Friday, 9 March 2018

What Do We Mean When We Say That the Bible Is Free from Error? Part 3


In three ways, then, the Bible’s truthfulness is not a simple subject. First, ideas of truth and error vary from culture to culture. Second, some minor errors have come into the text of Scripture since it was first written. And third, other minor errors existed in the original text.

The first of these points does not really involve error in the Bible per se, but the second and third do.

Since God is perfect and completely unerring, how do reconcile the presence of these errors with the divinity of the Bible?

I am not sure exactly how to understand this. But I think the answer probably lies in the human quality of Scripture. As well as being divine, the Bible is a thoroughly human set of writings.

For example, the different authors had their own writing styles and abilities. Some were very polished and fluent writers, while others wrote in awkward and disjointed language. When inspiring the Bible, God allowed these writers to be themselves. He allowed the text to remain very human.

It seems that the presence of minor errors in the Bible should be understood in the same sort of way. They are not important enough to stop the Bible accomplishing its purpose. The voice of God still comes through loud and clear. But these errors do help to show Scripture’s thoroughly human side.


Although the Bible is not completely without error in all its details, there has to be a meaningful level on which it is free from error. Otherwise, it would be unreliable as a guide for life. And that would be unthinkable.

So exactly what is this level?

I am not sure precisely how to describe it. But basically, anything that the Bible teaches that is important for life and faith has to be correct. Everything it teaches about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, sin, salvation, heaven, hell, evangelism, the church, the family, morals, etc., etc. is always true. So on this level we can say that the Bible is free from error. And this is the level that counts.

Essentially, the errors that exist in Scripture are not significant enough to cause it to mislead us in anything we need to know. The Bible gets the job done that God designed it for.


If we accept, then, that there are minor errors in the Bible, isn’t this a dangerous thing to believe? Might we not end up sliding down a slippery slope and accepting serious errors in doctrine or practice?

There are a few points to make here.

This challenge affects all Christians

It is important to recognize that even ultraconservative Christians need to respond to this challenge.

Although ultraconservative scholars claim that the original text of Scripture contained no errors at all, even they almost always agree that minor errors have come into the text since it was written. So potentially this could lead down a slippery slope towards believing that major errors have come into the text since it was first composed.

Therefore, this challenge regarding a slippery slope is one that really affects all Christians. Everyone, or almost everyone, who has studied the matter in any depth agrees that the Bible as we have it today contains some minor errors. So everyone needs to address this challenge.

No danger of more significant errors existing

Secondly, we need to understand clearly that the existence of minor errors in the Bible in no way means that there is a danger that it might actually contain more significant errors.

Scripture exists because God decided to form a book of writings that would guide His people down through the ages. And we can be certain that His Bible project was and is a success. It is therefore unthinkable that He has allowed it to mislead us in anything of importance. So we can be sure that He has not permitted errors in Scripture that are more than minor, insignificant ones.

A temptation to resist

It is true that Christians who accept that Scripture contains minor errors will at times be tempted to believe that it is in error in more significant ways too. In this sense there is admittedly a real danger of sliding down a slippery slope.

However, this temptation is one that can and should be resisted. There is a world of difference between a minor error that has no effect on our lives and a major error that would influence how we live or what we believe about God. If we keep this difference firmly in mind, we will not end up sliding anywhere.


Something that ultraconservative Christians often fail to recognize is that their view of errors in the Bible often causes big problems.

It is true, as I have said, that ultraconservatives almost always agree that some minor errors have come into the text of Scripture since it was written. It is right and helpful that they admit this.

However, ultraconservatives always deny that the original text contained any errors at all.

In order to hold this view, they are forced to come up with extremely unnatural interpretations of passages and find other solutions to things that are on the face of it very improbable. To put it bluntly, in order to hold their views ultraconservatives have no choice but to keep explaining things away.

Above, I gave a few examples of this, but there are many more that could be added. To suppose that ultraconservative views on biblical errors can be held without resorting to techniques of this kind is simply not realistic.

However, this whole business of coming up with forced interpretations and explanations is problematic in several ways.


First, there is the matter of honesty. When we approach any part of the Bible, we should always be as honest as we possibly can be with each passage that we read. If a text seems most naturally to be saying something, we should admit that.

Time and time again, I see ultraconservative Christians giving interpretations of biblical passages that are at best dubious, at worst impossible, without any admission that they are taking an unnatural interpretation of the text. They obviously think that the text they are reading shouldn’t be saying what it strongly seems to say, so they force their interpretation of it to make it say something else. And then they pretend that this forced interpretation is actually a natural one or only slightly unnatural.  

