My Long Fight to Defend Inerrancy & Why I Finally Accepted the Bible We Have

My Long Fight to Defend Inerrancy & Why I Finally Accepted the Bible We Have April 2, 2016

I was raised as a missionary kid in a fundamentalist family. My dad, a pastor as well as a missionary, preached on plenty of different topics, but the theme that has always stuck with me was this:

Never blindly accept what someone teaches you, not even if he’s a pastor, and not even if it’s me. Test everything by the Word of God.

To one extent or another, that piece of advice has directed the entire course of my life.

Image credit: Ali Taylor,

My family moved back to America when I was sixteen. I completed my senior year at Harford Christian High School, and then I headed off to the bastion of fundamentalism that is Bob Jones University, eager to acquire skills I could use in God’s service. After graduating, I went to work full time for Answers in Genesis (the ministry of Ken Ham), having interned there for the previous two summers.

In case you’re unfamiliar with any of these organizations, you should know that they all share a core conviction: the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word of God. They also hold in common the belief that we should separate from so-called “Christians” who do not share this conviction. (Such divisive separatism is, in my view, the primary distinguishing mark between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals with otherwise identical theology. But that’s not the topic for this post.)

Answers in Genesis is most well known for its positions on science—they teach that God created the earth in six 24-hour days around 6,000 years ago and that Darwinian evolution is a lie. But if you actually ask them, they’ll say that these are side issues stemming from the core of what they’re really all about, which is biblical authority.

The Bible, they say, is the foundation of our faith. It must be the final authority for all of Christian belief and practice. They teach that the scriptures are entirely free from error or contradiction. So what the Bible says is to be accepted without question. Everything else must be filtered through the lens of what the Bible supposedly teaches. It’s what they call the “biblical worldview.”

And I wholeheartedly believed it! I taught their worldview myself, desperately fighting for that inerrant Bible. You can still read many of my past writings on their website. Like my explanations of certain “supposed Bible contradictions” or even the article I coauthored with Dr. Terry Mortenson, in which we argued the biblical necessity for a global flood.

[Update: I’ve been informed that Answers in Genesis has now removed my articles from their site. Accordingly, I’ve changed the links to the mirrors of my old articles.]

For five years at Answers in Genesis, I taught their message of biblical authority. But trouble was brewing. My commitment to the Bible would end up landing me in hot water with the very ones who sought to defend its authority.

I never forgot that advice my dad gave. I paired it with the Apostle Paul’s advice to “test everything, hold on to what is good, and reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22), and I applied it as fully as I was able. Every belief I had been given came under the scrutiny of (my interpretation of) the inerrant Bible. I saw myself as a noble Berean, “examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

These examinations brought with them a number of changes in my beliefs, all regarding standard Christian debates: I rejected the Calvinist theology I had been raised in; I switched from an “institutional” church model to a more “organic” house-church gathering; I started questioning whether a Christian should use violence in self-defense; and a handful of similar matters.

All because “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

On the one hand, my parents were not very happy about my changing beliefs. Despite the fact that I was only following my dad’s advice to test everything by the Bible, they viewed the conclusions I came to as a rejection of “clear biblical teaching.”

On the other hand, none of the changes I’ve described thus far were enough to threaten my position at Answers in Genesis. But that wouldn’t be the case for long.

I was about to start questioning a sacred cow of conservative evangelicalism.

No, I hadn’t allowed for a belief in evolution. I hadn’t concluded that women could fill equal roles with men in church leadership. I hadn’t started to reconsider my position on homosexuality. And I certainly hadn’t wavered in my commitment to the Bible’s inerrancy. Those changes took a lot longer.

But I had started to question the nature of hell.

Not the existence of hell, mind you! Nor the matter of who was going there. I was still quite convinced that a person’s fate was sealed at death, and that all who died without accepting Jesus were headed for eternal hell. But what was this eternal hell like? Was it eternal torment or eternal destruction?

The Bible didn’t seem to be as clear on this question as I would have preferred, but I was starting to lean toward the belief that hell was a place of irreversible destruction, a view commonly known as Annihilationism. Contrary to the claims of my critics, my questions at the time had nothing to do with emotionalism or matters of love or justice. I was only interested in what the Bible taught. And I was becoming less and less convinced that it taught eternal conscious torment.

But as I said, hell is something you’re not allowed to question in conservative circles, and certainly not at Answers in Genesis. Long story short, my new understanding about the nature of hell was not compatible with their statement of faith. I was given some time to make up my mind, but when I could no longer affirm eternal conscious torment, I was forced to resign.

You can hear more of that story in the interview I did with the Rethinking Hell podcast shortly after losing my job. And if you’re interested in my current understanding of hell, check out my recent post, “25 Views on Hell? 2 Questions to Reframe the Debate.

At this point, I want to make something clear. My purpose in sharing this is not to attack anyone. I love my parents, and I’m so thankful for them, regardless of our disagreements. As for the folks at Answers in Genesis, they are some of the most sincere and wonderful people you’ll ever meet. Many of them remain my friends to this day. I even met my wife while working there, and she’s still the love of my life! I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Answers in Genesis.

