Bible Contradictions and Christian Fundamentalism

Question: what would it mean to Christian Fundamentalism if it were to admit that the Bible contained contradictions?

I am singling out Fundamentalism here because biblical scholars, both secular and Christian (with the notable exception of the Fundamentalist minority), basically agree on who wrote the bible and how the various biblical canons were formed. The majority of Christians in the world do not hold that the bible is the inerrant word of God. They believe it is the Word of God in the sense that its writers documented oral traditions about God and His hand in history; the oral tradition originating from divinely inspired people.

My guess is that the Fundamentalist beliefs wouldn’t actually change much if they were to concede that the Bible contains contradictions. What would change is that Christian leaders would not be able to exert the same level of authority over their church members. Fundamentalists in general would feel more empowered to think for themselves rather than blindly follow their preacher’s dogma.

If this is true, then is the excessive rhetoric about inerrancy actually about power and control, and not about the faith?


9 Responses to Bible Contradictions and Christian Fundamentalism

  1. Randy Kirk says:

    As a Bible thumper, but one with a very substantial formal and informal education, I would submit that the answer in this case is much simpler than you may think. If you choose to think that some part of the Bible is not true, where do you stop. Jefferson, cut up his Bible and took out everything that he didn’t believe to be true. It is called the Jeffersonian Bible.

    It is possible to believe that the Bible is true from cover to cover and still disagree with interpretations. We have 150 folks in our congregation, and I know for a fact they don’t even all agree with Baptist doctrine, assuming they knew what it was…which they don’t.

  2. The Atheist says:

    Are you saying that you simply “choose” to believe that all part of the Bible are true? In other words, do you have no other real reason to believe that all parts are true, other than fear of the “slippery slope”? If not, then what is the reason to believe that the Bible does not contain any contradictions?

    Here’s an example to illustrate how the slippery-slope scenario might not necessarily be a threat to the Fundamentalist faith: Roman Catholics are one of the oldest Christian denominations. The various protestant beliefs have been much more varied over time than that of Catholics. Yet Catholics do not hold inerrancy. This seems to be at least one example where rejection of inerrancy does not necessarily lead to the slippery slope.

    It seem to me (please correct me) that differing interpretations of the Bible are not much different from differing opinions about which parts are true or false. In both cases, it comes down to ones understanding and interpreting a particular passage. I guess I don’t see how accepting people’s independent interpretations of scripture is more dangerous to the faith than accepting their independent opinions of what is true since, in both cases, we are really only talking about thoughtful opinions, not whimsical dismissals.

    Sort of reminds me of an old Andy Griffith episode when Barney started ticketing truckers for going 5 miles over the speed limit:

    Andy: “Well, Barney, you know we always give the truck drivers an extra five miles an hour so they can make it up Turner’s Grade.”
    Barney: Now Andy, if you let them take thirty, they’ll take thirty-five. If you let them take thirty-five, they’ll take forty. If you let them take forty, they’ll take forty-five. If you… “


    But seriously, I do understand the slippery-slope problem, it just seems to me that this is not one of the cases where it is a real threat.

  3. Dan Peterson says:

    I wonder if there is middle way between fundamentalism and atheism. Randy Kirk’s fundamentalism is untenable for a number of reasons, even (and especially) from a Christian point of view. If Mr. Kirk was somehow to avoid being selective in his interpretation of Scripture, he would have to advocate slavery (Ephesians 6:5), death to those who work on the sabbath (Exodus 35:2), death to unruly teenage boys (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and the prohibition of wearing garments made of mixed fabric (Leviticus 19:19). The simple fact, in other words, is that ALL of us inevitably read the Bible selectively–whether Jew or Greek, Catholic or Protestant, theist or atheist.

    This trick, then, is to become AWARE of the assumptions we inevitably bring to the biblical text. In this regard, I think there exists an option for thoughtful Christians who find themselves between the extremes of atheism and fundamentalism. Indeed, I think we have an inspiring example for this middle position in Martin Luther who, though he too read the Bible selectively (like anyone else) was honest and above board with respect to the assumptions he brought to Scripture. Luther read the Bible through the lens of the Gospel. The Gospel, for Luther, is the message or proclamation of God’s grace and mercy in Christ. We may disagree with Luther, to be sure, but at least he was HONEST and open about HOW he was approaching Scripture. I would argue that makes Luther’s view relatively better than fundamentalism which also reads the Bible selectively but somehow fails to recognize it is doing so.

