Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Sunday, April 3, 2016

An April Fool's Joke - Archaeologists Find Q

The following post was submitted on April Fool's Day as a joke. Hence it is pure fabrication. However, let us allow its composition and then move on to reading the reference section about the theory of the manuscript Q as a way of thinking through what textual criticism might involve when early biblical documents are found.

Enjoy the humor (it was nicely done). But please do not consider this specious "finding" true or real in any way.

R.E. Slater
April 1, 2016

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Archaeologists Find Q
(an April Fool's Joke)

April 1, 2015

The earliest collection of the sayings of Jesus, written down in Hebrew by Jesus’ disciple Matthew, has been found.

These sayings, older than our gospels, now leave us with unprecedented questions: if they disagree with the gospels, which do we follow? Should we add this to the Bible?

Biblical scholars and students of history will be delighted that manuscript fragments of the until-now-speculative Q have been discovered. The papyrus pieces, clearly written in first-century Hebrew, are referred to by the Hebrew letter ק (Qoph). [The first word on the manuscript is קהל (“crowd”) - reading from right to left in the Jewish way of reading].

Unprecedented inter-disciplinary cooperation between Western archaeologists, Jewish and Christian Biblical scholars, and with the assistance of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, have led today to the announcement that we have the earliest copy of this until-now-conjectural Q.

The Q source (…from German: Quelle, meaning “source”) is a hypothetical written collection of Jesus’s sayings (logia). Q is (part of) the “common” material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark.”

Peer-reviewing completed, the announcement has been embargoed until 1 April, and so, as we are one of the first countries past the date line, this is going to be one of the first places that you will read it.

Location where ק was foundק was a highly unexpected find made last year in Jaffa by student volunteers, the majority of whom were helping to excavate the twelfth-century B.C. Lion Temple area and Persian period buildings. Because there were so many volunteers, some were assigned to go over some excavations from the Roman period.

Prof. Ida Claire has been overseeing the international group of scholars. “This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime event. Possibly once in a century,” she said. The manuscript consists solely of sayings of Jesus, and there are many similarities toThe Gospel of Thomas which was only discovered last century.

Dr. Richard U. Shure has been translating the document, and he has been able to conjecture some of the missing elements. R.U. Shure has long thought that Eusebius in the fourth century is correct in recounting the second-century Papias, that Saint Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus and wrote them down in Hebrew: “περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος”. [“Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted/translated them as best he could”]. “Here then,” says Dr Shure, “is the oldest copy of what Jesus actually said.”

The find will completely revolutionise New Testament scholarship. Renowned radical theologian, John Dominic Crossan, is expected to make a statement later today when the 1st of April rolls round, lifting the embargo in his timezone. But conservatives won’t have it all their own way. It will take some time for the full text and its possible translations to become available to the non-professional and online. There appear to be references to journeys to India. This may alter dialogue with Buddhism completely, not to mention Hinduism. And there may be further controversial material about marriage, much in the news now days.

Dominican theologian, Father Justin I Dea, sees two theological problems on the horizon. Aware that there are differences between ק and what Jesus says in Matthew and Luke, which teaching should Christians follow? “From the reconstructions I have seen so far,” says Fr Dea, “there are teachings which differ from our Gospels, and there are teachings that our Gospels have omitted. Do we follow what the Church has taught is inspired? Or do we follow what is probably more original?” Secondly, we have never had access to material closer to Jesus than the four Gospels. All other documents date later and are less reliable. “Putting it bluntly – should ק be added to the Bible?”

A copy of the text will be sent to the meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete, Greece, in June 2016. Another copy is going to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council beginning in a couple of weeks. “A lot will rest, of course, on the Vatican’s response. Calling an ecumenical council would be extremely expensive,” says Mr Bill M. Lader, a philanthropist who has funded much of the research. “But at the end of the day, I am thrilled with the interest in this discovery. It is a memorable day on the calendar!”

