Where Do Our Beliefs Come From?
Any good Bible College will teach its students that our beliefs as Christians come from four things: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. However, there is a lot of argument about whether or not Scripture is inerrant, what the traditions of the church actually are and how much of a part reason and experience should play.
Let’s start by looking at Scripture and why I do not believe that the Bible is inerrant.
Firstly, the Bible is not and does not claim to be a scientific textbook. So when the Bible says that the sun stood still in Joshua 10:13, we don’t need to take this literally. Science has proven that the earth revolves around the sun. Therefore, it would make more sense that the earth stood still, but the writer didn’t know that. From his perspective, it was the sun that stopped moving.
The Bible also isn’t numerically correct at all times. In the King James Bible, Ahaziah was 22 years old when he became King according to 2 Kings 8:26 and 42 years old when he became King according to 2 Chronicles 22:2. Wherever this error came from, whether the original writers or people who made copies of the originals, or during the translation process from Hebrew and Greek to English, clearly both cannot be correct. Both Bible passages published in more recent years now give Ahaziah’s age as 22.
Numbers 25:9 records 24,000 people dying by plague and places responsibility for these slaughters on the Lord’s anger. When Paul quotes this very passage in 1 Corinthians 10:8-10 he changes the number to 23,000 and deliberately states that it was the destroying angel (or the Destroyer), not the Lord who destroyed the people. This is critically important toward building a healthy God concept by interpreting the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. This also lends to the Bible being historically inaccurate at times.
Jeremiah writes a word of warning about other writers: “How can you say ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,’ when actually the lying pen of scribes has handled it falsely?” Jeremiah 8:8.
If the entire Bible were inerrant, why would Paul write: “To the married I give this comment (not I, but the Lord) … To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) … Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgement … ” 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12 & 25. Why did Paul ask Timothy to bring his coat and to try to get there before winter, 2 Timothy 4:13, 21? Was that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and if it was, then what spiritual relevance can it possibly have for us today? Paul was cold and needed his coat back. I’m glad he was human enough to write about it because it gives the Bible an authentically human feel.
Luke did a lot of research before writing the Gospel of Luke. “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,” Luke 1:3. Clearly the Gospel of Luke was not dictated by God.
Let’s compare the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection:
Matthew 28:2-3 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
Mark 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Luke 24:4 Suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
John 20:11-12 Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
So we have: one angel according to Matthew, one man according to Mark, two men according to Luke and two angels according to John. Now, it could be that some people only saw one man or angel while others visibly witnessed two. It is also easily acceptable that they could not tell the difference between men and angels. But even if we believe that, it proves that we must put our thinking cap on when interpreting the Bible and not miss the forest for the trees. Does the number of men or angels matter? Probably not. The point of the story, and all four accounts agree about this, is that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
In fact, I had one lecturer who taught us that unanimous agreement about every detail of these accounts might be suspect because the writers all had different perspectives and agendas in their stories. If all accounts were exactly the same we might wonder if they conspired together to share the same details in order to unanimously claim that Jesus was alive. Having four different perspectives of the same event that draw the same conclusions, is actually more convincing. Here is an illustration:
Mary and Joe walked into a classroom. Mary noticed that the walls were painted a dark burgundy colour and there were some chips in the paint. The desks looked a little cramped and the carpet was very old. She guessed that there were about 30 people in the class and most of them were female. The lecturer at the front of the room looked like her grandfather and was delivering a lecture on global warming. Joe did a rough headcount of the pretty girls in the classroom: there were 12. He sat down next to a blonde and missed half the lecture, but he knows it had something to do with global warming. Both of these stories are true and correct from the witnesses perspective. Did they experience this classroom and lecture the same way? No. Their estimations of the female population in the room disagreed, but they generally agreed that the lecturer’s topic was global warming.
What about verses in Chronicles that tell us that other books which are not included in our Bibles, contain further details that they have left out, 2 Chronicles 9:29, 12:15, 13:22, etc? We have to remember that a group of human beings decided which books to include in the Bible based on what was available and commonly accepted among Christians at that time. There are many other books and letters that have been excluded from the Bible and there are some books included in Catholic Bibles that aren’t included in other Christian Bibles. We also need to take note of the fact that there are multiple copies of Greek New Testament texts. These copies have discrepancies that scholars then have to weigh up in order to decide which Greek word is the most likely fit. This is called “text criticism” and I wrote an essay on the topic when I studied Greek at Bible College.
Then, when the Bible is translated from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English, it is always subjected to interpretation. Always. There is no such thing as a literal translation. Just to make my point clear, let me give you a very simple portion of a sentence in Greek and translate it as accurately as I can:
Transliteration: Legei autē ho Iesous
“Legei” means “he/she/it said”
“autē” in the dative form means “to her”
“ho Iesous” means “the Jesus”
Literal translation: He said to her the Jesus.
Most Biblical translations use: Jesus answered / Jesus said to her / Jesus replied.
Would you buy and read a Bible that used lengthy sentences like “He said to her the Jesus” instead of “Jesus answered?” Every time you read “Jesus answered,” or “Jesus said,” or “Jesus replied,” in English, there were probably other words there in Greek that were left untranslated. Meaning is translated instead of the exact words themselves and even the order of the words is drastically altered in English so that we don’t have to read ridiculous sentences that confuse us about who the subject is or that sound simply jarring to our ears if we translate them literally. This is one of the reasons there are so many different translations of the English Bible. No one translates literally and although they try to be as literal as possible according to their own standards, what they already believe about God and Christianity will always bias translations … including mine.
English, Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic; no book of the Bible is without human error. The Bible was put together by human beings who are imperfect and make mistakes.
But do not despair! The Bible tells us what we can count on when we are interpreting it:
2 Timothy 3:15-16 From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
Most Christians agree that the Bible is inspired by God. As the prophets and scribes, the disciples and apostles penned their books and letters–or had other people do it for them–God was whispering his truth. As Peter writes, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” 2 Peter 1:21. As 300 leaders gathered at the Council of Nicea where the decision was made about which books to include in the Canon, God was present. As scholars gather and spend hours on end translating the Bible, God is with them.
What does it mean that the Bible is inspired or God breathed? I believe it means that the Holy Spirit, who is the very breath of God, influenced the assemblage of the Bible, especially the weaving together of the overarching story or metanarrative of the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:15 confirms, Scripture was formed to give us wisdom regarding salvation. The metanarrative of the Bible is the story of the creation and recreation–including the salvation, restoration, justification, redemption, sanctification, etc.–of the known universe and its inhabitants.
The Bible also points to Jesus Christ as the living and active Word of God. The ultimate way that we know the Word of God–Jesus–is through the Bible. And we know the Father-God because the Son–Jesus–has revealed the Father. And we know the Spirit of God because He is the very breath of God that inspired the Scriptures to reveal the Son and Father. The Trinity is intimately connected to the Bible, (see the verses at the end of this section).
So while I say that I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, I do not want to downplay just how powerful this book actually is. Let’s face it, it is difficult to know God without knowing the Bible.
I hold Scripture in the highest regard as the most authoritative book on earth. It oozes the love of God. The pungent aroma of salvation is unmistakable. Even among oft misinterpreted statements of wrath and judgement the Bible is rich with mercy, grace, repentance and forgiveness.
I love the Bible and everything I have to say about my understanding of Christian-Universalism comes from my interpretation of the Bible in conjunction with excellent teachers like Santo Calarco and the numerous books I have read.
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Hebrews 1:1-3 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by Son, who he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 4:12 For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Ephesians 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
Psalm 33:4 For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Isaiah 55:11 So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.