Just one mistake and it's fallible
Fundamentalist claim that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God. They have no choice. Without that claim their faith falls to pieces. Their problem is not that they contend to be following the will of God not the philosophy of a man. Aristotle could be be wrong about some things but right about others and there is no crisis for those who are admirers of his. The same is true for any philosophy. Philosophy is man thinking and thus susceptible ot error. And an error in a philosophy does not mean one has to turn their back on the other ideas of that philosophy.
But when you are claiming to be dealing with the revealed will of God you can’t have errors. Not one. if the Bible has one error it can have two. If it is wrong on one issue which can be proven then perhaps it is wrong on those things not easily susceptible to truth.
If the Bible can’t get mundane things correct which can be verified then what about the many things which can never be verified? For instance some people think the Bible teaches Jesus was born to a virgin. Others dispute this of course but let’s assume the Bible does teach that for a second. Now can anyone alive verify the virginity of the mother of Jesus? Of course not. So one is required to take that entirely on the basis of faith. And you do so because you think the Bible says that and that the Bible is accurate. But if the Bible is inaccurate on other things that you can prove then what about things you can’t prove like the virgin birth. The Bible can not be the infallible, inerrant word of God if it is fallible and filled with errors. If you can’t believe it about things susceptible to proof then you can’t trust it on those things not susceptible to proof.
Now how does one verify the accuracy of the Bible? Many things are clearly not open to normal rules of evidence. We can not test the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin or that he turned water into wine. Our only evidence for this is that the Bible claims it. We don’t have the wine on hand. We can’t engage in controlled experiments to verify the claims. The supernatural claims of the Bible are not themselves open to verification one way of the other. You either take the Bible as accurate or you don’t.
But if you take it as accurate you can’t have errors in it. It is not reliable then it is not reliable. Now most the religious claims of the Bible are of a supernatural kind. That is they are claims that go contrary to what we know about reality. People don’t die and come to life again. Virgins don’t suddenly become pregnant. People don’t walk on water. We have thousands of years of evidence verifying this. Of course the believers just say that Jesus was the exception because he was God -- another claim not open to evidence.
So one can say that the likelihood of these things being true is very low because we have no verifiable record to back them up. The Christian turns to the Bible to verify these claims. But if the Bible is wrong about simple things then the likelihood of it being wrong on such big claims grows. And there is a way of proving that the Bible is wrong about things which can not be verified.
The way of doing that is to see whether the Bible contradicts itself. If I had a holy book which I said was the inerrant word of God and it was filled with errors you’d dismiss my claims. For instance if it claimed that God made the world in 30 minutes in one place but in another said God did not make the world in 30 minutes then both can’t be true. For my holy book to claim both proves it has at least one error in it. Either the world was made in 30 minutes only or it wasn’t. If my book claims a contradiction then we know that one of the two claims has to be wrong.
Now no one witnessed what is called “the creation”. But if a holy books makes contradictory claims about that incident or process then we know it’s not reliable. So when it makes really big, supernatural claims we are more likely to dismiss them. And the problem for Christians is that the Bible is filled with such contradictions.
For instance we have Bible fanatics pushing for the teaching of creationism lite. But why believe the Bible on creation when it contradicts itself on that very topic. In Genesis chapter one it says that God made the “beasts” of the earth and then he created man. But in chapter two it says he made man first and then made the animals.
In the first creation account after animals were made God created man and woman together. But it doesn’t seem that way in the second account. Not only were the animals created after man but it appears that woman was then created even later. So you had man created and then he was lonely. God, apparently not knowing this wouldn’t work, decided to create animals to keep man company. Well that failed miserably so then, in a separate act of creation God supposedly created woman out of man’s rib.
Didn’t God know this animal thing wouldn’t work? In one chapter he apparently did but in another chapter he apparently didn’t.
Now if the creation account in the Bible contradicts itself then why is it an accurate source for information about the origins of life? Apparently Biblical creationism has some obvious problems to overcome. It gives differing and contradictory accounts. Either man was created before the animals or after them. It can’t be both at the same time.
Or take something like the crucifixion which is a central incident of the Christian faith. After all they say Jesus died for our sins and use bible passages to indicate that is true. But if the Gospels contradict each other about the crucifixion then it is the idea that God had “his only begotten son” tortured viciously to death in order to forgive sins a bit hard to accept?
Matthew described the last words of Christ as “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Luke seems to be working with a different script. He says the last words of Christ were “Father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit.” So Matthew had Jesus feeling forsake by God while Luke had Jesus placing himself into the hands of God. But John says that Matthew and Luke were both wrong. Instead he claims the last words of Christ were “It is finished” and “he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” Three differing accounts of the last words of Christ.
Now when Cher did several final concert tours she got severely criticised. After all only the final tour could be the final tour. You can’t have several final tours. Neither can you have numerous “last words”. Either they are the last words or they aren’t. And when you consider there are only four Gospels in the New Testament to end up with three contradictory accounts between the four of them proves a fairly high error rate.