I hope, if you appreciated this post today, that you share it (facebook and so on). And do remember to like the liturgy facebook page, use the RSS feed, and sign up for a not-very-often email, …

If you are interested in follow-up on this story, you can read more as it develops on the official website of ק.

For further (true, not false) References:
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source
  • https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=598
  • http://danielbwallace.com/2013/01/16/do-manuscripts-of-q-still-exist/

Biblical Docetism - The Dangers of Reading the Bible Literally





by Samantha Field
March 18, 2016
As I started writing this blog, initially just chronicling my journey out of fundamentalism, I thought of fundamentalism and evangelicalism as radically different things. At first, evangelicalism seemed pretty harmless by comparison. However, as I became a member of evangelicalism through my church and the culture I was absorbing through books and blogs and sermons, I realized that while fundamentalism and evangelicalism look remarkably different, they have far more in common than I’d realized.
To anyone familiar with the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, that’s a remark on the obvious.Of course they’re similar: they come from the same ideological tree. At first, around the turn of the 20th century, there were only fundamentalists, unified by a set of essays called The Fundamentals. Eventually, those essays were condensed into The Five Fundamentals. Interestingly, what those are can vary a bit (see here and here), but they essentially are:
  1. The nature of God is that of a Trinity; Jesus was born of a virgin and was fully God and fully man.
  2. Salvation is by faith, not by works; it was achieved by Christ through the substitionary Atonement.
  3. Scripture is divinely inspired by God and totally sufficient for Christian living.
  4. Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead and now reigns at the right hand of the Father.
  5. There will be a literal second coming of Christ.
The most important idea to be more fully articulated at this time was what it meant for Scripture to be inspired. While not new– there are echoes of this principle in Catholicism and in the Reformers’ belief in sola scriptura— the way these early fundamentalists started treating the Bible was new.
Over time, “inspiration” became a sort of short-hand for the concept that the Bible could be easily read, easily handled, easily interpreted. God meant it for all peoples, all times, all places– and he wouldn’t have done that without giving us the ability to see the “plain meaning of the text.” As the fundamentalists gained power, it birthed men like R.J. Rushdoony and Charles Ryrie who advocated not only for inspiration, but inerrancy. An argument for the inerrancy of Scripture wasn’t present in The Fundamentals, but to fundamentalists it was the only logical place a belief in biblical inspiration could go. After a while, the fundamentalist view of inerrancy became that the Bible is totally without error: it contains no contradictions and is completely and utterly factual.
Around the time that inerrancy was being affirmed by fundamentalists, the evangelical movement began. Fundamentalists began teaching the doctrine of separation, and evangelicals opposed them. Men like Billy Graham rejected the idea that the Church was strictly for Christians– that Christians should retreat into isolated sanctuaries in order to remain unsullied by the corruption of “The World.” Instead, they advocated for the guiding principle of being in the world, but not of it. How could a Christian hope to reach the lost if they kept to themselves all of the time?
Hence the term evangelical.
However, evangelicals didn’t leave their theology behind. They still held to the Five Fundamentals, but they didn’t go along with the movement to accept inerrancy the way the fundamentalists did. At least, not at the time.
In 1979, roughly thirty years after fundamentalists had totally bought into inerrancy, the evangelicals did the same when 300 evangelical leaders signed the Chicago Statement. If you read it over, you’ll notice that the ideas they affirm and deny are important, balanced, and to a degree fairly nuanced; so it shouldn’t surprise you to know that it didn’t go anywhere near far enough to fundamentalist men like Charles Ryrie, who had already moved from biblical inerrancy to biblical literalism.
