What the Atheist Can Know About God — Part II

GodThe following article is taken from Mr. Jim Pierce’s presentation at the Wyoming District’s Tell the Good News About Jesus Convocation held on January 31, 2014 through February 1, 2014. This is part two of his speech, “What the Atheist Can Know About God.” (Each article of this series may be found at this link.)

Now I would like to illustrate for you what the strong atheist claims to know about God by presenting you what I have found to be their three most common objections to the existence of God. The three objections are 1) The Inconsistency of Revelation, 2) Wish Fulfillment, and 3) The Problem of Evil.

As a side note, please keep in mind that what I am presenting are general arguments due to time constraints. I would want to fill their arguments out much more if this were a debate, but you should get the gist of what it is they claim to know about God from my presentation of these three objections.

The Inconsistency of Revelation

Listen to how Bertrand Russell, the great 20th century mathematician, sets up this objection from the inconsistency of revelation in his essay titled What I Believe,

“I do not pretend to be able to prove there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist; so may the Gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypothesis is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.” (1)

god-monty-python-holy-grailHere Russell is not merely placing a limit on the types of knowledge we can have, but he is also presenting a dilemma. What he is implicitly arguing is that if one wants to claim they know the Triune God exists and in order to be rational, this same person would have to acknowledge it is just as likely Zeus or Ra exists. The same arguments used to demonstrate the existence of the Christian God can be deployed in defense of Zeus’ existence, or that of today’s Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, a Christian will not want to concede that the same arguments they present for the existence of God also demonstrates the existence of Zeus, let’s say. So, the Christian must abandon any of their reasonable arguments for the existence of God and acknowledge the irrationality of their beliefs.

So, what we have is this issue of the many sorts of revelations about God which contradict each other. Surely if God exists, He would reveal Himself to us in a unique way such that it is irrefutable who is the one true God? However, we have all these mutually exclusive truth claims out of the various world religions. The odds that anyone of them has the truth about God are so improbable, that we have a better chance of winning by betting on God’s non-existence.

What is underlying Russell’s dilemma is empirical skepticism. If one wants to prove the existence of a supernatural being, such as God, then we must be able to produce supernatural evidence. That is, we should be able to find through experience the supernatural effects of our supernatural cause, God. Or, in simpler terms: if the gloves don’t fit you must acquit! Remember the OJ Simpson trial? Recall how he stood before the jury with that blood soaked glove and tried to squeeze it over his hand? His lawyers were pretty smart! They weren’t concerned about other reasons why that glove might have fit OJ’s hand before it became blood soaked. No, what Simpson’s lawyers wanted was for the jury to see that the glove didn’t fit, and so couldn’t have been his. Seeing is believing!

There in my example we find the skeptical appeal of Russell. Whatever reasons one will marshal out in defense of the Triune God’s existence, will not be appeals to physical evidence, but will be involve arguments grounded in presuppositions which aren’t supported by experience. So every such argument is subject to counterexamples involving so-called deities such as Zeus who are just as likely to exist as our own God. For Christians to be consistent we have to acknowledge we have merely provided bad reasons explaining the existence of the universe, for what we attribute to our God is also applicable to Zeus, but since we don’t want to prove the existence of Zeus or Ra, we must concede that what we have is merely wishful thinking and not a reasonable justification for our beliefs.

lotteryI would like to illustrate what Russell is claiming above with what I call The God Lottery. What Russell is presenting is that the probability for the existence of God is much less than the likelihood any one of us will win the Powerball Lottery.  Russell, and strong atheists, thinks the statistical probability for the existence of God is a demonstrable fact much like the Powerball. Here is how this logic supposedly works. Through empirical data we can know how many of those buying Powerball tickets will not win the lucky draw. We can come up with ratios such as 1 in 175,223,510 will win the Powerball and we know this from experience. Likewise the strong atheist argues we know from experience it is improbable that God exists. They tells us the more we examine the world, the less inclined we are to believe that anything non-material could exist in the world and therefore cannot be the explanation for this material world we live in. The universe appears to be wholly material, from the largest star clusters to the smallest quantum. Everything in our experience is explainable without God, according to the strong atheist.

What I have illustrated is the skepticism of the strong atheist. The atheistic claim is not merely the agnostic’s shrug of the shoulder and a resounding “I don’t know.” Rather, the atheist is arguing the scope of human knowledge and claiming that what we can know is confined to what we deduce of the world via experience. All explanations of the phenomena we experience are to be given in physical terms, not by appeal to extraordinary events and beings which can’t be measured through scientific methods. It is upon this type of empirical skepticism (this “seeing is believing”) that the strong atheist builds his most common objections to theism.

As a pertinent side note, the strong atheist is arguing that at best these inconsistencies of revelation point to a psychological or anthropological explanation. Indeed, this is the explanation offered to us by a contemporary philosopher, Daniel Dennett, in his book, Breaking the Spell. There in Dennett offers us the works of modern day evolutionary biologists and anthropologists to make the case that all religions are “a social phenomenon designed (by evolution) to improve cooperation within (not among!) human groups”(2). As if evolutionary processes can be said to “design” anything at all!

evolutionDennett goes on to argue it is significant we evolved in such a way as to be able to communicate through language. It is this evolutionary trait which affords us the ability to concoct stories about gods and demons, or whatever else we like, in order to make sense of the world. To support his claim Dennett marshals out an argument very similar to Russell’s inconsistencies of revelation to suggest that the origins of religions, and therefore of God is evolutionary, social, and psychological. In short, the idea that God exists isn’t because God actually exists. Rather, the concept of God is the evolutionary result of having a brain and language which affords humans something of a niche in survival.

