How to Interpret the Bible
(Literally, Figuratively, Allegorically, or Mythically?)

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Note Regarding Bible Passages: Whenever I make a reference to a specific passage of the Bible in this essay, I've included a link to the relevant chapter on I've included the whole chapter, and not just verses, so that the reader can see the passage in context. For each passage, I've including links to both the King James Version (KJV), the main English version of the Bible used for centuries, and the New International Version (NIV), the most popular modern English translation of the Bible. also provides several other versions, if the reader wishes to use them.

Further Reading: My views on this have changed somewhat. You can read more on this topic in my Religious Essays section.


It seems like religious fundamentalism is on the rise in this country. I don't know if that's actually the case, whether religious fundamentalists are just becoming more vocal, or whether it's because I moved from the northeast down to Texas, so I've noticed it more (A recent evolution poll on Harris Interactive would seem to indicate that it actually is a rise in fundamentalism). Nevertheless, it's gotten me to wondering about what is the best way to interpret the Bible, which will be the focus of this essay.

From the reading I've been doing on the Internet, it seems that there are a few main camps that people fall into regarding how they interpret the Bible. I know there are countless more subtle variations to this list, so it is definitely not comprehensive, but it does capture the major viewpoints. They are as follows, in order of decreasing "fundamentalism":

  1. The Bible and all copies/translations are 100% inerrant. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were God inspired. All copies and translations have been divinely inspired. The Bible should be interpreted in a literal manner (Creation took place in 144 hours).
  2. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were God inspired, however, slight errors have been introduced through copies and/or translations. Through careful study of ancient manuscripts, we can determine the most accurate versions. The Bible should still be interpreted in a literal manner (Creation took place in 144 hours).
  3. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were God inspired, however, slight errors have been introduced through copies and/or translations. Through careful study of ancient manuscripts, we can determine the most accurate versions. However, due to knowledge of modern science, we know that the Bible cannot be interpreted in a literal manner, and so should be interpreted figuratively or allegorically (Creation took place over billions of years).
  4. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were not God inspired. Although certain stories in the Bible may be based on actual historical occurrences, they were written by men and thus contain all of the errors and exaggerations this entails. Other stories may be based on myths of other cultures, and are not historically based at all.

Completely Inerrant Interpretation of the Bible

The first of those interpretations, that the Bible is completely inerrant in all forms, is the easiest to test. Even one tiny error would disprove this notion. If the Bible is going to be literal and accurate as a divinely inspired work, it will be literal and accurate throughout ALL of it - God doesn't make mistakes. I will look at a very nit-picky example, but I am choosing it because it is a clear statement of fact, and not something open to interpretation. I will look at the King James version - the main English version of the Bible used for centuries, and the New International Version (NIV), the most popular modern English translation of the bible. In both versions, Second Kings, 8:25-26 (KJV, NIV)says that Ahaziah was 22 years old when he began his reign. Then, in Second Chronicles, 22:2 (KJV, NIV), the King James version says that he was 42 when he began his reign, while the NIV says that he was 22, with a footnote saying that other versions list it as 42. There is a clear contradiction here. The King James version contradicts itself, and the NIV contradicts the King James version. Yes, it's just a small difference, but it exists. In a similar manner, in both King James and the NIV, Second Kings, 24:8 (KJV, NIV) says that Jehoiachin began his reign at 18 years old, while in Second Chronicles, 36:9 (KJV, NIV), King James says that he began his reign at 8, while the NIV says 18, with a footnote about other versions that say 8.

Those are not the only two obvious inconsistencies in the Bible. There are many, but like I said, I chose those two as examples because they are clear statements of fact. The most likely explanation for those mistakes is a slight error either in copying, or in translation to English. However, that shows without doubt that there are errors in at least some versions of the Bible, clearly showing that the completely inerrant interpretation of the Bible is false. Sadly, I think there are still many Americans who believe this interpretation.

Some people will point to the fact that I was using the King James version as one of the two translated copies, and will say that we shouldn't use the King James version because it's known to have errors in translation, that it's best to use a modern translation based on Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. That still leaves the problem, then, that not all copies of the Bible are divinely inspired. It's especially troublesome that the King James version would have errors, since it was the only version of the Bible used by many English speaking people for centuries.