At this point, fundamentalists started proclaiming ideas like verbal plenary inspiration, and double inspiration. Men like Jack Hyles and Peter Ruckman became fundamentalist figureheads, and they taught the Bible as almost literally dictated, word-for-word, by God themself. These men believed that God chose the men because of the wordings they would  choose, and “guided” them to the exactly “correct” words and phrasings. Not only that, but some men like Ruckman took it one step further: God had even inspired the KJV translators toward choosing the “correct” words in English. Along with all of that came other teachers like Bill Gothard, who took these concepts and started applying them. In fact, if God had chosen the very words, then there could be no harm in taking the Bible literally. It was meant to be taken literally.
Young Earth Creationism sprang out of a belief in biblical literalism, and so did a slew of other problems like the anti-LGBT movement and complementarianism. It took a while for Hyles and Ryrie and Ruckman and Gothard to have an effect, but their words and ideas are now being championed by some of the most influential evangelical leaders– most notably in the neo-Reformed movement, which is dominated by a strict adherence to biblical literalism.
Oh, but the fundamentalists have, again, already moved on. They’ve moved through inspiration, inerrancy, and literalism to finally arrive at biblical docetism.
Historically speaking, docetism (see here and here) is the notion that Jesus was not really human, that he only appeared human but, in reality, that was just a pretense. That idea was roundly condemned by virtually everyone as heresy. However, I believe modern American Christianity has done something even more insidious then denying the embodied Incarnation of Christ: they’ve made the Bible only “appear” like a book.
It was not really written by men– it was written by God. Biblical docetists don’t have to pay attention to how these men had their own personalities, their own vendettas, their own ambitions, their own priorities, their own flaws and their own achievements. To be honest, biblical docetists don’t just ignore how Paul was quite a vociferous fellow frequently given to tantrums (I will never ever work with John Mark ever again!) and tirades (Cretans are all liars!); the fact that Paul had a temper with a tendency to see things in blacks and whites is irrelevant.
To biblical docetists, cultural contexts don’t have to have any bearing on the text– it’s not really an ancient library of texts gathered together over time and with a lot of arguing. It is divine, it is holy, it is preserved. God intended every word exactly as it was recorded to reach our ears today. They knew that we would be reading it, and mythically they imbued it with the power to make perfect, clear sense to ancient readers, and modern readers, and people reading it thousands of years in the future. It is not really a book. You can’t treat it like any old book, or expect it to follow the common sensical rules of other ancient texts. Everything we understand about how ancient near-eastern cultures viewed history or biography doesn’t ultimately matter. It’s the Bible.
In fact, the Bible is so magical that you can rip sentences– halves of sentences, even!– out of their paragraphs and force it down other people’s throats as God’s divinely ordained word for that specific moment. We can all read every letter and stand sure in the knowledge that every word was ultimately meant for our ears, not necessarily for the church to which it was written. Genre– whether it’s oral tradition, poetry, myth, parable– should be erased, for it’s not just any book. It’s not predicated on ideas of style or voicing or purpose or audience. Everything in it is literally true, literally factual, and literally meant for us today.
Hopefully it’s obvious that I’m describing not just Christian fundamentalism, but evangelicalism as well. Evangelicals might not take it as far as a man I knew who actually plucked his eye out because it had “offended him” through a pornography addiction. But just because they’re not going that far doesn’t mean that evangelical biblical docetism isn’t having real-world and devastating consequences. We may not be plucking out our eyes, but we are voting for a man who (possibly) thinks LGBT people should be stoned to death (sic, 2015-2-16 Presidental candidate). We are taking Jesus’ words about persecution and forcing it apply to photographers and bakers. We are proclaiming doomesday messages about being in the End Times because a black man was elected President (sic, President Obama). We are telling women to stay in abusive marriages.
Fundamentalists have already been treading the path through biblical docetism for almost two decades now, and it’s had disastrous consequences. If evangelicals don’t experience some sort of course correction in their view of the Bible, then it’s going to lead them to places the rest of us don’t want to go.

