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Christians Who Do Not Believe the Bible is Inerrant


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I came from a fundamentalist background, and as I think it is with most people here, I was taught the Bible is perfect, infallible, inerrant, and without blemish in any way. Finding out that was not true was pivotal in undermining my faith that Christianity had any meat on the bone. What always confused me were those believers who thought that the Bible contained errors, but yet they believe anyway. Personally, I never understood the logic and I was wondering if anyone here came from that kind of background and could explain the logic behind it.

 

As an example, there is an OT scholar named Dr. Heath Dewrell who wrote the book on child sacrifice in ancient Israel. He is a believer (Episcopalian) and made a comment along the lines of, "so some of the OT prophets disagreed, so what?" Weren't the prophets supposed to be getting information from God? How exactly do they disagree and it is no big deal? That mindset is so far outside of my experience with Christianity, I have no idea how they use the Bible as the foundation (?) and then say it has errors.

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I think what you’re referring to is called rationalizing a cognitive dissonance. All religious people have to do this in order for the Bible to make sense in their minds. Why do intelligent people bel

I think even fundamentalists realize, without realizing it, that the bible is not inerrant or infallible.  Every time someone says, "well, that scripture was just for those days" or "that verse doesn'

I always enjoy the fact that we have a good mixture of different denominations on Ex-C. Every time we have a discussion, I really enjoy hearing the different backgrounds, interpretations, and I normal

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I think what you’re referring to is called rationalizing a cognitive dissonance. All religious people have to do this in order for the Bible to make sense in their minds. Why do intelligent people believe things that are not believable or scientifically possible? Google the term “cognitive bias” and you will find the answer. 

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1 hour ago, Geezer said:

I think what you’re referring to is called rationalizing a cognitive dissonance. All religious people have to do this in order for the Bible to make sense in their minds. Why do intelligent people believe things that are not believable or scientifically possible? Google the term “cognitive bias” and you will find the answer. 

 

Exactly.  Both fundamentalist and liberal Christians do it, but in different ways.

 

The fundamentalist,  whose basis is the belief that the Bible (or maybe just the King James version) is inspired by God, word for word, and without error or contradiction.  But some fundamentalists believe that salvation is freely accepted or rejected by each individual.  Other fundamentalists insist that God chooses those whom he will save before they are even born.  These beliefs are directly at odds with each other, but each is passionately held by many millions of people.  So how can an inerrant Bible provide support for both?  The answer is to insist that the passage that seems to oppose the favored position actually doesn't really mean what it seems to say.  This often requires serious mental gymnastics, but you gotta do what you gotta do to make it all line up.

 

The liberal Christian (the ones @Hierophant is asking about) on the other hand, admits that the Bible is not infallible.  That avoids the contortions the fundamentalist has to go through to make it all seem consistent.  But there begins a slippery slope that leads many liberals to question the Resurrection of Jesus, or his divinity, or maybe even the existence of the man Jesus himself.  But they still consider themselves Christians because they like the Sermon on the Mount, or they like the Golden Rule, or it gives support to their fight for justice.  Or maybe they just love the liturgy, observing the seasons of the Liturgical year, or the beauty of Gregorian Chant, or the magnificence of Notre Dame de Paris.  I get it , I love those things myself.  I often attend Catholic mass with my wife in a beautiful basilica.  But I don't consider myself in any way a Christian or a theist.

 

One last thing about fundamentalists:  by no means all of them experience cognitive dissonance, because many never even see the scripture passages that contradict their doctrine.  If they study the Bible at all it's likely a carefully curated study within their denomination, that emphasizes the helpful scriptures and ignores the awkward ones.  Problems occur when Christians study the Bible - the whole Bible - for themselves.  That's when cognitive dissonance can kick in.  Some people back away from that and retreat into the comfort of their group's selective reading.  Some recognize the problems and become liberal Christians.  And others . . .  become Ex-Christians.

