experiences with and thoughts about God.

When I read the testimonies of other Christians, I will certainly consider what they write as fallible humans words about God, but I am quite open they might have received profound insights about God and how to lead one’s life. I would be also quite open to the possibility that God acted in miraculous ways among them and that they encountered hostile spiritual entities.

And as I explained with the example of the life of Martin Luther  even if people do egregious things and teach mistaken (and even blasphemous) things about God, I have no problem believing they have genuine experiences with Him.

To take a concrete example, I read the books of the apostle Paul in the same way  I read books from C.S. Lewis: I believe that both were exemplary Christians, great defenders of the faith and extraordinary men, and the presence of logical, empirical and theological errors in their writings does not prevent me at all from appreciating all the right things they figured out.

But if we don’t believe that the books within the Biblical Canon are more inspired than books outside it, how can we make the difference between right and wrong beliefs about God?

While I cannot speak for all progressive Christians, I believe that we should base our theology on the fact that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God. Even if human beings are fallible creatures, they are quite able to recognize perfection and to find out what is morally right and wrong as Saint Paul explained in the first chapters of the letter to the Romans.

Actually, as I will argue in a future post, the apostle Paul (or at the very least the author of the Acts of the Apostles)  believed and taught that Pagan authors thinking about Zeus can get quite a few things about God right.

The apostle Paul, preaching and debating with Greek philosophers.
Apostle Paul at the Areopagus

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31 thoughts on “On the Inspiration of the Bible and other Books

  1. Do you believe that when the NT writers affirm that the OT scriptures were inspired by God (you know all the proof-texts) that they were wrong?

    And, does this also sort of imply that the faith we now have is based on the “winners” (i.e. history is written by the winners). Or, do you believe that the essentials of the Christian faith (death and resurrection of Jesus) were preserved by God in what was written.

  2. In my experince the apparant contradiction, prove themselves not to be when examined in more depth with power of the Holy spirit.
    The idea that the bible makes God out to be monstor is a perception of the reader, however if the reader is humble enough to realise that his sin is so abohrant, to an all holy God, then hell altough a horrible thought, does not seem so unfair. God gave his son as a ransome. No greater love is there than you give up your life for a friend, yet christ gave up his life for his enamies. This does not sound like a monster to me.

    • Jo, I cannot speak for Lothar, but I would say that there ARE contradictions throughout the Bible and that speculative resolutions or scriptural harmonization does not remove them.

      In regard to the Old Testament, I believe that the writer’s of that time, who felt a special relationship with God, wrote about him as they understood him, and their understanding was quite limited and often far off-base. In other words, they were mistaken in many of their understandings about God.

      The most perfect perspective we have of God is Jesus’ teachings about the Father, and the Father is a God of love and acceptance, which is in great contrast to the angry, violent picture of God in the Old Testament.

      Lothar, I apologize if I have overstepped by writing on your post. Feel free to remove this comment if you wish.

  3. Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz and commented:
    A thoughtful address from a newly discovered neither in the Ether. While I consider myself an anarchocynic daoist, I keep a sincere interest in the Christian Church and have made many wonderful new companions who think of themselves as progressive Christians. This piece is one I would recommend to my void brothers and sisters of the Ether who have left the Church through an emotional severing, an Either/Or reaction that itself is born from a particular interpretation of the Bible. As a philosopher, one directly descended from Karl Jaspers who was my mentor’s teacher, I recommend that folks not leave the faith of their youth until a decision can be made that transcends the emotion driven choice. _/|\_

  4. Lothar, This is the first time I have visited your blog, though I have seen your comments on other blogs. I really appreciate this post; you have a lot of good things to say.

    I especially like your observation and agree whole-heartedly: “I read the books of the apostle Paul in the same way I read books from C.S. Lewis: I believe that both were exemplary Christians, great defenders of the faith and extraordinary men, and the presence of logical, empirical and theological errors in their writings does not prevent me at all to appreciate all the right things they figured out.”

  5. This probably isn’t the place to write this, and I apologize for that. However I feel very inclined to thank you. I spent all morning reading through this blog, and it answered questions that had been torturing me for a very long time. God was a figure that I had begun to dislike, because in my mind he was a hateful, and wrathful being who preached love and contradicted himself much too often. When I was close to God I felt brainwashed, and all I ever saw around me was discrimination and bigotry. So I disconnected and I only noticed the flaws in the bible and in God. (As a homosexual this discrimination is amplified in my family, so it was all the more easy to notice.) However…the way you explained things, and spoke about love and his loving nature..It made sense. And not in the stereotypical, ”just accept something you don’t understand” manner. It truly makes sense, and all of the hate and anger that I had managed to pent up in regards to Christianity has faded away in all of an hour.

    So Once again I thank you.
    – A Renewed Believer

  6. Hi, that’s a very good and interesting article! For myself I view the Bible as inspired, but not as inerrant, infallible, perfect or fully comprehensive.

    So I’d like to suggest a fourth way of reading the Bible, which also avoids the pitfalls of fundamentalism or of simply rejecting the Bible completely.

    For me, the Bible is special primarily because it is our first and most authentic record of Christ. So I would place the gospels in the highest rank, because they are as near as we can get to Jesus’ actual words and deeds (though with the caveat that some of the words may be slightly misremembered or adapted to make a theological point).