Literal Interpretation of the Bible

Now let's take a look at the second interpretation, that although slight errors may have come about through copying or translating the Bible, it's still largely accurate, and should be interpreted literally. For the moment, we'll ignore the first part of that interpretation, and examine only whether or not the Bible should be interpreted literally. Let's add science into the mix. We'll start off with just about my favorite subject in science - How did all of the animals come to be on this Earth? To someone knowledgeable in science who looks at the evidence objectively, it can be said with just about absolute certainty, that evolution has occurred, is occurring right now, and will continue to occur in the future, and further, evolution is the source of the many various forms of life on this planet today, including people. I will not compromise that statement with any disclaimers - evolution is almost universally accepted in the scientific community and there are mountains of evidence to support it. Anyone who would reject evolution on a scientific basis is either ignorant of the facts, not looking at the evidence objectively, or worse, dishonest. I would love to discuss all of the evidence here, but it would be a whole essay, or rather an encyclopedia, unto itself. Instead, I'll just reference the reader to my soapbox entry on evolution (2004-12-14), or to the website, Talk Origins.

So, with about as much certainty that we can say that the Earth orbits the Sun, or that atoms are the particles that make up all matter, we can say that evolution was the way that all life on this planet developed. However, this in marked contrast with Genesis, which recounts the 6 day creation story that surely every Christian knows. (Some skeptics claim a "second" creation story in Chapter 2, but I think it's easy to read that as just a detailed explanation of some of what went on during the six days.) To believe a literal interpretation of the Bible, these two views must be reconciled in some way. A fair number of people would say that scientists are just plain wrong in interpreting the data that support evolution. A good statistic that I included in another essay, which came from a Newsweek article referenced on, "support for creation science among those branches of science who deal with the earth and its life forms [is] at about 0.14%." To claim that so many scientists are misinterpreting the data would take an arrogance unimaginable to me. How can a person, in good conscience, say to a scientist, "I know you've gone to a university and spent at least 4 years studying to earn a degree, and probably a few more years studying to earn an advanced degree, and since then you've devoted your whole career to the life sciences and used evolution as one of the central tenants of your work, while I've only had high-school biology plus what I've read in the popular press, but I'm still going to say that your life's work is rubbish," and then to repeat that hundreds of thousands of times to all of the scientists in the life sciences field? Not just that, but to accept the six day creation story and a literal interpretation of the Bible, you'd have to deny all of the scientific evidence from the fields of geology, paleontology, and astronomy, which indicate that the earth is billions of years old, and that the universe is even older, and make a similar statement to all of the scientists involved in those fields.

About the only possible way I see to reconcile this difference between the Bible and science, while still maintaining a literal interpretation of the Bible, is to resort to divine intervention. The most obvious theory to me, is to say that God created the whole universe with the apparent age of billions of years, when in fact it is only a few thousand years old. While there is no way to concretely disprove this interpretation, let's take a look at what it means. Like I mentioned above, there is a huge amount of evidence indicating that evolution occurs - fossil evidence, anatomical evidence, and genetic evidence. Assuming that God has not changed any of the basic scientific principles of the universe since creation, there is no way for all of the fossils we've found to have formed in the past few thousand years, especially when taking into account geology and where many of these fossils have been found. So this tells us that God would have had to have made all of those fossils at the time of creation. While He certainly could have done this, the question is why would God deliberately deceive humans? Similarly, there is a huge amount of genetic evidence for evolution. Many creationists argue that the reason for genetic similarity between related species is because of related function, that God wanted the animals to be similar at all levels. Here, let's consider the argument coined as "plagiarized errors," explained in detail on Talk Origins. A very basic explanation goes something like this. DNA is basically the blueprint for life. It's a little more complicated than that, but for a basic explanation, that will do. Not all of our DNA is functional. Some of it has "errors" in it that make it non-functional. ("Errors" if you look at it from an evolutionary point of view where it's mutated to where it's non-functional, I don't what a literal creationist calls these regions of DNA.) Even that point of view argues against creation - why would God design DNA to be so inefficient, but I'm getting away from my main argument. The point is, those errors that make certain regions of DNA non-functional are the same in related species, but not in unrelated species. If the non-functional DNA were the result of random mutation since the time of creation, (as some creationists have asserted - that all DNA was perfect at the time of creation and it's only been through degradation that it isn't perfect, now) there would be no reason for the same "error" to be present in related species. Therefore, the error is common to related species either as explained by evolution, through the highly unlikely event that several species had the exact same mutations (over and over for all of the non-functional genes shared among different animals), or that during creation, God made the DNA that way. And once again, we are left with the question, why would God do such a thing, knowing that it would mislead so many people?

