Is an innerant text really necessary for God?

INSPIRATION AND INERRANCY

From N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals

(University Press of America, 1987), chapter 6.

Copyright held by author.

 

It is surely a strange apologetic that says faith in Christ is all you need for salvation; and then says, you have no right to your faith in Christ unless you believe that the Bible is without error.

                                        –Francis L. Patton

 

When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scripture, and we cannot har­monize them, let them pass.  It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.

                                        –Martin Luther

 

Difficult though it may be to understand, God chose to make his authority relevant to his creatures by means that necessitate some element of fallibility.

                                        –Dewey M. Beegle

 

They did not err in what they proclaimed, but this does not mean that they were faultless in their recording of historical data or in their world-view, which is now outdated.

                                        –Donald G. Bloesch

 

It is urged…that unless we can demonstrate what is called the inerrancy of the biblical record down even to its minutest de­tails, the whole edifice of belief in revealed religion falls to the ground.  This, on the face of it, is the most suicidal posi­tion for any defender of revelation to take up.

                                        –James Orr

 

The Bible does not give us a doctrine of its own inspiration and authority that answers all the various questions we might like to ask.  Its witness on this subject is unsystematic and somewhat fragmentary and enables us to reach important but modest con­clusions.

          –Clark H. Pinnock

 

In the last analysis the inerrancy theory is a logical deduction not well supported exegetically.  Those who press it hard are elevating reason over Scripture….

                                        –Pinnock

 

 

    In common parlance the fundamentalist Christian is the person who “takes the Bible literally.”  This description is not quite accurate, because we shall see that many “liberal” scholars, particu­larly in connection with Old Testament cosmology (see Chapter 13), take the texts much more literally than conservatives do.  With regard to biblical authority the ruling axiom for evan­gelical rationalism is inerrancy, not literalism.  James Barr has shown that evangelical exegetes generally naturalize Old Testament miracles and divine interventions, rather than taking the events literally.  As Barr states:  “In order to avoid imputing error to the Bible, fundamentalists twist and turn back and forward between literal and nonliteral…exegesis….The typical conservative evangeli­cal exegesis is literal, but only up to a point:  when the point is reached where literal interpretation would make the Bible ap­pear ‘wrong,’ a sudden switch to nonliteral interpretation is made.”1 This fanatical devotion to inerrancy compromises the in­tegri­ty of evangelical theology right at its roots.

 

          Although there were protofundamentalists among Lutheran and Calvinist scholastics (Johann Gehard, Frances Turretin and J. A. Quenstedt), evan­gelical rationalism had its origin in the Anglo-Saxon world in Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary.  At the basis of Hodge’s theology there is a pre-Kantian, empirical rationalism, shared ironically with the deists of the Enlighten­ment. In contrast to the latter, evangelical rationalists believe that the Bible can be vindicated by this philosophy rather than be de­stroyed by it.  It is Barr’s thesis that a deist mode of explana­tion, naturalizing miracles by saying that God used secondary causes, is pervasive in conserva­tive evangelical exegesis.

 

Charles Hodges’ rationalism can be clearly seen in his view that the Bible “must be interpreted in accordance with estab­lished facts”; that “reason is necessary for the reception of a revela­tion; that reason must judge of the credibility of a revela­tion”; and that reason “must judge of the evidences of a revelation.”2  Furthermore, theology must follow the model of natural science: just as the latter deals with facts and the laws of nature, the former must deal with biblical facts and principles.  Hodge has unwittingly converted Christianity into the gnostic religion de­scribed in Chapter One (www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/GREchapt1.htm).

 

DEIFYING SCRIPTURE

 

          To insist that the Bible is factually correct in all respects is to impose a scientific world-view on a prescientific document.  Indeed, one cannot make this claim of even the best scientific documents.  As Rudolf Bultmann emphasized, the Bible is the proc­lamation (kerygma) of God’s saving grace; it is not to be taken as an encyclopedia of empirical facts.  Bultmann would have been sym­pathetic to Robert M. Smith’s comments about God’s Inerrant Word, an anthology of articles by fundamentalists:  “The authors… are right about the Bible being a perfect book but are wrong in the way they define perfection….They are defining perfect the way a mathematician or scientist would define it; they are not defining perfect the way the cross of Jesus Christ defines it.”3  Evangelical rationalists repeatedly use extrabiblical standards to distort basic biblical meanings.  Thomas Torrance of the University of Edinburgh maintains that the fundamentalists’ crucial mistake is a form of nominalism:  identifying the truth with statements about the truth.  Torrance contends that the Bible, like all other cre­ated things, must have an element of deficiency so that it can point beyond itself to the truth of God.4  Torrance follows Karl Barth who declared that the Bible “is not the Revelation” but “the witness to the Revelation, and this is expressed in human terms….”5

 

          The “detailed inerrancy” of evangelical rationalism is an ex­cellent example of religious syncretism–a very ironic instance of it.  In their bitter battle against modernism, they are just as modernist as their opponents in calling the Bible a factual treatise as well as a religious one.  Both modernists and these Christians accept the same criterion for truth:  the scientific method.  In doing so these evangelicals unwittingly forget that for Christians God is the sole standard of truth. Bible scholar George E. Mendenhall phrases the preceding point this way:

 

Biblical fundamentalism, whether Jewish or Christian, cannot learn from the past because in so many re­spects the defense of presently accepted ideas about religion is thought to be the only purpose of bibli­cal narrative.  It must, therefore, support ideas of comparatively recent origin–ones that usually have nothing to do with the original meaning or intention of biblical narrative because the context is so radically different.6

 

A. G. Hebert concurs:  “Hence, the inerrancy of the Bible, as it is understood today, is a new doctrine, and the modern fundamen­talist is asserting something that no previous age has understood in anything like the modern sense.”7  

 

          By insisting on detailed inerrancy evangelicals have in effect deified the Bible:  they have made it into a divine enti­ty.  Nothing humans have ever written is without error.  Granted, any person can say or write self-evident truths like “all circles are round,” or a human writer could get many historical facts right, but writing flawless history would require a divine author.  To say that a thing is perfect is to say that it is divine.  Evangelical rationalists have again violated the Hebraic principle:   God is in heaven and humans are on God’s earth, a created world radical­ly different from God.  Every created thing, even those things created by humans, reveal God’s glory, but they are defi­nitely not divine or godlike in any way.  Perfection is a divine attribute, not a creaturely one.

 

Donald Bloesch confirms my point:  “Ronald Nash, following the evangelical rationalism of Gordon Clark and Carl Henry, asserts that…the propositions in Scripture are identical with di­vine revelation…I contend that although we find the truth of revelation in Scripture, this reve­lation is not to be identified with the very words of Scripture, for this is to confuse the in­finite with the finite.”8  Bloesch calls such a confusion “neo-Gnosticism,” which I have clarified as religious gnosticism in general, so as not to imply any substantial identity between the evangelical rational­ists and the ancient Christian Gnostics.  Although it is doubtful that Luther believed in detailed inerrancy, he sometimes expresses himself in ways which show the ultimate im­plications of such a position.  Luther’s great rhetorical powers get the best of him in hyperbole such as this:  “Sacred Scripture is God Incarnate” or the Word of God “is just like the Son of God.”9 If detailed inerrancy is correct, then Luther’s exaggerated words are the plain truth.  One can now understand the full implication of Barth’s warnings about the dangers of bibliolatry.

 

          The following syllogism is used frequently by advocates of detailed inerrancy:

 

             God is perfect and cannot lie.

             God revealed himself to humankind.

             Therefore, the written Word of God must

             be perfect, i.e., free from all error.10

 

The first two premises may be true; in fact, all pagan natural theologians would probably agree with them, as long as the revelation is taken as natural and not special.  The conclusion, however, simply does not follow from the premises.  The writers of the Bible were human beings, and there is nothing in the syllogism which demonstrates that they were infallible.  The syllogism fails for lack of a proper “middle term,” one which is impossible to supply–at least on the basis of a Christian doctrine of creation.

 

In the epigraph from Dewey M. Beegle he implies that God could have chosen an infallible means to reveal the divine message.  The logic of Christian creation prevents any such possibility.  In creating something outside of the divine nature, God created something quite unlike himself.  The doctrine of creatio ex deo, which was held temporarily (and probably unwittingly) by creationist Duane Gish, was declared heretical because of its pantheistic implications:  viz., that the world is simply a part of God which emanated directly from the divine nature.  The ortho­dox creatio ex nihilo was designed expressly to prevent such heresy.  Augustine formu­lated his doctrine of creation correctly when he proposed that every created thing is imperfect and deficient because it is mixed with “nothing.”  Therefore, Harold Lindsell is thoroughly heretical when he claims that “fallible men were made infallible with respect to Scripture they indited.”11 Therefore, the Bible can be a divine product only in the sense that the world is a divine pro­duct–finite, deficient, imperfect, corruptible–all the elements of what I have called “metaphysical evil,” the basic evil of the world which issued forth directly from the creator God. (See www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/305/3dp.htm, Sec. E.)

