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This question (and two related sub-questions) is directed towards those who believe that the Bible is inspired but not inerrant. I understand inerrant to simply mean "without error". "Inspired" tends to have more nuances in it's meaning and so a valid answer should include a short definitional statement describing "inspired" as well as one regarding "inerrant" if it is taken differently.

If the Bible is not inerrant, i.e. if it contains errors, and yet is inspired by God does this not mean that the errors are inspired?

  1. How and why would God inspire error without being deceptive or fallible?

  2. Without an inspired and inerrant listing of Biblical error, how can one reliably discern Biblical error and should one make the effort if the error is inspired?

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    Note that answers must present the errantist perspective, which means the Bible had errors in the original manuscripts. Purely transmission or translation errors do not count, as they are already accounted for by inerrantists. For example, one errantist said "Anything that involves humans comes with a taint: and that includes products resulting from God’s use of human agents to reveal himself. Humans often hijack and distort God’s message. That’s how God in the Bible is made to promote genocide, regulate slavery, and ban women from church leadership."
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 29, 2023 at 21:38
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    Clarification Questions here should be clarified. Because God "inspires" a man, He does not "inspire" the errors a man makes! Just as when God anoints a man for ministry who subsequently commits a sin, does not mean that God anointed the sin! .....Be careful that infallible deity be not attributed to any man, inspired or not. The only inspired Person who knew no sin was Jesus, and Him alone. The arguing among the N.T. ministers proves that ordination does not imply inerrant behavior. God uses imperfect men, though, sufficiently to present the Gospel, which an infant can understand.
    – ray grant
    Nov 29, 2023 at 21:42

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I think this can be addressed in a similar way to how theists respond to the Problem of Evil objection against the existence of God: how can a perfectly loving, omnipotent and omniscient God allow evil to exist in His creation? One common response is that God has allowed evil to exist because He probably has good reasons for doing so. So, if God has good reasons for allowing evil to exist in His perfectly designed Creation, why wouldn't God also have good reasons for allowing errors to exist in His perfectly inspired Sacred Scriptures?

Now, responding to your specific requests and questions:

so a valid answer should include a short definitional statement describing "inspired" as well as one regarding "inerrant" if it is taken differently.

  • Inspired: God intervenes in the universe by prompting one or more human beings to record statements for future generations to read. The prompting might or might not explicitly enforce the recording of very specific statements word by word, and similarly, the prompting might or might not allow some noise or errors to be introduced in the process.

  • Inerrant: The entirety of Scripture contains 0% errors of any kind.

If the Bible is not inerrant, i.e. if it contains errors, and yet is inspired by God does this not mean that the errors are inspired?

Not necessarily, the errors might ultimately be traced back to a different cause. For example, if you believe in free will, it's possible that the errors are contingent upon mistakes freely made by human beings, thus interrupting the causal chain towards God. Why would God allow this? Perhaps for the same reasons that He has allowed evil to exist.

How and why would God inspire error without being deceptive or fallible?

This question presupposes that God inspired the error, which is not necessarily the case (see the answer to your previous question). However, replacing inspire with allow, the answer would be: in the same way and for the same reasons that God allows evil to exist in the world without that being an excuse for atheists to claim that God is "deceiving" them by supposedly "making them believe" that He doesn't exist.

Without an inspired and inerrant listing of Biblical error, how can one reliably discern Biblical error and should one make the effort if the error is inspired?

Ignoring the fact that this question presupposes again a questionable "if the error is inspired", I presume the most reliable method would be for God Himself to assist the believer in doing the discerning, or to directly guide the believer towards the right interpretation.

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    This is an insightful application of the problem of evil. +1 Nov 30, 2023 at 2:21
  • If errors are included within Scripture by causes outside of the inspiration of God, i.e. human free will choices/mistakes, how can they be held as inspired, at least inspired as a whole? But this question is not about a Scripture that is considered partly inspired. I think this answer actually negates inspiration in the same way that evil being (correctly) understood as allowed by God for His sovereign purposes results in the understanding that evil is not caused or inspired by God. We never see Jesus correcting the Scriptures themselves, just human interpretation. Dec 1, 2023 at 13:41
  • @MikeBorden Any errors can be traced back to a cause other than God. So yes, you could say that a given set of manuscripts can be considered partly inspired if an erroneous fraction was not inspired. I don't see anything wrong with that. We never see Jesus correcting the Scriptures themselves, just human interpretation This is an argument from silence. Besides, the New Testament was not around yet at the time.
    – Mark
    Dec 1, 2023 at 14:23
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The answer for me depends on how one thinks of God's omnipotence. If God is absolutely all-powerful then inspiration = inerrancy. However, if God limits his power to allow for human freedom, then inspiration allows for human error. In other words, God inspires the author of the text but does not verbally dictate it, nor does he directly control the transmission of the text or the attribution of biblical writings to specific authors.

This hypothesis allows for differences of theological perspective as well as factual anomalies and misattributions. Thus, for example, the Book of Job can tell us that God allows the terrible suffering of a man whom He has certified to be "blameless" (Job 1:8) while Proverbs 28:18 assures us that "Whoever walks blamelessly is safe." Copyist errors and insertions may also be included in the canon, and books traditionally attributed to an author such as Mark or Matthew may not have actually been written by them.