Let's look at another good science example - the Flood. There are countless other sites devoted to pointing out why the flood was scientifically impossible, so I won't go into much detail. The first obvious question is where did all the water come from to cause the flood, since there isn't enough on the Earth right now. If you believe in a literal interpretation of the bible, that can be explained away as divine intervention. The second question is where is the evidence for a world-wide flood. Barring what a few people might say who are ignorant of science or else dishonest, not just is there no evidence for a worldwide flood, there is strong evidence against such a flood within the past thousand years (how did Egyptian culture survive if all people but Noah and his family were killed? What about the native Americans? How did a small band of Hebrews evolve into all of the races of people alive today in such a short period of time, especially if you don't believe in evolution? and much more) So, in order for the Bible to be literally true, there had to be divine intervention to create enough water to cause the flood in the first place, then hide the geologic evidence afterwards (or prevent it from occurring, in the first place), and then to miraculously have Noah's group expand into the myriad cultures and people alive on the Earth today. (That's not to mention the animals procreating enough to repopulate the Earth in that time, cross oceans to get to other continents, or even how all of the species alive today could have fit on an ark in the first place.) Yes, God could have done this, but why would he deliberately remove the evidence to mislead so many people? Plus, if the flood required so much divine intervention to make it happen, why not just kill all the evil people outright like he killed all the first-born sons of Egypt during the Passover?

Let me touch briefly on one argument I have heard concerning the apparent age of the universe. It goes something like, "If God were able to create Adam with the appearance of age, why couldn't He do the same thing with the universe?" Despite the arguments above on how this would be misleading, we have to ask, "Did God create Adam with scars? With mended broken bones? A trick knee from that old high school injury?" The universe as it exists today isn't a perfect creation - it has those scars that come from old age. Craters on planets and moons as the result of asteroid impacts, mountains resulting from tectonic plates shifting, remnants from supernovae, fossils from extinct animals, hundreds of thousands of years worth of erosion. If God created a perfect universe only a few thousand years ago, why are there all those scars that come with great age?

So, to wrap up this argument about interpreting the Bible literally, while there is no way to concretely disprove it, we have to look at the implications it causes. For it to be true, it means that God deliberately created the universe, and since then has been intervening, to give it an appearance counter to what we would expect from the Bible. Either that, or a point I didn't make above, he has been changing the principle laws of nature since creation so that the universe could exist today as it does, but this still gives the universe an appearance counter to what we would expect from the Bible. Is this a test? To see whether our faith in God is stronger than our belief in what we see with our own eyes? And look at how difficult this makes it to convert people to Christianity. If you're talking to a scientifically educated non-Christian, and insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible as being necessary to the religion, what are the chances that that person will abandon everything that they've known to be true up to that point in their life? Not just philosophical questions, but hard, concrete scientific facts. I just cannot accept the fact that God deliberately created the universe with a misleading appearance. Perhaps this is because of a lack of faith, but I prefer to think not. And I've only scratched the surface, barely, of the scientific arguments against a literal interpretation of the Bible. Once again, I'll reference Talk Origins to read more about the scientific evidence.

Another possible reason would be to say that God did create a perfect universe, that did appear to be newly minted, and that it's been Satan who's made all of the appearances of old age. First off, why would God allow Satan to make such huge changes to His creation to mislead so many people. Second, why wouldn't God have given us some warning in the scriptures about Satan making such changes to mislead us?

Figurative and Allegorical Interpretations

Let's move on now to the interpretation that the Bible is largely accurate, but is meant to be interpreted figuratively or allegorically. Once again, let's look to the 6 day creation story in Genesis (KJV, NIV). I have heard many people use the argument that the 6 days were not actual days, but periods of indeterminate time (I actually cover this topic in more detail on my blog). However, the order of events does not match with our current knowledge of the way things happened. Surely, our theories are apt to change in the future, but not so much as to reconcile these chronological differences with the Genesis story. For example, Genesis has birds created on the fifth day, but land animals on the sixth day. All of the evidence tells us that land animals came first, and then evolved into birds. Similarly, if you're taking all of the words at more or less face value, other than the length of a day, Genesis doesn't have the sun and moon created until the fourth day, after the Earth itself was created, and after even plants were created. So, we can see that even allowing for the 6 days to be billions of years, Genesis doesn't match with science. I've seen further attempts to reconcile Genesis with science by further interpreting the meanings of the words, but haven't seen any that come up with a satisfactory answer. Clearly, looking at Genesis even figuratively doesn't match with science.

The other explanation I've seen is that the actual mechanisms of creation are unimportant. It doesn't matter if God created the universe in days or billions of years, or exactly how He created all of the animals. The important theme from Genesis is that God did create the universe. If this is true, we're left with the problem of knowing what parts of the Bible to accept at face value, and what parts are allegorical. I guess we could say that stories are allegorical, while rules are literal. But that leaves the question, similar to that raised above regarding a literal interpretation of the Bible, why would God even put such an allegorical story into the Bible in the first place? Surely, he would know that people would accept it as literal truth for thousand of years, and that it would mislead people for thousands of years as to the truth of science. Not only is it acting as a hindrance to science, but it is driving intelligent people away from Christianity because of the obvious contradiction between the Bible and science.

