We thought he was such a nice boy…and then we found out he didn't believe in….Inerrancy!!

Dear Sir: What a total disappointment.

I do like your wisdom and passion. However, you have become too smart.

May God have mercy on you regarding your responsibility to adhere to the inerrancy of scripture

The discussion on inerrancy at the BHT and here at IM always fills my mailbox with mail that I can’t answer. All I can do is make an attempt to say what I believe is a reasonable approach to Christian scripture. That approach doesn’t do well with those who need perfection in their hands before they can say they have truth in their minds. I am not an inerrantist. It’s costing me friends, and it makes me uncomfortable. Here’s some of my thoughts. I know they will make a lot of you unhappy, but I’m nailing it to the door anyway. We need to articulate what we believe about scripture in a way that comports with the real nature of the Biblical texts, not inerrant, perfect autographs no one will ever have.

When I first wrote about Why I Am Not A Young Earth Creationist, I knew that eventually I would have to write more on scripture itself. So I have, here and here.

There is a lot more to be said, and I am really not up to saying it, but comments like these over at the Boar’s Head illustrate the problem well. (Three different writers, btw.)

One reason inerrancy is so important is that if we give it up in part the logical outcome will be the eventual giving up of the Gospel(not that you would of course). This is so is because the gospel is inextricably tied to history. Undermine the historical details of the Gospel and we undermine the Gospel itself.

God, through the Holy Spirit, has written and preserved the Scriptures…If we don’t believe that, then why don’t we just toss it out the window, really…Do we believe in a literal six-day creation? I certainly hope so. Or do we try to turn some/all of the Bible stories into “allegories”?

What you are asking is the same as saying: “Since different people are reading the compass and their interpretation of true north may vary, then it doesn’t matter whether the compass is broken or not!” I disagree. KNOWING the compass is right is at least a starting point.

I could cite so many more things. I am constantly getting mail about my view of scripture, which really puzzles me. I obviously believe in the essentials of the Gospel and preach them out of the Bible. I teach the Bible to high school students, and have never been accused of being a liberal. I am a confessional Christian who enthusiastically embrace the Westminster Confession on the subject of scripture.

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.

…our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

…it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary..


The problem? I don’t believe in inerrancy, a view of how scripture is inspired that means well, but just can’t get traction with me. My problems with inerrancy have been going on for a very long time, and I’ve heard it presented and taught by the best. It’s never sat well with me, probably because I have a lot of literary interest in the text of scripture, plus I don’t like to be bullied. I get a rash.

1. What the heck is it? It takes a major document to describe inerrancy.

2. The document in question contains the following paragraph (Chicago Statement on Inerrancy XIII):

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

Excuse me, but did I just read that I am off the inerrancy hook if I can assert that the passage in question did not intend to come up to a particular standard of truth?

OK….I don’t believe the Bible was ever intended to be true in comparison to contemporary science, history, astronomy, geology, medicine, anatomy, psychology or the Bill James Baseball Abstract. Can I go to lunch now?

3. Inerrancy is asserted for the original autographs.

We don’t have them.

4. While the Bible is supposedly inerrant, none of those who interpret it are inerrant interpreters. That’s a problem. If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.

5. Inerrancy is almost always tied up with things that really bother me: Young earth creationism, of course. Spiritual warfarism, where people with problem kids and screwed up marriages thing that Satan is in the house and/or in their head. Secret knowledge schemes, like What did Jesus eat? Diets. Conspiracy theories. Bible only Christian education. Lunacy like the Bible Codes. It goes on and on. Magic Bookies run amuck.

6. Inerrancy looks, smells and feels remarkably like a philosophical imposition on the Bible, going beyond what the Bible CAN say about itself, and forcing those of us who believe in the authority and truthfulness of the Bible to take a “loyalty oath” that goes beyond what should be said. Typical of evangelical attempts to show they are really really really really really right. Catholics do it with the Pope. Pentecostals with experience. Evangelicals with inerrancy.

It’s like a philosophical security system to keep everything safe. It’s been called Protestant Scholasticism, and I agree.

7. No major confession requires that you use the word “inerrancy”. Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Faith and Message Statement avoids the exact word, and doesn’t harp on the concept. Reformation confessions don’t use it at all. We can live without it. Read what my friend Alex Arnold said about inerrancy. He’s totally on target. Or consider BHT commenter Myron Marston.

I’ve got news for you….but the Bible may be wrong on the resurrection. It may be wrong on lots of things. I don’t really have any way to inerrantly prove it one way or the other. And neither do you. At some point, you’ve got to accept it on faith, as do I. Accepting or not accepting the idea of inerrancy has little to do with whether or not I place my faith in Christ. In fact, I think inerrancy has a tendency to get in the way of our trusting Christ. We spend so much time sweating all these little inerrant details and trying to scientifically/historically “prove” the Bible that we can miss out on the entire point of the whole thing: Christ. Isn’t Christ enough? Why does it have to be Christ and inerrancy? Call me crazy, but I’m THANKFUL that the Bible doesn’t line up factually or theologically 100%. It would make it too easy to “stand pat” with my current understanding rather than having to spend a lifetime wrestling with scripture.

I could expand this list but I won’t. I want to say something about the comments quoted at the beginning of the post.

Defenders of inerrancy send me lots of false dilemmas. Thing like: If we don’t believe in inerrancy, the Bible must go out the window. Shred it. Go ahead. Shred Grandma’s KJV because you don’t believe in inerrancy so YOU JUST DON’T BELIEVE THE BIBLE ANY MORE YOU OVER-EDUCATED KNOW IT ALL.

Or this one. If you don’t buy the six day, young earth creationist view of Genesis, then you are saying it’s all an allegory. And that’s stupid. So it’s literal history with Ken Hamm or it’s allegories with all the devils of hell.

That’s it? Those are my choices? Ken Hamm or “allegory?” The great thing about that one is I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t know what an allegory is.

Or the Bible is a perfect compass. Or a perfect map. Or a perfect book. Because God is perfect. And if God said it, it must be perfect. It’s perfect. Really, really really perfect. Not just true. Not just a book that brings us Christ and the Gospel. Perfect. And if you don’t come out and walk around saying the Bible is perfect, then you reject the Bible.

And of course, without inerrancy, we lose history, and we lose the resurrection, and we lose the Gospel. The only way we know that the Gospels are telling the truth is the doctrine of inerrancy, modern version. Without it, we float off on a cloud of mythology. Or so I keep hearing. Why this doesn’t seem to be applying to N.T. Wright hasn’t been explained.

You will have to forgive me, readers, but this all just amazes me. I mean, it really amazes me, because it simply isn’t so.

The Bible is, first of all, not a book at all. IT IS NOT A BOOK AT ALL. It is 66 books, from a very long time ago. A wide selection of literature in the human conversation. The church selected these books because it believes that God speaks through those books to tell us the truth of the Gospel, and to tell us about Jesus and our salvation by the mediator. Therefore, the church asserts that these 66 books are a message from God. Since the Bible doesn’t know the “Christian Bible as canon” exists, it doesn’t have a word for itself beyond the New Testament calling the Old “scripture.”

Confessions like the WCF do a good job of saying God revealed himself, the church wrote down not only what was revealed about the Gospel, but a lot of other things surrounding the Gospel that make it understandable. The church selected a canon, and the church endorses that canon as scripture. God didn’t pick these books. We did. Christians will discover, on their own, that the Spirit speaks through those books and brings us to a saving knowledge of Jesus. They do a good job of this without talking about science, anthropology, anatomy, the latest issue of Biblical Archeology or any other standard of modern “truth.” The Bible is historical, but nowhere do I read a claim that it is perfect history. It’s “here’s the story from the God-point of view, where all kinds of strange things are more important than what you learned in school.”

