On the Problem of the Infallibility of the Bible, and a Way Forward

Thought Leaders Series: 2018

This short essay aims to highlight the challenges of the notion of infallibility and conclude with recommendations on how we can use faith as a platform to engage, challenge, build and transform the psyche of people in the 21st century.

The text we know today as the Bible is a library of writings written by individuals who were trying to navigate their way through the various sociopolitical challenges of their era.

Like in academia today there were various schools of thought, and it covers various subjects. Some writers were in harmony, others were in conflict. The book of Esther for instance clearly highlights what people can do within their means to bring about social change. Like all the other books in the Old Testament, it is also centred around patriotism and nationhood.

For brevity, let us consider the following core issues with the notion of the infallibility of the Bible:

  • Tampering or spoliation of evidence: this term is closely linked with obstruction of justice in law. Clearly there are evidence of redaction and editing of the texts both in the Old and New Testament.
  • Faulty history: there are areas in both the Old and New Testament that are factually incorrect in terms of historicity.

  • Theology: the theological underpinnings of some of the writers are clearly in conflict, and there are evidence of evolution or revision of theological precepts. This includes the reason for the Exile; life after death; eternity; Angels, the Devil etc. In terms of revision, for example, after the destruction of The First Temple, the Elders came up with substitute means of atonement in the shape of: studying the Torah, fasting, prayer, and giving. On this same subject, there is a trajectory from Yahweh being the God of the Israelites, to Yahweh being the God of the Nations (sovereign God).

  • Gaps: not all the writing of the writers or contributors have been found. For example, in order to understand the letters, especially the ones ascribed to John, we need access to letters from their opponents (who were also Christian leaders in some cases), or evidence of issues they were challenging. These gaps leads to approximation which are oftentimes erroneous.

This being the case how do we salvage the faith?

The faith or supernatural realm is the most well developed area of the human psyche. It was the main means of explaining things that we could not understand. Things we take for granted today like: why does it rain; why does the water volume get dry or reduces in the summer; why does it snow; why do we have earthquakes; why do we die; why do we have sandstorms or hurricane, etc. All these and many more were ascribed to superstition, and transmitted through stories, folklores, myths, music, poetry; to name a few media. Hence we still respond positively to a well crafted story, drama, movie or literature.

To this end the faith realm can still be harnessed as a force for good. But in order to achieve this, our leaders must be educated and open to new ideas. This will enable them map trends and patterns, and spot opportunities to challenge and change archaic and faulty worldview or mindsets, of which there are many in the Bible.

So as to the notion of infallibility, the Bible is a work in progress, which calls us to engage, critique, and come up with new pathways for our era and the future. That said, our ideas today might not even stand the test of morality and ethics for future generations, and that too is welcome development, not a problem.

Reachout | Revive | Recover

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