Another argument I've heard for the allegorical/figurative interpretation of Genesis is that God explained it that way to the people of the day because they were so scientifically primitive. None of them would have understood the true story of the creation of the universe, so he used the 6 day creation story. This still leaves unanswered the chronological inconsistencies between the Bible and science. Not only that, but how difficult would it be to tell a scientifically primitive people, "countless eons," or, "more years than there are grains of sand on the beach," when referring to the actual age of the universe, as opposed to dumbing it down to the point of telling them just days. Just because people were scientifically primitive doesn't mean that they were idiots.

In this essay, I have yet not looked into detail at the one interpretation noted above, that stories in the Bible can be interpreted figuratively or allegorically, but that laws must be interpreted literally. Without even looking at the laws, there are problems with this interpretation. First, there are no clear indications that the stories should be taken any way other than literally. People have been interpreting them that way for thousands of years, until natural science has shown us that many of the stories couldn't possibly true. So, we are left with the question of why the Bible was written in such a misleading manner.

Let's take a look at two passages concerning children paying for the sins of the parents. Exodus 20:5-6 (KJV, NIV) states, "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments." Compare that Ezekial 18:19-20 (KJV, NIV), which states, "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him." So, on the one hand we have children being punished for the sins of the father, while another passage is stating that all people will be judged as individuals. This to me seems a clear contradiction between different parts of the Bible, indicating that one of the two writers got it wrong. (There are several other passages in the Bible dealing with punishing children for the sins of the parents, by the way.) I've read a few arguments trying to reconcile this inconsistency. One is that the passages are being interpreted out of context, that only finding the inconsistency is missing the intended meaning of the passages. But still, if both writers were God inspired, they could have made their separate points while still making the same basic claims about children being punished for their parents actions, and there wouldn't be a contradiction at all. Another argument I read is that punishing groups for the actions of individuals wouldn't have seemed wrong at all to people in ancient times, that our modern idea of individuality is ethnocentric and is somehow altering our interpretation of those passages. Still another argument I've heard is that the "third and fourth generation" refers basically to the people that would have been living in the same household, and that is why those people are being punished. A slight variant of this, which isn't even consistent with the wording of the passage, is that the people in the household aren't being punished themselves, just suffering the consequences of the person being punished. However, all of these argument go against the whole point of the Ezekial passage. There are countless other interpretations to try and reconcile these differences, but I have not ready any that do so satisfactorily. Even if there were a way to somehow reconcile these passages, we are still left with the problem of why they were written in such seemingly contradictory manners to begin with. If the point of the Bible is to teach us what God expects of us, and God directly inspired all of the authors, why did He not put it in clearer writing?

The Bible as a Non-Divinely Inspired Book

Based on all of the above evidence, it seems likely that there's a chance that the writings in the Bible weren't divinely inspired, even in their original forms. While there's no concrete way to prove or disprove this, let's just assume for the sake of argument that it wasn't divinely inspired, and go back and take a look at some passages, seeing how they would read from that viewpoint.

A few passages in the Bible had always given me an uncomfortable feeling. They seemed remarkably similar to the "just-so" fables of other religions. But, if we accept that these were myths put into the Bible from other cultures, they seem to make more sense. To start off with, let's go to the flood story again, specifically Genesis 9:8-17 (KJV, NIV), where God tells Noah that a rainbow is a sign of the covenant that he will never again cause such a flood, implying that that's the reason we have rainbows. I'm sure an apologist will say that rainbows had always been around, that God was just using them as a sign, but I'm sure to someone a thousand years ago it seemed that God created rainbows at that point in time just after the flood. Once again, even if an apologist viewpoint is accepted, it certainly shows the Bible as being misleading for thousands of years. Another part of the Bible that strikes me as a just-so story is Genesis 11 (KJV, NIV), the part about the Tower of Babel (which I'll discuss for other reasons below), explaining that that's the reason for the multitude of languages in the world. An allegorical approach could help to explain these as moral stories, but it still doesn't help to shake the "just-so" aspect.