It is possible that one of the Gospels got it right about the last words of Christ. But which one? How would a Christian know which one to believe. If Luke was right and John and Matthew were wrong then you’d have to be skeptical about other claims that Matthew and John made as well. Only one of these Gospels, at the most, could be correct. And it’s possible that all three got it wrong. But at the very least we know that two of them must have been wrong. So is the New Testament a reliable source on the crucifixion? Obviously not.
One Christian group tries to dismiss this problem saying: “This does not show a contradiction any more than two witnesses to an accident at an intersection will come up with two different scenarios of that accident, depending on where they stood. Neither witness would be incorrect, as they describe the event from a different perspective. Luke was not a witness to the event, and so is dependent on those who were there. John was a witness. What they are both relating, however, is that at the end Jesus gave himself up to death.”
But this justification for the conflicting accounts makes it sound like the Gospels are nothing more than various men writing fallible, very human accounts of what happened. But if this were the case and the men are fallible witnesses they could also be inventive witnesses or lying witnesses. This justification removes Divine Inspiration from the writing of the Bible. Now it is true that two fallible human witnesses may give two varying and conflicting accounts. That’s one reason you look for physical evidence in such cases. But two contradictory accounts can’t both be true. In fact we know that if they conflict one is definitely erroneous. And that doesn’t mean the first account is accurate either. They both can be wrong. But when you claim something is God’s Word that is a very different kind of claim.
I know how fallible eye witness accounts can be. People get them wrong all the time. But that is not the claim that Christians need to make about the Gospels. If the Gospels are merely the fallible writings of men then they are not the infallible word of God. Pick one or the other but I don’t think you can have it both ways.
What about the resurrection? That’s critical to Christian claims. Again we have four Gospels and again we have contradictory stories. Supposedly some believers of Christ came along and discovered that his tomb was empty. Who were they?
Matthew said it was “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” Fair enough. We have two women who discover the empty tomb. Mark says it wasn’t quite that way at all. Yes, Mary Magdalene and Mary were there but so was Salome. It wasn’t two women who discovered the empty tomb it was three. John’s account said it was only Mary Magdalene by herself. One Gospel says the empty tomb was discovered by one woman, another Gospel says two women, another Gospel says three women.
So either one woman, two women or maybe three women allegedly discovered the empty tomb. Of course it could still be none of the above. We do know that at least two of the Gospels have to be wrong. But let’s overlook that for now. What did the woman/women discover when arriving on the scene?
Matthew tells us that the two women came upon an “angel of the Lord” who told them that Jesus was not there. He also tells us the angel was outside the tomb sitting on the stone that had blocked the entrance. Mark has a slightly different version. He descries “a young man... clothed in a long white garment” instead except he’s sitting inside the tomb not outside on the stone. Luke says there were “two men” who stood by the women “in shining garments.” John said that inside the tomb there were “two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain."
Four Gospels and four different accounts. Now you can’t have one man there and two men there at the same time. So not only do we have a muddle of who discovered the empty tomb but not one Gospel corresponds with another on what they discovered when they got there. Either the angels/men were inside the tomb or outside the tomb. It’s one or the other. Either the man/angel was sitting on the stone outside or the slab inside. There was either one man/’angel or there were two men/angels. And again we can’t escape the possibility that not one of these accounts is factual. We know that at least three of them are false.
And how long was Jesus in the grave? Matthew says it was three days and three nights. But that’s not possible. Just take what you already know and see if that works. The church says Jesus was crucified on Good Friday in the afternoon. It also says he resurrected on Easter Sunday. Try to get three day AND three nights out of that time period.
We can be as generous as possible and still not come up with three days and three nights. Lets assume Jesus died in the afternoon before sunset and that the was very quickly placed in the tomb. And lets assume that the short time in the tomb before sunset counts as one full day. Then we have him there Friday night so that’s one night. All day Saturday would be our second day and Saturday night would be our second night. So far so good but here is where it gets sticky. That morning when the women/woman got there Jesus was already gone. Now if we assume that he “rose from the dead” before sunrise we end up with him being in the grave only two days and two nights. If we assume he rose from the dead after sunrise, and if we count that short period of time as a full day, we get our third day but we are still short on our third night.
You can’t get three days and three nights out the Gospel narrative no matter how generous you are. Matthew said that Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights yet that can’t be true if Christ was crucified on Good Friday and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.
Nor do the Gospels give a consistent account of the actual time that the woman/women went to the tomb. Matthew said it was “at dawn”. That’s rather nebulous and I’ll grant that “at dawn” could mean just before dawn or just after dawn. Mark says it was “just after sunrise”. So if you take Matthew to mean after sunrise then that corresponds with the Gospel of Mark. Luke was very nonspecific saying it “very early in the morning.” So I’ll grant a match there. But when we come to John we have a problem. John says it was early “white it was still dark”. Ooops. Two are nebulous and can either mean just before or shortly after sunrise. But one Gospel says after sunrise and the other says while still dark which is before sunrise.