Mistakes in the Scriptures

“It is one of the advantages of the anthropology that I have been trying to set out that, by insisting on human alterity rather than some supposed imbued transcendental relation to God as constitutive of what it means to be human, it permits us to consider divine revelation as a process of human discovery. That is to say, it is not frightened of the utterly contingent, human, historical process by which cultures arose, and declined, events occurred, peoples were formed, previous events were reinterpreted, the texts themselves edited and reedited. It is not as though divine revelation needs somehow to be protected from all such happenings, in order really to be divine revelation.” – James Alison

Many people think that to concede that the scriptures contain errors (especially theological ones) would be a major problem because we would then not know how to determine what is true and what is not. (I have already written elsewhere how I don’t think the scriptures can be used objectively as an absolute basis for truth.)

When revelation is understood as progressive, however, mistakes cease to be problematic.

To consider errors as problematic implicitly assumes that errors are necessarily bad, that the purpose of the scriptures is to communicate true propositions, and thus to be factually accurate (at least theologically).

When the OT was written, recording royal history was a biased endeavor, and unashamedly so. For example, the number of men in a king’s army were often exaggerated to make the king look good, or kings would be portrayed as more benevolent than they actually were. But this was in fact what was considered to be good history (in stark contrast to today, where factually accuracy is considered to be the only thing of value).

So why should we assume that history in the OT wasn’t? Indeed, we would need good reasons to think so since that would be an anomaly. Who’s to say that unbiased, objective history is the best kind of history, anyways?

Regardless, there is no such thing as a completely unbiased and objective recording of history; anything written down is necessarily filtered through the subjective experience of the writer. For example, communicating historical events requires the communicator to select what to mention and what not to mention. You can’t say everything; there’s just too much. Thus, they will say only those things that are important to the point they want to get across. Further, those things will be said in such a way that it drives their point home, even if that may cause it to deviate from a more factually accurate description of events.

All that to say, the people who wrote the OT had no problem with not getting their facts straight, so perhaps we shouldn’t either. In fact, maybe it would do us good to quit going to bibles to tell us factual propositions. After all, it is by now well-known that the scriptures contain hundreds of inconsistencies and contradictions if they are read as a textbook of truth statements. Just try googling “contradictions in bible.”

The inspiration of the scriptures does not need to be understood as God temporarily influencing authors to be infallible and letting them be fallible human beings again when the writing was finished.

Why do we assume that, unless it is clearly declared to be a mistake, an action or belief recorded in the scriptures is good, right, and true? Why do we treat Acts, for example, as a historical record of things that people did right, even though it definitely contains some people’s mistakes (e.g. Ananias and Sapphira)? Just because it is recorded that someone, regardless of their status (apostle, prophet, believer, etc.), did something doesn’t mean that the thing they did was in accordance with God’s will. It’s not immediately obvious what things were good and right and which were evil and bad.

James is a case in point:

It’s interesting that the council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15) reveals to us that at this point in the early church’s life only Paul and Barnabas actually understood the gospel of grace, apart from the old covenant law, in its correct understanding. It was through this meeting we read all the other apostles and leaders accepted their error and agreed the good news truly was complete grace, apart from also keeping the law mixed in.

James was one of the men there who accepted he was in error. Now, it is also historically believed that James wrote his letter at least one or two years before this meeting. That means when James wrote his letter, he had a mixed theology and was still in error in his understanding of what grace truly was. Yet, his misunderstandings still made it into the Bible through his letter.

Next time you read the book of James think about this. It is entirely possible God allowed his letter into the Bible to give us a pattern of what a preacher with a mixed covenant theology would sound like? Very little about Christ.

Everything about works. No Holy Spirit. No flow of thoughts about God’s love. Fear being used to prove a point. Condemnation for not believing enough etc. – Mick Mooney

James, and every other biblical author, were on journeys of growth even when they penned their writings, and their understanding of reality was surely riddled with errors (as is ours). What they wrote should be interpreted accordingly.

