Bible Infallibility in the Light of Modern Scholarship Part 2
Source :-ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF THE BIBLE
By Rev.JABEZ T.SUNDERLAND, America
5.Childish Representations of God
6.Morally Degrading Representations of God.
7.Inculcation of what is Wrong.
9.Driving Men into Infidelity
10.Something Wiser and Better
Let us pass on now to notice other things in the Bible which it is impossible to reconcile with the theory of infallibility. Concerning these I shall be as brief as possible, citing only illustrations enough to make my meaning clear.
The Bible contains many things intrinsically absurd. For example, the statement that the first woman was made of a rib taken out of the firstman’s side; the accounts of a serpent, and of an ass, talking; the stories of Jonah living three days within a fish (Matt. xii. 40, common version, says a whale), and of Nebuchadnezzar eating grass like an ox for seven years. When we find such stories as these in any of the sacred books of the world except our own, we do not for a moment think of believing them. We say they are so absurd that of course we cannot believe them. But do they become any less absurd by being found in our own sacred book?
The Bible contains accounts and statements not historically correct. For example: We read in Luke that Augustus Caesar, the Roman emperor, issued a decree that “all the world should be taxed “: that is, enrolled or registered for the purposes of a census ; and that it was in connection with the carrying into effect of this decree, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, that Joseph and Mary went, as the decree required them to do, to Bethlehem, Joseph’s native city, to be taxed (registered) ; and while they were there Jesus was born. (See Luke, second chapter.)
Now, in connection with this account there are no less than three or four distinct mistakes. In the first place, history is silent as to a census of the whole (Roman) world ever having been made at all. In the second place, it is true that Cyrenius (Quirinius) did make an enrollment in Palestine, but it was confined to Judea and Samaria, and did not extend to Galilee, and hence Joseph’s household (in Nazareth) could not have been affected by it. In the third place, it did not take place until ten years after the death of Herod, instead of during the reign of Herod, as the account of Luke states.Finally, at the time of the birth of Jesus the governor of Syria was not Cyrenius (Quirinius) but Quintus Sentius Saturninus.
Take another example. In Matt, xxiii. 35, it is stated that the Jews “slew Zacharias, son of Barachias, between the temple and the altar.This is an error. It was Zechariah, son of Jekoiada, quite a different man, who was thus murdered. (See 2 Chron. xxiv. 20-22.) Zacharias, son of Barackias, lived some 230 years later.There are a considerable number of as plain cases of historical error as these.
I do not point out these errors because of their great importance in themselves, or because they greatly diminish the general reliability of the Bible history, but only because of their bearing upon the subject of infallibility. It is not enough for an inerrant book to be generally reliable: it must be accurate in everything. If it errs in anything its infallibility is gone.
3. Scientific Errors
In the Book of Leviticus we find the Israelites forbidden to eat the flesh of the hare,” because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof.” Here the writer is mistaken as to a scientific fact: the hare does not chew the cud. Numerous statements may be found which are opposed to science, particularly in the Old Testament. The accounts given in Genesis of the creation and of the deluge are illustrations. The story of the standing still of the sun at the command of Joshua is another. Attempts are made to harmonize these with science ; but the distorting of language that has to be resorted to in order to accomplish even a semblance of reconciliation is such as would be tolerated nowhere outside of theological discussion ; indeed, it is such as destroys the signification of human speech, making it mean anything or nothing.
The Bible contains evident exaggerations. For example, the statements that Methuselah lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and Enos nine hundred and five years; and that Lamech was a hundred and eighty-two years old when his first son was born. Also, the account given in 2 Chron. xiii. of the number of soldiers in the Jewish armies to wit, under Abijah 400,000, and under Jeroboam 800,000 picked men; of the latter, 500,000 fell in a single battle. That this must be an enormous exaggeration utterly beyond possible truth will appear when we remember that the whole country of Palestine from which these 1,200,000 ” chosen, mighty men of valor” were raised at one time, was not as large as the little country of Wales. Napoleon’s largest army that with which he invaded Russia consisted of only 500,000 men, the exact number here said to have fallen on one side in a single fight.