To hold onto belief in God when given the inconsistency of revelation showing its absurdity, demonstrates that the Christian is holding an irrational belief. Irrational beliefs do not give us sufficient justification that what we believe is true. So the argument concludes that what the atheist knows about God is it is unlikely He should exist. The odds are much more in favor of some naturalistic explanation, not a supernatural one.

The purpose of pointing out the inconsistencies of revelation is to force the theist of any stripe into seeing their own illogic and direct them to some other explanation for why we are here. In short, the fact that long ago some believed in Zeus, Aphrodite, Ra, Shiva, or a council of gods perched atop a mountain somewhere, should inform us that if there is a God, as purported to exist by any one believer, then we shouldn’t find such a variety of revelations about his nature.

The upshot of the inconsistency from revelation objection is theists are bonkers for believing in God! Namely, theists don’t have a reasonable justification for their beliefs and therefore don’t have knowledge that God exists. The inconsistency of revelation simply increases the odds against God in the God Lottery and purportedly shows that the theist is guessing God exists.

In the next installment I will offer some thoughts about why the inconsistency from revelation objection fails.


1)      Russell, Bertrand (1957) Why I am not a Christian, pp. 50-51, Simon and Schuster.

2)      Dennett, Daniel C. (2007) Breaking the Spell, p. 106, Penguin Books.


What the Atheist Can Know About God — Part II — 96 Comments

  1. @Gary #50


    I think it worthwhile to point out that we should not muddle law and gospel. Following Walther (and our confession), we don’t give gospel to the unrepentant. Rather, we give them the law and pray they are stricken by it and come to repentance. IOW, we don’t want to be derogatory with our remarks, but we also don’t want to pull punches. Bruce is in trouble with God and he needs to hear that. We speak the truth in love. We aren’t Westboro Baptists, but we aren’t Emergent “generous orthodoxy.”

  2. @Bruce Gerencser #44

    I am in a Bible study with a man who used to be an atheist. He told about how he would study the Bible — and he knew it very well — in order to use it against Christians. He knew all the contradictions. He loved to be able to zing Christians. He stated that all of a sudden he became a believer. He doesn’t know why. And he never wanted to be one. He wasn’t seeking after God. But he is now. He can hardly learn fast enough.

    You say that you used to be a Christian and you knew the Bible very well also. But the Bible led you to discard it and become an atheist.

    The Bible can both turn one towards and one against. Could there be an explanation for this? How could this happen, logically?

  3. @Jim Pierce #1

    Point taken. I have already warned Bruce of the consequences of rejecting Christ. He is VERY well aware of this point from all the nasty comments left on his blog by evangelicals who feel he betrayed them. Some of these comments REEK of hatred, including death threats for he and his family. I certainly don’t believe that Christ would be happy with such behavior in the name of “preaching the Law”.

    I hope we orthodox Lutherans can preach the Law to bring about repentance but not do it with the same seething hatred of this poor, spiritually abused and burned-out, embittered, but baptized, child of God.

  4. God can soften the heart of even the most embittered, hard-hearted sinner.

    I ask every believer reading this blog post, to stop for a moment, and pray for Bruce. I was in exactly the same place as he years ago, and it sounds like Jim Pierce was also at that same place: giving up on God. But God brought Jim and I both back from the brink of unbelief. He can do the same with Bruce.

    Please pray for this fallen brother!

  5. @Joe Krohn #4
    “Guys, you believe it is a historical fact as do I, but you can’t prove it physically. That’s the rub.”

    Part of the problem is that some people are trying to twist what it means to “prove” a historical fact, confusing it with mathematical proof or a statistical proof in the physical sciences.

    In any science, “proof” means “according to the preponderance of the evidence”. A scientific theory is nothing more or less than a mathematical model of how the universe and its natural laws works, the theory is “proven” when enough people agree that this model can satisfactorily explain current knowledge and predict future events. What is not generally appreciated is that most scientific fields (particularly physics and chemistry) rely heavily on statistical analysis: they posit controlled experiments that scientists can repeat many times and observe carefully.

    The historical sciences, such as astronomy, archeology, and paleontology, cannot operate this way since one cannot rerun the universe multiple times to observe possible outcomes. The best that you can ever do is to have your model successfully predict unknown data. For instance an astronomer may say “this type of star should do X, and I just saw one do so” or an archeologist may say “If I dig in this spot here, based on my model of what happened I should find Y and Z types of pottery but not Q and R.”

    Ultimately, “proof” in any historical argument consists of pretty much what it does in law: reliable witnesses describe this, this, and that as having happened, and the archeologists haven’t found any evidence to the contrary. Prove to me that your great-great-grandfather lived. Pretty much all that you can do is show me historical records and letters, any of which could be forged if somebody really wanted to take the time and effort.

    For some good analyses I highly recommend the various podcasts with Dr. John W. Montgomery at Issues, Etc. http://issuesetc.org/guest/john-warwick-montgomery/
    as well as those with biblical chronologist Dr. Andrew Steinmann

  6. @Gary #25
    “In the current book I am reading, MISQUOTING JESUS, Ehrman discusses how the manuscripts and pieces of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament that are in existence today, have at least 200,000 variations in the text, due to scribes accidently and sometimes intentionally making changes to the texts. ….”

    Check out the various podcasts with Drs Montgomery and Steinmann at Issues Etc (http://issuesetc.org/archive/)
    particular Dr. Montgomery’s response to Ehrman

    I have to review these, but as I understand it the fundamental problem with Ehrman’s argument is that the different variations are all very trivial in nature, what one would expect of any historical document available only through multilpe-generation copies and translations. In no case is the fundamental meaning of the text altered by the variation. Of course it is the job of the historian to review and correct as many errors that may have crept in as possible, and we do not pretend that this is not the case.