Everything written in the scriptures does not need to be (and should not be) taken at face value. We can’t take everything stated as it is, assume it is good, apply it to ourselves, and model what we do after it. We can’t assume that God wishes us to do exactly what the people of the past did or think the way they thought. We can’t even assume that the underlying principles of what God told them to do apply to us, because those may be different too. What may not have been a mistake for them may be a mistake for us, and vice versa. Context, both of the biblical times and our current age, must always be taken into consideration.

The scriptures are a witness to how certain individuals interpreted God revealing himself to them in the past. When reading the scriptures we need to keep in mind that specific people wrote to specific groups of people who were experiencing specific things.

So how do we discern between what is true and what is not? Look to the perfect image of God, Jesus, and ask Holy Spirit. “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).


Also see:

Symphony of Reflection (by Andre Rabe)


The Violent God of the Old Testament

not murder

this i know

Richard Dawkins describes the OT picture of God quite accurately (and exaggerates not): 

The God of the OT is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

There are over a thousand references to divine violence in the Jewish scriptures. Some are well known, such as sending various plagues upon the Egyptians, smiting many Israelites for complaining, demanding animal sacrifices, and the drowning of the majority of all living creatures on land.

noahs ark

But others are rarely mentioned, such as sending two bears to maul 42 youths just for calling Elisha a baldy, supposedly inspiring psalmists to write things like “happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks,” tons of rules that, if broken, required you to be put to death, commanding complete genocide of entire peoples, killing 70,000 innocent people merely because David decided to take a census, and many instances of slaying individuals just because they did something God didn’t like, regardless of whether their intentions were good or not.

I don’t listen to excuses such as “God can do whatever he wants” or “whatever God does is just and right.” Nor do I care for any of the attempts to explain away such instances of cruelty as somehow being “good” for people. I understand that sometimes there can be an element of truth to such explanations, but truth be told, if anyone in our modern society did the same things, even if they claimed to be doing them for the good of humanity, no one would for a moment pretend that that’s okay.

bad law

Nevertheless, this is what we find recorded in the scriptures.

So, then, why were these things written down, and what is their function? Are they to be taken as perfectly factually correct stories and straightforward assertions about the divine character itself?

I think these stories serve a purpose and that that purpose is not theological but anthropological. That is, these stories are not there to tell us what God is like but what humanity, apart from knowing God, is like.

Stories like the ones written by the Jews were by no means unique to the people during that time. Ascribing events and commands to gods was considered to be a compliment to them.

When someone got sick, they would say that the gods caused it.

When someone died, they would say that the gods killed them.

When a disaster occurred, they would say that the gods made it happen.

When a people group was successfully wiped out, they would say that the gods told them to and helped them do it.

The gods were the ultimate control freaks; whatever they wanted to happen, happened. That was how people back then, not just the Jews but everyone, viewed reality.

These things people wrote down reflected how they saw the world at their time in their contexts. These stories they told and the explanations they gave for how and why things happened like they did were filtered through their particular consciousness. – Rob Bell

You are free to believe that every theological statement made in the scriptures is accurate, but understand that that is an assumption and not a conclusion derived from hard evidence. The reason it is assumed to be accurate by most people who call themselves christians is because of the concepts of infallibility/inerrancy and inspiration, both of which must be taken as assumptions also.

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God. – C.S. Lewis

Personally, I see the scriptures as a process of showing that violence is not a divine but a human characteristic. There is a dual trajectory contrasting two different views of God. Stories are told from two different perspectives – the human persecutor and the human victim, the people doing the violence and the people who are the object of that violence. One sees violence as God’s and as good, the other sees violence as humanity’s and as evil.

God never wanted to use violence, but mankind did; so God worked within mankind’s violence to achieve His purposes, and to slowly wean His people off of the need for blood punishment. – Christian Erickson

pissing off god

One significant reason I think this is because the authors of the NT regularly challenge the violent pictures of God portrayed in the OT by the way in which they quote the OT, intentionally leaving out violent portions (see here).

But the main and most plain reason is because many of the acts of God recorded in the OT are completely contrary to the perfect image of the Father revealed in Jesus. 