 

          In Roman Catholic circles the motto “inspiration without in­er­rancy” has gained increasing currency.  Contemporary evangeli­cals like Donald Bloesch and Dewey Beegle appear to support a similar view, and James Barr, usually not considered an evangelical, proposes a theory of inspiration along these lines.  Rather than focus on divinely inspired prophets and apostles, Barr would place inspira­tion within the people of Israel and the early Church.  On this view the divine inspiration of the Bible is taken very seriously, but the doctrine of creation is taken with equal seriousness.  This means that there is definitely divine intention behind the biblical message, but the written words must be taken as created, fallible things.  One must be reminded that, as op­posed to physical things, human writings are twice removed from the direct creative act of God.

 

In his recent The Scriptural Principle former inerrantist Clark H. Pinnock exhorts Christians to reaffirm the humanity of the Bible.  In the same way that an overemphasis on the deity of Christ led to docetism, inerrancy has alienated the Bible from its human authors and their fallible but creative freedom to express the mighty acts of God in their own limited ways.  Clark, however, still wishes to preserve the word “inerrancy,” but I believe that this is simply the wrong word to use.  If nonrationalist evangelicals want to stress the Bible’s humanity, then they must, like the courageous Stephen Davis, also affirm biblical fallibility and use words which express creaturely finitude and corruptibility.

 

AUTOGRAPHS, INSPIRATION, AND HERMENEUTICS

 

          A popular defense against prima facie textual errors has been the assumption that the books of the Bible were inerrant only in their original autographs.  On the face of it, this maneuver can be seen as a clever methodological tactic: the chances of finding such autographs are nil, so critical scholars will be unable to check them for errors.  This is yet another ironic twist in the development of evangelical rationalism.  Rationalists boast about the vindication that the biblical record receives from the sciences; but with the inerrant autograph theory, they remove the real Bible from such empirical verification.  Harold Lindsell’s thesis that God did not secure the survival of the auto­graphs out of fear of idolatry certainly does not help the credibility of this view; nor has it stopped Lindsell’s own tendency to bibliola­try.12 

 

          There are problems with this theory other than methodological integrity.  Ronald Nash admits that “strictly speaking, the Bible does not teach the inerrancy of its original MSS.,” but he argues that it is a natural corollary of the biblical doctrine of inspiration.13  I have argued in the preceding section that such a corollary is not natural at all if we take the Christian doctrine of creation seriously.  More importantly, as evangelical F. F. Bruce surmises, it is unlikely that autographs ever existed for many biblical books.14  For example, Bruce speculates that there was probably no signed copy of Romans; rather, Paul’s scribe prob­ably prepared several copies for distribution–each with its own peculiar scribal errors.  The Bible itself does not make any dis­tinction between autographs, copies, and translations.  Furthermore, the New Testament writers’ loose use of the Septuagint, Targum paraphrases, and their own translations demonstrates that inerrancy was simply not on their minds.  As Rogers and McKim have pointed out, the very word inerrant is of recent origin, coming out of the early period of modern science.  Concerns about inerrancy, therefore, are pseudoscientific, not biblical.

 

          Even if we grant inerrant biblical texts, the main theological battle–that of hermeneutics–has only just begun.  Evangelical Beegle phrases the problem well:  “The adherents of inerrancy vary considerably in their interpretation of key issues.  It would seem that if God was really so concerned about giving his word inherently in the autographs, he would be equally concerned to help biblical interpreters determine that inerrant meaning.”15  At this point Lindsell’s fears about idolatry turn into a very different argument.  One can understand what Lindsell means about iner­rant texts becoming divine relics jealously guarded by priests. But an inerrant interpretation would (or should at least) be greeted jubilantly by these evangelicals, concerned as they are about infallible knowledge as a ground for faith.  Mainline Christians, who have fortunately not fallen into this gnostic trap, are quite content to have fallible texts and incomplete interpretations.  They live in faith, not sure knowledge, relying as they do, and should, on the grace of God for their salvation.

 

          There is yet another problem with verbal or plenary inspiration, the doctrine that every word of the Bible is directly inspired by God.  Even though most evangelicals have given up the mechanical dictation theory, which was held by the church fathers until Reformation scholasticism, they still take seriously the proposition that God, using human instruments with their own styles and Sitz im Leben, actually wrote the Scrip­tures.  Making God the literal author of the Bible is just as much an anthropomorphism as conceiving God’s creation as a potter molding clay, not to mention the problems this causes for human freedom and creativity.  Francis Schaeffer believes that the image of God means that human beings are created as the only verbalizers, modeled of course after the divine verbalizer.16  I do not believe that God can speak, so as far as I am concerned, Schaeffer is actually making God in his own image.  (Schaeffer should have been asked if deaf-mutes are created in the image of God.)  Schaeffer speaks for many evangelicals when he argues that God must literally speak if God is truly God.  My opinion is that any anthropo­morphic theology is bad theology.

 

The Bible’s divine inspiration is supported by a single passage from 2 Timothy:  “…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salva­tion through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God (theopneutos, lit. “God-breathed”) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righ­teousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (3:15-17).  If Paul is the author of this passage (as most evan­gelicals believe), no Christian could have read any of the New Testament books from childhood.  Given this evangelical assumption, the inescapable conclusion is that only the Old Testament is being labeled “God-breathed.”17 

 

Nowhere in the authentic Pauline letters is there a hint that there is other scriptural authority besides the Old Testament.  For Paul the gospel of Christ is spoken, not written.  For ex­ample, when Paul speaks of the divine word (logos) in 1 Thes. 2:13, it is clear that he is talking about the gospel he is proclaiming, certainly not his own writing.  Indeed, it is very doubtful whether Paul intended his private letters to have scrip­tural status.  As F. G. Bratton, states:  “That this correspon­dence was to become…an integral part of the new Bible called the New Testament…would have been news to Paul himself.  Such an idea was far from his mind.  He was writing personal letters to certain people, and if he had been able to visit them in person, he would not have written them.”18

 

          Most scholars believe that 1 and 2 Timothy were written long after Paul’s time, perhaps as late as 140 C.E.  If this is the case, then it would have been possible for Christians to have read some of the Pauline epistles and gospels in their formative years.  Indeed, many scholars believe that the writer of 1 Tim. 5:18 must be quoting from Luke’s gospel.  For Paul to have written this, we would have to assume that he had access to the same early sources as Luke did.  There is no evidence, however, that he did.  By the time the so-called pastoral epistles were written, the New Testament canon was already in formation.  Hence, we find that in 2 Peter 3:16 Paul’s letters are on a par with inspired scripture.  This is highly unlikely if the apostle Peter was the author of this work. (Even Calvin believed that he was not.)  Again, it is better, for many more reasons than this one, to place the Petrine letters in the early second century.

 

Even if Paul wrote 2 Tim. 3:16, there is nothing there which explicitly supports the detailed inerrancy of modern evangelicalism.  Scripture is supposed “to instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”; it says nothing about instructing us in history, geography, or the natural sciences.  Following our earlier discussion of logos in Chapter One, one could say that just as logos is primarily life, divine inspiration is to be in­terpreted in the same way.  For Christians God’s Word is not a gnostic but a life-giving gospel.

 

Finally, from a strictly philosophical standpoint, there is something fundamentally suspect about the argument using 2 Timothy. The Christian is essentially saying that the Bible is inspired be­cause it says that it is inspired.  The error here is both circular reasoning and the informal fallacy of irrelevance (i.e., ap­peal to authority).  Without external support, the doc­trine of divine inspiration is valid only for those believers who hold it as an article of faith. The attempt to prove inspira­tion by empirical verification is pseudoscientific and rational­istic in the worst way.  Clark Pinnock offers an apt conclusion to this discussion on 2 Timothy 3:16:  “The Bible does not give us a doctrine of its own inspiration and authority that answers all the various questions we might like to ask.  Its witness on this subject is unsystematic and somewhat fragmentary and enables us to reach important but modest conclusions.”19

 

THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE:  LUTHER AND CALVIN

 

          The question of whether the Christian tradition has supported detailed inerrancy is a controversial one.  Jack Rogers and Donald McKim’s extensive work The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, has come under heavy attack by John D. Woodbridge of Trinity Evan­gelical Divinity School.  In his Biblical Authority Woodbridge alleges that Rogers and McKim quote theologians out of historical context, rely too heavily on secondary sources, and misuse those sources on many important points.  Rogers has refused to respond publicly because he believes that Woodbridge is only interested in pursuing his own evangelical ideology.  In his response McKim contends that it is he and Rogers who have been sensitive to Sitz im Leben, while Woodbridge reads modern scientific notions back into the minds of historical figures.20

 

Woodbridge also refuses to distinguish between the terms “infallibility” and “inerrancy,” a distinction that Rogers and McKim make great efforts to maintain.  I do not have the expertise to judge these historical matters, but in this section I will use some passages from Luther and Calvin which seem to me at least to demonstrate a clear difference between them and modern evangelical rationalists.  Biblical infallibility was obviously an assumption of traditional Christianity, but to interpret this in a modern inerrantist way is very problematic.  It is certainly not wrong of Rogers and McKim to insist that the burden of proof in this matter lies completely with Woodbridge and his colleagues.