    Also, note that when Lutherans say that “Scripture is inspired by God” we don’t mean that it was dictated, as do the Muslims. Rather, we can say that what was originally written contains the correct message. (As I, a layman, understand these things). In many cases, especially in the Gospels and Paul’s letters, where the writer told things from a particular point of view in order to convey specific messages to specific audiences. Don’t read the Bible expecting a 21st century biography, but read it in the context of the language and times in which it was written. (Here I refer you particularly to the works of Kenneth Bailey, who has done an excellent job of putting Scripture in the context of Middle-East culture).

  7. @Paul of Alexandria #7

    Thanks for the resources, Paul.

    I just finished reading Ehrman’s MISQUOTING JESUS, and although it is disturbing to learn of all the thousands of alterations of the texts made by the thousands of scribes over the first 1,500 years of Christianity, you are correct, none of them change the “message”.

    Let me quote Ehrman’s summation of his book:

    “The more I studied the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, the more I realized just how radically the text had been altered over the years at the hands of scribes, who were not only conserving scripture but also changing it. To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing the scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.

    It would be wrong, however, to say–as people sometimes do-that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts meaning or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen (in this book), in fact, that just the opposite is the case. In some instances the very meaning of the text is at stake, depending on how one resolves a textual problem: Was Jesus an angry man? Was he completely distraught in the face of death? Did he tell his disciples that they could drink poison without being harmed? Did he let an adulteress off the hook with nothing but a mild warning? Is the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly taught in the New Testament? Is Jesus actually called the “unique God” there (in the passage he discusses)? Does the New Testament indicate that even the Son of God himself does not know when the end will come? The questions go on and on, and all of them are related to how one resolves difficulties in the manuscript tradition as it has come down to us.”

    “The King James (Version) was not given by God but was translated by a group of scholars in the early seventeenth century who based their rendition on (one) faulty Greek text. Later translators based their translations on Greek texts that were better, but not perfect.”

    “When I was a student just beginning to think about those fifteen centuries of copying and the vicissitudes of the text, I kept reverting to the fact that whatever else we may say about the Christian scribes—whether of the early centuries or of the Middle Ages—we have to admit that in addition to copying scripture, they were changing scripture. Sometimes they didn’t mean to—they were simply tired, or inattentive, or, on occasion, inept. At other times, though, they did mean to make changes, as when they wanted the text to emphasize precisely what they themselves believed, for example about the nature of Christ, or about the role of women in the church, or about the wicked character of their Jewish opponents.

    This conviction that scribes had changed scripture became an increasing certitude for me as I studied the text more and more, And this certitude changed the way I understood the text, in more ways than one.

    In particular, as I said at the outset, I began seeing the New Testament as a very human book. The New Testament as we actually have it, I knew, was the product of human hands, the hands of scribes who transmitted it. Then I began to see that not just the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born-again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we can’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed, and in some cases, lost.

    Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”

    Comment by Gary: I would like to see a scientific study regarding which branch of Christianity has the highest “drop out rate” to atheism. I will bet good money, due to their definition of “inerrancy”, that it is the evangelicals.

  8. Below is the 1932 Statement of the LCMS on our position on Holy Scripture. Would a pastor or someone else in the know give me the LCMS definition of Holy Scripture? Is the definition of Holy Scripture:

    1. The very words, letters, punctuation, and grammatical structure of our current English language New Testament.
    2. The very words, letters, punctuation, and grammatical structure of the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.
    3. The message, the meaning, in both our current English language NT and that of the surviving Greek manuscripts.
    4. The very words and grammatical structure of the ORIGINAL documents inspired by the Holy Spirit and dictated to the writers of the New Testament.
    5. The meaning of the words in the original documents.

    1932 LCMS Statement on the Holy Scriptures:

    1.We teach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16, John 10:35, Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.

    2.We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. — With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the “rule of faith” (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. (Apology. Triglot, p. 441, Paragraph 60; Mueller, p. 684). The rule of faith is not the man-made so-called “totality of Scripture” (“Ganzes der Schrift”).

    3.We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, set up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus overthrows the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.

  9. ” . . . of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant . .” Bart Ehrman

    I would emphasize COMPLETELY. His problem is still that he couldn’t reconcile evil and suffering in the world with God.

    I’m always curious why this textual analysis comes only from the New Testament and not the Hebrew. The Septuagint is Greek but transcribed meticulously by Hebrews.

    “Septuagint /ˈsɛptjuːəˌdʒɪnt/, /ˈsɛptuːəˌdʒɪnt/, /ˌsɛpˈtuːədʒɪnt/, /ˈsɛptʃuːəˌdʒɪnt/, from the Latin word septuaginta (meaning seventy), is a translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek. The title and its Roman numeral acronym “LXX” refer to the legendary seventy Jewish scholars who completed the translation as early as the late 2nd century BCE. As the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is also called the “Greek Old Testament” (“Ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν Ἑβδομήκοντα”). This translation is quoted in the New Testament,[1] particularly in the writings of Paul the Apostle,[2] and also by the Apostolic Fathers and later Greek Church Fathers.” Wiki

    And the whole problem is the lack of trust in the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins. Which began in the Old Testament beginning with the Passover [The Feast of the Unleavened Bread] and the Day of Atonement as a foreshadowing of Christ.

    This is the problem with those who have taken too many steps away from the historic church which God set up and instituted from the beginning. We see and hear using our senses — water, bread and wine — the promises of God. “This is ..” “Baptism now saves you ..”

    I was taught as a Lutheran not to have faith in the Bible. The Bible is God’s word, it does not only contain God’s word. We don’t worship the Bible. Faith is reserved for faith in Christ alone. Too many false teachers can come in to deceive the sheep. They can even know and twist Scripture just as Satan did with both Adam and Eve and he tried it with Christ Himself. [Talk about the audacity of proof-texting with God!] Christ Himself instituted Baptism and Holy Communion. And these give forgiveness of sins. That is what the non-sacramental church does not believe. But again, the church was established from the beginning by God. And the base was the sacrificial system which pointed to Christ.