God has always been and always will be the same. He wasn’t one way in the OT and something else when Jesus arrived on the scene. Jesus did not change what the Father thought about us or how he treated us. He simply revealed who the Father was.

Jesus came and said, “no, dudes, God’s not like what you think he’s like…let me show you what he’s really like.”

God doesn’t cause sickness; he heals it.

God doesn’t kill people; he raises them from the dead.

God doesn’t make storms happen; he calms them.

God doesn’t discriminate against certain people groups; he hung out with and accepted everyone unconditionally.

The OT is largely not a revelation of God. Jesus said it points to him (John 5:39). It is only a sign. It does reveal some of God’s character, but it is mainly for seeing the foreshadowing of Jesus in it. It’s not primarily for telling us what God is like; only Jesus can do that with perfect accuracy.

If what we perceive to see in the Old Covenant is different or the opposite of what we see in the person of Jesus—who showed us God’s character—then we must side with the expressed image of God in Christ, and then interpret that Old Testament passage through Jesus. The Old Testament is not the expression of God or His nature. If you want to know what God is like or how He acts look at Jesus Christ. Jesus is the picture that God paints of Himself. And it is only through Jesus that we can properly interpret the Old Testament. – Christian Erickson

Thus, I do not consider the OT to always be factually correct in its full representation of God. Instead, I see the OT giving us a picture of what humanity is like apart from knowing God, including its mistaken conceptions about what God is like.

The bible is not a divine monologue, but a divine conversation! As such much of what is recorded is man’s response, mans ideas and man’s argument as we come to terms with the God who reveals Himself. Jesus is not a monologue either, but in Him the divine conversation is met with the perfect human response of agreement. And so in Jesus the conversation comes to a conclusion. – Andre Rabe

I’m not saying that the scriptures themselves are problematic. Rather, it’s our interpretations of them that are the problem – not just of individual passages, but the status we ascribe to the collection as a whole as well.

That the scriptures contain errors does not need to be considered a problem. It is only problematic unless you want to insist that God inspired the scriptures in such a way that it is factually correct in every way and treat them as a theological textbook.

In fact, the theological mistakes in the OT are beneficial to us. They show us the extent of the blindness that people can be in without knowing Christ. That’s why, as Paul wrote, it is useful for teaching, reproof, and correction (2 Timothy 3:16).

The value of the Old Testament may be dependent on what seems its imperfection. It may repel one use in order that we may be forced to use it in another way—to find the Word in it…to re-live, while we read, the whole Jewish experience of God’s gradual and graded self-revelation, to feel the very contentions between the Word and the human material through which it works. – C.S. Lewis


Also see:





Reinterpreting the Cross

mad godThe crucifixion of Jesus is hugely significant to christian theological thought. The way you view the cross will largely determine the way you view God. Yeah. It’s kinda important.

The lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). I understand that to mean that, ontologically speaking, the cross didn’t change anything; all of its “effects” took place before the world was made. It did, however, change our perception of who God is and what he is like.

Reconciliation and similar language in the scriptures that speak of mending our relationship with God are metaphors that were culturally relevant to the recipients of the writings (especially to Jews), ultimately pointing to our experiences of realization of the reality we never knew.

God didn’t bring about the crucifixion. Sure, God saw it coming, but it wasn’t the Father who predestined his Son to get tortured on the cross (knowledge and foresight do not necessarily imply predestination or causation). God didn’t decided to have Jesus crucified and make people act accordingly to make sure it happened. Rather, God saw that people would crucify Jesus when he sent him, so he acted accordingly prior to that, predicting it through prophets and scheming a revelation of himself through it.

God saved the world through his Incarnate Word in Jesus by the historical accident of a judicial murder. – Robert Capon

It was people who crucified Jesus, not God. God didn’t kill his own son so he could finally bring himself to forgive humanity. God watched humanity murderously unite against him, but he still did not retaliate.

God went to show that no matter what people did to him, his love for them would never change.

God wasn’t angry with Jesus or even with people. People were angry with Jesus, and that’s why they decided to crucify him.

