Sidestepping Abiathar: Arguing for Christianity without Fighting for Inerrancy

If you’ve ever had a debate with an atheist or other skeptic about Christianity, you’ve probably heard it. Those four terrible words. “The Bible contains errors.” Suddenly, at least from their perspective, your entire argument is worthless. For we know how it goes: If they’re convinced there is one error in the Bible, that should mean it’s not God’s Word for God cannot err, and if the Bible isn’t God’s Word, then Christianity is false.

Naturally, the first response that may come to mind is “Prove it” or perhaps “No there aren’t.” This probably isn’t the best way to go about continuing the discussion, because either you have put this person on the defensive and seem prepared to show up their ignorance, or you are about to be given a response that you can’t handle. For most people, the first problem is probably what you’ll face. Realizing they don’t actually know of any errors in the Bible and have instead just repeated something they have heard, they won’t be very happy and will up their defenses. However, this is not the case for all people. Some will actually meet your challenge and throw errors at you. In fact, these people may very well have quite a list, though they may also have one tough one alone.

If someone is convinced there is one error in the Bible, that should mean it’s not God’s Word for God cannot err, and if the Bible isn’t God’s Word, then Christianity is false.

Things only get worse from here. If they lob an easy “error” your way, maybe you can give them the answer and get back on track. But most of the time, you’ll instead find yourself sidetracked by debating one difficult text or scrambling to respond to a hundred different issues. Eventually, you’ll get stuck on Mark, Jesus, and Abiathar (if you’re curious, head here), and you’ll find that your entire evangelistic effort now hinges on your ability to explain one difficult verse. If you fail, you’ve basically confirmed to the other person’s mind that your religion is a sham.

Obviously, this is not a desirable outcome. Instead of weighing down our presentation of the Gospel with 30,000+ verses to prove have no errors, we need to realize something else. Christianity does not hinge on inerrancy, and even if inerrancy was a completely false doctrine Christianity would still be true. The core of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which are historical reality and would even be so if Scripture were errant.

Even if inerrancy were false, Christianity would still be true.

“How can this be?” you may ask. “Certainly if the Bible has errors, then it is not God’s Word, and if it is not God’s Word then we cannot believe its claims!” But that’s a pretty silly argument. Firstly, it is hypothetically possible for the Bible to be God’s Word and contain errors. How? Well, humans make mistakes. Even though the Word which the authors of Scripture were writing lacked error, they could have misspelled something, wrote the wrong name somewhere, or made other basic errors without making the writing no longer God’s Word. (This is similar to how I, if I transcribed a speech by our President, could still legitimately call my transcript the President’s word even if I made a few typos or misheard a word or two.)

But let’s assume something more radical. See, the skeptic you’re witnessing to may be quite difficult to speak to even with the assumption that the Bible is God’s Word with a few errors. So what if something even more crazy was the case? What if the authors of the Bible weren’t divinely inspired at all, but just writing regular human writing? I may not think this is the case, and you may not think this is the case, but whoever you’re talking to probably does think this is the case. Fortunately for you, even this weak view of Scripture is enough to demonstrate that Christianity is true. How so? Consider the following facts about Scripture even if it were not special in any way:

  • The Gospels were all written within the lifespan of witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, and claim to be by eyewitnesses, and could have been refuted easily if they were even exaggerations, so are most likely pretty reliable.
  • Even if the Gospels are unreliable in some ways and contradict each other, they all show a strong, unanimous testimony that Jesus existed, was crucified, and was absent from the tomb on the third day.
  • Furthermore, all the Gospels show that Jesus’ disciples did indeed believe He has risen from the grave.
  • Paul’s letters, the earliest New Testament writings, show a clear belief that Jesus physically died and rose for our sins. Paul is also historically associated with the Apostles, who certainly lived during Jesus’ ministry.
  • The Gospels, if understood as normal historical documents, constitute four sources for Jesus’ life. However, even if Matthew, Mark, and Luke share material, their age and widespread acceptance work to validate their shared content, and John serves as an independent corroborating source for the major events of Jesus’ life.
  • Paul in 1 Corinthians reveals that Jesus’ historical life, death, and resurrection were considered the key truths in Christian oral tradition by AD 54, roughly twenty years after Jesus’ death and far too soon for mythology to develop.
  • The book of Acts and many of the epistles show that Christians were already suffering persecution and martyrdom for their belief in Christ by 20 years after Jesus’ death. Most of these people would be old enough to know if Jesus didn’t actually live, die, and rise.

Honestly, I could go on and on. But the truth is that, even if they are regarded as normal historical documents, the books of the New Testament are sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Jesus did indeed die and rise again, and in that case Christianity is true. At this point, Christianity is true, period. Even if the Bible isn’t inerrant, or even inspired at all. Of course, if we accept that Jesus is truly the Son of God, and that the Gospels are reliable sources of information regarding His life, this naturally leads to a view that embraces the authority of the Old and New Testaments, and if they are authoritative, inspiration is easy to reach, and if they are inspired, they are probably inerrant. Not to say that someone can’t be a Christian if they stop lower on the ladder than I do. If someone convinced organically of the Gospel by these evidences comes to believe in the authority of Scripture but not its inerrancy, I can’t condemn them. Jesus, after all, is the center of our faith, not the Bible. The Bible is vital, and is the most important element of our faith tradition, but ultimately the written word is second to the Incarnate Word. And if we understand this, and we do not burden our evangelism with difficult defenses of Biblical inerrancy, then we can find ourselves much more convincing to a skeptical world looking for excuses to disbelieve.

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So what do you think?