    After that I would place the rest of the New Testament, which is the thoughts and teachings of Christ’s first followers and eyewitnesses (and I’d extend that to Paul).

    Then for me would come the Old Testament, which foreshadows and prefigures Christ, and provides the background and context for his Messiahship and his his words and deeds (including his death and resurrection).

    So for me the Bible has to take precedence over other Christian literature (say by C.S. Lewis or Martin Luther), simply because of its primary relationship to Christ.

    That’s not to say though that it is ‘God’s Word’ as fundamentalists understand it – only Jesus is fully the ‘Word of God’. I don’t believe the Bible is perfect, or everything in it is correct. But I do believe that God chooses to speak through the imperfect Bible, and that as he does so it can *become* God’s word to us.

    Harvey (aka ‘The Evangelical Liberal’)

    • Why not reject the Bible completely? Since Christianity is not anymore a totalitarian religion, and being shunned for not being a Christian is a thing of the past, what’s the use of Christianity, fundamentalist or not?

      • Hi Valdobiade, yes, there are times when I feel like rejecting the whole Bible or all of Christianity – but I find I can’t. I just can’t get away from the person of Jesus Christ, who I find utterly compelling and unique, and who I genuinely believe has changed my life in profound ways.

        So yes, there’s much in traditional church teaching and practice that I do reject – much of which I think Christ would probably reject too. But I can’t reject Christ. And the Bible points to and reveals Christ, so I can’t entirely reject that either.

        • Unfortunately Valdobiade was not willing to pursue the conversation with me on the grounds that I first answered to another Christian instead to him :=(

          That’s a real pity, it is my best guess he has been deeply traumatized by fundamentalism.

          • I believe we should never despise nice fundies just because of their (morally outrageous) beliefs.

            We really ought to grow in our ability to love the sinner while hating the sin.

  7. Caught your link over on Fluid Christianity. As someone who doesn’t believe in magic and explored the Bible from that viewpoint, I found that there were a lot of great insights within. I also found a lot of concerns about how many Christians follow the Bible yet seem to ignore Jesus’ messages. You may be interested in my blog, and I am curious to read more of yours!


  8. Hey, first of all fantastic blog! I have no problem at all with this approach. As long as you take the Gospel as Gospel, I believe the rest will sort itself out.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with inerrancy. We, however, are errant, so our interpretation will not always be correct, particularly in the OT. In order to understand an inspired text, one must become an inspired reader. Our own understanding is subject to prejudices and irrational thinking.

  9. Considering the problems in the Bible and that it was obviously just written by regular, though sincere, people, why should we actually believe the fantastical elements? Like Jesus being divine, the various miracles, etc. Do you think that other religions also contain real spiritual truths within their writings? If not, why not?


    • Hello Nate, thanks for raising these valid and very relevant questions!

      It is obvious I cannot give you a due answer with a few lines.

      I believe that non-Christians can also have genuine experiences with God, though they don’t interpret them that way.
      Actually, I will argue in a future post the the apostle Paul himself believed that Pagan poets can grasp profound truths about God (the greatest being who can exist).

      Yet I believe that the full revelation of God was through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

      So just hang on if you are interested 🙂

      Lovely greetings from the UK where I live.

  10. Amazing to me that anyone who claims Christ as Lord can then turn around and ignore that he said scripture cannot be set aside. Your premises are built on flawed understanding of what the text is and how to approach it. I think if you examine the words of Christ and the apostles closely, you’ll find they did not approach as you have in this article.

      • Whether you think they knew the earth is round or not is irrelevant to what I stated. The testimony is that men under the influence of the holy Spirit spoke as God. As human beings, it is ireelevant what knowledge of the physical world they had, because it was knowledge of the spiritual world-and word-that they shared, from God.

      • “It is he that sitteth upon the globe of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as locusts: he that stretcheth out the heavens as nothing, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” – Isaiah 40:22 (Douay-Rheims Bible; the Catholic contemporary of the KJV)

        Ancient Hebrew had no separate word for sphere or globe, so ח֣וּג (ḥūḡ) meant circle, globe, vault, horizon, circuit, or compass. The translator determines its meaning from the context. Therefore:

        ‘There is One who dwells above the circle* of the earth,
        And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.
        He is stretching out the heavens like a fine gauze,
        And he spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
        * Or “sphere.”’ – (NWT2013)

      • Hi Roy,

        The problem is that there’s no way to verify anything they said about spiritual things. How would we test their claims? And when they report on things that we could verify, but get those things wrong, why should we trust their spiritual claims?

        Hi Sam,

        If the same word could mean ‘circle,’ ‘globe,’ or something else, why should we assume it means ‘globe’? From the description of the cosmos found in Genesis, it seems they believed in a flat earth (perhaps circular like a pancake) covered with a dome:

    • Which is supreme, Roy: the living Jesus, or the Bible? If God is real, if Jesus lives, and if the Holy Spirit still speaks, then the Bible is only a record of what other people thought they heard from God/Jesus/Holy Spirit; a record that is of value in nurturing our own dialog.

      ALL human beings are fallible. God cannot eliminate our limitations without eliminating our free will, which God refuses to do. So yes, Jesus can be Lord AND the Bible can have errors and contradictions.

      The greatest essential in the quest for truth is not an “anchor.” It is humility — the faith to go without certainty, willing to find out we are wrong, about anything.

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