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55 minutes ago, TABA said:

If they study the Bible at all it's likely a carefully curated study within their denomination, that emphasizes the helpful scriptures and ignores the awkward ones. 

Yup.

Mrs. MOHO "studies" the Bible by relying ONLY on those study books that not only direct the reader to certain scripture but interpret it for her.

 

MOHO: "Why don't your just read the Bible from start to finish. You can even make it easy on yourself by starting in Mathew."

Mrs. MOHO: "I AM READING THE BIBLE!"

MOHO: "k"

 

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5 hours ago, Geezer said:

I think what you’re referring to is called rationalizing a cognitive dissonance. All religious people have to do this in order for the Bible to make sense in their minds. Why do intelligent people believe things that are not believable or scientifically possible? Google the term “cognitive bias” and you will find the answer. 

 

Spot on, and I understand the cognitive bias piece. It does strike me as odd whenever I hear of a scholar who knows there are problems, but can yet tease out a theology and believe it to be based on the facts. It is a bizarre concept to me.

 

Just made me think about this book I read called, "When Prophecy Fails." Man, it was crazy some of the stuff these people kept doubling down on.

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I think even fundamentalists realize, without realizing it, that the bible is not inerrant or infallible.  Every time someone says, "well, that scripture was just for those days" or "that verse doesn't actually mean...(whatever it actually says), they are subconsciously acknowledging that there's no way an omnipotent and omniscient god could have inspired it.  

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18 minutes ago, TheRedneckProfessor said:

I think even fundamentalists realize, without realizing it, that the bible is not inerrant or infallible.  Every time someone says, "well, that scripture was just for those days" or "that verse doesn't actually mean...(whatever it actually says), they are subconsciously acknowledging that there's no way an omnipotent and omniscient god could have inspired it.  

 

Great point. You frequently see the phrase "Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever." But you always hear this dichotomy between the OT and NT. Like Jesus backed off of his rampage and decided to cool his heals; within the context of Trinity theology.

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2 hours ago, MOHO said:

Yup.

Mrs. MOHO "studies" the Bible by relying ONLY on those study books that not only direct the reader to certain scripture but interpret it for her.

 

MOHO: "Why don't your just read the Bible from start to finish. You can even make it easy on yourself by starting in Mathew."

Mrs. MOHO: "I AM READING THE BIBLE!"

MOHO: "k"

 

 

I had actually forgotten that was what the majority of Christians do. I spend more time in the Bible as an atheist than I ever did as a believer.

 

I remember years ago I really wanted to know about the Bible since that was supposed to be the foundation of the faith, and I thought to myself, surely I do not need to go through the whole thing. Surely someone has already cracked the code on this.....hahahaha. Wasn't I in for a surprise that took me 15 years to figure out.

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1 hour ago, Hierophant said:

 

Great point. You frequently see the phrase "Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever." But you always hear this dichotomy between the OT and NT. Like Jesus backed off of his rampage and decided to cool his heals; within the context of Trinity theology.

One of the smaller nuisances I had that played a part in my deconversion was the constant re-interpretation of scripture.  Like, Paul saying women should be silent was "only for those days"; but Paul saying men shouldn't have long hair,  well, that was forever and always.  

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2 hours ago, TheRedneckProfessor said:

I think even fundamentalists realize, without realizing it, that the bible is not inerrant or infallible.  Every time someone says, "well, that scripture was just for those days" or "that verse doesn't actually mean...(whatever it actually says), they are subconsciously acknowledging that there's no way an omnipotent and omniscient god could have inspired it.  

 

Ha! You just took the words right outta my mouth. I come from a fundamentalist (Church of Christ -- "the only true church"!) background, and I realize that people will perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to ignore, reinterpret, or wish away problematic passages from their so-called "Holy Book". I thought it ridiculous at an early age, but continued attending until a few years ago.......

