Why Fast Company & Sam Harris need to do their homework
Referring to the claims of the above chart, Fast Company said, “So to anyone who thinks the Bible’s the last word on anything, remember this: It isn’t even the last word on itself.”
This is not new. This chart just wraps-up old claims, which have already been answered, in an awesome piece of design and presentation.
Ignorance or Intentional Misrepresentation
- The claim that the Bible is full of contradictions is ignorant, at best, of Christian theologies of scripture. But it seems more like an intentional misrepresentation, which is prejudiced propaganda, of what Christians actually believe about the Bible. The claim by Project Reason is intellectually disingenuous, which is something that fundamentalists do. Harris knows all this because he wrote a book about it. Ironic, eh?
Christians do not believe that the Bible dropped out of heaven or was dictated to men who scribbled down furiously to catch every word from God. Christians believe that the Bible is both fully inspired by God and fully written by humans. Christians believe that scripture is inerrant in its original manuscripts, not the copies and translation.
Christian doctrines of scripture allows for the human elements of style to be present in the writing process and accounting for the inevitable human error that occurs in textual transmission.
Some of the supposed contradictions are because of obvious copying errors. But many of the others are because Project Reason doesn’t seem to know the basics of how to read an ancient text.
- The claim that the Bible is full of contradictions ignores the variety of genres of literature in the Bible. Fundamentalists interpret religious texts in only one way—the literal way—and so does Project Reason. You can make up lots of supposed contradictions by interpreting this way. Not interpreting a text with the awareness of the genre lacks the basic principles of reading and interpretation.
The Bible is filled with historic narratives, poetry, songs, apocalyptic literature, promises, stories, commands, wisdom literature, and letters. Interpretation should be influenced by the genre, not some fundamentalist everything-must-be-literal approach that we see in the chart.
The Bible is varied in its genres and this fact should not be ignored, but frequently is. The Bible is intentionally precise sometimes and vague at other times. It uses overstatements and understatements as well as making clear propositions and sometimes communicating poetically.
Assuming a modern standard of precision and applying it to an ancient text that purposefully communicates using propositions, vagueness, historical narrative, wisdom literature, poetry, or hyperbole is to build on faulty assumptions and perceive contradictions where none exist.
Since accounts in the Bible are rarely intended to be exhaustive and precise descriptions, it would be intellectually honest to see if differing accounts complement, rather than contradict one another.
But Project Reason would rather ignore this and create contradictions by violating the context of the passages under consideration.
So, what do Christians believe?
Here is a series on past theologies of scripture. But let me offer a summary statement on scripture with which I think most evangelicals would agree:
When all the historical facts, literary genres, and issues of textual transmission are investigated and considered, and when properly interpreted, the Bible never contradicts itself and does not misrepresent the facts.
A more robust explanation of evangelical Christian belief about the trustworthiness of the Bible is found in The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here is the short statement summarizing the 5 main points. But be sure to also read the 19 Article of Affirmation and Denial.
Summary of the 5 main points of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy
- God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
- Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
- The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
- Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
- The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
Sam Harris and Fast Company should have researched how we got the Bible, the basic teachings of the Christian doctrines of scripture, and any of the helpful books answering the supposed contradictions in the Bible.
It would have made the cool chart much more accurate and precise.