* * * * * * * * * 

My Long Fight to Defend Inerrancy & Why I Finally
Accepted the Bible We Have

by Chuck McKnight
April 2, 2016

I was raised as a missionary kid in a fundamentalist family. My dad, a pastor as well as a missionary, preached on plenty of different topics, but the theme that has always stuck with me was this:

Never blindly accept what someone teaches you, not even if he’s a pastor, and not even if it’s me. Test everything by the Word of God.

To one extent or another, that piece of advice has directed the entire course of my life.

My family moved back to America when I was sixteen. I completed my senior year at Harford Christian High School, and then I headed off to the bastion of fundamentalism that is Bob Jones University, eager to acquire skills I could use in God’s service. After graduating, I went to work full time for Answers in Genesis (the ministry of Ken Ham), having interned there for the previous two summers.

In case you’re unfamiliar with any of these organizations, you should know that they all share a core conviction: the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word of God. They also hold in common the belief that we should separate from so-called “Christians” who do not share this conviction. (Such divisive separatism is, in my view, the primary distinguishing mark between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals with otherwise identical theology. But that’s not the topic for this post.)

Answers in Genesis is most well known for its positions on science—they teach that God created the earth in six 24-hour days around 6,000 years ago and that Darwinian evolution is a lie. But if you actually ask them, they’ll say that these are side issues stemming from the core of what they’re really all about, which is biblical authority.

The Bible, they say, is the foundation of our faith. It must be the final authority for all of Christian belief and practice. They teach that the scriptures are entirely free from error or contradiction. So what the Bible says is to be accepted without question. Everything else must be filtered through the lens of what the Bible supposedly teaches. It’s what they call the “biblical worldview.”

And I wholeheartedly believed it! I taught their worldview myself, desperately fighting for that inerrant Bible. You can still read many of my past writings on their website. Like my explanations of certain “supposed Bible contradictions” or even the article I coauthored with Dr. Terry Mortenson, in which we argued the biblical necessity for a global flood.

For five years at Answers in Genesis, I taught their message of biblical authority. But trouble was brewing. My commitment to the Bible would end up landing me in hot water with the very ones who sought to defend its authority.

I never forgot that advice my dad gave. I paired it with the Apostle Paul’s advice to “test everything, hold on to what is good, and reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22), and I applied it as fully as I was able. Every belief I had been given came under the scrutiny of (my interpretation of) the inerrant Bible. I saw myself as a noble Berean, “examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

These examinations brought with them a number of changes in my beliefs, all regarding standard Christian debates: I rejected the Calvinist theology I had been raised in; I switched from an “institutional” church model to a more “organic” house-church gathering; I started questioning whether a Christian should use violence in self-defense; and a handful of similar matters.

All because “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

On the one hand, my parents were not very happy about my changing beliefs. Despite the fact that I was only following my dad’s advice to test everything by the Bible, they viewed the conclusions I came to as a rejection of “clear biblical teaching.”

On the other hand, none of the changes I’ve described thus far were enough to threaten my position at Answers in Genesis. But that wouldn’t be the case for long.

I was about to start questioning a sacred cow of conservative evangelicalism.

No, I hadn’t allowed for a belief in evolution. I hadn’t concluded that women could fill equal roles with men in church leadership. I hadn’t started to reconsider my position on homosexuality. And I certainly hadn’t wavered in my commitment to the Bible’s inerrancy. Those changes took a lot longer.

But I had started to question the nature of hell.

Not the existence of hell, mind you! Nor the matter of who was going there. I was still quite convinced that a person’s fate was sealed at death, and that all who died without accepting Jesus were headed for eternal hell. But what was this eternal hell like? Was it eternal torment or eternal destruction?

The Bible didn’t seem to be as clear on this question as I would have preferred, but I was starting to lean toward the belief that hell was a place of irreversible destruction, a view commonly known as Annihilationism. Contrary to the claims of my critics, my questions at the time had nothing to do with emotionalism or matters of love or justice. I was only interested in what the Bible taught. And I was becoming less and less convinced that it taught eternal conscious torment.