The Bible is truthful, but it’s approach to truth is clearly something like this: God told us the truth in Jesus. Believe him. The Biblical story leading us to Jesus is true in that it leads us to Jesus. This seems to work without reference to large epistemological tomes on the nature of truth or the real “facts” of science. It’s actually quite amazing. For example:

Romans 5 says sin entered the world through one man. No history book in the world agrees with this, but Bible-believers know its true. We don’t need to worry that it is laughable to the world. This is our story.

Romans 5 says the death of one man made up for that sin for all who believe the Gospel. This also doesn’t match up with any history anywhere, and won’t be verified, so I don’t really get what’s going on. (I mean, you can historically conclude that Jesus was executed, but the meaning of it all is off the meter.) The only way you get ahold of this event, and what it means, is by faith and the Spirit. The church tells you the story in its canon of scripture, and you believe it by the illumination of the Spirit.

We also discover that the Bible’s approach to truth comes through an amazingly diverse grid of various literary types. Most all were literary forms common in prescientific cultures that thought the earth was the center of the universe, stars were angels, the blue sky was water, the moon gave light and so on. God didn’t seem to care about the limitations of prescientific accounts. Inerrantists worry about them endlessly. God actually seems to prefer them over modern “historical and scientific” accounts, as they keep the main thing the main thing. (If the Bible were being written today it would be larger than Spurgeon’s collected works. 30 times as large. Easily.)

Literary genre is the great ignored fact of the Bible that inerrantists seem unable to feel good about. They toss out “allegory” as a straw man, but if we were more accurate, the list would include EVERY kind of literary genre in the book: proverb, drama, journal, lament, imprecation, praise song, parable, didactic, story of origin, genealogy, poetry, apocalyptic, novella, and on and on and on. For some reason, the “truthfulness” of anything other than “flat” narration or eyewitness reporting really bugs a lot of inerrantists.

They remind me of people who, when asked by a four year old chide where babies come from, get out a college biology text or a video from human development class. Why? Well, allegory, story, poetry, etc. would just be abandoning the truth. (This is crazy!) So if I say the story of Adam and Eve is true, but it is prescientific, mythic, and more story than history, I’m a heretic. I will just say this once: I’m an English teacher, and you people get an F. Truth comes in all kinds of literary forms, and insisting that Genesis must produce a scientifically correct view of the universe is being brutally shallow in your appreciation of the literary nature of the material that makes up scripture.

This just in, and I have lots more like this.

History in the Bible must be perfect if it is to be trustworthy and if it is to be breathed out by God. If not, then the historical detail about the resurrection of Christ may not be true at all. And then our faith would be futile.

I respect my brothers and sisters with this view, but I cannot understand why they have come to the conclusion that Jesus and the Gospel must depend on a perfect book for “truth.” I thought if it really happened, it was true, and if God chooses to tell us what really happened in a book of poetry, symbol, music, apocalyptic, parable, prophecy, lament, proverb, saying and so forth, that doesn’t stop anything from “really” being true.

Creation “really” happened. That I am told by God about creation in a three thousand year old liturgical, poetic, prescientific story meant to assert Hebrew ideas over pagan ideas during the Babylonian captivity doesn’t take one thing away from the truth of Creation. Not one thing. Telling me I have to become a young earth creationist in order to actually “believe” this account is absurd. Saying that if I don’t become a young earth creationist, I disbelieve this account is simply unacceptable. Stronger words are really needed.

I want to say more, but I am weary from saying this much. I love and respect my inerrantist friends. When they tell me I am rejecting the resurrection by rejecting “inerrancy,” I am hurt and puzzled. But so I will remain, because the quests to insure that modernistic assertions about the Bible precede and protect the Gospel are not about to end. Denominations will split. Friendships will end. Seminarians and pastors will be shown the door. Christians will reject their brothers and sisters. It is needless, and a ridiculous waste of unity.

(For a thorough response to this article, read the Jollyblogger, David Wayne. Excellent post and totally an honor to be fisked by the best.)

75 thoughts on “We thought he was such a nice boy…and then we found out he didn't believe in….Inerrancy!!

  1. Pingback: Challies Dot Com
  2. Pingback: Sacred Journey
  3. Pingback: Challies Dot Com
  4. Pingback: Stones Cry Out
  5. Since imonk responded to my query with his example from Psalm 137, I feel a little obligated to respond to Jim. Jim, you are jumping on imonk a bit too quickly, he never has talked about ripping parts of the Bible out that we may consider unpleasant.

    We were trying to determine how inerrancy fits with a literary interpretation of scripture, imonk only raised an example.

    I should also point out that althought the Bible is God’s message to us, it is not always God’s command or his words that are recorded. Sometimes he shares what others experience…God takes no joy in the death of the wicked.


  6. Is it not the wrong question to be asking, is the bible inerrant or not? Can it be inerrant if my brother believes in young creation and I believe in old, who is to say whose view is correct? All of a sudden inerrancy means something different then intended. One has made it subjective. It can be inerrant without your understanding. Lets face it, we only see a portion of the truth of it. We all could tear holes in the young and old creationists. That is an issue. I have difficulty with Gen 1 to Rev. Does it apply to me now? Yes and No. It could be an allegory for me and it could be eternal which is outside my dimension, in which my physical body exists, but my spirit is eternal is it not? So, then Revelation does apply to me now, I just do not see the whole picture yet. It still remains absolute. My perspective or enlightenment does not change the facts. Lets go back to Gen. for a moment, oops we can’t do that, we just fell into history. It has been proven that these characters have lived, as we know Adam s part of the family. Some of his ancestors, like himself have lived rather foolishly, as I myself have at times, BUT the point is the bible can be taken historically, allegorical, literally, absolutely and spiritually. We who know the living God are Spiritual because we received the Spirit of truth.
    Jim Geiseke, had said some very good comments, though I did not agree with it all, he presented well.


  7. >Reductio ad absurdem (following an argument to its logical conclusion)is a legitimate form of argument.

    Well, here’s an argument you can follow out: Troll yourself somewhere else. You’re history here.


  8. It was Mr. Spencer, not I, who used “damn thing”, so your ire is misdirected, Owen.

    Reductio ad absurdem (following an argument to its logical conclusion)is a legitimate form of argument.

    And by the way, I also disagree with Michael in that I prefer CSI Las Vegas to CSI Miami.

    Now, let me see if I can raid my brother-in-laws medications for that Prozac you want me to take. =:-0

    Jim Gieseke
    Houston, Texas


  9. Jim,
    Unreal dude! Does the Tyranny of the majority mean anything to you? I am with Michael, how does anything of what you said have anything to do with “inerrancy”? And of course your follow-up post utilizing the word “damn thing” really makes your argument that much more valid. It is loving and compassionate people like that has people running into Jesus’ arms everyday. Takes some spiritual prozac dude, sounds like you need it.



  10. Jim….

    Does the sentence “affirms Westminster Confession” not mean a damn thing to you, or are you just a troll who doesn’t give a rip about what I say that interferes with your crusade to get me into the apostate camp?


  11. >1. If you have a problem believing that this verse belongs in the bible

    You are really off to the races now, aren’t you Jim? False premise in hand, you will nail me to the wall. I have NO PROBLEM with this verse in the Bible. I want to know how it fits in with inerrancy, since killing babies is clearly wrong.

    If you believe Jesus endorses killing babies, tell us.

    Then you try to drag me- by way of my refusal to say the Bible is inerrant in science, etc but authoritative in the Gospel and Jesus- into denying the character of God and a literal hell. You have absolutely no right or cause to do either. You are throwing me in with the worst kinds of liberals, and trying to smear me as one.

    This kind of shoddy character assassination of those who don’t use the word inerrancy- but have full confidence in and devotion to the Bible, Jesus and the Gospel, is the reason I loathe being an evangelical. They are, without a doubt, the most slanderous and accusatory people I talk to.