Being dishonest in any way, however, is a sin, and that includes dishonesty when dealing with the Bible. It greatly displeases God.

But dishonesty is not just wrong in itself. It also serves to put non-Christians off the gospel. Non-Christians are often very sensitive to noticing when Christians are being dishonest. And when they think they see this, they frequently want nothing to do with the Christian faith.

If ultraconservatives were to admit what they are doing when they take extremely unnatural interpretations of the Bible, the problems caused by dishonesty would be avoided. But they rarely, if ever, seem to do this.

Putting people off the faith

I have just noted that being dishonest in biblical interpretation often puts people off the Christian faith.

However, there is another, more significant way in which ultraconservative views on errors in Scripture put people off the faith.

Something along the following lines often happens:

An ultraconservative teacher says that if the original text of the Bible contained even one minor error, then the Christian faith would have to be a lie. A non-Christian accepts this as correct. The non-Christian then examines the Bible and concludes that its original text did indeed contain some minor errors. So they decide that the Christian faith must be false.

The same sort of thing often happens to those who are already Christians. They become convinced that there were minor errors in the original text of Scripture. They accept that this is incompatible with the truth of the Christian faith. And so they walk away from the faith. 

I find this so sad. These people have tripped over a rock that should never have been there in the first place. I wonder how many people might have become Christians or might still be in the faith if they had understood that the existence of minor errors in the original text of Scripture in no way means that the Christian faith is false.

I think ultraconservatives have a lot to answer for in this area.

We do have to be careful here, of course, because there can be no compromise on accepting that the Bible is fully error-free in what it teaches about anything that is of importance. Those who are contemplating becoming Christians need to be told this in no uncertain terms. But putting people off the faith over a matter of trivial errors in Scripture is completely unnecessary. It is nothing short of tragic.

A dangerous precedent

There is yet another big problem with ultraconservative views on errors in the Bible.

As I have said, ultraconservatives can only hold their views by taking some extremely unnatural interpretations of biblical passages. However, doing this sets a terribly dangerous precedent. It gives a green light to those who want to take extremely unnatural interpretations of the Bible in other places too.

So when ultraconservatives come up with forced explanations of passages and claim that they are defending truth, in reality they are unintentionally encouraging people to misinterpret the Bible in all sorts of ways.

Summing up

Ultraconservative views on errors in the Bible, then, actually cause big problems. These views lead to dishonesty, put people off the Christian faith, and encourage misinterpretation of Scripture.


In this article I have made a number of different points. The following are the most important:

First, when we get into the details, the truthfulness of the Bible is not a simple matter. Ideas of truth and error in the culture of the biblical authors were not exactly the same as in modern Western culture. Some minor errors have come into the text of Scripture since it was first written. And other minor errors existed in the original text.

Second, failing to acknowledge these things causes a variety of problems.

Third, and most importantly, the Bible consistently teaches what is true in anything that is important. In eternity past, God devised His Scripture project as a means of teaching His people down through the ages things that they need to know. And we can be confident that this project was and is a success.

See also:

Four Reasons Not to Use the King James Version

What Do We Mean When We Say That the Bible Is Free from Error? Part 2


Another point we need to consider has to do with errors that have come into the text of the Bible since it was first written.

You may be surprised to hear this, but even the vast majority of ultraconservative biblical scholars believe that the Bible as we have it today contains some minor errors.

(In this article I will use the term “ultraconservative” to refer to Christians who claim that the original text of the Bible contained not even one minor error. This is a much better term to describe these believers than “conservative,” since there are many Christians, like myself, who are theologically and doctrinally fully conservative, while holding that the original text of Scripture contained some minor errors.)

When ultraconservative scholars say that they believe in the “inerrancy” of the Bible, what they almost always mean is that they believe that the autographs of the biblical books were without error.

The autograph of a text is the original document, the piece of writing that was first composed. And all of the autographs of the Bible are now lost. What we have today are copies of earlier copies.

During the copying process, scribes often made unintentional mistakes. And they also sometimes deliberately altered the wording, when they thought something read awkwardly or that what it said was theologically problematic.

The result is that today we have thousands of manuscripts of portions of the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, but no two copies of any significant length agree with each other perfectly. And this means that any Bible translation today is bound to contain some errors.

An example of an error that has come into the Hebrew text can be found in 2 Samuel 15. Verses 1-6 of this chapter describe how Absalom made himself popular among the Jews of his day. The passage tells us that he used to stand near a gate in Jerusalem and speak to many who were involved in lawsuits. He would say that he agreed with them that they were in the right. And in this way he won people’s affections.