I’m writing this in opposition to a harmful system of belief. I have nothing against the people who are currently held in that system of belief, just as I used to be.

But we’ve not yet reached the conclusion of my journey out of that system. Being expelled from Answers in Genesis was a major turning point, but I still had a ways to go. I still believed that an inerrant Bible was the foundation of my faith.

Having to leave Answers in Genesis, though painful at the time, turned out to be a tremendous blessing. Since I no longer worked for a ministry with a mandated statement of faith, I was able to ask questions more freely and follow them more honestly, wherever they might lead. And the new job I found brought my family and me out to the Pacific Northwest—the most beautiful part of this country I’ve seen, and the place we’re all thankful to now call home.

As I continued testing my beliefs against the Bible, my earlier questions regarding the use of violence became a firm conviction: Jesus and the Apostles taught complete non-violence, even in matters of self-defense. I saw it throughout the New Testament, but it really came down to that pesky command to love one’s enemies. How could killing someone ever be compatible with loving them?

Around this time, I also began to take seriously the Anabaptist tradition—the oldest existing branch of the church to have consistently taught and modeled non-violence. Additionally, Anabaptists believe that while the whole of scripture is inspired, the New Testament must have primacy over the Old, and the life and teachings of Jesus must take center stage. These principles would become crucial for me as my understanding of scripture continued to evolve.

For a while, all was well. I had my new belief regarding non-violence, and not much else changed (apart from having sold my 1911). But it did bring up another nagging question. If the New Testament is so full of non-violent teaching, what about all the violence in the Old Testament?

Now remember, I was still fully committed to the idea of a Bible that contained no errors and no contradictions. So it wasn’t an option for me to say that the Old Testament was wrong about violence. Preston Sprinkle, in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence, offered the solution I found most compelling at the time, and it satisfied me for a while. But the further I pressed into this, the more complicated things became.

It wasn’t simply a matter of humans committing violence in the Old Testament, nor even of God allowing violence for a time. If the Old Testament is to be taken literally, God actually commanded much of the violence that occurred. And that would mean that God has a violent streak.

But I was also coming to understand that Jesus perfectly reveals God. Again, this was a strictly biblical conclusion. Passages like Hebrews 1:1–3, John 1:17–18, and Colossians 1:15–17 all point us to Jesus for our picture of God. But Jesus taught and modeled non-violent enemy love. And he taught that our love of enemies should be based on God’s love of everyone. Such non-violent enemy love is, according to Jesus, what it means to be sons of our Father and to be perfect as he is perfect (Matthew 5:43–48).

So we have a perfectly non-violent God of love revealed in Jesus Christ, but we also have a God of violence and warfare revealed in the Old Testament. This is a huge problem! This isn’t one of those little supposed contradictions that falls apart with a basic understanding of context. This is a matter of two diametrically opposed views about the very nature of God. How does one “solve” this contradiction?

These questions also led me into an examination of the concept of justice. What does justice look like to God, and how does he carry it out?

According to Mosaic law, God required payment for sins. For some sins, God demanded that sacrifices be given. For many other sins—or for the unfortunate foreigners whose land the Israelites needed—the punishment was either dismemberment or death. And the Israelites were commanded over and over again to “show no mercy” in such cases (Deuteronomy 7:2; 13:8; 19:13, 21; 25:12).

But this is not the only opinion voiced in the Old Testament. Other authors state that God does not require sacrifices and never told the Israelites that he did (Psalm 40:6; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 7:22). And according to Hosea, rather than commanding the Israelites to show no mercy, Yahweh says the opposite, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

Sure, I could scrutinize the wording of these verses, dig into the Hebrew, and come up with some way to force an agreement. But would that really be faithful to the texts? These aren’t just single verses that appear contradictory; they represent vastly opposing viewpoints—a debate going on within the pages of the Old Testament.

I realized that, if I was going to be consistent in testing every belief by the Bible, I would have to submit the concept of inerrancy itself to the same test. If the Bible is fully sufficient (a belief that goes hand-in-hand with inerrancy) then inerrancy must be taught by the Bible itself.

But guess what. The Bible makes no such claim! I scoured the pages of scripture; I read multiple books by inerrantists on the subject; and I could not find a single passage that teaches anything like inerrancy.

Paul says that scripture is inspired or God-breathed and that it is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). But neither of those claims would mean that it contains no errors. God may have inspired scripture, but he gave that inspiration to humans who then authored it. The prophecy of scripture, according to 2 Peter 1:20–21, is a collaboration between God and men. So while I’d expect scripture to be full of divine truth, I’d also expect it to contain some human error.

Some passages, such as Psalm 19:7, speak of God’s law as being “perfect.” But this concept of perfection simply means that it is whole or complete. In other words, the scriptures we have are exactly the scriptures we need.

But what if God wanted our scriptures to speak with opposing voices? What if he didn’t want to hand us an inerrant manual for every area of life? What if God values discussion, debate, and wrestling with the texts? What if he values it so much that he allowed for debate to go on within the texts themselves? What if God believes that such debate is part of what makes scripture profitable?

The book of Job is fascinating to me. It’s buried near the middle of our Bibles, but many scholars believe it was actually the first book of the Bible to be written. And nearly the entire book is a debate between Job and his “friends.”