  12. Mr. Spencer now gives us an example of a bible verse which he thinks will belie inerrancy. The verse is Psalm 137:8:

    “O daughter of Babylon, O destroyed one! Blessed is he who will repay to you your reward which you rewarded to us. “

    Where is the problem here? Is the problem with the immediately following verse?

    “Blessed is he who seizes and dashes your little ones against the stones. “

    Some observations:

    1. If you have a problem believing that this verse belongs in the bible, then you have a major problem with large portions of the Old and the New Testaments. Do we remove, or disregard, all portions of the Bible which deal with God judging entire nations, including the slaughter of children? Ultimately, which parts of the Bible are you going to keep? (I think I know which ones …)

    2. If you have a problem with this verse, you ultimately have a problem with God Himself. Even if you remove every such passage from the Word of God, you are still going to pick up tomorrow’s newspaper and discover a world in which little one’s are slaughtered – by war, by tsunamis, by famine. Unless you are positing a weak or negligent God, you will then have a problem with Him.

    3. If you have a problem with this verse, I suspect you have a real problem with certain orthodox concepts such as a literal hell, a concept plainly taught in scripture, but which is “unpleasant” to nearly all who would contemplate it.

    Is it pleasant to confront these passages? No one would say it is, but then neither do these passages do anything to the concept of inerrancy. Much better to stand back in awe, perhaps looking at passages such as Luke 13:1-9 for what explanation they might give.

    This following passage, equally offensive as the one you cite, occurs in the book of Jeremiah:

    Therefore deliver up their sons to the famine, and give them over to the hand of the sword. And let their wives be bereaved, and widows, and their men be slain of death; let their young men be struck by the sword in battle.

    Matthew Henry comments:

    Now this is not written for our imitation. Jeremiah was a prophet, and by the impulse of the spirit of prophecy, in the foresight of the ruin certainly coming upon his persecutors, might pray such prayers as we may not; and, if we think by this example to justify ourselves in such imprecations, we know not what manner of spirit we are of; our Master has taught us, by his precept and pattern, to bless those that curse us and pray for those that despitefully use us. Yet it is written for our instruction, and is of use to teach us, [1.] That those who have forfeited the benefit of the prayers of God’s prophets for them may justly expect to have their prayers against them. [2.] That persecution is a sin that fills the measure of a people’s iniquity very fast, and will bring as sure and sore a destruction upon them as any thing. [3.] Those who will not be won upon by the kindness of God and his prophets will certainly at length feel the just resentments of both.

    If the alternative is to remove large portions of the scripture, and indeed entire components of orthodox theology, then I will have to cast my lot with the weak brained, heavily medicated, simple folk who believe in inerrancy and whom you deride.

    As an aside, there is an interesting article at the Trinity Foundation web site on the propositional nature of truth which I think may be helpful. It is at:

    In it, John Robbins writes:

    In the propositions of Scripture we have the very thoughts of God. Believing Jesus is believing his words. Believing in Jesus is believing his words. Christ made this very clear in John 5:46-47: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” Believing Moses is believing his written propositions. Believing Jesus is believing his (at that time) spoken propositions. There is no non-propositional something behind the text that we must “get through to” or “sense.”

    Jim Gieseke
    Houston, Texas


  13. First of all, since the post is about why I don’t plan to ever use the word inerrancy to describe what I believe about scripture, I find it interesting that you are asking me questions about evolution and creationism. I have a group of inerrantists telling me the word has nothing to do with these beliefs and I can use the word and be an old earther.

    HA HA HA.

    I addressed questions about creationism in this essay https://internetmonk.com/creation.html that was linked in this post. There is an FAQ at the end.

    Higher Criticism isn’t conservative or liberal. It has no theological presuppositions. That is a complete distortion, used by fundamentalists to mischaracterize scholarly study of the Bible. If the Bible isn’t a “magic book” (see previous post) then why not study it rigorously? Ever read N.T. Wright? You might be surprised.

    Your attempt to get me to confess to various apostate liberal notions is insulting. Read my work and decide for yourself. I say the Apostle’s Creed every Lord’s Day at my church, and I believe it. Equating the resurrection and the virgin birth with “evolving from monkeys” is bizarre.

    Here’s what I believe about scripture:



  14. To answer the aussie’s question, it is my understanding that a movement occurred in the ’70’s to view scripture through a process called “higher criticism.” Using this liberal view of scripture, events such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ were considered to be something other than literal truth. The “inerrancy” doctrine is probably a response to that. I am not a scholar on theological history, so feel free to correct me if my facts are errant.

    I’ll steer away from the old/new earth thing, but I’ve got a couple of nagging questions. Pardon me if you’ve addressed these elsewhere, but I haven’t read everything you’ve ever written.

    Was Jesus fathered by a mortal human, or was Mary a virgin?

    Did Jesus rise from the dead and ascend to Heaven, or do his bones lie (lay?) here on earth somewhere?

    Did we evolve from monkeys?

    Was there a flood that destroyed the entire human race, save for one family?

    The last two questions there may be room for debate about, but it seems that with regards to the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, they must both be literally true or all of christianity becomes a big hoax.

    Did humans evolve from monkeys?


  15. I am assuming that we are defining inerrancy as exemption from error in other words synonymous with infallible.

    Inerrancy is to presume translations of the Bibles (plural) are 100% agreed to the original articles. Until they are dug up from the desert somewhere I would doubt this could ever be proved.

    Having said that, that in of itself would not necessarily prove inerrancy.

    We also have to assume that the 66 books that make up our canon of scripture was an inspired choice amongst several other books that did not make it into the canon.

    We are also to further believe that God would have had to dictate to the respective authors of each of the canonical books for this to be the case, or the authors were not susceptible to the possibility of human error.

    Since most of the Gospel texts were not eyewitness accounts by the authors they had to trust someone to give them 100% accurate information, especially Luke and Mark.

    If tradition is correct about Matthew and John, then these two authors were a little more privy to what was going on, but even then they are commenting on things that happened when they were much younger and would have had to rely on 100% recollection of events, and comparing sources of other writers.

    Since the language that most of us read the bible in was translated from several Greek texts this further muddyÂ’s the waters. Which texts do we use? Hort and Wescott? The Received Text?

    Does the texts that have stories in them that others do not have more or less inerrant?

    I really feel this is a serious stretch of faith, as if it is not hard enough already, to accept such a claim. There are several passages that come to mind, but this one will suffice;

    21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
    22 And the people gave a shout, saying, it is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
    23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

    History just doesn’t support Herod dying quite this way. I suppose one could argue that History is wrong and the bible is right, but I would not think this would hold much weight in this case. It is debated on what exactly caused Herod’s death, gangrene of the genitalia or complications of gonorrhea. In either case, he did not die immediately by being struck by an angel. It seems to me poetic license is being utilized here.

    Does this make the bible invalid because of discrepancies like this? No. There is a message behind the words of the bible. It was never intended to be a history book, science book, or any other book. It is what it is, a spiritual book.

    We have to be careful about judging one’s Christian walk based on man made dogmas. As far as I can tell the only criteria to becoming a Christian is to repent and accept Jesus sacrifice on the cross for our remission of sins. I must have missed the part, or my bible is missing some pages regarding the “so called” list of creeds we must avow in order to be classified as a Christian.

    Romans 14:1-3



  16. I just want to hear how my view that literary understanding stands before our categories of “error” effects the way we read “error” in scripture? Then I want to know why, if we can agree that Psalm 137:8 teaches truth using one kind of variation on human language, Genesis 1 wouldn’t also be capable of teaching truth through another variant on language, i.e. pre-scientific narrative?


