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


Thought Leaders Series: 2018

Lifelong Learning

If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)

Operative Narratives (ON) can be compared with the operating system in a device. The older the operating system the more it is inefficient in coping with the demands placed on it. Just imagine using a 10 years old computer to write-up a report, or perhaps design a flyer or website, or CGI animation. It was once functional and fit for purpose, but with the passage of time and advancement in thinking, it is now a relic.

ONs are psychological safe spaces we agree to confine ourselves into, and we often retreat to these spaces when faced with stress, challenges or anxiety. It takes the shape of the story we deduce from early life experiences. They become interlocked in our belief systems, our values, and concepts. They become principles that guide our decision making, codes and rules that we adhere to.

Here is the problem. Whenever we encounter a more powerful or more compelling narrative, we loose our orientation, and end up stuck.

This was exactly what happened when my African ancestors encountered the sophistication of the machine gun of the Western army. Centuries of military strategy, manoeuvres, physical discipline, stamina, formations, communication, motor skills etc; suddenly became obsolete.

Let us take one of these skills — motor skills. Scientists define motor skills as permanent change in the ability to perform a skill as a result of practice or experience. These skills would have been learnt from adolescence. They would have been incorporated into dance routines during events and festivals, farming practices, and even sports.

At the encounter with a machine gun, seasoned generals suddenly had no answers and crisis ensued. The machine gun requires new skills and new thinking. They either fight valiantly to their end, or surrendered gracefully in the hope that their people will live and learn from this seismic shift. Similar to Africa we see civilisations disappear in America and Asia. With a slightly different twist we see the conviction of Islam take over most of the Middle East, parts of Africa and even Europe. Much later the battle of ideas in Europe with the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution etc.

Ideas are powerful. Ideas are responsible for all the major changes on planet Earth. To this end the need to constantly upgrade our mental library cannot be overemphasised. The need to identify obsolete ONs, delete them, and replace them with up to date versions becomes a moral imperative.

Do not limit yourself spiritually or psychologically, step up to the challenges of the 21st century. I plead with Christian leaders to stop burying their heads in the sand, using the idea of a Rapture as lazy answers to the challenges facing our World. This has been used at various times in history and even most recently as we moved into the new millennium.

It is a terrible error which often sets the church behind. Sadly, because our leaders refuse to upgrade, engage, challenge and enquirer; we end up excluding ourselves from the most pressing debates, and out of public discourse. We end up becoming even more irrelevant.

The prophets of old, John the Baptist and even Jesus were all at the fore front of the socioeconomic debates of their era.


Thought Leaders Series: 2018

Like most people that made positive impact and left a legacy in this world, Jesus spent 30years preparing himself for a public ministry which most theologians argue spans between 2-3years.

During those years of his public ministry he was hugely unpopular, so much so that the people demanded the release of Barabbas (a man thrown in prison for insurrection against the Roman authorities and murder) when presented a choice.

Even after his death it will take centuries before his thoughts and ideas gained any form of mainstream traction.

However those 30years to me are more vital than the years of his public ministry. Those years were years of ugly hard work. The sort of effort and perspiration that eventually makes you an ‘overnight success’. This hard work the world never gets to know, see, or even talk about.

Therefore, in order to produce work that the world sees and celebrates, we have to first be willing to consistently produce work that no one might see or even notice.

Dear friends, our effort must be consistent, deliberate, and regularly improved through personal or external feedback process in order for them to yield any sort of dividends. This is particularly important in our season of obscurity.

Sometimes, this even involves working for free with a view to learn and master our craft. We can only make demands when we are in demand.

Let’s go to work!

Reachout | Revive | Recover