But as I said, hell is something you’re not allowed to question in conservative circles, and certainly not at Answers in Genesis. Long story short, my new understanding about the nature of hell was not compatible with their statement of faith. I was given some time to make up my mind, but when I could no longer affirm eternal conscious torment, I was forced to resign.

You can hear more of that story in the interview I did with the Rethinking Hell podcast shortly after losing my job. And if you’re interested in my current understanding of hell, check out my recent post, “25 Views on Hell? 2 Questions to Reframe the Debate.

At this point, I want to make something clear. My purpose in sharing this is not to attack anyone. I love my parents, and I’m so thankful for them, regardless of our disagreements. As for the folks at Answers in Genesis, they are some of the most sincere and wonderful people you’ll ever meet. Many of them remain my friends to this day. I even met my wife while working there, and she’s still the love of my life! I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Answers in Genesis.

I’m writing this in opposition to a harmful system of belief. I have nothing against the people who are currently held in that system of belief, just as I used to be.

But we’ve not yet reached the conclusion of my journey out of that system. Being expelled from Answers in Genesis was a major turning point, but I still had a ways to go. I still believed that an inerrant Bible was the foundation of my faith.

Having to leave Answers in Genesis, though painful at the time, turned out to be a tremendous blessing. Since I no longer worked for a ministry with a mandated statement of faith, I was able to ask questions more freely and follow them more honestly, wherever they might lead. And the new job I found brought my family and me out to the Pacific Northwest—the most beautiful part of this country I’ve seen, and the place we’re all thankful to now call home.

As I continued testing my beliefs against the Bible, my earlier questions regarding the use of violence became a firm conviction: Jesus and the Apostles taught complete non-violence, even in matters of self-defense. I saw it throughout the New Testament, but it really came down to that pesky command to love one’s enemies. How could killing someone ever be compatible with loving them?

Around this time, I also began to take seriously the Anabaptist tradition—the oldest existing branch of the church to have consistently taught and modeled non-violence. Additionally, Anabaptists believe that while the whole of scripture is inspired, the New Testament must have primacy over the Old, and the life and teachings of Jesus must take center stage. These principles would become crucial for me as my understanding of scripture continued to evolve.

For a while, all was well. I had my new belief regarding non-violence, and not much else changed (apart from having sold my 1911). But it did bring up another nagging question. If the New Testament is so full of non-violent teaching, what about all the violence in the Old Testament?

Now remember, I was still fully committed to the idea of a Bible that contained no errors and no contradictions. So it wasn’t an option for me to say that the Old Testament was wrong about violence. Preston Sprinkle, in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence, offered the solution I found most compelling at the time, and it satisfied me for a while. But the further I pressed into this, the more complicated things became.

It wasn’t simply a matter of humans committing violence in the Old Testament, nor even of God allowing violence for a time. If the Old Testament is to be taken literally, God actually commanded much of the violence that occurred. And that would mean that God has a violent streak.

But I was also coming to understand that Jesus perfectly reveals God. Again, this was a strictly biblical conclusion. Passages like Hebrews 1:1–3, John 1:17–18, andColossians 1:15–17 all point us to Jesus for our picture of God. But Jesus taught and modeled non-violent enemy love. And he taught that our love of enemies should be based on God’s love of everyone. Such non-violent enemy love is, according to Jesus, what it means to be sons of our Father and to be perfect as he is perfect (Matthew 5:43–48).

So we have a perfectly non-violent God of love revealed in Jesus Christ, but we also have a God of violence and warfare revealed in the Old Testament. This is a huge problem! This isn’t one of those little supposed contradictions that falls apart with a basic understanding of context. This is a matter of two diametrically opposed views about the very nature of God. How does one “solve” this contradiction?

These questions also led me into an examination of the concept of justice. What does justice look like to God, and how does he carry it out?

