Category Archives: Inerrancy/Inspiration

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I wanted to do this for a while. I had some time today. One day I’ll get a good camera and give this thing some real production value.



Slight Overreaction

Okay, so here’s the situation. Stephen Young wrote an article on “Protective Strategies” in “Evangelical Inerrantist Scholarship” and Christopher Skinner predicted that responses would be forthcoming. Steve Hays then responded to the article. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I’m not familiar with either Young or Skinner. I’ve heard Skinner’s name in the blogosphere and on Twitter but I haven’t read any of his work or interacted with him personally. I’ve not heard of Young before this. Hays on the other hand I know (inasmuch as I can “know” someone whom I’ve never met in person). But we’ve interacted aplenty over the past few years.

I said all that to say this: I think that perhaps Skinner has overreacted to Hays’ response to Young. I haven’t read Young’s original article so I can’t comment on it. I have read Hays’ response and Skinner’s impressions of Hays’ response. I don’t know if Skinner has a personal or professional relationship with Young. He did call him a “very bright Ph.D. candidate” so at least he holds him in some regard. Hays on the other hand was unknown to Skinner before his response to Young’s article. But it becomes clear that he doesn’t hold Hays in nearly the same regard.

Skinner refers to Hays’ response as “rambling, mostly incoherent” as well as “ludicrous” and “disturbing.” He says that he “shudder[s] to point readers to [Hays’] site for fear that this poster will experience a rise in his daily stats and thereby believe that he is reaching the masses…” Again, I don’t know Skinner or his relationship to Young, but when I read this I wondered why he felt so incensed as to employ that kind of rhetoric. I assumed that he was simply taking up for a friend. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But then I skimmed Skinner’s original post where he first mentions Young’s article and saw that he was “someone who once clung tightly to the trappings of the evangelical inerrantist subculture and ultimately found that narrative both deficient and oppressive…” He said that it was “empowering to have someone put a name to the ways in which this subculture continues to exercise its influence over the lives and beliefs of so many.” So Skinner has been affected, for the negative it seems, by Evangelical Inerrantist Scholarship. That helps to make sense of his rhetoric, which reads as someone lashing out against someone who has hurt them.

I didn’t discern anything incoherent, ludicrous, or even remotely disturbing in Hays’ response. It was all very well laid out and reasoned. That’s generally a mark of Hays’ writing. If I were to fault him on anything it would be the not too infrequent typographical errors that make their way into his posts. I’d also add that I was at once slightly amused and annoyed by Skinner’s comment that he didn’t want to spike Hays’ blog stats by linking to his post. Amused because Triablogue has been around for more than a decade and is one of the more popular blogs covering the subject matter it covers. Annoyed because it came off as hubristic.

In any event, read everyone involved and judge for yourselves.


A Conversation about KJV Onlyism

James White sat down with Steven Anderson for a couple of hours to discuss KJV Onlyism. I’m 40 minutes into the video and it’s astounding. To hear someone say that anyone who can’t understand the language of the KJV is probably not saved, or that the NIV is the word of God is probably not saved, is, to say the least, astonishing. I don’t know that I’ve ever described KJV Onlyism as a cult but I’m hard pressed to think of it as anything else based on what I’m seeing from Steven Anderson in this video. Give it a look and decide for yourself.


Lazy Errancy

Yesterday I inserted myself into a conversation between Lisa Robinson and Scott Lencke on Twitter concerning apparent contradictions/discrepancies in the Bible and the doctrine of inerrancy. It’s a hefty subject and Twitter doesn’t afford one the space to say all that they’d like, so I’m gonna share one my issues with the way discussions like this are generally carried out.

Scott’s main point of contention was that the Bible is a “library” in that it is a collection of books, so we shouldn’t be surprised or bothered when we find contradictions. Each author has his own thing to say and his own way of saying it. Scott says that he’s happy with contradictions/tensions because it means that he doesn’t have to “try & reconcile everything. [He] can freely, but not blindly, accept Scripture.”

That sounds nice and open and honest (I’ll leave the “blindly” part alone, which sounded a little condescending), but it also strikes me as a bit lazy, which I’ll explain below, and also somewhat humanistic in the sense that it focuses on the many human authors and doesn’t account for the one divine author. When I jumped into the conversation my point was that talking about contradictions in Scripture takes their existence for granted. Lisa brought up Article XIV of the Chicago Statement:

We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

Scott said he didn’t like this point, presumably because it starts with the presupposition of inerrancy, and then seeks to reconcile apparent contradictions and discrepancies according to the understanding that Scripture is the word of God, and since God cannot err, neither can his word. But taking apparent contradictions as actual contradictions without at least trying to reconcile the discrepancies is to operate according to the same basic kind of presupposition, namely that Scripture is the words of different men, and since men can and do disagree, so can their words.

