Episcopalians Challenge the Inerrancy of the Bible


Disclaimer: this article is intended to provide information and perspective on a current event. This article is not meant to be a persuasive piece supporting any particular position, it is only meant to stimulate the contemplation of the subject discussed within.

episcopal churchLast week, the Episcopal Church in the United States decided to give its bishops the freedom to bless (and now perform) same-sex marriages. This decision will likely cause further deterioration of the relationship between the Episcopalian Church and the world-wide Anglican communion. However, it is the effect that this event may have on traditional Christian beliefs that makes it interesting.

It has long been the belief of many Christian denominations that the Bible is the infallible word of God. This belief exists in spite of the fact that the books which compose the Bible were decided upon centuries after Christ walked the earth. As more Christian denominations were founded and more supplemental writings were developed to teach the members of each denomination how to interpret the perfect word of God, more and greater disparities developed between Christian denominations.

Many beliefs have developed among modern Christians that can seem questionable when compared with the teachings found in scripture. Some ministers have taught that the ten commandments are no longer applicable because Jesus gave a new law to love one another when Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Some churches have given a specific date for the second coming when Jesus said “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) But no decision by the church has ever been so clearly in conflict with the Christian scriptures as the decision to allow same-sex marriages to be blessed by the church.

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 18:22

Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Of course, the ultimate Biblical passage that teaches its followers that homosexuality is a terrible sin is the graphic story of those infamous cities Sodom and Gomorrha.

The question here is, “If churches bless same-sex marriage, shouldn’t they just erase these verses from the Bible?” After all, to teach the inerrant nature of the Bible to your members and then turn around and bless an action clearly forbidden by that same divine publication seems to be a bit hypocritical.

The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what the church’s stance is on the issue of gay marriage as long as its teachings are consistent. As society becomes more accepting of homosexuality and church’s strive to attract younger members in order to fill their diminishing ranks, it is inevitable that homosexuals will find a more comfortable pew in which they can sit. But if the church is going to contradict the scriptures that it calls holy, it should at least teach its members that the scriptures aren’t quite perfect.

It should be interesting to see how the actions of the Episcopal Church affect the Christian church as a whole. Will other denominations cling to their traditional beliefs and the perfection of the Bible as their members leave to find more progressive religious movements? Or will they forsake their current perspective of the Bible in favor of giving their members the freedom to read, interpret, and follow the holy scriptures as they please?

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  1. So, because they read the scripture and tradition differently – that’s challenging inerrency?

    To take that scripture you cited in Corinthians literally and solely in context of the quote would mean the church should not tolerate straight effeminate men and women. Should effeminate men and women be excommunicated, denied communion – denied marriage?

    You say this article is meant to be neutral, but the title passes a massive out of context judgement.

  2. The Orthodox tradition in my faith starts with inerrancy of the Five Books of Moses, but provides extensive commentary and interpretation through the Mishnah (Oral Torah), the Talmud, and nearly two millennia of commentaries upon them. Thus, while Scripture unfiltered tells us, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them [Leviticus 20:13],” there must be at least two witnesses [Deuteronomy 17:6], and the Talmud tells us that a court of 23 judges had to vote, and the vote could not be unanimous (which would hint at a conspiracy to execute the condemned), and that the two witnesses could not corroborate their testimony before testifying, but would have a moral obligation to intervene, warning the accused that their behavior carried the death penalty. Only if the accused acknowledged each warning, but continued their behavior after each of two witnesses warned them to stop could they stand trial. Thus while the Mosaic Law says put them to death, the Rabbinic Law requires that the two men have sex somewhere where a person could come upon them in flagrente delicto, warn them to stop or face the death penalty, and continue even after having been warned and having replied that they were going to continue regardless, have another person do the same thing, and then have the two witnesses, independent of each other, report the transgression to the authorities, and have a tribunal non-unanimously vote for their execution in order for the sentence to be carried out.

    So while the Law is inerrant, the Rabbis in their wisdom made it nearly impossible to extinguish two lives for loving each other in a non-standard way.

    Interestingly, the word abomination in the Levitical law is תּוֹעֵבָה, the same word used to describe eating the flesh of swine, hares and hyraces, as well as fish without scales, and shellfish; having sex with a menstruating woman, using a rigged scale to cheat a customer, wearing women’s clothing, remarrying a wife after divorcing her, possessing gold or silver taken from an idol, and for a woman to crush the testicles of one of her husband’s assailants.

    The death penalty is also assigned for a lot of offenses in the Torah: Fortune telling, blaspheming, violating the Sabbath, disobeying or publicly cursing one’s parents, a woman losing her virginity before marriage, adultery with one’s daughter-in-law, false witness, contempt of court, allowing a dangerous ox to gore a neighbor through negligence, prostitution by a daughter of a priest, worshiping Baal Peor or sacrificing to any other god than YHVH, and adultery with a married woman all carry the death penalty.

    Execution took place via stoning, decapitation, strangulation, or being forced to drink molten lead. Moses orders people to be impaled, as does other leaders in the later books, but YHVH never proscribes that as a legal penalty.

    The Talmud mitigates this severely by making it very difficult for a court to put anyone to death. The Talmud tells us that if a court executed one person in seven years, it was considered an excessively “bloody” court.

    Because I’m not a Christian, I don’t understand why some Christians fixate upon homosexuality and yet eat pork, allow their children to curse at them at the mall, have pre-marital sex, and enjoy the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Maybe Jesus or Paul says more about homosexuality that I’m not aware of.

    P.S. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because their inhabitants were cruel to strangers, and lacked basic hospitality. While they tried to bugger the Angel of the Lord that visited Lot, they had already been condemned to death for their previous sins of cruelty and inhospitality.

  3. The fact that people in the 21st century still believe in such barbaric laws and punishment is one of the great failings of our age.

  4. To whom are you referring? After the destruction of the Second Temple, the only people who believed in such barbaric laws and punishment were the Samaritans, who today are nearly extinct as a people. No other people lived by the literal word of the Torah, unadulterated by rabbinic interpretation and theology. Essenes were non-violent, and the Zealots and Sadducees fell apart by the beginning of the second century.

  5. Drapetomaniac:

    1) Headlines are meant to get people to read articles, so my massive out of context judgment worked.

    2) My personal beliefs (which I tried not to put into this article) are that the Bible is not the perfect word of God and I don’t care if a church allows same-sex marriage. They have the right to choose as their conscience dictates.

    3) The real point of the article was to put the spotlight on the idea of an inerrant Bible in all Christian denominations. The truth is that discrepancies between Church teachings and the lessons from scripture have been around for centuries and I just wanted to get people thinking about this subject.

    47th Problem of Euclid:

    Great response! I am much more enlightened after reading your response.



  6. I guess as someone who has moved from one Episcopal church to another over this issue and has seen the divisions and people involved close up, I’m less glib than I might have been about how my church is characterized.

  7. Phil,

    I’m a big believer that Masonic education doesn’t mean that the topic has to be about Masonic history or Masonic symbols or the Masonic organization. It can be about a number of things: current events, religion, philosophy, history, science, etc.

    Seeing as many men consider the Bible to be one of the Three Great Lights, I figured that this was a good topic for discussion. Just trying to broaden the horizons a bit.

  8. The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality; it was lack of hospitality and that they did not care for the poor. Ezechiel says that (Scripture interprets scripture.)

    The NT passages refer to pederastry, not to same-sex relationships between consenting adults.

    As for Leviticus–put down that ham sandwich!

    And what about David & Jonathan? Don’t tell me they were just good friends.

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