Even inerrantists admit that we shouldn’t take the statements by Job or his friends as inerrant in themselves. They may have been divinely recorded, but they’re still divinely recorded opinions of men. Furthermore, these opinions contradict one another within the book of Job, and many of them contradict other scriptures as well.

The value of the book of Job does not lie in the individual truth claims made by its characters. Rather, the whole debate is itself valuable and profitable. If that weren’t the case, then we might as well throw out the majority of the book, and just keep the beginning and end portions where Yahweh himself speaks. But no inerrantist would want to do that. They recognize the value of this debate.

What if this is how we should view all of scripture?

Have you ever read one of those “multiple views” books? I love them! They bring together multiple Christian authors who disagree on a certain subject. The authors each present their case, explaining why they hold to their perspective. And then each of the authors critiques the explanations of the other authors.

It’s a beautiful, healthy way to debate certain aspects of Christianity while remaining united in Christ. And there’s so much value to be found in the debate. Generally speaking, each perspective has some elements of truth to it. But of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re all equally correct.

Imagine, however, that we were to take such a book, and claim inerrancy for it. What if we were to say that the opposing views don’t actually contradict one another after all? It would take some hard work and a lot of linguistic gymnastics, but I bet we could find some convoluted way to force agreement. Language is pliable. If we want a text to say something badly enough, we can generally make it do so.

My example here may sound absurd, but is that any less absurd than trying to force a Bible that does contain contradictions to not contradict itself?

If we start with inerrancy as a presupposed idea, then we have to make the scriptures agree, even when they don’t—even when their disagreements are deliberate. That’s not faithful to the scriptures. And it causes us miss out on the beautiful debates they contain. How can we profit from those debates if we pretend they aren’t there?

“Test everything by the Word of God.”

I was brought up to believe that the Bible is the Word of God. But Jesus is also the Word of God. It got kind of confusing at times. Lots of equivocation.

But as I continued studying, I discovered that the Bible never actually refers to itself as the Word of God. Throughout the New Testament, that phrase is reserved specifically for Jesus or for his gospel message. We could say that the scriptures represent the word of God in a secondary sense, as they certainly include words from God. But in the ultimate sense, only Jesus truly is the Word of God.

When my dad taught me to test everything by the Word of God, he had the Bible in mind. But I was finding that the Bible itself, when tested by itself, was found to be wanting. The Bible simply is not the single, cohesive, inerrant book that I would like it to be. It’s a collection of books—all inspired and profitable, but often contradicting one another.

But Jesus is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Jesus, rather than the Bible, is our ultimate authority for all belief and practice. Jesus is the foundation of our faith, and we dare not build on any other. Yes, we need the Bible to point to Jesus, but once we get to Jesus, he must take supremacy.

When it comes to interpreting the Bible, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ must be our baseline. We must test everything else by his standard.

So how did Jesus read the Old Testament? Did he treat it as if it were inerrant? What did he have to say regarding the debates within its pages?

For starters, Jesus sided with mercy rather than sacrifice. Twice he quoted Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” at one point adding, “If you had understood what this means, you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12:7). So if Jesus calls us to show mercy, we must forsake all Old Testament commands to “show no mercy.”

The lex talionis or “law of retaliation” formed the core of Israel’s justice system. “You must show no mercy: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21). But Jesus directly overturned this command. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not retaliate against evil” (Matthew 5:38–39).

And Jesus consistently lived this out, blatantly breaking the law in order to show mercy, even to those whom the Old Testament would have condemned to death. This doesn’t mean that Jesus rejected the Old Testament. He had the highest regard for it. He didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

Fulfilment means bringing something to completion or perfecting it. Jesus came as the completion of everything the law and prophets pointed toward, and he perfected them by showing us how to properly understand them. But that often means contradicting the letter in order to follow the spirit.

According to Jesus, all the law and prophets hang on two simple commands: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40). Or to put it another way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). But we must disregard Old Testament notions of violence and retaliation in order to live out Jesus’ rule of love and mercy. This is the only way to truly fulfill the scriptures.

For a much more detailed analysis of how Jesus and his Apostles read the scriptures, including how they frequently edited Old Testament texts to alter their meanings, be sure to check out Derek Flood’s excellent book, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did.

So what now? If the Bible is not inerrant, how can we be certain about anything?

I hear this question pretty much every time I mention the idea that the Bible contains errors. And I totally get it! If we’ve built our foundation on an inerrant Bible, then it’s a scary thought to have that foundation pulled out from underneath us. That’s precisely why it took me so long to come around. I too would much rather have an inerrant Bible.

But here’s the thing. We don’t get to remake the Bible according to our standards of what we think it should be. The Bible is exactly what it is, and we have to trust that God knew what he was doing when he inspired it to be such.

I’m not going to claim that I have all the answers for how to move forward. But I know this: Jesus is the only foundation we should be building on.

Yes, we do need the Bible to point us to Jesus. We also need the church, both modern and historic, to help us understand the Bible. We need natural revelation to show us God’s glory. We need spiritual leaders who have been on this path for much longer than us, whose examples we may follow. We need community to keep us grounded. And most of all, we need the Holy Spirit to guide us.

