Question: How Can the Bible be inerrant when it corrects itself?

It seems that sometimes we have to choose what to believe because scripture contains mutually exclusive statements. While many Biblical commentators suggest that we should interpret "scripture in light of scripture" --though there is wisdom in this--sometimes this forces an alien view on a text itself and reads a passage in a way it was never intended to be. In some instances, scripture is better described as tempering other scripture (e.g. James on faith and works in Paul) and in some cases, directly opposing it. We see this with Jesus' statement on divorce. In the Old Testament, the Mosaic law permitted husbands to divorce their wives as long as they gave them a certificate of divorce. Jesus doesn't agree:

Matthew 5:31-32 "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. [See also Matthew 19:2-9, Mark 10:1-9, Luke 16:18 and 1 Cor 7:11]
John Meier highlights how astounding this is:
"By completely forbidding divorce, Jesus dares to forbid what the Law allows--and not in some minor, obscure halakic observance but in one of the most important legal institutions in society. He dares to say that a man who duly follows the Law in properly divorcing his wife and marrying another woman is in effect committing adultery. When one stops to think what this involves, Jesus' prohibition of divorce is nothing short of astounding. Jesus presumes to teach that what the Law permits and regulates is actually the sin of adultery. That is, precisely by conscientiously following the Torah's rules for divorce and remarriage, a Jewish man commits a serious sin against one of the commandments of the Decalogue, the commandment against adultery (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18). This is no small matter; it is, at least according to the Pentateuch, a capital offense." [A Marginal Jew, Volume IV]
It is clear the Mosaic law permits divorce so it seems some wanted to ensnare Jesus by putting him at odds with the Torah. He does flatly rejects a normative practice that the Old Testament regulates and condones but he does so by appealing to other parts of scripture. For example, in Matt 19 he is shown as appealing to the created order in the Garden story as justification for his views on marriage. God made them male and female and let no person separate what God has joined. This goes beyond Jesus simply "intensifying the Torah." He is eliminating part of it completely. For me, this incident suggests God has accommodated scripture at times and it may contain rules that go along with cultural truths no longer applicable to us. Jesus said Moses permitted this "because your hearts were hard." It would be hard to defend the notion that the account presumes the situation has changed. Jesus still thinks their hearts are hard but unlike Moses (the Mosaic law actually comes from God!) Jesus doesn't care.

Jewish Rabbis have known and utilized the technique of pitting one scripture against another for a very long time. EP Sander's wrote: "Citing one passage against another in order to justify ignoring or disbelieving an unpalatable part of the Torah is also known. The Rabbis did not agree with another major aspect of the ten commandments: that God visits 'the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation' (Exod 20.5). Against this view they could appeal to Ezekiel (Ezek. 18.1-20)." [Jesus and Judaism]

Exodus 20:5: "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

Ezekiel 18:20: The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be their own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be their own. [see 1-19 as well]

Are we punished for our own sins or others?

Jesus's teaching on divorce is one instance where scripture is used against itself and as we saw above, Ezekiel seems to be at odds with not only Exodus 20:5 but several other passages in the Pentateuch about God punishing children for their parent's sins:

Numbers 14:18:18 'The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.'

Exodus 34:5-7: Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation."

Deut 5:9-10: for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Ezekiel's view also has some scriptural support:

Deut 24:16: “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.

Jeremiah 31:29-30In those days they shall no longer say: "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge." 30 But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of the one who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

We also see that in Genesis 18 God is reverently questioned by Abraham and seems unwilling to sweep away the righteous and the wicked and the Genesis flood is attributed to universal human corruption. It seems then we have competing theologies in the Bible. Ezekiel tells us as much directly. He rejects the notion that "The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge" and the passages above where children are punished for the sins of their parents. You really must read the entirety of Ezekiel 18 to see what he is doing. It is a profound argument against such belief. It says the one who sins is the one who dies or to use a metaphor, each person reaps what they sow. Ezekiel uses three generations to build his argument. A righteous man who keeps the Lord's decrees will surely live. If he has a son that sins that son will die. If that unrighteous son has a child who does not follow in his father's footsteps, he will not die for his father's sin. Oddly enough some people may have thought this was odd or unjust as Ezekiel seems to forestall or comment on an objection (18:19-20):
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. 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

