Speaker champions the Bible’s infallibility

The Bible is a flawless example of the word of God and is completely above reproach, according to Campus Crusade for Christ leader Steve Papez. Papez's message is adopted by the entire theological community, however.

Papez outlined his views in a speech entitled "The Bible on Trial" Tuesday in the Chapel of the Holy Family.

The Bible has long been a difficult subject for scholars and laypeople alike to approach, Papez said.

"People come to the Bible with all different kinds of understandings," he said.

"What is the Bible? Is it classical literature like Edgar Allen Poe, or is it simply a religious text like the Koran of Islam or the writings of Confucius?"

In order to prove the Bible "inerrant, infallible and authoritative," Papez turned to three tests he said were commonly applied to all historic texts.

The first, called the external test, examines whether or not the text being examined is in sync with other historical and archaeological evidence from the time.

Papez said the Bible is indeed corroborated by such contemporary sources, notably the example provided by the excavation of the biblical city of Jericho, where he said the walls did indeed fall outward as mentioned in the Book of Joshua.

"The Bible has proven itself over and over again using the external evidence test," Papez said.

The second hurdle, the internal test, questions whether a source is free of contradictions and was derived from a primary source.

"As you look at each book in the Bible, ask yourself, is it free of known contradictions, and did the author use a primary source?" Papez said.

This test is more difficult for the Bible to pass, Papez said, because of several seeming contradictions. For instance, God is referred to by several names in the Book of Genesis, and the Book of Daniel transitions from Hebrew to Aramaic midway through the text and back again. This evidence suggests to some that these books had multiple authors, but Papez discounted this belief. In Genesis, the author is speaking to different cultures and so the name change is a natural byproduct of the author's trying to reach his audience. It is completely plausible that Daniel spoke Hebrew from birth and learned Aramaic while in the captivity.

"The conclusion is this: I think there is good and reasonable evidence that the Bible passes the internal test," Papez said.

The final test Papez applied to the Bible is known as the bibliographical text. This test is an examination of the way the messages of a text have reached us — how reliable copies of the original manuscripts are, for instance, and how accurate the translation from the original language are.

The Bible has a good thing going for itself in that there are many early copies of it in existence, according to Papez. Some 24,000 copies of at least part of the Bible exist, Papez said, while just 680 or so copies of Homer's "The Iliad" are known.

"The more manuscripts we have and the sooner those copies can be documented, the higher the accuracy," he said. "I think there is a higher degree of accuracy for the Bible's texts than there is that John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence."

"I think the Bible is the most accurate example of historical literature" in existence, Papez said, adding that some scholars believe it is 99.5 percent accurate — a "phenomenal" accuracy for a 2,000 year-old book.

However, John Zemler, visiting assistant professor of theology, said not all Bible scholars accept the Bible as perfectly and flawlessly true.

"Not all bible scholars would buy into that," Zemler said. "Maybe less than half would."

The Bible "certainly reveals the word of God" but perhaps is not directly the word of God, since it may have had to have been mediated by human experience or human understanding.

"As a Catholic theologian, I believe Jesus fully reveals God," Zemler said. "He's the perfect revelation of God. The perfect revelation of Jesus is the Bible, followed by and along with the Christian tradition."

"There is a high level of textual accuracy in the Bible, but the matters of historicity can legitimately be debated, and rightly so," Zemler said.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Mar. 17 2005.