Guide The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy

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To begin, let me state who the intended audience is for this essay. I am writing this essay for the Tekton site to Christians with the attitude of genuine inquiry. I do not want to be a Christian if the Bible is as McKinsey claims, for I will have nothing on which to base my faith. I do not know how skeptics, freethinkers, and thinkers holding opposite persuasions will react. Regardless, I would hope both sides would at least acknowledge that facts and issues have been presented fairly and honestly here.


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I shall endeavor to avoid hostile and ad hominem rhetoric that distracts from the issues. Also to be avoided are statements concerning people's character. However, this must not be taken to mean that when I see what is to me a spade I will not call it as such. It is the evidence for and against McKinsey's claims that we must examine.

Psychologizing an opponent's position does not address the issues raised, nor do inflammatory words.

Something now should be added concerning the a priori views that I bring to this essay. This must be done so that deductions and contentions concerning the evidence can be separated from my assumptions. I approach the Scriptures from the view that the Biblical texts in question are innocent of error until proven guilty.

For those who approach the Biblical texts in question with the opposite framework, it must be said that their approach does evangelical scholarship a favor by keeping it on its toes.

The encyclopedia of biblical errancy - C. Dennis McKinsey - Google книги

It would be best to be able to cheerfully state something like "We will approach the points raised by McKinsey in a completely unbiased way", but it seems that ultimately a person will in practice follow a guilty-until-innocent approach or the opposite one. Why do I take the innocent-until-guilty approach instead of the guilty-until-innocent approach of the Bible's attackers?

It is not an arbitrary decision on my part to take this approach. I consider it the most natural and reasonable of the two starting points because human language and communication break down with the guilty-until-innocent approach.

Secular historians give documents from ancient times the benefit of the doubt. When we hear something, we at least for an instant seem to naturally operate under the assumption of the truth of the that something we have heard. It is only when that something overwhelmingly conflicts with our sense of reason that we begin to doubt the truth of that something. Imagine yourself having to verify beyond a shadow of a doubt everything that you say -- imagine yourself being assumed wrong for everything until you could exhibit evidence for it.

I personally would not appreciate that approach and fortunately humans don't operate under that approach and thus I find no good reason to abandon this approach for the study of Scripture, which, after all was written by human beings and we believers would also say under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The starting point for any study of an allegedly historical document or an alleged ancient account of something is to allow the possibility that what the document says is true in [at the very least] part of what it says.

It is strange how people can forget this general and common-sensical principle as soon as the Biblical texts are mentioned.

Divine Inspiration & Biblical Inerrancy: The Failed Hypothesis

And now, if the reader can permit me a few personal statements which are offered to further understand my background and approach, let me state that I am a new academician by profession, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. I have developed an interest in Christianity-related questions, both positive and negative, through the development of critical thinking skills that mathematics and philosophy have developed in my mind. I am also a former hardened skeptic and thus can lay claim to the right to assert that I have been on both sides and have at times in my life made arguments from both sides.

Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your persuasion! I was won over to Christianity by my studies. As of the present I think that I am right with my worldview. Others might say that I just was not a very good skeptic. And finally, as if this introduction was not long enough, let me state some points that might be painfully obvious to the reader, but should be mentioned just so no misunderstandings arise. In discussing various problems that arise in the Biblical texts, there are two rocky pillars that must one must navigate his mental ship through: the first is to be satisfied with an answer because it alleviates the problem and not on its merits, reasonability, precedent, etc.

The second extreme is to fail to recognize that a proposed solution is in fact a reasonable parry to the charge of error and contradiction. There are certain places in this chapter of McKinsey's books where I feel that I would be committing an error of the second kind if I acquiesced to McKinsey's contentions.

In other places, I would be committing an error of the first kind in my opinion if I disagreed with his negative criticism of previously-offered solutions. These will be mentioned as they arise, and it is left up to the reader to determine for himself or herself whether I am being reasonable or am committing one or both! Let me state the goal of this essay. I am not here to prove Christianity, nor am I attempting to prove that certain miracles happened at certain times in human history. I am not attempting to prove the veracity of every sentence of Scripture.

What I am attempting to do is to show that the allegations of error and contradiction advanced by McKinsey are either fallaciously based or are so inconclusive that any dogmatism for skeptics is unjustified. The reader must decide for himself or herself if my attempt is successful.


