Copyright Dillon Naber Cruz
I am now a post-fundamentalist Christian with an evolving view of scripture and a still developing Christology. As a child I went to Sunday School, mostly because my grandparents sent me, along with their youngest son Steven (who though my uncle is younger than me) and sometimes my little sister too, to the Hillcrest Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City, MO, on Sunday mornings, likely to get us out of their hair. Then as a 9 year old fourth grader, a cemetery plot salesmen told me after selling my grandparents a plot, that if I died that night I would go to hell so I had better accept Jesus into my heart as savior and Lord to avoid eternal conscious torment. Thus my descent into the dark world of American fundamentalism, with its emphasis on sin, hell-fire and damnation, and personal salvation along with its anti-intellectualism , racism, misogyny, and bigotry, began. One of the tenets of American fundamentalism is a so called “high view of scripture” ( a misnomer if there ever was one) which sees the Bible as literally true and completely inerrant, meaning that it contains no mistakes, contradictions, or anything like that and is basically a book that was dictated to humans by Almighty God. Basically God spoke and someone holding a pen wrote it all down- or so the goes the line of fundamentalist thought.
Personally, I think that having a literalist, inerrantist view of the Bible is actually quite a low view of scripture. People who do believe in inerrancy don’t take it near as seriously as people who truly study it and learn its historical, social, and anthropological context. This is often done while being unafraid to critique it, and to know that it is a collection of writings in a variety of genres, that has been redacted, edited, composited, and then variously translated in such ways that scholars and seminary trained theologians can often discern different “voices” in the various books. For instance, in the Hebrew Scriptures compiled for the Christian Bible, the first five books are called the Pentateuch (the Torah for Jews) and in that collection of sacred Jewish books 4 different “writers” can be distinguished- known as J, E, P, D (Jahwist, Eloist, Priestly, and Deuteronomistic). This is known as the Documentary Hypothesis and can be briefly described thus: extant Jewish writings were edited and compiled to create the books we now have and show distinct theological differences depending on the writer (J,E,P,D) in such ways that there are easily discoverable inconsistencies. For instance, a close reading of the first book of the Christian Bible, Genesis (which reads like Game of Thrones by the way) shows myriad contradictions and inconsistencies (along with incest, murder, rape, and so on) such as multiple creation accounts that differ in their details and the number of animals to be taken onto the ark to name two among many others. In Genesis 6:19-20 Noah is instructed to take two of every creature, male and female into the ark, while just a few verses later in chapter 7 we read that Noah is to take seven pairs of all clean animals and a pair of all the unclean animals. Things clean and unclean are priestly concerns and so the priestly redactors changed the original story from a single pair to a much larger number of animals to be brought onto the ark. So right away, in the first chapters of the very first book of the Bible we see inconsistencies in stories and in theological ideas. The inerrant view does not stand up even to a basic level of scrutiny.
Then there are the things in the Bible that are demonstrably false, yet literalist believers like the so-called Creation Museum’s Ken Ham, still believe that the world is only thousands of years old rather than the scientifically accepted billions among other absurdities. For example, in Genesis the Earth is described a having a sort of lid over the top of it– the firmament, which is remarkably easy to disprove. Meteorites hit the terra firma from space and rockets, satellites, and space shuttles leave the ground for space on a regular basis. There’s clearly no lid. We do not live in a giant dome. The Earth is literally BILLIONS of years old, dinosaurs were real, as is evolution. I don’t see any of that knowledge as a threat to my faith. The stories in Genesis are origin stories, in many ways similar to the origin stories of other groups of people around the world. My professor of Hebrew Bible, Dr. Julia O’Brien said that literalist approaches to Genesis miss the point entirely and I agree.
Another idea that fundamentalist often have is that the whole Bible is equally true and should be adhered to. Because of this we have Christians who support bigotry and hatred towards the LGBTQIA community (despite Jesus’ injunctions to love EVERYONE unconditionally, and Paul’s teachings on grace). They also maintain a view of a violent, vindictive God (despite the Incarnation, i.e. God in human form, the True Human, aka Yeshua of Nazareth, aka Jesus, being a completely loving, non-violent, non-retributive, human being thus logically showing that God is also those things ). They seem to forget, I know I never gave it a great deal of thought in my fundie days, that Jesus discounted certain things in Jewish scripture that he felt were not from God, but were rather from man. This is evinced in all of the times when he says words to the effect of, “You have heard it said…but I say,” which a quick reading of the Gospels will show happened with some regularity. In other words, Jesus had a hermeneutic (a lens through which people view scripture or a means of interpretation) and a personal canon within a canon, meaning that he minimized parts of the Jewish scripture and privileged other parts of it. These types of scenes in the life of Jesus can be seen in the sermon on the mount in Matthew (chapters 5-7) for instance and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel (10:25-37) where Jesus tells a lawyer what the most important thing is for people to do to in order to live a Godly life. He rejected the violence in the Jewish scripture and rejected it in his way of living. That much is plain from the Gospel narratives. If Jesus rejects some of the Bible, then the logic of inerrancy is seriously compromised.
There are also stories in the Bible that the historical and archaeological record simply does not support. A major example of this is the Exodus story. If the Biblical account were literally true, then scholars believe that the large number of people traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land would have left plenty of evidence of their migration, yet no such evidence has ever been found. Similarly, the Book of Joshua’s account of the Israelite’s conquering of the Canaanites is described as wholesale slaughter and destruction of Canaanite culture. The archaeological record and the Book of Judges both refute this telling of the story of the Israelite people settling in Canaan. It appears to have been a gradual assimilation into the culture rather than a conquest of any type. There are of course more examples of this type of inconsistency despite fundamentalist apologists asserting that no such inconsistencies and contradictions exist. For New Testament examples just look at Paul’s seeming theological evolution.
The logic of inerrancy is non-existent. A perfunctory reading of the Bible is enough to show that it is a complicated, inconsistent, human book of theological and spiritual import that shows how various Jewish voices such as those of humble people like Ruth, various prophets and priests, saw God and created meaning in their fragile lives. Then of course , there is the life of Jesus detailed in the gospels that completely undermines all the wrathful, vengeful, destructive notions of God found in the Hebrew scriptures and put in there by people from an Ancient Near Eastern culture that believed in a warrior god. There is a discernible ark of grace and justice too that can be found within the pages of the Bible as is evidenced by not only Jesus’ life and teachings but also in refutations of “othering” often found in other writings within its pages. See the Book of Ruth or the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in the Book of Acts as examples where scripture turns previously espoused ideas onto their heads and nullifies them with grace and better understanding of God’s nature. In short, the Bible is not inerrant or infallible. It is often inconsistent AND it contains a lot of stuff that is truly reprehensible such as sanctioning genocide, rape, and slavery for example. It also tells the story of the True Human and details a spiritual path that would profoundly alter the human condition if followed regardless of what one believes about Jesus and that is something to take a high view of in my opinion.
May grace be with you.
Dillon Naber Cruz
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Thank you and peace be with you.