 

          Luther’s teachers at Erfurht were nominalists in the tradi­tion of William of Ockham, who intensified the split between reason and faith and emphasized God’s absolute power.  For them God empowers us to believe and supports us in our faith; autonomous reason has no place in theology.  One of the greatest Occamists, Gabriel Biel, stressed the self-authenticating nature of scripture and made it clear that its function–following 2 Timothy 3:16–was to instruct, to console, and to exhort.21  In his Bible schol­arship Luther was sensitive to the historical-critical method, which had just begun to be used.  He questioned the traditional authorship of Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and Jude; he doubted the canonicity of Esther, Hebrew, James and Revelation; he talked about “error” in the prophets; and he pointed out historical discrepan­cies in Kings and Chronicles.

 

Luther called James “that epistle of straw,” and it is ob­vious that Luther’s antipathy to this book was because of its strong “works” doctrine.  Problems like these with the biblical text did not bother Luther, because he was not a protofundamentalist.  He states:  “When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scrip­ture, and we cannot harmonize them, let them pass.  It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.”22  Rogers and McKim show that Luther’s statement “In this doctrine about the Word of God there is no falsehood”–used  by some evangelicals attempting to support detail­ed inerrancy–is taken out of context:  “When we read the state­ment in its context, it is evident that Luther was not talking about factual errors or lack of them.”23

 

          John Calvin was of course profoundly influenced by the initial reforming activities of Luther, but he went on to mark out his own distinctive theological genius.  Even with the effects of Renaissance humanism, Calvin continued the general view of scripture which he had inherited from the Christian tradition.  As Rogers and McKim state:  “Calvin’s training as a humanist rhetori­cian helped him to understand that the Bible’s purpose was to persuade a person to be saved.  It was not necessary that the Scrip­ture display exact, technical accuracy.”24  Woodbridge opposes this conclusion, using several respected authorities as support.  Rogers and McKim list a series of passages in which it appears that Calvin is attributing errors to Scripture.  Woodbridge’s gen­eral response is that if Calvin actu­ally believed this, then Cal­vin would not have spent as much time as he did trying to harmonize all the discrepancies.  Woodbridge claims that Calvin believed that the alleged astronomical mistakes were due to the writers’ use of phenomenological language; and that the rest of the errors were those of copyists and not in the original auto­graphs.

 

          Even if we grant Woodbridge’s argument here, Calvin’s general theological statements make it clear that he is definitely not an evangelical rationalist.  In the Institutes of the Christian Reli­gion Calvin declares that “we seek no proofs, no marks of genuine­ness upon which our judgment may lean…”; for scripture is self-authenticating and “hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning.”25  Calvin was convinced that Christians could not prove the Bible was inspired of God.  This must be taken as a basic article of faith attested to and supported by the activity of the Holy Spirit, whose “testimony…is more excellent than all reason.”26 Calvin gives a stiff rebuke to fundamentalisms of all ages:  “…Those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are act­ing foolishly, for only by faith can this be known.”27

 

THE AMAZING KNOWLEDGE OF THE ANCIENTS

 

          Because of their unorthodox, pseudoscientific view of the Bible, evangelical rationalists attempt to do something that no church father would ever have thought of: to prove the Bible divinely inspired by human criteria.  Repeatedly, modern scientific evidence is used to prove the Bible true.  For example, some evan­gelicals are fond of claiming that the Bible reveals amazing knowledge about medical matters.  The Israelite tribes did in fact practice medi­cal quarantine, but does this mean that they had a scientific view of disease?  It is quite clear that they did not.  All the peoples of the Bible believed that disease was caused by evil spirits and was the result of human sin.  The first disease came into the world as a result of the Fall (Gen. 3:17-l9; Ro. 5:12).  A common Hebrew word for disease or illness–dabar–liter­ally means “evil matter.”  A sick man cries out:  “Heal me, for I have sinned against you” (Ps. 41:4); the man has had a “deadly thing (dabar)…fastened upon him” (v. 8).

 

          The New Testament clearly continues the same view of disease.  Luke describes the Apostles as healing all those who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38); and the first great healing story of Jesus’ ministry (Mk. 2) definitely implies that the man was paralytic because of his sin.  A woman that Jesus healed had a spir­it of infirmity for l8 years, a spirit subsequently identified as Satan himself (Lk. 13:10-18).  An evangelical microbiologist expresses aptly the character of biblical medical science:  “It is re­markable that medical practice changed so little…and there was scarcely an element in it which could be dignified with the name of science.”28

 

If we want to be truly impressed by ancient medical practices, all we have to do is take a look at Chinese medicine.  The practice of acupuncture goes back at least 2500 years.  Its discovery is attributed to the famous Yellow Emperor who knew many medical facts–e.g., he knew the correct cause of liver spots and knew that the liver controlled the lungs.  The idea of a second nervous system was scoffed at by Western medicine until a North Korean researcher verified the existence of the classical acupuncture meridians.29  In addition to acupuncture’s capacity to kill pain (stimulation of certain meridians releases endorphins in the brain), acupuncture can be used to cause the body to absorb brain tumors, to stop brain hemorrhages, and to regenerate damaged nerve cells.  This is far more amazing than the quarantine practices of the an­cient Hebrews.  Using inerrantist reasoning, we would be forced to entertain the hypothesis that Chinese thought was also divinely inspired.

 

The widespread claim that the Bible anticipates scientific cosmology is dismissed in Chapter Thirteen.  Suffice it to say that the ancient world was filled with far better astronomers than the Hebrews.  The protoscience involved in Stonehenge is far superior to anything in the Bible.  In contrast to the Hebrews, the Persians and Tibetans knew that the earth was spherical, and the Tibetans somehow knew that the earth’s diameter was 7,000 miles.  The people who made the most astronomical contributions were the Babylonians, who were routinely predicting solar and lunar eclipses in the 8th Century B.C.E.  As Cyrus Gordon states:  “Details of this sort reflect the sophistication and scientific superiority of the Babylonians as against the Hebrews who were satisfied with less astronomical data.”30  The Greeks, Hindus, and Arabs were su­perior in mathematics–with the Greeks making impressive geometri­cal discoveries and the Hindus inventing the all-important concept of zero.  The Hindus also excelled in psychol­ogy, anticipating some of the ideas of Freud and the distinc­tion between deep sleep and dream sleep (i.e., sleep with rapid eye movement), only recently discovered by modern scientists.

 

          Without sounding too offensive, we have to conclude that the ancient Hebrews were in fact culturally and scientifically inferi­or to their neighbors–Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Persians.  Their greatest achievements came in literature, the prophets’ concern for justice, and theology, where we can point to the concept of divine transcendence with its strict distinction between God and the world.  (Even here Zoroaster prob­ably preempted the Hebrews.)  I have called this discovery the Hebraic principle, which unfortunately has been seriously compromised by the reintroduction of the pagan idea of the man-God in the Christian doctrine of Incarnation and the idea of human immortality.  Hebrew theological genius is also severely compromised by making the Bible a perfect thing.  A rabbinic story that Yahweh deliberately tore the parchment of the Decalogue on Sinai is a colorful confirmation of the Hebraic principle.

 

THE CONTEMPORARY DEBATE AMONG EVANGELICALS

 

Even with the theological axiom of scripture’s inspiration, contemporary evangelicals cannot agree on what this really means. In his frank and honest book, Evangelicals at an Impasse, evangelical Robert K. Johnston states:  “That evangelicals, all claiming a common biblical norm, are reaching contradictory theological formulations on many of the major issues they are addressing sug­gests the problematic nature of their present understanding of theological interpretation.  To argue that the Bible is authoritative, but to be unable to come to anything like agreement on what it says…is self-defeating.”31

 

Popular opinion holds that all evangelicals believe that divine inspiration means detailed inerrancy.  But, as Johnston shows, this is only one of at least four contem­porary evangelical positions on the authority of the Bible; and he makes it clear that of the four alternatives, “detailed inerrancy” is by the far the weakest and least defensible. It is also of course the most divisive, for the shrill exclusivistic language of the inerrantists threatens evangelical as well as general Christian unity.  Evangelicals like Jack Rogers and Ste­phen Davis were deeply troubled by Harold Lindsell’s Battle for the Bible and his declar­ation of “excommunication,” viz., no one can be an evangelical without believing that the Bible is liter­ally true in everything that it affirms.  Rogers, Davis, and many others wished to pre­serve their evangelical identity so they began to speak out against this unfortunate extremism.  In this section I will let these courageous dissenting evangelicals speak for themselves.

