Reconciling The Circularity

I hold to my religious conviction pretty strongly.  But like everyone else, I have some unanswered questions.  There are gaps in my certitude.  I don’t find this to be a problem with my worldview or my convictions.  I’d like to make the subjects of the next few commentaries some of the gaps in my certainty; things I have been unable to answer.  I encourage fellow Christians to engage these issues here as I am sure reasonable answers to these questions are plentiful.  This will be the first of a few to come.

Many skeptics will charge that the Bible is full of contradictions, inconsistencies, and errors.  Christians–I among them–insist there are reasonable explanations to reconcile these difficulties, and that the Bible as God’s Word was superintended by Him through human authors, and is inerrant.  That in fact, they are merely perceived contradictions, inconsistencies, and errors (discrepancies) and not actual problems.

The obstacle I have is that the concept of reconciliation seems to presuppose inerrancy, and that what appears to be a discrepancy is really not.  Let me explain what I mean by a discrepancy.  I am unconcerned with discrepancies in numbers, quantities, ages, years, etc.  Given the nature of the Hebrew language and the characters used to represent numbers are often very similar to the point where they are nearly identical.  I am also not referring to what appear to be discrepancies in accounts of events.

The discrepancies to which I am referring are theological in nature.  Two examples are, the deity of Jesus or, the Trinity.  Some passages appear to assign deity to Jesus in addition to God the Father and the Holy Spirit while affirming strict monotheism.  And others appear to speak of Jesus as being separate from God to the point that He and God are completely separate.  Another is salvation by faith alone or some combination of faith and good works.  Some passages are clear that it is by a trusting faith in Christ alone apart from any good done by the believer, and others imply doing good is also required in addition to the trusting faith.

I am not looking for Christians to reconcile these two examples.  As I said, I am fully aware of how the Trinity is arrived at, and the role “works” play in the believer’s spiritual walk.  I am comfortable with the reconciliations and do believe the discrepancies are only apparent.

My concern is that the mere idea that some reconciling is required presupposes that there are no true discrepancies.  It would seem that the search for reconciliation is driven by the idea that there cannot be any true discrepancies in the Bible.  This endeavour to eliminate difficulties appears to expose a circular argument for inerrancy.

  • The Bible contains no errors and the discrepancies are only apparent.  The evidence is apparent discrepancies all have reasonable explanations which reconcile any alleged discrepancy.  [Offers reconciliations]

I would agree that if the Bible is truly the superintended Word of God it would contain no actual discrepancies.  But it would also appear that even though there may be reasonable explanations to alleged discrepancies, the idea of inerrancy is merely a presupposition; and the idea that reconciliation is needed is an unwitting admission of this circular presupposition.

Comments

  1. Fascinating. I’ve often wondered what exactly is meant by the phrase “Word of God” — and whether it presumes that God is deigning to speak human language, or rather a divine language to which the ordinary rules of human language do not apply. If the latter, then there is no need for the believer to concern himself with apparent contradiction — but there is also the rather desperate problem of “translation,” and the inability of human language ever to really capture what “God intended” — which makes God more remote.

    If the former, if God deliberately inspired human authors, using human language, then God appears to have changed His Mind at times. Is that necessarily un-Godlike? Would it ever be possible, with theological baggage like omnipotence and omniscience, to conceive of God as evolving in His thinking?

    • Word of God is a generic term referring to the Bible. It usually carries with it the idea that it is more than just a book, that it was inspired, superintended by God.

      What do you mean God changed His mind? Can you give an example of what you mean? I can reasonable agree that God’s plan could involve an intentional change, if it was intended to be such.

  2. I’ve had these same questions. Kudos for expressing them. My first response is to say that this is a wash as far as it concerns all worldviews. It is not as if, if because of these “contradictions”, one rejects Christianity, the problem of circular reasoning simply goes away, not if logic and consistency are important.

    So, perhaps the presupposition of inerrancy is not as much a presupposition of Biblical inerrancy but rather a presupposition that there is an inerrant and consistent means by which we can know truth.

    Post modernism necessarily is a way of thinking built on the opposite, that we can’t know truth. Interestingly the very basis of post modernism is itself self contradicting. Funny that post mods then are some of Christianity’s fiercest opponents, both from inside Christianity and outside.

    The Bible speaks of faith for a reason. We live by faith, and by admitting it, indeed by it being a part of our theology, we are admitting a degree of ignorance. Where our knowledge leaves off then, faith picks up, just like with all other worldviews as you aptly pointed out in your article about belief in the non-existence of God. The bottom line, as I have reconciled this problem in my own mind, is that our ignorance puts us in a box, or on an island so to speak, of knowledge. When we reach the shores of that island then follow them around, eventually we end up making a big circle… if that makes any sense.

    I did a post on this here if you’re interested.

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