Ezekiel 18 is at odds with some of the clear statements in the Pentateuch much in the same way that Jesus was at odds with its teaching on divorce. If scripture can correct itself, then viewing it all as inerrant is ruled out by default. One would have to find "a canon within the canon" or claim "later revelation supersedes earlier revelation." Neither solution can salvage the inerrancy of the earlier material as it is unethical and inadequate. The hearts were certainly still hard in Jesus's case, but he nonetheless forbids divorce because that is the right thing to do (not what the Mosaic law permitted and regulated) and Ezekiel understands it is grotesquely immoral punish one individual for the sins of another. I understand that our sin has a social dimension that can impact those around us for sure, especially our families but it is petty and vindictive for God to purposefully punish our children for our sins and push it to the third and fourth generation! Imagine if a police officer had the same philosophy while monitoring traffic and doled out speeding tickets not only to the vehicle speeding, but also to the three cars behind it that were traveling at the posted speed limit. In its own way passages like Exodus 20:5 aren't entirely bad because we often forget to read the very next verse where God shows his steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who keep his commands. Punishment to 3-4 generation but steadfast love to 1000! So even this problematic verse at least tells us that God's love far outweighs his punitive side.

A Third Potential Example of Scripture Correcting Itself Occurs in the Gospel of John

In the synoptic Gospels (confirmed by Hebrews 5:7) Jesus is in agony in the garden and asks several times that the cup be taken away from him:
Mark 14:34-36 And he said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me, yet not what I want but what you want."
This repeats three times (Mark is fond of threes) but the Garden scene is nowhere found in the theology of John where Jesus is portrayed as rejecting the notion of asking that the cup be taken from him (12:27):
John 12:27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say: 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
In the synoptics Jesus asks for exactly what John says he will not. Looking at all the changes John makes to passion account, one wonders if Jesus is not actually scoffing at such a heretical notion here.

A fourth example: Matthew and Micah on Bethlehem

Micah 5:2: "But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."

Matthew 2:6 [for so it has been written by the prophet] 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'

This is not a major correction for sure but there is a small change here. Matthew rejects Micah's more lowly view of Bethlehem as evidenced by his emmended citation of the passage. Dale Allison writes:
Early Christian literature also contains examples of the reversal of scriptural subtexts, and many of these are often ironic. Matthew 2:6 inserts . . . "not at all," into its quotation of Mic 5:2, so that Micah remarks upon Bethlehem's insignificance whereas Matthew - who elsewhere affirms the continuing authority of the Law and the Prophets (5:17-20) - outright denies it. [Resurrecting Jesus]

Scripture uses "authoritative Torah-teaching as a didactic foil."

It is important to understand how scripture understands, views and treats itself. A lengthy quote from Dale Allison will explain the title of this section and delineate numerous examples of the practice under consideration:
One possible way of accounting for the conflicting signals in the tradition involves thinking less about theology and more about rhetoric. Some of us are wont to think of ancient Jews, at least the pious ones, as though they were modern fundamentalists, so that they would never have sounded as revolutionary as Jesus sometimes does. But this is misperception. Some Jews not only felt free to rewrite Scripture - illustrative are Jubilees and the Life of Adam and Eve, both of which freely transform Genesis - but some also were further able, in the words of Michael Fishbane, to use "authoritative Torah-teaching as a didactic foil." Indeed, "the Jewish device of twisting Scripture, of subjecting the earlier canon to radical reinterpretation by means of subtle reformulations, is now recognized as central to the Bible as a whole." When Job gripes, "What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them?" (7:17), is not he recalling the famous Ps 8, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" (v. 4) and thereby inverting and mocking the liturgy? Psalm 144, in rewriting Psalm 18, turns it from a thanksgiving into a complaint. Joel 3:9-10 ("Prepare war....Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears") prophesies war in the language of a famous prophecy of peace (Isa 2:4 = Mic 4:3: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks... neither shall they learn war any more"). Joel makes similar rhetorical moves elsewhere, as when he transfers prophetic threats against Babylon (Isa 13:6) and Egypt (Ezek 30:2) into warnings against Jerusalem (Joel 1:15), and when the prophecy that the wilderness will be turned into Eden (Isa 51:3; Ezek 36:35) becomes a prophecy that Eden will be turned into a wilderness (Joel 2:3). Jonah seems to revise the narrow understanding of divine grace within Joel 2:1-17 - unless it is Joel 2:1-17 that is narrowing the more universal understanding of Jonah. Isa 40:28 declares that God needs no rest, 45:7 that God creates darkness -- about-faces from the primeval history. "The oracular formula in Isa. 56.4 signals the announcement of a new word of YHWH, a word that annuls the legal stipulations of Deut. 23.2-9." Daniel 12:4 foretells that at the end, "many will be running back and forth, and knowledge will increase." This takes up Amos 8:12 - at the end 'pp, v. 2) "they will run back and forth, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it" - and so turns prophetic pessimism into words of hope. eResurrecting Jesus]

A Christian example would be James on works as compared to Pauline thought though I believe both authors in this instance fundamentally agree with one another. The modern concept of biblical inerrancy is rendered unintellible by how Jesus, Ezekiel, the Gopspel of John and several other sources use Scripture.

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