I was having a conversation with a friend a few days ago, talking about how my faith has changed over the past few months. I told him that I’ve reached the point where I am very convinced that there must be a Creator to have designed all this, and that the Creator still seems to be best revealed in the person of Jesus. I also see good reason to believe in Jesus’ literal, physical Resurrection.
However, I’ve also discovered a lot of strong arguments against inerrancy and infallibility in the past few months, some of which are very persuasive to me. A good popular-level book that summarizes a lot of these arguments is Pete Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So, if anybody’s read it. A lot of these arguments come from the scholarly field of historical criticism, which I’ve noticed a lot of posters here are open to. Some of the main things that trouble me are:
- The all-loving, all-good, all-merciful and all-just God as revealed in Jesus (and even the Book of Jonah) would never command Israel to kill every man, woman, and child in Canaan as described in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.
- There are many plausible examples of contradictions in Scripture due to two separate narratives being weaved together, such as the two Noah’s Ark stories and the two accounts of who killed Goliath (David or Elhanan).
- An all-good God probably would not send anyone to eternal conscious torment in hell (although that’s more of a personal moral conviction than a higher criticism thing).
- The Matthean birth narrative is probably an invention meant to present Jesus as a new Moses.
- There are numerous examples of NT authors reinterpreting the Old Testament to make it say something it was never supposed to have said. For example, Matthew reinterprets “Rachel weeping for her children” to be a prophecy about Herod killing the children of Bethlehem, when the original context of Jeremiah makes it clear that the phrase refers to the tribes of Israel (Rachel’s children) going into Exile. Matthew uses it completely out of context.
- There’s interesting evidence that early Bible authors were henotheistic or monolatrous, rather than exclusively monotheistic.
- Jude quotes from the Book of Enoch as if it were Scripture, and 2 Peter “plagiarizes” Jude thought-for-thought in some places and word-for-word in others.
- There’s good reason to think that the author of the Gospel of John invented much of Jesus’ dialogue, specifically the “I am” statements about His divinity (Dr. Mike Licona believes he did this to say explicitly what Jesus demonstrated implicitly by forgiving sins and such).
- The traditional view of evangelical scholars that the disciple Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t make sense with the fact that the author of Matthew copied large portions of his gospel from Mark, who would have been a relative latecomer to Christianity. The real disciple Matthew wouldn’t have needed to use a later source, since he would have been a direct eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry.
When I brought up a couple of these arguments to my friend, he was initially open to it as an acceptable doctrinal variation. “It’s okay if you don’t believe the Bible is completely historical and inerrant in all its details, since you still believe that Jesus is God. But would this view still say that the Bible is authoritative?”
I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer. How could I say “the Bible is authoritative for my life” if I believed that it contains false commands from God (the Canaanite genocide, for example), potentially false authorship (2 Peter and the pastorals), historical inventions, etc.?
How can I sincerely say that the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”?
I can’t escape the feeling that the higher criticism espoused by scholars like Pete Enns and Kenton Sparks turns the Bible into not much more than a great work of literature; a record of people talking about their experiences with God and trying to describe what God is like, sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong. And in what sense can a book of literature be authoritative?
For those of you who are sympathetic to higher criticism in Biblical scholarship, do you believe the Bible is authoritative? Do you believe it provides guidance for your life, teaches you to be righteous, and shows you the way of God? Or am I correct that accepting higher criticism means leaving behind any notion of the Bible as providing uniformly correct teaching on what God is like?