However, in the Hebrew text as it has come down to us, v. 7 then begins: 
“At the end of forty years Absalom said to the king [David] . . .” 
In the context, the forty years apparently refers to the time that Absalom was in the habit of speaking to people at the gate. But the author of 2 Samuel surely cannot have written that Absalom did this for forty years. It seems far too long a time.

Besides, the reader of 2 Samuel has been told that David was king in Jerusalem before Absalom started to do this (2 Samuel 5:9 etc.). And they have been told that David’s reign in Jerusalem only lasted for thirty-three years (2 Samuel 5:5). So “forty” seems to be an error that has crept into the Hebrew text.

It is probable that the original Hebrew read “four,” and that this was accidentally corrupted in copying to “forty.” Most English translations have “four” in their texts, and this seems to be our best guess of what the author wrote. Nevertheless, “forty” is apparently an error in the Hebrew text as we have it. And even ultraconservative scholars agree with this.

There are numerous other places in the Bible where we find similar minor errors that have come into the text since it was first written. Sometimes we can figure out with a high degree of probability what the original was. But sometimes we can’t. And this means that every translation of the Bible is bound to contain some minor errors.

There is no need for Christians to be troubled about this, however. Although the original text of the Bible has not been preserved perfectly, the overwhelming majority of these errors involve trivial matters. Furthermore, even on those occasions when something more important is in view, it is never the case that a key matter of doctrine or practice stands or falls on the uncertain passage alone. There will be other scriptural passages that teach about the same subject and which are textually not in dispute.

Basically, errors that have come into the text since the Bible was written in no way prevent it doing what God designed it for. Scripture succeeds in getting its job done.

I also think that allowing unimportant errors to enter the biblical text is actually an act of great wisdom on God’s part. Sadly, some Christians unintentionally tend to treat the Bible as an object of worship. But the minor errors in it help to counter this tendency. And yet they don’t stop Scripture accomplishing its purpose. It seems to me that this is perfect planning by God.

There is one other point worth making on this issue, which is that the same sort of situation would have existed in the first century as exists today. The copies of the OT used by Jesus and the early church would have contained minor errors. It is completely implausible to think that God chose to prevent the introduction of minor errors into the text for hundreds of years up to the time of Christ and the early church, but that He then allowed this after that time.

This means that when, in the NT, we find Jesus and early Christians implying that the OT text in their day is without error, we should understand them to be simplifying things slightly.

This simplification is perfectly reasonable. As is true today, the errors in the first century text would in no way have stopped the OT doing its job. So there was no need to see them as significant or bother mentioning them. But nevertheless, it is worth noting that there is a bit of simplification going on.

This issue of minor errors coming into the text after it was written, then, is a second way in which the truthfulness of Scripture is not a simple matter.


Yet another way in which the Bible’s truthfulness is not a simple subject concerns minor errors in the original text.

As I have studied Scripture closely over the years, I have become convinced that its original text contained errors of this kind. I am sure that the only way of avoiding this conclusion is to take extremely unnatural interpretations of the passages involved or to come up with other implausible solutions. And I don’t believe that God asks us to do anything implausible when dealing with Scripture. So I take the firm view that the original text of the Bible contained minor errors in unimportant matters.

Here are four examples of this:

Job 37

In Job 37:18 Elihu challenges Job with these words: 
“Can you spread out the skies as He [God] does, hard like a mirror of cast metal?” 
Elihu assumes here that the skies God made are solid. Up until the 16th century AD people believed that the sky was a solid dome, and Elihu clearly understands things in this way. But we know today that the sky is not solid. So Elihu has unknowingly made a minor mistake.

It is not reasonable to argue that because this is poetry, the author of Job didn’t intend his readers to take these words literally. Poetry actually often uses a great deal of literal language. And the hardness of the skies was clearly meant to be understood literally here.

The key point Elihu is making in this verse is that God is immensely powerful and wise, and this, of course, is true. And Elihu is also obviously correct to say that God used His power and wisdom to make the skies. So his error here in no way affects his argument in this part of the book of Job. It is a trivial mistake.

Matthew 23

Another example can be found in Matthew 23:34-35. Here Jesus threatens the scribes and Pharisees in this way: 
34 Therefore, behold, I am sending prophets and wise men and scribes to you. Some of them you will kill and crucify, . . . , 35 so that all the upright blood shed on the earth might come upon you, from the blood of the upright Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” 
It seems highly likely that in this passage Matthew has made a minor mistake as regards the name of the Zechariah that he has in mind. He presents Jesus referring to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, but it appears that he meant to say Zechariah the son of Jehoiada.

Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, is the prophet whose prophecies are found in the OT book that we know as Zechariah (see Zechariah 1:1). Neither the OT nor Jewish tradition, however, provides any evidence that he suffered a violent death.