[God] is not a schizophrenic deity bouncing between love and hatred. The point of the cross was to redeem mankind from his own self-destruction … not to pay off an ill-tempered, narcissistic God who was spitting mad at you for sinning against Him. – John Crowder

The cross was man’s doing, but the incarnation was God’s doing; it was God’s way of showing the reality already in place. Through Christ’s incarnation the union of all of humanity with the Godhead was revealed.

Jesus wasn’t sent to die but rather to reveal God’s heart toward us. His death wasn’t necessary for us to be reconciled to God (we already were in God’s mind), but it was the greatest manifestation of the fact that God never had a problem with us.

God surely anticipated that a person like Jesus would be killed by an order established on violence, but God did not kill Jesus, or require his death, or manipulate others into sacrificing him. God may have found a way to triumph over this crime, but God did not cause it. – Walter Wink

It was humanity who caused Jesus to be crucified, not God. And yet, God used our act of violence for good, through it revealing to us what he is really like. God presented the sacrifice, not people (Romans 3:25). He sacrificed his option to respond with violence toward us to our act of violence toward him.

Christ is a divine offering to humankind, not a human offering to God. – Robert Hamerton-Kelly

Instead of us bringing a sacrifice to God to appease him, through the cross God brings a sacrifice to us to reconcile us. – Derek Flood

The cross was and is the ultimate revelation of who God is. The cross is enlightenment, not payment. It enables us to believe the truth about God that we couldn’t believe without it. The cross went to demonstrate, not effect, that not even killing the one who loves us could separate us from him!

Jesus didn’t make God graceful towards you. He didn’t satisfy some blood lust against sinful man in order to change His nature into a forgiving nature. That isn’t even real forgiveness. God has always been a God of grace. He has always forgiven you, and been kind to you. The cross just demonstrated that fact. The cross is the expression of the Lord’s forgiveness of mankind, not the prerequisite for it. – Christian Erickson

The authentic Creator, the true light that enlightens every man was coming into this world. His mission was nothing less than shattering our illusions, exposing the unreal, unoriginal and fake identity that we embraced outside of Him. – Andre Rabe

Jesus didn’t come to change God’s mind about us but to change our minds about God. This is why he went around telling people to “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom was already there, fully available. People just needed to change their minds (i.e. repent) about that reality.

[In a retributive view of the cross,] our problem is God’s offense. The cross comes to bring God to repentance. The cross is the means by which he gets rid of his anger and frustration so that he can be kind to us again. God has never been our problem. Jesus doesn’t come to change God’s mind about us; he came to change our minds about God and one another. We are the ones who needed to change our thinking. We are the ones who needed to be converted. It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. It isn’t our repentance that leads God to goodness. God was good long before we repented. – Andre Rabe


Also see:

The Contradiction of the Cross (by Andre Rabe)

The Revelation of the Cross (by Andre Rabe)

Distractive Biblical Obsession (Part 4)


Part 3

Bibles aren’t meant to be studied or memorized

The early believers didn’t do any private bible studies. There are no exhortations to study or memorize the scriptures in bibles. Only once are they commanded to be read corporately (1 Timothy 4:13), and Paul was only talking to an apostolic leader, not to a congregation in general.

Bible study is like studying a map. Its purpose is to get you to a destination. It points to a reality. But once that destination and reality is reached, the map is no longer needed. It fulfilled its purpose. People can study and discuss the map all their life, or even memorize it, but never know and experience the reality. Many mistake the bible for the reality itself, thinking there is Truth in it. It can be used as a medium for God to communicate truth through, but Truth is not in it. Truth is only pointed to. Truth is a reality – the reality of Jesus Christ, the living person in us.

The idea of bible studies is silly because the scriptures were never written to be studied. Paul didn’t write what he did so that the recipients would spend the rest of their lives picking apart every little word he wrote. This is the attitude that the Pharisees took on, but look where it got them! Only intellectual knowledge can be gained by studying bibles, but Holy Spirit provides revelation.