 

The logic of inerrancy leads Lindsell and Schaeffer to make statements about the Bible which embarrass many fellow evangelicals.  Johnston criticizes Lindsell for his interpretation of the morning stars which “sing” in Job 38:7.  Lindsell wants us to be­lieve that this passage is scientifically verified because astrophysicists now know that heavenly bodies emit radio signals.32 Johnston claims that this is a blatant confusion of poetry and fac­tual assertion.  The pseudoscience of the detailed inerrantists has another troublesome aspect.  Although these people are willing to take the findings of astrophysics as a guide when they believe it suits their purposes, they feel free to reject its other find­ings and assumptions.  For example, Lindsell’s use of the idea of radio stars would require that he also accept another fundamental assumption:  that the information from these stars is millions of years old.  Lindsell and other inerrantists are also “fiat” creationists who hold to the so-called “young universe” (10,000 years old or less) hypothesis.

 

Directly opposed to Lindsell and Schaeffer are evangelicals like Dewey Beegle and Stephen Davis who believe that there are errors in the Bible, even errors in the various authors’ inten­tions, but none of these errors compromise the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  As we have seen, the writer of 2 Timothy did not say that inspiration implied inerrancy, but that it was “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righ­teousness.”  Johnston summarizes Beegle’s criticism of the inerr­an­tists:  “They are overly rationalistic, obscurantist in fix­ing upon the ‘autographs’ of Scripture, naive linguistically in think­ing language can be precise, misguided in their use of proof-texting, docetic in their denial of Scripture’s humanness, and wrong in their commitment to a domino theory regarding inspira­tion.”33 Stephen Davis, who would gain the sympathy of philosoph­ical ethicists, admits that the Old Testament writers err badly when they use God to justify the genocide of the Canaanites.  With regard to the New Testament Davis concedes that Mark was probably wrong in his account of Peter’s denial of Christ.34

 

As we have seen, Clark Pinnock has chosen to keep, unwisely I believe, the term inerrancy; but as Carl Henry has said in an ad for The Scriptural Principle, it is a “flexible and permissive” or “irenic” inerrancy.  Pinnock’s motto is that though the Bible “contains errors” it “teaches none.”  “Inerrancy,” as Pinnock states, is “a good deal more flexible than is supposed, and does not suspend the truth of the gospel upon a single detail, as is so often charged.”35  Lindsell’s and Schaeffer’s overbelief about the Bible ignores that it, although directly inspired by God, was written by human beings. Most of the errors then can be attributed to an author’s time and place.  For example, Paul Jewett claims that Paul’s sexist stance was the result of his rabbinic past and at odds with God’s true intention of full equality between the sexes.36

 

The position of Jack Rogers and David Hubbard is called “complete infallibility.” As the seminary’s president, Hubbard participated in a controversial change in the Fuller’s Statement of Faith which eliminated the phrase “free from error in the whole and in the part” from an earlier reference to the Bible. Hubbard believes strongly in the inspiration, infallibility, and authority of scripture, but he believes that the word “inerrancy” and phrases which imply it are unfortunate.  Hubbard believes that the word misleads in at least four ways:  (1) it assumes a scientific attitude which was foreign to the minds of the biblical authors; (2) it distracts the Christian’s focus from the central soteriological concerns to secondary matters; (3) it encourages the superficial and pseudoscientific investigations we find in Lindsell and Schaeffer; and (4) inerrancy is a modern philosophical concept incompatible with the nature of religious scripture.

 

Johnston’s own position is closest to Hubbard’s.  He believes that modern evangelicals have lost sight of a crucial Reformation assumption about the Bible–that it is self-evidencing and self-validating.  As Calvin said:  “It comes with its own credentials and hence is not to be accredited by our critical judgment of ex­ternal evidence.”37  Johnston’s stand against evangelical rationalism is clear:  “The question is this: do we need convincing objective reasons prior to our faith, or can we rely on the Holy Spirit’s witness to Christ heard through the Biblical evidence?  No longer admitting that the witness of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word is sufficient, certain evangelicals have attempted to develop rationalistic supports for their faith.”38

 

The faculty of conservative Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary have recently put together a book of articles entitled Inerrancy and Common Sense.  The authors follow the standard evangelical approach in attempting to harmonize biblical accounts with modern science.  J. Ramsey Michaels’ article, “Inerrancy or Verbal Inspiration?  An Evangelical Dilemma,” is the refreshing excep­tion.  Michaels believes that the term “inerrancy” should be dropped in favor of “verbal inspiration” unless it can be purged of its misleading implications.  First, Michaels believes that the term “inerrancy” blurs the distinction between error and false­hood.  For example, a Gnostic gospel may contain perfectly the words of a spirit who has spoken to the Gnostic devotee, but a Christian may still reply that the spirit is of Satan and de­clare that the text therefore contains lies.  Second, the term “inerrancy” does not do justice to various types of biblical literature.  For example, it does not make any sense to speak of an inerrant psalm or an inerrant parable.

 

The main problem with the word “inerrancy” is of course its alien, cognitive implications.  According to Michaels, the detailed inerrantist “imposes on the Bible a standard of truth or facticity external to God himself, by which God’s Word may (indeed must) be judged….In his attempts to ‘defend the Bible’ he will find himself actually defending a unified, logical, self-consistent structure of his own making….”  Michaels is completely in line with the Reformers when he declares that “the role of faith is to accept God’s revelation on His terms, not ours.”39  Johnston’s and Michaels’ return to the Reformers’ main theological axiom leaves one crucial problem:  other scriptures of the world claim to be similarly self-evidencing and self-validating.  How is one then to decide among them?  It is clear that Johnston’s fideistic position can give no satisfactory answer to this question.

 

 

Figure III                                    Figure IV

 

 To be supplied later

 

 

 

     The figures above are from Gabriel Fackre’s Religious Right and Christian Faith.40  They serve as an excellent graphic illus­tration of the basic errors of evangelical rationalism.  Figure III represents traditional Christianity with saving truth (T) emanating directly from a self-authenticating Bible.  Figure IV represents evangelical rationalism, where the Bible is “proved” true by external evidence from the secular world.  The dark circle segment on the right side of Figure IV symbolizes both the selec­tive and ad hoc use of secular data and also the sectarian nature of most evangelicalism.  This sectarian focus is absent in Figure III, because evangelicals like Fackre and Bloesch are catholic in their acceptance of all Christians who accept the Gospel. 

 

ENDNOTES

 

1.       Barr, James, The Bible and the Modern World (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1973).  Barr observes that conservative evangelicals are willing to use any argument, however contrary to their religious convictions and however religiously trivial, to support biblical inerrancy, (Fundamentalism, p. 259). 

 

2.       Barr, James, Fundamentalism (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977).

 

3.       Smith, Robert H., Lutheran Forum (May, 1975), p. 38; quoted in Bloesch, Donald G., Essentials of Evangelical Theory (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1978).

 

4.       Torrance, Thomas, Zygon Newsletter (Summer, 1980), p. 5.

 

5.       Bloesch, Donald, G., Essentials of Evangelical Theory (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1978).

 

6.       Mendenhall, George E., The Tenth Generation (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973).

 

7.       Hebert, A.G., The Authority of the Old Testament, quoted in Beegle, Dewey M., Scripture, Authority, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. ed. 1973).

 

8.       Bloesch, Donald G., The Future of Evangelical Christianity (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983). Jack Rogers believes that the root problem for Hodge, Warfield, Clark, Henry, and Nash is their univocal theory of language in which God’s thoughts become our thoughts (“Mixed Metaphors, Misunderstood Models, and Puzzling Paradigms…,” p. 23). 

 

9.       Rogers, Jack B. and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1979).

 

10.     Beegle, Dewey M., Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1973).

 

11.     Lindsell, Harold, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976).

 

12.     Ibid., p. 36. 

 

13.     Nash, Ronald H., The New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1963).

 

14.     Beegle, Dewey M., Scripture, Authority, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1973).                  

 

15.     Ibid., p. 263.

 

16.     Schaeffer, Francis, He is There and He is Not Silent (Wheaton: Tundale, 1972).

 

17.     A surprising number of leading evangelicals actually concede this point.  See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 160 and John Wenham, Christ and the Bible, p. 109, both quoted in Barr, James, Fundamentalism, (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1984); Geisler, Norman, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976); and Clark Pinnock, op. cit., p. 45.  An alternative RSV reading “Every scripture inspired by God…” even might imply that some Old Testament writings (parts of Ezekiel, Ecclesiastes?) were not God-breathed.