  17. My choice of “contamination” is perhaps a poor one. I only meant that there is perhaps an element of human thought and will mixed in with and interwoven with God’s thought and will.

    God wanted us to learn certain information about Himself and his dealings with men, primarily about salvation and Christ, and he chose to communicate that through the human authors of scripture. Maybe we cannot go far beyond that, and it must remain somewhat of a mystery.

    On verse Psalm 137:8, call me a dolt but, why would this cause a problem with inerrency. This only shows the agony and the spirit of the psalmist in calling down a curse on Babylon. Actually blessing on the one who repays Babylon. Are you having trouble with this statement of hate as opposed to the love shown in John 3:16?


  18. My former lockstep view of inerrancy fell apart yesterday in my OT intro class at my conservative, reformed seminary. It did so exactly 24 hours before I read your essay, interestingly enough.

    The moment happened when the prof pointed out that the author of Samuel says that Nathan the pophet said to David that David’s kingdom would last forever, but the author of Chronicles says that Nathan said, in the exact same speech, that God’s kingdom would last forever. An inerrantist or literalist is stuck with a dilemma here. Both seem to be “literal” reports of the same conversation. They are not poetic in genre, just simple historical narrative. But in each report, Nathan says two very different things. Both are in the Word of God. So, if you approach from the literalist/inerrantist POV, what did Nathan actually say?

    Most readers of the Christian Bible would never see this, because following the LXX we have Chronicles right after Samuel/Kings, we skip over Chronicles because, well, we just read Samuel/Kings, right? But in the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles was placed as the last book. It was written much later than Samuel/Kings and for a different purpose…to comfort and assure post-exilic Jews who now had no king, no temple (or at least not none in the neighborhood, if they were among the diasporized), and no land of their own. Where they still God’s people? Chronicles has Nathan assure them that they are, because even if there is no Davidic king currently on the throne, God himself remains their king.

    I’m thinking that I can no longer use the word “inerrant” to describe my position, though I do believe in this kind of inerrancy: The Scriptures are sometimes messy, and even the way we got them is somewhat messy, and it is that way because that’s exactly how God wanted it to be. If God wanted us to have an “inerrant” Bible in the way that most evangelicals mean inerrant, we would have the original manuscripts and they would’ve been carefully edited to remove all metaphor, allegory, and pre-scientific boners currently included.

    Having said all that, I stand with you, iMonk, in remaining perfectly comfortable in describing myself as fully adherent to WCT Section I.

    Mark T


  19. >contamination?

    No. I would say that the human element- which is necessarily “errant”- is totally and completely part of what God wanted to say. We hear the human voice as much as the divine in the scripture. (Read Job!)

    The nature of inspiration is that with the human elements of language, culture, storytelling forms, and 50 other things, what God wanted to communicate came to us in a way that, when looked at through the church’s process of canonization, we see Jesus and the Gospel, and our own story as well.

    And this raises a wonderful issue. Bibles please:

    Psalm 137:1-9 SV Psalm 137:1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! 7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!” 8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! 9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!

    How is this Psalm inerrant? If that 8th verse isn’t “errant” what the heck am I reading?

    Listen…I know I will get an answer from some of you folks who can’t stand it. But if I can read vs 8 and say it is God’s perfect inerrant word just like John 3:16, then I want whatever medication you are taking.


  20. imonk, I for one would never want to throw you out of the club for not using the word inerrancy. In fact I am myself teetering on the edge but, still have some issues to resolve.

    It is unfortunate that Christians cannot discuss an issue that is not crystal clear in scripture and not essential to the gospel.

    Let me if I can re-phrase the problem another way, I think I am beginning to understand your viewpoit.

    1) We can safely say that God had a body of information He wanted to communicate to Man (no offense meant to the women in the audience).
    2) He chose to do it by working with and through human (sinful) authors and by sending Jesus Christ.
    3) Now hears the trick, we believe that all necessary information God wished to communicate is contained in the Scriptures.
    4) Where we sometimes differ as Christians is on which information God wished to communicate and which is human contamination (best word I can find without saying, “error.”
    5) Does that sort of capture your thought on the Bible, if not my apologies, I’m still thinking this through.
    6) This does raise the issue of figuring out which is the correct information and which is not, doesn’t it.

    Don’t pop a fuseover your critics who are cruel, it is not worth that much effort.


  21. Myron,
    I couldn’t agree more. It is like being asked to buy into some kind of “wink and nod” club, where we can talk to one another about “no errors,” all the while having secret explanations for all errors. (You can buy the books. I have some of them!)

    THEN it becomes a matter of will you accept EVERY ONE of these explanations, no matter how outlandish or logically ridiculous. It is a specialized Occam’s Razor: The explanation that most preserves inerrancy is always to be chosen.

    So if you are willing to join the club, adopt the specialized vocabulary, accept all the explanations and the scholarship that produced them, and of course, reject any literary nonsense that might question whether propositionalizing is the only way to communicate, then you are a “Bible believing” Christian.

    And if you won’t make this leap….read my mail.


  22. Michael –

    I’m honored to be quoted in your essay :).

    I’ve got a couple of thoughts that I figured I’d add to the discussion:

    1. It seems to me that there is a big difference between denying the inerrancy of scripture and the authority of scripture. I think we can do without the former, but not without the latter. Most people who are concerned about defending the inerrancy of scripture seem to assume (wrongly, in my opinion) that those who deny inerrancy also deny scripture’s authority, but this simply isn’t true, as Micheal has adequately demonstrated.

    2. Is it just me, or do all the articles and equivocations of the Chicago statement essentially amount to saying “Scripture is inerrant, except when it’s not”? As Philip Winn pointed out at BHT post, the word inerrant means “without error”, and it seems like the Chicago statement’s various articles are trying to exclude all the errors from the inerrancy discussion.


  23. As an Aussie I am always a bit amused by the debates over “inerrancy”. It’s a word I rarely if ever hear down here. I never use it myself (partly because I don’t really know what people mean by it, for some of the same reasons you cite).

    Which makes me wonder if the whole debate over ‘inerrancy’ is centred around some event in church history – even American church history – (both of which I am supremely ignorant) where it was important to defend something at the time, and that defense was framed in terms of ‘inerrancy’, but both that issue and its defense is of little value now, perhaps misleading, as the context has changed.

    Just thinking aloud. But in my travels in cyberspace and along bookshelves, ‘inerrancy’ seems a peculiarly American phenomenon. Have I got that wrong?


  24. Sorry you got thrown under the bus on this one, Michael. You did a great job articulating opposition to a nebulous doctrine so many thoughtful evangelicals, including myself, struggle with.
    Ken Hamm. I mean, c’mon.
    I applaud your intellectual bravery. I myself am a coward who attends a church where I would be similarly attacked for doubting inerrancy. So I just doubt it secretly or among trusted believers I know will not take it as a sign that my faith is slipping.
    My only point of advice is this, from one writer to another: read how many people support your ideas in these comments. Even though it’s awfully easy to do, don’t lose yourself among your detractors.


  25. Well the comments refused my post with three uses of the F-word. Too bad.

    1) I love the Bible. I believe it. I preach it. I teach it. I live by it. I worship with it. It is the total focus of my labors in teaching. I pray its Psalms. I constantly study it. I believe it is inspired. I accept the WCF I on scripture. I have every human confidence that in scripture, God speaks the Word of my salvation.

    Even if I don’t parse the words of a theory of inspiration like some of you do, why do you shake your heads in pity?

    What is wrong with my attitude to the Bible? I won’t turn the nob on the amp up to 11?

    2) Why are you willing to exclude me over a word that I won’t use, that no confession requires me to use? Why is only this word important? My friend Joel said, “The problem with inerrancy is that it washes out everything aesthetic from Scripture.” I think it does something else: it causes some people to assume that those who won’t use it are deniers of the Bible.