According to Mosaic law, God required payment for sins. For some sins, God demanded that sacrifices be given. For many other sins—or for the unfortunate foreigners whose land the Israelites needed—the punishment was either dismemberment or death. And the Israelites were commanded over and over again to “show no mercy” in such cases (Deuteronomy 7:2; 13:8; 19:13, 21; 25:12).

But this is not the only opinion voiced in the Old Testament. Other authors state that God does not require sacrifices and never told the Israelites that he did (Psalm 40:6;Jeremiah 7:22; Isaiah 1:11). And according to Hosea, rather than commanding the Israelites to show no mercy, Yahweh says the opposite, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

Sure, I could scrutinize the wording of these verses, dig into the Hebrew, and come up with some way to force an agreement. But would that really be faithful to the texts? These aren’t just single verses that appear contradictory; they represent vastly opposing viewpoints—a debate going on within the pages of the Old Testament.

I realized that, if I was going to be consistent in testing every belief by the Bible, I would have to submit the concept of inerrancy itself to the same test. If the Bible is fully sufficient (a belief that goes hand-in-hand with inerrancy) then inerrancy must be taught by the Bible itself.

But guess what. The Bible makes no such claim! I scoured the pages of scripture; I read multiple books by inerrantists on the subject; and I could not find a single passage that teaches anything like inerrancy.

Paul says that scripture is inspired or God-breathed and that it is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). But neither of those claims would mean that it contains no errors. God may have inspired scripture, but he gave that inspiration to humans who then authored it. The prophecy of scripture, according to 2 Peter 1:20–21, is a collaboration between God and men. So while I’d expect scripture to be full of divine truth, I’d also expect it to contain some human error.

Some passages, such as Psalm 19:7, speak of God’s law as being “perfect.” But this concept of perfection simply means that it is whole or complete. In other words, the scriptures we have are exactly the scriptures we need.

But what if God wanted our scriptures to speak with opposing voices? What if he didn’t want to hand us an inerrant manual for every area of life? What if God values discussion, debate, and wrestling with the texts? What if he values it so much that he allowed for debate to go on within the texts themselves? What if God believes that such debate is part of what makes scripture profitable?

The book of Job is fascinating to me. It’s buried near the middle of our Bibles, but many scholars believe it was actually the first book of the Bible to be written. And nearly the entire book is a debate between Job and his “friends.”

Even inerrantists admit that we shouldn’t take the statements by Job or his friends as inerrant in themselves. They may have been divinely recorded, but they’re still divinely recorded opinions of men. Furthermore, these opinions contradict one another within the book of Job, and many of them contradict other scriptures as well.

The value of the book of Job does not lie in the individual truth claims made by its characters. Rather, the whole debate is itself valuable and profitable. If that weren’t the case, then we might as well throw out the majority of the book, and just keep the beginning and end portions where Yahweh himself speaks. But no inerrantist would want to do that. They recognize the value of this debate.

What if this is how we should view all of scripture?

Have you ever read one of those “multiple views” books? I love them! They bring together multiple Christian authors who disagree on a certain subject. The authors each present their case, explaining why they hold to their perspective. And then each of the authors critiques the explanations of the other authors.

It’s a beautiful, healthy way to debate certain aspects of Christianity while remaining united in Christ. And there’s so much value to be found in the debate. Generally speaking, each perspective has some elements of truth to it. But of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re all equally correct.

Imagine, however, that we were to take such a book, and claim inerrancy for it. What if we were to say that the opposing views don’t actually contradict one another after all? It would take some hard work and a lot of linguistic gymnastics, but I bet we could find some convoluted way to force agreement. Language is pliable. If we want a text to say something badly enough, we can generally make it do so.

My example here may sound absurd, but is that any less absurd than trying to force a Bible that does contain contradictions to not contradict itself?

