Saturday, September 4, 2010

Biblical Inerrancy Takes A Hit

So, my listen-to-the-Bible as audiobook project is going along well -- I'm currently nearing the end of the 'Historic' books (mid-way through Nehemiah) and will probably take a break before moving into the next section (JOB plus the books attributed to David [Psalms] and Solomon [Proverbs/Ecclesiastes/The Song of Solomon]). I've always tended towards reading the Bible literally -- after all, once you start explaining away that it doesn't really mean what it says, where are you? But one advantage of reading the whole thing straight through, in order, from the beginning, is that it does highlight some of the Bible's flaws -- such as when one chapter contradicts another chapter. I'm not talking variations here, such as what some claim as separate versions of creation, but flat-out contradictions. Or when it states things that simply cannot be true.

Case in point: King David's reign. We're told that David rules forty years. And during that reign there was the strange episode of his son Absalom. To make a complicated story as simple as possible, one of David's sons (Ammon) decides to rape his own sister (Tamar). After waiting two years (2nd Samuel 13.23) for his target's guard to be down, Absalom avenges his sister by murdering his brother. Fearing the king's wrath, Absalom flees and remains in exile three years (2nd Samuel 13.38). Eventually he is recalled but still forbidden to see the king for two more years (ibid 14.28), after which he is fully pardoned. Another forty years pass (ibid 15.7), during which time Absalom becomes far more popular than David and ends by stating a coup against him to usurp the throne.

The problem, of course, is that we have a detailed account of events taking place over forty-seven years which are only part of David's forty-year reign. The reference in 2nd Kings 15.7 is obviously factually wrong.

A second, simpler, and much more amusing example of bad chronology occurs in 2nd Chronicles 21.20 vs. ibid 22.2. The first of these relates how King Jehorum reigned eight years, having become king at the age of thirty-two (32+8 = 40). The second relates how he was succeeded by his son Ahaziah, who reigns only one year after becoming king at the age of forty-two.

So: explain how a man who dies at age forty turns over the kingship to his son, who is already forty-two at the time.

Tricky.

Of course, this is only a problem if you think that, since the Bible is the word of God it has to be perfect. But the world, too, was created by God, and it's far from perfect. So why shdn't the same be true of the Good Book?

--JDR

current reading: THE SCROLL OF DEATH by David Stuart Davies [1998 & 2009], part of THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES series.

3 comments:

David Bratman said...

I've not seen this issue addressed, but I have seen the response of Biblical inerrantists to the little problem that at one point the Bible straightforwardly defines pi = 3.

They say that the Bible is inerrant, but that it's not intended as a math textbook.

Well, fine. It's clearly not intended as a biology textbook or a history book either.

Ed said...

I found the following book very interesting: "How to Read the Bible" by Steven Mckenzie. He's a Biblical scholar whose main focus in the book is to discuss the Bible in terms of ancient genres, and how the study of these has shed light on how to interpret what the original authors of the books of the Bible were trying to say. For example, in regard to the Pentateuch, he talks about the genre of Historical writing in the ancient world, and how journalistic accuracy was not usually a concern of writers at the time. Incidentally, Mckenzie has also written a biography of King David (which I haven't yet read, but it looks interesting).

Ed Pierce

Extollager said...

Biblical inerrantists allow that scribal errors may appear in the copies that we have; they would hold that this doesn't mean the originals (none of which have survived) contain errors. Obviously it may be asked why the copyists were not preserved from any slips of the pen. Eventually the matter would become an instance of the question, "Why does God allow anyone ever to make a harmful mistake?" if He is good and all-powerful.