 

18.     Bratton, F. G., The History of the Bible (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1959).  Barr concurs:  “Paul’s letters were not written…in order to produce written ‘scripture’ but in order to communicate by letter” (Beyond Fundamentalism, p. 14).

 

19.     Pinnock, Clark, The Scriptural Principle (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1984).

 

20.     McKim, Donald K., “An Evaluation of an Evaluation,” Theological Students Bulletin (April, 1981).

 

21.     Rogers, Jack B., and Donald K. McKim The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1979).  

 

22.     Quoted in ibid., p. 87.

 

23.     Ibid., p. 88

 

24.     Ibid., p. 109.         

 

25.     Institutes, bk. 1. chap. 7, sec. 5.

 

26.     Ibid.                      

 

27.     Rogers, Jack B., and Donald K. McKim The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1979).  

 

28.     The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1962, 1982).

 

29.     Holbrook, Bruce, The Stone Monkey (New York, NY: Morrow, 1981).

 

30.     Gordon, Cyrus, The Ancient Near East (New York, NY: Doubleday, 3rd ed. rev., 1965).

 

31.     Johnston, Robert K., Evangelicals at an Impasse (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1979).

 

32.     Lindsell, Harold, Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976).

 

33.     Johnson, Marshall D., The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies, New Testament Mongraph Series, volume 8 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969); op. cit., p. 23.  On the front cover of Dewey M. Beegle’s book, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, re­spected conserva­tive F. F. Bruce also rejects the “domino” theory and writes that he endorses “as emphatically as I can Beegle’s deprecating of a Maginot-line mentality where the doctrine of Scripture is concerned.”

 

34.     Davis, Stephen T., The Debate about the Bible (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977).

 

35.     Johnston, Robert K., Evangelicals at an Impasse (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1979).                       

 

36.     See ibid., p. 44.

 

37.     Quoted in ibid., p. 41                                     

 

38.     Ibid., p. 40

 

39.     Michaels, J. Ramsey, “Inerrancy or Verbal Inspiration”, Inerrancy and Common Sense, eds. Nicole and Michaels, pp. 52, 65, 63.

 

40.     Fackre, Gabriel, Religious Right and Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982).

____________________________________________________

Good stuff!

Liberating stuff!

 

“The finite CANNOT contain the infinite!”

 

THAT is a load of horse dung and it makes our God into a pretty small god.

That is (the finite containing the infinite) exactly how God does operate. 

“Ah…yes…but NOT when it comes to the Bible”

That just sounds, and is, ridiculous.

 

My 2 cents.

 

 

……….

..

>>>>>>>…..

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59 Responses

  1. If we all woke up tomorrow and every Bible in th world suddenly had a few sentences inserted at the end of the Book of Romans that were taken from the Book of Mormon, would our Bibles no longer be any good?

    Hypothetically, we could not erase or reprint those Bibles, but they were now the only Bibles available to us. Would they no longer contain God’s perfect and infallible Word?

    I say that those Bibles would still be God’s infallible, perfect Word. Even though every jot and tittle would not be inerrant.

  2. There is some really contradictory stuff. First there is the Luther quote, which you know is out of context and we just took up on my blog, but supports the view espoused here. Then we have Barth and Luther in opposition. Which is it? Do they agree with each other or oppose each other?

    Secondly, the question you pose in your first comment–is this not what the Mormons have done and it’s all “ok” with them? Is their mingling not a complete travesty?

    Steve, this does not really make that much sense.

  3. Brigitte,

    You say Luther’s quote is out of context. I take it for what it says, just as the many other quotes from Luther regarding his high place for the Word as opposed to the ‘words’ of Scripture.

    My example works with anything that might not be considered Word of God. Place two sentences in the Bible from the evening news. Do we now have to disregard the whole of Scripture because of those two sentences? I say no. many inerrantists would say yes, because now the book is not “perfect” and without errors.

    For me the thing which does not make sense is how I can believe the Word of God, thoroughly and completely and yet be thought of as less than a real Christian because I don’t believe that the whole of Scripture fell out of Heaven with a bow tied around it.

    For a couple of hundred years the Word went forth without a Bible(a New Testament). Yes they had letters and gospels, but certainly not in the form that we have today.

    And yet, the Word created faith. Many books of the Bible were considered by Luther to be of little value. When you look at the totality of Luther’s writing you see a man that was relying on the Word, and definitely not every word.

  4. I would love for someone to explain to me in a way that makes sense how God uses earthly, imperfection in preachers, and in you and me, but cannot use a book that may reflect the humanity (fallibility) that had a role in writing, translating, and compiling it.

  5. Here’s a good question.

    Which of the two different accounts of ‘the flood’ in Genesis is more accurate?

    http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/cflood.htm (a link to each version in a side by side comparison)

    We who are not literalists, textual inerrantists, say “It doesn’t matter.”

    How does each version affect the forgiveness of sins for sinners for Jesus’ sake?

    • How exactly do the two flood accounts differ?

      • J.K.,

        This is by Richarf Friedman, a Hebraic scholar who wrote a piece for NOVA. This is a short excerpt to get the flavor of the two authors of the flood story theory:

        The P text here always calls the deity “God” (16 times). The J text always calls the deity by the proper name “YHWH” (10 times).

        The P text uses the word “expired.” The J text uses the word “died.”

        In J, it rains for 40 days and nights, and the water recedes for 40 days. In P, the whole process adds up to a calendar year.

        In J, Noah releases a dove. In P, he releases a raven.

        P has two of each species of animal, a male and a female. J has 14 (seven pairs) of each species of the pure animals (animals that may be sacrificed) and only two of the animals that are not pure. This is important because J ends the story with Noah making a sacrifice—so he needs more than two of each animal or he would make a species extinct!

        P has details of cubits, dates, and ages. J does not.

        In J, God is personal and involved: known by a personal name (“YHWH”), personally closing the ark, personally smelling Noah’s sacrifice, described as “grieved to his heart.” In P, God’s name is not yet known (“God,” in Hebrew Elohim, is not a name; it is what God is), and there are none of the anthropomorphic descriptions that are found in J.

        And the point is not just that these differences are maintained consistently in this particular text. These differences are also consistent with the language and characteristics of the other P and J texts throughout the Five Books. P consistently is concerned with dates, ages, and measurements. P uses the word “expired” for death elsewhere (11 times); it never occurs in J. And the distinction regarding the name of God is maintained through over 2,000 occurrences in the Torah with only three exceptions. In the P creation story, God creates a space (firmament) that separates waters that are above it from waters below. The universe in that story is thus a habitable bubble surrounded by water. That same conception is assumed here in the P flood story, in which the “apertures of the skies” and the “fountains of the great deep” are broken up so that the waters flow in. The word “rain” does not occur. The J creation account, on the other hand, has no such conception, and here in the J flood story it just rains.

  6. I think my time here at this blog is done. So, now we’re throwing out inerrancy of Scripture and using quotes from Open Theists like Pinnock? So, do you not believe God is all-knowing either?

    So, why does the Bible need to be inerrant? It claims to be the Word of God. If it is in err, so is God. That’s probably not a popular (conservative) opinion.

  7. The Bible in NOT in error.

    The Word of God is true, and infallible.

    All of it.

    This is such a tough topic for many who don’t really have an appreciation for the way God works through the finite to accomplish His infinite purpose.

    • Those who don’t have an appreciation? Gee, thanks. I was under the impression that God was powerful enough to work beyond the finite and fallible to produce what he wanted. But if you’re saying God is limited by you, well, then, that doesn’t really match your soteriology, but whatever.

      The Bible makes these claims about itself:
      “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” 2 Timothy 3:16 The Words of God. ALL of it. So, if something is not true in the Bible (fallible, as you have stated it is) then God is mistaken or a liar.

      “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21. It sounds like God had a plan for overcoming fallible men. And verse 20 specifies that those are prophecies of Scripture.

      Now, having posted several things before, I know you’ll probably just accuse me of being a “biblicist” for using the Bible to try and prove my theological stances. Or to use it as a Koran or whatever other things I’ve been accused of. But this is a basic logical fallacy. You can’t say I’m not allowed to argue my point from the Bible because I’m abusing the Bible to say things against what you believe from the Bible.

      I don’t worship the Bible. I worship God. But if God has spoken to me, and promised me I can trust what he says, then I would think I should submit it. Telling God he didn’t exactly know what he was talking about in certain places seems a little dangerous.