I don’t really care if one holds to inerrancy or not; but I’d like to see either position argued for. Simply assuming the existence of actual contradictions because some things seem contradictory is lazy. Not trying to reconcile apparent contradictions because the Bible has a bunch of human authors who can disagree if they want is lazy too. Take the time to see if there is a way to reconcile the problem and then draw your conclusion. If there’s  not then what have you lost? If there is then you’ve gained all the more.


Quote of the Day

Graeme Goldsworthy:

We believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God because the Bible itself tells us that this is the case. The immediate objection is that this is a circular argument — which of course it is! But is it really different from saying we know that God is God because he says he is? Can circularity be avoided and, if so, how? There are those who suggest it can be avoided merely by refusing to make assumptions, and by allowing the evidence to speak for itself. But this is to make another set of assumptions about what constitutes evidence and how it does speak for itself. If we refuse to start with the assumption that the Bible tells the truth in claiming to be God’s word, we must start with another assumption: that it does not or may not tell the truth and, therefore, it is not or may not be God’s word. If we seek to avoid the obvious circularity of this latter approach by saying that we must test the Bible by certain objectively neutral facts, then who determines what is neutral and which facts are applicable? In the end, it becomes human reason that judges what is reasonable evidence about the nature of the Bible. As soon as we admit this, then we see that it is a choice of two opposing circular arguments: one that assumes the ultimate authority of God and his word, and the other that assumes the ultimate authority of unaided human reason. We must examine these two positions more closely in pursuing the basis of valid interpretation of the Bible. Perhaps it will emerge that one position is really an exercise in futility in that it undermines itself by its own assumptions.

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 32-33.


Logos Free Book of the Month

Logos’ free book of the month for February is The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1: Revelation and Inspiration. Go here for more information.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have this resource for Logos 4. I hold in my hand a copy of Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, which contains many, yet not all, of the chapters in the volume on offer from Logos. Aside from having additional content from Warfield, I’ll be able to search and copy much easier with the digital book than with the hard copy. That’s the one plus about ebooks.


An Inconsistent Argument Against Inerrancy

John Byron at The Biblical World has weighed in on the Geisler-Licona controversy, using it as a foil to talk about how “unhelpful” the doctrine of inerrancy is. I found his post to be rather unhelpful when thinking about inerrancy because of its inconsistency. On the one hand he says:

First is the belief in inerrancy, that the Bible is free from error or mistakes. As I have said before, this is a very unhelpful category by which to define the Bible since it tells us what the Bible is not. That is, it uses negatives to describe the Bible rather than positives.

But then he concludes his post saying:

And this is why inerrancy, especially the way it is defined by Geisler, Mohelr and some others, is unhelpful. It predetermines what the Bible “is” and therefore what the authors of the Bible “must do” to fit within that definition.

So which is it? Does the doctrine of inerrancy tell us what the Bible “is not,” or does it tell us what the Bible “is”? He begins by complaining about negatives and ends by complaining about positives. It doesn’t seem that inerrancy has any shot with Byron.

Byron also suggests that:

The problem with this approach is that it wants the Bible to lineup with 21st century expectations. It fails to take into account the fact that the Bible was not written with us in mind and that authors were writing and working within their own historical and cultural context. This means that sometimes they did some very creative things with history that would simply not wash in our time.

But that’s exactly what believers in inerrancy argue! Look at the denial in Article XIII of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (page numbers in parentheses refer to the linked PDF file for ease of reference):

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations. (8)

This is exactly the opposite of what Byron has suggested! They argue that it’s wrong to charge the Bible with errors according to modern standards. We need to understand the text as it was intended by its authors and as it would have been understood by it original audience. In the Exposition section of the CSBI under the subheading “Infallibility, Inerrancy, and Interpretation,” we read:

We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of his penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise.

So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: Since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed. (12, emphasis mine)

The “creative things” that allegedly “wouldn’t wash in our time” would only be erroneous if we judged the Bible according to our standards and not its own. Ironically Byron seems to be doing just that in his argument against inerrancy. Surely I’m not the only one who can spot the inconsistency in that, am I?

Two asides:

First, Byron makes the claim that:

The more one studies the Bible the more you realize just how unsupportable of a claim it is. When we hold to inerrancy we end up making the Bible fit into our perceptions of what we think the Bible should be rather than standing back and discovering what it really is.