Again, we have an account given (see I Sam. vL 19) of 50,070 men of the village of Beth-Shemesh being on a certain occasion slaughtered by the Lord because they looked into the ark. Not to say anything about the enormity of punishing in so terrible a manner so trivial an offence, notice the number of the slain. In no community is it ever estimated that more than one in five of the population can be men. So then we see that BethShemesh (which we know to have been only an insignificant town) must have contained, to make the account true, not less than 250,000 population. Does this look like infallibility ?
A little reflection shows us that the numbers mentioned in connection with the Exodus must be enormous exaggerations. We are told that among those who left Egypt were 600,000 men. Adding anything like the usual proportion for women and children would give us a company of from 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 persons.Imagine such a multitude equal to the population of a great state crossing the Red Sea, marching, encamping, dwelling in tents, wandering in the desert, and keeping together as one company for forty years. Dropping out of the account the whole enormous matter of subsistence, think what the mere organization and moving of such a host means. We read of their getting ready for their journey in a single night, and crossing the sea in a single night. But neither event is within the range of possibility. ” In 1812, when Napoleon crossed the river Niemen, it took his army of about 230,000 men three days and nights to cross the river, by three bridges,in close file.” But that army of Napoleon’s was less than one-half as numerous as the fighting men of the Israelites, and perhaps one-tenth as numerous as the whole multitude, to say nothing about their flocks which they had with them. Thus we see that in this Exodus story we are dealing with figures that are simply incredible. 1 But such exaggerations are numerous in all the older historical parts of the Bible.
5. Childish Representations of God
The Bible contains representations of God which, in the light of such teachings as those of Jesus, we cannot do otherwise than regard as childish. For example, in Ex. Xxx 34-38 we have an account of God giving Moses very minute directions for making perfumery, of a kind that would be “holy for the Lord/’ to be used in the tabernacle when God came to meet with Moses ; and if any other person made the same he should be put to death. So, then, we have the Creator of the universe engaged in the very dignified business of giving instructions as to what kind of perfumery is agreeable to him ; moreover,making sure that he shall have it alone, and no one else shall have it with him, by attaching the death penalty to all rival manufacture of the perfume.
6. Morally Degrading Representations of God.
Some things which naturally fall under this head will be found in the chapter on the “Moral and Religious Progress Traceable in the Bible,” to which readers are referred. But a few facts must be cited here.
No candid reader of the Bible can deny that it contains representations of God according to which he is not a morally perfect being. For example, we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart that he should not let the children of Israel go out of the land of Egypt (Ex. vii. 13,and xi. 10), and then punished him in the most terrible manner for not letting them go. Would this have been right on the part of God? Certainly not; unless morality is an altogether lower and poorer thing than it is with us. Again, in the second commandment, the reason urged by God against idolatry is that he is a “jealous God.” 1 Thus a trait of character is ascribed to him which is degrading even to a human being.
Again, we read that God ordered Moses to say unto the king of Egypt, ” Let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice unto the Lord our God,” when the object of their going was not that at all, but to escape altogether out of the land, not to come back. Thus we are told that God commanded Moses to lie. In harmony with this, we are told that God ordered the Jewish people, when they were ready to start on their journey, to borrow every valuable thing they could of their Egyptian neighbors, and carry it off. Thus they are commanded to rob as well as lie.
Again, while the Israelites are in the wilderness a revolt breaks out, headed by three men, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. God commands Moses and Aaron at once to separate themselves from the rest of the people, that he may consume the others with fire. But Moses and Aaron beg God not to be angry with the whole congregation for one man’s sin. In spite of this plea, however, fourteen thousand seven hundred persons died of the plague, besides the two hundred and fifty insurrectionists who were swallowed up by an earthquake. And the plague would have gone on until all were dead, innocent and guilty alike, had not Aaron rushed in with a censer full of incense, which made an atonement for the people, and the plague was stayed (Num. xvi. 20-50). Thus Aaron and Moses are represented as not only more merciful, but more just, than God.