    I am not the enemy of the Bible, and I bitterly, deeply resent the implication that some of you believe it “more” because you choose to use this word.

    3) These kinds of conversations always seem to come down to this: become like us or become the object of pity. All I ask is the opportunity to differ from you, and to be able to write my difference and my journey. Yet not in 5 years of writing have I received more derogatory email, comments and posts. I have been derided, diagnosed and deposed as a person who could be trusted…..all because I won’t use a word, even though I will use the entire Westminister Confession Section I.

    I am really too angry to continue this conversation. This is why I sometimes absolutely hate being associated with evangelicalism. The ability to divide over an issue like this is so discouraging.


  26. You mock the inerrantist’s inability to precisely pin down a complex and multi-faceted point of a doctrine. Yet I think you are in an even more precarious position of not even being able to determine doctrine itself, not having a “bedrock” for doctrine, but rather believing that the Bible merely contains, or “documents” truth. That seems to make humans the ultimate authority, in my mind.

    Please know that I am not attacking your Christianity. I deeply repect you as a thought-provoking author. I just honestly feel pity for anyone who reads the Bible not being able to really, deep-down know if it is God or merely man speaking to them. The thought leaves me cold.


  27. So here we are now talking about “What kind of Inerrancy?” There are different kinds? Inerrancy of transmission or inerrancy of science or inerrancy of…. etc?

    As I said, this concept can’t be looked up in a dictionary. It can’t be expressed in an understandable definition. It dies the death of a thousand qualifications. It’s an assertion that looks great in an interview. We’ll all nod, but only the speaker will know what he means. Or will he?

    My mailbox is full of “inerrantists” all giving their different versions of “inerrancy.” It’s a hoot. But they all want me to say the magic word.


  28. I really like the two comments made by Paul Whiting and Newshound. Important to note the distinction that accepting a view on inerrancy does not commit you to literalism.

    I feel like the phrase “God breathed” is somewhat cliche, but seems to speak to this inerrancy of transmission, with less emphasis on a literal interpretation?


  29. “And the argument that the Roman Catholic Church is the authoritative interpreter of scripture isn’t circular?”

    Aaron: You’ll note that I didn’t endorse the Catholic position either, for that very reason.

    Fact is, any location of authority is going to come from circular logic. Our appreciation of the Bible’s truth can only come via faith, which is just too messy for some people.


  30. Aaron….the Dane’s personal ridicule of me reminds me of this principle: The people whose comments make you the angriest are the least deserving of a reply and the least likely to understand what you say.

    I found his comments, if expressed seriously, to be worthy of reply. But since he treats me as a joke, I have no reason to answer him.

    Frankly, I am disappointed you would link this kind of personal ridicule on here.

    His ridicule of me as a teacher is truly deserving of contempt, not further distribution.


  31. I hesitate to add to all this, but you must be equipped for it, Michael, or you wouldn’t be blogging in the first place.

    Here’s one thought I’ve always had concerning the literalness of the Genesis creation story…was Adam a literal person? He certainly is said to have produced literal sons and daughters, many of them named, with offspring also named, and their geneaology is traced to Christ.

    I’d be interested in your and others’ thoughts on that.

    I have been a Christian since 1973, but until the past few years I mostly kept away from inside church doings. I’ve seen a lot of strange things and have been caught up in some of them myself (like the spiritual warfare stuff, for instance; but interestingly, it was an enlightenment to the Bible’s authority and learning about hermaneutics that brought me to my senses!)

    But my point is that I can understand that a man in your position, exposed as you are to all crazy extremes of opinions and dealing with actual people as you do, would have a sense of disgust toward sloppy arguments and interpretations of scripture.

    The defenders of inerrancy that send you false dilemmas just aren’t good defenders! But as you mentioned there are some very good ones out there.

    I really do appreciate your articles. They have been more helpful and often comforting to me than I can say. God bless you!


  32. Dear Michael,

    I mean this is the kindest way possible, but I must be critical.

    You have mixed two different concepts together and made an incomprehensible mess of both. You wanted to talk about “inerrancy” but ended up mixing it up with the controversy over “literalism.”

    This idea, that the prophecies of Scripture were precisely delivered without error from the thoughts of God to the eyes and ears of man through a prophet, is not (or should not) be a debatable idea. Deuteronomy 18 tells us that a prophet can only speak those words that God gives him, and if he makes up one word presumptuously, he is not a prophet and should be executed. Now there is a definition of inerrancy.

    How you interpret those words, as allegorical or as literal, is the heart of the question you should really dealt with. When you embrace an errant Bible, thinking you are only expelling “literalism” you have damaged the reputation of God and His prophets who delivered the Word without error.

    This was not your best thought through essay.


  33. I have really enjoyed this and some of your other recent articles. I wonder if this notion that for the Bible to be true it must be inerrant isn’t merely an example of our “enlightened” western mindset that has more in common with greek thought than with the middle eastern thought that fostered the writing of the Bible’s books. We want to make sure that we can understand 100% of it when that doesn’t seem to have been a big concern for God. Steve S posted a comment on my blog that I think is very applicable:

    “Bottom line is that we really need God EVEN in our studying the scriptures. Funny how He wonÂ’t let us get away from the need that He had to come to us.”

    I have been thinking a lot about the importance of the Story presented in the books of the Bible, and how we often miss it’s insistent pointing at Christ by focusing on pulling doctrines and life lessons from every word we read. It’s funny how much more sense the Bible makes to me when I see it as the Story of God’s salvation rather than an owner’s manual for religion.


  34. One of my favorite preachers ever is the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh preacher who passed away in the 1980s. Here is an excerpt from an excerpt of a sermon he gave which I found on the web site of the Grace Online Library. The link is given below:

    “The Protestant position, as was the position of the early Church in the first centuries, is that the Bible is the Word of God. Not that it ‘contains’ it, but that it is the Word of God, uniquely inspired and inerrant. The Protestant Reformers believed not only that the Bible contained the revelation of God’s truth to men, but that God safeguarded the truth by controlling the men who wrote it by the Holy Spirit, and that He kept them from error and from blemishes and from anything that was wrong. That is the traditional Protestant position, and the moment we abandon it we have already started on the road that leads back to one of the false authorities, and probably ultimately to Rome itself. In the last analysis it is the only alternative.”

    Jim Gieseke
    Houston, Texas



  35. “But as one of your BHT fellows points out, arguing that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible says so is circular logic.”

    And the argument that the Roman “Catholic” Church is the authoritative interpreter of scripture isn’t circular?


  36. Regarding “magic bookism” :
    In my former circles Romans 10:9,10 was the secret password to the world of salvation…and all the supernatural rights and privileges contained therein.

    A magic book adherent friend of mine told me there was power released when a verse like Rom.10:9,10 was spoken – regardless of human reception and processing of such a proposition.

    I asked him, “Then if I speak this verse in Norweigian should it not conjure some sort of response, even if no one in this room understands Norwiegian – by virtue of the magic power that comes from the magic book.”


  37. To SteveS, I think that iMonk brought this up to dodge the Joel O controversy myself. And on that front, I stand in complete agreement. Good list, I enjoyed it.

    Also, to all of you literary geniuses who think you have cornered the market on interpretation and understanding. Just because we disagree on a passage doesn’t mean we don’t understand the fact that some passages are intentionally vague or that we don’t comprehend literary genres.


  38. Michael, no offense taken! I would love to sit down in a pub and talk about this for a couple hours with you. Anyway, I am an engineer by training and so I can relate with your thoughts on the speed of light and all. I think there are some credible answers to those concerns.

    But remember, a simple explanatin doesn’t mean an untruthful one. Your explanation of “Mommy and Daddy” is accurate, only incomplete.

