Fearful of Finding the Fatal Flaw

My pious mother and father helped start Silver Acres Church (Santa Ana, California) and immersed us in weekly Sunday school, countless Fundamentalist sermons, and an arsenal of memorized Bible verses. In short, I became a Bible nerd. My faith depended on big words: dispensationalism, eternal security, election, the millennium, pre-Tribulational rapture and especially inerrancy. We sang, “The Bible stands, like a rock undaunted, far above the wrecks of time. . . .” The Bible was without error (in the original).

Pastor Cantrell preached, “If you question inerrancy you question God. The doctrine of inerrancy rests, not on examining the text, but on the belief that God would never allow mistakes.” It made good sense—if God wrote the Bible, how could it contain errors?

The summer of my sixth grade I attended Pine Valley Christian camp. Being a Bible nerd I often launched frivolous questions at our speakers. What was the first mention of baseball in the Bible? (the Big-inning). First mention of smoking? (when Rachel lit off her camel). Shortest person in the Bible? (Eliphaz the Shuhite). You get the idea.

I asked one speaker: “Where’s the first mention of tennis in the Bible?” He didn’t know. I told him, “When David served in Saul’s court.”

He was not amused. “Son, you should not make fun of the Bible. It’s God’s holy word.” I turned away, chastened. Silver Acres and Pine Valley taught me that the Bible did not, could not have any mistakes in it—inerrancy on steroids.

Later, I enrolled in Moody Bible Institute. Impersonal Chicago intimidated me, although I felt comfortable behind the sacred gates of Moody’s big stone arch that fronts LaSalle Street. I expected that by studying my inerrant Bible at Moody I would find the answers to my nagging questions: How understand my loneliness? Lack of friends? My social awkwardness? But I was disappointed and sank further into depression.

I feared I would find one fatal, unanswerable flaw in the Bible that would bring my whole faith crashing down.  I consulted my roommate George: “I’m really confused. The numbers don’t agree. I Kings 7:26 says that Solomon’s basin held two thousand baths, while II Chronicles 4:5 says it held three thousand baths. Were these two different basins? Did Solomon have four thousand horse stalls (I Kings 4:26) or forty thousand  (II Chronicles 9:25)? Did Jesus’ sermon occur on the mountain (Matthew 5:1–2) or on the plain (Luke 6:17, 20)? Did Judas, Jesus’s betrayer, hang himself, or was he eviscerated in a field? Three of the Gospel writers list three different ‘last words’ of Jesus. They disagree about whether Jesus was two or three days in the tomb. Which of these is inerrant? All of them? And why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” George only nodded his head thoughtfully.

And the scientific contradictions. When Job states that God “hangs the earth on nothing” (Job 26:7), my teachers saw an ancient confirmation of modern science.  But elsewhere in the same book we learn that God “laid the foundations of the earth,” (38:4), a pre-scientific view.

My teachers pointed with approval to Isaiah’s phrase “the circle of the earth” as an example of ancient scientific knowledge (Isaiah 40:22). But when John mentions the “four corners of the earth” (Revelation 7:1) they protested that he was only using a metaphor.

I despaired of finding the answers I was seeking. I even considered becoming an atheist.

“Inerrancy” is a modern controversy. Even the great 16th century theologians John Calvin and Martin Luther allowed mistakes in the Bible. They treasured a God-inspired text in spite of the contradictions they found.

After college I was speaking at a graduate school where I suggested that the notion of Biblical inerrancy is a “shibboleth” (that is, a symbol, a code word to signal the difference between “us” and “them.”) To separate us from the people with the wrong doctrines. After the talk, the grand old man of the school took me aside and told me, “Inerrancy is not a shibboleth; it’s an essential doctrine of the Christian faith!” I felt like a Cub Scout in knee pants being scolded by his scoutmaster.

But eventually I turned again to read the Gospels where I discovered that inerrancy and other doubtful questions, while important, paled in the brilliant light of the man Jesus who had “nothing beautiful or majestic to attract us to him, did no wrong, was despised and forsaken, yet bore all of our weaknesses and sorrows.” Today, this man’s love, his words and his deeds, overwhelm any doubts that may trouble me.

4 thoughts on “Fearful of Finding the Fatal Flaw

  1. considering that this jesus also is the entity that commands and commits genocide, that kills people for actions not their own and says that slaves should never seek their freedom, do you still feel the same way about not doubting this religion?

    Liked by 1 person

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