College lawyer ridicules ‘inerrant’ Bible
Deposition questions reveal college strategy in MBC legal case
By Bob Baysinger
October 7, 2003
JEFFERSON CITY – An attorney representing Missouri Baptist College has launched an aggressive attack on the inerrancy of the Bible during depositions of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) president and his predecessor.
Clyde Farris, a member of the Copeland, Thompson & Farris law firm in St. Louis, questioned Bob Curtis, former MBC president and pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church, Ballwin, and Monte Shinkle, current MBC president and pastor of Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City, for several hours each, apparently trying to paint them as fundamentalists who believe the Bible and advocates snake-handling and poison-drinking. It was unclear what the questions had to do with the legal issue about the college changing its legal charter to allow the trustee board to become self-perpetuating, without the required approval of the MBC.
The Pathway attended some of the depositions but was under court order not to disclose the contents of the depositions until 21 days after attorneys received a court reporter’s printout of the testimony.
The pre-trial questioning of witnesses (depositions) is part of the process in the MBC’s lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court. The convention filed suit more than a year ago, asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment that five former MBC agencies violated Missouri corporate law by changing their charter to become self-perpetuating without MBC approval. The petition also seeks an injunction to stop the breakaway boards from any actions which might diminish the value of the agency assets.
Curtis was questioned over a two-day period, and was repeatedly challenged about his affirmation that the original writings of Scripture were totally true and without error. For example:
"Which translation of your Bible is the inerrant version?" Farris asked. "And if we don’t have the original autographs, how do we know what we have today is inerrant? What about the American Standard Bible? Is that an inerrant statement of God’s word? If there’s a difference between it and the King James version, which is the inerrant word of God?
"When you’re making a decision as to what God’s will is based on the inerrant scriptures, the scriptures you’re relying on are one of these translations that are out on the marketplace today?"
Curtis responded that he does base his decisions on "God’s infallible, inerrant word."
But Farris wasn’t satisfied.
"Let’s look at a real significant passage in the King James version, 2 Timothy 3:16," Farris said. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
"Is that inerrant or is the American Standard version which says, ‘Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching? Is it all scripture is given by inspiration or just that every scripture inspired of God is profitable for teaching? Which is the inerrant word?"
Curtis responded that translations are based on interpretation of the original text. "It’s just a different way of saying the same thing," Curtis answered.
"Well, one says that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and the other one says every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching. They don’t mean the same thing, do they?"
Curtis explained that both the words "inspired" and "inspiration" mean God breathed. He said "every" and "all" can also mean the same thing in the Greek language.
"I don’t see the discrepancy," Curtis said.
Farris next directed Curtis to 1 John 5:7. Reading to Curtis, Farris said, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the father, the word and the holy Ghost: and these three are one."
"Often quoted and the most direct important quote, I think, for the trinity," Farris said. "Compared to the American Standard and Revised Standard, the New American Standard, International Standard version, none of which talk about the father, the word and the holy ghost, these three are one … One says that the three are one and the other translations talk about the spirit that beareth witness because the spirit is the truth, the spirit is the witness because the spirit is the truth, for there are three that testify, for there are three witnesses, which don’t really speak to the Trinity really at all, not like 1 John 5:7," Farris said.
"We don’t have those original autographs to look at, do we? Farris asked.
"We do not," Curtis answered.
"And you don’t have them to look at when you decide what is God’s word and will, do you?…You look at one of these translations, don’t you?…," Farris said.
Farris next took Curtis to Mark 16, reading the verse that refers to signs following those that believe. "In my name shall they cast our devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover," Farris said.
"Is that an inerrant statement of God’s word?" he asked.
"That’s a portion of a translation included in the Book of Mark," Curtis responded.
"Well, you know, all we’ve got to read and to figure out what the inerrant statement is is these translations. Right? … Are you telling me none of them are the inerrant word of God?:
"I’m saying that the inerrant word of God is in the original autographs and we make translations based on documents recovered down through the ages," Curtis said. "And I think if Mark 16 is…the last chapter of Mark … there is a note that says, beginning with verse 9, this passage is not found in the earliest manuscripts."
Farris jumped on Curtis’ answer.
"Well, then are you telling me that none of these printed Bibles that we have now, the King James, the New Revised, are the inerrant word of God because they’re not the original manuscripts? … Then do we have the inerrant word of God in any of these Bibles, sir?"
MBC lead attorney Mike Whitehead, obviously impatient with Farris’ line of questioning, interrupted.
"The witness has repeatedly testified on this line of questioning," Whitehead said.
"And I object to the repeated badgering of the witness about whether translations are inerrant or not when he’s said repeatedly the autographs are …"
Farris, however, wasn’t finished.
"Rev. Curtis, we have now established that the King James version of the Bible has error in it," Farris stated.
Curtis would not agree.
"Every scripture is God breathed," he responded.
"Does it have error or not?" Farris persisted.
Curtis referred to his previous answer. "Every scripture is God breathed. That’s my response," he said.
"So, if we drink poison and we have faith, we’re not going to die, pursuant to Mark?" Farris said. "…Does that mean it has error? The King James version that has that chapter of Mark has error in it?"
Curtis said it doesn’t mean there is error.
"It means that further documentation has substantiated that in the earlier manuscripts found after King James was written, that passage was not found," Curtis said.