    I realize that allegory and/or symbol are not my only choices, however if you want the simple non-scientific version, is the Adam and Eve account also a non-scientific version?

    Just for the record, I don’t want to come across as a looney young earther. I just think that that interpretation best fits the text and what the rest of Scripture says on the subject.


  39. Jim (and fans of Jim)

    Anytime Jesus began a quote of scripture with “It is written,” he was quoting to Jews the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures. In Christ’s time, they probably were inerrant. The problem with this analogy, as I see it, is that even if you take an original trascript of Moses (which we don’t have, but fancy me), as soon as it is traslated into English, it is no longer the original Hebrew scripture. Languages DO NOT translate with 100% accuracy from one to another, no matter who does it in what century. “Que hora es?” does not really say “What time is it?” What it literally says in English is “What is the hour?” Now that makes little sense in English, so we fix it in a way that we English speakers understand. What I believe we have in the Bible is the Word of God he means for us to have, and that Word has been protected and blessed by Him for us to pocess. The Bible is God’s word, and exists in the form He has willed for us to have and read. The Bible is truth, and the Word of God is forever established in Heaven. But is it inerrant?

    Consider the prophet Issiah, who fortold the virgin birth. King James says virgin, so do some modern translations. The RSV says young maiden, even though Matthew has the word virgin. The KJV is not the Word of God. The NIV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, CEV, NCV, NKJV are not God’s Word either. These are translations of texts the God gave man, and have been intrepted for some degree for us in the very wording of the text. My suggestion for understanding any passage of the Bible is to read as many different versions of the text as possible, and see what the spirit of the words mean, not what each word actually is. Read the Bible, and ask the Holy Spirit what the interpretation should be. “If any man seeks wisdom, let him ask God who gives to all men liberally.”


  40. As formulated by Charles Hodge and many other thoughtful Evangelicals, I don’t have an issue with inerrancy. The problem is that the language of inerrancy has been captured by ideologically by fundamentalism and young earth creationism in public discourse.

    Actually, repelling this ideological capture was one of the major challenges facing the formulators of the Chicago Statement. It is well known that the “Creation Science” movement lobbied incessantly for the eventual Chicago statement to tie belief in inerrancy to young earth creationism. In the end, the formulators favoured a statement that could include those who held to an evolutionary view of origins (like B. B. Warfield himself). Thank God they did that!

    As taught by its best and brightest advocates, what does inerrancy theory hold? 1) It claims the quality of inerrancy holds only to the original manuscripts. This is rather convenient, because they’re probably forever lost. If God was so concerned with an ABSOLUTELY innerant Bible for us, why didn’t he preserve them? But this qualification allows for textual criticism. 2) Inerrancy only applies to what the biblical writers intentionally teach, not to every detail of what is written. 3) Inerrancy makes room for progressive revelation (thus Matt can use Is 7:14 in a way Isaiah probably would have never intended). 4) Inerrancy recognises biblical language to be phenomenal, not scientific. 5) Innerancy allows biblical language to include poetry and tropes as well as factual, descriptive language. 6) Inerrancy theory recognises that the biblical writers employed iimprecise or inexact expressions. 7) Likewise, the biblical authors’ use of quotation was correspondingly inexact. 8) That Scripture included various literary genres as mediums of revelation. 8) There are many anomalies for inerrancy theory — something recognised by Hodge. 9) The language of inerrancy need not be adopted in expressing the essential idea (this was a point well-made by Warfield).

    I’m weary after typing all this! And this shows the main problem, I suggest, with inerrancy theory now: it dies the death of a thousand qualifications if we want to communicate what Hodge and Warfield meant by it. While at the Bible College of New Zealand, this was the naunced understanding I was taught in my “interpretive method” classes. Yet in my experience, this naunced understanding is a million miles away from what most Evangelicals understand by “inerrancy.” Sadly, inerrancy for most Evangelicals is coupled now with a ridiculously scientistic understanding of truth. Further, not heeding the warning of Warfield, many Evangelicals now make a fetish of the language of inerrancy, and in the process lose sight of the truth the formulators of theory in the 19th century were trying to preserve against liberal theological attacks: that holy Scripture is reliable, sufficient and true as an inspired collection of writings. It seems to me that the language of inerrancy is now retained for its symbolic value by many Evangelicals, rather than for its cognitive content.

    Like Michael, I suggest the language of inerrancy is now unhelpful. This is because popular Evangelicalism has disembbed the language of inerrancy from the theological traditions of Protestant orthodoxy that carefully formulated it. “Inerrancy” is an empty signifier which has now all-too-effectively been filled with the congitive content of modernistic fundamentalism and literalistic creation science. What Warfield and Hodge tried to achieve was a respect for the Bible’s truthfulness in the context of a responsible and intelligent reading of Scripture. When inerrancy becomes divorced from that context, it becomes dangerous.


  41. The subject of “Magic Bookism” (i.e. word-for-word literalism/inerrancy) came up in some recreational thinking last week. Here’s the results:

    My church (Catholic) has what’s called the Magisterium; literally, the Teaching Authority of the Church. In practice, it’s a 2000-year body of reality-checked precedent regarding which passages are literal, which are symbolic, which are literary conventions making a literal point, etc.

    Without a Magisterium (i.e. “Sola Scriptura!”), you can fall into the same problem as Wahabi Islam. Since all you have is the text of the Holy Book, it becomes self-referential. You have to take every word hyper-literally or take the chance that any part of it may be invalid. (If you bend on any part of it, what prevents you from losing all of it?) This can pinch your theology off behind the event horizon of a self-referential closed system, with no way of knowing if you need a reality check.

    You may find yourself ending up like the Communists, where reality must bow before Ideological Purity. Or the Taliban, where the closed-system Holy Book can only be parroted back word-for-word, regardless of outside reality. (“God said it, I believe it, That settles it!”) Or like the Manicheans, where outside reality becomes not only illusion, but created by Satan and opposed to God.


  42. I don’t believe in inerracy the way it was explained to me either…which seems to be the way it was explained to you, imonk. I notice that many people (at least ones I have met) who believe in inerracy are willing to just take their pastor’s word for what things mean and not try to find out what they mean for themselves…and while I think most pastors mean well and wouldn’t steer people wrong I see a lot of room for abuse in this sort of thinking, or at least a lot of misinformation. Plus, they often miss out on the true beauty of the Bible and of our faith by making it more about ‘jots and tittles’ than about Jesus and his transformative effect on our lives.


  43. Great post, Michael! 🙂

    I simply can’t see the problem. “Innerancy” is unnecessary and fails to make sense of a series of documents like the Bible.


  44. I’m not adding anything to the discussion but that I found this immensely funny:

    ” I cannot look at my best science students here at OBI and tell them that Hovind and Hamm are right and they must lay aside what they know and be taught the truth by a conspiracy buff and a high school science teacher.”

    that’s great.


  45. Of all the forms of Creationism I’ve heard, the one that best fits the physical evidence — paleontological, geological, and astronomical –is the Theistic Evolution sub-type of Intelligent Design.

    ID is the latest development of the “Natural Theology” approach of the 18th and 19th Centuries, the approach of “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” through the study of Nature that for over a century was a respectable philosophical/scientific position.

    Unfortunately, ID has to endure the reputation of being Stealth camouflage for Six-Day-Zap Young Earth Creationism. A reputation that became deserved when the Creation Science types glommed onto it as a fallback position from Genesis 1 Hyper-literalism. As a result, ID/Natural Theology has been discredited and will not be respectable again for a LONG time.

    When did Young Earth Creationism become THE core and center of the Gospel? When did Christ get the boot and “We Hate Evolution!” take the throne in the Holy of Holies?