In 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, by contrast, we are told that Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was murdered in the temple courts. This fits well with the description in Matthew 23:35.

Importantly, when Jesus refers to the blood of Abel and the blood of Zechariah, He is apparently referring to the first and last pertinent murders in the Hebrew Bible of His day. Abel is the first person to be murdered in Scripture (Genesis 4:8). However, today 2 Chronicles is the book that concludes the Hebrew Scriptures as they are commonly used by Jews, and there is no good reason for believing it did not conclude them in the first century too. It seems highly probable, therefore, that in Matthew 23:35 Matthew is attempting to portray Jesus referring to the Zechariah who was murdered near the end of the Hebrew Bible in 2 Chronicles 24.

Explanations that attempt to get round the difficulty are all unconvincing. To say that the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, was also murdered in the temple courts without any evidence for this, and that it is just coincidental that the murder in the temple courts of another man called Zechariah is found at the end of the Hebrew Bible, fails to convince. Similarly, to suppose that the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles 24 was actually the grandson of Jehoiada, who was the father of an otherwise unknown Berechiah, looks very contrived.

It seems highly likely that Matthew has made a mistake, although just a trivial one.

Mark 2

A further example can be seen in Mark 2:25-26, where Jesus states: 
25 Have you never read what David did . . . , 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the loaves of presentation . . . ?” 
Here Mark presents Jesus referring to the account in 1 Samuel 21:1-9, where David eats the sacred bread. In this OT passage, however, we are told that Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father, was actually high priest when David ate the bread.

It is true that a few Greek manuscripts of this passage in Mark omit the reference to Abiathar. But this is hardly a warrant for missing out these words from the text, and I am not aware of any English version that omits them.

The approach usually taken by those anxious to harmonize Mark with 1 Samuel on this point is to suppose that “in the time of Abiathar the high priest” just means “during the lifetime of Abiathar.” If the words are interpreted in this way, then the passage in Mark need not actually be saying that Abiathar was high priest when David ate the bread.

This, however, seems a very forced way of taking the text. In 1 Samuel, David talks to the high priest (Ahimelech) at the time he eats the sacred bread, and we can be confident that Mark intended Jesus to be referring to the man David talked to. There is no other plausible reason for Mark mentioning the high priest at all.

It seems, then, that Mark has made an error in this passage, albeit a trivial one.

Hebrews 9

The final example comes from Hebrews 9:3-4. Here the author says: 
3 Behind the second veil was the part of the tent called the Holy of Holies, 4 which had . . . the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was the golden jar containing the manna and Aaron’s staff which budded . . .” 
In this passage the author states that the jar containing the manna and Aaron’s staff were in the ark of the covenant. In the OT, however, we read that these items were actually located in front of the ark, not inside it (Exodus 16:33-34; Numbers 17:10).

To argue on the basis of this passage in Hebrews that there must have been a time in Israelite history when the jar and the staff were placed inside the ark seems a very drastic course of action to take. There is no evidence at all in the OT that the jar and staff were ever inside the ark. Besides, in Exodus 16:33-34 we are told that God instructed Moses to place the jar in front of the ark, and in Numbers 17:10 God instructs him to place Aaron’s staff in front of the ark.

We must bear in mind too that the OT has very precise commands about how the tabernacle should be arranged, and it is difficult to imagine that deviations from this pattern were permitted. Let us be clear too that the ark of the covenant was located not just in the tabernacle, but in the Holy of Holies. If there was any part of the tabernacle where we would expect there to be strict adherence to what the Law of Moses required, it would be the Holy of Holies.

It seems that the author of Hebrews’ memory has served him poorly as regards these details and that he has made a trivial mistake.

We can’t just appeal to error-free autographs

There are also other examples like these, where the evidence strongly suggests that a biblical author has made a small error.

Importantly too, we cannot reasonably explain away all these mistakes by arguing that the text has changed over the centuries, and that the autograph, i.e., the original text, was error-free.

It is true, as I noted above, that some minor errors in Scripture are ones that have come into the text since it was written.

However, in other cases where there seems to be an error, two things are true. First, there is little or no textual evidence in our surviving manuscripts that the original text was different. And second, the structure of the text makes it implausible that the original avoided the error.

It is therefore not reasonable to claim that all of the errors in the Bible as we know it have come into the text since it was first written.

What about 2 Timothy 3:16?

As I have already said, in 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul says: 
“All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correction, for training in uprightness.”  
I have already said too that Paul is strongly implying here that the Bible consistently teaches what is true.