    “…highest “drop out rate” to atheism. I will bet good money, due to their definition of “inerrancy”, that it is the evangelicals…”

    It is as if some are still trying to find the loophole to dismiss God entirely. Therefore no creation, hell, heaven, original sin, etc etc etc. If you eat this fruit, YOU can be like God. It is always a First Commandment issue.

  10. Someone said, “All sin is unbelief.” (I think Luther) But if one does not want forgiveness for that sin . . .

    “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” It’s ok to admit unbelief. If one can still come humbly asking for help in that area.

  11. @Abby #10

    You said, ” I was taught as a Lutheran not to have faith in the Bible. The Bible is God’s word, it does not only contain God’s word.”

    I’m not sure I can agree with that. Holy Scripture is God’s Word, that I can believe, but to say that every word in my English language Bible was dictated and inspired by God, flies in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. Our English Bibles are full of words which cannot be found in the oldest manuscripts, but because they are found in the ONE Greek text that was used by Erasmus in his Greek New Testament, upon which the KJV was translated, we have these passages that are found in English-language Bibles but in ZERO of the oldest Greek manuscripts:

    I John 5:7—There are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.

    John 8:7—Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.

    John 8:11—Neither do I condemn you. God and sin no more.

    Luke 22:44—In his anguish Jesus began to pray more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.

    Luke 22:20—And in the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

    Mark 16:17—These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons and they will speak with new tongues.

    Mark 16:18—And they will take up snakes in their hands, and if drink poison it will not harm them, and they will lay their hands on the sick and they will become well.

    John 5:4—For an angel of the Lord went down at certain times into the pool and disturbed the waters; and whoever was the first to step in when the water was disturbed was healed of whatever disease he had.

    Luke 24:12—But Peter rose up and ran to the tomb, and stooping down to look in, he saw the linen clothes by themselves. And he went away to this own home, marveling at what had happened.

    Luke 24:51—And when Jesus blessed them he departed from them and he was taken up into heaven.

    All these “passages” were written and added by scribes HUNDREDS of years after the original books of the NT were written. this is not just Bart Ehrman’s opinion. The overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars agree on this point.

    To say that the English language Bible sitting on your nightstand is word for word the very WORDS of God, is blatantly, irrefutably false.

  12. “I’m not sure I can agree with that. Holy Scripture is God’s Word, that I can believe, but to say that every word in my English language Bible was dictated and inspired by God, flies in the face of overwhelming evidence against it.” [Response to: “The Bible is God’s word, it does not only contain God’s word.]

    I don’t think that what you replied is what I meant in my statement. I think my statement leaves room for minute discrepancies.

    However, I cannot debate this subject. I can only refer again to Jack Kilcrease. This is part of what he said:

    • We have no reason to think that we cannot approximate the original NT based on our current manuscript evidence, or, at minimum, the same doctrinal content.

    • We have textual evidence for all necessary doctrines.

    • The main issue is that we have the correct doctrines, not that every single word is the same, something which is more than defensible. Hence, the text of the NT is not a magical book, with a magical configuration of certain words, which have never changed one iota. Rather, it is infallible, inerrant, and reliable prophetic and apostolic tradition that has been handed down to us by both the Holy Spirit and fallible human agents.



  13. @Abby #14

    You said, “The main issue is that we have the correct doctrines, not that every single word is the same, something which is more than defensible. ”

    THAT I can readily agree with!

  14. @Gary #16

    Thank you, Lord. I was getting worried about you — I was beginning to pray for you more than for Bruce. :)

    I just finished reading the Preus article from Jim. That is very good.

    And it all still comes down to faith.

  15. Gary :
    @Jim Pierce #13
    I am reading it right now. I will comment on it later this afternoon. I certainly hope he addresses the scribe alterations.

    He does address them, but in principle and not individually. What Dr. Preus points out is it depends upon where the insertions are made as to whether or not we can say they are errors. But, be sure that Dr. Preus agreed that there are variant errors, but said they are “of a technical nature and of little importance, such as omissions, spellings, transpositions and the like, and can be quite easily corrected” (p. 135, The Inspiration of Scripture). These however are not corruptions of the texts in their original languages and that is important to point out, since we do have a number of copies of the originals from which we can see where these variations exist. It should go without saying that corrections can’t be made if we don’t know there is an error!

    I think it should also go without saying that we have to be careful to clearly articulate what we mean by “error” when discussing the Holy Scriptures. As Christians we are given faith to believe the Holy Words of our Lord. We trust that He will not in anyway deceive us, or lie to us. In other words, His Word is faithful and true! Given that is the case, we don’t arrive at belief in the veracity of God’s Word based upon some positivistic account of meaning. We don’t believe God’s Word is true because of an extra-Scriptural empirical method validating the Scriptures. That would be to hold the methodologies of man above and over the Scriptures. (This is not to say that we don’t use historical and critical methods when approaching these texts. How else would we know a variant exists? Right? Also, the Scriptures themselves tell us how to approach them. For instance, how do we know who a false prophet is? e.g. Deut. 18:22 ) This is why I don’t recommend discussing inerrancy with atheists or any other pagans for that matter. Even if you could demonstrate through empirical means that the Scriptures are 100% “error free” to the satisfaction of the skeptic, they would still not believe they had God’s word in their possession. Why? Because they have already ruled out the supernatural a priori. Only when they come to faith, through hearing the Word of God, will they trust that they have heard the words of their Creator which do not err.