Bible memorization takes verses out of context and treats them as truth. It can also be used, intentionally or not, as a form of brainwashing, whereby a particular interpretation is attached to certain verses so that those verses are equated in a person’s mind with the truth of that interpretation. This is partially why we see christians posting a bible verse in response to something as if their citation is the end-all proof of their position. It also shows lack of trust in Holy Spirit regularly speaking to us and leading us into all truth. Instead, there is a reliance upon manual recall of verses memorized to be “led.”

Under the Old Covenant there was the Law written in a book. But now it is written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). What was external has been made internal.

The Protestant clergy have rescued the Bible from the darkness of papal libraries and have scattered it abroad over the whole earth. They have exalted it in the highest terms of human praise. They have studied, commented, and explained, nay even tortured every word, phrase, and expression in the original and translations, for every possible interpretation. The result is that Christianity is smothered in theology and criticism: the truths of revelation are wire-drawn and spun and twisted into the most fantastical shapes human fancy or human logic can devise. A system of technical Divinity has been constructed which rivals the complexity of all the machinery of the Romish church. – Stephen Colwell

Part 5

The Religiosity of Sacred Writings

scroll copy

In this post I want to take a look at the concept of sacred writings – writings designated by people as special in a way that other writings are not. For example, the Old and New Testaments in Christianity and the Quran in Islam would be considered sacred writings.

Sacred writings are usually believed to be texts that reveal truth. As such, they are also often considered to be a special way by which deities communicate with humans. This is particularly the case in the Jewish tradition and the subsequent Christian tradition.

Here are the propositions concerning the Torah (scriptures) from the Jewish “13 Principles of Faith,” which those belonging to Orthodox Judaism were obliged to believe in.

  • I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
  • I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both those who preceded him and those who followed him.
  • I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.
  • I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be exchanged, and that there will never be any other Torah from the Creator, Blessed be His Name.

(Note: there was and is significant variation in Jews’ understanding of what constituted revelation as it relates to the scriptures, but I think the above was and is pretty universally held among them.)

Notice that the claims above are all assumptions. They are not even statements that God made to the Jews.

The concept of sacred writings originated in the Old Covenant. It began with the giving of the Law, which, supposedly, was a word for word download from God to Moses.

Later, however, the Jews decided to add to the scriptures, not God. They created a canon (a collection of writings considered as sacred) and included in it whatever they wanted to. In other words, even if it is true that God spoke through prophets, inspired the authors of the Psalms, etc., God himself never commanded that those writings be considered inspired or be added to the canon. Rather, they were human decisions.

The closing of the canon was also a decision that the Jews made. God never said, “there will no longer be any written revelation.” Rather, some people decided to place God in their box labeled “God doesn’t speak anymore.”

M. James Sawyer nicely summarizes the Jewish view of their scriptures:

The Jews viewed Revelation as complete in Moses. The Torah was seen as having emanated in its entirety from God, every verse and letter. This revelation was complete and final; the Rabbis had no conception of progressive revelation. The Prophets and the Hagiographa were seen to add nothing to the Torah given to Moses. Rather these later writings served to reinforce, repeat, amplify, and explain the Torah.

But the Jews were wrong.

Jesus was the greatest revelation of God.

He was the fulfillment of the Torah. But their doctrine regarding sacred writings hindered them from seeing that reality.

The same is still true today. Jesus is still the greatest revelation of God, and he has made his home in us. It is the person who is the revelation, not the book about him. Yet bibles are often treated as the ultimate source of truth or the number one way God speaks to people.

Back to the Jews, let’s look at the broader perspective of God speaking in general.

God has always wanted to communicate regularly and directly with humanity. This is what he did with Abraham; he just straight up talked with him. The same way of relating continued with Abraham’s descendants until Moses came along.

After God gave the ten commandments to the Israelites, they “trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die’” (Exodus 20:18-19). Notice that the people were wrong because God had just spoken to them and yet they had not died. They chose to become afraid of direct communication with God.

jesus never saidThus, the idea that only special people could communicate with God was born.

After this incident, direct communication with God generally ceased. The people preferred to have Moses as a mediator.