So how can we reconcile what Paul says in this verse with the existence of minor errors in the original text of Scripture? Doesn’t this verse show that there can’t be any such errors?

Actually, this thinking is too simplistic.

When Paul says, “all Scripture is God-breathed,” he is surely not referring specifically to the autographs of the OT writings, which would have been composed some centuries before his time. Rather, he is referring to the OT as he and his readers knew and read it. The present tense verb “is” especially points in this direction.

It is true that Paul would have believed firmly that what he says about the OT in this verse would also have applied to the autographs. But in this verse he is referring to the OT as it existed in his day.

However, as I have already noted, in the first century the OT would have contained some minor errors that had come into the text since it was written. Even ultraconservative biblical scholars almost always agree that the Bible as we have it today contains minor errors of this kind. And it is completely implausible to think that God chose to prevent the introduction of minor errors into the text for hundreds of years up to the time of Christ and the early church, but that He then allowed this after that time.

So this means that what Paul says about the OT in 2 Timothy 3:16 stands despite the existence of minor errors that would have come into the text before the first century. These errors were unimportant enough that they didn’t stop the Bible accomplishing what Paul says it accomplishes in this verse. So Paul quite rightly saw no need to bother mentioning that they existed.

But if minor errors that came into the text after it was written don’t contradict 2 Timothy 3:16, then why should we think that other minor errors that were in the original text should contradict this verse? That would be inconsistent.

2 Timothy 3:16 can therefore quite easily be reconciled with the existence of minor errors in the original text of the Bible.

Summing up

The evidence is very strong, then, that the original text of Scripture contained some minor errors. The only way to avoid this conclusion is by repeatedly explaining things away. But it just seems wrong to think that God wants us to explain away anything that we find in the Bible.

This is a third way in which the truthfulness of Scripture is not a simple matter.

See also:

Thursday, 1 March 2018

American Christians and Gun Control

Speaking as someone who lives in the United Kingdom, one topic that makes news headlines here with distressing frequency is mass shootings in the United States.

It seems rare for more than a few months to go by without the top story again being an incident of tragic gun violence in the US. And whenever this happens, there are also interviews with people who have been affected by it. Every time, some of them say that American laws on gun control need to change radically, while others are opposed this.

Quite often some of the interviewees are specifically identified as evangelical Christians. And from what I have seen, American evangelicals are usually opposed to gun control laws being significantly tightened.

In view of all this, I am convinced of two things. First, gun control laws in the US should be made much more restrictive. And second, the attitude of American Christians who oppose greater restrictions is helping to put people around the world off the Christian gospel.

In what follows I will make a case for these points.


I need to say at the outset that I am not an American citizen. I am a British national who lives in Britain. So I suspect that some who are reading this might think that I should not intrude into what is an American matter.

However, I believe strongly that it is appropriate for me to comment on this issue. There are several reasons for this:

First, if it is true, as I believe firmly it is, that lives are needlessly being lost and that people are needlessly being put off salvation in Christ, this far outweighs any issue of national identity.

Second, the ties that bind Christians go far deeper than the ties that bind people of the same earthly nation. We Christians are the children of God. So since I believe that some of my brothers and sisters are making a terrible mistake about something, it is reasonable for me to try to persuade them to change their views.

Third, my motivation for writing this article is only to make constructive criticism. I am not trying to judge anyone. 

Fourth, I think my own country probably has more failings in God’s sight than the US. That is my sincere opinion. So I am in no way writing from some imagined position of superiority. 

Fifth, if American Christians were to write constructively criticizing the church in the UK, and if the criticism were justified – which it is not difficult to believe it would be – then I would be the first to say “Amen.” I would actually warmly welcome writings of this kind.

In view of these points, I hope that American readers of this article will agree that it is appropriate for me to give my views on this topic. In fact, I hope that some might even welcome the perspective of an evangelical living outside America.


From what I have seen, those who oppose significantly restricting gun laws in the US use the same few arguments repeatedly. In what follows, I will begin by referring to what seem to be the main ones and give what I believe are good answers.

Then I will turn to consider what influence this issue has on people’s attitudes to the Christian faith.


Those American Christians who want to keep gun laws more or less as they are often appeal to freedom to try to make their case. It is frequently said that America is a free country and that restricting the ability of people to own guns of any kind would contradict this.

This thinking is very misguided.

A free country

Importantly, when Western people refer to a certain country being a free country, what they typically have in mind are freedom of speech and the freedom for people to practice the religion of their choice. America, of course, has a long tradition of having and supporting these things.

However, gun control is not remotely in the same bracket as these types of freedom. It is an issue of public safety that involves situations where people get caught up unwillingly in life-threatening danger. And in such cases, it is reasonable for a government to potentially deny freedoms, so as to protect people.