    However, it can still be pointed out to atheists were they are unfairly treating the text and misapplying scholarship in order to support their own conclusions and I think we Christians can be prepared to do such. Indeed, Dr. Preus is a great example of my point!

  16. @Jim Pierce #18

    I just read Dr. Preus article. I am a little confused.

    If Dr. Preus is saying that we must have faith to believe the teachings and doctrines of Scripture to be the very Word of God, I have no problem with that, and agree wholeheartedly. Only the Holy Spirit can convict the spiritually dead soul of man to believe in and about God.

    However, if Dr. Preus is saying that I must accept as God’s Holy Word, every passage that appears in my English language Bible…then I have a big problem! I have a big problem because the overwhelming majority of NT scholars can demonstrate that there are THOUSANDS of alterations in the more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the NT in existence today. There are multiple instances where notes of scribes, scribbled on the side of a ledger, would sometimes a few centuries later, wind up being included in the very TEXT of Holy Scripture as if the God-inspired author himself had dictated as God’s Word, in this new copy of the Scriptures.

    The above passages that I mention in my previous comment are NOT in ANY of the Oldest manuscripts. In fact, much of what the English-speaking world, for hundreds of years starting in the seventeenth century until not too long ago, called the “New Testament of the Bible” was derived from the Textus Receptus, which is based on a NINTH century manuscript!

    So do orthodox Lutherans believe that the ORIGINAL manuscripts, the ones written by the authors, who received God’s very words from God himself ARE the inerrant Words of God and that the inerrant MESSAGE contained within those words, has been passed down to us to this day completely intact OR do orthodox Lutherans believe that the English-language Bible, regardless of which version, lying on your nightstand, is God’s inerrant Word in every passage of Scripture included therein?

    If it is the latter, I’m not sure I can accept that by faith. That sounds just like what the fundamentalists taught me when I was younger: We know we are right because we have faith that God has told us that we are right. The reason that other denominations do not believe like we do is that they have not been given true faith. So believe what we say because what we say is right, because we know that God says we are right!!

    Telling me to believe that every passage in my English language Bible is THE very Words of God, is unbelievable to me, even with faith.

  17. Gary :
    @Jim Pierce #18
    I just read Dr. Preus article. I am a little confused.
    However, if Dr. Preus is saying that I must accept as God’s Holy Word, every passage that appears in my English language Bible…then I have a big problem!


    You are asking some good questions and I, sadly, don’t have the time to engage your questions and give them the thorough treatment they deserve. I urge you to pick up Dr. Preus’ book “The Inspiration of the Scripture” that I linked in an earlier comment above. It would also be a good idea to sit down with your pastor and discuss this topic. I am assuming you attend an LCMS congregation? If not, find a local LCMS pastor and see if they will spend some time discussing inspiration and inerrancy with you so you get our teaching on the matter.

  18. @Jim Pierce #20

    Isn’t it an easy yes or no answer to answer this question:

    Must I believe as an orthodox, LCMS Lutheran, that there are no scribe alterations, additions, or deletions in the 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the NT in existence today, and therefore I can trust that every passage in my English language Bible were directly spoken by God?

    Is that the orthodox/confessional Lutheran position as stated in our LCMS Doctrinal Statements and in our Lutheran Confessions?

    If so, I am in deep trouble, because telling me to accept all the blatant scribe alterations in the Greek manuscripts, which ultimately found their way into my English Bible, as still the very Words of God, simply by faith, smacks of the language of a cult: “Just take our word for it. Accept what we say as fact, by faith.”

    Faith to a Lutheran, in my humble opinion, based on my understanding of the Lutheran Confessions, is not based on whether or not I believe or feel that I possess faith. My faith as a Lutheran is based on the promises of a resurrected Jesus Christ. Am I required to have “faith” that Jesus rose from the dead simply because the LCMS doctrinal statement says so, or is my faith in the resurrection based on compelling evidence of the historicity of the real event that a first century Jew who claimed to be God, was executed, entombed for three days, and then seen and touched by multiple witnesses as alive, back from the dead?

    I believe that the original message in the original manuscripts was the inerrant Word of God. Is it possible that whoever was scribing for the Apostle Paul (most of his epistles were not written by his own hand) could have heard him incorrectly and written down “in” when Paul had actually said “on”? Yes. I don’t think that affects the Holy Scripture’s inerrancy. However, if that scribe had written down Ephesians 2:8-9 to say: “For by good works are you saved, not as a gift of God, but by your own labors” THAT would have invalidated the inerrancy of Scripture.

    I do not believe that God allowed such a devastating alteration of his Holy Word to occur. Why? Because of my faith in the historically-verifiable, resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who by coming back from the dead, proved that he is Almighty God, and that his Word is true.

    My Christian faith is NOT based on my perception that I have faith, it is based on the historicity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. God promised to preserve his Word, he never said that he would preserve every word in a printed “Bible”. God’s MESSAGE has indeed endured, but NOT every word that the first author or scribe wrote down onto papyrus or parchment has survived into our modern Bibles.

    So am I wrong in your opinion, Jim, or not?

  19. @Jim Pierce #20

    Discussing this issue with my LCMS pastor would be a mistake. He does not believe in a literal, six, twenty-four hour day Creation or that Methuselah was really over 900 years old, and other issues. I believe in a literal, twenty-four hour day, Creation and that Methuselah lived to be over 900 years old.

    I want to know what the BRIEF orthodox LCMS position on my statement above would be.

    Dr. Preus’ writing is a little over my head. Isn’t there a simple LCMS statement on this issue? Bottom line: is it the actual words in our Bibles that are inerrant or is it the message, the central doctrines of our faith, that are inerrant?

