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Marcus Borg: “Sometimes the words in the Bible are wrong.”

Marcus Borg: “Sometimes the words in the Bible are wrong.”

Marcus Borg, interviewed online at the Progressive Christian Portal has something to say about how we read the Bible today. And he encourages clergy to be honest about their own stance when it comes to passages of the Bible with which they disagree.

“”Sometimes words in the Bible are wrong.” That’s a dangerous thing for clergy to stand up and say in American churches, yet that’s one of the main messages of your work.

I would love it if every clergyperson would stand up and say to their congregations: “Sometimes the Bible is wrong.” There is a taken-for-grantedness in conservative American Christian culture—and it’s true, I think, in much of mainline Christianity today as well—that understanding the Bible is simple. And, if the Bible says something is wrong, then that pretty much settles it. There are very few Christians who are willing to stand up and say, “Sometimes the Bible is wrong.” Yet, I think that’s really important for Christians to say occasionally.

Before some of our readers start throwing things at their computer screens, let’s remind them that what you’re saying actually makes a lot of common sense if we stop to think about the whole scope of the Bible.

Obvious examples are passages in the Bible that say slavery is OK. And, there are some passages in the Bible that absolutely prohibit divorce. In Mark 10:9, it’s complete. Matthew has an exception clause: except for reasons of adultery. Then, there are clearly passages in the New Testament that expect Jesus to come again very soon from their point in time. Now, 2,000 years have passed. There are so many more examples where in plain terms we need to say, “Sometimes the Bible is wrong.””

More here.

This is definitely worth the read. Especially so if you’re not terribly familiar with Borg’s sense of how we ought to read the biblical works (hermeneutics). If you read what he says carefully, there’s less here than appears at first glance. But its probably worth saying this way just to get people to thoughtfully engage what they individually believe.


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C. Wingate

Dennis, we have modern fundamentalism precisely as a reaction to the tradition of biblical criticism out of which Borg writes.


I don’t really understand this objection. The Bible can’t be “wrong” or “right”; it’s a book, and it just is. It’s a collection of all sorts of oral and written history and culture – and what was understood as “revelation” – from a particular period in history.

It’s stories and history and lists and songs and maxims and mysticism – and the opinions of people long dead. It rarely makes declarative statements – not ones that are directed to us, at any rate. It can’t be “right” or “wrong” – at least, not in the way those words are being used in this article. It always requires interpretation.

The interpreters (i.e., individuals and/or the church), of course, can be wrong – and quite often have been. But that’s not news; see Article 19 for more….


Perhaps before modern fundamentalism this wouldn’t have been as controversial. The German reformer Martin Luther wanted the whole book of Revelation left out of German translations of the Bible and had some choice words to say about it.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, edited the Prayer Book for the new Methodist churches in America in 1784. He deleted some of the psalms (such as number 137) because, he said, they were “…not fit for the mouths of a Christian congregation.”

Those both seem relevant to this because at significant moments in Protestant history important church leaders admitted that sometimes the Bible can be wrong.

Dennis Roberts


“Choosing not to choose IS to choose.” [A phrase Google shows repeatedly, but doesn’t want to give me an original citation for!]

Every man or woman IS “their own pope”, Bill L, and was it ever thus [Metaphorically, saying “Don’t eat from the Tree in the Center of the Garden” implied they had the choice, nez pas?]

If one CHOOSES to delegate all of one’s Biblical discernment to the Bishop of Rome (for example), one is still the “pope” of that choice. [Though of course, plenty of Roman Catholics take back their choices, contravening the BofR, as it suits them! ;-/]

Individual human sovereignty is built into our DNA—it’s HOW we are Imago Dei. God bless it! 😀

JC Fisher

NB: am ignoring the claim “no reference to the Church Fathers or the Church’s Tradition or the development of doctrine”, as in the case of TEC, it certainly does NOT apply.

C. Wingate

The issue really isn’t whether the bible is wrong, but rather what you make of this. Really Anglicans need to get over this overreacting to Protestant inerrantists (since that’s not our tradition anyway) and step up to the real question of why one believes or disbelieves any particular passage. Talking about Rob Bell’s detractors is mostly a waste of time because they don’t all believe one thing, and they thus don’t all object to him along the same line. I read Rob Bell, and I can tell that he’s reading liberal theologians because he repeats some of their trope, but he isn’t up front about this. Borg says he says this or that passage is wrong, and well, OK, except I need to understand why he says so; and I’m going to come at that with a very confrontational attitude. What I’ve seen of Borg’s stuff is that it’s very Higher Crit and thus carries along a lot of Enlightenment prejudices which in turn arise out of a faith-hostile mindset. The problem of inerrantists I see is that are too facile about talking their way out of the problems the bible presents us; but the problem I see with Borg’s approach is that, reliant upon the intellect as it is, it is insufficiently self-critical.

One can be conservative about this without being inerrantist. I personally set the bar for identifying error in the bible a lot higher than Borg does. I think one should start from the assumption that the bible isn’t in error and work back along the supposed error first, and accept error if this doesn’t pan out.

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