      And as for your flood story question, this may be a curse word here, but hermeneutics do come in to play. Jewish people don’t write historical accounts like we do. And they don’t write poetry like we do. And they don’t care if you think their writing is jumbled and not linear and coherent. They “rhyme” with thoughts. So saying something and then going back and repeating it a different way is actually quite common.

      Anyway, sorry for junking up your comment sections are several blog posts. I really made a giant error in judgment. I thought we were closer theologically than we are. I took many things for granted in my arguments that are clearly not true. I pray I was gentle and fair in all my posts, and I’m sorry for any times that I was not.

      • I’m not saying that God is limited by the finite. I think that is the argument made by those who say that the book MUST BE PERFECT.

        We say that the Word (God) is perfect and that He DOES use fallible elements and people to accomplish His perfect will.

        The Bible is the Word of God. ALL of it.

        Now, why does each and every word in that book need to be perfect in light of what I just said?

        I contend it doesn’t, and the requirement for such is just another add on to Christ.

  8. Just because I happen to agree with certain theologians on one topic does not mean I buy into everything that they believe, or have said.

    I don’t even agree with everything that Luther ever said.

    He said some great things, but some stupid things as well.

  9. that’s a lot to sift through, but I enjoyed the quotes at the beginning, thanks for posting those.

  10. Thanks, Charlie.

    We’re doing our best here to keep people out of Biblicism.

  11. Steve,
    Your example was closer to the truth than you know…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_Bible
    The interesting thing here is that the error was quickly spotted and dealt with.

    God’s Word is meant to be a ‘lamp to our path and a light to our feet’ concerning the nature and understanding of many things – the character of God (Creator and Redeemer) the condition of ourselves and the world (made good, but now fallen), and the purpose which is unfolding (the renewal of all things through Jesus Christ), so surely, what we must find in scripture is truth relating to these key matters. The problem, in my own experience, with Biblicism, is not when a Christian passionately seeks to express these cardinal truths, but when legalism or dualism become the restraint by which the orthodoxy of a person’s faith is weighed (i.e. a church which practices that believers keep Sunday as ‘the ‘Sabbath’ or all use, exclusively, a particular English translation, or teach it mandatory that Christians all manifest a particular charismatic gift, or submit to a particular ‘revelation’). That, I think, is where the true danger lies.

    I have always been uneasy about any ‘rationalism’ which seeks to negate the value of the Biblical record, as this article shows. To give a recent example, it was popular since the 1900’s for scholars to dismiss Luke’s statements about the village of Emmaus, but in our lifetime, the remains of this village has been discovered (Dr Peter Carsten Theide’s fascinating work on this is well worth a read). Many similar examples also come quickly to mind regarding Old Testament history (Dr David Rohl’s ground-breaking research in his book, ‘A Test of Time’, is certainly worth a look), so my approach for many, many years has been trust the record of the Bible – it may not easily marry to current wisdom, and yes, interpretation has an issue, but it is there to tell us something, usually of import.

    I’m sure there are plenty that would like to shoot holes in where I’m coming from, but there is something key here. When Paul addresses the church at Corinth about the essentials of our faith, He reminds them that Christ was crucified, buried, raised and ascended “according to the scriptures” – this is the touchstone he refers to. I may be considered a ‘literalist’, but who am I to argue with the contention of the Apostle? The same, I think, rings true for me when it comes to such matters as Creation and the Flood – Peter tells us we would see a time when these events would be denied by the world around us, and that certainly fits our secular culture today. I certainly don’t have all the answers – I currently have no idea how aspects of the BIblical record concerning the ancient past fits with aspects of contemporary science, but I am very aware that our understanding of our world and the universe is in a constant state of change, so what is deemed dicta in the modern world today can shift tomorrow.

    In conclusion, the scriptures are there because they are a very clear way in which God conveys to us the truth concerning His nature and the nature of reality.

    That’s where, I think, we start, but I’m more than happy to discuss.

    Thanks for raising the issue, my friend.

  12. Great article

  13. Steve,
    What is it? the Bible is not in error? or the Bible is fallible? I get confused here talking to you and trying to figure out what you are saying. I think we are talking past eachother. Just because I say inerrant or infallible, does not mean I buy into Biblicism or use the words in the same way as a baptist. It does not mean that I think we have a perfect book in the way Muslims or Mormons have theirs. It most certainly does not mean that I have no appreciation for how God uses sinful men. Actually I think we have several perfect books, and the “book” that contains them also has a few very inperfect books of little value to the Christian faith. But where we have apostolic witness, we have the word of God that does not error, that is truth, even if it contains a spelling error.
    Luther also believed those”discrepencies” would ultimately be revealed. And this flood story thing is kind of laughable, looks like it was put together by a person that doesn’t know how to read, or understand literary devices.
    So if you would, before you go on a tirade, seek to understand what Brigitte and the others are and are not saying.
    There is middle ground that avoids Biblicism, while also avoiding the other error of throwing the book out.

    • Great story, Howard, on the “Wicked Bible”.

      Thanks for that link. I had not heard of it before.

      You make some good points, Howard, on why many of us wish to put the Word forth as infallible and inerrant and not the words. Inerrant words can and do lead to a Christian Koran sort of understanding for many.

      The Bible can be trusted, but it does not need to be made into an idol. As Luther said, “It is the cradle in which the Christ child is laid in.”

      Thanks for sharing, Howard.

    • Bror,

      We also adovcate a middle ground. We believe the Bible is true and can be trusted…ALL of it. We hold this belief without having to hold to the untenable view of an inerrant text.

      My point in bring up the two flood stories was to show that there are DIFFERENT takes on the same event. Does that shake my faith? Not in the slightest! Nor does it matter to me who showed up first to the empty tomb. Nor does it matter that John was the ONLY one who used the I am sayings. These things simply are not important when I view the Word and what it is meant to do to me and others.

      And we don’t have to try and resolve every tension when it comes to theses things and having every jot and tittle line up just right. We take it on FAITH that the Bible’s message is true. Christ, of course works this faith in us and it doesn’t come to us because we KNOW the Book is perfect.

      We believe that we occupy the middle ground in the Lutheran faith. Not on the right of inerrant Bibles, closed communions and third uses of the law, and not on the left with a different “social gospel” and abandonment of God’s Law.

      • Steve, I just need to ask who “we” is, of whom you speak.
        I do get from reading your posts, a sense that we are talking past each other. What is it you think is meant by inerrant, infallible?
        If God can use sinful men to communicate his word today, why couldn’t he do so 2,000 years ago? Does writing his word down kill it? Is it somehow more living if it is spoken, than if it is written?

      • “We”, are all those who have faith, who trust in what the Bible says, who are not reliant on an inerrant text.

        Inerrant means without errors. Infallible means certain, incapable of failing…true.

        The Word is inerrant, infallible. The Bible is a book that was both a product of God and man. We don’t need a perfect book to have an infallible Word. That’s why Luther had so many things to say about books in the Bible that DID NOT promote Christ. He realized the input of man and realized the dangers therein when that input was NOT Christ centered, but man centered.

      • So Steve, what about those books that do preach Christ, say the four gospels, the Pauline Epistles, I Peter, the Johanine epistles.
        What inerrant word do you have if you don’t have an inerrant record of that word from the pen of the apostles? How would you compare to know the innerrant word from an errant one?

      • Whatever promotes Christ.

        The inerrant Word was around long before those guys ever picked up a pen.

        The Holy Spirit creates faith in that Word. In some cases (maybe many cases) without that person ever having read a word out of the Bible.

        Don’t get me wrong, I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the Bible IS the Word of God. I don’t flip out when I hear someone say that the Bible is the cradle that the Christ child is laid in. The Word is what

      • Please see “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” by Craig Blomberg for a reasonable way to reconcile discrepancies.

  14. The Bible is true and can be trusted even though every single word in it is not perfect and from Heaven.

    The Word is what matters.

    We don’t have a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word.We don’t need to hold to the same view that the Muslims hold of their religious book.

  15. I’ll admit…when I first learned of the discrepencies in the Bible, I was a bit put off and upset.

    But then I learned that it was actually beneficial to my faith and liberating and freeing from an extra demand that was not really necessary.

    An infallible Word contained in a fallible, human touched book.

    I believe that truth gives God the credit He deserves and gives a right understanding to the doctrine of the Word.

  16. My mother witnesses a hit and run. She describes the incident to the police and gives a detailed description to the police.

    The man was driving a red pickup truck, he had a full beard, an eyepatch, and was wearing a blue baseball hat with ‘T’ on it.

    The police pull over the man in the red pickup truck with a freshly damaged front end. He has a full beard, an eyepatch, a baseball cap with a ‘T’ on it.

