I enjoy listening to the hubristic claims by some in the media that they only report the truth; that they are rigorous in checking their facts, and so their reports can be trusted. Then someone comes along with impeccable evidence that proves the inerrant reporter is made of clay like the rest of us.
The brothers following the trajectory of Dr. Enns in Inspiration and Incarnation would have us believe that God is very much a clay-e-reporter. They do so with the intention of encouraging us that he is trustworthy after all. (More can be read on this in the previous posts, Incoherent Inerrancy, Who Ya Gonna Believe, and There’s Accommodation, and then There’s …?.)
Huh? God knowingly communicates in the Bible via errors, and this makes him more, not less trustworthy?
In this post I want to offer some suggestions to counter this irrationality. Contrary to the position that says we have to live with the fact that the Bible is filled with errors, there are perfectly rational alternative explanations for the (supposed) errors in the Bible, alternatives that do not begin with the presupposition: God trustworthily communicates truth via error.
I do not propose to offer any “proof” here. (I think there are reasons why God does not offer us proof – a future post will address that topic.)
Rather I propose to offer perfectly reasonable alternatives; alternatives which presuppose God trustworthily communicates truth inerrantly. I hope to show that there is no need to bow before the unbelieving higher-critical scholars, and then try to come up with a position of error-laden inerrancy.
Let’s use Daniel 9:1 one as our example passage (ESV): In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans-
The problem, according the errantists is that ancient near eastern (ANE) historical sources prove that this is wrong. These ANE sources prove that there never was a Persian king named Darius who was the son of Ahasuerus. Thus, the Bible must be wrong.
I’ll leave it others to list all the viable alternatives to assuming the Bible is wrong. Instead, I want to put the shoe on the other foot. Which is more plausible, that the Bible is wrong here, or that the ANE sources are wrong? Here are three common characteristics of secular historical sources, characteristics which mark their errancy and fallibility.
ANE Name Usage
Ancient naming practices were not as controlled as our modern western name process – recorded on the birth certificate it is as good written in stone! Not so in the ANE. Like any culture, ANE cultures used names in a variety of ways naming individuals, that when recorded in history, can lead to confusion.
E.g., sometimes a given name of one important person becomes an honorific title for others following after him. “Caesar” was one of Julius’s personal family names. With his successor and nephew, Augustus “Caesar” this name became a title ascribed to all succeeding Roman emperors (and their titular descendents in Germany, “Kaiser” and Russia, “Czar”.)
Sometimes someone just did something that added a name to his names. I’m sure most American readers will know who I mean when I say I love the Duke. (Movie actor John Wayne for those amongst us who have not had the cultural development of the rest of us ;-).) It would be easy 500 years from now, with spotty records from our period, to get confused: John Wayne, Duke, Marion Morrison (John’s birth name) – are we talking one guy, two guys, three guys, etc.?
Other times adoption, political maneuvers, critical societal shifts, etc., resulted in names being associated with individuals that were not well documented in historical records. E.g., there is some evidence that “Ahasuerus” was something of a titular name that was assumed as a part of the names ascribed to a Persian king.
Whether or not this is the explanation is not the point. What is the point is that there is sufficient evidence from ANE sources to provide plausible naming explanations for Dan. 9:1.
Spotty Historical Records
Of course, those who believe the ANE sources that “prove” Dan 9:1 is an error, are assuming that these secular sources are themselves inerrant! Yet history is replete with examples of such inerrancy assumptions being proven false.
One of the best examples is the claim that Belshazzar was not the last king of Babylon, and that Daniel was wrong in calling him so. After all, “inerrant” ANE secular sources “proved” that Nabonidus was the last Babylonian king.
That was until some ANE records turned up that explained that Nabonidus had appointed his son Belshazzar to be his regent, his “king-in-fact” in Babylon while he went off to fight an enemy. So what of all those claims that the Bible was proved wrong by these ANE records? Ooops …
Again, I’m not claiming this is the explanation for Dan 9:1. I am challenging the presupposition that the ANE records are inerrant. Why do we need to assume that the Bible must be wrong? It is just as likely that the historical record is spotty, that there is information missing from the ANE sources.
The cliché “the victor write the history,“ is not always true. Sometimes the loser writes it, and he is believed.
My favorite example of this is the supposed victory of Ramses II over the Hittites at Kadesh in 1274 B.C. This was possibly the largest chariot battle ever fought in the ANE, with over 5,000 chariots involved. Due to the large amount of Egyptian records, it was commonly accepted that this was a stunning victory for Ramses II and the Egyptians.
That was, until Hittites records were discovered – and they told a significantly different story. In the end, scholars debate whether Ramses II secured a Pyrrhic victory (brought his army home, but did not capture Kadesh,) secured a draw with the Hittites, or suffered a stunning defeat.
So what of Ramses II’s claims of an overwhelming victory? Pure propaganda!
Now again, I’m not proposing such a solution for the question in Dan. 9:1. I am pointing out that ANE sources are just as likely to be nothing more than propaganda, lies intended to serve political ends, as they are accurate historical records.
I’ve given these three examples, again not as solutions to the “apparent” error in Dan. 9:1. Rather I’m seeking to make one simple point. The ANE cultures whose historical records “prove” that the Bible has errors in it were cultures just like ours, filled with error-prone people.
On what basis do we presuppose that these sources are more trustworthy than the Bible? If the Bible were nothing more than another ANE record written by error-prone men, well then of course it would be no different, and equally as likely to be in error as the contradicting secular sources.
However, we’re talking about God’s record here. Do we really want to presume that God needs to check his facts?
- Reed DePace