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I always enjoy the fact that we have a good mixture of different denominations on Ex-C. Every time we have a discussion, I really enjoy hearing the different backgrounds, interpretations, and I normally hear something I have not before because I was not exposed to it in my Evangelical circle.

 

If I never said it before, the group here was a big help in my deconversion and I am grateful for it. I know some people have been on here for years and probably answered the same question a hundred times, but you keep doing it, and that is admirable. Truth be told, if it was not for this website, I am not sure I would have made my way out on my own.

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Most who call themselves Christian actually worship the Bible above all else. Obviously they can't agree on what it actually says.

 

There may be some "Christians" who take the Bible as myth and allegory and a tool to further their spiritual quest. Such Christians are probably Unitarians or some shit, though.

 

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On 6/9/2020 at 6:58 AM, Hierophant said:

As an example, there is an OT scholar named Dr. Heath Dewrell who wrote the book on child sacrifice in ancient Israel. He is a believer (Episcopalian) and made a comment along the lines of, "so some of the OT prophets disagreed, so what?" Weren't the prophets supposed to be getting information from God? How exactly do they disagree and it is no big deal? That mindset is so far outside of my experience with Christianity, I have no idea how they use the Bible as the foundation (?) and then say it has errors.

 

I haven't heard of him. Does he go further and admit that the prophets couldn't have been getting their information from god, but from their own personal views and opinions? Or find some convoluted way of trying to claim that the prophets disagreed, and yet got their information from god? How exactly does he try and handle it? 

 

The doctor types and intellectual that I have known growing up who question things, have been on the line of agnostic theists. People who remain in the church, but who are well read enough to understand at least some of the problems involved with the bible. Problems with contradiction, problems with historical claims, and that sort of thing. What I've found is that they often gloss over the biblical part and put their faith and attention into just the mere existence of god. They forget the details and just believe that a god exists anyways. They acknowledge that they don't know if it's true or not, but they want to believe it so they believe that it's true anyways. 

 

But if you try and get into the details with people like this, they seem to have very bizarre and nonsensical ways of approaching the bible. And trying to reconcile things. They'll know that X is wrong, but some belief will ensue anyways. My dad is caught up in this because he idolized his best friends dad growing up, who was a doctor and agnostic theist. So he wound up formulating his own opinions off of this doctor. But the doctor was very confused about a lot of things. And my dad remains very confused about the same things. My dad left the church, but remains agnostic theist. And contrasts himself against the rest of the family who left the church and went atheist. I've tried to explain things to him. But much of it is lost on him. He's just set in his ways about idolizing the agnostic theist doctor. And that's pretty much that. 

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27 minutes ago, Joshpantera said:


They'll know that X is wrong, but some belief will ensue anyways. My dad is caught up in this because he idolized his best friends dad growing up, who was a doctor and agnostic theist. So he wound up formulating his own opinions off of this doctor. But the doctor was very confused about a lot of things. And my dad remains very confused about the same things. My dad left the church, but remains agnostic theist. And contrasts himself against the rest of the family who left the church and went atheist. I've tried to explain things to him. But much of it is lost on him. He's just set in his ways about idolizing the agnostic theist doctor. And that's pretty much that. 
 


But is he actually confused, or does he just prefer to believe in a god?  I think that’s how it is for a lot of people, and they fashion their own idea of God as a Lowest Common Denominator of Christian teachings: a kind of Mister Rogers in the sky.  Our atheistic view of the world just doesn’t appeal to them. 

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2 hours ago, TABA said:


But is he actually confused, or does he just prefer to believe in a god?  I think that’s how it is for a lot of people, and they fashion their own idea of God as a Lowest Common Denominator of Christian teachings: a kind of Mister Rogers in the sky (emphasis mine).  Our atheistic view of the world just doesn’t appeal to them. 

 

That made me laugh...great analogy.

