The fourth chapter of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith opens -- as all discourses on Biblical inerrancy must -- by bringing up the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal before introducing us to “one of the most well-known and effective defenders of Christianity in the world” who will explain for us why, if God is so wonderful, he slaughtered so many people.
Strobel pauses only to inform us that his subject, Norman Geisler of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, is “dressed in a multicolored sweater over a blue button-down shirt” before delving into some of the most difficult questions Christians must face about the authority of the book that guides them.
“Isn’t the Bible chock full of contradictions and inconsistencies that undermine its reliability?” Strobel wants to know.
“I’ve made a hobby of collecting alleged discrepancies, inaccuracies, and conflicting statements in the Bible. I have a list of about 800 of them,” says Dr. Geisler. “Of the 800 allegations I’ve studied, I haven’t found one single error in the Bible.”
Referring to the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Geisler says, “Here you have an impeccable historian, who has been proven right in hundreds of details and never proven wrong, writing the whole history of Jesus and the early church.”
It is true that many of the details contained in Luke-Acts with regard to geography and history are accurate. But on the other hand, if I wrote a novel set in Manhattan, after 13 years of living here I would be unlikely to get the details wrong. (See Left Behind’s vision of post-Rapture New York.) Geisler’s argument is a little bit like historians finding the novel Gone With the Wind 3,000 years from now, doing some research and discovering there actually was a city called Atlanta in a country called America which in fact had a civil war right at the time the book claims it did, and then concluding that Scarlett O’Hara was a historical person.
Luke tells us Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem in order to register for the census which was ordered by the Roman governor of Syria, Quirinius. Now, history shows that there really was a Publius Sulpicius Quirinius who was the Roman proconsul in Damascus and he did, in fact, order a registration for the purpose of taxation. The problem is that both Luke and Matthew insist Herod the Great was king at the time of Christ’s birth, and we know that Quirinius came to Syria a decade after Herod’s death. Does this muddle have major theological implications? Not necessarily. But it’s a lie – in other words, a sin – to claim there are no historical errors in Luke.
Matthew and Luke-Acts agree on a great many things, but one of the places where they significantly disagree is on the fate of Judas. After the arrest of Christ, Matthew says Judas went back to the temple and threw the thirty pieces of silver on the ground before he went and hanged himself. Acts says Judas used the money to buy a field, and falling headlong, he burst asunder and all his entrails spilled out. How does Geisler address these differing accounts?
“Somebody came along later, found his body, cut the rope, and the bloated body fell onto the rocks. What happens? The bowels gush out, just as the Bible says. They’re not contradictory, they’re complementary.”
In response to this act of theological cowardice, Strobel writes, “I had to admit, Geisler was on track.”
The whole chapter is full of outrageous nonsense like this. It’s no wonder skeptics are sure Christianity is an intellectual wasteland, when we address glaring inconsistencies by insisting, under the banner of literal inerrancy, that the Bible doesn’t really say what it plainly says. Questions about the historical accuracy of scripture and the picture it paints of God are serious and deserve serious answers. Evangelicals believe they have a duty to bring people to the faith, but if they’re going to respond to legitimate concerns by asking us not to look behind the curtain, they’re only going to continue to drive people away.