Again, we find it recorded that God commanded Joshua to massacre the people of a certain list of cities all the men and women and innocent children; the only reason being so that he (Joshua) and his followers might possess their cities and their rich lands (Josh, x, 28-41). Now, if the Koran contained records of such commands, said to have been given by the God of the Mohammedans to a Mohammedan general, Christian men would never make an end of pointing to them as illustrations of the low and degraded ideas about God taught by Mohammedanism.
But if such ideas of God would be low and imperfect as taught in the Koran, are they less low and imperfect when taught in our Old Testament?
Again, to mention only one more case, we read in the career of Jehu of as horrible crimes as it is possible for man to commit, all done under the command of God and with his approval. (See 2 Kings, chaps, ix. and x.)
First Jehu shoots King Joram, and then orders the assassination of King Ahaziah ; then by craft he obtains the heads of seventy of Ahab’s children, which are packed in baskets and sent to him at Jezreel ; pretending to have had nothing to do with this massacre, he follows it up by slaying all the rest of Ahab’s relations and friends, and great men and priests, until ” he left him none remaining.” It seems, however, that forty-two brethren of Ahaziah and a temple full of priests still live ; these he murders without a word of warning. ” It is easy enough to see that Jehu only acted like an unscrupulous usurper, who finds the safety of his throne dependent upon the extermination of the late dynasty, while his slaughter of the worshipers of Baal was done partly as a sop to the priests of Jehovah, who had been instrumental in urging his pretensions, and partly to crush all lingering sympathy with the house of Ahab in the minds of the people. He was a consummate dissembler, hypocrite, and murderer ; and yet the Bible tells us that he did according to “all that was in God’s heart” all that was “right in God’s eyes” and received for so doing God’s approval and reward.”
What shall we say to all this ? Shall we to-day, in the light of civilization and of Christianity, accept such low and unworthy views of God ? Can we for one moment maintain the moral inerrancy of the book that contains them ?
7.Inculcation of what is Wrong.
There are many places where the Old Testament both directly and indirectly not only sanctions but inculcates what is wrong. For example, in Ex. xxii. 18 we read the command, ” Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” This command to put witches to death, it is probably safe to say, has resulted in the hanging, burning, drowning, and killing, in one way and another, of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent persons ; just as a somewhat similar text in the Vedas (previously mentioned) has caused multitudes of Hindu widows to perform the dreadful rite of Suttee. So tremendous is the power for evil of a false precept or bad command laid upon men in the name of an infallible book !
In Deuteronomy (xxi. 18-21) we have the command to stone to death unruly and disobedient children ; and that, too, on the simple accusation of their parents, without trial. Think of the enactment of such a law to-day, by one of our legislatures, and its attempted enforcement by the civil authorities ! How long before the public conscience would condemn it as not only unjust and cruel, but horrible? In Deut. xiv. 21 we read: “Ye shall not eat of anything that dieth of itself; thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in the gates, that he may eat it ; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien.” How does such a way of disposing of bad meat harmonize with the Golden Rule? In Psalm cix. we have a prayer, in which the psalmist implores that the most terrible calamities may be visited upon his enemy, and not only upon him but upon his children. He prays that his enemy’s “days may be few ” ; that his ” children may be fatherless, and his wife a widow “;that his children “may be continually vagabonds and beg,“ and that there may be ” none to show them mercy.” In another psalm (cxxxvii.) the writer exclaims regarding his enemy, ” Happy shall he be who taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones ! ” Were the psalmists inspired who wrote these words? If so, then it becomes a serious question Was it by God, or by the Devil ?