 

Speaking to the atheistic view, I am sure that has a lot to do with it. They just cannot accept the fact that life is ultimately without purpose or direction. In my opinion, that is the biggest hangup for apologist like William Lane Craig. They cannot stand the idea that morality is really a human interpretation of the world and that even things we find abhorrent are subjective interpretations of behavior by imperfect beings. You can see them about to have a stroke when they even think about it.

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4 hours ago, Joshpantera said:

 

I haven't heard of him. Does he go further and admit that the prophets couldn't have been getting their information from god, but from their own personal views and opinions? Or find some convoluted way of trying to claim that the prophets disagreed, and yet got their information from god? How exactly does he try and handle it? 

 

The doctor types and intellectual that I have known growing up who question things, have been on the line of agnostic theists. People who remain in the church, but who are well read enough to understand at least some of the problems involved with the bible. Problems with contradiction, problems with historical claims, and that sort of thing. What I've found is that they often gloss over the biblical part and put their faith and attention into just the mere existence of god. They forget the details and just believe that a god exists anyways. They acknowledge that they don't know if it's true or not, but they want to believe it so they believe that it's true anyways. 

 

But if you try and get into the details with people like this, they seem to have very bizarre and nonsensical ways of approaching the bible. And trying to reconcile things. They'll know that X is wrong, but some belief will ensue anyways. My dad is caught up in this because he idolized his best friends dad growing up, who was a doctor and agnostic theist. So he wound up formulating his own opinions off of this doctor. But the doctor was very confused about a lot of things. And my dad remains very confused about the same things. My dad left the church, but remains agnostic theist. And contrasts himself against the rest of the family who left the church and went atheist. I've tried to explain things to him. But much of it is lost on him. He's just set in his ways about idolizing the agnostic theist doctor. And that's pretty much that. 

 

I have his book, but I have not finished it, nor do I know if he actually addresses how is able to continue his belief. There is a youtube video where he talks about his book and his belief in God. He talked a bit at the end about him being a believer, which took me by surprise when he said it. Dr. Dewrell did not really go into detail, but spoke in this vague way that made it sound as if the Bible contradicting itself was not a big deal, the details do not really matter; that kind of rationalization. I am of the mindset of, if the details are sketchy, why should I have confidence in any of the supposed bigger events?

 

I can see your dad's position. He thought so highly of this doctor that he cannot understand how the doctor could be wrong. Any time you try to explain where they are tripping up or are thinking about something in an irrational way, it goes over their head. They just cannot see it in the moment. I used to be like that before I realized I was told my entire life what to think, but never how to think. I think that is still very prevalent, people often want to tell you a narrative and if you do not accept it, you get labeled as a bad person (As a side note, I am not saying this in any context of what is happening in the US right now. It is merely an generic observation that relates to a lot of narratives I have heard over the years). They use ad hominem attacks to guilt others into thinking like they do. Now that I am better at putting an argument together, I want to get to the assumptions buttressing what someone says, and make them build their argument from the ground up.

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I can think of at least two strategies that some Christians use to wave away Bible contradictions, falsehoods, absurdities, etc.

 

1. they'll say that the Bible is not God's revelation but is the record of the believing community's encounter with God. They may add that the Bible is not the Word of God but Jesus is the Word of God, and the Bible witnesses to Jesus. I think some liberal Protestants take this "it's a record of revelation, it's not revelation per se" approach.

 

2. sophisticated members of denominations that claim the Bible is inerrant (e.g. sophisticated Catholics) may say that the Bible is inerrant in all it asserts for our salvation, or that its assertions are for the sake of our salvation. So they try to bracket off some stuff that they find embarrassing and say either that it's not what the Bible is really asserting (e.g. the Flood story asserts truths about God's saving His people but is not asserting history), or that stuff in the passage that ISN'T for the sake of our salvation is not the inerrant assertion (e.g. stuff that is scientifically wrong).