The question of pseudepigrapha is more difficult. Would God inspire the creation of biblical books supposedly written by specific authors who did not actually write them? For example many believe that David did not write some of the psalms attributed to him, or that Paul is not the author of the Pastoral Epistles, or that Moses did not actually write the Torah. To those believe this but also affirm that the Bible is "God-breathed" the answer would be that God works in strange and mysterious ways. (Romans 11:33)

Short answers to the secondary questions.

  • "How and why would God inspire error without being deceptive or fallible?" Answer: God does not inspire error; he inspires authors who are vulnerable to mistakes and cultural prejudices.

  • "How can one reliably discern Biblical error and should one make the effort if the error is inspired?" I don't say that errors are inspired. But in any case one has to pray for discernment and approach the scripture diligently guided by one's conscience.

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  • The answer is that the Bible is inspired but also contains uninspired errors? Wouldn't that mean that the Bible is only partly inspired or do you hold the original autographs (not extant) as fully inspired? Dec 1, 2023 at 13:53
  • Safe in what sense? I do not see how this necessitates a textual anomaly, given how vague a term such as "safe" can be. Safe from what? I believe verses such as 2 Timothy 3:12 help to clarify that this is not a guarantee against misfortune. One problem I have with pseudepigraphic theories is that they vary, and a mistaken theory does not imply a textual error. The attribution had to come from somewhere, and sometimes is not made entirely clear in the text. A paraphrasing or retelling of an account could also convey evidences of pseudepigrapha even though the original authorship is authentic.
    – pygosceles
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:31
  • @MikeBorden... Original autographs would not solve the problem for me. II prefer "generally inspired" to "partly inspired" but I do think that some biblical authors were imperfect channels. Dec 5, 2023 at 19:57
  • @pygosceles... I prefer not to deal with the question of "safe from what" here. My point is that I accept that the bible's authors do not share the same opinion on various issues. For me they all fall under that umbrella of what I'd call general inspiration. Dec 5, 2023 at 20:03
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    @DanFefferman In the KJV the same Proverb is read "Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved", and it is not the common reading in Christian culture to say that this implies that a person will be spared temporal disasters, disease or discomfort. The ancient prophets who were imprisoned, beheaded, stoned, sawn asunder, and so on are saved, yet they were afflicted at many points in like manner as Job was. So I am saying I don't think this makes a strong case for any disagreement between Biblical authors.
    – pygosceles
    Dec 6, 2023 at 2:02
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Apart from the nature of Christ, there are few matters as divisive among Christians as the doctrine of Inspiration of the Bible. There are two questions that arise from the doctrine of inspiration: (1) How does divine inspiration work? And, (2) What is inspired?

How Does Inspiration Work?

Traditionally, there have been three broad views about how the Bible writers were inspired:

  1. Verbal Inspiration: The Holy Spirit dictated the Bible, word for word.
  2. Thought Inspiration: The Holy Spirit inspired men’s ideas; prophets then expressed these ideas in their own words.
  3. The Bible contains the Word of God, that is, it records the experiences of great and Godly men and so has other material not necessarily inspired. That is, in the judgement of those who subscribe to this view, some parts of the Bible are not worthy of the sacred canon. This might be called “non-plenary”, “incomplete”, or “partial” inspiration.

We will ignore the third view as an example of “Cafeteria Theology” where one is free to decide what parts of the Bible to believe and what can be ignored. Let us assume immediately that the entire Bible, as we have it, is inspired, as declared in 2 Tim 3:16, 17, 2 Peter 1:19-21. See also 2 Sam 23:2, Neh 9:30, Eze 2:2, 11:5, 24, Micah 3:8, Zech 7:12, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Rom 1:2, 3:2, Heb 3:7, 5:12, 9:8, Mark 12:36, Acts 28:25, 1 Tim 4:1.

  • Paul says that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32) indicating that the prophet does not lose his/her personality in the process.

Lastly, if God had dictated the words of the Bible intending that they would be immutable and important, then God would have miraculously preserved the exact words as inspired and “dictated”. Even a casual glace at the history of the Bible text suggests that this was never the case – there are thousands of variations in the Bible text, but all preserve the ideas in the text. That is, while many “errors” and variations exist in the Bible text between manuscripts, none are significant for the message.

Thus, the Bible, God’s Word and its central message of God’s love and salvation, has been miraculously preserved but not necessarily the exact words that the Bible writers used. (It is possible that some Bible writers produced more than one version or revision themselves!?)

What is Inspired?

The question of what is inspired can be asked other ways:

  • Might there be other books that have been omitted that should be either included in the canon of Scripture or at least considered inspired?
  • Was the gift of prophecy closed with the canon of Scripture or could further prophets arise that, while not adding to Scripture, could still have relevant messages after the 1st century?

The second question is simpler than the first. There is nothing in the Bible suggesting that the gift of prophecy was to finish with John the Revelator. Quite the contrary; the list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament always includes the gift of prophecy.