I understand the desire for certainty, but that just isn’t an option. Even among inerrantists, there’s never been a consensus of interpretation. So there’s no true certainty there either. Somewhere along the way, simple faith has to come into play.

For me, I’ve chosen to place all my faith—and to test everything—by the Word of God: Jesus Christ.

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  • Christopher Coleman

    Saying Jesus is your only foundation is all well and good. But being as how you have never met the man (and no, the promptings of the Holy Spirit are not the same experience) then you really have no way to knowing what Jesus was like except the scripture which you have so readily deemed fallible. It sounds like you have argued yourself quite neatly into a god of your own making.

    Wrestling with God is, as you may know, a common hobby of the righteous men of the bible, so why should we have it any different? However, striving for better understand does not need to mean that we need to toss out the concept of inerrant scripture, merely that we need to hold our interpretations of scripture (like all else) in an open hand.

    I certainly believe some groups go to far with their dogmatism (AiG included) but I also believe that having inerrancy as a foundational axiom causes further investigation of scriptural interpretations to be more grounded, as you can’t merely decide to ignore parts you don’t like, or can’t make fit.

    • Matthew Distefano

      But what if Jesus didn’t view the scriptures like this Chris? What if Jesus quoted scripture creatively, uniquely, and consistently so? What if Jesus had a hermeneutic? Wouldn’t we, as followers, follow suit in how he exegeted the Jewish Scriptures? Of course we would. Well, he does do all these things, if we would only pay attention. He does it in Luke 4 and 7, Matthew 5, Mark 10. Paul does it in Galatians 3, and Romans 15. Their interpretive lens is God’s mercy. Even the writer to the Hebrews (who is still a bit wrapped up in sacrificial language), has Christ quoting Psalm 40:6-8 prior to the incarnation. He even goes so far to write that EVEN THOUGH the law required sacrifice, God did not desire it (Heb. 10:5-8.) Now, this is an obvious refutation of the entire sacrificial system of Torah. Leviticus 1-7 is essentially a how to guide on sacrifice. The inerrancy folks will always miss this because they are forced to do mental gymnastics out of seeing what the writers are, to use conservative language, plainly saying.

      • Christopher Coleman

        Well, Matt, of course Jesus was into mercy, that is kind of the point of the Gospel. But His mercy doesn’t invalidate the law of the old testament, it *completes* it. Without Jesus we would still be under the law, and despite God wanting us to show us mercy rather than having to accept offerings, that would still be the only way to make ourselves righteous before him. Jesus is the fulfillment of Hosea, not evidence God was misleading us all along by speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

        • Matthew Distefano

          No, God wasn’t speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Ever! Our understanding of God changed because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, any view of God prior to Jesus needs to be re-understood through the lens of the cross, not the cross understood in light of theology that is pre-meeting-God.

          And do you really think the Father of Jesus changed because of Jesus? That is to say, without Jesus, God needed blood to forgive sins? Or are you going to say that God needed blood all along and that Jesus mollified the Father? The phrase: “Without Jesus we would still be under the law, and despite God wanting us to show us mercy rather than having to accept offerings, that would still be the only way to make ourselves righteous before him” seems like you are arguing that Jesus’ death assuaged God’s need for blood. If you are saying that, then you aren’t preaching Gospel, but a Middle Ages view of Gospel. That isn’t euangelion (good news), but dysangelion (bad news) because it indeed teaches a transmutable God, and who knows when that God is coming back with vengeance.

          • Matthew Distefano

            And one more thing, yes, Jesus “completes” the law because the goal of the law is peace. But that doesn’t mean the way in which peace is achieved under the law is from God. Perhaps those who wrote down the law didn’t get it quite right (if you want to believe it was Moses, believe it was Moses). Case in point, the writer of Deuteronomy 21:23 states “anybody who hangs on a tree is cursed by God,” but Paul simply states, in Galatians 3:13, “anybody who hangs on a tree is under a curse.” No “by God.” What curses? The law.

          • Christopher Coleman

            The goal of the old law was death, because no one was perfect enough to live up to the peace God offered. Jesus paid that death for us, and forged a new law of grace for us.

            Also, God and God’s Law should be understood as the same. Or at least, they should be understood as the same from our perspective, because the law is how humans have always interacted with God. So trying to say the meaning of that curse changed between the two passages is just nonsense. Paul is clearly referring to the previous passage and his listeners would have understood that. Similarly, when Jesus paraphrases the old testament, his listeners would have known the full quote and wouldn’t assume he was preaching heresy (at least just by quoting it). It was his interpretation of the passages that was heresy to them, and his declaration of Godhood.

          • Matthew Distefano

            I wrote an open letter to your G-d. And yes, if he exists, he will send me to hell but at least my conscious will be clean.


          • Christopher Coleman

            Yikes. Ok then, apparently there isn’t any reason to continue this little chat.

          • Matthew Distefano

            Indeed there isn’t. If you are going to hold onto your monster god, then that is on you. As for me, the molechian version of God you believe in has no place in my life.

          • Christopher Coleman

   Have a nice Sunday!

          • Matthew Distefano
          • Grant Visagie

            I also may be able to shed some light here – with regards to how we view the law. This is huge.

