The Inerrancy Delusion
Anybody who knows me will attest to the following: Never has skepticism had a more faithful follower. Quite literally, I am skeptical about everything. In fact, I even am skeptical of a notion such as “Fetal defenestration is immoral.” After all, I can conceive of no laboratory test that could be conducted which would demonstrate the immorality of fetal defenestration. [Morality cannot be measured, tested, quantified or gauged via scientific instrumentation.] With such a high degree of skepticism, naturally I look upon extraordinary, supernatural claims with tremendous suspicion. And, as any individual familiar with the Bible will agree, that particular tome is chock-full of extraordinary, supernatural assertions (for example, the Jesus resurrection tale and the Lazarus corpse-to-companion resurrection tale). Considering that the events of the Bible happened millennia in the past, how possibly could they be substantiated now? Theists have the answer.
Many Christians claim the Bible is inerrant. By virtue of its inerrancy—indeed, by definition—all the fantastical stories in the Bible must be true, resurrections included. The presence of the stories in an inerrant book is sufficient to substantiate them. This answer is satisfactory for about 12 seconds. Thereafter, one recalls the gross inconsistencies, historical inaccuracies, scientific impossibilities and internal incoherence contained within “the truest book ever composed.” A book containing grotesquely egregious inconsistencies, by definition, cannot be inerrant. Inerrancy also eludes any tome that has its historical facts wrong, or its scientific principles scrambled. Indeed, I intend to demonstrate here that the Bible is so unreliable on even the most mundane of matters that it surely cannot be trusted with respect to extraordinary, supernatural claims.
Prior to pontificating any further, I turn the stage over to Tom Flynn, writing in the December 2004/January 2005 issue of Free Inquiry. In the following passage, Flynn explains some of the basic inconsistencies in the much-beloved Christmas story. It seems that Matthew and Luke simply cannot agree on anything:
The popular image of shepherds and wise men side by side before the cradle? Matthew says wise men. Luke says shepherds. Neither says both. The star in the East? Only in Matthew. ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’...but only in Luke. Matthew never heard of them.
But then, only Matthew heard of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents…That’s right, the indiscriminate killing of every male baby in
Matthew says Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, moving to Nazareth after their flight into Egypt...But Luke says Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth all along; Jesus was born in Bethlehem only because Joseph and Mary had traveled there to enroll in the census...Roman records mention no such census; in fact, Roman history records no census ever in which each man was required to return to the city where his ancestral line originated. That’s not how the Romans did things.
Unfortunately for biblical literalists, the Bible’s indisputable fallibility does not end there. We are provided with conflicting genealogies tracing the ancestral lineage between David and Joseph. In the genealogy according to Matthew, there are fewer than 30 generations separating David and Joseph. In the genealogy according to Luke, there are more than 40 generations. According to Matthew, the relevant son of David is Solomon. According to Luke, the relevant son of David is Nathan. According to Matthew, Joseph’s father is Jacob. According to Luke, Joseph’s father is Heli. The lists have little crossover. Again, these are the mundane, little details that the Bible has all fouled up. One also must wonder why the scribes bothered to list Joseph’s two ancestral histories. After all, Jesus was born via mammalian parthenogenesis. As Dr. Richard Dawkins, in "The God Delusion," rightly observes, “...if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfill, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David.”
I submit that, considering the Bible’s gross inconsistencies on mundane, ordinary details, Jesus’ alleged life must also be treated with extreme skepticism. Although I believe it’s probable that Jesus, as a man, actually existed, I doubt very much the narrative commonly accepted among Christians. It is notable that Jesus’ alleged life has nearly all the hallmarks of the classic hero myth, on which many religious characters were modeled. In "The God Delusion," Dr. Dawkins writes, “...all the essential features of the Jesus legend, including the star in the east, the virgin birth, the veneration of the baby by kings, the miracles, the execution, the resurrection and the ascension are borrowed – every last one of them – from other religions already in existence in the Mediterranean and Near East region.” In trying to adapt Jesus’ life to conflicting mythologies, the aforementioned contradictions were created. Dr. Dawkins continues, “...Matthew’s desire to fulfill messianic prophecies (descent from David, birth in Bethlehem) for the benefit of Jewish readers came into headlong collision with Luke’s desire to adapt Christianity for the Gentiles, and hence to press the familiar hot buttons of pagan Hellenistic religions (virgin birth, worship by kings, etc.).”
Some of the most convincing evidence demonstrating that the Jesus narrative with which we are familiar might be fabricated comes from
With respect to Jesus, my conclusion is as follows: Jesus probably lived, but his life was nothing like what is portrayed in any of the Gospels. His life, as recounted differently in each Gospel, was a construction to fulfill the scribes' varied agendas. His life simply was wedged into the writer’s mythology of choice.
And, finally, to biblical veracity.... Letting my arguments speak for themselves, I will close with a question to which I hope I have given readers the answer. If the Gospels are demonstrably contradictory, historically inaccurate and fallible on the most mundane and ordinary of details, why should one believe them when it comes to their most incredible, extraordinary claims? In the final analysis, it seems inerrancy has come up bankrupt.