Discrepancies don't shake Christians' faith in the Bible

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Vanderbilt University student Katherine Precht knows what skeptical scholars say about the Bible: It's full of errors, contradictions and a murky historical record.

Still, none of that has shaken her Christian faith.

That's because Precht embraces a big-picture view of biblical truth. For her, it means the Bible speaks truth on ultimate things, such as Creation and salvation.

"Sure, there may be contradictions, [but] God was working through the scribes who put it together," said Precht, a United Methodist from Montgomery, Ala. "Even though [the Scripture] is 2,000 years old, I see it alive and living . . . in friends, in Christians, in the world."

As Christians prepare to mark Easter, the culmination of the holiest week of the year, many are mindful of hard-to-ignore critiques that would deem creeds and Scripture, at best, untrustworthy and at worst, downright false. Many have heard "Jesus Wars" author Philip Jenkins insist their beliefs are merely the result of ancient politicking. Still, they trust what the Gospels say about Jesus's last days, despite the doubts of biblical scholars like Bart D. Ehrman, whose public questioning has made him a best-selling author.

Christians aren't necessarily dismissing the research of naysayer scholars. Many just think conclusions have been way overblown -- sometimes by scholars with an anti-faith agenda.

Some scholars "get fixated on some of the marginal issues about who was where and when," said Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia.

In the Gospels, "the discrepant witnesses are allowed to stand side by side, and I think that's a strength in the end, not a weakness. But the naive reader -- the person beguiled by the notion that discrepancies somehow cast doubt on the truth of the entire report -- might not know that," Evans said.

Traditional Christian beliefs continue to resonate with large swaths of Americans: 70 percent believe in a personal God, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, and nearly a third believe the Bible is the actual word of God that should be taken literally, according to recent Gallup polls. Another 47 percent believe the Bible is divinely inspired.

Some writers, however, have cast doubt on Christian doctrines. Ehrman, author of "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)," takes aim at fundamentalist beliefs that the Bible is a flawless record of events.

"The view on the religious right, about the Bible being some kind of inerrant revelation or an infallible revelation from God. . . simply isn't tenable anymore," said Ehrman, a fundamentalist-turned-agnostic who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Yet, by and large, Christians seem to be holding fast to their beliefs and sometimes reconciling them with scholarly challenges.

Frank Stegall Jr., a medical student at the University of Georgia and a Presbyterian, said he thinks that "to be a Christian, you have to believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is infallible.

"The inerrancy of the Bible is evidenced in the fact that it is the most transformative piece of literature that's ever been written," Stegall said. "It transforms people's lives in a way that nothing else can come close to."

— Religion News Service

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