"In your opinion, does this passage belong in God’s holy word?" Farris continued. "…You understand there are fundamentalists in this country in Appalachia who as a part of their Sunday services would handle snakes … You also understand that there are a lot of passages in the Bible about the earth being flat, the earth having edges, the earth having foundations. And at one time fundamentalists thought that all of that meant that the earth was flat, didn’t they?" Farris asked.
Curtis said he didn’t recall reading about fundamentalists believing such things.
"We agree now, don’t we, that the earth is not flat. Correct? And the earth doesn’t have ends. It’s a big ball. Right? … Are you aware that there was a time in the history of this world as late as the 1600s that the fundamentalists thought was that the Earth was the center of the universe? … Did you know that a man was burned to death in the (Spanish Inquisition because he stated as fact that he thought that the … system of planets going around the sun and the earth were just another planet and there were other constellations or planet systems out there was fact – not theory – and it cost him his life?"
Farris continued, "Are you aware that there was a time that many Southern Baptists … used those passages to argue that it was God’s will that people own slaves?
"And that the Southern Baptist Convention is the result of those kind of people? … And they looked at those passages and viewed them as being literally true and argued for slavery? You’re aware of that?
"And you agree now that those passages don’t mean that people should own slaves?"
Curtis responded that the passages never did authorize slavery.
Farris, however, seemed relentless.
He then took Curtis to Gen. 9:1. "Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them. If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years, and the seventh he shall go free and pay nothing … The servant plainly says, I love my master, my wife and my children, I will not go free. And the master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door or the doorpost. His master shall pierce his ear with an awl and he shall serve him forever … ."
"(That’s) God’s word to his early people. And it’s all literally true and inerrant," Farris stated. "Correct?"
Farris added, "Isn’t God telling his people about how to own slaves and how long they can serve? … Is this less important than the other scriptures that are inerrant?
"Do you know I found over, I think, 1,010 references to "master." I found passages in Luke where there are passages about master and servant," Farris said. "All of them inerrant?"
At least twice during the interrogation, Farris misstated facts in his questions. He asked Curtis about the "three days" of creation and the "12 Commandments." But that didn’t slow the attack. His next stop was the fifth day of creation.
Quoting from a Bible, Farris said, "Fifth day, Chapter 1, verse 20 (Genesis) ‘God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life and fowl that may fly above the earth, etc.’ Genesis 2, chapter 19; ‘Out of the ground, not waters. Out of the ground the Lord formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air.’
"If we’re talking about a science class, were the fowls made out of the ground or out of the water? … So in Genesis 2 somebody got it down wrong when they said the fowls came out of the ground when in the original version in Chapter 1 it came out of the water?"
Farris moved next to 1 Cor. 7:1. Reading the verse, Farris said, "’Now according to the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman?’ Should that be part of our family living course?"
Curtis tried to tell Farris that he was taking the verse out of context – to no avail.
"Should we teach that every woman who prays or prophesieth with her head unveiled dishonours her head: it is the same as if her head were shaven; for if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair?" Farris asked. "…Should we, therefore, interpret what God’s intent for a woman’s role to be in the family in light of the customs and mores into which those writers were living when they wrote those passages?"
Whitehead objected to Farris’ question, saying he couldn’t even understand the question. But Farris continued.
"Should we interpret them in the light of the times? In other words, back when the Bible was written, a woman was an object of property, wasn’t she?" he asked.
Farris also was inquisitive about Joseph.
"I’m curious," Farris said. "If the Bible is inerrant, who was Joseph’s father?"
Whitehead interrupted and asked for clarification. "Joseph, who?" he asked.
"Joseph, the father of Jesus, the husband of Mary," Farris answered. "…I find in Matt. 1:16, Joseph begat Joseph. Joseph begat Joseph? But in Luke 3, I find a different name. Jesus himself began to be about 30 years of age, the son of Joseph which was the son of Heli, H-e-l-i. In one genealogy we have Joseph’s name and Joseph’s father named one way and in the other, somebody else. They both cannot be correct, can they?
"The gospels don’t agree as to what time Jesus was crucified. One says three o’clock and one says about six o’clock. In Mark 15:25 it says, ‘It was the third hour, and they crucified him.’ John 19, he’s still with Pilate, about the sixth hour, three hours after he’s been crucified. John has him still with Pilate long before the terrible trip to Calvary. Which is correct?"
Farris closed the long day of questioning with an attack upon Jesus’ resurrection.
"If it was a factual event and if it’s intended to specifically say what happened, then one gospel says there was one man – I mean, an angel — sitting on the stone. Another gospel said there were two angels inside, one standing where the head had been and one where the foot had been. Another gospel says there was a young man or two, young men, I forget which, inside. Is that the way you recall the way the gospels treat the event."
Curtis responded that he didn’t see that as contradictory or complicating.
"It may not be," Farris said, "but if it is an historical event, it’s been reported differently by four different writers, isn’t it? If the Holy Spirit is trying to tell the truth, then the Holy Spirit didn’t do a very accurate job, did he?"
Some observers wondered whether the college lawyer’s position represented the college trustees and officers, ridiculing the infallibility of Scripture. MBC lawyers said that, in any event, they would argue that these questions are irrelevant at trial.
"A change of heart about the Bible by the college is not relevant in a legal case about changes in corporate charters," Whitehead observed. "A deacon may disagree with something in the pastor’s sermon, but that does not give the deacon the right to change the title on the church bus to his own name."