            I’ll quickly make the big point, and then explain it. Basically, God gave the law, as a concession to the hardheartedness of the Israelites, who asked for it. God did not choose to give the law because he really wanted to and thought it was a great idea. He didn’t give the law to perfectly represent what he was like. i.e.; The law flows out of the character and nature of fallen Israel, not Gods character and nature. If you haven’t heard this before, this is a good time to open your heart and mind! God never wanted to give the law- he gave the Israelites what they wanted (just like they were always asking for King and he said okay fine!) but the amazing thing is that God built a self-destruct button into the law, built mercy into the law, and then when the time was right, pressed the button, destroyed the law, and gave them the covenant he always wanted for them. This is obviously massive if true (which I think you’ll see it is if you truly consider I may be right.) because it would clarify most of the inconsistencies we see between the God presented in the OT versus the God presented by Jesus in the NT.

            Okay jumping in- Deuteronomy 5 does a deep dive into what happened in Exodus 19, the giving of the law. Exodus 19 has God saying he wants to speak directly to the Israelites, and it actually reads like the new covenant!
            “You yourselves have seen how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself…you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

            Deut 5:22-24 shows us how the Israelites respond: “no we don’t want to speak directly to God, rather, Moses, you tell us what God wants us to DO, and we’ll do it. I.e.: They reject Gods desire to know them directly, rejecting the covenant he wanted to make, and instead ask to relate to God on the basis of rules. Israelites once again wanting their own way! So God says cool, but he finds fault with the covenant they asked for, so he institutes a new one as soon as possible through Jesus once the old covenant has run its course(and was ripe for detonation 🙂 )

            So God never wanted the law in the first place. To summarize:

            1. God never wanted the old covenant – the Israelites rejected God’s desire to speak directly with them and instead asked for something else – rules – ie: the law. Deut 5: 23-27.

            2. God gave the Israelites what they wanted (rules) “You Moses, go and tell God what we must do and we will do it, but we do not want to hear the voice of God directly.” (summary). Deut 5:27.

            3. God didn’t want the old covenant – which is why he “found fault with it, and instituted a new one”. Hebrews 8:7.

            4. God wasn’t tardy with the new covenant, and whether you believe that he “punished Jesus” or you believe Jesus “destroyed the covenant of punishment”, God still waited for the fullness of time to come before he sent Jesus. Gal 4:3-5.
            “The heir… is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

            5. God was only bound to the legal requirement of the law as long as the law was in place between God and man. Divine wrath is only as a result of the existence of the law, but where there is no law, there is no wrath. Romans 4:15 explicit on this: “the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” He cancelled the law with Jesus body on the cross, nailing it to the cross (Col 2:14), so that he no longer had to be bound by its conditions on him, and so that we could no longer be bound by its conditions on us. He could now freely act out of his nature: love and forgiveness. (God is love, Love keeps no record of wrongs, Jesus forgave and healed people before going to the cross – showing God’s true nature in response to sin when he is not bound to the law’s dictates).

            6. The law keeps a record of wrongs. God does not keep a record of wrongs. (God is love, love keeps no record of wrongs).

            In summary the law is an imperfect covenant, and God never wanted it for us. It wasn’t his idea in the first place. Wrath only came as a result of the law. Once God changed us from the law covenant to the new covenant on the cross there was no longer any need for an atoning sacrifice. (Heb 10:18 is explicit/amazing) We are free because the covenant we are now in has forgiveness of sins and righteousness in. God never needed to punish the misdeeds chalked up by the law, instead he ended the law and put us back in direct relationship with him!

          • Milton Orgeron

            A most excellent comment which I commend to the reading of all the readers of this blog post and comments!

          • Yes, and this resonates with the passage that talks about Jesus emptying himself and submitting- what if one of the things being submitted to was our twisted sense of justice and forgiveness- and then subverting that with the resurrection?

          • Christopher Coleman

            What? Are you saying you don’t believe in Penal Substitution? Read Romans 3:25-26 – Jesus was the propitiation for our sins through his blood, both the sins of the Old Testament (which God “passed over” because of Jesus) and those of all the future generations.

            It wasn’t just our understanding of God that changed, but his interaction with us. Not his *character*, but we were under one law (the law of death) and now we are under a new law (the law of grace). You can’t say that nothing changed on God’s side here. For one thing, everyone under the new law receives the Holy Spirit at all times, rather than only occasionally having it rest on them. This implies that how God interacts with us is indeed different, and it is not merely our view of him.

          • Jesse Ireland

            You do realize that there are multiple atonement theories right? The Gospel is what God did and does not tell us how. That’s why they call them atonement theories, not facts. There are numerous ways one can describe what happened at the incarnation, cross, and resurrection. Above all we should follow Jesus and His teachings.

            Let me ask you a question. Jesus says and teaches multiple times to love and bless your enemies. To you would this in any shape or form include killing them? If the answer is yes, then there is no way that you believe in innerancy even though you may profess you do. I just find it ironic that people say to believe in the Bible (which I do, but through a cruciform lens) but then some how avoid following the person the bible points to.

