Kierkegaard on the Bible’s “Carefully Contrived Discrepancies”

Here’s a little reflection, from Kierkegaard, for those of you interested in the issue of biblical inerrancy:

Like a good, theologically orthodox Lutheran, Kierkegaard accepted the Bible’s authority as the divinely inspired “Word of God.” But he refused to ground the Bible’s authority, the legitimacy of Christian faith, and the epistemological truth of Christianity, in the Bible’s historical veracity, textual perfection, scientific truth, etc.. Contrary to modernist understandings of the Bible, for Kierkegaard the Bible cannot be a secure epistemic foundation for Christian faith. The only foundation for faith, in Kierkegaard’s view, is faith itself.

He described his view of the Bible to that of (modernist) orthodoxy this way:

“They assume Scripture is inspired divine revelation,” thus “there must be perfect harmony between all the reports down to the least detail; it must be the most perfect Greek, etc.”  But “God surely knows what it means ‘to believe,’ what it means to require faith, that it means the rejection of direct communication, the positing of an ambiguity.”[1]

This led Kierkegaard to suggest that “because God wants Holy Scripture to be the object of faith and an offense to any other point of view, for this reason there are carefully contrived discrepancies (which, after all, in eternity will readily be dissolved into harmonies); therefore it is written in bad Greek, etc.”[2]

The reason God intended minor discrepancies in matters of history or genealogy and employed “bad Greek,” he suggested, was that God wants us to put our faith in him, not in the Bible. The Bible, reflecting the “ambiguity” of the real world, points us away from itself as the ground for faith and to God and, more specifically, to Christ. As he says elsewhere, “Scripture is the highways signs, Christ is the way.” Our faith is in God and Christ (the “Absolute Paradox”), not in the Bible.

So what do you think of that? If God intended “errors” in the Bible, are they still errors? Or put another way, if there were “carefully contrived discrepancies” in the Bible, would that somehow make it less trustworthy or authoritative?


[1] Journals and Papers, 3:2877.

[2] Journals and Papers, 3:2877. It seems odd to speak of God “intending” imperfections in Scripture; Kierkegaard’s point really is that when God provided revelation he did not actively circumvent the ambiguities of finitude to do so.

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About Kyle Roberts

(PhD) is Associate Professor of Public and Missional Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (beginning in fall of 2014). Roberts has published essays on Kierkegaard and modern theology, including several essays in the series Kierkegaard Research: 2014-10-14 10.26.51Sources, Reception and Resources (Ashgate / University of Copenhagen) and other collected volumes on various topics, including Pietism, Karl Barth, and Christian spirituality. Roberts has published Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God (Cascade, 2013) and is currently co-authoring a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans).


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