    Trouble is the baseball hat is not blue, but green.

    Should the prosecutor throw out the case?

    My mom’s story is true. Just because her human condition caused her to not be 100% accurate in the description she gave, in no way makes her account to the police false.

  17. What about if the red pickup truck turned out to be a black pickup truck?

    Should the prosecutor then throw out the case?

    Think about it. This is exactly where your anti inerrancy position leaves you. You (the Great Lord You) must make the call as to what belongs to the case and what does not.

    That is a foundation of sand!

    “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3).

  18. Well, you haven’t thrown the case out, have you?

    Luther says that 4 or 5 books of the Bible are pretty much useless. But that doesn’t hinder you from believing, does it?

    Differing accounts of who shows up at the empty tomb first, and that doesn’t cause you to throw the whole thing overboard, does it?

    Two differing accounts of the flood story doesn’t cause you to reject Jesus…does it?

    You may step down…I rest my case. 😀

    • 1. I trust that God has preserved the canon of Scripture that He intended to preserve. I have read over 70 volumes of Luther and do not recall him ever charging any one verse of today’s canon with error. He did question a few books as to whether they belonged to the canon, but only as to whether they had Apostolic authority. And even with this question, he still quoted them throughout his writings as authoritative Scripture.

      2. The empty tomb accounts do not and cannot “differ”. If they appear to differ, it is only due to our own dull and carnal minds which cannot as yet climb up to the matter. As Luther himself once said, in that great day we will see that God could not have made His Word any plainer than He did. In fact, even now I have seen reconciliations of the empty tomb accounts that have easily satisfied my lowly mind.

      3. There are no two “differing accounts of the flood story” as you assert. There are only two differing expositions of the flood story by fallen men, one or possibly both of which are necessarily false. God’s Word does not differ, as He is not One to speak out of both sides of His mouth. The forked-tongue belongs to the devil, not God. If we are ready to argue with our Maker and charge Him with error and lies, then I can only fear for what our end shall be.

  19. 1. I trust that God has preserved the canon of Scripture that He intended to preserve. I have read over 70 volumes of Luther and do not recall him ever charging any one verse of today’s canon with error. He did question a few books as to whether they belonged to the canon, but only as to whether they had Apostolic authority. And even with this question, he still quoted them throughout his writings as authoritative Scripture.

    2. The empty tomb accounts do not and cannot “differ”. If they appear to differ, it is only due to our own dull and carnal minds which cannot as yet climb up to the matter. As Luther himself once said, in that great day we will see that God could not have made His Word any plainer than He did. In fact, even now I have seen reconciliations of the empty tomb accounts that have easily satisfied my lowly mind.

    3. There are no two “differing accounts of the flood story” as you assert. There are only two differing expositions of the flood story by fallen men, one or possibly both of which are necessarily false. God’s Word does not differ, as He is not One to speak out of both sides of His mouth. The forked-tongue belongs to the devil, not God. If we are ready to argue with our Maker and charge Him with error and lies, then I can only fear for what our end shall be.

  20. There’s a particularly good posting here on this subject:
    http://www.mbird.com/2010/05/bart-ehrman-and-rashomon-effect/

  21. question for Bror and Stuart:

    what about bibles like the Jehovahs witness bible? Is it inerrant? infallible?

    Now I know that the answer will be that we only claim infallability for the “original manuscripts” that is , we claim “infallability” only for what? Manuscripts that no longer exist. That we no longer have. What saves this situation, of course, is the fact that there are multiple copies of these “urtexts” and those copies , rather amazingly, are in near total agreement, and where they differ , reconciling them is not really that problematic at all.

    But… most people cant read greek and they have bibles with alot of flaws in the translations. can they trust what they read? This, I suggest is the practical question that matters.

    I note that most folk who have inerrant bibles have theology that is pretty errant. An doctrine of inerrancy does not save us from doctrinal error.

    yes bror, I do think you and steve are talking past each other. when someone says “I dont believe in an inerrant bible ” I ask what they mean by the term.

    You Bror, I guess, believe that the book actually penned by paul was without error in any respect whatsoever. I guess that includes those he dictated to someone. Steve admits, I guess, that there could have been factual errors.

    steve: Jesus says the scriptures “cannot be broken” of the OT. Paul says that ALL scriptures are spirit breathed and are useful for teaching what….. ? the Law of God. But the Law of God can also be known by Reason as well. Jesus says the purpose of ALL scripture is to testify to his Person.

    Interesting discussion. I think it IS important to discuss this actually. I do also think it is unwise to deny inerrancy. I am unclear as to what doing that will accomplish that is good Steve.

    • Frank,

      Not having to believe that EVERY word is perfect and inerrant helps us to pull the gospel out of the text, instead of pulling the text off the page.

      This keeps us from being biblicists at the expense of the gospel.

  22. Frank,

    Once I understood that I didn’t have to believe that each and every word in the Bible came from Heaven with a bow tied around it, I immediately had a better understanding of the Word and it’s power to create faith by the use of ordinary, earthly elements. Men (preaching and teaching), water, bread and wine.

    Our Lord Himself was a product of man and of God. The Bible is no different, nor does it have to be in order for God to use it for His infallible purposes.

  23. I don’t think we have cross-referenced this. The discussion came here from this, originally, if you don’t mind Steve.

    http://thoughts-brigitte.blogspot.com/2011/07/luther-and-probability-vs-certainty-of.html

    I have some sympathy with Steve, because 1. plenty who hold “inerrancy” are doctrinally wrong. 2. The “living word” is a word of teaching or absolution and proclamation of grace through a living man to a living man.

    Still, I disagree with him as can be read on the other blog post. And I do not agree with the use of the Luther quote. Luther took the text much more seriously than that.

  24. fws,

    You are correct that the doctrine of inerrancy is referring specifically to the original manuscripts and not to actual translations, but that does not at all weaken the importance or value of the doctrine. It is the work of textual criticism to get at that original, and as you say, there are very few significant differences among early manuscripts and nothing at all that would challenge or change doctrines which are clearly taught in other undisputed passages. I have heard it said that all the so-called discrepancies put together would occupy no more than about one half of one page of our Bibles.

    We also have this same situation of the original text in the days of Jesus and the Apostles who commonly used and even quoted from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Their adherence to inerrancy can be readily seen by such plain passages as John 10:35; 17:20; Acts 24:14; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 2:20; Matt. 5:17-19; 22:43-44; Luke 16:17; 1 Tim. 6:3; Deut 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; and Rev. 22:18-19. I would greatly encourage everyone to look up and honestly consider each of these passages. Irregardless of what men of influence may say on either side, there stands this immovable rock that both Christ and the Apostles held to the doctrine that the Scriptures were true and authoritative in each and every word.

    • We only have to think of how Jesus, Matthew and Paul, etc. use scripture to prove things. When something is accepted as authoritative witness then it is reliable in its substance.

      And then, even Jesus chastises the Pharisees who seek the scriptures, as they should because there is life in them, and still miss the boat.

      • I guess that has always been a problem.

        People are just into their own thing and will not obey the Scriptures whether they are without error, or not.

  25. I use the Bible all the time to make points about the faith.

    Has ANYONE heard me say that the Bible is NOT the Word of God?

    Anyone?

    If they have then they are grossly mistaken.

    My point is this; God does not need inerrant words to make His inerrant and infallible Word true and effective.

    If one thinks that he does then one has a different doctrine of the Word than do I and many other Christians and many other Lutherans.

    And one would be adding something to Christ, alone. Christ + a book without any errors.

    No thanks. I’ll stick with Christ, alone, period.

  26. Luther must have a complete fool to believe that every word in the Bible dropped out of Heaven with a bow tied around it, and yet make a big stink on how the Book of James “was an epistle of straw” and also say about Revelation, “”I can discover no trace that it is established by the Holy Spirit.” He said (in the Bondage of the Will) this about the Book of Esther, “I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist.”

    We are so smart…but Luther was surely the biggest fool.

  27. I know, I know…Luther believed that those books were not canonical.

    There are discrepencies in the canonical books, though.

    Who shows up at the empty tomb first? Where was the Holy Spirit first given to the disciples (Pentecost or Upper Room)?

    Why two differing flood story accounts?

    Why was John the only apostle to use the “I am” sayings?

    The description in Genesis of a flat earth (dome with lights hung in it, and to protect against the water pouring in)…etc.

    That God could use the Bible, the way it is without having every jot and tittle line up exactly perfectly is a credit to Him! (not us)

    We are actually giving God MORE credit for making His perfect Word known in a book that was also a product of many fallible and sinful men.