          • Grant Visagie

            Hi Chris! I think I can help at this point. I’ve spent ALOT of time thinking about penal substitution – it was my lense for 15 years – if you are willing to, read what I have to say (it’s a quick read), I think it will be of life to you as it has been to me!

            The debt Jesus “paid” was the penalty of the LAW, and he didn’t actually PAY the debt, he “cancelled it along with its rules and regulations, nailing them to the cross”! (Colossians 2)

            The blood Jesus shed was not related in any way to the Old Testament blood “shed for the forgiveness of sins”. Jesus blood was related directly to Old Testament blood shed in the cutting/inauguration of a new covenant…! That’s hugely different…

            There are two different kinds of blood shed in the old covenant- did you realize that? When I first heard this I was like: “What?! Of course Jesus blood is what paid for my sin, just like the Israelites had to shed the blood of bulls and goats to pay for the penalty of their sin. Besides doesn’t Hebrews say: there is “no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood”?

            Yes, it does say that… Under the law that is…

            Read it for yourself! “UNDER THE LAW, There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood”. Hebrews 9:22.

            Ahhhh, so Only under the LAW covenant do you need blood for forgiveness. But here’s the kicker: Jesus ended that law covenant on the cross! That statement is only true if you’re under the law covenant! So the statement “There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood”, is not a blanket statement true in any context, it is a specific statement only relating to people under the law covenant! This changes everything.

            Hebrews 9:17-20 shows this most clearly. In context, he relates Jesus blood to the blood of covenant cutting, and NOT the blood of forgiveness of sins!

            What does this mean simply? It means that Jesus subverted the Old Testaments method of forgiveness – and instead of making a blood sacrifice to pay the penalty for sin, he did an even deeper work! He destroyed our relationship to the old covenant entirely! And in destroying our relationship to the old covenant, he destroyed our relationship to the debt of that covenant. The debt was utterly cancelled! This is the debt he “paid”, except more like cancelled

          • Milton Orgeron

            Another excellent comment that I find most helpful and encouraging and a great answer to those who pit the imaginary two Gods, OT and NT, against each other or pit the Father against the Son. Blessings!

          • Bernardo Calvo

            Hi Grant, read this interesting note.
            Do you have blogs on the subject I can read.thanks blessings and peace. Bernardo calvo

          • Grant Visagie

            Hi Bernardo 🙂 I plan to soon! Until then, here is an excellent unpacking of the subject in a video:

          • This is so good.

          • Grant Visagie

            Thanks Cody! This understanding has turned my world upside down, and therefore rightside up! I can’t share this enough. My simple one liner which sums it up (and opens the can of worms without anyone having a hernia) is “Love keeps no record of wrongs but the law does (!!), so Mr Love (ie: the Father through Jesus by the power of Holy Spirit) together poured wrath on the law.”

          • Grant Visagie

            Oh also! How cool is this, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic before healing him in Luke 5:20 / Mark 2:5 / Matthew 9:5…How could he do this before he died if it was his death that enabled forgiveness?! Under the PS view, Jesus would be lying!! The truth is, if Jesus says: “Son your sins are forgiven”, you CAN BELIEVE they are!!! God has the authority to forgive any and everyone he chooses to. And the text ACTUALLY SAYS THAT!:

            “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

            Can you handle!!! I’ve literally had people arguing for PS tell me “God doesn’t have the power to forgive sins without the cross.” And then I show them this verse!!! “So that you may know that JESUS has the power to forgive sins on the earth!” This is just another little gem that gets lost when you’re looking through the wrong lense. Love!

          • Jiminy Jillikers

            This is the best explanation I’ve ever seen of Christus Victor atonement. Do you have a blog/twitter?

          • Grant Visagie

            Hi Jiminy!

            Thank you for the compliment! Pleased to meet you. This subject is absolutely pivotal in christianity!

            I’m in the process of writing a book on this subject, but it is taking quite some time! I’m happy to send you some of my notes if you’d like, just send me a friend request on fb – I post on there most often and we can chat 🙂 I follow a guy on fb called Jacob Wright – and he is INCREDIBLE on this subject – you would do well to follow him. He also posts on a wide variety of other topics and is a very good thinker.

            I also have a fb group called “the goodnewsfeed” and there is also alot of content on there about this subject (amidst others).

            I hardly use my twitter, maybe one of these days I will start. Blog wise I haven’t gotten to that yet either but maybe one day soon 🙂

          • Milton Orgeron

            “That is to say, without Jesus, God needed blood to forgive sins?”
            Even with Jesus, the soul that sins shall die unless the blood of sinless Jesus is applied to that soul, and all the animal blood shed before Jesus was only to drive home that point.

            Do you think the NT says God didn’t really require a price of blood to be paid for sin?

            Matthew 26:27-28 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

            The entire letter to the Hebrews should be read thoroughly, but here a few verses.
            Hebrews 9:13-14, 18, 22; 10:4, 10, 19
            For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?…Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. … And according to the Law almost all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. … For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. … By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,

            1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

            What part of those verses (and many more NT verses) can you not accept?