Furthermore, as Christians, we recognize that it is often good for the law to deny people a freedom. For example, the freedom for a person to commit suicide is a bad one. And in this case, God surely wants American law to deny people this freedom. We could think of many other examples too, where it is good for the law to deny people the freedom to do something bad.

It is a big mistake, then, to think that the more freedoms a country allows, the better. That would be nothing other than anarchy.

A scale of weaponry

When considering the issue of guns and freedom, it is also important not to treat guns in isolation from other weapons.

We can think of weaponry on a scale from the least deadly through to the most deadly. Low down the list come knives. Higher up are single-shot guns and then repeating guns. Even further up come rocket-propelled grenades, tanks and jet fighter-bombers. And right at the top are nuclear weapons.

Of course, this list is far from exhaustive, and there is some room for debate about where on the list each item should stand. But the point I am making is simply that each kind of gun would be at some place on a scale of deadly weapons that includes weapons other than guns.

It is important to recognize that every country in the world allows its citizens the freedom to possess some items on this list and denies them the freedom to possess other things. Nowhere in the world are people denied the freedom to own a small knife. And nowhere allows private citizens the freedom to own a nuclear weapon.

At present, the US allows its citizens to possess weapons that are much higher up the list than most other countries. But, like all other countries, it draws the line somewhere.

However, very few Americans would say that because America is a free country, a private citizen should be allowed to own and use a weaponized fighter-bomber. But why would denying people the ability to have one of these not contradict America being a free country while denying people the ability to have a machine gun would contradict this? That would be inconsistent. The only difference is that a machine gun and a fighter-bomber are at different places on the list.

Those who agree, then, that American freedom doesn’t mean that people should be allowed to own a weaponized jet or a nuclear weapon, are being inconsistent if they say that denying people the ability to own any kind of gun would contradict this freedom.

Self-defense and freedom

I think in response to what I have just said, some might want to argue as follows:

It is too simplistic to view all weapons as being on a single scale. Instead, there are two scales: weapons that can be used for personal self-defense and weapons that can’t be used for personal self-defense. For people to be denied the ability to own and use any weapon that can be used for personal self-defense would contradict America being a free country.

The reasoning here, however, is fundamentally flawed. It should be clear that any weapon can at times serve for personal self-defense, whether by actually using it or by threatening to use it.

For example, if a man is threatening your family, you could tell him in no uncertain terms that unless he stops, you will use your aircraft to drop a bomb on his house!

It is reasonable, therefore, to see all weapons as being on a single scale. And the point still stands, that if someone agrees that denying people the ability to have a fighter jet or a nuclear weapon fits with American freedom, then it would be inconsistent to claim that denying them the ability to have any kind of gun would contradict this freedom.

Summing up

Appealing to the issue of freedom, then, when opposing restrictions on gun ownership in the US, doesn’t make sense. In fact, this issue says nothing about whether or not American gun laws should be changed.


Another argument that is used by those who oppose restrictions on gun ownership appeals to the second amendment of the US constitution. This amendment famously refers to “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

I don’t claim to be an expert on American history. However, as far as I can tell, when this amendment was first introduced it served a useful purpose by giving people who needed it the ability to defend themselves.

Taking account of 18th century weaponry

We need to understand clearly, however, that guns were very different in those days. Today, the number of rounds that can be fired in a given space of time is vastly greater than it was back then. And it seems highly likely that if the weaponry that now exists had existed in those days, the amendment would have gone into more detail about what sorts of weapons a private citizen would be allowed to own.

Times change

Importantly too, the US has changed in many other complex and interlocking ways over the last two and a third centuries. So even if granting people the right to bear arms did more good than harm in the late 18th century, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the same is true today. Similarly, even if granting people the right to bear arms still does more good than harm today, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good to grant them the right to bear any kind of arms.

It is wrong to force a model that was devised centuries ago onto a very different situation that exists today.


From what I have seen, some American Christians seem clearly to be guilty of idolatry in this area. They treat the US constitution as an object of false worship.

Incidentally, as a Brit I know all about this sort of idolatry. Here it is the monarchy and the queen that are idolized by many. For people of this mindset, the British constitution is something set in stone that must never, ever under any circumstance be changed. It is treated as an object of religious worship.

However, whenever we exalt any man-made system higher than we should and begin to worship it, we are committing a grave sin. Instead, we should always hold on to human institutions and constitutions loosely, with a willingness to modify them if it makes sense to do that.

Summing up

Appealing to the constitution, then, as a reason why tougher gun control laws should not be introduced is mistaken. This issue is another that really says nothing about whether or not American gun laws should be changed.