Yet later in history, a few caught a glimpse of the heart of God and began communicating with God directly again. Many of these people were known as prophets (although there were others such as David as well). It is a common occurrence in the scriptures for God to speak through prophets.

But have you ever noticed how there were no prophets until Israel began to become an institutional religion instead of simply being a community of God’s people? This is because prophets are only among people who believe they cannot communicate with God themselves and need someone else to communicate for them.

Yet another shift took place after the Jews were sent into exile. This time the mediator became writings instead of people. The general idea was, “God had already said all he wanted to, so we just need to look at what he has said in the past.”

[The post-exile Jews] hung the whole weight of their identity on the text itself…The time of the Exile and afterward is most likely the period of the final editing of the interpretation of the text as the task that lay closest to the bone of their identity. Most notably of all, it was during [the post-exile] period that the Synagogue was first invented – and it was now that the Synagogue replaced the Temple as the center, for all practical purposes, of Jewish life. Tradition replaced institution as the binding force; and the rabbis, who became the expounders of that tradition, replaced the priests and prophets as the authenticating voices of Judaism. – Robert Capon

Thus, the writings became sacred, the very words of God himself (and doctrines such as the inerrancy and inspiration of the scriptures also emerged with it).

This narrative demonstrates the religiosity of sacred writings.

religious books

What I mean when I say that sacred writings are religious is that they bypass relationship. Written documents replace (or at least take precedence over) God speaking to us through his Spirit in us. Ritual replaces relationship.

Some people claim that God doesn’t speak to us through the Spirit anymore and instead only speaks through the scriptures. Others say that God still speaks through his Spirit but that what he says will always line up with what is written in the scriptures. Ironically, neither of these claims can be found in the scriptures themselves (in fact, they seem to say the opposite!).

We must stop using the Bible as though it were a potpourri of inerrant proof-texts by which we can bring people into bondage to our religious traditions…We must no longer use the Bible as the Pharisees used the Torah when they gave it absolute and final status. Christian biblicism is no different from Jewish legalism. It is the old way of the letter, not the new way of the Spirit. – Robert D. Brinsmead

The Law is now written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Making the scriptures sacred is creating a replica of the system of Law in the Old Covenant (like has been wrongly done with the sacrificial system and the theory of penal substitution, the limited priesthood and the modern clergy, temples and church buildings, tithes and pastor salaries, etc.).

Claiming that the canonization process was valid is one thing (although even that is questionable). Saying that there should be an established collection of sacred texts in the first place (which is necessary for there to even be a canonization process) is quite another.

The whole idea of having sacred texts was born out of the human desire for a feeling of certainty. People want something absolute to believe in, something tangible as their foundation. This is also why the Israelites built the golden calf, for example, even right after God had performed the crazy miracle of splitting the red sea for them.

We have to keep in mind that the idea of having sacred writings are a Hebrew invention. God never commanded it. It is a man-made tradition. Further, the Jews were only following the pattern they observed in the a nations around them (just like they wanted a king). Indeed, this is born out in pretty much every religion (at least where its adherents are literate). Sacred writings are a mark of religion. But Jesus came not to start a new religion but to bring an end to all religion.

Elevating the status of the scriptures to “sacred” is a rejection of the mystery and uncertainty inherent in relationship. It is a return to religiosity.

Us Christians are unreservedly scared to become “free thinking” and allow the winds of the Spirit to blow where it wants. We crave a written guideline (just like Israel craved a king to rule over them) in order to prevent us from straying. We want to have a “standard” that draws a line in the sand between what we believe and what other religions or even other Christians believe. We seek a physical, tangible object we can hold in our hands and look at so that we won’t need to be utterly reliant on the Spirit. It makes us cringe to think that we can only have Christ as our Head. Christ without the Bible is a dangerous, perilous road that is doomed to lead to deception and bound to end up in a cult. I wonder what Jesus (who had no Bible Himself) would have to say about this? – André van der Merwe

Let’s not repeat the history of how Israel related with (or, more accurately, failed to relate with) God.

Don’t base you relationship with God on a book.

Let it be based on the only trustworthy foundation, the cornerstone.