            “That isn’t euangelion (good news), but dysangelion (bad news) because it indeed teaches a transmutable God, and who knows when that God is coming back with vengeance.”
            The NT does teach that God is coming back with vengeance, which is good news for those saved in Christ, and bad news indeed for those who have rejected Jesus as Savior and Lord. See 2 Cor 2:15-16; 4:3-4 for starters.

          • Matthew Distefano

            Good luck with all that…

  • Thanks for the bold, honest piece! I appreciated learning more about you and your story. Keep writing and thinking!

  • Danny James McDonogh

    Great stuff ya bloody heretic! Keep up the fight and the good work.

  • Thanks for that Chuck. I think we’re following/have followed similar paths. I have learnt much about how to use the Bible better (I can’t say properly because I’ve not reached that point) by finding out about Church history &, particularly, the Inspirational as opposed to the Institutional Church. So often doctrines such as conscious everlasting torment & penal substitution atonement just were not in the early church’s teachings yet Christian Universalism was—particularly Origen. The Institutional Church had its own agenda of riches & hierarchy and used it to snuff out—violently often—any dissenting groups who actually interpreted the Bible as you describe. I’m glad I’m in a fellowship that will accept the views we’re embracing about how to use the Bible and we have a wide range of theologies among the attenders, but agape love is the most important thing for us. Long may that continue.

  • John Daniel Gee

    I may disagree with some of your positions, but they aren’t worth dividing over, good piece brother. We have got to stop dividing over doctrine and unify in Christ!

  • Margot Fernandez

    You may never have considered this before, but Faith does not come from Scripture. The New Testament did not exist for many years following Jesus’ death. What we have to do is define the nature of the God we worship–who is God, what is he like? We cannot know this, but what we must do is decide what we will consent to worship. Otherwise you will get nonsense. Here is one example: “A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed.” Deuteronomy 22:13-21 Are you okay with this? Would you consent to the murder of your sister on the grounds that she was not a virgin when she married? This makes a mockery of all human ability to understand and decide. I am an Episcopalian, a faith your family rejects, so just be aware that some people have permission to think and analyze even when it comes to religion. And by the way, when you try to figure out what the Bible says, remember this: you are INTERPRETING the Bible no matter what you say is in it. Like this: the quote from Deuteronomy COULD be applied to a woman who was raped. So it is right to kill a girl who has been raped?

  • Always like it when a Protestant acts like a Protestant.

    • Is that comment directed to me? And here I thought I was rejecting a distinctly Protestant way of reading scripture in favor of returning to a more ancient Orthodox way.

    • Midori

      My thought was more that the last lingering question (how does this autonomy in interpreting the Scriptures avoid veering off into heresy) is an pretty compelling argument for the Magisterium, or at least for the acceptance of Church tradition (if not authority) as a guide. A lot of my friends (and almost me) who have followed similar paths to yours out of Fundamentalism have followed it into the Catholic church. More (including me) have followed it into liturgical churches, I think looking toward the Universal Church connection. While I don’t think the leaders of the visible church are absolute authority on doctrinal matters, I do reconsider carefully if my views contradict theirs. If history, tradition, and authority are all against me, there’s a good chance I need to look again at my reasoning.

      • I’m with you, Midori. I’m not quite at the point where I actually want to join the Catholic or Orthodox church, but I’ve gained an immense respect for them. We absolutely have to hold church tradition in high regard as one of the factors to keep our interpretation in check. While my ecclesiology is Anabaptist, my theology proper is largely Eastern Orthodox.

  • Jessica Nyin

    Thanks for this reading
    I think as Christians we mostly have such questions. But as you have concluded it is “faith’ that we need.

  • thomas jay Oord

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  • David Rush

    It’s funny how a deep commitment to Jesus leads to a more liberal doctrine and practice. This has happened to the Church many times in history, and I have been amused to see it play out in my own life. Or, in perhaps a more poetic vei: What a long, strange, trip it’s been…

  • HalMetz

    Do not get me wrong. I am not saying the Bible is inerrant.

    As I read this blog I was repeatedly asking myself how you failed to see or understand what the Bible says.
    I will explain using the point you tried to make that the Bible is contradictory when in one place it says God wants mercy and not sacrifice and in another God instructs the Hebrews to exterminate a nation.
    Consider context. In one place God is speaking to a group of religious leaders who have become so wicked that the streets are filled with innocent blood. In the other He is referencing wicked nations that practiced child sacrifices.
    To tell the Hebrews that God wanted mercy and not sacrifice would not make sense when instructing executioners about their duty.

    The prophets who were warning the wicked Jews of the coming destruction of their nation were not executioners. The Babylonians performed that duty on the Jews.
    Both the nations destroyed by the Hebrews and the Jews destroyed by the Babylonians failed to have mercy while offering vast amounts of sacrifices.

    Interestingly There was one nation that God prohibited the Hebrews form destroying because they were not wicked enough

    Preferring mercy to sacrifice might seem exceptional unless you logically consider that if you are merciful you will not need to sacrifice.

    I could not find a single reason in your journey to skepticism that would hold water if what the Bible says was taken into consideration.

    While I have not read your journey into toleration of lifestyles specifically condemned in the Bible I suspect you used some logical arguments for discrediting the Bible.

    I would really be interested in what your thoughts would after you have read everything the Bible says on a subject.