If we start with inerrancy as a presupposed idea, then we have to make the scriptures agree, even when they don’t—even when their disagreements are deliberate. That’s not faithful to the scriptures, and it causes us miss out on the beautiful debates they contain. How can we profit from those debates if we pretend they aren’t there?

“Test everything by the Word of God.”

I was brought up to believe that the Bible is the Word of God. But Jesus is also the Word of God. It got kind of confusing at times. Lots of equivocation.

But as I continued studying, I discovered that the Bible never actually refers to itself as the Word of God. Throughout the New Testament, that phrase is reserved specifically for Jesus or for his gospel message. We could say that the scriptures represent the word of God in a secondary sense, as they certainly include words from God. But in the ultimate sense, only Jesus truly is the Word of God.

When my dad taught me to test everything by the Word of God, he had the Bible in mind. But I was finding that the Bible itself, when tested by itself, was found to be wanting. The Bible simply is not the single, cohesive, inerrant book that I would like it to be. It’s a collection of books—all inspired and profitable, but often contradicting one another.

But Jesus is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Jesus, rather than the Bible, is our ultimate authority for all belief and practice. Jesus is the foundation of our faith, and we dare not build on any other. Yes, we need the Bible to point to Jesus, but once we get to Jesus, he must take supremacy.

When it comes to interpreting the Bible, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ must be our baseline. We must test everything else by his standard.

So how did Jesus read the Old Testament? Did he treat it as if it were inerrant? What did he have to say regarding the debates within its pages?

For starters, Jesus sided with mercy rather than sacrifice. Twice he quoted Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” at one point adding, “If you had understood what this means, you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12:7). So if Jesus calls us to show mercy, we must forsake all Old Testament commands to “show no mercy.”

The lex talionis or “law of retaliation” formed the core of Israel’s justice system. “You must show no mercy: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21). But Jesus directly overturned this command. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not retaliate against evil” (Matthew 5:38–39).

And Jesus consistently lived this out, blatantly breaking the law in order to show mercy, even to those whom the Old Testament would have condemned to death. This doesn’t mean that Jesus rejected the Old Testament. He had the highest regard for it. He didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

Fulfilment means bringing something to completion or perfecting it. Jesus came as the completion of everything the law and prophets pointed toward, and he perfected them by showing us how to properly understand them. But that often means contradicting the letter in order to follow the spirit.

According to Jesus, all the law and prophets hang on two simple commands: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40). Or to put it another way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). But we must disregard Old Testament notions of violence and retaliation in order to live out Jesus’ rule of love and mercy. This is the only way to truly fulfill the scriptures.

For a much more detailed analysis of how Jesus and his Apostles read the scriptures, including how they frequently edited Old Testament texts to alter their meanings, be sure to check out Derek Flood’s excellent book, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did.

So what now? If the Bible is not inerrant, how can we be certain about anything?

I hear this question pretty much every time I mention the idea that the Bible contains errors. And I totally get it! If we’ve built our foundation on an inerrant Bible, then it’s a scary thought to have that foundation pulled out from underneath us. That’s precisely why it took me so long to come around. I too would much rather have an inerrant Bible.

But here’s the thing. We don’t get to remake the Bible according to our standards of what we think it should be. The Bible is exactly what it is, and we have to trust that God knew what he was doing when he inspired it to be such.

I’m not going to claim that I have all the answers for how to move forward. But I know this: Jesus is the only foundation we should be building on.

Yes, we do need the Bible to point us to Jesus. We also need the church, both modern and historic, to help us understand the Bible. We need natural revelation to show us God’s glory. We need spiritual leaders who have been on this path for much longer than us, whose examples we may follow. We need community to keep us grounded. And most of all, we need the Holy Spirit to guide us.

I understand the desire for certainty, but that just isn’t an option. Even among inerrantists, there’s never been a consensus of interpretation. So there’s no true certainty there either. Somewhere along the way, simple faith has to come into play.

For me, I’ve chosen to place all my faith—and to test everything—by the Word of God: Jesus Christ.