  20. I just re-read the 1932 LCMS Doctrinal Statement on Holy Scripture. If the term “Word of God” refers to the meaning behind the words in the Bible, then I agree with this document. If the “Word of God” refers to every word as printed in my English language Bible or every word that exists in the 5,700 surviving Greek manuscripts, then I do NOT agree with this document.

    For instance the passage in I John that Ehrman’s and many other NT scholars believes was altered by a scribe to more strongly reinforce the Doctrine of the Trinity. The alteration by the scribe does not change the Scriptural truth of the Trinity, but the alteration does prove the point that not every word in my English Bible or in the surviving Greek manuscripts is a direct statement from God.

    If is by faith that I believe that God’s original message, given by inspiration to the authors of the NT, did include the doctrine of the Trinity. The alteration in I John does not destroy my faith in the inerrancy of God’s Word, his message, regarding the truthfulness of the Trinity, it only points out the fallibility of human scribes and translators.

  21. I just read the 1973 LCMS Doctrinal Statement regarding Holy Scripture, in which I found this statement:

    The Infallibility of Scripture

    “With Luther, we confess that “God’s Word cannot err” (LC, IV, 57). We therefore believe, teach and confess that since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, they contain no errors or contradictions but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth.

    We hold that the opinion that Scripture contains errors is a violation of the sola scriptura, for it rests upon the acceptance of some norm or criterion of truth above the Scriptures. We recognize that there are apparent contradictions or discrepancies and problems which arise because of uncertainty over the original text.”

    That last sentence really stands out to me. If there are apparent contradictions, discrepancies and problems due to uncertainty over the original text, doesn’t that statement mean that in those particular passages, in which we are not sure what exactly the original text said, we are not obligated to accept this “apparent discrepancy” as the inerrant statement/words of God?

    I believe that this one statement in our LCMS Doctrinal Statements takes care of the issue of “scribe alterations”. We believe that the original text was inerrant. We do not, therefore, believe that every word that exists in the 5,700 surviving Greek manuscripts, nor in our English language Bibles, often times with blatant, apparent contradictions, are the inerrant words of God, but only the “original text”. It is the inerrant MEANING of the original text, which we by faith believe that God has preserved, to which we cling by faith today as the inerrant Word of God.

  22. Gary, I tried to post something that evidently had too many links in it so it wouldn’t take. I’ll try to leave them on your site.

    But I think the answer to your question is that you need to continue to research using some of the resources given you here.

    God bless you.

  23. @Gary #21


    If a simple “yes” or “no” could adequately answer the issues you have raised, I would have provided that. However, I am detecting from your comments that you are wrestling with a set of issues regarding the inspiration of Scriptures which can neither be responded to with a mere “yes” nor a mere “no.” So, pick up the book I recommend, if you like. Do some digging around through internet articles, etc. I think you will get better answers if you can read for yourself (and more than just Ehrman who is not the foremost authority on this topic) and also sit down with an LCMS pastor and talk, should you wish to understand the LCMS position on the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.

    As for my opinion, Gary? No, you haven’t re-stated my opinion; since I haven’t even offered it other than to say that the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures is not an issue for me when I discuss the existence of God with atheists. As far as I am concerned, the inerrancy of the Scriptures is a non-issue when I speak with atheists and other pagans. I trust that the Holy Spirit will work through His Holy Word despite what I, or the atheist, believes about the Words ringing in our ears. Why do I point this out? Because when I finally repented of my sins I believed God’s promises of forgiveness were absolutely TRUE. I wasn’t concerned about variant texts or whether or not the long reading of Mark was inspired text. I rejoiced in the promises of God which I freely received because of the faith worked in my heart through the hearing of the Word… through the Gospel. IOW, the fact that I believed was the work of the Holy Spirit and not my work. That is all the convincing I needed.

    Now, just so I am not giving you the wrong idea about where I am coming from. I do believe the inerrancy of the the Holy Scriptures. God’s Word does not err. I do believe that the texts we hold in our hands are God’s Word preserved for us through God’s providence. But, yes, when we Lutherans talk about about inerrancy and inspiration we usually ascribe those characteristics to the original autographs and not to the copies. I don’t think that should bother us in the slightest, since we have numerous copies in their original languages. Indeed, significant enough to where I have heard with my own ears scholars tell me that they believe we posses the original texts, because the evidence is just that good.

    But, I don’t believe God’s Word is true just because of the internal and external evidence for the Bible. I trust God’s Word is true, because He has also given me faith to hear His voice. My faith is not shaken by variant texts or the long ending of Mark, for example.

    I hope that helps a little. I am sorry I can’t write more, I have to get to work.

    Blessings to your studies!

  24. @Jim Pierce #28

    Thanks for this response. It does help. Thank you also to Abby for her comments.

    I went online and found a very helpful article from a WELS theologian. It is written in layman’s terms so much easier to read and understand than that of Dr. Preus. Here is the link:


    After reading this article I am VERY happily reassured of the orthodox Lutheran position on the issue of “inerrancy”. We orthodox Lutherans believe that the original manuscripts were inerrant and that God’s MESSAGE to mankind, is present and preserved in the existing Greek manuscripts and in our English language Bibles. This is a VERY different definition than what I understood “inerrancy” to mean as a fundamentalist Baptist.

    I was taught as a Christian fundamentalist that if I picked up my KJV Bible, I could trust that every word in it had been spoken by God. However, it was interesting that they would teach this as an absolute, unquestioned fact, but when confronted with the many “baptism passages” that in their plain, simple interpretation indicate that God saves and forgives sins in Baptism, then the KJV was no longer inerrant; Anglican translators had deliberately avoided translating “baptizo” as “immersion” to perpetuate the “catholic” view of baptism and the Greek word “eis” in Acts 2:38 and in the accounts in the Gospels where this word is used to state that John’s baptism was “for” repentance, were mistranslated. The translators should have translated “eis” as “because of”.