  46. 4)The Young Earth Crowd says, “the evidence, in science is far more on the side of young earth creationists”


    4)The Young Earth Crowd says, “Intelligent Design gives us street cred”

    Sorry young earthers, but this burger tastes good.


  47. Top Ten Reasons the iMonk took on inerrancy (JN):

    10) He had exceeded his friendship budget and decided he needed to unload.
    9) Knee Jerk reaction to seeing that 30 year old pair of unused dance shoes in his closet.
    8) To appease the rabble of Joel Osteen fans with pitchforks breaking in his door.
    7) He was haunted by the ghost of a seminary professor.
    6) He was haunted by the ghost of Galileo
    5) Ned Flanders lives next door.
    4) the Young Earth Crowd…(someone help me finish this one).
    3) He is channelling the spirit of Francis Bacon.
    2) Now he will be motivated to stick with that Tae Kwon Do class.

    and the number one reason that the iMonk took on inerrancy:

    1) Because Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers!

    Michael, I admire and respect you.



  48. Why are people so intimidated by literary genres? The inerrantists of whom you speak remind me of some literature students I’ve taught! They have trouble grasping something “fuzzy” as metaphor or fable … even though what could be more fuzzy than a man 2000 yrs. ago saving us and then rising from the dead?

    Yes another excellent essay you’ve written.

    P.S. “Allegory” as a label for all poetic/literary genres reminds me of the use of the word “classical” as a label for all pre-20th-century musical genres.


  49. I think David named the elephant in the room here. The Bible has become the Protestants’ substitute for Tradition as the ultimate authority. Yet the Bible itself comes from Tradition. You have to accept that the Church knew what it was doing for a couple centuries anyway, because that was the body that produced the Bible.

    Time was when most Protestants could tell you exactly why they weren’t Catholic, and when and why the initially orthodox Mother Church went astray. It produced a certain amount of bogus propaganda, of course, but I think it’s still incumbent upon Protestants to be able to explain that. Christianity is foremost a historical religion, where cosmic events come to fruition in linear time. Every Christian has to be placed in that narrative somewhere.

    There are some historically knowledgeable Biblical inerrantists, of course, but popularly literalism often seems to be a substitute for actually knowing Christian history. There’s a book, it came from God, and that’s all you need to know. The fact that this more closely resembles the Muslim view of the Quran than the traditional Christian view of the Bible should give pause, at least.


  50. Thanks Stan. I’ve written three essays. I think that’s a pretty fair effort.

    Mark…if my answer appeared callous or disrespectful, it wasn’t.


  51. Michael,

    You are not the only one who wrestles with these issues and your comments about inerrantists and young earth creationists are rantings not reasonings. You have failed to adequately answer Mark’s inquiries regarding how a historical Adam & Eve fit into your creation theory and how Paul can turn a seemingly unimportant difference between a singular and plural into a major theological statement. I get as frustrated by some of the problems I see in Scripture as you do but for you to be credible you need to deal with some of the questions raised by folks like Mark in an unemotional way.


  52. Mark: Allegory and symbol are not your only choices. Go back to my illustration of what you say to a five year old about birth:

    “Mommy and Daddy love each other, and they get very close, and a baby starts growing in mommy. The baby is part of mommy and part of daddy. They made the baby together.”

    Allegory? Symbol?

    How about non-scientific explanation? How about it is what it is and it would be nutso to come along and say that if God inspired that, it is scientifically correct.

    Just let it be what it is. I don’t care if you want 6/24/6000. I just can’t deal with this intellectual monstrosity that tells me the speed of light is an illusion and that any evidence of ancient age is an illusion. *shudder* It’s just abhorrent to me. I cannot look at my best science students here at OBI and tell them that Hovind and Hamm are right and they must lay aside what they know and be taught the truth by a conspiracy buff and a high school science teacher.


  53. Michael,

    “The “natural way” is young earth creationism? When is making the stars after the earth and other strange aspects of cosmogyny “natural?”

    By “natural” I did not mean by “nature’s assumed scienctific way.” So I get points off for a bad explanation. What I intended to get across was that if you take Genesis as history, and read it without any preconceived scientific 21st century notions, you would interpret the meaning to be 6 literal 24 hour days. If they are days, what is wrong with creating the stars after the earth?

    I agree that it was primarily written in a pre-scientific context and to show that Yahweh created the earth. But don’t you think that the writer was thinking 6 literal days when he wrote it? And why if it was not 6 literal days, say that it was? It would have been just as easy and even understood at the time to say, that it took God a long time to create the world. Why did God give us the order to begin with, if he really didn’t do it that way?

    What I am worried about is if we say that God didn’t mean 6 days here, then how do we keep from writing all of Gen. 3 off as allegory or as a big symbol of what happened? When do you have to start putting stakes in the ground?

    Finally, your comment:
    “Inerrantists HAVE TO/MUST reject the cultural context of the writings and MUST ignore the literary forms of any culture other than western modernism.”

    I disagree here, unless I am mis-understanding you. I would like to think that we always must be aware of the cultural context and literary forms, otherwise we are poor interpreters. Aren’t you ingnoring the context and pouring a 21st century mindset into Gen. 1 by saying that 6 literal days were not what was really meant or that the actual time is not important?

    Sorry if this gets of on a young earth discussion, probably not a good idea for this forum, I’ll shut up now. I still love your work, keep it up.


  54. iMonk:
    You hit the nail on the head with #6. Inerrancy is about locating authority. When the Protestants broke from the Catholic church, denying that the church authorities and church tradition are meant to be the final say about that is good Christian doctrine, they needed to vest that authority somewhere else — namely, the Bible. One way to do that is to doctrinally declare the Bible inerrant. But as one of your BHT fellows points out, arguing that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible says so is circular logic.

    You are not alone on this. I recall reading that St. Augustine himself did not believe in a literal Genesis, but I can’t provide an exact citation.


  55. >If Genesis is a historical narrative (I guesss we could argue that it is not) then the natural way to interpret the creation account is in a literal straight forward way, giving us a 6 day creation.

    The “natural way” is young earth creationism? When is making the stars after the earth and other strange aspects of cosmogyny “natural?”

    It’s a prescientific narrative. It fits in the worldview of the time and it fits in the purpose of the writer, i.e. to show how Yahweh differs from pagan gods and how we got into this mess. You can agree with many historical elements of this story- like a literal Adam- without buying into young earth creationism. Inerrantists HAVE TO/MUST reject the cultural context of the writings and MUST ignore the literary forms of any culture other than western modernism.

    God chose the ancient forms of story and liturgy to tell these foundational truths. Young earth creationists have taken God’s words and made them into homage to “sceience” as an authority.


  56. Bravo. A brilliant article. This is a perspective that needs more serious attention and respect.

    I have long believed that it is enough to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible, without trying to pile on the excess baggage of inerrancy. If it can be demonstrated that Jesus Christ died and came back to life again, then all the piddling arguments about this little detail and that little detail between Kings and Chronicles. No one’s ever claimed that Tacitus or Herodotus is infallible, yet they are still considered accurate and reliable history.

    If you just evaluate the Bible using the same rules as you would any other piece of comparable literature, the Bible wins every time. Why can’t we just do this, without trying to make it the one-and-only-infallibly-inerrant-in-every-detail book?


  57. Greg Koukl from Stand To Reason has an interesting take on this. I remember him saying he is an inerrantist, but he doesn’t bother trying to “defend that hill.” His position is that if the Gospels are reliable historical documents, then they show that Christ was historical and did rise from the dead. That’s all he needs to demonstrate the truth of Christianity.


  58. I just had to weigh in on this, because the divisiveness of this issue has touched me so personally. I wonÂ’t quote any scripture, for that leads me in my pride to some kind of one- up- man-ship with those whom hold another viewpoint.