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The Nature of Contradictions. Here let us briefly consider what a contradiction is. There is a narrow and strict sense in which the word "contradiction" is used, and there is a wider sense in which the word is used. The narrow usage of the word is defined as an objective propositional statement ops that is, a group of words that express a meaningful concept that has an intrinsic truth or falsity to it that itself contains an ops conjoined to its negation.

Some examples of this narrow usage of the word "contradiction" can be given: x is an even integer and x is and odd integer. George Washington was the 32nd czar of Russia and George Washington was not the 32nd czar of Russia Now let us discuss the broad usage of the word contradiction. Often two statements that are hard tor reconcile are called contradictory.

The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy

For example, the statement "Steve was born in Cook County" is hard to reconcile with the statement "Steve was born in Smith County". These two statements may be called contradictory in the very broad sense. I personally find this usage of the word "contradiction" and its variants to be rather misleading, but the usage of the word "contradiction" in this broad sense is out there and must be dealt with. For the two ops's above, and, in general, for any two statements that are not immediately reconcilable, there are the following options: Both statements are false when all information is known.

One statement is true and the other is false when all information is known. Both statements are true when all information is known. The trailing qualifier "when all information is known" keeps us humble when it comes to being overly dogmatic about which of the three positions to take. If Steve was in fact born in Cook County, but then, say, Smith County absorbed Cook County after Steve was born, then this critical piece of information allows us to claim that both statements are true.

Without this piece of information, though, our natural instincts would point to the first two possibilities. It should also be mentioned that when human language, cognition, and idioms of speech are involved, two statements might look contradictory in the strict sense upon first glance, but in fact be reasonably harmonizable. For example, consider the statement that I made to a friend once in a conversation: "faith saves".

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Not much later in the same conversation I stated that "faith does not save us". Both of these statements at first glance seem quite contradictory, for on the surface it seems that the truth of one of these ops's necessarily implies the falsity of the other.

But the nature of human discourse, of human writing, and of human language is much more vibrant and three dimensional than we often give it credit for. The reader should now be made aware of the fact that in the former statement I was using the word "faith" in the Pauline sense: a gift given to us by the Holy Spirit that produces the fruits of repentance and works pleasing to God.

In the latter statement I was using "faith" in the sense of mere religious sincerity. It is now seen that there is no logical contradiction between the two statements once this information is made known. Certainly both statements could be false, or one could be true while the other is false, or both could be true, but it is not valid to state that it is necessarily the case that the truth of one excludes the truth of the other.

Another example will perhaps help. Consider the following famous argument: Only men are rational No woman is a man Therefore no woman is rational This syllogism is valid if "men" and "man" in major and minor premises have the exact same meaning. But context indicates that they do not. Speaking in the strictest and most formal logical sense, the syllogism may still be true, but in that case it will not be because of the logical structure of the syllogism.

To bail myself of any vats of boiling oil that await me, let me add that the conclusion is NOT true. I would hope that readers would not find it reasonable to press the fact that the same word "man" is being used in both premises -- it must be taken into account that different shadings are used to the word. Many alleged contradictions in Scripture arise because the basic fact of literary flexibility and multiple shadings of words seem to be lost on skeptics and those who vociferously attack Scripture's trustworthiness.

The above demonstrates the flexibility of human discourse and speech. One might raise the objection that words should not be used in more than one sense, but that objection -- which sounds reasonable in principle -- is vitiated by the plain fact that we humans often but not always use words which can have a plethora of shadings and different meanings, with the context hopefully determining the correct shading. In the course of the aforementioned conversation with my friend, the context of our conversation made it clear which shading of "faith" was being used and no confusion arose.

For the eavesdropper who could only hear selected tidbits, then confusion would more likely arise than not. Unfortunately, given the flexible nature of human discourse, whether written or spoken, it is actually much more work to reasonably assert a discrepancy in Scripture than skeptics seem to appreciate.

And so it is with the many allegedly contradictory passages that honest students of Scripture come across. Usually, but not always, the problem can be quickly resolved, harmonized, or even solved beyond reasonable doubt if extra information, possibly even non-Biblical information is made available.