So far I have argued that the issues of freedom and the US constitution say nothing about whether American gun control laws should be significantly changed or not.

Now I will move on to give an argument in support of radically changing US laws in this area. I am convinced that it is a compelling argument.

The right to defend oneself and one’s family

Probably the most commonly used argument by those who want to keep American gun laws more or less as they are appeals to the ability of people to defend themselves and their families. Many Americans, including Christians, are outraged by the thought of having their ability to defend themselves taken away. They want to be allowed to buy guns so that they can stop evildoers from harming them. And they therefore want the current laws to remain the same or almost the same.

Confusing two things

There is some seriously flawed reasoning going on here. Let’s think this through very carefully.

To begin with, having seen many interviews with people who use this argument, it seems clear to me that they are confusing two things. First, they want to maximize their ability to defend themselves and their families. And second, they want to minimize the likelihood of themselves and their families being killed or injured by bad guys with guns or other weapons.

The critical mistake here is to assume that these two things necessarily go together. Crucially, they are actually separate issues.

It is absolutely essential to grasp this point. Increased ability to defend does not necessarily mean decreased likelihood of suffering injury or death at the hands of evildoers. In fact, sometimes increased ability to defend means increased likelihood of suffering injury and death, as I will explain in what follows.

Those who want to attack and defend

Ideally, the American government would prevent those who will use guns for evil from getting their hands on them, but they would allow those who will use them for defense to have them.

Importantly, however, it is not possible to see inside people’s souls to see what they are planning. So when a country makes it easy for defenders to get guns, it also makes it easy for attackers to get guns.

Similarly, when a country makes it hard for defenders to get guns, it makes it hard for attackers to get guns.

Comparing countries

In the US it is relatively easy for people to buy guns. So the upside here is that those who want to use guns for good in defending people can easily get hold of them. But the downside is that those who want to use guns for evil in attacking people can also easily get hold of them.

Compared to the US, in all other Western countries, it is relatively hard to buy guns. The upside here is that it is hard for those who want to use guns for evil to get hold of them. And the downside is that it is hard for those who want to use guns for good to get hold of them.

Which is better?

So in each way of doing things there is an upside and a downside. The question therefore needs to be asked, which is the better system? Is it safer to allow would-be attackers and would-be defenders to easily get guns? Or is it safer to prevent would-be attackers and would-be defenders from getting guns?

The answer to this question is crystal clear. The statistics for gun-related deaths show that there are far, far more of these in the US than in any other Western country.

For example, in the US the average person is 25 times more likely to be killed by gun violence than here in the UK. And other Western countries are also much safer than the US in this respect.

This means that when considering protecting people from gun violence, it is vastly more important to prevent the bad guys having guns than it is to allow the good guys to have guns.

By allowing defenders to easily have guns, US laws unintentionally allow attackers to have guns too. And the harm caused by allowing the attackers to get guns massively outweighs the good caused by allowing defenders to get guns.

So by increasing the ability to defend, people are actually increasing the probability of themselves and their loved ones being killed or injured by gun violence.

To put it bluntly, the system in the US is terribly flawed. The priority is all wrong.

Not a surprise

The statistics comparing gun violence between the US and other Western countries shouldn’t actually cause us any surprise. It is clear that those who use guns to attack have a huge advantage over those who use them to defend.

The attacker always fires first. And it literally takes a fraction of a second to do so.

Nor does the victim even have to see the attacker. The attacker can easily shoot someone in the back.

Furthermore, those Americans who want to have guns so that they can defend their families should realize clearly that most of the time they are not in the same location as their families anyway. Instead, their families are out there somewhere in a country that makes it relatively easy for would-be attackers to possess guns.


If American laws on gun control were to change to match those of other Western countries, many lives would undoubtedly be saved.

It is true that reducing the ability of people to defend themselves would mean that some would be killed or injured who would otherwise live or remain uninjured. But many, many more would live or remain uninjured who would otherwise be killed or injured.

And for each individual person, there would be a drastically reduced probability of being killed or injured by gun violence.

I think the only group of people who would become less safe would be those who at present possess guns, have bullet-proof glass in their windows and almost never leave their house. But virtually no one lives like that.

I am sure that some people, even when confronted with the statistics comparing the US with other Western countries, will still think that they will be safer if they can have free access to guns to defend themselves. They have images in their mind of being able to use a weapon to protect themselves and their family.

I would suggest, however, that this attitude is very unrealistic and shows a high degree of overconfidence. When guns are used, attackers are always at an enormous advantage over defenders. So the key priority should be to make it difficult for attackers to get hold of guns. And because we usually can’t tell who the attackers will be, this will necessarily, and regrettably, mean making it difficult for defenders to get hold of guns too.