    So in reality, even the fundamentalist evangelicals never believed that any or our English translations of the Bible is inerrant. What they really believed was inerrant, however, were the existing Greek manuscripts. It was unthinkable to them that God would allow the scribes who copied the Bible, prior to the printing press, to alter his very words. The study of New Testament Textual Criticism leaves this concept of “inerrant” in tatters. The thousands of scribes who copied the Bible during the 1,500 years of Christianity prior to the printing press, were NOT inspired by God to correctly copy every letter, word, sentence, and paragraph EXACTLY as God had said it. They made errors. They made a lot of errors. THOUSANDS of them. However, the vast majority of these alterations by scribes were spelling errors or other insignificant changes. Bottom line: the MESSAGE, the truths of God, the core beliefs of Christianity are NOT affected by these human errors! Thanks be to God!

    The English language Bible lying on your nightstand is NOT inerrant, in the sense that every word printed between the first chapter of Genesis and the last chapter of Revelations are the very words of God. BUT…the message of God, contained IN those words, is inerrant!

    Bart Ehrman is correct when he says that the BIBLE contains errors, however, he has never proven that the WORD OF GOD is errant, and that is the critical issue that must be pointed out: Ehrman’s and fundamentalists’ definition of “inerrancy” is a recent invention; it has never been the definition used by the overwhelming majority of Christians now or for the last 2,000 years.

  25. Gary, That is a good article you found. But I don’t know how you found that “easier” reading than the one Jim gave by Robert Preus. :)

  26. Hi Gary,

    I’m glad you found the WELS article helpful. Yes, the MESSAGE of your English Bible is inerrant, even if the words and phrases aren’t always accurate or exact. Dr. Preus’s book was originally written as a dissertation examining the theology of the 17th century Lutheran dogmaticians. Understanding these orthodox theologians in their time and context means needing to wade through all their Latin and theological jargon. If it helps, I’ve taken the liberty to break down some of the distinctions for you without using too much jargon. Here it goes:

    You need to start with God. God is inerrant. Therefore the words he gave to the prophets and apostles to write down are inerrant. When God gave his inerrant words to the apostles to write down, that was God’s act of inspiration. Inspiration happened in history. The physical scrolls and letters they penned by inspiration are called “autographs.” These autographs (originally inspired documents) convey in every word and phrase the very mind and will of God towards us human beings. The actual words and phrases of these autographs (originally inspired documents) are inerrant by virtue of the divine content and meaning they convey. To repeat, the autographs are simply God’s thoughts put into human language. So when you think of inerrancy, you you have in mind that blessed historical event of God inspiring certain people to write down his eternal thoughts towards us. That’s the Bible.

    Today we have thousands of copies or versions of these original Hebrew and Greek autographs and hundreds of variants within those extant copies. These copies or versions of the original we call “apographs.” So you have the inspired autographs and the copied apographs. The distinction you are making right here is between the apostles’ writing and somebody else’s copying multiple times later. Now, in addition to these apographs (copies), we also have hundreds of translations in hundreds of languages.

    So your question is: are the apographs inerrant? Furthermore, is my NKJV Bible inspired? Here’s how you answer this question:

    First, the various apographs (copies) are inerrant, yes, but only in a derivative sense–because they are copies of the original. The Holy Spirit did not cause these extant copies to be written (or rewritten) through a supernatural act of inspiration. The only documents that may be said to be inspired in this historical and supernatural sense are the originals, which the prophets and apostles wrote. But the apographs (copies) are inspired inasmuch as they contain the same words and phrases, which convey the same divine content, as the original. They, too, like the originals, convey the mind and will of God (the MESSAGE) to human beings.

    What do we do, then, when one of these Greek manuscripts is not exactly like the other? Well, as in the case of any form of human activity (copying, rewriting, transmitting), the best we can do is to approach the original documents through the best scientific means we have at our disposal. As it turns out, the original Greek texts we DO have are almost identical to each other in words and phrases. Their differences are minimal. One version does not give us a different meaning from the other, but the same mind of God. Therefore, since the apographs don’t differ substantially among themselves, we may infer that the divine content and meaning (the MESSAGE) they convey are the same as those of the autographs.

    Of course, we do not therefore receive Scripture as God’s word on account of the fact that, by comparing the various apographs, we have achieved the highest degree of probability possible. That would be like saying that we believe the resurrection of Christ because we have found, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the empty grave. No, we believe the Scriptures because they are the familiar voice of God our Savior addressed to us sinners in Jesus’ name. They are the persuasive accent of our Good Shepherd calling all to faith by the forgiveness of sins. Faith holds to Jesus’ promise that heaven and earth will pass away (along with all scientific understanding), but his words (which he has caused to be published by inspiration and preserved by the gracious protection of the Comforter) will never pass away (Matthew 24:25, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33).

    Second, the translations of the apographs (copies of the originally inspired text) are not in themselves, properly speaking, inerrant. Like sermons, hymns, Bible classes, confessional statements, or what have you, translations transfer the meaning of the actual words and phrases to different idioms or expressions. They are thus interpretations (some are more faithful than others) of the original. That is why it is critical for teachers of the church to learn the original languages and engage the lower sciences of historical-grammatical interpretation, textual criticism, etc., in order to know what is a good translation. This is not to say that the English translations are not God’s word. They are. To say that a translation is “Scripture” is to say that it is faithful to the inspired and inerrant meaning of the Scriptures.