Really? So then what are we to make of all the Biblical scholars who keep on studying the Bible and keep on affirming inerrancy? Before making this statement–which comes off as a bit pretentious–he makes reference to Licona’s book, which he understands to contain “an impressive set of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus” and also to Licona’s “affirming his belief in inerrancy.” So that causes me to wonder whether or not Licona has studied the Bible enough. Apparently, the “more one studies the Bible the more you realize just how unsupportable of a claim [inerrancy] is.” Apparently Licona doesn’t think that the claim of inerrancy is unsupportable and he thinks that the doctrine remains safe in light of his understanding of the passage in question.

Second, Byron says that he’s in basic agreement with Licona’s published view on Matthew 27:52-53. He suggests that it’s “probably a combination of historical, theological, and scriptural elements that Matthew used to create a rich symbolic picture.” He goes on to say that the Gospel authors “regularly mix historical and theological material together.” I think it’s a mistake to bifurcate theology and history in such a way. The Biblical authors recount all sorts of historical events and they are all theological. All history tells us something about God so there’s no “mixing” going on according to the Biblical authors. Licona is not arguing history vs. theology but historical narrative vs. apocalyptic symbolism. For Matthew and his readers it’s theological no matter what!

Back to the inconsistency I find in Byron’s post. He uses John 2:18-22 as an example of the blending of history and theology in order to show that it wouldn’t be unusual for Matthew to do something similar in Matthew 27:52-53. But here’s where things get hairy; Byron says:

In his gospel John places Jesus’ clearing of the temple at the beginning of his ministry while the synoptics all place it at the end. John also interprets the temple event as symbolic of Jesus’ own death and resurrection (2:18-22). Now we can approach this in one of two ways. We can suggest that Jesus actually cleared the temple twice, once in the beginning and once at the end. But then we might want to ask why the synoptics only record a clearing at the end of Jesus’ ministry and John only records a clearing at the beginning. While we can sometimes harmonize the gospels to make sense of an event this does not seem to be possible here. On the other hand, the more likely explanation is that John has purposefully moved the event to make a theological point. That is, he has used history, theology and creativity to make a point about Jesus.

Now in essence I agree with Byron in that I think we’re talking about a single event and that John places it in a specific place in his narrative to make a point. No real argument there. But I have a few issues with his understanding of this passage and how he’s employing it in the service of his argument.

The first issue is that he understands it to be analogous of what’s going on creatively in Matthew 27:52-53. I don’t see that he’s actually argued for how this is so. Merely claiming that a mixture of history, theology, and creativity is in place seems like a weak connection. Cannot this very claim be made for literally every statement in every passage of Scripture that reports history of any kind? Again, I maintain that when a Biblical writer records history they do not do so devoid of theology—they do so in service of theology.

Second, is there not an inconsistency between the two examples (Matt. 27:52-53 & John 2:18-22) in claiming that they have “used history, theology and creativity to make a point about Jesus”? This seems to work against Byron’s understanding of Matthew 27:52-53 as theological rather than historical since on his reading Matthew would have to have only used theology and creativity rather than history in this small section. Remember, Byron doesn’t find Matthew to be recording history in 27:52-53. If he’s using history as well then how does that affect our understanding of the dead saints rising at Jesus’ death (or resurrection depending on how one punctuates the passage)?

Third, there’s more inconsistency in the analogy. Yes, I know, no analogy is perfect (if the analogy was perfect it wouldn’t be an analogy, it would be the very thing), but isn’t Byron saying that John simply moved a historical incident from one point in Jesus’ ministry to another in his narrative? In other words, Byron doesn’t seem to be suggesting that the temple clearing never happened, only that John references it at a specific point to make a specific point. That’s not what he thinks Matthew is doing. So I’m a bit confused on how they’re doing similar things with their use of history, theology, and creativity.

Fourth, I think there’s a problem with the claim that it “does not seem to be possible” that two clearings happened. Why not? If it didn’t seem at least possible then one wonders how such an interpretation ever came to be held by anyone. The fact of the matter is that it seems very possible even if improbable. This is actually one of the easier things to harmonize if one wanted to harmonize Gospel accounts. I personally find even the best arguments for this unconvincing but they’re not out of the realm of possibility.

Fifth, Byron admits that the Gospels can be harmonized at times in order to “make sense of an event” so in principle he’s not opposed to something the doctrine of inerrancy relies heavily on to maintain an error-free Bible. I’m now even more convinced that Marc Cortez’s recent post is right in suggesting that many (most?) discussions of inerrancy are less about inerrancy and more about hermeneutics. Byron doesn’t think that harmony is possible in every text; inerrantists do even they admit that the solution might not be readily available (see CSBI, 12). So now this becomes a debate about the interpretation of any given text and not about inerrancy per se.