Let's look to another aspect of the Bible, that will require looking at several passages - the Biblical view of the Earth and the cosmos. Actually, a full treatment of this is beyond the scope of this essay, but I will recommend two links for further reading: The Flat-Earth Bible and The Flat-Earth Belief of Bible Writers. Many of the scriptures cited in these articles reference "the corners" of the Earth, the firmament, the domes referred to as heavens, and being high enough to see the entire Earth, or having something tall enough to be able to be seen from the entire Earth (with a flat earth, anything sufficiently tall would be visible from anywhere, and vice versa. With a spherical earth, no matter how tall something is, if it's on the opposite side of the earth, you can't see it). Many apologists have tried different ways to reconcile these passages, from different interpretations of the original Hebrew and Greek, to invoking poetic interpretations. Obviously, many people have read a spherical Earth interpretation of the Bible, but you have to stop and ask yourself which makes more sense. Are you reading the Bible objectively to hear what the Bible has to say? Or are you reading it from a modern viewpoint, knowing the Earth is round, but also having a preconception that the Bible has to be right, so you force the Bible into reading that way. To me, it seems to take a great deal of stretching and liberal interpretation to read the Bible as saying that the Earth is round, but it seems much easier to see it as being written by people who thought the Earth was flat and the sky was a dome above it. Even the Tower of Babel story makes more sense when thinking from the viewpoint of a scientifically ignorant society. To us, a tall building means nothing more than a good engineering feat, and we've even flown into space. But to someone who thought that God was enthroned on a dome above the Earth, the Tower of Babel was a structure reaching towards God's domain. And the flood story, Genesis 7:11 (KJV, NIV), where it talks of opening the flood gates of heaven - this could have just been poetic license, or it could have been a view that water was above the dome, and God was literally opening holes in the dome to let the water onto the Earth (this is also consistent with the wording in Genesis 1:6-7 - KJV, NIV - where on the second day God created the sky to separate the waters above it from those below it). And all of this is consistent with the fact that neighboring cultures also had Flat-Earth cosmology views.

2 Timothy 3:16

There's one topic that I'd like to address specifically, because it's an argument that you see so often, and it amazes me just how many people use this argument. Many people will cite 2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV, NIV), "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The problem is, this passage doesn't prove anything. If you already believed the Bible to be divinely inspired, this doesn't change your mind. If you think there's a possibility that the Bible isn't divinely inspired, then there's a really good chance that Paul's statement itself wasn't inspired, and that it was just a mistake that Paul made. Using that argument would be like me saying, "Everything in this essay is true." It doesn't prove anything. Worse, Paul's claim is that of a man. It was not the word of Jesus nor the Father, so it carries much less authority than if it had been a quote of Jesus. But even a quote from Jesus in the Gospel still wouldn't be proof, since if the Bible wasn't divinely inspired, one of the author's could have added such a line, even if Jesus himself never said it.

Summary of All Interpretations

Let's pause now to re-examine the four main camps of interpretation, how likely each of these interpretations is, and what the repercussions of each interpretation are.

  1. The Bible and all copies/translations are 100% inerrant. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were God inspired. All copies and translations have been divinely inspired. The Bible should be interpreted in a literal manner (Creation took place in 144 hours).
  2. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were God inspired, however, slight errors have been introduced through copies and/or translations. Through careful study of ancient manuscripts, we can determine the most accurate versions. The Bible should still be interpreted in a literal manner (Creation took place in 144 hours).
  3. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were God inspired, however, slight errors have been introduced through copies and/or translations. Through careful study of ancient manuscripts, we can determine the most accurate versions. However, due to knowledge of modern science, we know that the Bible cannot be interpreted in a literal manner, and so should be interpreted figuratively or allegorically (Creation took place over billions of years).
  4. The original manuscripts which now constitute the Bible were not God inspired. Although certain stories in the Bible may be based on actual historical occurrences, they were written by men and thus contain all of the errors and exaggerations this entails. Other stories may be based on myths of other cultures, and are not historically based at all.

With the obvious factual inconsistencies between different verses within some versions of the Bible, and the inconsistencies of some passages across different versions of the Bible, I do not see how any amount of faith, unless coupled with an even greater amount of ignorance or stupidity (most probably ignorance due to not actually reading or studying the Bible), could allow a person to accept the first possible interpretation.

The second interpretation also seems VERY unlikely. While anything is possible for God, a literal interpretation of the Bible means that He deliberately created the universe to be inconsistent with the way we would expect it to be from the Bible, has been tampering with the universe to make it's appearance artificially old and to hide evidence from events in the Bible, or has allowed Satan to so tamper with His creation to give it that appearance, without giving us any warning in the Bible that Satan has such free reign over the entirety of creation. Why would God so mislead people, and allow so many scientifically knowledgeable people to be driven away from Christianity?

A figurative interpretation, although it's what I used to believe before I started studying this issue in more detail, now seems even more unlikely than a literal interpretation. Even looking at the stories figuratively, they still do not match with the evidence we have from science, so they still require some divine intervention. If that were the case, I think it's more likely that He'd just have created the universe in the 6 days like Genesis says.

If the original stories of the Bible were truly divinely inspired, an allegorical interpretation seems the most likely. Now, there's no need for the stories to match with the scientific evidence, since they're not meant to be historical at all. However, this still leaves the problem of why God would allow the Bible to be so misleading.

I think the most obvious interpretation is that the Bible, even in its original form, wasn't divinely inspired. All of the scientific evidence points that way; it means that God did create the universe in such a manner as seems obvious from current observation; He never Himself created a book (the Bible) that would be so misleading to us; and when we go back and read the Bible from the viewpoint of a scientifically primitive people who thought that the Earth was flat and didn't understand the true age of the universe, it all makes much more sense.

Although it isn't one of the main camps of Biblical interpretation, let me add one more possible interpretation in the interest of completeness. One could maintain that the original texts were divinely inspired and that all of the problems noted in this essay are due to typos or errors, or even deliberate changes and insertions. The result of that though, wouldn't be much different from the interpretation that the Bible weren't divinely inspired to begin with. It still leaves us in the position of not knowing which parts of the Bible are accurate.

Further Discussion

So what does this mean? Have I been convinced to abandon my Christianity? Well, no. Just because the Bible isn't divinely inspired doesn't mean that it's completely false, either. Current archaeological evidence is confirming many of the stories in the Bible, so we know that, although exaggerated and tainted with prejudices, it's fairly historically accurate. And as a Christian with faith, I can be reasonably sure that it has grains of theological truth in it, as well. And, just by logical reasoning, the Bible does not have to be divinely inspired for there to be a God, or for Jesus to be our savior (just like a chemistry textbook doesn't have to be accurate for chemical reactions to take place). Sure, there are still questions, such as why an omnipotent, all powerful God would allow the existence of such a book, especially since so many people base their faith solely on what they read in the Bible. But, if you accept that the Bible isn't divinely inspired, then God hasn't had a hand in the writing of the Bible, so all of the errors of the Bible are due to mankind.

So, if I'm still a Christian, even though I've said that I don't believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, what do I do now? What do I base my faith on? The best I can do is to study the Bible and pray for guidance to reveal to me which passages are true. Aside from that, there are still two basic tenants that I think most Christians can agree on no matter how they interpret the rest of the religion - 1) Accept Christ as our savior, 2) Help other people and be kind to them.

I am aware of at least one major problem this presents. If we say that the Bible is not divinely inspired, it appears that we're able to pick and choose which portions of the Bible we want to believe in. First of all, for a true Christian with a sincere desire to understand God's truth, I don't think this will be a major problem, at least no more so than exists with a conventional interpretation. Through prayer, God will reveal to us which parts are right. And, like I pointed out above, we still have those two basic tenants to live by. On the other hand, how different would this be from the way people interpret the Bible now? Even if you believe the Bible to be literal, there are still multiple ways to interpret it, especially when you consider how to apply it to our daily lives (ex: is this a situation of an eye for an eye, or of not throwing the first stone?). Clearly, not all Christians have interpreted the Bible in the same way, or we would have only one church, and not the many branches that exist today. And that's for most true Christians sincere in their efforts. How many false Christians have used passages from the Bible as excuses for their own ends, even in times when nobody questioned the inerrancy of the Bible? The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades immediately come to mind.

So, why am I writing this essay and putting in on my website to share it with the world? Well, for one, because of the increase in religious fundamentalism, many people see that as the only accepted form of Christianity. To a scientifically educated person who isn't a Christian, they are not going to reject all of the knowledge they already have to accept Christianity - fundamentalism is keeping those people from becoming Christians. Plus, I'm sure there are many people like me who were raised as Christians, but started questioning their faith based on what they've learned as they've gotten older. And, well, I know that many people don't like to go things alone, so maybe those non-Christians and Christians questioning their faith alike can both see at least one other person who accepts Christianity without accepting the Bible as divinely inspired. Hopefully, this will open the way for the non-Christians to give Christianity a second look, and for those questioning their faith to help to keep them from losing their faith. And for those people who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, let me say this. People aren't perfect, and we do start to stereotype groups based on our past experiences of people associated with those groups. That's the way I've gotten with Christians in the media. So many of them are fundamentalists, that now when I'm listening to the radio or reading an article, and I hear/read that the speaker/writer is a Christian, I immediately take on a skeptical attitude because I'm prepared for them to be a fundamentalist going on about some nonsense, and that's not the way it should be. My first reaction should be to think, oh, a fellow Christian, let me hear what they have to say. And, like I wrote above, fundamentalism is keeping people from becoming Christians. So, for fundamentalists, even if they don't accept everything in this essay, maybe it will make them question a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Additional Information

Biblical Inconsistency Resources

There are many sites on the Internet devoted to finding these types of inconsistencies, mostly atheist, agnostic, or at the least, non-Christian. One very thorough site is, and another, shorter one is Most of these inconsistencies can be chalked up to people's interpretations, and many probably shouldn't even be on these "contradiction" lists to begin with. Others are probably due to the evolution of language (such as referring to whales and fish synonymously, or fowls crawling on all fours possibly referring to bats, even though God surely knew that these were different types of animals). And still others require some very creative logic, but can still be explained by possible, albeit ludicrous, scenarios. However, from the examples in this essay, we know that there are mistakes in the Bible, and it seems probable that the book wasn't divinely inspired. In light of that, trying to jump through hoops to explain away all of the inconsistencies listed on these sites might not make sense. Not just that, but some of the problems listed on these sites are valid inconsistencies which seem nearly impossible to explain away.

Why I Believe in God Even if the Bible Is Inaccurate

I didn't feel this belonged in the main body of the essay, but still felt it was worth writing. When I wrote this essay, I had to go through a lot of soul searching and prayer to keep my faith. On the one hand, there's all the scientific evidence and other issues indicating that the Bible is wrong in many areas, and that's a strong reason to question your faith. On the other hand, I've personally felt God's presence and witnessed what I believe are miracles. To a fundamentalist, they may wonder how I could have felt His presence or witnessed miracles and still questioned my faith. Well, with some scientific knowledge and a skeptical mindset, even those things aren't 100% certain. How many people from other religions have felt the presence of their gods, or witnessed their gods' miracles? To be honest, I think most "religious" experiences are caused by chemical imbalances or other problems in the brain (such as temporal lobe epilepsy). So, for me to still accept Christ, knowing that the Bible is inaccurate, still takes a great amount of faith. But then again, faith is one of the things that our religion is all about. In the end, I just had to accept that the Bible is a man-made work, written by humans, with plenty of myths, legends, and mistakes, but that much of it is still based on actual events. This allowed me to accept a God that hasn't been deliberately misleading us - all of the mistakes in the Bible are due to humans alone.

Note on My Confidence in Science

I suppose I should address an issue in this essay concerning science. I made many statements above indicating what scientific evidence tells us about the world. Many people have used the argument that scientists have been wrong in the past, why can't they be wrong about current theories, like evolution or the age of the universe. How can I have so much confidence in the current scientific theories, to the point of questioning the accuracy of the Bible? I am not what I would consider a true expert in any of the fields of science, but I am reasonably intelligent, and reasonably well educated, so I consider myself at least competent to consider scientific matters. People not accepting evolution based on science's past mistakes reveals a misunderstanding of how science actually works and what it tells us, so I think it is important to clear up those misunderstandings. While an essay this short can't do that, at least I can briefly address the issue.

The concept of science in the modern sense is a relatively new concept. Although there were philosophers and engineers in the ancient past, the two fields were not intimately related like science and engineering today. Greek philosophers would sit around theorizing, but wouldn't do any actual experiments to test their theories. In the Middle Ages, engineers worked by rules of thumb, rather than by scientific principles. It's only in the past few hundred years that science has developed into the field it is today - a combination of theorizing along with experiment and/or observation. In some people's minds, this might raise the question, how then can I have so much faith in such a young discipline? Well, aside from understanding how science works and how much sense it makes, just look at what it's given us: airplanes, space travel, computers, television, etc. None of this would have been possible in the short time in which it was achieved if the methods of doing science were flawed, or if our scientific knowledge weren't accurate.

When the first of the modern breed of scientists began their work, there was a great deal that was unknown, far more than today. Worse, misconceptions abounded fostered from old wives tales, the ancient philosophers, and just plain old ignorance. Compared to the modern day, the scientists were essentially starting from scratch. As such, they were bound to have erroneous theories. But, you have to start somewhere, and subsequent testing and observation showed which of those theories were wrong, which were right, and which ones were close but needed a little more work.

To be completely accurate, you can never say that something is 100% positive in science. However, that same statement is probably true for any field that deals with such questions. (Can you be 100% certain that this all isn't just a dream?) What is done, however, is to build our level of confidence that a certain theory is accurate. So, even though we can't be 100% positive about anything in science, certain things can be tested or observed so many times that we're confident in them without a reasonable doubt.

Since modern science began, our knowledge and thus confidence of certain theories in many fields has been constantly increasing. Theories may have changed along the way, and there may still be small errors, but we're zeroing in on knowing the truth about those fields. However, the universe being as vast and complex as it is, zeroing in on the true answers to the questions that existed, say, a hundred years ago, while increasing our knowledge, also leads to questions that we didn't even know to ask a hundred years ago. Take for example particle physics. Three hundred years ago, nobody had any concept of even an electron. Throughout the 1800's, electrical charges and some of the fundamentals of nuclear physics were beginning to be understood. In 1897, J.J. Thompson performed his famous experiments that gave us much more knowledge of the nature of the electron. Later, Niels Bohr gave us the "solar system" model of an atom, where electrons orbit the nucleus, like tiny planets orbiting a sun. The solar system model has been shown to be too simplistic, and has been replaced by electrons having valences instead of orbits. Plus, new subatomic particles have been theorized and discovered that are even smaller than electrons. But, the solar system model was still more accurate than simply thinking of material as a solid lump. So you can see even though there are still plenty of questions in particle physics, like studying particles that weren't even known to exist 100 years ago, we are zeroing in on the truth to the questions that were asked 100 years ago.

Another classic example of science changing is classic physics. Isaac Newton gave us a wealth of knowledge in this area, probably most notably his 3 laws of motion. Testing and experiment showed these to be accurate, at least within the accuracy of the instruments available at the time. In the middle of the 20th century, Einstein came along to give us his theories of relativity, which showed that Newton's laws weren't entirely accurate. Start pushing into conditions outside of what we're familiar with, and Einstein's theories are needed to explain how things happen. Even though Newton's laws were found to be wrong, they weren't that far off. Like was said above, they're accurate to within the accuracy of most instruments. And now that we have relativity, it's not like we've abandoned Newton's laws. In my line of work, aerospace engineering, Newton's laws work just fine, and it would be ludicrous to even consider the slight change in mass of airplanes due to their accelerations.

To look at one final example, since it's relevant to this essay, let's look briefly at evolution. Like I said before, a thorough explanation is beyond the scope of this essay, so the reader would be well served to look at my previous essay (2004-12-14 Soapbox Entry) or Talk Origins. However, we will look at the subject briefly, here. Many people think of Darwin as the first person to postulate evolution. This isn't true. There were others before him (like Lamarck) that put forth the concept that animals change from one generation to the next, and that that was the source of the diversity of life on this planet. They were basing this on the evidence they were finding in the fossil record, and what could be inferred from living animals. Darwin was famous for putting forward the idea of inheritance of traits through random change, and certain traits edging out others through the "survival of the fittest." So, what Darwin really came up with wasn't the idea that evolution occurs (that seemed obvious to him and some of his contemporaries based on the fossil record and other evidence), but a mechanism by which it could happen. And it was with that mechanism that the theory really took off. Since this was in the period when the concept of evolution was just beginning to be understood by people, it seems obvious that there would be errors in Darwin's theory. In fact, there were some. However, it's just like any other branch of science - since Darwin's time, through experiment and observation, scientists have obtained a fuller understanding of how evolution occurs. New fields, like genetics, have come along to give even more evidence for scientists to study. Further fossil evidence has come along to refine theorized lineages of life. New theories, like punctuated equilibrium, have been put forth to refine our understanding of the mechanisms driving evolution. In short, although our understanding of evolution is not yet complete, we are zeroing in on the truth. New theories will refine our understanding of evolution, but it seems very unlikely that any new theories would challenge the fact of evolution occurring, the basic concepts of how it works, or the basic lineages as we now understand them. In fact, it would probably be about as likely as a new theory coming along explaining that the sun wasn't the center of the solar system.

I have on final point to make in this aside. Although it does nothing directly to strengthen our confidence in current scientific knowledge, it does point out the hypocrisy of questioning science on this basis, but not holding religion to the same standard. Look at the world view from the fall of the Roman Empire up until around 1530 when Copernicus gave us De Revolutionibus, his famous work where he outlined the theory of the sun being the center of the solar system. During that time, and for a long time afterward, the official position of the Roman Catholic Church and the belief held by most Europeans was that the Earth was the center of the universe, and everything revolved around it. They found numerous passages in the Bible to support their claims. I have heard the argument that geocentricism was really an idea from Greek philosophy, not the Bible, and thus the Bible is still inerrant. Despite the point I made above where it seems clear that the original authors of the Bible did believe in a flat Earth at the center of the universe, this argument is beside the point (note that by the middle ages, people were at least believing in a spherical earth at the center of the universe). The important thing to point out here is that mainstream Christianity was wrong. No matter how you interpret the Bible now, people in that time period interpreted it to say something that we know is wrong, so it shows that people have come to false conclusions based on the Bible, just like scientists have been wrong in the past. So, to question science based on past mistakes, the only fair thing to do would be to question our current interpretations of the Bible because of past mistakes. One other note on this subject, to people who disregard this because they think of the Roman Catholic church as corrupt and immoral, it should be noted that although this corruption did exist, there were still plenty of honest priests, monks and other Christians who were trying sincerely to understand the Bible who came to the same conclusions.