 

I still see no reason to believe what the Bible says about doctrine and precepts, which can't be tested, when what can be tested in the bible so often fails the test: e.g. consistency between authors, historical and scientific matters, etc. 

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@ficino

 

Thanks for the input. I am not sure I ever heard #1 before. Definitely an interesting viewpoint.

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On 6/10/2020 at 8:15 AM, TABA said:


But is he actually confused, or does he just prefer to believe in a god?  I think that’s how it is for a lot of people, and they fashion their own idea of God as a Lowest Common Denominator of Christian teachings: a kind of Mister Rogers in the sky.  Our atheistic view of the world just doesn’t appeal to them. 

 

He's confused in terms of not understanding the arguments very well. He's still sold on the, 'all of this must have been created,' argument. The details beyond that are foggy. And at least he's agnostic in the sense of admitting, well, maybe it wasn't created, he just feels and believes as though it must have been. 

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In the Orthodox world my experience is that the Bible is viewed in very confusing terms actually. It is and it is not inerrant. My feeling and some readings I have had is that people think it requires a special sacred hemeneutics from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  So inspired by God and read with the inspiration by God. A quasi mystical/magical way of looking at things. So errancy /innerancy dors not really apply in the normal sense.

      People are usually instructed to listen to the clergy/church fathers more than the bible itself which finds its use and function only in the larger context of the larger church community and especially leading body,  sacramental - official clergy and ascetical - various saintly people with prophet like knowledge. Those two hierarchies often intermingle but also often are at conflict - see the first waves of egyptian monasticism.

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For what it's worth: I used to follow a sort of 'pick and mix' view of bible stories, teachings, comments etc. What I liked I 'believed' and what I didn't like I rejected. So what, I thought? I had long rejected that the bible was inerrant or god-breathed. This was long after I had rejected my fundamentalist background and long after I had started to open my eyes to the fact that other Christians had different views on all sorts of things from creation to gay sex to women in leadership, to hell and so on and so on.

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44 minutes ago, nontheistpilgrim said:

For what it's worth: I used to follow a sort of 'pick and mix' view of bible stories, teachings, comments etc. What I liked I 'believed' and what I didn't like I rejected. So what, I thought? I had long rejected that the bible was inerrant or god-breathed. This was long after I had rejected my fundamentalist background and long after I had started to open my eyes to the fact that other Christians had different views on all sorts of things from creation to gay sex to women in leadership, to hell and so on and so on.

 

There's one thing my former fundamentalist church said that I still agree with. Either the whole Bible is valid or it is not. Accepting some of it while rejecting other parts is like writing your own Bible. It says what it says, take it or leave it. I left it.

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I did not and do not accept the precept 'either you accept the whole or ....'. I see no problem in rejecting bits you don't like unless you believe the stuff within the bible which says you must accept the whole.

And I left it behind but that doesn't mean that there are some good bits in there that I can feel are important for me today. In the same way there are some good bits in other religious works. It's the concept that there is a god that I firmly reject (except that there are gods created by human beings - and that's not a put-down).

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19 minutes ago, nontheistpilgrim said:

I did not and do not accept the precept 'either you accept the whole or ....'. I see no problem in rejecting bits you don't like unless you believe the stuff within the bible which says you must accept the whole.

Yeah, I guess that's the first part (all is inspired by God) that you have to throw out!

 

So if you're free to edit God's word yourself, what authority does the Bible have anyway? Sure, there are some universally good concepts in the Bible (love thy neighbor, golden rule) as there are in other "holy" books and also many acknowledged to be fictional works. If you think there are words of value in the Bible and there are words of value in other sources as well, then that does not a Christian make.

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It ain't god's word- that's now for me.

As to whether I was a Christian once - you are entitled to your opinion. But it sounds to me that you are being too judgemental...unless I misunderstand what you are saying. The thing is: I did once believe the stuff I thought was fundamental, for example, acceptance of Jesus as God and Saviour and that made me a Christian, in my opinion.

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