In Leviticus (xxv. 44-46) we have slavery inculcated, and that too not as a temporary institution, but as something which was to be perpetual. ” Of the heathen that are round about you, shall ye buy bondmen and bond-women, and they shall be your bondmen forever.” But enough! Now what are we to say of such flagrant wrongs, sanctioned and taught in the holy name of religion ? There is only one answer : they must be condemned, no matter where found. Of course, if such were the dominant teachings of the Bible, the book would be not only religiously worthless : it would be a curse to the world. But, fortunately, every intelligent reader of its pages knows that such are not its dominant teachings. They are a part of its teachings, however. This fact no man can evade. How, then, can we rob them of their evil effect ? Certainly not by denying them ; still less by defending them, and trying to make out that they are right. That is to perpetuate and cherish their moral poison. The only way to render them harmless is to confess them, to confess them frankly, but, at the same time, to point out what is true that they mark but the beginning of the Bible’s religion, not its end ; they are the product of its child stage, not of its maturity; they are its sour and bitter yes, and poisonous green fruit, not its rich and healthful ripe fruit. The latter comes in due time. Up from that earlier low level the religion of the Bible rises rises to the lofty elevation of the greater prophets and of Jesus. These are the teachers who give the Bible’ its dominant note, who represent its true religion, who have given it its place at the head of the world’s ethical and religious literature.
I have now caused to pass in very brief review before the reader, some of the most obvious difficulties that rise in the path of thoughtful men, who, in the light of the scholarship and general intelligence of the time, try to believe that the Bible is a book of perfect and infallible truth.
It is very common for preachers and religious teachers to charge upon men who disbelieve the infallibility of the Bible, that their disbelief is something which they choose and choose from bad motives in other words, that it is something willful and wicked. I trust I have shown that this is not necessarily true. Men are obliged to believe that two and two make four ; they cannot believe differently, no matter how much they may wish it. So,when they set about the study of the Bible, with their eyes open and with honest hearts, and find that the book contains limitations corresponding to the limitations of the people and the times from which it comes, the mere fact that they may wish still to regard it as perfect and infallible does not by any means enable them to do so. Such numerous and manifest imperfections as have passed before us in the preceding pages rise up before their vision, and, in spite of all their efforts to see them as perfections, persist in appearing as imperfections. This being the case, the continued insistence of the church that they must see them to be perfections would seem a great and strange folly.
9.Driving Men into Infidelity
Nothing can be more clear than that the result must be sooner or later to drive this class of men into hostility to the church and the Bible. Indeed, the fact, so much lamented by the clergy and the religious press, that many of the most intelligent minds of the country are already turning their backs upon Christianity, clearly finds an explanation to no s’mall extent in the blind folly of Christianity in continuing to demand that men must subscribe to the belief in an infallible book, or else stay outside the Christian fold. Why does this folly continue ?
10.Something Wiser and Better
How is it that intelligent Christian men fail to see that there is no necessary connection whatever between belief in the correctness of all the statements of every kind contained in the Bible, and belief in the great moral and spiritual teachings of Isaiah and Paul and Jesus? Surely, then, the part of wisdom would seem to be, for the churches and those who care for Christianity, to take an entirely new departure with regard to this matter of Bible infallibility.Let them not persist in the useless, foolish, and inevitably losing effort of trying longer to bolster it up. There is something better for them. Freely and without hesitancy admitting all the errors and imperfections that fair and honest criticism finds in the Bible, let them confidently rest their claim for it upon the transcendent merits that the same criticism freely confesses it to possess. Let them say, ” We want no one to believe what there is not ground for believing. We are interested, as much as any can be, to find out errors and imperfections, that men may be warned against them. It is truth that we care for ; especially do we care for moral and spiritual truth, the truth of the conscience and the heart, which is self-witnessing,” The moment the Christian churches and Christian people generally take this position (and not a few of the wisest among them are taking it already), this crushing burden of carrying the imperfections of the Bible this hopeless Sisyphus-task of apologizing for these imperfections, and trying, by hook or by crook, to convince the intelligence of the age that they are perfections is gone, and the mental energies of Christendom are left free to be expended in better and more worthy directions.
The Bible Improved as a Book of Worship and of Practical Religion, by giving up the Idea of its lnfallibility.
Nor could the surrender of the dogma of the infallibility of the Bible hurt the volume, as some fear, as a book of devotional and practical -religion. Rather, in important respects, it would help it as such. For, as already intimated, the loss of the idea of infallibility would affect not in the least its higher and more spiritual teachings those portions that are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” It would be simply the letting in of a healthy wind to blow away as chaff a multitude of things which, so far from having in them any food for pious souls, or spiritual edification for anybody, are, on the contrary, found universally to be a hindrance to piety, and a detraction from edification.