There are numerous (some valid and some false) prophets who wrote or spoke material not included in the Bible. The NT's Agabus is a perfect example of a valid prophet whose various prophesies were not included in the Bible. The four daughters of Philip are another example.

This still leaves the question about what material was included in the Bible and why. Generally, material was included that was written by someone who had first-hand knowledge of what they were writing either by divine revelation or as a witness to the events as described. All forgeries were excluded by the early church fathers. When examining the many documents omitted from the New Testament, it becomes quite obvious why they were excluded.

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This question begs the question of what the Bible is. Did "the Bible" as such exist at the time any of its constituent texts were written? No, not by a hundred years or more. There is not a single unanimously recognized version of it either. There are many versions and translations. It is apparent that Adam, Enoch, Noah and Abraham all kept records which Moses used as source materials to consolidate his account regarding the Creation, the Flood etc. which constitutes most of Genesis, but we do not have the original accounts, although they would be Scripture if we had them. This does not need to destroy our confidence, however. Is "the Bible" a collection of mostly-inspired abridgements, prophetic accounts and apostolic texts? Yes.

What is the degree of faithful preservation and translation of the original texts? This would be impossible to tell without revelation from God. Even if someone comes forward with a purported original manuscript of a Biblical text, it will be impossible to confirm its authenticity through purely secular means.

Inspired, assuming we are talking about the Holy Spirit, means that the Spirit of God was the driving force behind the creation of the text. On the whole the Bible is mostly inspired.

Ice cream can be delicious, good and pure and then have some toxic elements added to it. This does not mean that the ice cream itself is bad or that its origin is evil. The devil likes to do this to all good things to throw us off the scent of eternal life. Yes, the devil has tampered with the Bible, and translators' ignorant minds and hands have smudged its pages some. Evidences of this are abundant, for example, numerous passages saying that "it repented God..."/"God repented" (Genesis 6:6) while from other passages we know that God cannot repent because He does not sin (Numbers 23:19).

When we say "The Bible is inspired" we do not necessarily mean that everything put into some current compilation is of God, or that every translation or rendering of it is correct and accurate. Some translations are more accurate and honest than others. For one example, In Acts 7:48, the word "dwell" used in the KJV (Greek 2730) means "to house permanently, reside". In Revelation 7:15, the word "dwell" in the KJV as "dwell" more accurately means "to tent or encamp" (Greek 4637), showing divergent connotations becoming flattened and lost in translation. Without a more robust translation, this important distinction is lost, leading to potentially catastrophic misunderstandings, for example assuming that the word of God is self-contradictory when in fact the error is due to a lack of distinction from a translator. Such errors might also lead us erroneously to discard portions of God's true words. Therefore the existence of apparent contradictions by itself does not always allow us to determine whether it is a translation error or a deliberate pejoration of the text, without introducing additional errors of our own.

How and why would God inspire error without being deceptive or fallible?

God does not inspire error. It's that simple. If there are errors they are the mistakes or deliberate alterations of men. We can use a scalpel or a spoon to extricate mistakes and messes that have been dumped in and make corrections -- but only if we are inspired.

Without an inspired and inerrant listing of Biblical error, how can one reliably discern Biblical error and should one make the effort if the error is inspired?

Fortunately God knew we would have this problem and prepared a solution for it: He called a modern seer to provide an inspired revision and retranslation of the Bible, which corrects some of the most significant errors and redactions that have accumulated in the texts underlying the Bible. You can read it here and compare to the redacted and altered versions to see how it enhances your understanding of God's dealings with mankind from the beginning. It is even called the "Inspired Version" of the Bible:

Joseph Smith's Inspired Translation of the Bible

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    Thomas Jefferson also rewrote the Bible, removing everything miraculous and saying "This is a Jesus I can believe in". This "modern seer' you refer to says that "as man is God once was and as God is man may become". This is a contradiction of the entirety of the Biblical message, not the correction of a little mistake here or there. It is an entirely different religion. Dec 7, 2023 at 13:47
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    Adam was a created son, made of the dust of the earth and with life breathed in. Not like the other creatures and yet a creature ... a servant. God is not so. He was not made of dust nor brought into existence. He is the Creator with no beginning. He has no equal and never will. The culmination of the age comes and those in Christ are still servants not Gods: "And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads." - Rev. 22:3-4 Dec 8, 2023 at 13:38
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    "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." - Isaiah 14:12-15 Dec 8, 2023 at 13:40
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    Well, we are at an impasse for sure. It is the Spirit of adoption by which I cry, Abba. I fully expect, as Revelation 22 indicates, to worship and serve God forever (this is why man was created) and I will refuse to my last dying breath the temptation to expect that I will become God. Beside Him there is no other: One God only, ever. I am not God and will never, ever be. My relationship with the one true God is thus secure, in Christ. Dec 10, 2023 at 21:46
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    "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." God's people shall forever have Him as their God. Nowhere are we told that we ourselves shall become Gods, creating and ruling our own universes: That is a man-made addition to what is written. Please consider Revelation 22:18. Dec 11, 2023 at 13:22

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