    In summary, the inerrancy of Scripture is an article of faith. It begins with God, who is inerrant. Inerrancy is a divine attribute miraculously communicated to the autograph when it was written. It is not a concept, a demonstrable principle, a measurable piece of empirical data, or something we arrive at through reason. As an article of faith, inerrancy must be believed first, and understood later. Albeit, faith is confirmed and bolstered through understanding the words God has given. And yet, even if one could approach scientific exactitude in the case of Scripture, such an achievement would still be subject to error because human reason is inherently flawed. The phone book is probably “inerrant” in the sense of “exact,” but not necessarily. God cannot err, however. He is necessarily inerrant, and so is the word he has given us.

    I think I’ve said enough. If you need clarification on anything I’ve written, I’ll try again to clarify this for you.

    In peace,

    David Preus

  27. @David Preus #33

    Excellent, very clear explanation. Thank you!

    So I am over one hurdle, thanks be to God! My next question is this: Should we Christians base our faith in the existence of God simply by faith/hope that the Christian story is true, without ANY historical evidence to back it up, or is it ok to insist on at least some circumstantial evidence, not of Jesus’ historicity, which even most atheists will concede, but the historicity of his Resurrection?

    Would you have any comments on the historicity of the Resurrection? I can’t give my atheists friends a video tape of the Resurrection as proof, but isn’t there some historical evidence outside of the Bible for this supernatural event? My friends discount the Gospel stories because they were written 20 years after the event, we are not sure of the authors, and several of the authors seem to simply embellish Mark’s story, instead of telling their own. How would you answer these assertions?

  28. @gary #34

    I’m not breaking in here for David P., I was listening to the first video that I posted on your site. According to William Lane Craig, the evidence for the resurrection was written between 5 and 7 years from the date of the passion and this is agreed upon by historians. He also listed 3 immutable points that historians also agree on.

    Start at 7min — 22 min. (Lane’s introduction)

    [Bishop Spong has trouble with the Two Natures of Christ]

  29. No wonder Bishop Spong is a member of the Jesus Seminar. After hearing him, I could never be an atheist.

    He gave no “proofs,” he gave conjectures, assertions, and denial. He reconfigured a few Bible stories according to his own interpretation. He quoted Carl Sagan to dispute Christ’s ascension “scientifically.”

    He said these a lot: *I think; *I see; *Let me propose; *Open our eyes; *I would date; *I don’t think; *We have to think; *I don’t think he was; *He was preaching a sermon; *Is that literal?; *We are told; *Was trying to tell us; *Then we know; *Story can be transformed; *Language has to struggle

    He grew up as an evangelical fundamentalist.

    So I guess we are supposed to be persuaded by his — charisma?

  30. @gary #38

    He had a major problem with the Two Natures of Christ. He didn’t bring it up here, but from his remarks he would not believe in the Real Presence. The material elements are symbolic only. Everything had to be explained logically — according to what he could accept by his human reason. Christ did not bodily rise. He is only a “spiritual” presence.

    I was left feeling with a very small and inadequate God.

  31. The Bible is reduced to fiction. Only metaphor. You might as well believe that the “Lord of the Rings” is Scripture. Who knows? A church of Gandalf probably exists somewhere.

  32. @Abby #41

    I watched the Craig-Spong debate video last evening. Very interesting.

    I attended a liberal Episcopal cathedral for approximately one year during my liberal Christianity phase of life. Liberal Episcopalians are experts at making big, flowery, mind-boggling, contorted statements/sermons…but when you condense it all down, they really have said absolutely nothing at all.

    Dr. Spong joyously proclaims that the Resurrection was a pivotal event in human history, but then he turns right around and says, “But it didn’t really happen…literally.”

    The whole time I was listening to Bishop Spong speak, I kept saying to myself, I’ve heard that accent/style of speech before. Finally it hit me—Billy Graham! They are both from North Carolina.

  33. @gary #42

    Yes, he (Spong) had my head swimming after awhile with his rhetoric.

    “I’ve heard that accent/style of speech before. Finally it hit me—Billy Graham! They are both from North Carolina.”

    Though poles apart! :)

    “..they really have said absolutely nothing at all.” That is exactly what I thought. The flowery rhetoric is meant to attract the intellectual. It is a very well-honed skill to say that many words — and say nothing. Extremely deceptive too. Kind of how I feel about Joel Osteen.

    “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Proverbs 10:19

    I’m glad Craig is capable and in that arena. We need more. I could listen to his speaking style very easily. He was very direct and clear. And I could trust him.

  34. @gary #42

    This is where [Spong] and C.S. Lewis disagree:

    “A basic literal understanding [metaphor] won’t work. The statement Christ made, “I am the door,” is clearly not meant to be understood in the primary literal sense of a door made of wood or steel or plastic. It is meant metaphorically. But now here we need to listen to C.S. Lewis. Because the word “door” in that statement is a metaphor — that does not mean it doesn’t stand for something real. It does. Jesus claims to be a door in a very real way. A door into a very spiritual experience of God that we can ourselves experience. That experience is literal at that level. But it’s not literal at the primary level. The word literal is a very slippery word to use.” John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University

    “Because the word “door” in that statement is a metaphor — that does not mean it doesn’t stand for something real.” That’s how C.S. Lewis writes too.

    Spong says that none of Jesus’ words are true. He didn’t even say them. Honestly, I can’t figure out what he believes at all!

  35. “I can’t figure out what he believes at all!”

    I knew I had heard this statement before, so I looked it up. It is the definition of this word: EPISCOPALIAN

  36. @gary #45

    I almost wanted to say, that was funny.

    It reminded me of something, though. As I was thinking of Spong again. And he says he is a Christian. But everything he says completely denies that. And he virtually sounds to me like an atheist. Except he wears clergy garb.

    So, what is his definition of what it means to be Christian? Moral?

    And it reminded of something I heard recently. There is such a thing as “Christian Atheist!” I am not joking. Although, to me it sounds like an oxymoron.


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