    • Hey, Hal. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Just a couple clarifications based on some things you said.

      First, I haven’t journeyed anywhere near to skepticism. I’m very much a believer in Christ Jesus, and though I have frequently tested this belief, it has always resulted in giving me an even stronger faith.

      Second, I have indeed read everything the Bible has to say on every subject. I’ve read it cover-to-cover at least four times now, and I’ve studied in depth every passage that relates to the topics we’re now discussing. You may have come to some different interpretations of these passages than I have, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that one of us is less well read than the other.

      Finally, it’s not my goal here to convince you about anything. I’m just sharing my story. If the beliefs you currently hold about the Bible are working well for you and allowing you to love God and love your neighbor, then that’s fantastic! 🙂

  • BrotherRog

    Excellent. Indeed, we don’t have a perfect text. We have the received text – warts and all. See also: “16 Ways progressive Christians interpret the Bible” –

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  • Rick Wood

    Good stuff…sounds like we are on similar journeys and coming up with similar questions and some similar answers!

  • If you really want to be a “heretic” then in addition to thought inspiration and annihilationism, you could start keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day (aka Saturday). 🙂

    • I actually don’t believe that Sunday has become the Sabbath. It’s a convenient day for most Christians to gather, but it’s not the Sabbath. But then I also don’t believe that we Christians are bound to observe the Sabbath as a day of the week (though we should certainly observe Sabbath principles). That said, the house church I meet with happens to gather on a Saturday, but that’s just for reasons of convenient scheduling.

  • Craig Wright

    Chuck, i share your story of moving from inerrancy because of the violent passages in the Old Testament. I am disappointed with the attempts to justify killing babies, by the evangelical community. Peter Enns has a good approach to this subject in his book, The Bible Tells Me So, along with a book by Eric Seibert in Divine Disturbing Behavior. I also remember hearing your interview on Rethinking Hell. It is interesting to see your “evolution.”

    • Yes, Enns is good as well! And you’re now the second person to recommend Seibert to me since I wrote this post. Will have to check out his books.

  • After nearly 58 years in the organized church and holding the traditional doctrines of methodist or nazarene teaching, I am coming to the same conclusion. The bible leads us to Jesus, who is the living, inerrant Word of God. So many things I was taught in the system that I am coming to see is not necessarily so. So good that we have the Spirit of Christ living within us to lead us to truth.

  • Steve D

    One big sticking point to me in this whole inerrancy discussion is one which I have not seen addressed at all and I would indeed appreciate input on same. It has to do with what is commonly referred to as the “narrator’s omniscience” in novels. There are many instances in the Bible in which something is described where there is nobody around to record that event. Setting aside the big things like the creation of the world or God’s conversation with the devil in the book of Job, I am thinking other more mundane instances. For example, in the book of Judges, there is the account of Lefty Ehud killing evil King Eglon and then sneaking away after locking the doors behind him. The servants are then recorded as having a conversation about whether or not King Eglon is going to the bathroom. Who was there to hear the servants? Certainly not Lefty…he got outta dodge pronto. In Exodus, right before the Red Sea swallowed them up, the Egyptians are quoted as saying that God is fighting against them. Who was there to hear them? All the Israelites were across on the other side, not on the sea bed, about to be swallowed up.
    These are but two examples, and I’ve got many more. Saul and the witch of Endor, Samson’s last words, for example.
    Those in the inerrant camp would simply state that God revealed the details to the scribe, but I think a rational, sincerely questioning person deserves a better explanation than that.
    Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on the matter.

    • It’s certainly possible that God revealed such details, but I suspect that it’s more often a case of the narrator fleshing out the myth for the sake of the story or to make a point.

  • newguy

    Chuck, please consider two reading recommendations:

    1. Regarding inerrancy:

    Is God Violent, Or Nonviolent?


    2. Regarding your departure from Answers in Genesis:

    Evolution, The Flood, and God’s True Nature


    All the best!

  • Ron Lewellen

    Jesus is the Word, The bible is not the Word. That makes sense to me. The best that the Anabaptist denomination (the largest & most liberal) I grew up in could come up with in a position paper is that the bible is inerrant in the original tongues. I’ve been delving into Friend’s theology because there is a lot of anti-science sentiment in Anabaptist congregations.

    • There seems to be a lot of variation within Anabaptism on these issues. When I think of a more liberal Anabaptist denomination (though none are truly liberal in the strict theological sense), I think of the Brethren in Christ, which includes such pastors as Kurt Willems and Bruxy Cavey, neither of which are inerrantists, and both of which are very pro science. I think it probably depends a lot more on the individual congregation than on the denomination as a whole.

      I have a lot of respect for Friends/Quakers as well, though they too are a mixed bag. On the one end you have the Evangelical Quakers who are quite conservative, and on the other end you have a lot of Quakers who don’t claim to be Christian at all.

  • Nice post, Chuck! I enjoyed reading a bit more of your story, and I share your conclusions 🙂

  • Good article. My wife and I are on a very similar path. It is hard at times to realize many things we were taught in the past are not as we thought. Yet it is exciting to see the leading of the Spirit and know he is guiding us in his truth.