    Can, then, Luther’s approach to Scripture address the crticism of atheists? I’m not sure. What I do know is that Luther’s view is MORE compatible with the advances of modern science than other, fundamentalistic versions of Christianity. In that regard, I think a DIALOGUE at least could open up between atheists and Christians sympathetic with Luther’s approach, a dialogue that is otherwise closed between the still-selective but unaware fundamentalist and the atheist who (rightly) rejects such fundamentalism as exemplary of what the biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann once called a “forced sacrifice of the intellect.”

    What do you think?

  4. Dan Peterson says:

    I should have added that the reason I posted my response is that it looks like the soon-to-be majority of Christians in the world are, in fact, not moderate Christians but fundamentalist Christians. In America alone there exist some 30 million evangelical Christians (up from 8 million in the 1980s). Most evangelical Christians acknowledge themselves to be biblicists, recognizing the Bible not only as the supreme religious authority but as wholly inerrant in matters pertaining to science, history, morality and religion. For this reason, I think it’s necessary for moderate, non-fundamentalist Christians to be more vocal.

  5. The Atheist says:

    > I wonder if there is middle way between fundamentalism
    > and atheism

    I absolutely think there is a middle ground. I would go as far to say that there is a whole continuum in between hard atheism (the belief that God could not possibly exist) and fundamentalism

    > ALL of us inevitably read the Bible selectively–whether Jew
    > or Greek, Catholic or Protestant, theist or atheist.

    True, but not all of us do it on purpose. I think true biblical scholars (whether theist or atheist) attempt to understand what the bible really is and what it really says. Of course, scholars are human too and bring their own biases to their study. But I find this in stark contrast with those who are willing to use scripture out of context to support a priori beliefs.

    > I think there exists an option for thoughtful Christians who
    > find themselves between the extremes of atheism and
    > fundamentalism.

    I completely agree. Most of the worlds Christians are not fundamentalist (or even protestants). But since fundamentalists tend to dominate the Christian message in the media (the web, AM radio, religious TV, etc) it’s easy to get the impression the the represent all Christians.

    > This trick, then, is to become AWARE of the assumptions
    > we inevitably bring to the biblical text.

    Absolutely! Of course this holds true of any thoughtful dialog. I would only disagree with the equation of honest to honorable. While I agree that an honorable person should be honest, not all honest people are honorable!. Have a look at the “Protestantism’s Founding Father” article on (about 3/4 down the page).

    > I think it’s necessary for moderate, non-fundamentalist
    > Christians to be more vocal.

    Me too. I think the world would be a much better place if moderates of ALL moderate adherents would speak out against their fundamentalist counter parts. Thoughtful people with different points of view can have thoughtful conversations and learn from each other. Fundamentalists can only disagree out of hand with anyone who does not share their particular brand of fundamentalism.

  6. Green says:


    Let me disagree.

  7. Errancy says:

    I think you’re absolutely right that Christian faith can survive without the doctrine of biblical inerrancy; there’s no need to choose between fundamentalism and atheism, there’s a middle way.

    However, I’m not convinced that the main reason that the doctrine is pushed is as part of a power game. I think the main reason is probably that it keeps things simple; seeing things in black and white is much easier than admitting that there are shades of grey that need to be considered.

  8. The Atheist says:


    Welcome to the blog!

    I agree – I don’t think that the power game (authoritarianism) is the primary motivator of all fundamentalists. I would however posit that it is a primary motivator for many fundamentalists, and that it is a motivator to at least some degree for most fundamentalists. Note here that by authoritarianism I mean either of the 2 aspects of it: demanding authority and granting authority. My personal experience is that fundamentalism and authoritarianism seem to go hand in hand. See for a good (and fun!) illustration of authoritarianism.

    That said, I agree that simplistic thinking is also a primary attractor to fundamentalism. My personal experience is also that simplistic thinking and fundamentalism seem to go hand in hand, but the correlation between authoritarianism and fundamentalism seems to be stronger than the correlation between simplistic thinking and fundamentalism. It would be interesting to find some research on this.

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