Let me say a few words about how this issue looks from my experience of living in the UK.

I own no gun, nor do I know anyone who owns a gun. Military grade weapons are illegal here and so are hand guns. Farmers in my area commonly have shotguns, and a few people have hunting rifles. Background checks for anyone owning any gun are extensive.

If someone were to attack me with a gun, I would have no way of fighting back. However, I also know that it is very difficult for people who would want to harm me to get their hands on guns too. And I know that the police and secret services have their ears to the ground to stop people breaking the law in this respect. So the chances of me being attacked with a gun are extremely low.

The alternative scenario, where I have a gun, say a hand gun, and so do many people living in my neighborhood, seems a much more dangerous prospect to me. I am so glad that this is not possible here. It feels far safer for guns to be restricted. And my feelings must be right, because statistical comparisons between the US and other Western countries proves this anyway, as I have noted above.


If the US radically changed its policy on guns, many lives would surely be saved. However, that is not my main motivation for writing this article. There is another, even more important reason why the American laws on guns are so damaging. The attitude of some American Christians to gun control is doubtless helping to put people off the Christian faith.

News spreads quickly and easily

We live in a world where news can easily spread to the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. When something is reported widely in mainstream media, literally billions of people hear about it. So there is no doubt that billions of people, or at the very least hundreds of millions, hear about each mass shooting in the US.

However, many of these people will also see interviews with those affected by the violence. And, as I have noted, many of these state that they don’t want the laws to change, including some who are identified as Christians.

Ignorance of the Christian faith

Something else that should be regarded as a fact is that most people in the world know very little about the true Christian faith. Even in most Western countries, huge numbers of people have no idea what our faith is really all about. And in many other parts of the world the problem is greater still.

Damaging thought processes

Jesus Christ is the only way for people to be saved from eternal judgment. So people desperately need to hear and believe the gospel message.

However, I am sure that the following, or something close to it, often happens:

First, a non-Christian somewhere in the world sees a news report of a mass shooting in the US using military grade assault rifles. A reporter or commentator then mentions that in the US it is legal for people to own these sorts of weapons. The non-Christian thinks to himself or herself that it is a very bad idea for this to be legal.

Second, this non-Christian then sees an interview with someone affected by the tragedy, perhaps someone whose relative has been shot. This person is identified as a Christian and makes it clear that they don’t want the gun laws to be tightened. The non-Christian finds this attitude extremely foolish.

Third, the non-Christian, partly subconsciously, connects foolishness with Christianity, and they are put off the Christian faith.

Of course, many non-Christians seeing an interview of this kind will be aware that a large majority of Christians worldwide agree with them that it is a very bad idea for people to be able to own military grade rifles.

But many won’t be aware that most Christians take this view. Nor will they intend to look into the issue. The fact of the matter is that people often have poor understanding of things and don’t think things through properly. People frequently form superficial judgments on things.

I myself have seen interviews in the mainstream media with American Christians affected by mass shootings, who have said that they don’t want gun laws to be tightened. And If I have seen these, I am sure that at least hundreds of millions of people worldwide have seen the same sorts of interviews. So, given the huge numbers of people involved, there should be no doubt that more than a few non-Christians will reason in the way I have just outlined.


I hope that I haven’t come across in this article as a condescending and judgmental foreigner. That hasn’t been my intention at all. I have only been trying to make constructive criticism. But I do want to speak out clearly on this important issue.

I have argued that the American gun control laws, as they currently exist, are very harmful.

At present in the US, the priority is to allow would-be defenders, the good guys, to get hold of guns.

This, however, is a terrible mistake. Instead, the priority should be to prevent would-be attackers from getting guns. If this were done, the number of people killed and injured in gun violence would certainly be massively reduced. We know this for sure, because this is the priority in all other Western countries and the statistics prove that this is by far the better approach.

I have also argued that the attitude of some American Christians towards gun control is helping to put people off the gospel around the world. I am unsure how extensive this problem is, but I would expect it to be significant. When a Christian who has suffered in a mass shooting appears in the media saying that the laws shouldn’t change, this can only serve to put some people off the faith.

I would therefore urge those of my American brothers and sisters who are currently opposed to radically changing gun laws in the US to reconsider.

It is worth saying too that I am not aware of any other group of Christians anywhere in the world who want American-style gun laws in their country. And that includes evangelicals. This is one topic where evangelicals outside America look at the attitude of many American evangelicals with puzzlement and dismay. To us, it seems so obvious that the American system on this issue is badly broken.

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