I have come to the conclusion, like many others have, that this whole idea of the bible being free from error and without inconsistency has got to go! There are many reasons for this, and I will write more of them in the future, but here is a good second starting point (My first was my review of Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible”)
Roger Olson has a new post out containing a Review of Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton L. Sparks (Eerdmans, 2012). This is rational, salient and sober. We have many faults as Christians, but I believe the most egregious is to practically worhip the bible over Jesus himself. This post cuts to the heart of much of it.
Here is a highlight of the post.
In other words, according to Sparks, there are records in Scripture that simply cannot be trusted as true because of the Bible’s humanity. He begins with blatant contradictions such as the accounts of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and death in Matthew and Acts; they cannot be reconciled. Most people are not particularly bothered by that. Only neo-fundamentalists find it necessary to try to harmonize them. The differences are not important theologically. One can easily respond to them by saying that, in spite of such contradictions, the Bible is “perfect with respect to purpose” (John Piper). We can chalk such flaws to human fallibility so long as we hold to a dynamic rather than verbal view of inspiration. (By “verbal inspiration” here I mean the idea that God led the writers to the exact words he wanted them to use. By “dynamic inspiration” here I mean the idea that God led the writers to the ideas he wanted them to record but allowed their personalities and cultures and fallible memories, etc., to affect what they wrote.)
What will trouble many evangelicals more is Sparks’ handling of the Old Testament texts of terror:
Where we judge that Scripture presents God as saying or doing something he would not say or do, we should confess that “these texts tell us more about the purposes of their human authors than about the purposes of God.” We will simply admit that the author of Deuteronomy wrongly believed (as Luther did) that God told his people to slaughter their enemies. To express in theological jargon, Scripture includes both “God-talk” (first-order words from God to humanity) and “god-talk-talk” (mistaken, second-order accounts of what God has supposedly said. This is an important distinction…. (105-106)
Telling the difference between these two types of texts is a matter of Christological discernment, not cultural accommodation. Sparks adamantly rejects any idea that his proposal is based on modern sentiments. To those who disagree he rightly points back to church fathers such as Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom and others who freely admitted that the texts of terror in question could not be taken at face value. The way premodern Christians handled them was to allegorize them. That method isn’t open to us. So where does that leave us?
I have not heard the Judas argument before, but I find the whole thing quite compelling. Go read the whole post (and comments) to get a full flavor.