    It just seems so very easy to hold to a literal type inerrancy and slip into eisogesis, which we believers have so unfortunately done over the years to defend our prejudice, or our small imperfect view of God and His works.

    Once I started to read scripture without my own preconceived notions, the foreshadowing of Christ, GodÂ’s love and compassion took my breath away and convicted me anew of my unrighteousness. I guess if we did have actual autographs of each text, we would worship those books and letters rather than God.

    Thanks for putting your thoughts out there so eloquently


  59. Also, I am still troubled by your statement in this or a preceding article that inerrancy is a belief which is of recent origin. I hope someone with a better knowledge of church history will tackle that one. There is a web site called “21st Century Puritan” which has a large collection of writings in its library, and as time permits maybe I can find something on that.

    Jim Gieseke
    Houston, Texas


  60. The IMonk asks:

    “Why will I take heat? I’m not confessionally required by anyone anywhere to believe in an form of the word inerrancy”?


    You will take heat only in the sense that many of your writings appeal to people like me who do believe in inerrancy and because there is a marked tendency for many who profess to know Him to be mean-spirited. I myself can be quite “mean-spirited” when I get in the flesh and lose sight of the biblical example Jesus so often gave and when I lose sight of the warnings in the epistles to speak the truth in love.

    So, you will get some nastygrams, and that is never pleasant. But once again, never let the nastiness of those holding a given position dissuade (spelling?) you from that position.

    Jim Gieseke
    Houston, Texas


  61. I was going to make some comments similiar to Jim’s but, he did a much better job. First, thanks for the essay, I was actually surprised by your first inerrancy comments a few days ago. Mostly, because I thought I understood where you were coming from and agree with you 99% of the time.

    I will not try not to repeat (yeah right) any of the comments that it seems you have been getting lately:

    1) Being in the inerrancy camp doesn’t mean you have to throw out reading and interperting Scripture in the manner in which it was intended. It should be obvious that you must pay attention to the type of literature when extracting the meaning. As an example poetry is different than narrative, poetry is likely to rely heavily on metaphor and similie and we must recognize that. Okay, okay, you’re the english teacher, give me a “Duh.” You may enjoy, RC Sproul’s short book “Knowing Scripture” on interpretation.

    I have never read anything that you have written that twists Scripture so my intent is not to correct but, to give you balanced view from someone else.

    2) It seems that most of the issues you have with the inerrancy camp have more to do with bad interpretation and not with inerrancy in itself. I like Jim’s challenge about checking all the places the phrase “it is written..” occur. Another example to consider in evaluating how we think about Scripture is to consider how the apostle Paul starts making arguments in Gal. 3:16 based on a noun being singular or plural. Jesus does similar things at times. Granted this may talk more about the actual words but, if we are to accept that there are no errors in the words, why would we accept errors in the ideas.

    3) Finally, as far as the young earth creationist thing goes, here are just 2 things that put me in that camp. a) the proof (maybe a bad word, I mean we weren’t there right), lets try the evidence, in science is far more on the side of young earth creationists than any other position. I know we don’t want to start a post on young vs. old creatist positions, so to get back to the point.

    If Genesis is a historical narrative (I guesss we could argue that it is not) then the natural way to interpret the creation account is in a literal straight forward way, giving us a 6 day creation. You can try and turn this into something else but, then how do you stop from turning the creation and fall of Man into something else? Jesus treated Adam as a real historical person, if you do not take Genesis primarily as history you chop the legs out from under Christianity. There is more there than just creation “really” happened. I just think that a literal 6 day interpretation is a better one.

    I guess I would love to hear your slant on the first 3 chapters of Genesis and how you avoid making Adam and Eve into myth.

    Keep up the good work, making the body of Christ think is always a good thing! As encouragement, I totally agree that we over focus on the verses and miss the main point of many books of the Bible. We need to be called back to putting verses in context, then putting chapters in context.

    Hey, 3 points…it’s a sermon.


  62. My favourite extreme inerrancy apologetic ever comes from someone trying to explain 1 Kings 7:23 “…Circular in form, and its height was five cubits and thirty cubits in circumference”
    As the equation linking radius (height) and circumference is 2&960;R then, Ladies and Gentlemen, the mathmeticians are all heathens and have lied to you and &960;! &960; is heresy!

    Okay so it was a bit extreme, but it did leave me thinking ‘why couldn’t they just have estimated the measurments? why does it have to be so accurate?’


  63. Jim– Why will I take heat? I’m not confessionally required by anyone anywhere to believe in any form of the word inerrancy 🙂


  64. Michael,

    I can sense some of your frustrations here and I am certain that people may have misinterpreted what you are saying. Let me see if I can make things clearer (hah!!)

    I think what you are trying to point out is that many people who hold to inerrancy also hold to a belief in a literalistic reading of scripture – ie the “magic book” you were talking about earlier.

    I am one who will argue that the Bible contains everything that the Christian needs for living a Godly life. In the Bible they find out about who God is and what he has done; about sin and punishment; about repentance and forgiveness; and ultimately about how all that is focused on Christ.

    But I am also one who will argue vehemently that any usage or understanding of the Bible OUTSIDE of this is heresy. Thus I am with you regarding issues like the young earth and the scientific understanding of the creation of the universe.

    However… I am also one who believes that the historical record provided for us in Scripture is 100% accurate – and I would certainly hold to paragraph 13 of the Chicago Statement in this light.

    I think it is possible to hold a historically perfect “Chicago statement no. 13” position and still hold to the literary character of scripture. I believe that the books of the Bible should be read and understood in their particular literary genre, and that reading them outside of this is actually unspiritual.

    If this is what you’re saying, and if you agree with me, then I see no problem.

    If not, then perhaps God is cursing you for attacking his anointed servant Joel Osteen, and that you should go back to Vermont with all your other homosexual, Democrat, Michael Moore loving, Hillary-canoodling, abortion doctor friends, where you can continue your satanic plot to take away all our high powered assault weapons so that the United Nations can take over America and impose a one world government.


  65. First, hat’s off for the candid explanation. This takes some intestinal fortitude. You will certainly take some heat.

    Second, many of your insights are excellent, and your wit and writing skill are top notch. I am still chuckling over liking the SBC evangelism methods to a vacuum cleaner salesman’s pitch. All too familiar. Your insight and writings regarding Rick Warren’s methods are unexcelled in many respects.

    You write:

    “Inerrancy is almost always tied up with things that really bother me: Young earth creationism … Spiritual warfarism, where people with problem kids and screwed up marriages think that Satan is in the house and/or in their head. Secret knowledge schemes, like What did Jesus eat? Diets. Conspiracy theories. Bible only Christian education. Lunacy like the Bible Codes. It goes on and on. Magic Bookies run amuck.”

    It is hard to argue with almost every item on your list (except young earth creationism – I am a young earth creationist). Yes, they are ridiculous. Yes, they make a mockery of biblical Christianity. But this alone would not justify chucking inerrancy any more than the inability of the authors of the Chicago statement to write clear, concise English.

    The abuse of scriptures by current popular teachers like an Ed Young or a Bill Gothard who come up with Seven Steps to This or Eight Steps to That also does not justify abandoning inerrancy.

    Let me suggest an interesting study, made easier by computer bible software, but a highlighter will do – go through the gospels and underline every use by Jesus Christ of the phrases “It is written” or “Have you not read”. A good place to start is the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 and Luke 4.

    My appeal is that you not abandon inerrancy just because there are wacko inerrantists. Jesus Christ seems to have been an inerrantist. That would make no more sense than me ceasing to read marvelous Puritan or Reform writings just because I have met a few Calvinists who are elitist snobs.

    Do, please, keep writing. Please reexamine your position on inerrancy. And please do not grade my english – I am already on a discussion group where I get that regularly. 🙂

    Jim Gieseke


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: