Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Radicalism of Biblical Inerrancy

Bart Ehrman has an interesting post up in the On Faith blog at the Washington Post. Reacting to Christian responses to his new book, Jesus Interrupted, Ehrman points out that belief in the Bible as the foundation of Christianity is a relatively recent invention.
The idea that to be a Christian you have to "believe in the Bible" (meaning, believe that it is in some sense infallible) is a modern invention. Church historians have traced the view, rather precisely, to the Niagara Conference on the Bible, in the 1870s
As he notes,
To make faith in the Bible the most important tenet of Christianity was a radical shift in thinking -- away, for example, from traditional statements of faith such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, which say not a word about belief in the Bible.
Although Ehrman's points are well-known to those knowledgeable about the history of Christianity, I suspect they'd come as a surprise to many of those who call themselves "Bible-believing" Christians.  As Ehrman writes,
Christianity has existed in places where there were no Bibles to be found, where no one could read the Bible, where no one correctly understood the Bible. Yet it has existed. Christianity does not stand or fall with the Bible.
This is also interesting from the atheist perspective, as atheists often attack Christianity by pointing out the many problems with the Bible. Such a line of argument can be effective with Christians who believe in the primacy of Biblical authority, or Biblical inerrancy, but is less compelling to those who hold more liberal versions of Christianity.


  1. That's interesting. I'd alway just assumed that it was a characteristic of Protestantism in general that followers believed the Bible to be infallible, while Catholics tended to be somewhat more level-headed.

  2. If you go back to the beginning of Protestantism,Martin Luther had strong opinions about which books in the Bible were more reliable than others. For example, he had major objections to the Book of James. There certainly wasn't any idea that these works were the infallible, error-free Word of God.