  28. Interesting thought on the JW’s “New World Translation – if you look at the Greek Interlinear for the society on ‘controversial’ passages (i.e. John 1:1), it is identical to the text used in those used by orthodox Christian groups (i.e. – ‘theos’ – God, not ‘a god’). The problem comes with the actual translation that the Watchtower Society uses – that’s where the damage appears. I also recall being told some years back that the Book of Mormon is virtually identical in it’s use of language (not just style, but actual grammatical structure) to the 1611 King James Version – strange that God would speak to the ancient Americans in perfect Stuart English!

    We seemed to have reached the point where this discussion is polarizing, so can I offer a few thoughts that may help? I would suggest that the very minor problems with the biblical text often relate either to interpretation or grammatical variation (sometimes viewed as ‘errors’).

    To quickly touch on the first of these, Steve, for example, refers to Genesis teaching a ‘flat earth’ with a canopy of stars, but I recall at Sunday school in the 60’s (yes, I’m that old!) being taught that the Genesis image was much more about seeing the earth as a island amidst the ocean of the universe, which ties in far better with Job’s use of cosmology (the earth defined as round, hung in the void of space – Job 26) – it really is about how we apply what the text says.

    When it comes to grammar, the Bible isn’t written in a dictated text from heaven. Each book clearly has the stamp not only of the work of the Holy Spirit (which is why they were rightly canonised) but the human author as well, and this is clearly evident in the use of language and interpretation of events. When the Reformers spoke about the scriptures being without error, this was in regard to the truth of what the statement was proclaiming, not the omission of what scholars would deem ‘coarse and crude’ usage use and structure of language.

    Hope that helps!

  29. Going back to the original post:

    I am an inerrantist. Please allow me some pointed questions and a few comments.

    I do not believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21, taken together, leave any confusion over the doctrine of inerrancy.

    Does 2 Peter 3:16 equate Paul’s words with Scripture?

    In view of Christ’s words in Matthew 4:4 and John 17:17, what was Christ’s view of the Old Testament?

    In view of John 16:13, could God superintend the human authors of Scripture such that they wrote the truth? In other words, what is Christ’s view of the coming words of the Apostles?

    How do you know for certain that there were no original autographs of the biblical books?

    140 A. D. is a very late date for 1 and 2 Timothy to have been written. Could not Paul have been quoting from an oral source when he wrote the books? Oral tradition would have preserved the words contained in the Gospel of Luke very well (See “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Baucham and “The Reliability of the New Testament” by Blomberg for a sophisticated view of the truth of Scripture. Some of Blomberg’s stuff can also be found at http://www.4truth.net.). Luke’s research would have fond the oral traditions just as easily as Paul could have (Luke 1:1-4).

    Luther and Calvin would not have been so concerned with a clear doctrine of inerrancy because it was not a controversy in their time. The Bible’s authority verses church tradition was. Everybody, Protestant and Catholic, held to the idea that the Bible was true in what it taught.

    Luther’s questioning of the canonicity of certain books does not necessarily mean that the others contained error. I would say the same thing about some of the alleged discrepancies in the Bible.
    Someone will find the answer. That has been the case for many of the discrepancies, and it will be the case for many more.

    To use “human criteria” to “prove” the Bible’s truth does not necessarily arise from offering evidences for that same truth (See Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith for some Scripture references.). The Bible can be self-authenticating, and we still would find evidence of that truth. We can be moved by evidence to esteem the Scriptures.

    Last, and certainly not least (!), one does not have to be an inerrantist to be a Christian. This is often, though not always, an ‘in-house debate.’ (Some of the scholars you quoted above would probably not affirm the gospel in a clear way, however.) I do not argue about inerrancy with someone who is not a Christian or who has recently become a Christian unless they first raise the point. Even then, I downplay it. It is important, but it is not the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for those who believe.

    Sorry for the length of my comment, but I feel the length of the post requires it.

    In His service,

    J. K. Jones

  30. Hi J.K.,

    We disagree.

    I happen to believe that God works through fallible earthly means.

    Even our Lord Himself was fully man…and yet fully God.

    That is how He works in evry other aspect of His Word.

    It makes God into a much smaller God to say that He can only work His Word through perfect words in a perfect book. That sounds like the Muslims.

    Having a perfect Word is all that is necessary. a perfect book is just another form of Christ +.

    Not necessary. it’s not necessary for me. BNo one has yet been able to tell me what I am lacking by believing in a perfect Word and not perfect words.

    Thanks.

  31. J.K.,

    Discrepancies in Scripture don’t bother me in the slightest. Because I believe all of it (the story) is true.

    This is one of the great things about our view of Scripture. We don’t have to go through gyrations trying to resolve every tension or question. We actually take it on faith that it is ALL true.

    It’s very liberating, actually, and puts a lot of confidence in the Word…instead of the book.

    • How do you know the Word without the book, though? And if the book cannot be trusted in every respect–if, that is, it tells us things that are contrary to fact–perhaps its witness to the Word Himself is suspect also. Who’s to know where it errs and where it doesn’t, once infallibility has been denied it?

  32. Hey Steve,

    Maybe this is a good way to pose the question: Does the Bible tell us things that are contrary to fact? That Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead are empirical facts–the sort of events that could be verified by observation. But if the Bible can tell us things that run contrary to the empirical facts (or any other sort of facts), might it not have done so when it tells us about the crucifixion or resurrection? Now that we know the text contains errors, by what criteria are we to distinguish those parts of Scripture which are factual from those which are not. And whatever our criteria is, do we get that from Scripture or from some other source? If from Scripture, might this itself be one of those fallible passages (one of those passages that is contrary to fact)? I just don’t get how we can reasonably stake our lives upon the mercy of God, if we only know about that mercy from a book that states things that are contrary to fact… Could not the fallible writers who told us about these things have gotten something wrong–even something about God? If they can be wrong about earthly things, which can be seen, why not about heavenly things also?

  33. Joe,

    The Word was around creating faith before the Bible. The proclaimed Word STILL creates faith. (Romans 1:16) What is the power of God…the gospel!

    The Bible can be trusted in it’s message of Law and Gospel, no matter if one writer says the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and another says that it was in the Upper Room.

    Those discrepancies have nothing to do about the overall story being absolutely true.

    The Holy Spirit is the One who creates faith, not the veracity of each detail of each story in the Bible. Who needs faith for that? Faith is a gift given through Word and Sacrament. We believe, by faith, that the Bible’s message can be surely trusted.

    I’m going to put up a pretty good pastor’s class on the finite bearing the infinite (hopefully tonight sometime).

    It’s well worth a listen.

    Thanks.

  34. Hey Steve,

    I agree that the Holy Spirit is the one who creates faith via the Word, and I also agree that the Word was around before the written Scriptures. But as to discrepancies in Scripture, I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree (Incidentally, there are some good books out there that give, at the very least, reasonable answers to the alleged discrepancies in Scripture–Geisler has done a lot of good work in that area.). I just can’t see good reason to trust the overall message of Scripture if it contains errors in places, cause now how are we to determine which parts err and which parts do not without being arbitrary in our selection–without simply believing some parts because we want to… Ah well, take care!

  35. P.S. I will give that audio a listen when you do.

  36. I read the article, Bror.

    We are not in favor of liberal theologians running roughshod over Scripture either.

    We advocate a middle ground that recognizes how God uses ordinary means to accomplish His perfect will.

    That’s how we view the sacraments. That’s how we view preaching and teaching about Christ. That’s how we view our Lord Himself…’fully man…yet fully God’.

    If God needs a perfect text then He isn’t so great after all. He has a perfect Word, which He makes accomplish what He will through ordinary men with all the limitations that their existence gives them.

    If God were to say to me, “Steve…I’ll let you choose. Whatever you say will be the way it is with regard to the Bible. You can have every word in that book be perfect right down to the most minute detail…or you can have a book that is fully a product of man, with all that goes along with that, but it is absolutely trustworthy in what it has to say. Which would it be?”

    I would pick the latter. “We walk by faith, not by sight” I don’t want a book that requires NO faith. I want to trust that even though it’s a product of man, because His Word is attached to that product, it can be trusted and He is in, under and with it.

  37. Is a book that contains discrepancies really “absolutely trustworthy in what it has to say” though? If one part of that book says that things happened in ‘this’ way, and another part of that book says (of the same event) that things happened in ‘that’ way (and this is a way which is inconsistent with the other account), we know that at least one of the accounts cannot be accurate. Perhaps then there are other areas of the Bible that are not accurate either, we just don’t know it–or not yet… Still seems the implications of this view result (logically) in skepticism.

  38. “Is a book that contains discrepancies really “absolutely trustworthy in what it has to say” though?”

    Yes, the Bible is.

    Man may have his fallible hand in it, but God has His infallible Word attached to it and that trumps anywhere where man may not have gotten it exactly right.

    It is absolutely trustworthy.

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